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Twenty Unsettled Miles in the Northeast Boundary

301 pages
Library of Alexandria
For nearly three hundred years, and almost without cessation, there has raged a conflict of jurisdiction over territory lying near to what is known as the Northeast Boundary of the United States. It has been generally assumed, however, that the Webster-Ashburton treaty of 1842, together with the Buchanan-Packenham treaty of 1846, settled all outstanding differences with Great Britain in the matter of boundaries, and few people are aware that there is an important failure in these and earlier treaties, to describe and define all of the line which extends from ocean to ocean and fixes the sovereignty of the adjacent territory. From the mouth of the St. Croix River to the ocean outside of West Quoddy Head is a distance of about twenty-one miles, if the most direct route through Lubec Channel be taken. Somewhere, from the middle of the river at its mouth to a point in the ocean about midway between the island of Campobello and Grand Menan, the boundary between Maine and New Brunswick must go, and, inferentially, for about one mile of this distance it is tolerably well fixed. But this is only an inference from the generally accepted principle that where two nations exercise jurisdiction on opposite sides of a narrow channel or stream of water, the boundary line must be found somewhere in that stream. That this has not been a universally accepted principle, however, will appear later. Throughout the remaining twenty miles, the territory under the jurisdiction of the United States is separated from that under the dominion of Great Britain by a long, irregularly shaped estuary, almost everywhere more than a mile in width and over a large part of its length opening into Passamaquoddy Bay and other extensive arms of the sea. This large body of water, with an average depth of twenty-five fathoms and everywhere navigable for vessels of the largest size, flows with the alternations of the tides, the rise and fall of which is here eighteen to twenty feet, now north, now south, with a current in many places as swift as five and six miles per hour. Nothing like a distinct channel or “thread of stream” exists, and it can in no way be likened to or regarded as a river. When once the mouth of the St. Croix is reached, the boundary line is defined by the treaty of 1783 to be the middle of that river, up to its source, but literally, as well as figuratively, we are at sea as to its location from that point to the open ocean. It is the purpose of this paper to give some account of the circumstances which gave rise to such a curious omission; the incidents which led to a diplomatic correspondence and convention relating to the matter, in 1892, between the two governments interested; and the attempt which was made during the two or three years following the convention to determine and mark the missing boundary.