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The Penobscot's Revolutionary History

Did you know the mouth of the Penobscot River was the site of the worst U.S. naval defeat in history up until Pearl Harbor? Let us introduce you to the Penobscot Expedition.

In the summer of 1779, a small group of British troops sailed from Halifax, Nova Scotia and began amassing in the town of Bagaduce (now known as Castine), seeking to occupy the area and build a fort on the banks of the Penobscot River. At the time, Maine was still a province of Massachusetts and this invasion by the British was of great concern to the Massachusetts General Assembly.

Within days, the General Assembly gathered a fleet of 19 armed vessels and 24 transports with more than 1,000 militia members and sent them up the coast to the mouth of the Penobscot river to retake the area. Led by Commodore Dudley Saltonstall, Brigadier General Solomon Lovell, and another name you might recognize, Lieutenant Colonel Paul Revere, the fleet reached the area on July 24.

Over the next two weeks, the land troops battled intensely, with neither side claiming victory. Commodore Saltonstall was reluctant to take action against the British naval forces, which gave the British time to send for reinforcements from New York.

On August 13, seven British warships sailed into Penobscot Bay where they faced the American fleet. In anticipation of a sea battle, Lovell had the land troops retreat up the Penobscot River. The next day, to the surprise and confusion of everyone, the U.S. fleet fled up the river where every ship was sunk or scuttled and burned by their own forces.

All of the troops crew-members rushed to shore and into the forest, eventually making their way back to Boston, ceding the land (and river) to the British. Several of the men, including Paul Revere, were court marshalled for cowardice as a result of the battle.

In the nearly 250 years since the battle, many have searched the river for remains of the sunken ships and treasures related to the battle. In fact, in 1972, the river was declared a national historic district to protect the archaeological integrity of any of the ships and to discourage opportunistic relic hunters.

Happy 4th of July!


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