The other day, I wrote about Colonia del Sacramento, a South American colony that passed between Spain and Portugual (several times), the defunct state known as Liga Federal, Brazil, and finally, Uruguay. I’m a sucker for stories of lands conquered and reconquered, borders drawn and erased, states created and dissolved, and the diasporic cross-pollination which results and reveals itself to this day. (Aren’t you?)
Of course, for all of the invasions, treaties, and revolutions in history, the world is peppered with defunct independent nations, from once-mighty Rome to tiny backwater fiefdoms that are mere historic footnotes today. (And no, I’m not referring to those mid-90s whack jobs in Montana.)
If you’re ever driving through northwestern New Hampshire, you can set foot in the former Republic of Indian Stream. It was a strip of land near present-day Pittsburg, New Hampshire, carved by a scheming speculator named Col. Jeremiah Eames. Eames was charged with drawing the boundary lines between Canada and the U.S. in accordance with the 1783 Treaty of Paris. Finding ambiguity in the language of that document, Eames carved a niche of land between Hall’s Stream and the Connecticut River, which he bought for himself from a local Indian chief.
A furious Canada began sending in homesteaders and attempted to resettle the boundary with the U.S. The dispute went on, however, as both countries moved to tax the residents of the territory.
Thus it was that the residents of this territory decided to take matters into their own hands, by declaring themselves an independent republic. According to Kevin Harper in his book Give Me Back My Father’s Body,
[the people of Indian Stream] adopted a constitution and drew up a bill of rights, which established freedom of religion and the right to life, liberty, and property. Every male inhabitant over the age of twenty-one was to be a member of the General Assembly. Taxes were levied and a forty-man reserve army was created. Three judges were appointed, as well as a sheriff. Since he had no jail, the sheriff kept his prisoners one at a time in a 700-pound potash kettle turned upside down over a flat rock.
Naturally, neither of Indian Stream’s neighboring countries recognized the newborn republic. Indian Stream lingered for a few years in the 1830s, but eventually, it fell victim to a diplomatic crisis. The catalyst, it seems, was an unpaid hardware store bill, according to Indian Stream’s Wikipedia entry:
…a group of “streamers” invaded Canada to free a fellow citizen who had been arrested by a British sheriff and magistrate. The reason for the arrest was an unpaid hardware-store debt, and the offender faced confinement in a Canadian debtors’ prison. The invading posse shot up the judge’s home where their comrade was being held, and this caused a diplomatic crisis, a so-called ‘international incident’. The British ambassador to the United States was appalled at the idea of a war over a matter so trivial as a hardware-store debt and quickly agreed to engage in negotiations…
Canadian and U.S. authorities invaded Indian Stream and arrested several high-ranking officials. (Luther Parker, the president of Indian Stream, high tailed it to Wisconsin.) However, the General Assembly did convene one more time. Taking stock of the situation, which hitherto had not resulted in the loss of a single life, the Assembly moved to dissolve the nascent nation. As Harper notes, Indian Stream was “surely the only country in the world ever to legislate itself out of existence.”
The territory is now a part of Pittsburg. Today, besides being a fishing, hunting, and snowmobiling destination, Pittsburg was the resting place for many years of Minik Wallace, the Arctic eskimo and subject of Harper’s book – which I recommend.