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Program 13: Struggle for Identity

"A Young Soldier's Account of the Aroostook War"

From: John Smith’s Letters, with Picters’ to match. Containing: Reasons why John Smith should not change his name; Miss Debby Smith’s juvenile spirit; Together with the only authentic history extant of the late war in our Disputed Territory. (New York: Published by Samuel Colman, 1839)

These two long letters, written by a militia soldier in the Aroostook War, show the monotony and strain of war. They also show the excitement of a young soldier exploring the world for the first time. John Smith the 7th wrote detailed, and often humorous, letters home to his father in Smithville, Maine (part of Steuben in Washington County). 16- year old John had joined the militia against the wishes of his parents who felt that he was too young. But, John had grown up hearing his grandfather tell exciting tales of the American Revolution and was eager to taste the glory of victory first hand. When a muster was raised in Smithville, John Smith joined the militia.

The group turns out to be a motley group of untrained farm boys and their exploits make for very good reading. They marched to Augusta and then on up to a militia camp near present-day Fort Fairfield.

John’s father (John Smith the 6th) apparently included his son’s letters as part of a series of pieces that he (John Smith the 6th) had written and sent to the New York Mirror, a weekly newspaper of the day. Samuel Colman, a Maine native who had moved to New York and become a bookseller and publisher, published a book containing the letters in 1839. John Smith the 6th addressed his letters to “Gineral Morris,” whose identity is unknown.

John Smith Letters, with Picters’ to match is in the collections of the Maine State Museum who generously allowed us to post these letters. These are just two of the several letters that John Smith sent home to his father reporting on the progress of the Aroostook War.


Letter VI

Letter VII

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For more information on the Northeast Boundary Dispute and the Aroostook War see:

For other accounts of soldiers lives during the Aroostook War see:


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