Hundreds celebrate Machias’ unique nautical history

Sisters Lolita (left), 3, and Elena Nechay of Machias pose for their mother, Nina, during Margaretta Day in Machias on Saturday.
Tom Walsh | BDN
Sisters Lolita (left), 3, and Elena Nechay of Machias pose for their mother, Nina, during Margaretta Day in Machias on Saturday.
Posted June 09, 2012, at 1:54 p.m.
Last modified June 10, 2012, at 6:12 a.m.
Local historical figures Jeremiah O'Brien and Nellie Hilton made appearances at Saturday's Margaretta Day celebration in Machias. Decked out as the local captain who captured a British sloop in 1775 was Chris Sprague of Machias. Sharing tales of the battle was Susan Wright, who portrayed a woman hung for treason for assisting the Americans in resisting the British.
Tom Walsh | BDN
Local historical figures Jeremiah O'Brien and Nellie Hilton made appearances at Saturday's Margaretta Day celebration in Machias. Decked out as the local captain who captured a British sloop in 1775 was Chris Sprague of Machias. Sharing tales of the battle was Susan Wright, who portrayed a woman hung for treason for assisting the Americans in resisting the British.

MACHIAS, Maine — Hundreds of Washington County families swarmed onto the University of Maine at Machias campus Saturday to enjoy Margaretta Day, an annual celebration commemorating a 1775 naval battle that immersed the town in the Revolutionary War.

On June 12, 1775, a group of Machias residents led by Capt. Jeremiah O’Brien captured the British sloop HMS Margaretta during what has become known as the Battle of Machias.

The people of Machias, many of whom supported the revolution, initially rejected a British demand that they trade local lumber for goods brought from Boston. In response, the British sloop threatened to fire upon the town, forcing the residents to trade their lumber. In response to these tactics a group of about 50 men from the Machias Bay area banded together to fight back. The men eventually succeeded in capturing the Margaretta, but not without casualties on both sides.

On Saturday Chris Spague of Machias joined other Revolutionary War re-enacters in outfitting himself as Captain O’Brien, strolling the campus and sharing insights into the battle. In real life, Sprague is a vocational trades instructor at the Downeast Correction Facility in nearby Buck’s Harbor. He traces his family back to participants in the original battle, which he and others here boast was the first naval battle of the American Revolution.

At his side Saturday was Susan Wright of Machias, dressed in replica regalia as Nellie Hilton, who helped recruit local Native American support for the American struggle against the British. For her efforts, she was hung for treason by the British in 1777. As the story goes, her ghost returned to the area during the War of 1812 to warn locals of a pending British invasion.

Wright is immersed in local history on a daily basis as Washington County’s historical archivist. She also owns Obadiah, a shop in Machias at 35 Harwood St. that specializes in old books and maps.

“There’s a lot of history here, and I think it’s great people turn out to celebrate that,” she said.

Saturday’s event included a parade down Main Street and re-enactments of Colonial crafts.

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