MACHIAS – About 40 miles separate Machias and Pleasant Point, but 230 years ago, that didn’t keep the Passamaquoddy and the settlers in Machias from living as friendly neighbors.
They also were allies against the ruling British.
On June 12, 1775, the Machias settlers, armed with pitchforks and axes, captured the British vessel Margaretta in Machias Bay.
But they didn’t do it alone.
Amid the skirmish, Francis Joseph Neptune, then the Passamaquoddy chief, had taken a long shot from his flintlock rifle that felled the British admiral Cox.
That moment was pivotal. The settlers watching the battle from the shore and the band of 50 Passamaquoddy together sounded the Indian victory yell.
“The British were afraid and panicked,” Donald Soctomah, the Passamaquoddy’s tribal historian, recites today. “It sounded like so many more Indians than there were.”
Passamaquoddy tribal members are joining in this weekend’s celebration of Margaretta Days in Machias. The first-time festival runs today through Sunday afternoon. It finishes with a musical salute at the Centre Street Congregational Church at 4 p.m.
“The tribe is very proud of this part of our history,” Soctomah said Thursday. “Every time an issue comes up, tribal participation in the American Revolution always comes up, too. They say if the tribe hadn’t taken part, the Canadian border would be at the Kennebec River today.”
Many of the Passamaquoddy stood guard at Potato Point, just beyond the place that became Fort O’Brien in Machiasport. The Battle of the Margaretta occurred near Round Island in the Machias Bay.
“The Indians would look for the British ships, then send signals or run back to rally the troops,” Soctomah described.
As many as 200 Passamaquoddy had roles in the Revolutionary War. Some of them served again as soldiers and scouts in the War of 1812.
On June 14, 1916, members of the Daughters of the American Revolution traveled from Machias to Pleasant Point to dedicate a memorial on the reservation to the Passamaquoddy who served. The crowd that day 89 years ago numbered 500.
The Machias Bay Chamber of Commerce is hoping to exceed those attendance numbers in Machias this weekend.
The Passamaquoddy are returning the visit, taking part in at least three ways. On Saturday, Ernest Lola, a full-blooded Passamaquoddy who enjoys traditional celebrations, will wear full regalia in the parade along Main Street at 4 p.m.
On both Saturday and Sunday, three tribal members are sharing their crafts alongside others demonstrating period crafts on the green near Helen’s Restaurant. Gal Frey and Stewart Tomah are basket makers and Richard Keezar is a wood craftsman.
On Sunday, Blanche Sockabasin and Joan Dana of Indian Township will lead a smudging “sunrise” ceremony at 7 a.m. Similar to the service they led at the Ste. Croix 2004 celebration in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, a year ago, the ceremony will take place at Bad Little Falls near the Machias River bridge.
Soctomah himself will mingle with visitors on Saturday afternoon and Sunday. He wants to tell stories of how George Washington addressed the Passamaquoddy in a letter in December 1776.
“It’s very important for the tribe to relay the story of its history during the Revolutionary period,” Soctomah said. “As history goes on, people forget the importance of the connections between our people.”
He also is proud of his great-great-grandfather, Sopiel Selmore, and his induction into the Sons of the American Revolution in 1895 – at age 80.
Selmore’s father was Capt. Selmore Soctomah, who was praised in the battle for the Margaretta by the American commander at Machias, Col. John Allan.
Col. Allan later reported of all the Passamaquoddy: “The Indians who have been in the service of the U.S. should be forever viewed as brothers and children, also under the protection and fatherly care of the United States, and their heirs forever should enjoy every right and privilege.”