The History of Castine

Though not officially established as a town until 1796, Castine’s history stretches back to the earliest North American exploration. Samuel de Champlain, the great French colonizer, first marked the peninsula on a geographic chart in 1612. A group of English colonists from Plymouth, Massachusetts established a trading post in the 1620’s, and about a decade later, the French built Fort Pentagöet on the Bagaduce River (the site is marked today with a cross near the Roman Catholic chapel). The Castine area – known as Majabigwaduce at that time - changed hands many times during the next 70 years as French, English, and Dutch colonial powers battled over territory.

In 1674, authorities in Quebec sent French nobleman Baron Jean Vincent d'Abbie de St. Castin down to recover parts of the Penobscot River lands from the Dutch.  After the Dutch were expelled, St. Castin stayed on to set up a trading post in Majabigwaduce, and married into the indigenous Tarratine Indian tribe. Over the next 25 years, St. Castin played an active role in Maine during the North American Colonial Wars - even earning a poetic tribute from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow as “The Baron of St. Castin.” He eventually returned to France, where he died in 1707. The town of Castine was officially named after the adventurous Baron in 1796, and continues to bear that moniker more than two centuries later.

The first permanent settlers appeared in Castine during the 1760’s. By then, the area was under mostly English authority, and remained occupied by British forces during the American Revolution – including the construction of Fort George in 1779. The Treaty of Paris that ended the Revolution, however, relocated the geographic boundary between British and U.S. territories, and most of Castine’s English settlers had left for Canada by 1784. After another brief occupation during the War of 1812, the rest of the British military finally departed in 1815.

Between then and the start of the American Civil War, Castine enjoyed great prosperity from fishing, lumber transport, and the salt trade. (In fact, one source in 1850 noted Castine as the second-wealthiest U.S. town per capita.) When the Civil War began in 1861, Castine sent 157 men to serve under the Union flag. The statue standing today on the Village Green was erected in 1881, in memory of those soldiers and sailors.

Castine’s seafaring prosperity declined after the Civil War, as railroads and steamboats made sailing ships obsolete. The 1880s and 1890s brought tourists and “rusticators” to the peninsula instead, and Castine thrived as a summer community of hotels, elaborate homes, and leisure attractions (including the current 9-hole golf course). By the 1920s, however, automobiles began replacing railroads and steamboats, and Castine’s tourism slowly changed.

The founding of the Maine Maritime Academy in 1941 finally gave Castine a new start as a year-round community. Today, the town harbors a population of about 1,300, about half of which are college students at the Academy. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, Castine’s population more than doubles with summer residents and visitors by land and sea.