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Upton, Daniel P.
Autograph Letter Signed, Machias, January 1st, 1798 to his father, Benjamin Upton, Reading, Massachusetts, “honored by T. Lincoln.”

Folio, 3 pages, plus stamp-less address leaf, formerly folded, minor browning, and soiling to address leaf, else very good, legible condition.

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Upton writes his father:


       “Honored Sir,

              … I wish you & all a happy new year – I shall have as happy a one I presume s I ever saw (if sickness does not prevent) for business is very brisk here, comparing it with what we hear from the westward – I have, as I informed you, the Academy – with which the Trustees appear perfectly satisfied, as well as the People. I have besides considerable writing to do for others which turns to some advantage. But surveying Land bids fair to be of great advantage to me as there is a great deal to survey in a new country like this – and only one person here that understands it, besides myself & he is superannuated. I did not perfectly understand it when I first came here, but have paid such attention to it that I am perfectly acquainted with it & can measure the most difficult piece of Land with accuracy & dispatch. I have four dollars a day for surveying. I have surveyed but two days as yet, the People not knowing that I could accomplish the business. The two days I surveyed I laid out a very difficult piece of wild Land of one hundred acres the Plan happened to be very accurate, which has been of great advantage to me – for the man for whom the survey was made is friendly & told the people that I did it with the greatest expedition & with accuracy (which I have the vanity to say is the case) By which means they have employed me to do considerable in the Spring for them.

                But I have been unfortunate in losing a piece of Business which would have been of the greatest advantage to me – it was this – The Boundary line between the United States and his Britannic Majesty is not settled, four surveyors were appointed to survey the Rivers Soodiac [Schoodic] and Magaguadavie [Magaguadavic], which employed them all six months – they have five Dollars per day each… which amounted to between 11 & 12 hundred Dollars per Mo – they began their survey about 8 weeks before I arrived here (one of them was very unwilling to go, being unwell) – had I been here I should have been one of them, as Mr. Bruce & Judge Jones now tell me, they had power to appoint them & had to send to the westward for three of them. However there are several new Towns to lay out here, & I have the promise of doing that whenever it is done – which will be of considerable advantage to me. (if it happens while I tarry here)

            Perhaps you have heard of the dispute respecting the River Magaguadavie’s being the St. Croix, which (St. Croix) was to be the Boundary line between us, & the British. We wish to have the Magaguadavie the St. Croix, the British wish to have the River Schoodiac the St. Croix, for they will then take in several thousand acres of land more than if ye Magdie was the t St. Croix. I am perfectly acquainted with the business, having seen & copied all the Depositions of both sides – I suppose you, Sir, have an inclination to know how i[t] will turn, (which makes me write this) but ‘t[is im-] possible for me to tell. I think however that the line will finally run between the Rivers.

              I wish, Sir, you would let no one see this, for I don’t like to tell my situation when unfortunate, nor boast of it when prosperous but you may depend upon it I am doing well …”


       Daniel Upton was23 when he wrote this letter from the “wilds” of the future state of Maine to his family in Massachusetts. He had gone north after graduating from Harvard to become instructor at Washington  Academy, a newly established private school in Machias, for which he was paid $ 100 a year. Meanwhile, he was studying law under the tutelage of Phineas Bruce, the only attorney in the County, at the same time courting Bruce’s daughter Hannah, whom he married after he was admitted to the Bar. They would have two sons, but, tragically, after their birth, would have only a short time together. In 1805, Upton contracted pulmonary disease, returning to his father’s house to recuperate. But died there before his 32nd birthday.


      The peace treaty of 1783 that ended the American Revolutionary War with England included a hurried stipulation that defined the easternmost boundary between Massachusetts (which the included Maine) and New Brunswick in British Canada as the “St. Croix River”. At the time, there were few settlers in that frontier region, so it seemed to matter little that there were conflicting claims about which Indian-titled river was the “true” St. Croix. A decade later, another Anglo-American treaty dodged the issue, leaving the St. Croix boundary dispute up to a bi-national commission which began deliberations just about the time Daniel Upton came to Machias as school teacher and surveyor.


       His account of what one historian has called ”the diplomatic search for the St. Croix River” is significant because the peaceful settling of that dispute, at the end of that year, “marked the beginning and laid the foundation of the progressive amicable determination of the boundaries between the United States and the British dominions in America”, the Commission’s verdict being “accepted peacefully, with finality, by both nations.” The larger Canadian border dispute would linger for a half century, bringing the two countries to the brink of war in the 1840s, but that too would be eventually settled amicably, perhaps encouraged by this much earlier example of peaceful diplomacy.


      Not surprisingly, given his short life, letters by Upton are rare. There are none among the Upton family papers at Yale (which has an archive of his grandson, a ship’s captain) or at the Peabody Essex Museum.