Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Kathryn Shively

Second Advisor

Rocio Gomez

Third Advisor

Christopher Burdett


This paper broadly examines how rivers can be used as a pawn in war and, more specifically, how the Penobscot River, located in Penobscot County, Maine, influenced significant battles in America and the fabric of the developing nation due to its geographical location and geological development. This analysis focuses on one critical aspect of the Penobscot River that motivated attacks: the fur, fish and lumber trades, all of which were established due to the proximity of the coast and how the land developed during the Holocene era.

My thesis illustrates how North Americans, British and French used the Penobscot River in Penobscot County, Maine, to achieve their war aims and, in turn, how the Penobscot shaped the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Civil War. Adjacent to this, the crises on the Penobscot laid the foundation for the Age of Exploration, the Industrial Revolution and the process of independent statehood for Maine. While Maine was a significant theater to the two American wars against the British, it was seemingly remote to the Civil War; however, using an environmental history lens, I argue that the fur, fish and lumber trades, which developed because of the river’s geography and particular ecosystem, fundamentally influenced military campaigns and logistics.

The river's prime geography, made of a deep basin with rocky edges, enabled it to withstand substantial trade ships. Glacial movement also caused the development of waterfalls, which were invaluable to the creation of water-powered mills. Due to these combined features, the production of lumber and fur on the Penobscot was far more maneuverable and accessible than the other rivers in Maine that led to the coast between the 17th century and the 19th century. The placement of the trading posts also enabled the occupation of the river, as any opposing side could stop the fur and lumber trades by blocking the river, thus impeding the enemy with a lack of ships, paper products, housing and clothing.


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