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Historic Revolutionary War-era tavern in Machias to host free public tours

Burnham Tavern Museum | BDN
Burnham Tavern Museum | BDN
The historic Burnham Tavern in Machias will be open for free public tours noon-4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29. Thought to be the oldest surviving building in Down East Maine, the tavern off Main Street is associated with the first naval battle of the Revolutionary War.
By Tom Walsh, BDN Staff

MACHIAS, Maine — An architectural artifact of the Revolutionary War will open its doors on Saturday, Sept. 29, to remind all who cross the threshold of the role the Washington County community of Machias played in 1775 in chasing the British from what would become American shores.

Just off Main Street on the east side of the Machias River bridge is the Burnham Tavern, a gambrel-roof building built in 1770 by Job Burnham, just seven years after the settlement of Machias. At 242 years old, it is thought to be oldest building in eastern Maine and is a National Register for Historic Places site with a rich Revolutionary War history.

In 1974 the Burnham Tavern was selected as one of 21 homes in the United States with the most significance to the American Revolution.

As part of Smithsonian Magazine’s nationwide Museum Day event, the Burnham Tavern Museum will be hosting free tours noon-4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29. Members of the Hannah Weston Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution will be decked out in period costumes to lead tours throughout the afternoon.

The tavern’s historical significance is linked to events on June 12, 1775, when a group of Machias residents led by Capt. Jeremiah O’Brien captured the British sloop HMS Margaretta. It was a confrontation that has since become known as the Battle of Machias and is touted as the first naval battle of the Revolutionary War.

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.

Plans to capture the armed British vessel Margaretta were made in the tavern, and the wounded were nursed there after the encounter. Many items in the tavern are associated with that battle and those who fought it.

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