On April 4, 1820, a southern gentleman named Henry Putnam wrote a long letter describing Brunswick, Maine, to a friend back home in Charleston, S.C. Maine had been a state less than a month.
During the weeks he spent in Brunswick, Putnam wrote a series of detailed letters to his friend, identified as F.W. Esq. Later had them published in a small volume called, A DESCRIPTION of BRUNSWICK, (M A I N E) IN LETTERS BY A GENTLEMAN FROM SOUTH CAROLINA, to A FRIEND IN THAT STATE
Henry Putnam admitted to F.W. he expected to find odious Yankees in his travels. He also visited Portland, Bath, Wiscassett and Hallowell. He was surprised to find the people of Maine “intelligent, enterprising, and industrious.” He wrote:
Though you believe me in a wilderness, amid bears and wolves, I can assure you, I rumble fearless through delightful scenery, daily acquire information, and cull the flowers of taste.
You know I came into New England, especially into Maine, with deep prejudices against the northern character. The term Yankee we were taught to consider odious: but I now confess it a title, I should be proud to bear.
Putnam noticed something else about Brunswick, Maine, and it wasn’t the college. He saw a well-armed, well-disciplined militia.
Brunswick in 1820 had a population of about 4,000, with about 20 stores, a gristmill, a textile mill (of special interest to the southerner), Bowdoin College and five churches. The Congregationalists had one, two for Baptists, one for Friends and one for Freewill Baptists.
Henry Putnam noticed something true even then about Maine: It has lots of old people.
I believe, I remarked in my last that the climate is very salubrious. There are many instances of longevity in this place and Topsham. At their elections, I have seen a number at the polls, more than ninety years of age.
The Civil War wouldn’t start for another 40 years, but Putnam closely observed New England’s military preparedness.
In military strength and resources, the south we know must give New England the decided preeminence. Maine ranks high with her parent and sister states in energy and discipline. I have attended a number of reviews with much satisfaction. You rarely find a sol-dier, that is not completely equipped. Here I have contemplated the importance of harmony and union between the south and north; that in such a world of vicissitude and chance, perhaps half a century may not roll away, ere our slaves may necessitate us to look to the north for protection, and that even Missouri in blood may lament her boasted acquisition.
He watched a militia regiment drill on the parade ground.
A regiment consisting of about a dozen companies has a line parade ground in this village. The cavalry appear well. There are two companies of artillery in excellent order and discipline. Their light infantry, in a beautiful uniform, for exactness in step, correctness in evolution, and quickness of movement, vie with the first corps in the Union.
What Putnam couldn’t know was the role Brunswick would play in the starting and fighting the Civil War. Harriet Beecher Stowe would write Uncle Tom’s Cabin in Brunswick. And a college professor named Joshua Chamberlain would fight heroically in the war itself.
Henry Putnam continued his observations of Maine’s military preparedness, which put the South to shame.
The four neighboring towns, exhibit more field artillery, than the great state of Virginia did in 1810. The constitution of Maine exempts but few from the rolls, and of course all are soldiers here. I have never seen any take the ranks with a stick, or umbrella for a weapon: as you often have witnessed even in the middle states, Their returns exhibit nearly as many muskets as men. Of so much importance is military discipline considered in Maine; you will find their boys with their wooden guns and swords are quite skilled it tactics, before, by age, they are required to do duty. In military music, they are rapidly improving. They have an eye to French movements in their attention to time and step. Many of them have had the advantage of attending the reviews in Boston, which is the school of our country.
Read all of the letters here.
This story last updated in 2022.
Images: Maine Militia Flag By David B. Martucci – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=71923231.