| Jeff from Scarborough e-mails: “Okay, John so I'm not from Maine; I'm a flatlandah, and don't know a lot about Maine history, but from what I have learned it sounds like you Mainers can't get along with your neighbors. Over the past year or so I've been reading Maine history and have learned about the simmering dispute you have with your western neighbor - New Hampshire - over the exact location of the state line. I also read about the time Maine almost went to war with England a while back (the Aroostook War) over the precise location of your northern boundary. I didn't know Maine people were so pushy and disagreeable.
“I bring all this up because I'm now in the middle of a property line dispute with my neighbor here in Scarborough. There must be something in the water here in Maine that makes you fight over such things. Why can't we all just get along, John?”
Thanks for the letter, Jeff. A good question.
After reading your letter, I began thinking about my own land deals and disputes over the years and realized that of the seven pieces of property my wife and I have owned over the years, we've been involved in minor - but still annoying - boundary disputes with three of them.
Now, anyone who knows me can tell you that I'm about aas easy a guy to get along with as you're likely to find in or out of Maine, so we know it's nothing I did that caused the land disputes, right?
If you had read the papers more carefully, Jeff, you would have read somewhere that the most recent border dispute was settled when the U.S. Supreme Court rolled the legal papers into a ball, pitched them in the wastebasket and said, in effect, “The present border looks hunky-dory to us just the way it is,” and then gave the Granite Staters the bum's rush out the fancy court door.
Put more simply: “Maine wins!”
But don't worry, Jeff. Knowing our neighbors to the west, it won't be long before they'll be at it again with another border dispute.
Now, the Aroostook war was an undeclared and bloodless war that almost flared up because England and the United States couldn't agree on exactly where the border was between our country and the province of New Brunswick. Since way back, the Brits had claimed all the land above Mars Hill.
I can hear the cynical “Northern Massachusetts” readers among you saying, “And we were prepared to go to fight and die for whatever's above Mars Hill?”
In a word - yes.
We had just about had it with the British by this time, so in January of 1839, a land agent named Rufus McIntire took a posse into the disputed area - something my wife and I never did - incidently - and started arresting lumberjacks who were cutting trees on disputed land.
Not surprisingly, Rufus was eventually arrested by Canadian officials, and then Mainers started getting a tad annoyed.
Within two months there were 10,000 Maine troops either encamped along the Aroostook River or marching toward the spot.
In Washington, the federal government authorized a force of 50,000 men and $10 million in the event of war. That's how much we cared about the land above Mars Hill.
I hope your dispute doesn't reach that level of intensity, Jeff.
Anyway, the Brits, convinced that they'd stirred up a hornet's nest, decided to talk peach and after a few sessions of haggling and dickering they eventually signed the Webster-Ashburton Treaty in 1842, which set the line between us once and for all.
Things have been pretty quiet on the northern border ever sonce. Hopefully, Jeff, you and your neighbor can work things out without involving 50,000 soldiers and $10 million.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly throughout
New England. Contact John at firstname.lastname@example.org or 899-1868.