Saint John River (Maine)

St John River - Maine


The Baker Branch of the St. John River rises in the Saint John Ponds of Somerset County in northwestern Maine. The Southwest Branch of the St. John River originates in Little Saint John Lake on the Maine–Quebec border near Saint-Zacharie, Quebec and forms the international boundary between Maine and Quebec as it flows northeasterly to join the Baker Branch in northern Somerset County. The Northwest Branch of the St. John River rises from Lac Frontière, in Montmagny Regional County Municipality near the southeastern Quebec border and flows southerly through Maine to a confluence with the Daaquam River and then easterly to a confluence with the Southwest Branch.

The river continues through New Brunswick, Canada emptying into the Atlantic Ocean at the Bay of Fundy located by St John, New Brunswick, Canada.


The lower river valley formed an important part of the French colony of Acadia. Acadian settlements developed along the lower river during the 17th and 18th centuries; including at Fort La Tour (Saint John) and Pointe Sainte-Anne (Fredericton).

In 1758, during the French and Indian War, Colonel Robert Monckton began the St. John River Campaign, in which the British burned the Acadian villages along the river, forcing the inhabitants to flee or taking them prisoner prior to deportation. The entire area fell under English control after the English captured Fort Sainte-Anne in Fredericton at the end of the St. John River Campaign (1759).

In 1784, many loyalist refugees from the American Revolutionary War settled in Saint John, Fredericton, and along the river at other settlements such as Queensbury and Woodstock. The arrival of the Loyalists precipitated the creation of the new English colony of New Brunswick. Fredericton was named the capital. English settlement of the fertile Upper River Valley would not occur until the early-to-mid-19th century. A Danish community (New Denmark) was established in the late 19th century.

In 1785, Acadians returning from the deportation settled in the Upper St. John River valley, near what is now Edmundston. Somewhat later on in the mid-19th century francophone Quebecers also settled the Madawaska region, travelling southwards along traditional portage routes from the Saint Lawrence River valley. They joined the Acadians who were already settled in the area. The Madawaska section of the river valley remains heavily francophone to this day.

The river was an important trade route for French, English and First Nations traders throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. The tremendous flow rate of the river and its tributaries during the spring freshet aided the development of the timber industry in western New Brunswick, and the river became a conduit for log drives to saw and pulp mills in the south. The spring freshet can prove disastrous to property owners along portions of the river, particularly when ice jams cause extensive flooding during the spring break-up.

Spring freshet and ice break up near Westfield on the St. John River, 1936. With the development of lumbering and agricultural resources, the upper river valley area, by the 1820s and 1830s, became increasingly economically important. Both American and British citizens settled the area and, since the international boundary in this area was poorly defined, conflict between the British colony of New Brunswick and the State of Maine inevitably erupted. The Aroostook War developed when the respective state and colonial militias were called out. The border was ultimately defined by the Webster-Ashburton Treaty but land disputes carried on for many years among settlers and lumbermen with legitimate claims.[6]

The St. John River in the 19th century was of tremendous importance in the development of western New Brunswick. It served as the principal transportation artery to the region, particularly prior to the era of rail transport when paddle wheelers plied its waterways.