OUR COUNTY AND ITS PEOPLE
DESCRIPTIVE AND BIOGRAPHICAL RECORD OF
PREPARED AND PUBLISHED UNDER THE AUSPICES OF
FALL RIVER NEWS
WITH THE ASSISTANCE OF
HON. ALANSON BORDEN
OF NEW BEDFORD
THE BOSTON HISTORY COMPANY, PUBLISHERS
Retyped for the web by Stephanie Anderson
NEW BEDFORD IN THE WAR OF 1812
The causes that led up to the revolt of Americans against unjust and oppressive acts
of England are well known. For our present purpose it is only necessary to state that the Embargo act of 1807 was
vigorously opposed by the whole of New England, in which attitude these States were upheld by the Federal party
at large. It was seen that such an act when enforced would greatly cripple all commerce and deal crushing blows
upon the growing whale fishery, upon which the prosperity of New Bedford so largely depended. It is, therefore,
not a source of wonder that New Bedford was a hotbed of violent opposition to the war. The Massachusetts vote in
the presidential election of 1812 showed 24,000 majority for the Federal, or peace, party, in a total of 74,000.
New Bedford cast 399 votes for the Federal candidate for president and only thirteen for his opponent, Madison;
Dartmouth cast 341 votes for Clinton and only 23 for Madison; Fairhaven 157 for Clinton and 201 for Madison. The
latter community was less sensitive to measures that might prove injurious to commerce than New Bedford, where
the maritime interests of the Acushnet River were centered. Fairhaven was chiefly an agricultural community; her
shipping interests were of secondary consideration.
The repeal of the Embargo act and the inauguration of non-intercourse with England
and France until trade restrictions were removed were of little benefit to New England, and the declaration of
war followed soon afterward. The news was thus announced in an editorial in the Mercury:
The awful calamity is at length officially announced. A war which has
been so long predicted by the wise, ridiculed by the weak, deprecated by the honest, and courted by the wicked,
is officially announced. Never have we seen dismay so generally and forcibly depicted on the features for our fellow
citizens as at this portentous moment. The hand of enterprise is withered, and the heart sickened, the hard-earned
treasures of industry are dissolved, and the business of life seems to pause in awful suspense.
If this statement seems to trench upon heroics in its expressions, it also undoubtedly
conveys a fairly correct conception of the state of the public mind in New Bedford. While not seeking to avoid
responsibilities in the crisis or to apologize for the oppressive acts of the foreign powers, it was still to be
expected that a community whose very existence in a business sense was threatened by the oncoming war should oppose
the measures that led directly to the conflict.
New Bedford anticipations were realized. During the three months following the declaration
of war, made June 18, 1812, eight vessels belonging to the port were captured by the enemy, all carrying valuable
cargoes; the vessels and cargoes had a money value of more than $200,000. At a meeting held in May resolutions
were adopted declaring that "We view with extreme regret and apprehension an impending war with Great Britain,
which in our opinion will be disturbing and ruinous to our country, destructive to our commerce, and cause a heavy
increase of direct taxes." It was also resolved that a petition be sent to Congress expressing the sentiments
of the town. In Fairhaven there was an entirely different state of public feeling, as shown by the following call
for a meeting May 15, 1812:
The friends of the present administration, the adherents to the good
old cause of Republicanism, whom British gold cannot corrupt, nor old tories affright, who are willing to aid the
government of their country in a firm and vigorous defense of national honor and dignity, are requested to give
their attendance to-morrow afternoon at 3 of the clock, at the Academy in Fairhaven, then and there to take into
consideration the present situation of our public affairs, and to adopt measures expressive of their undiminished
attachment to the cause of their country.
On May 23 a similar meeting was held in the town house at the Head-of-the-River,
at which Nathaniel Morton, of Freetown presided. This meeting also favored the war. The differing sentiments existing
on either side of the river led to many exciting scenes at town meetings and on other occasions, when the young
men of Fairhaven and New Bedford came together.
Preparations for the defense of the harbor were early made on both sides of the Acushnet.
New guns were mounted at Fort Phoenix and a garrison placed on duty. Recruiting offices were opened, and in September,
1812, two companies were formed in Fairhaven. A mud fort was constructed on Love Rocks, situated due south of Fort
street, and another at Smoking Rocks, near the site of the Potomska Mills. The first mounted six guns, and both
had small garrisons.
Anxiety and foreboding now prevailed in every Atlantic seaport. All were exposed
to the ravages of British cruisers and privateers. In many localities actual terror existed; forty families left
Nantucket within a few days after the war began. Passing over the many brilliant events on land and sea that characterized
this war and gave to the American soldier and sailor enduring repute for valor and heroism, brief allusion may
be made to the memorable struggle between the American frigate Constitution (built by a citizen of New Bedford,
Capt. George Claghorn) and the British frigate Java, on December 29, 1812. The latter was defeated and blown up
off the coast of Brazil, and so important was the victory considered that Congress appropriated $50,000 prize money
to the crew. Lieut. George Parker, of the Constitution, was well known here, and while Commodore Bainbridge was
receiving ovations in Bosten, he visited his wife, who was a daughter of Thomas Adams, of Fairhaven. On the 2d
of March, 1813, the lieutenant was tendered a public dinner in Academy Hall, and on the afternoon of the 4th was
publicly entertained in New Bedford. The account of the event reads as follows:
Attended by an excellent band of music from Taunton and escorted by a
part of Capt. Stall's artillery company, the procession marched to the bridge, where they received the distinguished
guest, who was accompanied by Lieutenant King, commander of the garrison at Fort Phoenix. He was greeted with repeated
cheers as he came off the bridge, and escorted to Nelson's hotel, where an excellent repast was furnished by the
A list of eighteen patriotic toasts was given at the dinner, which seems to have
been the conclusion of an event of great local importance.
In the Mercury of June 18, 1813, is found the following:
On Friday last two of those engines of destruction, commonly called gunboats,
arrived at this port. We understand they are to cruise in our harbor for the protection of this port.
While the fleet of these gunboats in possession of the government early in the war
probably kept many of the harbors free from privateering by the enemy, as a means of offense in actual engagement
they were nearly useless on account of instability under the weight of their armament.
The closing of the port to all traffic in 1813 caused great inconvenience and suffering.
In order to supply the necessities of the inhabitants the so-called "Wagon Brigade" was established,
and out from the seacoast villages processions of loaded vehicles went and came, making the journey sometimes as
far as Albany. This method of obtaining supplies, which was unique for New Bedford, gave rise to considerable newspaper
raillery. Under the heading "Horse Marine News," September 12, 1813, it was reported that there was spoken
a wagon from Fairhaven standing to the northward with cargo of coffee. On the same day, lat. 41.49, the same wagon
was seen with signals of distress, having been chased by the enemy and obliged to throw nearly the whole cargo
overboard. The enemy on this occasion was probably the customs officer. Again a wagon was spoken bound from Boston
to this port,"and she might be expected in port with the first northerly wind." The following note shows
to what extent this wagon transportation of goods was carried:
October 11th, arrived, a squadron under command of Admiral Heaton, consisting
of seven square-rigged wagon vessels, Capts. J. Bates, D. Bates, Whitcomb, Lyons, Cooledge, and Sherman, eight
days from Albany, with flour. Had good passage, except Capt. Lyons's wagon spring a wheel spoke. Spoke nearly 100
sail from this port, all in good health and well provisioned.
These and very many similar announcements in the press would be intensely amusing,
were it not for their pathetic foundation.
The war of 1812 gave birth to a fleet of American privateers that swept the seas
during the conflict of more than 1,500 vessels. The fleet numbered 251 that were regularly commissioned; one of
these was the Governor Gerry, Capt. Joshua Hitch, and belonged to Hitch & Bradley, of Fairhaven. She was captured
by the enemy July 29, 1813. The free use of New Bedford's harbor by the privateers gave rise to a long train of
evils. Arrivals and departures of these ocean highwaymen were numerous in 1813 and greatly increased in the next
year. One of the most famous arrivals was the Yankee, July 15, 1814, after a four months' cruise on which she had
captured seven vessels. The arrival in the port of this noted craft was the cause of a public meeting called for
July 21, 1814, at which a series of six votes was adopted. In these was expressed the fact that the inhabitants
of the town had scrupulously abstained from engaging in privateering; that private armed vessels, cruising in various
countries and climates, were liable to bring to the village infectious diseases; that all such vessels should thereafter
be required to "perform quarantine during a term of not less than forty days;" that "the privateer
called the Yankee, now in this port, to be ordered by the Selectmen immediately to quarantine ground;" and
appointing a Committee of Safety to devise measures for the safety of the town in case of invasion.
Changes in affairs in continental Europe, in 1814, freed a large number of vessels
in the English service, which were at once sent across the ocean, and the New England coast swarmed with British
frigates, gun brigs and privateers. Something was done to protect seacoast villages from possible depredations
by this fleet in sending bodies of soldiery to the most exposed points; but in general such places were almost
helpless. Capt. Nathaniel Nelson's company of detached troops was stationed at New Bedford in 1814, nearly all
of its rank and file being from this town. Capt. Samuel Stall's artillery was also stationed here, while Capt.
Reuben Swift's Head-of the-River company was stationed at Clark's Cove and along the shores of Clark's Point. The
local military was under command of Lieut.-Col. Benjamin Lincoln; on his staff were Maj. Edward Pope, Major of
Artillery John Coggeshall, Surgeon Samual Perry, and Quartermasters William Kempton and Elijah Wilbour, all of
Of the whole fleet of the enemy's vessels it was left for the Nimrod to be the especial
terror of New Bedford. This famous craft captured numberless vessels in neighboring waters and her presence in
this vicinity was a constant menace to the village. In short during the eventful year 1814 the people of the village
and its neighborhood were in a constant fever of suspense and anxiety. The memory of the invasion of 1778 was still
fresh and a repetition of its terrors was anticipated. When in the middle of April three British war vessels made
their appearance in Vineyard Sound, the news was communicated to New Bedford, causing intense alarm, and many families
packed their household goods and carried them away to safety, while all sailing craft were moved up the river.
The alarm was groundless, for the vessels left the Sound on the 20th. On the morning of June 13, 1814, the guns
in Fort Phoenix were fired as an alarm at the approach of seven or eight barges from the Nimrod. The people on
both sides of the river were in instant commotion; the militia was hastily gathered, and women and children fled
to places of safety. The enemy doubtless saw the preparations for a stubborn defense and the barges did not land,
but proceeded on up the bay, and under a flag of truce effected a landing at Wareham Narrows at 11 o'clock in the
forenoon. The invaders, numbering 225 men, demanded the surrender of the public buildings, and after stationing
sentinels back of the village, the enemy fired twelve vessels and the cotton factory; the latter was saved from
total destruction after the soldiers departed.
And so the war progressed, and while New Bedford itself did not suffer further direct
invasion or destruction, it will be seen that the operations of the enemy in this vicinity kept the people in constant
alarm an anxiety, while business interests, excepting those that came into existence through the war, were paralyzed.
One of the worst terrors during the early part of this war was the impressment of
American seamen by the British, many of whom were forced to undergo the horrors of life in Dartmoor prison, where
a large number died.
The attitude of the Friends during this war was similar to that taken in the war
of the Revolution; their slogan was, "Resistance to taxes for war purposes." New Bedford capitalists
were largely of this sect and demands of collectors were persistently refused, and when payment was finally made
it was with the greatest reluctance.
The struggle at last ended and the peace treaty was signed at Ghent December 24,
1814. The news was brought to Bedford village by Alexander Townsend, of Boston, and the exuberant joy of the people
found expression in bell ringing, firing of cannon, and other demonstrations of happiness. There was ample cause
for rejoicing. No village in the Commonwealth, perhaps, had suffered more in a commercial sense than this; the
wheels of industry had long been idle; dismasted vessels lay at the silent wharves, and general stagnation prevailed.
The prices of necessaries were very high and many suffered actual want.