||History of Castine
Castine, Maine is one of the oldest communities in North America. It has been occupied continuously since the early 1600s as the site of numerous trading posts, forts, missions and permanent settlements of France, Holland, England and colonial America. Before 1613, and during the course of its long history, Castine has also been home to several nations of Native Americans.
What is now known as the Castine peninsula appears on a 1612 chart that geographer and explorer Samuel de Champlain submitted to King Henry IV of France. His enthusiasm for the region led to the establishment of a French trading post in 1613. Its location is described in French records as being on the eastern side of what is now called Penobscot Bay. The French called the peninsula Pentagoet (later Castine). In 1614 Captain John Smith charted this area of the coast for British interests.
Following the signing of the Breda Treaty in 1667, which ended the war between France and England, Castine and the surrounding territory was deeded to the French. A French officer, Jean Vincent d'Abbadie de St. Castin, obtained a grant from the King of France for land in the vicinity of Pentagoet and the peninsula that would eventually bear his name.
The Dutch briefly occupied Castine twice, once in 1674 and again in 1676, when they bombarded it from the bay. After coming ashore, the Dutch turned the guns of Fort Pentagoet on its walls and buildings, destroying it completely.
During the early 18th century, life in Castine was relatively tranquil. As England's relationship with the liberal American colonists continued to deteriorate, the British decided in 1779 to once again rebuild and occupy Castine's forts, recognizing the area's strategic location and its importance as a convenient source of timber for masts and other supplies. When word of the occupation reached the Massachusetts Board of War, 18 armed vessels and 24 transports carrying 1,000 ill-trained militiamen and 400 marines sailed to Castine to recapture it. Commodore Dudley Saltonstall of New Haven, Connecticut commanded the naval force. Brigadier General Solomon Lovell was in charge of land forces, with General Peleg Wadsworth as his second-in-command, and Colonel Paul Revere as the ordinance officer.
What followed is still considered by some historians to be the worst naval defeat in United States history. The American fleet sat in the Penobscot Bay for several weeks deciding what to do. This gave the superior British fleet time to make their way to Castine from Halifax, Nova Scotia. It advanced on the American ships, forcing them to retreat up the Penobscot River. Once bottled up in the river, Saltonstall had no choice but to scuttle his ships, forcing his troops to make their way on foot back to Massachusetts. Saltonstall and Revere were court-martialed; the former was cashiered, the latter exonerated.
After the signing of the Treaty of Paris which ended the Revolutionary War, the boundary between Canada and the United States was set at the St.Croix River rather than at the Penobscot. Later, when the War of 1812 broke out, American troops were garrisoned in Castine but were unable to defend the town against a superior British force. By 1814, Castine once again was under the British flag. A year later the British evacuated the region and Castine became an American town once and for all.
In the years that followed, 121 ships, many owned and commanded by local people, were launched from Castine shipyards. Local ropewalks, sail lofts and ship chandlers provided all necessary goods and services for maritime trade that was carried on primarily with the West Indies and England. A salt depository supplied the Grand Banks fishing fleets. At times, hundreds of ships were anchored in Castine Harbor.
The Civil War, the decrease in the number of sailing ships and the growth of railroads signaled the end of Castine's greatest era of prosperity. However, as the end of the 19th century drew to a close, Castine was once again rediscovered. As in the past the discoverers approached by water, this time aboard steamboats. These were the summer people, or "rusticators" as the natives called them. Many built elaborate summer cottages, as well as less pretentious log cabins. In 1897 a golf course was added to Castine's summer attractions, designed by the well-known Scottish course designer Willie Parks, Jr. During the 1900s, Castine continued to flourish as a summer community until the Maine Maritime Academy was founded in 1942, and then the town emerged as a viable year-round community.
In 1867, the Eastern State Normal School opened its doors at The Abbott School on the Town Common. In 1873 it moved into two large brick buildings in town where it continued to function until 1942. Since then, the Maine Maritime Academy has occupied these buildings. In the meantime, The Abbott School was used as the Castine High School until 1961, when declining population forced its closing. In 1994, the Castine Historical Society purchased The Abbott School. This handsome, three-story building of classic, Italianate design has been completely restored and now serves as the headquarters of the Castine Historical Society.