Posted by: Sand Squiggles -- Richard Modlin's Blog | October 22, 2011

HISTORY IN MACHIAS, MAINE

A Patriot’s Resting Place

Several days ago, while trying to photograph Roaring Falls, a catarack in the Machias River on the west side of Machias, Maine, I found an interesting historic site.  About one hundred yards downstream of Roaring Falls Park, off a path on the south side of the river and up a forested knoll, I encountered the O’Brien graveyard.  Lying in a copse of very old oak trees along the northern ascent of the hillside were about thirty grave sites peppered with autumn-colored leaves—a peaceful, idyllic place. 

O'Brien Tombstones

Lowest on the hill were a row of five stone markers, dating back to the early 19th Century.  A flag flew next to one of these tombstones, marking the brial site of probably Machias’ most distinguish founding fathers, Captain Jeremiah O’Brien.  On the right lay his wife Elizabeth, and on his left Jeremiah’s father, Morris, and mother, Mary.  Writing on tombstone farthest to the right was indistinguishable, perhaps one of Elizabeth and Jeremiah’s children.

Machias, ME, City Center

These gravesites substantiated that the people I wrote about in my recently completed novel, Newfound Freedom (see Sand Squiggle’s blog posted April, 2011), were indeed real, and lived and die where they were suppose to have been. 

I knew the O’Briens of Machias existed because their names appear in the history of the city, on old maps, and even on a 18th Century fortification down river.  But actually being in their presence, at least in spirit, was to me an eureka moment—like realizing you had just slept in an inn where George Washington once slept. 

Elizabeth O'Brien Tombstone

Well, who were the O’Briens?  They were the founders of West Falls, a village in the township of Mashias, which in the 18th Century was part of Massachusetts.  When this portion of MA was rename the State of Maine, West Falls became City of Machias.  Morris O’Brien and his five sons were prominent lumberers in this city.  Their residences, sawmills and other enterprizes were located on the site of Great Falls Park and they owned the land to the east and south of the park.  But of the five brothers, it was Jeremiah O’Brien who distinguished the family.

Patriot's Resting Place

On 12 June 1775, under his command, the cargo vessel Unity, which Jeremiah and a band of rebellous patriots armed with variety of guns and primative weapons commandeered.  Using the Unity, they pursued and captured Great Britain’s armed schooner HMS Margaretta

The Margaretta had escorted two frighters, the Unity and Polly, to Machias to take on lunber for the British Army headquartered in Boston.  Because both of these vessels were own by a Loyalist, who resided in the village, and most of the townspeople were patriots, the captain of the Margaretta threatened to bombard the village if any of the townsfolks interferred in this transaction.  With Concord and Lexington fresh on their minds and their abhorrence of the developing British tyranny in the colonies, the captain’s threat did not sit well with the patriots.  The Battle at Machias, which was fought in Machias Bay, lasted about an hour and became the first naval battle of the American Revolution. 

For his part in this conflict, Jeremiah O’Brien was given the rank of captain in the Massachusetts Navy, one of the forerunners of America’s Continental Navy, and eventually the U.S. Navy.  Over the next 200 years the U.S. Navy distinguished O’Brien by christening four destroyers in his name.  But the most famous of the naval vessels that carries his name is the SS Jeremiah O’Brien, the last authentic Liberty Ship still in full operation. 

Docked at San Francisco’s Fishermen’s wharf, the Jeremiah O’Brien is open to the public and cruises the bay area.  It is itself a distinguished WWII naval vessel.  During the war it sailed throughout the Atlantic and Pacific and aided in the Invasion at Normandy.  On one of her trips to Normandy she transported General Patton’s Fifth Division.  She recently returned to Normandy to celebrate the 50th anniversary of this D-Day Invasion—the only authentic WWII naval vessel to attend this ceremony.   

Others buried in the O’Brien cemetery, in addition to relatives and inlaws, are Captain O’Brien’s brother, Gideon and his family, as will as the captain’s son, Jeremiah O’Brien and his family.  The second Jeremiah O’Brien, born in 1778 and died in 1851, also distinguished the family.  Captain O’Brien’s son was elected to the Maine State Senate in 1821 and served until 1824, when he became a U.S. Congressman in 1823.  He represented the State of Maine until 1829.  While in the U.S. Congress he served on the Committee on Expenditure in the Department of Navy.  After his stint representing the State of Maine in congress, he served two more terms in the state senate and then, he returned to the family’s lumber business. 

– ∫ ∫ ∫ ∫ –

© Copyright Richard Modlin 2011


Responses

  1. Richard, you know more about the Machias area history than 99.9 percent of the local population. Good for you! Have not been to the gravesite there but did find the resting place of the old hermit Willy Foss whom I wrote about 3 years ago. He is in the back section of the old cemetery on the Kennebec Road, just across the road from the abandoned Baptist Church.
    At any rate, pretty interesting to locate these resting places, especially when you know a bit of the history of just whose remains are there.
    Pierre


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