Fort Pownal celebrates 250th anniversary

Posted July 19, 2009, at 10:43 p.m.

STOCKTON SPRINGS, Maine — Fort Pownal rose from the ruins this weekend — at least in spirit — as a battalion of French and Indian War re-enactors encamped there as part of the historic fort’s 250th anniversary celebration Saturday and Sunday.

Several dozen people wandered around the encampment on Saturday, and as many as 100 turned out Sunday for tours of the Fort Point Light tower and a silent auction Saturday benefiting the nonprofit Stockton Harbor Sailing Center.

“It’s a lot of fun to learn about the way things were a long time ago,” said 13-year-old Cassandra Howard of Searsmont.

The fort came into being after Massachusetts Gov. Thomas Pownal decided he wanted to guard the mouths of Maine’s rivers in order to keep the French and American Indians inland. In 1759, he led an expedition of 400 men to the mouth of the Penobscot and established a fort there, on the grounds of what now is Fort Point State Park.

The fort never saw a shot fired in battle, but its presence encouraged English colonists to settle in the region, and towns from Camden to Bangor arose within 15 years of its creation.

The history buffs who made up the war re-enactors said the fort played another, crucial role as Maine’s boundaries were drawn.

“It was really important in the boundary with Canada,” said Don Brown of Howland on Saturday morning. “Because this fort was here, they drew the boundary at the St. Croix River.”

Brown and others wore realistic Colonial garb and waited out the morning rain under a white canvas tent. A chicken roasted over a sputtering fire and women chopped vegetables for the noon meal. The Penobscot River was hardly visible through the fog, and for a moment or two it was easy to imagine 18th century Maine.

Then 19th century Maine stepped into the tent, in the top-hatted presence of Hannibal Hamlin re-enactor Richard Newcomb of Hampden, who stopped by before making some official remarks to mark the anniversary.

Hamlin was Abraham Lincoln’s first vice president and also served as a longtime U.S. representative and senator from Maine. He spoke at the fort’s 100th anniversary in 1859, Newcomb said, and would be speaking at the 250th.

“I’m a little off the age, but I’m visiting,” Newcomb said. “My message today is: Why do we come to these historic places?

“We all like to know the hardships and suffering and lifestyles of our ancestors,” he said. “It gives us a sense that in our lives we also will have hardships, and we will have suffering, but we can come out of it successfully, and have the pursuit of happiness, and leave this a better land than it was.”

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