This Day In History October 18, 1775, six months after the Battles of Lexington and Concord, while under siege in Boston, the British attack, bombard and burn the city of Falmouth, Massachusetts (modern Portland, Maine) during a campaign of retaliation along the New England coast for the nascent uprising in the Colonies. British Admiralty orders to Captain Henry Mowat were to “carry on such Operations upon the Sea Coasts … as you shall judge most effective for suppressing … the Rebellion… to “lay waste burn and destroy such Sea Port towns as are accessible to His Majesty’s ships …” The action prompts the Continental Congress to establish the Continental Navy.
A little known event in the history of the creation of the United States that stoked the patriotic feelings of Colonial Americans and galvanized their will to fight for freedom from England, nine months before their declaration of independence.
Maine, then a part of Massachusetts, was not the hotbed of revolution that Boston was, but did have some limited mob actions and riots in reaction to taxation and Tory activity. In many ways Falmouth was seen as a stronghold of loyalists, who continued to profit and trade with England.
Under orders of British Admiral, Samuel Graves, to burn sea ports from Boston to Halifax, Captain Henry Mowatt, sailed to Falmouth with the specific purpose of burning the town.
Among the colonies, news of the attack led to rejection of British authority and the establishment of independent governments. It also led the Second Continental Congress to contest British Naval dominance by forming a Continental Navy. Both Mowat and his superior, Vice-Admiral Samuel Graves, who had ordered Mowat’s expedition, suffered professionally as a consequence of the act.
The fire destroyed more than three quarters of the city, turning to ashes more than 400 buildings and houses, leaving over 1,000 people without homes with winter coming soon.
Here is George Washington’s reaction to the burning of Falmouth in an excerpted letter to the Committee of Falmouth:
“The desolation and misery which ministerial vengeance which has so lately been brought on the town of Falmouth, I know not how sufficiently to detest. Nor can my compassion for general suffering be conceived beyond the true measure of my feeling…add my wishes and exhortations that you repel every future attempt to perpetuate like savage cruelties… I am, gentlemen, your obedient and humble servant.” George Washington
While many historians do not seem to give this event much notice, it can not be underestimated that the accounts of the unprovoked attack and burning of Falmouth appeared in all the major colonial newspapers and would have raised anger and fear of the despotism of England. In many ways, the burning of Falmouth was a pivotal atrocity and indicated that England was capable of similar act of barbarism in any other seaport towns.
A recounting of the event by an eye witness, Pearson Jones, which appeared in many colonial papers as a dispatch from General George Washington.
Maine Genealogy Network ”
Fanning the Flames of The American Revolution – The Burning of Falmouth in 1775″
“The Burning of Falmouth” Wikipedia
America remember and honor your history – it will give direction, purpose and security to your future.