Calais, Maine

Calais Does It’s Part to Stop War
 Between England and the United States
Harold E. Nelson
14 Hill Avenue,
Newport, ME 04953
March 3, 2002

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In the days before the Transatlantic Telegraph Cable landed by the ship Great Eastern in 1866 at Newfoundland, news from Europe and England was brought by ship to Newfoundland, then telegraphed down the landlines to America. The only line of this information superhighway of the time entered the United States at the Telegraph Depot in Calais, Maine.

This was the system that gave rise to and fed the AP Wireservice, a consortium of New York newspapers that printed and distributed the news. Some telegraph stations had automatic repeaters which sped the words along the wire without hesitation, while at some locations, the news was heard in the form of dots and dashes, written down, and then re-sent by hand.

Telegraph operators were often young boys who learned the system quickly. Older men were in charge of keeping the telegraph lines clear and in good working order, especially after storms and in all kinds of weather. A chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link, so the saying goes, and it is true. To illustrate they kind of dedication of these hardy individuals, I would like to share a story, and had Calais not done it’s part in this chain, war might well have been declared on England by President Abraham Lincoln.

The following is taken from the book “I have Touched the Greatest Ship”, 1976, by Melvin Rowe, and Published by the Heart’s Content (Newfoundland) Retired Citizens Club.

‘History records that Paul Revere, an American patriot and revolutionist made his famous midnight ride from Boston to Lexington in April, 1775 rousing the minute men to begin an open revolt against British domination.’

‘90 years later, Thomas Scanlan was to make a similar horseback ride-his mission unlike that of Revere’s was to stop a war and not to start one.’

‘In 1861 what was to become the greatest civil war in the history of man was getting underway in America between the south and the north over whether or not the black man would be freed from slavery. While some Englishmen were sympathetic with the north in its efforts to abolish slavery, in the diplomatic field, they leaned towards the south because of the great cotton trade with the English businessmen carried on with the southern states. When the south formed its own government, the north followed suit. England gave full recognition to the southern government. In fact, feelings of bitterness and animosity towards the old country by the north reached such a pitch that Abraham Lincoln was seriously considering declaring war on England. No doubt war would have resulted other than for the part this young Brigus (Newfoundland) man, Thomas Scanlan, played in averting what might have been a great conflict.”

‘On a Saturday evening in June, 1861, the liner PRINCE ALBERT arrived at St. John’s (Newfoundland) bringing with her diplomatic despatches of the greatest importance and addressed to Abraham Lincoln telling him that England had taken a neutral position in the civil war.’

It would have been a simple matter for Scanlan to sit down at his desk at St. John’s and tap out in dots and dashes such world shattering news which would be printed in bold type in American newspapers on Monday morning. Alas, such important news could not be sent by landline as the circuit was out of working order all the way from St. John’s to La Manche, a distance of 90 miles. Right away, Scanlan offered to take the documents to La Manche and telegraph them to the United States.’

‘With the valuable diplomatic papers tucked safely in a small leather pouch, Scanlan left by horse and carriage and 3 hours later arrived at Kelligrews. Next morning he left by boat for Brigus and walked to Sapniard’s Bay. Then he drove the horse and carriage to New Harbour where he got some fishermen to row him across Trinity Bay to Rantem. Hungry, tired and worn-out by his long land and sea trip, he finally reached La Manche where he burst open the old telegraph shack and started tapping out in dots and dashes the exciting news which American newspapers carried in banner headlines on Monday morning-England adopts a policy of strict neutrality in the war between the south and north.’

‘In all the long history of telegraph communications, not one person, other than Scanlan carried the fate and possible destiny of two great nations with him in his frantic and successful dash to reach that remote and old wooden shack at La Manche.’

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