The Penobscot River /pəˈnɒbskət/ is a 109-mile-long river in the U.S. state of Maine. Including the river's West Branch and South Branch increases the Penobscot's length to 264 miles making it the second longest river system in Maine and the longest entirely in the state.
It arises from four branches in several lakes in north-central Maine, which flow generally east. After the uniting of the West Branch with the East Branch at Medway, Maine, the Penobscot flows 109 miles south, past the city of Bangor, where it becomes navigable. Also at Bangor is the tributary Kenduskeag Stream. It empties into the Atlantic Ocean in Penobscot Bay. It is home to the Penobscot people that live on Indian Island.
The first European known to have explored the river was the Portuguese Estaban Gomez in 1524, followed by the Frenchman Samuel de Champlain in 1605. A few years later French Jesuit priests came among the Penobscot people as missionaries and converted them to Catholicism. The French settlement of Pentagouet, now Castine, was founded at the point where the river becomes Penobscot Bay, and the Penobscot people made a permanent settlement at Indian Old Town, Maine on an island above the head of navigation, around the Catholic mission. Throughout the 16th and half of the 17th centuries, these were likely the only permanent settlements on the river, although the Penobscots considered the entire river and bay their hunting ground and maintained other seasonal villages along its banks.
In 1669, the Mohawk tribe made raids from the west that were very destructive to the Penobscot people. During Father Rale's War, the English settlers in Massachusetts also sent periodic raiding parties to the Penobscot, destroying the primary native village in 1723.
In a treaty of 1752, however, Massachusetts laid claim to the entire Penobscot watershed, and in 1759 the Pownall Expedition, led by Governor Thomas Pownall, established Fort Pownall on Cape Jellison in what is now Stockton Springs. This signaled the beginning of English domination, and the incorporation of the Penobscot River valley into New England.
The first permanent English settler on the river was Joshua Treat (1726–1802), who was initially the armorer and translator at Fort Pownall. His oldest son, Joshua Treat, Jr., built a log house and sawmill at Marsh Bay in what is now Frankfort, and other members of their extended family, joined by additional settlers from Massachusetts and New Hampshire, pushed ever further up-river, eventually restricting the Penobscot people to Indian Old Town, Maine, the present Penobscot Indian Reservation.
American Revolution and modern history
During the Revolutionary War, the river and bay were the site of the disastrous 1779 Penobscot Expedition, where an entire American fleet was destroyed in a botched attempt to retake Maine from the British. During the War of 1812, the British again invaded Maine and defeated an American force at the Battle of Hampden, sacking the town of Bangor in the process. To prevent this from happening a third time, and because the nearby boundary between the United States and British Canada was still contested into the 1840s, the Federal government in 1844 began constructing a huge granite fort, Fort Knox, opposite the town of Bucksport, near the mouth of the river. The fort never fired a shot in anger, but remains one of the Penobscot's major man-made landmarks.
In the 19th century the river was a conduit for the transport of logs from the northern woods, to be sawn into lumber at mills around Old Town and Orono, and transported on ships from Bangor, at the head of tide. A secondary economic use made of the river late in the century was as a source of sawn ice for urban markets.