MACHIAS, Maine — It wasn’t surprising Saturday to see a British soldier in complete dress uniform walking by one of the local restaurants. Nor was it unexpected to see little girls running down the sidewalk in floor-length dresses with long white aprons and sunbonnets.
Hundreds of people attended the Margaretta Day celebration on the University of Maine at Machias campus in commemoration of the first naval battle of the U.S. Revolutionary War.
Period costumes were the order of the day, along with food, entertainment, crafts and games that would have been part of everyday life in 1775.
A Colonial encampment provided a glimpse into everyday life as Wayne Mallar of Bangor peeled vegetables in a mock kitchen. Nearby, a campfire provided the sweet smell of wood smoke as sea chanteys were heard throughout the campus mall.
Jeff Davis of Milbridge brought his children to the festival dressed in Colonial costumes made by his mother-in-law.
“The children were all excited about the parade. They thought they were going to see fire engines,” Davis said. But as he watched his children joyfully attempt to roll a hoop, shoot marbles and jump in burlap sack races, he said, “I guess you don’t need firetrucks all the time,” noting the simplicity of the activities and events.
Members of the Sons of Liberty from Massachusetts participated in the parade, as did dozens of local folks in costume. At the college campus, it was a day of living history. Blacksmiths, trappers and carpenters illustrated old-time methods, while traditional food was served and Passamaquoddy Tribe dancers entertained the crowd.
“This is just the way they used to do it,” John Savins of Brewer told his preteen children as they watched Nate Beal of Marshfield construct a timber-frame porch.
Savins explained that he was building a home with power tools.
“I so admire these hand skills,” he said, pointing to the workers using rasps, chisels and hand draws to shape the wood.
Jeanette Lisbon of New Hampshire said she skipped a visit to Bar Harbor to come to the Machias event.
“It’s like taking a step backwards into the past,” she said. “I had no idea of the history here. It is amazing.”
Margaretta Day is sponsored by the Machias Historical Society and commemorates the 235th anniversary of the first naval battle and the beginning of the U.S. Merchant Marine, according to Carlene Holmes, the event chairman.
In 1775, a small band of Machias loggers, businessmen and even the town preacher refused to allow a British ship to load lumber milled in Machias because they believed it was going to be used to build a fort in Massachusetts to fight the Colonists.
When the captain of the Margaretta threatened to burn Machias to the ground, settlers from Machias and surrounding towns attacked the Margaretta in Machias Bay, using guns, swords and pitchforks, and overtook the supply ship.
A number of artifacts from the Margaretta are preserved at the local Burnham Tavern Museum.