On this day in 1775, militiamen thwarted a British attack on Gloucester Harbor. Pringle’s History of the Town and City of Gloucester (pp. 76-77) describes the events:
The fears of the inhabitants that an attack would be made on the town, presumably from the sea, were realized in August, 1775, when the sloop of war Falcon, Capt. Lindsay (or Linzee) appeared in Ipswich Bay, hove to, and sent a barge containing about 50 men ashore to secure a supply of mutton from the flock of sheep grazing on the Coffin farm at West Gloucester. Major Coffin observed their movements and anticipated their design. He hastily gathered some half dozen men, armed them with rifles and, concealed behind sand mounds, kept up such a brisk firing that the sailors in the barge, supposing that a large company were ready to receive them, thought it prudent to desist from their sheep foraging intentions. On returning the barge’s load captured a sand lugger, supposing the craft to be from the West Indies. Linzee continued to cruise in Massachusetts bay and on the 8th of the month intercepted two West Indianmen bound for Salem. He captured one and chased the other into Gloucester harbor, the craft being run ashore on the flats near Ten Pound island.
This episode, of course, had been observed from the shore and a large concourse of citizens had assembled near the spot where the schooner lay. They resolved to defend the craft at all hazards. Linzee anchored his ship and prepared to take possession of the prize. He sent in three barges containing 22 men armed with muskets and swivels. These boarded the craft but had no sooner reached the deck than a sharp fusilade was opened upon them from two old swivels and a company of men with muskets stationed at Vinson’s Cove. Three of the boarding party were killed at the first volley, and the lieutenant in command wounded in the leg, the fierce fire compelling the detail to return to their ship. Linzee then sent in a small schooner and a cutter, armed with a full complement of men, to secure the merchantman. He also dispatched a boat load of men ashore at Fort Point to fire the town, at the same time directing a vigorous bombardment at the center of the village, one shot taking effect in what is now the Unitarian church, where, suspended above the entrance to the vestry it may be seen today. A detail of the citizens observing the boat load of men headed for the fish sheds on Fort Point, quietly repaired to the place, and made the firing party prisoners before they could execute their designs.
A fierce fight took place for the possession of the beleaguered ship. Finally the villagers triumphed and captured the entire party, several of whom were wounded severely, one dying a short time after. Twenty-four of the company were sent to the American camp at Cambridge, and a number of impressed men to their homes. Two of the citizens, Benjamin Rowe, who was killed instantly, and Peter Purvey, mortally wounded, comprised the number of the town’s loss in the affray. The centennial of this event was observed in 1875 by a grand patriotic celebration at Cape Pond grove at which Governor Gaston and other notables were present and made fitting addresses. The sword of Captain Linzee crossed with that of Colonel Prescott, a Revolutionary patriot, may be seen at the rooms of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston.
In order to be better prepared for future assaults breastworks were thrown up at Stage Fort, the Cut, Duncan’s Point and Fort Point. This, however, was the last attack by sea or land that the people experienced.
A reenactment of this event will be held at Pavilion Beach on August 11, 2018! See details here and here. Joseph Garland wrote a detailed account of the battle and other details surrounding Gloucester during the War for Independence in his book, The Fish and the Falcon: Gloucester’s Resolute Role in America’s Fight for Freedom. See also John Babson’s History of the Town of Gloucester, Cape Anne, Including the Town of Rockport (pp. 393 ff.).