BANGOR, Maine – Books can take us places to which we’ve never been, and to historical eras in which we can never experience.
In discussing his latest book Saturday morning during the Bangor Book Festival, author Marcus LiBrizzi took a small group of audience members back to both shameful and inspirational events that occurred in Machias at the time of the Revolutionary and Civil wars.
LiBrizzi was one of about 30 different writers and book authors who read from their works Saturday as part of the festival, which is in its third year. The festival opened Friday at the Bangor Opera House with a keynote address from Douglas Preston, author of the best-selling “The Monster of Florence,” and moved to the Bangor Public Library Saturday.
An associate professor of English at the University of Maine-Machias, LiBrizzi’s book “Lost Atusville: A Black Settlement from the American Revolution” details his research into the small settlement on the outskirts of Machias.
LiBrizzi read some of the stories he uncovered in his research into the settlement, which he said was founded around the time of the Revolutionary War and had its heyday from 1850 to 1870. Atusville’s last resident died in 1965, Li-Brizzi said, and the settlement which included homes, a school and a cemetery no longer exists.
LiBrizzi said he hopes to convince the town of Machias to clear some of the overgrown brush around the old cemetery so accurate readings from ground-penetrating radar can be obtained for research rather than disturbing the grave sites. There are no headstones in the cemetery.
Atusville was named after London Atus, a slave in Machias who fought in the June 1775 Battle of the Margaretta during the American Revolution and eventually bought his own freedom. Atus was known in the area as a war hero, LiBrizzi said, but the author also shared the story of a racial incident that took place in the settlement in 1795 which resulted in an all-white jury censuring a group of white men who had rioted outside a house where two black women were staying.
The author also discussed rumors of an Underground Railroad tunnel in town, and tales of ghost sightings in the graveyard.
Some of the book’s best stories, LiBrizzi said, were unearthed just as he was finishing the book.
“It was almost like the residents of Atusville wanted their stories to be told,” LiBrizzi said. “My guess is, now that this is in print there may be other stories that will come up.”
The events that took place in the settlement evoke both pride and shame, LiBrizzi said, which is one of the reasons it maintains a source of fascination.
“Atusville lives on, both literally and figuratively,” he said, reading from the book. “It haunts the culture of Downeast Maine.”
It was LiBrizzi’s first time presenting at the Bangor Book Festival, which he wanted to attend in order to share his work.
“I want to preserve the heritage we have in this state,” he said after finishing a question-and-answer session. “So often when we think of Maine historical periods it’s just a few types of periods that are talked about. But the more we dig the richer it is, so I wanted to share that rich heritage with the community, get the word out.”