The Battle Of Wareham

On June 13-14th, 1814, war came to the South Coast.

Coastal towns in America tended to be centers of piracy, which we called privateering back then. It was a pretty good deal. You could get a letter of marquee from the government and go hunting for British shipping. 300 British ships were seized in the Revolution, and I'll get the 1812 number later (251 registered privateers, they got 1500 British ships).

New England represented hard back in the pirate days, for several reasons. New England is home to numerous ports, harbors, coves, lonely beaches, sneaky little islands, hidden inlets and course-dictating currents. All of these aid the piracy effort. The coastlines of New England in general and Cape Cod in particular are nothing but all of the above. Wareham is even worse.

We're also a nautical people- you tend to not notice it while you're living here, but if you go inland a bit, you realize how unusual it is in America to have been on a boat that has, say, pulled up a lobster trap. We still depend on the sea now, but we REALLY depended upon it back then. New Englanders sailed instinctively, rowed like a motherlover, and more than one of our Captains sailed rings around one of their Admirals. I should add that, for some reason I have no theory on, our coastal people sail better than, say, Carolina's coastal people.

Finally, we're centrally located. If New York City is a mall and London is a very nice trophy home, Cape Cod is the nasty neighborhood you have to carry your goods home through. There's a hundred places to attack from around here, and there's a million places to escape to afterwards. Cape Codders are not afraid of a little dirty money now and then, even if we have to cut the government in on it.

The Brits were doing it to us, too, so it's not as Somali as it sounds. Even if it is, Cape Cod fattened itself quite nicely on British shipping during the times of trouble. It was all good until John Bull came to town to get some payback.

The British became aware of a ship with a letter of marquee being present at Wareham. Wareham had dodged trouble in the Revolution, but she had a fine privateering history. The sloop Hancock came from Wareham, Capt. John Kendrick of Wareham was the boss on the Fanny and the Count d'Estaigne and Capt. David Nye was the Head Sailor In Charge aboard the Sea Flower.

The squadron centered around HMS Superb off of New London dispatched HMS Nimrod with several smaller ships to burn the ship and perhaps the town around them. Nimrod was a frequent foe of American privateers operating off Cape Cod, and had bombarded Falmouth the December before.

On June 13th, Nimrod came within sight of Fort Phoenix in Fairhaven. Residents of New Bedford and Fairhaven began to flee to the countryside as the militia began to gather. This may have been a feint meant to send militia to the wrong place.  A sizable militia gathered and Fort Phoenix let off some shots (more to summon militia than to sink Nimrod), but the British moved past it. Militia headed to Mattapoisett as well, but the British kept heading up Buzzards Bay to Wareham.

The Nimrod then dispatched barges carrying 225 soldiers up the Wareham River, and they landed where the Narrows Bridge (pictured above) is now, near Tobey Hospital. Risking gunfire from both sides of the river, they came ashore and invaded Wareham.

They sent sentries to inhabit the high ground, and then fired a Cosgreve rocket (a British incendiary weapon, known for it's songworthy Red Glare) into a cotton factory that had been built by a consortium of 60 Boston businesses. The locals managed to put the fire out, but much damage was done.

The Brits took Captain Bumpus (who may have been the Bumpas kidnapped from Westport, most likely set up by the spy who relayed the news of a privateer at Wareham) to his home, where they destroyed/confiscated military supplies.

A party of Wareham man arrived to see how we could get out of this, and the Brits said they were here to find men and ships related to privateering, and that they would not fire on inhabitants or destroy private property. They were very interested in ships belonging to Falmouth, which they had attacked 6 months before.

We lost a lot of good boats that day. The Fair Trader, 44 tons and able to hold 18 guns, was burned down to the hull. The brig Independent suffered the same fate at 300 tons. She was in the stocks, ready to launch. We also lost brand new schooners Fancy, Elizabeth, and Nancy. All told, a total of four schooners, five sloops, a ship, a brig, and a brig-under-assembly at William Fearing's shipyard were put to flame.

Wareham scrambled up what militia they could get (a dozen or so men under Issac Fearing), and marched forward to do their best to fight off 225 British marines. The Brits were leaving by then, after having done $1 million (an incalcuable amount today) in damages, half of it being suffered by the cotton factory. The Brits fired more rockets into the town, which they threatened to burn upon their return.

On June 20th, two unidentified young men were sent to the Circuit Court in Boston under charges of Treason for aiding the British in their attack on Wareham.

The Nimrod then, at some disputed point, ran aground at Quick's Hole (a strait between Presque and Nashawena in the Elizabeth Islands, both islands are currently owned by the Forbes family) and had to ditch their cannon to get afloat. Nimrod survived until 1827, when she was heavily damaged off- ironically- Plymouth, England.

Wareham was down but not out, and the nation they live in eventually became so powerful as to eclipse England. Issac Fearing has a Wareham street named for him, and Brits are considerabley more polite when they come here now.

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