Alexander/Crawford History

Town News

By John Dudley & Cassie Oakes

Did you know that long before the arrival of Europeans on North America, highways existed?  A recent article in the Maine Sunday Telegram describes Wabanaki use of shallops, sloops and ketches (plank built sailing vessels) from the early, seventeenth century.  Europeans normally used these for coastal trade.

Harald Prins, an anthropologist authority on the Wabanaki, points out that while they used the European boats, their preferred mode of transportation was the birch bark canoe.  These canoes had many advantages over the plank built vessels; The materials to construct the canoes required no saw mills, the canoes were light and could be dragged over beaver dams and carried around dangerous rapids and across portages, and they could be repaired quickly using easily found bark, spruce roots and pitch.

With these birch bark canoes the Wabanaki could travel almost anywhere in the Maritime Penisula (New England and the Maritime Provinces).  Their highways were brooks, lakes, streams, rivers and the coast.  Prins mentioned one highway that went from the Narrows on Frenchman’s Bay, up the Union and on to the Penobscot River.  This avoided the open sea around Naskeag Point.  Another highway avoided the open sea along the Cutler Bold Coast.  It used Cobscook Bay, the Orange River, and Gardener Lake to get from Eastport to Machias.  

One highway has a connection to Alexander and Crawford and to the Revolutionary War.  In 1777 Colonel John Allen went from Machias to present day New Brunswick to encourage the people there to join in the war against England.  His expedition failed and he with the plank built sailing vessels was trapped by the British up the Saint John River to come with him to Machias.

According to Allan’s journal they started at Fort Meductic NB on July 12, travelled up the river of that name, portaged to the Eel River, hence to North Lake and to the Schoodic (St. Croix River).  Note that from this place in today’s Weston, it is only a short portage to the Mettawankeag River, hence the Penobscot.  However they travelled on down the St. Croix to Squirrel Point, up through Round (Lewey) and Long Lakes to Big Lake.
From Big Lake they portaged to what we now call Allan Stream that passes through northwest Alexander, down through Crawford Lake and they arrived at Hadley Lake on August 2 where the Malecities spent several years.  Their presence likely meant that we live today in the United States.  It is estimated 128 canoes and 500 Malecite made this trip.

And closer to home in Stoney Brook which connects the St. Croix River to Denny’s River.  When we look at a Wabanaki Highway and wonder how did they navigate some of these tiny brooks, we must remember that those brooks had beaver dams, so were a series of ponds, and the canoes were light.


More next time!