Originally published in Castine Patriot, September 13, 2018
Revolutionary War encampment highlights Castine’s history
Notable American regimental surgeon Dr. John Hart is portrayed by Brian Cortez. When he was younger, Dr. Hart apprenticed with Castine resident Dr. Calef, an ardent British loyalist. The two argued vehemently about the war, to the point where they broke ties and never spoke again. Cortez noted that the American Revolution was really our first civil war, as families and friends were broken apart by politics.
by Tina Oddleifson
Most of us weren’t taught that up until the attack on Pearl Harbor, America’s greatest naval defeat took place in Castine; or that Paul Revere was court-martialed for his behavior during the failed attack in 1779. But on September 8 and 9, history came alive at Fort George in Castine, and those stories and more were retold during a Revolutionary War encampment that highlighted the town’s role in America’s history.
“History is written by the victors,” said Anette Ruppel Rodrigues, the coordinator for the event. “It’s not surprising that most victors don’t like to talk about their failures.”
The reenactment, titled 1779-1783: Fort George: Disputed Territory, was organized by the Friends of Castine Fortifications with support from the Castine Historical Society, the Town of Castine and the Wilson Museum. The weekend event included demonstrations, lectures, and reenactments by volunteers who portrayed Scottish, British, and Hessian troops, as well as Americans and Loyalists.
Renewed interest in Castine’s role in the Revolutionary War came after a celebratory visit from the replica of the historic French frigate, Hermione, in 2015.
“A lot of people in town realized that [Fort George] is of worldwide importance, and this is why the friends, the town, the historical society and others, would like to do more here,” said Rodrigues.
Because of its deep-water port and strategic location at the mouth of the Penobscot River, Castine was subsequently claimed by the French, the Dutch and the British throughout its history. In 1779, Scottish troops were sent by the British to what was then called Penobscot, to build a fort in order to establish the province of New Ireland, and claim the coast for Britain. When Patriots in Boston realized the threat that the British presence posed to the rebellion, they hastily sent ships and troops to the area in the largest show of naval force during the war, known as the Penobscot Expedition. But due to a series of disagreements and delays that gave the British time to send reinforcements, the American forces were chased up the Penobscot River where they scuttled their ships. Paul Revere’s reputation was sullied when he was accused of cowardice and incompetence for his role in the defeat, but he was later acquitted.
For four years afterward, Castine became a safe haven for the Scottish troops and loyalists who thought that the new border between American and British territory would be the Penobscot River. Following the Treaty of Paris, many loyalists packed up and moved to St. Andrews, New Brunswick, just over the newly-negotiated border.
Outside of residents in the area and historians, “most people have no idea this battle took place here,” says Castine Historical Society Director Lisa Lutts. She and Rodrigues say the fort is under-utilized and they hope to build the event over time.
“Reenactors are people who are passionate about history and carefully research their role,” explained Lutts. “They are in high demand during the season, so the challenge will be scheduling them for the annual event.”