1839: Charles Jarvis to William P. Parrott

This letter was written by Col. Charles Jarvis (1788-1865) who was appointed by Governor John Fairfield as the provisional Land Agent for the State of Maine following the capture of the official Land Agent, Rufus McIntire (1784-1866), by British authorities during the Aroostook War in 1838-9. The Aroostook War arose over a boundary dispute between the U.S. and Britain and was initiated when Land Agent McIntire attempted to conduct a census in the disputed area for the purpose of re-distributing U.S. tax revenue to Maine citizens occasioned by the closure of the 2nd U.S. National Bank in 1837.

The letter is interesting for its mention of the construction of a block house by Captain Alvin Nye and his men at Fort Fairfield on the Aroostook River near the border with Canada. It also mentions concern over the destruction of a boom placed across the Aroostook River by Capt Nye’s men to prevent Canadian lumberjacks from floating logs downriver in the illegal harvesting of timber in the disputed area. In the letter, Jarvis gives William P. Parrott, a civil engineer from Boston, surveyor, and deputy land agent, advice on the development of the fort, the planting of crops to support troops garrisoned there, and the construction of roads.


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[Addressed to William P. Parrott, Esq., Fort Fairfield]

Ellsworth [Maine]
April 17th 1839

Dear Sir

I wrote you a nonsensical letter from Bangor. If it had the effect of making you laugh, it was all that was expected. It was written in the Gentlemen’s Parlour of the Bangor House on the morning of the 16th when expecting any moment a summons for the stage and exposed to continual interruptions.

Maine Gov. John Fairfield

I have written Mr. [Rufus] MacIntire from this place advising the forwarding by Thomas Bartlett duplicate instructions to you so as to guard against the failure of them transmitted by mail to be forwarded by Cary from Houlton by express. The affair of the River is most unfortunate. I am fearful it will precipitate an attack on [Capt. Alvin] Nye & on the Boom. In the latter case, notwithstanding your scruples, I have confidence that you will not suffer it to be tamely cut. Though no longer considering myself as associated with you in service, yet my heart is with you & it will be one of the severest mortifications I ever endured should you meet with any mishap. My apprehensions concerning Nye arise altogether from the fear he may be attacked before his Block House is built. If they will only defer it until he has time to establish himself, I should almost wish they might make the attempt. I have written Mr. MacIntire a second time, enclosing this forwarding him a memorandum of articles subjoined. In addition to suggestion before made when we were together & which you may have received by letter from Mr. MacIntire, I have confidence you will not deem it impertinent to name the following for your consideration. The cutting down twenty or thirty acres on the hill south of Fort Fairfield with the view of having it cleared off this fall, to be sown with grass seed for the purpose of the road which will be opened from the Aroostook Road to Presque Isle & from Fort Fairfield running parallel with the North line of the State to Houlton. From conversations had with Mr. MacIntire, I have no doubt both of those roads will be opened in the manner proposed by me, under cover, of the general appropriation. The Fish River Road will be also opened & a fair prospect of the Aroostook Road from where now turnpiked to the St. Croix to be finished, This will afford employment for a large number of hands and thought now for the present detached. I think it more than probable I shall be hauled in to the vortices & we may thus be again brought into company.

Re-constructed hewed-timber blockhouse at Fort Fairfield

I would also advise the getting in as many potatoes on the clearing on Fort Fairfield & that which you will of course have round the Block House, adjacent to the Boom as you can. I have doubt as to the feasibility of attempting burning the cut down this spring on the hill to the northward and eastward of the Aroostook further than is necessary for the location of the Block House contemplated on the summit, say one acre. It will be impossible to get a good burn on the whole and a partial burn does but increase the labor of clearing. In case of an attack also the position will be stronger if surrounded by felled trees than if cleared off. The acre in question may be cleared by piling and burning it in heaps and will afford sufficient space for the raising of vegetables for those in occupation of the block house.

I would also advise the putting in a portion of the Lapland and English Turnip seed as soon as possible. This may be done when heaps of brush have been burned off and will require no other labor than the scattering of a few seeds. The advantage of having an early supply of these vegetables will be great at saving of bread and conducing to the comfort of the men. I have given Mr. MacIntire distinctly to understand that you would at all events require a furlough by the first of June before which time I shall join if ever.

With the highest regard

Your friend, — Charles Jarvis


Emblem on Banner carried by the Calais Frontier Guard in the Aroostook War 1839

Click here for Songs & Ballads of the Aroostook War.

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