The Aroostook War of 1839 between Canada
and the United States
has been mostly forgotten by history. Undeclared and virtually bloodless (one man died of frostbite
,) this brief sword rattling
between the state of Maine
and the province of New Brunswick
over logging rights does not exactly capture the interest of most casual historians. Nonetheless, it is an intriguing anecdote about Canada-U.S. relations in the 19th century.
The Treaty of Paris was not satisfactorily clear on the border between New Brunswick and the United States. In 1820 the state of Maine was created from land formerly governed by Massachusetts and began granting area to settlers in the St. John Valley, ignoring both the claims of the British and a previous arbitration by the King of the Netherlands.
Maine's actions were heavily influenced by the issue of who would receive the wood floated downstream and the fact that the state's land claims depended on getting citizens to settle on the St. John River's south banks.
Canadian lumberjacks began felling wood in the disputed area in the winter of 1838-1839, and tensions reached a head that following February when the U.S. census taker surveying the region was arrested by New Brunswick officials. Maine and New Brunswick both sent their militias to the area, and the United States Congress authorized a force of 10,000 soldiers to assist Maine.
No shots were ever fired in the war, however, as General Winfield Scott, dispatched by the United States, forced a compromise between both parties in March. The Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842 later settled the issue of the disputed border once and for all.
In the end, the United States gained 7,000 square miles of the disputed area, including the St. John Valley itself, Great Britain gained 5,000 square miles and the trade-critical passages of the St. John river were set aside for the use of both the U.S. and Canada.