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Program 11: The Penobscot Expedition and The Revolution

The Eastern Frontier : John Allan

John Allan

Colonel John Allan played a dual role that was essential to the success of the Revolution in Maine. Not only was he continental superintendent of the Eastern Indians, but also the commanding officer defending Machias against the British in Nova Scotia. He arrived in Machias in 1776, a refugee from Nova Scotia where his energetic support for the American cause forced him to flee with a price on his head. In America he soon convinced Continental and Massachusetts authorities of the eastern Indiansí importance to the American cause and the necessity of bringing Nova Scotia (including New Brunswick) into the Revolution with an invasion from Machias.

Allan led a small advance force into Nova Scotia in 1777, but it was a failure from the start. A similar attempt from Machias the year before had met with disaster and dampened enthusiasm for Allanís scheme among potential recruits. In the St. John River Valley, Allanís little group ran into a much larger British force and escaped back to Machias only with the aid of local Malicite ( St. John) Indians.

In retaliation, and to prevent further invasion attempts, the British in Halifax launched a naval attack of their own against Machias in 1777. It too failed; the townís defenses proved stronger than expected. In addition, local Indians who were attending a conference in Machias that had been called by Allan, joined in defending the town. Throughout the rest of the war, Machias was the first line of defense against the enemy to the east.

From Machias, Allan, engaged in a continuing diplomatic contest with his British counterpart, Michael Francklin, over the allegiance of the eastern Indians. The Passamaquoddies and Malecites in the St. John River Valley and along the ill-defined border land between Maine and Nova Scotia, were the prize.

Through subtle diplomacy, provisions and gifts, both Allen and Francklin competed for their support. Bankrupt American governments had a difficult time meeting Allanís constant demands for Indian supplies. However, he enjoyed a particular advantage over his British rival when the Franco-American Treaty of 1778 enabled him to obtain French-speaking Catholic priests from French vessels anchored off the coast to minister to the Indiansí spiritual needs.

Despite the influence of various gifts and religion, the Indians made the most of their unique role as wavering neutrals and refused to be drawn permanently to one side or the other. In the end all sides emerged as winners in this diplomatic game: the Indians benefited from provisions and presents from both sides, and their skillful neutrality spared all parties from the horrors and expense of frontier warfare.

At the warís end, Allan surrendered his official titles, but not his concern for the plight of the Indians. He continued to serve as a negotiator for the tribes in an effort to work out post-war land settlements with Massachusetts. In addition, he vigorously defended the most expansive interpretation of his adopted countryís northeast border until the Treaty of 1798 settled the boundary issue for the time being.



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