Home Politics and Military Maine Timbers Shore Up the British Navy in 1666
Maine Timbers kept the British Navy afloat in the second Anglo-Dutch war in 1666.

Maine Timbers Shore Up the British Navy in 1666

Maine Timbers kept the British Navy afloat in the second Anglo-Dutch war in 1666.

Maine Timbers kept the British Navy afloat in the second Anglo-Dutch war in 1666.

There was nothing like a shipment of white pine Maine timbers from the New England colonies to cheer up a British Royal Navy undersecretary in 1666.

England’s prosperity depended on the navy to control the seas and trade routes. From March 1665 through July 1667, England was at war for a second time with the Dutch Republic, trying to end its domination of world trade.  But the Royal Navy faced a chronic problem: there were few trees big enough in Britain for spars and masts to outfit its warships.

The immense stands of tall white pines in northern New England offered a solution. They grew to a height of over 200 feet and were sometimes 10 feet in diameter. Some were a thousand years old. The British Admiralty was quick to grasp the potential of New England’s great white pines for ship construction.

Eventually laws were passed to reserve for the Crown. The king’s surveyors traveled the woods, scoring the king’s trees with three slashes shaped like an arrow – the King’s Broad Arrow. The laws were honored more in the breach than in the observance.

During most of the 17th and 18th centuries, Falmouth, Maine (now Portland), and Portsmouth, N.H., were the center of the mast trade.

Samuel Pepys was an undersecretary of the British Admiralty in 1666. He kept a detailed diary from 1660-69.

On Dec. 3, 1666, Pepys had a bad day at work, ‘with everybody prophesying destruction to the nation.’ One event comforted him: “There is also the very good news come of four New England ships come home safe to Falmouth with masts for the King; which is a blessing mighty unexpected, and without which, if for nothing else, we must have failed next year. But God be praised for this good fortune, and send us a continuance of his favor in other things.”

It would not be enough, however, as Britain was unable to put its entire navy into fighting shape and England was beaten soundly in the war that ended in 1667.

This story was updated from the 2014 version. 


Sarah H. Gordon
Sarah H. Gordon December 4, 2014 - 3:58 am

Artilce on the Maine mast trade here

Flashback Photo: The 1782 Sack of Lunenberg by America’s Pirate Navy - New England Historical Society July 1, 2016 - 4:43 pm

[…] During the war, privateers commanded 1,697 ships– 26 times as many as the continental navy’s 64 vessels. Privateering was lucrative, but it was also dangerous. Seventy-eight percent of privateer ships were captured or sunk by the Royal Navy. […]

How Scottish POWS Were Sold as Slave Labor in New England - New England Historical Society May 15, 2018 - 10:09 am

[…] Another 25 Scottish POWs were taken to the Newichwannock River, now the Salmon Falls River in Berwick, Maine. They went with an Englishman named Richard Leader, who was granted an abandoned mill. Leader put the Scottish laborers to work sawing Maine white pine trees, needed for the British Navy. […]

Flashback Photo: Old Ironsides Rescued From the Scrap Heap - New England Historical Society August 4, 2018 - 8:21 am

[…] Ironsides defeated four English warships of the supposedly invincible British Navy during the War of […]

Six Historic Boats, From Schooners to Submarines - New England Historical Society August 4, 2018 - 11:18 am

[…] defeated four English warships of the supposedly invincible British Navy during the War of 1812. On Aug. 19, 1812, she earned her nickname while quickly winning a […]

How the Londonderry Scots-Irish Saved New Hampshire from Massachusetts - New England Historical Society July 7, 2019 - 7:40 am

[…] them away from his enemies. He also let his political friends harvest pine trees reserved for the king’s masts, which would prove his eventual […]

Don Pedro, The Last True Pirate To Raid the Atlantic Sea - New England Historical Society February 6, 2020 - 6:15 pm

[…] Massachusetts, the Mexican crew reported the crime. The British Royal Navy then hunted Don Pedro. The pirates knew they were wanted, so they buried $11,000 – what was left […]

Comments are closed.