Friday, August 21, 2015

Maine- USA, Not Maine, France

I am on vacation with my in-laws this week.  It's not as bad as it sounds --they're great people and are usually asleep by the time I get two paragraphs into whatever historical subject I am currently expounding on, so they get a nap and I get a quiet audience.  Win-Win!  As we are in Maine, I thought you constant readers might like a few historical observations about Vacation-Land, a.k.a. Lobster-Land, a.k.a. the last bastion of Moxie tonic (soda-pop to the rest of you people from-away), a.k.a. the Deep South's got Nothin' on Redneckery if ya Go to Maine, Ayuh!

So, who was living in Maine at about the time the Sumerians were inventing the wheel, writing, buggery and civilization?  Why, the Native Americans, who everybody knows aren't Indians, because India is "wicked-farh" from Maine.  And what did they do here?  Why, they fished, hunted, trapped crabs & lobsters, dug for clams, hung-out in the forests and along the coastline, and played a game that was all the rage amongst the East Coast Ind- uhhh, Native Americans called "lacrosse," or at least that's what the miserable French fur trappers from Quebec, Canada, called it when they asked their Penobscot or Passamaquoddy friends, "Whut ze hell is dat game called-ah?"
Damariscotta Native Americans and a lost French Priest
who they called "Uncle Whitey" and let hang-out with them
Things were great back then.  The People, as each nation referred to themselves in their native languages, lived in tune with the seasons, moved around once in a while if the herds of moose and deer were on the move, snagged the odd Canada goose on its way to the Chesapeake, built big bonfires on the beach and danced around them, slurping down clams, oysters, mussels and such.  A lively trade in seashells, deer jerky, corn, wives, slaves, dogs, ex-husbands and aromatic cedarwood was carried on with neighboring nations, and things were pretty cool until the Europeans arrived.

My junk is just fine, thanks.  I keep it in a codpiece.
Maybe that's why is always smells like fish.  Hmm...
First to blast by was Giovanni Cabot,  an Italian sailing for the English.  He charted Cape Cod and a good chunk of the Maine coast.  When he arrived back in London and showed the maps he drew to the English court, they all thought he was "wicked-pissah," gave him a ridiculous sum of money and then promptly forgot all about North America because Henry VIII was having issues with his junk --umm, his lack of a male heir, which was followed by Elizabeth and a nasty war with Spain, which was followed by James I, who finally remembered that England might have some land in North America.

But hold the fort: Louis "The Sun King" XIV had already started sending French people over to North America in order to grab fur pelts, codfish and the occasional barrel of tobacco.  The only problem is that he sent them to Canada, which we all recognize as a mistake because it wasn't the home of any empires dripping with gold, and it wouldn't someday lead the world in maple syrup exports, hockey-related injuries per capita, or ever host the Olympics --wait, they did manage all that expect the gold stuff --ANYway, Canada had a few issues before the invention of the Zamboni ice resurfacing machine, so those French people naturally pushed southward into... Maine!  They put farms along the rivers, trading posts along the coasts, and even named it after a place in France sort of close to Germany.  

The French North Americans didn't really have too much trouble with the locals.  The Native Americans didn't really like wine, snuff, snails or yappy little curly-haired dogs, and the French weren't all that into using captives as archery targets, rubbing an enemy's body all over with poison ivy, or the odd bit of cannibalism once in a great while.  In fact, lonely French fur trappers or French farmers were so good at convincing Native American women to "Make ze whoopie" with them that things probably would have turned out fine, were it not for the arrival of the English.
I say, which way to the pub?  Anybody see a fish and chip van?
Remember James I?  Of England?  Formerly James VI of Scotland?  Well, he had a problem with this bunch or hard-core religious wack-o's called the Separatists.  They thought the Church of England wasn't Protestant Enough for them, so they wanted to set up their own churches and their own communities in order to worship God and Jesus and stuff the pure, right way.  Today, this bunch would probably all be wearing suicide-bomb-vests, but back then, they all wore these stupid hats with belt buckles on them --or at least the men did.  Soooo, James I thought it would be just great if they all just died, or failing that, left England forever.  

A bunch did leave, but they made the mistake of trying to live in Maine, and their luggage got lost, and the buses didn't pick them all up on time, and they were all eaten by black bears and bluefish.
So another bunch left.  This bunch landed on Cape Cod at Provincetown, but had a problem with all the art galleries and gay nude musical revues there, so they sailed to Plymouth MA where an entire village had been wiped-out by a plague, so they got the place for a steal (they stole it) and invented Thanksgiving, or something closely resembling it.  They then declared war on --wait for it --the French trading posts in Maine!

Kill the French!  Because we're fresh out
of Irish to kill!
To make a long story short, the Pilgrims won because they had a boatload of Roundhead soldiers to help them, sent by Oliver Cromwell in England.  This was the same Oliver Cromwell who had chopped off the head of James I's son Charles I, crushed the Irish, smashed the Scots, beat the seven-shades-of-tulips out of the Dutch, and was a rotten bastard to Catholics all over the British Isles.  After that, Maine became owned by Massachusetts.  In fact, Massachusetts owned all the east coast, from Buzzards Bay in the South to the Canadian Maritime Provinces in the north, with this little "Fuck You!" portion of New Hampshire in between.  Which is just fine today, because that's where I pick up all my booze, fireworks, cigarettes and lotto tickets.  Back then it was also a bit of a problem, because to get to Maine by land, one had to pay a toll those money-sucking Granite-Live-Free-or-Drop-Dead-ers charged, a tradition that continues at the Newington Tolls on I-95.  Which is why everybody sailed to Maine and mooned and/or flipped-off New Hampshire on their way past.  But I digress.

The year was 1775.  The British had yet to abandon Boston after George Washington mounted all of the cannons Benedict Arnold (more on him later) stole from Fort Ticonderoga, leaving a poor, fat, Boston bookseller named Henry Knox (more on his house later) to drag all of said cannon from New York to Dorchester Heights --and this was before there was a New York State Thruway, Massachusetts Turnpike, or Dorchester Heights Orange Line stop on the MBTA!  Benedict Arnold was flush from his victory at Fort Ticonderoga, although it was more of a knock-knock joke than a battle: Knock knock! Who's there?  Benedict.  Benedict who? Eggs-Benedict-Cumberbatch-Arnold, motherfuckers!  Gimme all your cannons!  He thought that the Canadians reeeeaaaalllllllyyyy wanted to revolt against the English, too, forgetting that most of the Canadians then were French or Ind --uhhh, Native Americans --and were also Catholics, whom Protestant American Colonists hated almost as much as paying taxes.  So, the Big B.A. took a bunch of militiamen to Canada to try and get them to join the United States of America at musket-point.  The only thing standing in his way?  You guessed it: Maine.
It'll be easy.  We just go from
Point A to Point G, fight a BIG
battle in a blizzard, and win.

If only they had packed enough food.  If only there were proper roads instead of horrible rivers and muddy portages to travel by.  If only Maine's mosquitos weren't almost as big as Maine's seagulls.  If only somebody had remembered to bring a stupid map!  The expedition left in late summer from Cambridge, marching over decent roads to Essex County, Massachusetts where they embarked on boats to avoid you-know-who in you-know-where.  The whole hot mess landed at the Kennebec River where they traded their ocean-going boats for something bigger than your average canoe, which had to be carried in between rivers and lakes on poorly marked, negligibly maintained portage trails.  Have you ever gone camping?  Try to imagine that experience, while at the same time bringing horses, guns, freakin' cannons, cannon balls, lots of gunpowder, tons of musket balls, cooking gear, food processors, espresso machines, a lawn mower, and at least one dog.  Oh yeah, and enough food for everybody.  Which they all promptly ate during the first 15 days.

But wait a sec, Ex-Prof!  They were in Maine!  Why couldn't they just shoot a moose or deer or dig clams or eat tasty wild Maine blueberries?  Firstly, the muskets were stupidly inaccurate.  Every moose they shot at, they missed, and alerted every other moose in all of Maine that there were a bunch of hungry, belligerent tourists in the vicinity, so  WATCH OUT.  Secondly, they were going inland and clams live by the seashore.  Thirdly, wild Maine blueberries are indeed tasty, but not enough to feed an entire freakin' army, so guess what happened to that dog in the previous paragraph.  Yeppers, rotisserie dog-on-a-spit.  The troops were so hungry that Arnold raced ahead to the Chaudiere River where the nice French Canadians had farms, borrowed a bunch of cattle and drove them back to his starving troops, who promptly turned them into steak and burgers.  Hooray, the invasion of Canada was still on!

However, it was a total fiasco.  They managed to take Montreal because everybody was hanging-out in cafes, smoking Export A cigarettes, drinking wine, being witty and dressed really chic instead of expecting invading Massachusetts soldiers, but Quebec City was another story altogether.  Because it had this kick-ass wall all around the Upper Town.  And because a bunch of English warships were anchored in the St. Lawrence River, just a-waitin' for to blow away any invaders.  And because Arnold's second force of reserves were late, because they came the more sensible way by boat, and stopped at those charming coastal towns along the way for souvenirs and ice cream, so the whole mob decided to attack in a blizzard.  Arnold was wounded during the fighting, but was really amped-up and wanted to stay, even after General Montgomery was killed, but the Big A sensibly buggered-off after the English brought in reinforcements.

I am Daniel Webster.
I do have an especially roomy ass.
The good news in general is that the USA revolution was a huge success, after those miserable French arrived and basically won the Revolutionary War for us, so Maine became part of a brand new country.  Hooray!  However, nobody knew just where the heck Maine ended and Quebec began, until in 1842, the Webster-Ashburton Treaty fixed that thorny problem when Daniel Webster totally pulled a map out of his ass with this big red line drawn in crayon, fer chrissakes! showing that Aroostock County was, indeed, part of the USA.  Yay for us, because THAT's where those delicious Maine potatoes come from.

And so Maine continued to be Maine-a-part-of-Massachusetts for the first part of USA's history.  Soldiers who could prove that they were Continental Army Regulars were granted plots of land in Maine, and many of them moved there and prospered or STARVED TO DEATH or FROZE TO DEATH because, hey, it was Maine, where that shit happens even today.  One famous person who moved to Maine was that fat bookseller who had a knack for sneaking stolen cannons around, Henry Knox.  He built a wicked-pissah house in Knox County in the town of Thomaston, which you can sort-of visit today.  I say sort-of, because the original house was gutted, abandoned and torn-down, but the people of Thomaston really needed a big tourist-trap, so they recreated the entire huge freaking house in the 1920's, probably doing a better job than the original carpenters, plumbers, glassiers, tilers, patio-guys and wallpaper-hangers did.  But it's still not quite the real deal, so SHENANIGANS  ON  YOU, FAKE  KNOX  HOUSE!!!

So, how roomy IS your ass, Webster?
Shut up, Calhoun, you slave-owning dweeb!
Then in 1820, something happened that wildly affected Maine, although it started out in a completely different part of the country and involved people whom Maine-Massachusetts had outlawed anyway.  Up until 1820, states were coming into the Union left and right, or I should say North and South, at a fairly even rate.  This was just fine, because of the unofficial understanding that Southern new-states could contain slaves, whereas Northern new states could not.  So when Missouri wanted in and wanted to keep its slaves, the whole country was thrown into a tizzy, because that would disrupt the balance between slave and free states in the Senate, where there was also an understanding that nobody would EVEN MENTION slavery because people just lost their shit whenever they talked about a topic that controversial.  Enter John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay and our friend Daniel Webster.  They set up a compromise, allowing Missouri to keep its slaves "But only Missouri, so don't try to sneak in any other slave states in the North, you evil buggers!" --quote attributed to Henry Clay after a night of HEAVY drinking.  That, or I just made it up.  Probably the latter.  But here's the genius part: to keep the free-slave-state balance in the Senate, Massachusetts agreed to part company with Maine, so Maine became its own state!  Yay!  It even had its own state flag, something which is very important.
My mustache proves that there is a walrus
somewhere in my family tree.

Nothing especially exciting happened in Maine until the Civil War, which sounded kind of fun for a bunch of Maine guys who were tired of fishing, farming and lumbering --sometimes all three on the same day! --so a bunch of them enlisted, whereupon they promptly pissed-off their officers so much that they wound up in a penal battalion (not as much fun as it sounds) and were headed off to army jail when lo and behold, General Lee had the good sense to attack Gettysburg, PA, and Maine's own Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain grabbed the whole bunch of them, marched them up Little Round Top hill, and totally saved the entire United States Army and probably won the war by beating the Alabama Rebels sent to kill those valiant Maine criminals --uh, soldiers. Huzzah, the USA was saved by Mainiacs!

After the Civil War, not much else happened in Maine again except electricity, the rest of the Industrial Revolution, powered flight, corn dogs, cotton candy, and the Eisenhower Interstate Highway system, which totally changed Maine because now, families could get to Maine by car, drop their brats off at some sadistic Maine summer camp like Outward Bound, and discover how quaint and charming (tourist-talk meaning backward and probably in-bred) Main really is.  And it is beautiful!  FDR had a place on Campobello, and even George Herbert Walker Bush, George "Dubbyah" Bush, Jeb "I'm really trying hard to be a Latino" Bush would summer in Kennebunkport.

And what do these tourists do all vacation-long?  Why, they fished, hunted, trapped crabs & lobsters, dug for clams, hung-out in the forests and along the coastline, and played a game that was all the rage amongst the tourons called "Guess Just What the F*ck the Locals Are Trying to Tell Us," because not only do Mainards have a really thick New England accent, but they also have bizarre grammar.  Like this sentence I totally heard come out of a Mainard's mouth: "But you wasn't gonnah be stahtin' to do nawthin yestahday no-how."  Right.

So come to Maine!  But plan to arrive after I depart, because I'm here also to get away from you :-P
Because moose are a bigger target.

1 comment:

  1. Haha, good one, Ex-Prof! I really liked the Maine dialect and the Benedict Arnold knock-knock joke :-)