Area museums acquire Revolutionary War documents

Posted Oct. 15, 2013, at 10:58 a.m.
An undated and unsigned Plan of Penobscot Bay shows the location of Fort George in Castine as well as the positions of the American and British ships and troops during the siege. The recently acquired document is part of the Castine Historical Society collections.
Courtesy of Penobscot Marine Museum and Catine Historical Society
An undated and unsigned Plan of Penobscot Bay shows the location of Fort George in Castine as well as the positions of the American and British ships and troops during the siege. The recently acquired document is part of the Castine Historical Society collections.

CASTINE and SEARSPORT, Maine — Maine Penobscot Marine Museum and Castine Historical Society announced recently the acquisition of two manuscript maps and 21 documents directly related to events the summer of 1779 during the American Revolutionary War.The documents reveal information and details about the Penobscot Expedition, a combined effort of Massachusetts Bay and the Continental forces to repel British troops at Majabigwaduce, now Castine.

The maps and documents were among several lots from the Dudley Saltonstall Papers, previously held in a private collection, that were auctioned on Aug. 17, in New Hampshire.  The Castine Historical Society and the Penobscot Marine Museum, who bid separately on the items at the auction, will provide digital copies for access in each institution. Plans are underway to create joint exhibits to share onsite and online.

The primary goal of both Penobscot Bay historical organizations was to bring these materials to public collections in Maine. Financial support for the effort was pledged by several private donors eager to preserve the documents and make them available for research and display.

Liz Lodge, executive director of the Penobscot Marine Museum, said, “The history of the Penobscot Expedition is an area where the missions of the two institutions overlap. We’re delighted to collaborate on highlighting this period of history and look forward to inviting researchers to work with us.”

The unique maps, both acquired by the Castine Historical Society, depict the Penobscot Bay area from Eggemoggin Reach to the Penobscot Narrows. Joseph Chadwick, a noted 18th century surveyor, created the “Sketch of a Part of Penobscot” on July 9, 1779, to provide leaders of the Penobscot Expedition details about the immediate area then being fortified by the British. These fragile maps will receive conservation treatment in the coming months and then reside in the climate controlled archival storage space currently under construction at the society.

The set of documents, acquired by the Penobscot Marine Museum, dates from the months directly following the Penobscot Expedition and relate largely to Commodore Dudley Saltonstall’s court martial proceedings. Saltonstall’s leadership performance was in question after the combined naval, marine and militia forces failed to oust the British entrenched at the mouth of the Bagaduce River, retreated up the Penobscot River and scuttled most of their ships to keep them from enemy hands.

The documents will be preserved, digitized for access and then stored in the museum’s Stephen Phillips Memorial Library on its Searsport campus.

“The 1779 Penobscot expedition is considered one of the most decisive naval engagements of the revolution,” said Jack Macdonald, current president of the Castine Historical Society. “The acquisition of these original source documents markedly enhances the already extensive information available at CHS and PMM.”

The two organizations are grateful to Ron Bourgeault of Northeast Auctions for all his help and to Seth Thayer of Thayer Fine Arts in Northport for his expertise and assistance.

For information about the collections at Castine Historical Society, call 207-326-4118 or email curator@castinehistoricalsociety.org and at Penobscot Marine Museum, call 207-548-2529 or email cgood@pmm-maine.org.

Information about the Penobscot Expedition of 1779 is a castinehistoricalsociety.org.

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