Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone! I am always happy when I can publish a trivia post that is topical in some way. Hopefully you are reading this email early enough that it reminds you to wear some green today. This year, as you drink your green beer and eat your corned beef (not really Irish, by the way), take a moment to think about things that are really Irish. Like Atlantic salmon, white pine, wild blueberry, honey bees, moose, and lobsters. Wait, those aren’t Irish things. Those are the state symbols of Maine! What’s going on here? Read on – we’ll get to that.
As you are no doubt aware, although St. Patrick’s day is on March 17th, we get to celebrate Maine’s admission as the 23rd state in the United States two days before that. The territory which became the state of Maine was originally a part of Massachusetts. Called “The District of Maine“, it officially became a state on March 15, 1820. However, before it became a state it was once a part of the English colonies in America.
Now, if you ask me, the European colonizers weren’t exactly the best at coming up with names for places. I’m pretty bad at names myself, but I think that I could at least do better than them. There are lots of things which just got named after similar places in their home countries. That’s how we ended up with New York (formerly New Amsterdam), New England, New Hampshire, Novia Scotia, and more. New, new, new, new, new.
The United Kingdom seems to have been the worst at this kind of nomenclature. You’ve got New England (of course), Nova Scotia (the Latin one), and New South Wales (named by James Cook, because the coast reminded him of the coast of Wales). But the United Kingdom contained one more important territory – Ireland. So where is “New Ireland”? Well, as it turns out, there was a New Ireland – twice. The territory was established in 1779 when British troops captured the part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony which is now Maine. They held the area for four years, until it was ceded to the fledgling United States in the Treaty of Paris. However, during the War of 1812, they managed to recapture the area, reestablishing New Ireland for a whole eight months, until it was given back at the Treaty of Ghent.
The War of 1812 was actually one of the main reasons (get it?) that the people of Maine pushed for their own statehood. During the war, the Massachusetts government did not take sufficient actions to protect Maine. The people of Maine felt under-represented in the Massachusetts legislature, especially because the state’s inland farming population was growing much larger than its coastal population. Because of their lack of votes, they were unable to sway the Massachusetts General Court to send troops their way. This mounting dissatisfaction eventually resulted in Maine’s population holding a vote to declare they wanted to be their own state. In 1819, the Massachusetts legislature agreed that Maine could secede, as long as Congress agreed. It’s admission was not without controversy, however. Its acceptance was guided by Henry Clay as a part of the famous Missouri Compromise, which promised that any states north of the 36° 30′ parallel would prohibit slavery. (Of course, this compromise only lasted until the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854).
So, in a sense, you could say that Maine is the most Irish state in the US. I don’t think many people from Ireland would agree with that statement, but most of our American St. Patrick’s Day traditions are pretty much made up anyways. What’s one more on the list?
Side note: I learned in the course of writing this that Maine has a state soft drink – Moxie. As with many sodas, it got its start as a medicinal drink called “Moxie Nerve Food”.
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