For a short time, nearly two hundred years ago, a tiny independent nation with a population of only about 300 souls lay sandwiched on the border between the United States of America and the Province of Lower Canada (then still a British colony). The Republic of Indian Stream declared independence from both United States and British rule due to untenable and intolerable circumstances.
The rural area of 282 square miles had been in dispute for nearly fifty years due to imprecise wording in the 1783 Treaty of Paris. The treaty between Great Britain and her former colony officially brought an end to the Revolutionary War and, among other important points of agreement, specified the borders of the newly founded United States.
The northern border between Lower Canada and the U.S. state of Vermont was set at 45° North latitude, as shown on the map above.
The northern border between Lower Canada and the U.S. states of Maine and New Hampshire was a bit more complex. The treaty described that border as, “…along the said highlands which divide those rivers that empty themselves into the river St. Lawrence, from those which fall into the Atlantic Ocean, to the northwesternmost head of the Connecticut River.” The stream, or northwesternmost headwaters of the Connecticut River, would be the border from the highlands watershed divide down to the 45° North latitude border of Vermont.
The ‘highlands’ in the treaty referred to topographical high ground which caused rainfall north of the highlands to flow northward through the streams and rivers of Lower Canada into the St. Lawrence river, and rainfall south of the highlands to flow southward through the streams and rivers of the U.S. to the Atlantic Ocean. In other words, the highlands were the local version of the Rocky Mountains – the Continental Divide – where water flows either east or west. The highlands divided the regional watershed into waters that flowed north or south.
The dispute came about because of conflicting interpretations of the phrase, “…northwesternmost head of the Connecticut River.”
The Connecticut River constitutes the border between Vermont and New Hampshire. The headwaters of the river originate north of 45° latitude, somewhere very close to the Atlantic/St. Lawrence watershed divide.
Their are four headwaters feeding the Connecticut River: Halls Stream, Indian Stream, Perry Stream, and the Connecticut River itself which originates at Third Connecticut Lake, flows south through Second Connecticut Lake, First Connecticut Lake, and finally through Lake Francis.
The part of the Connecticut River flowing through these four lakes is little more than a stream. Even if it were more than that, it is the easternmost tributary of the river’s four headwaters. Nevertheless, the British government determined that this was the border, applying British law and taxes to the people living in the disputed area.
Meanwhile, the U.S. determined that the the border had to be the northwesternmost tributary. Halls Stream, therefore, was the border recognized by the U.S. government and the state of New Hampshire. Residents were expected to observe the laws of and pay taxes to New Hampshire.
Both governments treated the area as its own. Neither recognized the claim of the other and were unable to resolve the situation. Having two Sheriffs was bad enough. Having two tax collectors meant double taxation, which was understandably intolerable.
Several decades of patience came to an head. The local citizenry had had enough and were ready to take drastic steps to rectify what the governments could not or would not.
Of course, there was no easy solution among the locals either. Some wanted to declare allegiance to the United States and New Hampshire. Others wanted to belong in the U.S., but didn’t want to be a part of New Hampshire. Still others wanted to remain loyal British citizens.
A compromise was made, and on July 9, 1832, the citizens of The Republic of Indian Stream declared independence from both the United States and the Province of Lower Canada. They created a constitution, elected representatives, and wrote their own laws.
The U.S. government more or less shrugged its shoulders, said, “Okay”, and applied import duties on goods from Indian Stream, just the same as any other country, thus giving tacit recognition to the new nation.
The British were not amused, however, and continued to tax “its” citizens and enforce British law on Indian Stream. The worst part of it was forced conscription of Indian Stream citizens into the Canadian army.
The sheriff of Coos County, New Hampshire, of which Indian Stream had formerly been a part, did not take the news well either, continuing to meddle in the affairs of Indian Stream.
Arrests were made by law enforcement from both north and south of the border. A small amount of violence occurred in retaliation, but fortunately no one was killed.
In desperation, the government of Indian Stream wrote to U.S. Attorney General Benjamin Franklin Butler asking to be admitted to the United States, but not as a part of New Hampshire. (They must have really hated the sheriff of Coos County).
Butler declined their request, seeing no advantage in owning a disputed territory that didn’t want to be part of the adjacent state. The Coos County sheriff then arranged for state militia to back him in his efforts to bring Indian Stream under his full control. In response, the British threatened to send in regular troops to prevent an invasion of their territory by New Hampshire militia.
Caught between a rock and a hard place, the citizens of Indian Stream voted April 2, 1836, to become an unconditional part of New Hampshire and were welcomed back. The militia stayed home, removing any need or justification for the British to send in troops.
In the end, the border dispute was resolved in favor of the United States and was one of several border agreements formalized in the Webster–Ashburton Treaty, signed August 9, 1842, on behalf of the United States by Secretary of State Daniel Webster.
Trivia Fact: Daniel Webster was not related to Noah Webster of dictionary and school book fame.
Question of the night: What makes your home town a great place to live?