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Maine gained independence from Massachusetts 200 years ago. Here’s how it’s celebrating

Governor Janet Mills unveiled the bicentennial flag Tuesday in Bangor, Maine.
Governor Janet Mills unveiled the bicentennial flag Tuesday in Bangor, Maine.Maine Bicentennial Commission

Maine, “the colony of a colony,” kicked off a celebration Tuesday for the 200th anniversary of its statehood and independence from Massachusetts.

Governor Janet Mills traveled to four cities to start the celebrations. The kickoff was timed to roughly coincide with the anniversary of the vote by Mainers to separate from Massachusetts on July 26, 1819, said Stephen Bromage, executive director of the Maine Historical Society.

“Maine has a proud and storied history, and our bicentennial offers us the opportunity not only to honor it, but to recommit ourselves to the values that shaped us as a state and as a people,” Mills, a member of the Maine Bicentennial Commission, said in a statement.

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Mills, a Democrat serving her first term, started her day at 8 a.m. in Presque Isle at the Sargent Family Community Center. There, the Presque Isle Fire Department raised the bicentennial flag, the Bicentennial Commission posted on Instagram.

The festivities continued at Broadway Park in Bangor at 11 a.m., where a commemorative bench was installed with its pine grove, the commission tweeted.

Stopping at Deering Oaks Park in Portland at 2:30 p.m., Mills helped plant a tricentennial pine grove, according to tweets from the city of Portland.

The tour ended at Mill Park in Augusta at 5 p.m. At each location, Mills also announced programs and events for the next year and a half of bicentennial celebrations, the Bicentennial Commission said in a statement.

The District of Maine was a part of Massachusetts since its founding, but residents started to yearn for independence after the War of 1812. Mainers felt that Massachusetts did not adequately protect them from British invasion and that their economic development was being hindered, said Bernard Fishman, director of the Maine State Museum and member of the Bicentennial Commission.

However, independence was not instant. It took a series of votes before a majority was reached. Maine officially became a state in March of 1820, Fishman said.

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The Missouri Compromise also played an important role in the timing of Maine’s independence. With Missouri entering the union as a slave state, Maine could enter as a free state to maintain the balance of slave to free states, Fishman said.

The anniversary celebration is “a party, but it’s a thoughtful party, because there’s a lot of history involved,” he said.

While Fishman said he wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people didn’t know Maine was once a part of Massachusetts, he recognized the unique relationship the two states have.

“There’s a tongue-in-cheek rivalry,” he said. “Maine was the colony of a colony and still resents that.”

The bicentennial is an opportunity to celebrate what makes Maine special, such as its residents’ fierce independent spirit, but it is also a chance to look to the future, Fishman said.

Maine is the largest state by area in New England, and it is also the whitest and has the oldest median age, Fishman said. But Maine is in a period of rapid change, so this occasion is an opportunity to remind residents that “we are all one state,” he said.

“A lot of the Maine population lives in really rural areas . . . so there’s an attempt to try to recognize these different areas,” Fishman said.

The Maine Historical Society is celebrating the occasion with an exhibit called “Holding Up the Sky,” which explores the Wabanaki Native American confederation, Bromage said.

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An array of other initiatives will take place in 2020 to celebrate the historic year, including a parade, concert series, smartphone app, and time capsule, according to the Maine200 website .

There is also a statewide grant program, which will provide grants to communities for initiatives that will benefit their city or town, Fishman said.

“[Mainers are] very independent and kind of gentle and unhurried, but steadfastly self-directed,” he said. “Maine is full of very polite, un-anxious people but very zealous of being able to direct their own lives.”


Maria Lovato can be reached at maria.lovato@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @maria_lovato99.