Downeast or Down East Maine
The term “Down East” or “Downeast” is most often defined in Maine as the eastern coastal region of the State that covers Washington County and Hancock County beginning in Ellsworth and stretching to the East all the way to the Maritime Provinces. The city of Ellsworth is referred to as the “Gateway to the Downeast and Acadia Region of Maine” which includes Bar Harbor, Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park.
During the late 1700’s and throughout the 1800’s, sailors used their schooners to haul goods to and fromthe coast of New England. While moving in a northeasterly direction, especially during the warmer months, a strong wind would often be at their backs pushing them along. This was moving “downwind” in the direction that the prevailing wind was blowing (use of downwind was first recorded in 1850-1855 per Random House Dictionary). Since the sailors and their ships were also moving in an easterly direction, one can understand how the two terms “down” and “east” would have been combined or even merged together as an expression of a direction to be traveling in that was common.
According to the Random House Dictionary and Dictionary.com, “down East” is part of an Americanism dating all the way back to 1810 - 1820. The Oxford English Dictionary mentions that it was used in print as early as 1825.
The expression evolved further to also mean a geographical area which, in those times, referred to New England in general. Many ships moved up and down the eastern seaboard for commerce and travel. During the 1800's, Bangor, Maine was known as the“ logging capital of the world.” In 1828, there was a published reference to a person from the northeast as a down-easter (reference: Oxford English Dictionary).
Downeast Accent: Even to longtime Mainers, the Down East Accent is unique and easily recognized. The most notable one is the way “r’s” are dropped in pronunciations. An example is with Bar Harbor. It becomes “Bah Ha-bah”. Or, Car becomes “Cah.” There are so many examples. An expression that has seemed to have gone national is “Wicked Good!“ But, lets not forget “Ayuh!”
In short, both “Down East” and “Downeast” are used interchangeably in Maine. The State of Maine refers to the Downeast and Acadia Region whereas the State’s most well known publication is Down East Magazine. Go figure.
Note: Wind direction and ocean currents can be impacted by a force known as the Coriolis effect. This “pseudo” force is known to deflect winds and currents to the right in the northern hemisphere, and to the left in the southern hemisphere (if facing North in both instances.). It is not a true force but results from the fact that any point on a longitudinal line of the globe rotates at a different relative speed than another point on the same longitudal line (in the same hemisphere) at a rate that is determined by its location on or between the equator and north or south poles. A point at the equator rotates at a faster speed than one at the 45th parallel. An example of the Coriolis effect in the northern hemisphere is the Gulf Stream which leaves the Gulf of Mexico, loops around the southern tip of Florida, then hugs the eastern coast of the United States all the way up to Maine before proceeding across the North Atlantic on its way towards England, looping South near Spain and Africa. This has a major impact on coastal Maine and especially, the United Kingdom.
“Down East” or “Downeast?”
When I was much younger, the words “Down East” or “Downeast” were used much more that they are now. nevertheless, they are strongly rooted in our heritage. Traveling through Maine will always reveal the strong “Downeaster” accent. The life style is strongly rooted in a rugged coastal living way. You hear the seagulls, see the lobster boats and traps, smell the sweet salty air, and it seems to transport us back to a simpler life, one that continues to draw many thousands of people each your. It is a love affair that never gets old and continues to revive our senses to a younger time.