Home Maine Peleg Wadsworth on the Discouragements of Revolutionary War

Peleg Wadsworth on the Discouragements of Revolutionary War

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On April 28, 1780, Gen. Peleg Wadsworth wrote a letter from Falmouth (now Portland), describing the sad state of the conflict in the Province of Maine. Since March, he had command of all the troops raised to defend the Province of Maine. He didn’t have many.

Wadsworth’s troops were not only sparse, they were underpaid and unmotivated. Hhe had incompetent officers and the inhabitants helped the enemy.

Wadsworth wrote in the aftermath of the disastrous Penobscot Expedition nearly two years earlier. An attempt to dislodge the British from the fort at Castine (also known as Majabigwaduce) resulted in the loss of 43 American warships – the worst American naval disaster until Pearl Harbor.

British ships defending against the Penobscot Expedition

British ships defending against the Penobscot Expedition

Both sides conducted the war haplessly in Maine. As James Phinney Baxter wrote in his History of the State of Maine,

Not only did the authorities on the American side proceed in a careless, unsystematic and blundering manner, leaving the soldiers engaged in it to starve and freeze until they heard a frantic appeal for help, but the British displayed no enterprise in prosecuting offensive operations. Had they possessed a single able military commander, they could have occupied and held the eastern part of Maine at almost any time.

On that April day, Peleg Wadsworth addressed his letter to the Massachusetts Council, the upper chamber of the Provincial Congress. He would prove prescient: In less than a year, the British would overrun his headquarters at Thomaston. They would also capture Wadsworth.

Peleg Wadsworth Writes

The letter:

I would inform Your Honor that I returnd to this Town on the 22nd Inst: from Thomaston: in which quarter there were on the 20th Inst:; only fifty men arrived of both Detachments, four of which only were from the County of York,

The Consequence of this Delay is very Dangerous, & is the cause of frequent desertions from the Inhabitants to the Enemy. It begets a Diffidence in the wavering, & even in our most zealous Friends: It inspires the Enemy with Perserverance in endeavouring to catch the deluded Inhabitants, that live in their Vicinity, & invites a profitable Correspondence to be kept up with them; by which they procure Supplies & Conveniencies. To prevent this I was induced on the 18 Inst:, nothwithstanding the want of men & Boats, to issue the inclosed Proclamation: In support of which my little party will be much exposed, till the expected arrival. I was further induced to issue this Proclamation to prevent the Inhabitants of the Islands & parts adjacent to Majabigwaduce from joining fully with the Enemy, or becoming obliged to quit their Habitations by the first of May; which they are required to do by a late Proclamation from the Enemy. Their Habitations however they must still quit unless the Neutrality I have required be admitted by the enemy: For it is better that those parts should be uninhabited, than that they should join heart & hand against us.

On my Return to this Town there were not any of the Troops arrived. Yesterday was the first beginning to fortify, & that with only twenty men. I have repeatedly urged the Commanding Officers in each County to forward their Quotas; a part only of which are raised, & just begun to be in motion. There seems to be the least prospect from the County of York. As I found it necessary to order the Parties of Matrosses, stationed in this Town & Cape Elizabeth, on constant duty, in order to get the Ordnances & Stores in good Readiness; to take notice of the discouragements, which they seem to labour under on account of small Allowance and light pay, which they looked upon as Reasons for attending but little to their duty, I have presumed to order them the same allowance with the rest of the Troops, (till the plasure of the State is known) which I request may be continued, & if not inexpedient, that some addition be made to their Wages, as it would render them alert in their duty. These two Parties of Matrosses, Your Honor is possible aware are small; they are commanded by two Sergeants, & those are not very capable. This induces me to renew my Request that there may be an addition to the Train here in some way or other.

(Read the whole letter here.)

This story last updated in 2022.



1 comment

Peleg Wadsworth Escapes the British in Castine, Maine - New England Historical Society April 23, 2020 - 9:12 am

[…] Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, served as a brigadier general in the patriot forces. As such, he had a discouraging task. He commanded troops raised for the defense of the Province of Maine, then part of Massachusetts.  […]

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