Machias Rebels Capture British schooner at Start of Revolutionary War

Machias, District of Maine, Massachusetts (June 1775) – Aroused by the recent news of skirmishes between Colonists and British troops at Lexington and Concord, near Boston, a band of Machias residents responded angrily to threats on their town from a British officer and attacked and captured his 100-ton schooner, the Margaretta, killing the officer and at least four others in the process.

The battle to take the Margaretta was the result of spontaneous reactions — the British would call it a mob action — to threats on the town of Machias made by the commander of the British schooner Margaretta, Midshipman James Moore. The fever pitch of the participants was fueled by recent news of the skirmishes around Boston that started America’s fight for independence. In May 1775, a group of Machias men met in the Burnham Tavern in response to the news from Lexington and Concord. In the meeting, Benjamin Foster suggested and the group agreed, that they signal their support for the colonies and independence by erecting a Liberty Pole — a large pine tree with all but the very top branches stripped off — in the center of town.

On June 2, 1775, the British schooner Margaretta escorted two merchant vessels — Ichabod Jones’ sloops, the Unity and Polly — into port at Machias to provide provisions for the community and to obtain lumber to erect barracks for the British troops stationed back in Boston. Upon seeing the Liberty Pole, the British commander James Moore ordered its immediate removal and threatened to fire on the town if this order was not obeyed.

This enraged the free-spirited men of Machias, who refused to dismantle the pole. During the following week-and-a-half, Jones conducted tense negotiations for the sale of his provisions and for the purchase of lumber for the British. And, Moore continued to issue threats if the Liberty Pole wasn’t taken down. Tension only increased and the resolve of the Machias community stiffened.

Upon hearing of the events occurring in Machias, men from neighboring towns arrived in support. In turn, the men of Machias conspired to capture the British officer and his ship. Their initial plan to seize Moore at church on June 11, 1775 failed when — as Rev. James Lyon preached — Moore sensed the imminent danger, lept out an open window of the church and escaped back to his ship.

Moore immediately ordered the Margeretta to weigh anchor and move further down river to a safer position. As he did, the vessel fired some warning shots over Machias and some Machias men fired musket shots at the ship from small boats and canoes, as well as from vantage points on shore. This skirmish lasted about an hour and a half before the Margaretta moved further out, captured another sloop and impressed its pilot, Captain Toby, to assist in navigating the British ship out to sea.

The next day, Monday June 12th, the men of Machias regrouped and came up with an alternative plan to man some ships, chase down the Margeretta, board it and take control by force. Benjamin Foster took about 20 men to a neighboring community, East River, to man a schooner, the Falmouth Packet. The remaining men commandeered one of Jones’ merchant ships, the Unity. They quickly installed some planks on the Unity as makeshift breastworks to serve as protection, armed themselves with muskets, pitchforks and axes and then set out after the Margaretta, which by this time had moved further downstream toward open waters.

In fact, when Moore saw the preparations underway on the Unity, the British vessel once again weighed anchor and sailed on to nearby Holmes Bay. But in jibing into brisk winds, the Margaretta’s main boom and gaff broke away, crippling its navigability. As a result, once in Holmes Bay, Moore captured a sloop, took its spar and gaff to replace the Margaretta’s and took captive the pilot of the sloop, Robert Avery, of Norwich, Connecticut.

Some firsthand accounts, indicate that both the Unity and the Falmouth Packet engaged the Margaretta, but most other sources indicate that Benjamin Foster and company either ran aground in the Falmouth Packet or never caught up to the Margaretta, and that the men aboard the Unity alone battled the Margaretta directly. During the chase, the Unity crew elected Jeremiah O’Brien as its captain, and with the Unity being a much faster sailing vessel, O’Brien’s crew quickly overtook the crippled Margaretta.

On the approach of the Unity, the Margaretta opened fire, but the Machias crew managed to avoid that fire and pull alongside the Margaretta. It took two tries, but they tied alongside and stormed on board the Margaretta. Captain O’Brien’s brother John and Joseph Getchell led the boarding. Both sides also exchanged musket shots, and Moore tossed hand grenades onto the Unity until Samuel Watts took him down with a musket shot to the chest.

With their commanding officer down, the British quickly succumbed to the onslaught and surrendered the Margaretta to Captain O’Brien and his crew. Moore was taken into care in Machias at the home of Stephen Jones, the son of Ichabod Jones, but Moore died the next day. At least three of Moore’s crew were also killed, as well as Robert Avery, the colonist who was impressed by the British. Avery’s fate was certainly an extremely unfortunate case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some accounts relate a higher death toll among the British. The remaining crew members of the British schooner were eventually handed over to the Provincial Congress.

Machias lost two men, John McNeil and James Coolbroth. McNeil was killed instantly while Coolbroth died after the skirmish of his wounds. Three others were badly wounded but survived. They were John Berry, who had a musket ball enter his mouth and exit behind his ear, Isaac Taft and James Cole.

Accounts indicate that about 40 Machias men manned the Unity. George W. Drisko, a local Machias historian, actually listed the following 55 names of Machias men for whom he had evidence of participating in the attack on the Margaretta. Jeremiah O’Brien, John O’Brien, William O’Brien, Joseph O’Brien, Gideon O’Brien, Dennis O’Brien, Edmund Stevens, Richard Earle (a Negro servant to Jeremiah O’Brien), John McNeil, Richard McNeil, William McNeil, Samuel Watts, John Steele, John Drisko, Judah Chandler, John Berry1, James Cole,, John Hall, Jesse Scott, Wallace Fenlason, Ezekiel Foster, Joseph Clifford, Jonathan Brown, Josiah Libbee, Joseph Getchell1, Joseph Getchell, Jr.1, James Sprague, James N. Shannon, Benjamin Foss1, Jonathan Knights, Josiah Weston, Joel Whitney, John Merritt, Isaac Taft, James Coolbroth, Nathaniel Crediforth, Joseph Wheaton, John Scott, Joseph Libbee, Simon Brown, Beriah Rice, Samuel Whitney, Elias Hoit, Seth Norton, Obadiah Hill, Daniel Meservey, John Steel, Jr., Nathaniel Fenderson, John Mitchell, Will Mackelson, John Thomas, David Prescott, Ebenezer Beal, John Bohanan, Thomas Bewel and Abial Sprague. In addition to those who manned the Unity and the Falmouth Packet, many others participated in the preliminary skirmishes from the shore and smaller boats.

In the following days, the full burden of their actions weighed heavily on the Machias community. Expecting the full wrath of the British empire in revenge, they immediately petitioned the Provincial Congress of the Massachusetts Colony for guidance, supplies and assistance. They organized for the defense of Machias and maintained vigilance in the event of British vengence. Jeremiah O’Brien immediately outfitted the Unity with breastworks and armed her with the guns and swivels taken from the Margaretta and changed her name from Unity to Machias Liberty. Joseph Getchell took the Margaretta and hid her as far up the Middle River as high tide would take her.

A month later, Jeremiah O’Brien and Benjamin Foster captured another British armed schooner, the Diligence, that happened to dock at Machias during a mapping expedition along the coast. This gave the Machias residents two armed ships of war.

During the war, different crews of Machias men re-outfitted and armed different ships — including the Margaretta — and sailed looking for battle with the British. And in 1776 and 1777, different British officers received orders to go and destroy Machias. But the residents of Machias withstood these efforts to the extent that Machias became known as the “Hornet’s Nest” to the British admiralty. One British officer, presumed to be Sir George Collier, said “The damned rebels at Machias were a harder set than those at Bunker Hill.”


Of the crew on board the Unity during the fight for the Margaretta, three of the men were ancestors of Douglas Noble, the ownsr of this webpage. John McNeil, who was killed during the battle, was his 4th great grandfather. John’s brothers Richard and William, his 4th great uncles.

Upon learning of John’s death his father-in-law, John Rolf ,would take his widow, Elizabeth (Rolf) McNeil, along with their three children, Betsy, Jane and newborn John, Jr., to the safety of Deer Island, New Brunswick. Canada.


References: George W. Drisko’s “History of Machias”, the “Life of Captain Jeremiah O’Brien”, the “Sea of Glory”, William James Morgan’s “Captains to the Northwind”, and the “American Theatre”

Other Relevant Resources: Drisko’s “The Liberty Pole; a Tale of Machias”, William Bartlett Smith’s “Historical Sketch of Machias” and “Memorial of the Centennial Anniversary of the Settlement of Machias”, Stephen Jones’ “Historical Account of Machias, Me.”, and Foxhall A. Parker’s “The First Sea Fight of the Revolution; the Capture of the Margaretta”

Christmas Letter 2018

Dear friends and family.

I hope this season brings happiness to you and yours.

We had an exciting 2018. I had hoped to add pictures, but had hard drive failure again.

In March of 2018 I again took the whole family to Mars for a couple of weeks. This time we followed the latest rover for a couple of hours and had to watch out to not get photographed. The kids thought it was a great game.

The Martians still sneak in at night and put items around it that look a lot like earth creatures. They have a great sense of humor.

The Martian who dusts off the rover’s solar panels every night when it is down, is still at it and nobody at NASA can figure it out what is happening. One day we may tell them…or maybe not.

The most exciting part of the trip was visiting the Martian Museum where the Martians have gathered together all of the old landers and pieces of the first attempted landings. Strangely, some looked like they might not have come from earth.

They also have quite a number of interesting items in their souvenir shop. We bought a few. They are still in quarantine, being checked for contamination.

The Martians were really interested in buying Steve’s “Marvin the Martian” shirt, but he wanted to keep it. He did get it autographed, by several of them. We aren’t sure what it says since the entire Martian alphabet has not been translated as of yet.

Oh, that reminds me. When we arrived on Mars we were greeted by a welcoming committee of Martians wearing “Marvin the Martian” masks. As I said before, they have a great sense of humor.

On our way back we visited the American colony on the back side of the Moon. They were celebrating the colony’s 40th anniversary. They were happy to see us again, as were the Odnisors at the nearby “alien” colony who made my spaceship for me. I’m sure I told you how I came in contact with them. It is all in my story at:

I was really delighted to find out that with some help from our colony’s doctors they were able to finally solve the problem they were having with the survival of their eggs. It turned out to be a trace mineral that had somehow disappeared from their diet and been overlooked. Everything is fine now and they are going to stay.

Steve decided that he and his son, James, would like to stay on the moon for a while so he could see what new inventions the Odnisors and come up with. If you recall, they originally had colonies on Earth and gave us most of what we know in the way of architecture, electronics, etc.

I went back and picked them up two weeks later. James loved playing with the silly moon dogs and jumping high in the lower gravity. He really wanted to have a moon dog as a pet, but they are so difficult to keep alive on Earth, because of the higher gravity, that we thought it would be better not to. Maybe when he is older.

We spent a few days July in NOAA’s deep-sea living quarters near the bottom of the Marianas Trench. The sea at that depth, 36,000 plus feet, has some very interesting creatures living in it. Erika and Stella, my daughter and granddaughter, thought some of them looked a lot like the grey crawlers that live on Mars. I am sure you remember hearing about them and the other Martian life in my letter a few years back.

My time machine is working well and undergoing final tests on some improvements. Machine is probably not the right word, since what it does is just open a small portal to the past. Contrary to what Einstein said, we were able to go back in time, and have now proven that anything we do has already happened, so we are not going to change history.. My grandson, Harris, wants a small dinosaur for a report he is making on them. We have already obtained a few “chicken sized” ones for several universities, but I am not sure he needs one of his own, report or not.

Our gold mine is doing quite well. We opened it through my basement by using the small mining equipment the Martians loaned us. We are recovering around 30 ounces a day with very little work.

Everybody is in good health and looking forward to our trip to the top of Mount Everest in 2019. If you recall from my previous letters, I landed there a few years ago and surprised a number of climbers by coming out from behind a rock in my shorts, Hawaiian shirt and straw hat, and offering them bottles of beer. Fortunately for me it was a sunny day.

This time we plan to hover near the top, get out, plant a flag and take selfies. Then we will land at the highest flat spot and look around. We hope to bag up some of the garbage left by the climbers and bring it down.

Have a great 2019

Doug Noble and family, Steve, Karen, Erika, Roy, Stella, Harris and James..


Criminal Annals, Part 135 – Heavy Robbery

Continuing with the October 4, 1852 edition of the Sacramento “Daily Union,” we return to the “From the Interior” articles from Shasta, Sonoma and San Jose.


HEAVY ROBBERY. – It has been reported that Mr. L. H. Sanborn, of Sanborn’s ranch. Was robbed a few nights since of $4000. His house was entered about ten o’clock at night and the money was taken from beneath his pillow. We have seldom heard of such a bold and daring robbery.”


“ The Bulletin, speaking of the improvements in that delightful region, says that Gen. Vallejo has completed a beautiful cottage on what is known as the “spring property.” The spring from which the bath-house is supplied furnishes from 20 to 30 gallons of water per minute, irrigating a fine garden and vineyard of about 30 acres. The willows around the spring afford a pleasant retreat in warm weather, and is much visited by citizens and strangers.”
Note: General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo (1807-1890) was the Mexican military commander of northern California in 1846, when a group of Americans showed up at his home and, after devouring most of his food and wine, took him prisoner. This was the famous “Bear Flag Revolt,” in Sonoma which took place on June 14, 1846. Once the United States defeated Mexico in the war, Vallejo proved his allegiance to his new country by persuading wealthy Californios to accept American rule. An influential member of the state’s Constitutional Convention, he was elected as a member of the first session of the State Senate in 1850.

The Vallejo Estate in Sonoma, also known as Lachryma Montis (crying mountain), is part of the Sonoma State Historic Park. The Rancho Petaluma Adobe, the largest example of the Monterey Colonial style of architecture in the United States, is part of the Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park. Due to financial restraints, both of this parks have limited hours of operation.

“A panther weighing 200 pounds was killed last Saturday at Mr. Spence’s farm, about two miles from Sonoma. He had been prowling in that neighborhood for some time, and it is supposed killed several colts belonging to Mr. Spence.”


“From the Santa Clara Register [1852-1853, San Jose. Preceded by the Visitor, 1851-1852, and ultimately became part of the San Jose Mercury News] of Thursday, we extract the following:

“STABBED. – Last Sunday night, about ten o’clock, an Indian was found on Market street, near the Plaza, with a dangerous knife wound in the left side, and several other severe cuts in other parts of the body. It is not known by whom the deed was committed, the Indian being too drunk to give any account of the affair.

“On Monday morning last, the body of an Indian was found on a vacant lot on the south side of Santa Clara street, in a shockingly mutilated state. It is supposed that the Indian was killed on Sunday night, but as yet we have no clue to the murderer.

“An American, name unknown, was killed on Tuesday night, two miles above this city, near the Townsend House. Particulars not known at present.

“A man by the name of Porter was shot by the guard of the county jail on the night of the 19th inst. It seems that Porter had gone near the guard and upon being hailed several times and failing to answer, the guard very naturally suspected his motives and fired upon him. We are pleased to state that the wound though severe is not dangerous, and that the unfortunate man is now convalescent. It was only through Porter’s inadvertency in failing to answer when hailed, that he was shot.

“On Monday morning, a Pennsylvanian by the name of James Blair, was found murdered in the south-eastern portion of San Jose.”

Following this article is the usual, but often entertaining report from the Recorder’s Court.

“Recorder’s Court. – Before Judge McGrew. Saturday, Oct. 2

“Attendance slimmer than usual this morning and not so many colors to variegate the scene.

“Jonathan Harold, for assault and battery on the person of Levi Welber. Found guilty and fined $10 and costs – in all $30.

“Harry, from Bombay, for drunkenness and disorderly conduct. This was Harry’s first offense, and didn’t amount to anything, at that; so he was permitted to vamos [Spanish – leave hurriedly. Anglicized to “vamoose.”]

“James Hinnessy, for threats made against the person of Blanch Ellis, one of the frail daughters of Eve. Found guilty, and bound over in the sum of $500 to keep the peace for three months.”

Amongst the advertisements in the latter pages of the paper is an article entitled, “From the South,” meaning information from southern California. It starts with the hearings on the claims for land issued by the Spanish and Mexican governments, but then adds additional information.

“We are indebted to the Alta [Alta California, San Francisco, 1849-1891. Descended from the California Star, 1847-1849] for the following summary:

“LATER FROM THE SOUTH. – The steamer Sea Bird, arrived here yesterday evening after a passage of three days from San Diego. Hon. G. W. Cooley, U. S Law Agent, and several members of this bar who attended the sittings of the Commission were among the passengers.

“Jeronimo [Geronimo], the celebrated chief of the Yumas, was killed at Santa Isabel by the Indians living in that neighborhood. He was enticed there and then treacherously murdered according to the usages of Indian warfare. His scalp and one ear were sent to the American authorities.

“A correspondent who has crossed the plains writes to the Star [Los Angeles, 1851-1879] that the Camanches, Yumas or Shacos, did not show their faces either in the day or night, and not an animal was stolen from their train. Some of the emigrant trains have met the fate of the careless and unconcerned. The southern route is far better for horses and mules than oxen, and the Santa Fe route is the best for those coming to California.

“Nicholas Blair, for several years a resident of Los Angeles, committed suicide on Saturday evening. Mr. Blair came to California as a member of Col. Stevenson’s regiment [New York Volunteers who fought in the Mexican War], and married a native if the country. He was a native of Hungary.”