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Penobscot Region


PENOBSCOT REGION is located on Maine's mid-coast and includes the Penobscot Bay and the Penobscot River, Maine's largest, as well as numerous islands, towns, and rivers. Vikings are thought to have visited the area in the tenth century, but there is no proof of this. Europeans first visited in the late 1400s and early 1500s, in search of a northwest passage to the Far East. After hearing of the abundant sea life, European fishermen followed. Despite the very cold winters, by the 1620s fishermen began to spend winters in the area, recognizing winter as the best season for fishing. They also discovered that the coastal areas were not nearly as harsh in winter as inland areas. Explorers and traders came and went; the fishermen were the first to establish the first permanent European settlements in Maine. British and French interests argued and fought over ownership to the region. The French established the Pentagoet trading post in 1613, in what is now Castine; the British built a post there in 1626, but the French drove them out. The Abenaki Confederacy of Indians formed an alliance with the French against the encroaching British, resulting in nearly a century of bloodshed. British colonists did not settle into the region in large numbers until after the war. The population of the islands and coastal areas grew rapidly after the Revolutionary War. As colonists came, the Indians were pushed out. All of the Indian reservations were placed outside the region, except the Penobscot Reservation, established in the 1830s on Indian Island in the Penobscot River.

The British also fought with Americans, in an effort to keep them from shipping lumber and other resources down the coast. Americans feared the British would control shipping from Maine to Massachusetts, so in 1779

they planned an attack, the Penobscot Expedition. Paul Revere commanded the land artillery under Solomon Lovell, and Dudley Saltonstall commanded the fleet. Twenty-one armed vessels and twenty-four unarmed transport vessels headed from Boston to Castine. Twenty-one ships with 900 men anchored off Castine on 25 July 1779. A few days later, 500 men converged on Castine near the British fort. The British prepared to surrender, but the Americans did not attack immediately. By the time they did, British reinforcements had arrived, and the Americans fled up the Penobscot River only to be trapped. Rather than give up their boats to the British, the Americans burned seventeen of their ships and fled home through the woods.

With all the warfare, the area became stagnant until the end of the American Revolution. Maine became a major shipbuilding center for the United States, leading the country and world in ocean commerce from 1835 to 1857, when a depression hit. Maine also exported many of its natural resources, such as granite, ice, lime, and wood to build the cities on the eastern seaboard. Although the region still flourishes economically, a very small percentage of jobs are in commercial fishing. The area has become a tourist haven in the summer, with many jobs in the service industry. The three counties comprising the region, Waldo, Hancock, and Knox, have a total population of about 128,000, with about 11.7 percent of the population living below the poverty level.


Banks, Ronald F., ed. A History of Maine: A Collection of Readings on the History of Maine, 1600–1976. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishing, 1976.

Duncan, Roger F. Coastal Maine: A Maritime History. New York: Norton, 1992.

Shain, Charles, and Samuella D. Shain, eds. Growing Up in Maine: Recollections of Childhood from the 1780s to the 1920s. Camden, Maine: Down East Books, 1991.

Mary AnneHansen

See alsoMaine ; Passamaquoddy/Penobscot ; Shipbuilding .

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