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Just as soon as luncheon was over the next day, the children followed Uncle Jack into the sitting room, where he told them the following story:
THE HAYMAKERS OF MACHIAS* That memorable event on the night of December 17, 1773, when a party of men in Indian garb boarded the tea-ship Dartmouth in Boston harbor and flung her unwelcome cargo overboard to make a tea-party for the fishes, was not a naval event in the true sense of the words. It was landlubbers that did the work. And, for that matter, it was landlubbers still who were the actors in the first scene of actual naval warfare in our country's history -- the bold haymakers of Maine, and Jerry O'Brien, their gallant leader. The story of their exploit is most notable, as being the first occasion on which the genuine Yankee spirit was shown upon the “briny deep.”
* From “Heroes of the Navy,” by Charles Morris. Copyright 1907 by J. B. Lippincott Co., and used by permission of the author and publishers.
The 19th of April, 1775, had passed and the “Minute Men” of New England were swarming in wrath around Boston, to avenge the patriots shot down on Lexington green. The tidings of this event spread rapidly in some quarters, slowly in others, and it was not until twenty days later that rumors of the tale of Lexington crept up to the little town of Machias on the far northern coast of Maine.
No proud port was Machias. A seaside village rather, its people mainly haymakers, for it lay amid grassy meadows beside its bay. But there were woodsmen among its population who knew how to swing an ax and bring down the giants of the Maine forests; and it had, no doubt, its share of men of the sea, for the ports of New England in those days were often busy scenes of ocean ventures.
The people of Machias did not love King George. All the tall, straight trees in their woods were reserved to make masts for British ships, and no woodsman dared set ax to one of their giant pines for fear of arrest by the agents of the king.
It was not to their liking, then, when, on a May morning in 1775, a small fleet sailed into their quiet harbor, consisting of the Margaretta, a British armed schooner, and two sloops sent to get lumber for the fortifications at Boston.
The news that war had broken out and that the “Minute Men” were in arms around Boston was like a torch to the patriot sons of Machias. They hastened to plant a liberty pole on the village green and were very ill-disposed to supply Captain Moore of the Margaretta with the lumber he demanded. As for his order to them to cut down their liberty pole and his threat to fire upon them if they did not, they heard these with defiance.
There were bold souls in Machias, men more disposed to take than to give. Their fellows farther south were besieging Boston. Here lay a king's ship. Why not make a bold stroke for the cause by capturing it? A plot was quickly formed, a group of ardent patriots meeting in the woods near the town and laying plans for their daring enterprise. It was proposed to seize Captain Moore and his officers on Sunday when they were ashore attending the village church and then attack and capture their ship.
Prominent among the conspirators were six stalwart fellows named O'Brien, sons of an Irish resident of the town, and one of these in particular, a daring young colonist named Jeremiah, took a
leading part in the events that followed. Messengers were sent to a neighboring settlement for help, everyone was pledged to secrecy, and the plotters waited in excited anticipation for the coming Sunday.
The looked-for day dawned. All seemed to go well, Captain Moore coming on shore to attend the village church, without a thought that men with arms occupied some of the seats, and that some bold fellows sat directly behind him, intent on his capture. But near by was an open window, the river was in plain view, and as the service went on he saw some men crossing it, muskets in hand.
He knew the people to be in a dangerous mood. There were other suspicious movements on the shore. Evidently something was afoot. Quick to take alarm, he sprang from his seat, reached the window with a bound, leaped through and was off for the beach almost before his foes in the church could leave their seats.
His waiting boat quickly put him on board, and on reaching the deck he ordered some shots to be fired over the town to frighten the people, numbers of whom were now hurrying to the water-side. Not liking the look of things ashore, Captain Moore had the anchor lifted and then he sailed several miles down the bay, where he came to anchor again under a high bank. It was not a safe place for shelter, for the townsfolk had followed him along the shore, and one of them called from the bank, bidding him to surrender and threatening to fire if he refused.
“Fire and be hanged!” was his defiant reply, and some shots were exchanged, but the anchor was soon raised again and the Margaretta ran out into the bay, where she was beyond the reach of the village conspirators.
Here he seemed safe and the project at an end, but there were men in Machias of daring spirit, and the next day told a different tale. There lay the sloops in the harbor. Where a schooner could go a sloop could follow, and on Monday morning four of the venturesome young men of the town, moved by a sudden impulse, boarded one of the lumber vessels and took possession.
Their easy feat was followed by three hearty cheers, which roused the people and brought a crowd of them to the wharf where the sloops lay. Foremost among them was Jerry O'Brien, “an athletic, gallant man,” as the records say. On reaching the wharf he called to those on board: “What is in the wind?”