Song or Story
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Helen K. Atchison
The story heard here provides a humorous but fictional explanation of how the Maine-Canada border came to be established, particularly the straight section in the northwestern corner.
The story heard here provides a humorous but fictional explanation of how the Maine-Canada border came to be established, particularly the straight section in the northwestern corner. As Connors told it, the surveyors got drunk, took the wrong river, and then cut a line to get themselves back on track. This was, of course, not what really happened. Instead, the border was established through decades of negotiation between the American and the British governments, including arbitration by the King of the Netherlands from 1829 to 1831. These negotiations began after the American Revolution and culminated with the Aroostook War of 1838-39. The dispute was finally settled in Article I of the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842.
This type of story is not uncommon and has been used to explain any number of observations and experiences that do not seem to make sense. In this case, the border between Maine and Canada breaks away from the St. John River, which is arguably a logical or natural boundary line. The story is somewhat odd in that it seems to be making fools of the men who were assigned to draw the line and whose mistake benefited the United States (not to mention that it begs the question of why Britain would have accepted this line). This suggests the story may have originated among Canadians or at least among Americans with close ethnic and cultural ties to Canada. Considering the close connections between Maine and eastern Canada, it is possible that some residents of the area would still be sympathetic to Britain and Canada’s case even in 1840. One note on geography may be helpful: Connors mentions the town Estcourt in the story, which is the town in Quebec where the border takes the sharp southwestern turn.
Jim Connors, Helen K. Atchison, Maine, Quebec, St. John River, St. Francis River, Estcourt, St. Francis, Aroostook War, Webster-Ashburton Treaty, surveyors, historical fiction, 1830s, 1840s
Folklore | Oral History
Connors, Jim. 1972. “The International Boundary Line.” NA2891, CD491.1. Northeast Archives of Folklore and Oral History, Raymond H. Fogler Special Collections Department, University of Maine.