On the wall of a building at Bearskin Neck in Rockport, MA is the sign shown below.

old_stone_fort

Rockport experienced one of the oddest invasions in U.S. history during the War of 1812 when British sailors faced the town’s stubborn and fearless residents. I don’t know if the people of Rockport actually fought the British with stockings and rocks, but it’s a good tale, and the real story is just as strange.

The Invasion of Sandy Bay chronicles the events that happened on the night when the British Marines capture the fort and takes nine of the town’s militiamen as prisoners, as seen from the eyes of a 12-year-old boy.

From the History of Town and City of Gloucester, Cape Ann, Massachusetts, by James R. Pringle, published 1892:

“On the 8th of September of that year (1814) the British frigate Nymph, took one of the fishing boats belonging to Sandy Bay. Coming to anchor at night near the town, thick fog prevailing at the time, two barge loads with muffled oars, with the skipper of the captured boat fora pilot, rowed silently ashore. One barge landed at Long Cove, surprised and captured the sentinel, made prisoners of the small garrison, spiked and dismantled the guns.

The second barge’s crew proceeded to land on the western side of the Neck when they were observed by a sentinel about daybreak. He immediately gave the alarm by ringing the church bell. The members of the local company, the Sea Fencibles gathered quickly at the spot and directed a fire of musketry at the barge, the latter returning a fusillade of grape shot. No injury was effected on either side.

In order to silence the alarm bell the barge crew fired a solid shot at the belfry of the church. The ball took effect in one of the timbers of the steeple. The recoil of the gun, however, started the timbers of the boat to such a degree that it began to fill rapidly with water. There was no alternative. The men were obliged to land, their boat sinking just as they reached the shore. The officers and some of the men ran across the Neck and jumping into a boat, made good their escape. The remainder were taken prisoners. The barge load that had captured the fort, deemed it prudent, in view of the constantly increasing force to put back to their cruiser.

In the meantime the news had reached Gloucester, and Col. Appleton, with 1500 men, was soon on the spot, but not in season to take part in the fray. An exchange of prisoners was contemplated but Col. Appleton would not consent to this arrangement. He detailed a squad to take charge of the captured men until they could be removed, but anxious for the return of their townspeople held on board the frigate, a number of the villagers disguised, rescued the British prisoners and made the exchange.

Another frigate appeared off the place a few days afterwards, but on the appearance of Col. Appleton and his force with- drew. The outcome of the matter was that the captain of the Nymph promised that the fishing boats would not be molested while engaged in fishing during the rest of the season, and to his credit let it be said he kept faith with the townspeople.”

2 thoughts on “The British attack on Sandy Bay

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