From my long lost distant cousin, the lovely, affable and erudite Margaret Buchanen who descended from Robert Percy through his youngest son, Charles Evans Percy.

From William A. Percy
Jump to: navigation, search

Dear Bill,

I enjoyed our phone conversation and hearing some of your crazy stories about the Percys.

I told you that I'd send the information I had about British Navy Officer Captain Henry Mowat In the book House of Percy Wyatt-Brown discusses Robert Percy’s relationship with Mowat in the chapter titled “A Son of Two Fathers.” Wyatt-Brown essentially describes Mowat as Robert Percy’s second father.

Mowat was the commander of the ship Canceaux which attacked/burned the town of Falmouth, Mass. (now known as Portland, Maine) in October, 1775. This attack was partly in response to the kidnapping of Mowat a few months earlier by some men from the town of Brunswick led by a tavern keeper, Samuel Thompson. This incident was called "Thompson's War." Rather than causing the rebellious townsfolk to respect the British, the burning of Falmouth actually contributed to the escalation of the War. Robert Percy rejoined the ship a short time later on December 6, 1775 as an Able-Bodied seaman. He was about 13 years old. Robert Percy’s Navy service is listed in The Percy Family book, on page 7 and was copied from the Public Record Office in London. The abridged logbooks of the Canceaux from 1764- 1776 were recently published in paperback. I wonder if Robert Percy gets any mention. The title is "Henry Mowat: The Voyage of the Canceaux 1774-1776" by Andrew J. Wahll. The book is out of stock at

I’ve found a lot of information about the burning of the town of Falmouth from several history websites, books and newspaper accounts.

Here are some Websites where you can read about the Burning of Falmouth:

The American Revolutionary War; Battles 1775-1783; The Burning of Falmouth October 18-19, 1775. By

A history of Middle Street, Portland, Maine: 1775 to 1807 by Nicholas Barker

An online transcription of the book “Thrilling Incidents in American History”

I also found a website that sells rare newspapers that has an old 1775 Philadelphia newspaper with an eyewitness account about the burning of Falmouth. The newspaper can be purchased for $435. The website is Timothy Hughes Rare Newspapers:

The Maine Historical Society website has an interesting online exhibit about the incident:

One of the items the MHS has is a copy of the warning letter Lieutenant Mowat sent to people of the town.

They also have a map of the town entitled “The Town of Falmouth burnt by Capt Moet, Octobr 18, 1775” You can purchase a reproduction of the map from the Maine Historical Society. Although the same map is also on Wikipedia.

I’ve copied and pasted the information from each of these websites into word documents so that I could remember what I read, or print it out later. I attached the copies of what I made to this email so you can print it out and read it too. I got a little carried away, it’s a lot of stuff! If you need it in a different format let me know.

In 1779 there was another historical event that involved Captain Mowat, the Siege of Penobscot. I haven’t read much on that yet except I saw one statement saying this was the worst defeat in US Naval History until December7, 1941. I Think Paul Revere was somehow involved. According to his service records, Robert Percy was serving as a midshipman on the ship Albany with Mowat at the time of this event. That’s my next project! Did you ever hear about the connection between Robert Percy's son and John James Audubon, the "Birds of America" artist?

Thanks again for sharing the Percy Family book and information the Percys The Burning of Falmouth October 18-19, 1775 at Falmouth, Massachusetts

American Forces Commanded by ? Strength Killed Wounded Missing/Captured ? ? ? ?

British Forces Commanded by Capt. Henry Mowat Strength Killed Wounded Missing/Captured ? ? ? ?

Conclusion: British Victory

It was "An outrage exceeding in barbarity and cruelty every hostile act among nations," according to George Washington and rather than bring the radical elements of the American colonies in line, it fed the fires of revolution sweeping America in 1775. It was the destruction of most of the buildings that constituted the town of Falmouth, (now Portland) by a small fleet of British warships. In 1775 relations between Britain and the American Colonies had already been bad for a while. Falmouth's protests, harassment of British tax officials and demonstrations of sympathy for rebels in Boston painted Falmouth as a rebel town. However, many wealthy merchants were doing big business with the British. When merchant Thomas Coulson, a British sympathizer, took delivery of a load of rigging and sails from Britain in violation of an embargo, the local Whig authorities demanded he send it back. Coulson refused, and loyalist sheriff William Tyng sent to Boston for support. Support came in the form of the British ship Canceaux, under the command of Lieutenant Henry Mowatt. On May 7 1775, less than a month after the battles at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts, a group of rebels from Brunswick under the command of Colonel Samuel Thompson arrived on the back side of Falmouth Neck (the Portland Peninsula) and hid in the trees there for two days with the intention of ridding Falmouth of the British presence. They took Lieutenant Mowatt and a couple of companions captive as the trio were walking in the woods. Canceaux's master, Ensign Hogg, threatened to fire on the town if Mowatt was not released and fired a couple of blank shots to punctuate his threat. That started a panic among the populace and some started to evacuate their homes. Others appealed to Colonel Thompson to release Mowatt. Thompson relented and allowed Mowatt to return to the ship, and radical militias from around the countryside converged on Falmouth where they generally extorted money from loyalists, got drunk and intimidated the locals whose homes were under the British guns. The militiamen formed plans to destroy Canceaux, but never carried them out. They occupied Falmouth for several days before returning to their homes in Brunswick, Cape Elizabeth and Gorham, towns that were fairly safe from British attack. Many militiamen, disappointed that they weren't able to provoke a wider confrontation with the British, left with the opinion that Falmouth's ardor for rebellion was somewhat wanting. The whole dust up, later called "Thompson's War" ended on May 15, when Mowatt's ship sailed away from Falmouth. With Mowatt went the first group of Tory refugees from Falmouth. Mowatt would return, and this time Falmouth would not get off so lightly. Two months later in Machias, a group of about forty rebels attacked a small British sloop sent to help another loyalist merchant. The capture of the Margaretta on June 12 was the first naval victory by a rebel force over the mighty British navy and the commander of the British navy in New England, Vice Admiral Samuel Graves was embarrassed by it. Graves had been under pressure to be more forceful in suppressing rebellion in the area. After Machias, he drafted a list of nine towns to be bombarded as an example to the recalcitrant rebels. The list included towns from Marblehead, Massachusetts to Machias including Portsmouth, Saco, and Falmouth. He then presented the orders for the destruction of those towns to Lieutenant Henry Mowatt. Mowatt departed on Canceaux with three other ships on October 8, 1775. Bad weather forced Mowatt to pass by several of the towns on his list, but he was probably headed to Machias when the weather changed, and sailing to Falmouth became a better choice. Portland Burns On the afternoon of October 16, 1775 Mowatt's squadron of four ships appeared in Falmouth Harbor. Mowatt sent word to the townspeople that they had two hours to evacuate. A three person committee went to Mowatt and got him to agree that if the town gave up its arms, he would see if Admiral Graves would spare them the ordered destruction. Townspeople delivered a token amount of muskets with a deadline of nine o'clock the following day for delivery of the remainder of the town's arms. By the time this compromise had been reached, the town was in complete panic. Residents loaded wagon upon wagon with what possessions they could rescue and attempted to move them to safety. In the press of it all, no one ever held the meeting to decide whether to surrender the rest of their arms. The next morning, about half an hour after the deadline, Mowatt's ships opened fire. At first they fired high to warn the people of Falmouth that the bombardment was at hand. Mowatt's ships fired on the town of Falmouth for rest of the day. When cannon fire wasn't doing enough damage, a group of British sailors landed in town and burned many buildings. Militiamen put up token resistance, and are credited with saving a few buildings, but the damage was very widespread. At six p.m. the bombardment ceased and Mowatt's four ships sailed off. 130 houses were gone. the Anglican Church, the meeting house, the public library, and the fire station all were destroyed. Thirteen ships had been in the harbor at the time. Two were captured. The rest were sunk, some with valuable cargoes aboard. And many people of Falmouth were looking at a long hard winter ahead with no home, no resources, no town. Amazingly no one was killed on either side. Following the bombardment, militiamen who had come to Falmouth to oppose the British turned their attention to looting the remains of the homes. Some people carried off the possessions of those who had already lost their homes. And some, remembering Falmouth's tepid response to the British both during Thompson's War and in opposition to Mowatt's force, thought that the residents of Falmouth Neck got what they deserved.

Copyright © 2009 Genealogy Inc, Last Modified: Tuesday, August 11, 2009.


HMS Canceaux, (detail of the 1875 Bailey and Noyes Map of Mowatt’s Blaze)

Locket portrait of Captain Henry Mowat (reproduction from Yerxa’s The Burning of Falmouth…, 1975) By 1775, tensions in Falmouth had reached a head. Even famously magnanimous Colonel William Tyng (who made his home with the lovely Elizabeth Ross Tyng [un-feathered subject of the Copley portrait at left] at old 92 Middle, on grounds now spanned by the stoplights of the Franklin Arterial), a royalist Tory, could be found shouting in the street with fiery Brigadier General Jedediah Preble (incurable Middle Street speculator; father of naval demigod Commodore Edward Preble), an anti-royalist Whig, about affairs of state, although our modern ears might fail to spot the political relevance of Tyng’s correct accusation that old Jed had fathered a child with Parson Smith’s youngest and otherwise betrothed daughter Sarah.[1]

Unlikely as it may seem, however, Falmouthers had still more pressing concerns in the summer of 1775. For some time, the dubiously appointed, utterly ineffectual, internally unpopular commander of Britain’s North American Squadron, Admiral Samuel Graves – the man charged with containing and suppressing the mounting colonial insurrections that had presaged the coming revolution – had sought to shore up his tenuous position somehow. At last it had occurred to him to engage in some sort of much-requested and – tactically, at least –long-overdue naval action. Since the Admiral had encountered prior difficulties in stopping American raiders and rebels through direct engagement at sea, Graves deduced he ought to sack – civilians, berths, buildings, and all – the very ports that harbored the impudent vessels, and thus wipe out the smugglers’ bases while surely teaching any sympathetic burghs a lesson. Undisturbed by his highly-regarded comrade General Gage’s decided lack of support for the plan, Graves drew up a list of towns he intended to bombard with his fearsome fleet of some forty howitzer-endowed vessels. Ironically, the politically divided town of Falmouth made the cut, along with eight other New England seaports; luckily for Falmouth’s sake, however, transgressions against the crown even more egregious than those that had been perpetrated here seemed sure to put those other towns ahead in line for the bitter comeuppance.

And just what had the Whigs of Falmouth done to warrant such a brutal reprisal? That is, aside from basing the bulk of their economic activity on the continued flouting of the 1764 Sugar Act, rowdily seizing and burning the town's allocation of Stamp Act stamps in 1765, running royal customs comptroller Arthur Savage out of town by 1771 (the work of founding father John Adams, no less, acting as barrister for the Savage-aggrieved Middle Street speculator Enoch Freeman), publicly resolving to refuse East India Company tea in 1773, and incessantly tolling their Congregationalist meetinghouse bells in a show of solidarity with the closed port of Boston in 1774? Well, by the summer of 1775, as historians Donald Yerxa and James Leamon have shown, the place of Falmouth had become the site of dealings still pricklier than these.

On the second of March, 1775, a sloop, the John and Mary, had arrived in Portland Harbor from Bristol, England, carrying a cargo of sails and rigging at the behest of Captain Thomas Coulson, a merchant sympathetic to the king, then dwelling on old Middle Street at the home of his father-in-law, physician Nathaniel Coffin (in a house located at the present-day site of Micucci’s fine Italian market). In the grudging judgment of a divided committee of local Whigs, however, Coulson’s imports (which were needed to complete a ship being built at Falmouth for a merchant in England) stood in utter violation of the de facto embargo of British freight their cohorts in the anti-royalist underground had urged them to enforce; thus, after some hesitation, they ordered the John and Mary gone. Coulson stalled as well. He protested that his sloop was leaky, that it couldn’t leave the harbor, that it needed repair. The committee, in response, gathered its courage and assembled its own team of inspectors, who determined the ship could regain its seaworthiness in about a week. That deadline came and went, but the John and Mary still sat at its mooring, its cargo held within.

In the meantime, Colonel Tyng, that licentious accuser, who was also the county’s sheriff, had taken the opportunity to write General Gage (now the governor of Massachusetts) concerning the hubbub in town. Gage passed the news to fleet commander Graves, who in support of Captain Coulson’s cause dispatched veteran mariner Captain Henry Mowat to Falmouth aboard the eight-gun Canceaux. Despite the incidence of an armed royal vessel in Portland Harbor, it still took weeks for Coulson to complete his ship, as few laborers would accept the politically charged hire of working aboard the controversial sloop in the fractious, polarized town. During that prolonged period, however, the presence of the British warship attracted a good deal of attention in and around Casco Bay. Local patriots fretted and feared the worst. Loyalists pleaded with Mowat to remain in port until their petitions to Gage and Graves for protection could be heard. Word even spread that a particularly fervent band of renegades from Brunswick [2] was plotting an attack on the Canceaux, but a written reply from the notorious leader of that town’s Committee of Correspondence assured their cautious Falmouth counterparts that this was not to be the case.

One Tuesday in May, while walking in the Falmouth countryside with his ship’s surgeon and the town’s Anglican minister, Captain Mowat and his party abruptly disappeared. Needless to say, one Colonel Samuel Thompson and his band of Brunswick boys had made it after all. After landing on the neck on May seventh, the rural rebels had worked to make themselves inconspicuous in the underbrush, dressing up in fronds and branches and whatnot, and for a time endeavoring to kidnap any stray passersby, lest their critical position be divulged. Fed up with both parliamentary tyranny abroad and Falmouth's legacy of milquetoast capitulation next door, these men from the country backwater of Brunswick, whose homes did not face any significant risk of retaliation from the British military, had come to Falmouth where the big warship stood and seized the British captain. Such tactics did not amuse the warship’s master, Ensign Hogg, still aboard the Canceaux, who threatened to burn Falmouth should the captive men not find their immediate release, and fired a pair of warning shots over the harbor for good measure, scattering the townspeople into a thorough and well-deserved panic.

For a tense period, then, it appeared as though Colonel Thompson, who was under the correct impression that a revolution was afoot (indeed, news of the April skirmishes at Lexington and Concord had long since reached Casco Bay), simply would not relinquish his quarry, much to the consternation of nearly every other concerned party in the town, most of whom simply wanted to resume their profitable pursuits in peace (those profits being indirectly but unquestionably contingent upon the labor of West Indian slaves, we should recall). For a day or so, then, Mowat remained hostage at Marston’s Tavern, high upon Middle Street near the square, by the present day site of Longfellow Books. Ultimately, however, recognizing that he had few allies, Thompson agreed to set the captives free – but only for the night, and with the tongue-in-cheek understanding that the captain would come back the next day to talk things over (a preposterous, unmet condition Thompson included only to make a liar out of Mowat, and thereby save his own face – at least in Leamon’s highly plausible estimation). Thus betrayed by the wily old salt, the Brunswick Committee, which had been joined overnight by a slew of other country radicals from the outlying towns, unleashed its awesome vengeance, rounding up area loyalists and extorting petty monies, and vowing abstractly, without plan, to sink the Canceaux.

Four nights after Mowat’s initial capture, a rabble composed of militiamen broke into shipbuilding Coulson’s house, where they were no doubt cheered to discover a substantial quantity of aged rum kept in the cellar. In moonlight, one of Colonel Thompson’s men staggered down to the wharves and fired a musket at the offending warship,[3] prompting yet another round of retaliatory cannon fire, with all the attendant portside chaos. At last, by the following evening, the rural militiamen left for home, disgusted by the people of Falmouth's unwillingness to aid in their rowdy revolution: “this Town ought to be laid in Ashes,” Thompson well-wished, presciently, upon his departure. Mowat, too, sailed for Portsmouth a few days later, Coulson’s new Minerva (and a first shipment of worried loyalist evacuees) triumphantly in tow. But the Captain would be back. The boys from Brunswick had succeeded in dooming old Falmouth town.[4] Again, we see our Middle Street, and again, the scene has changed dramatically. How to explain it this time?

On the 16th of October 1775 (a few months after the initial departure of Captain Mowat at the conclusion of the so-called "Thompson's War"), a flotilla of four British warships re-appeared in Portland Harbor. By and large, the people of Falmouth regarded the squadron’s presence as an unwelcome but not uncharacteristic nuisance. The ships, it seemed, had come for the usual dastardly reason they had always come – to loot; either to steal livestock from the nearby islands where the pigs and chickens ranged freely, or perhaps to carry off provisions meant for troops in Boston. On the morning that followed the ships' sudden appearance, however, the artillery-equipped squadron maneuvered menacingly into a line directly opposite the peopled portion of the town. The understandable anxiety this tactic evoked ashore was somewhat alleviated by the revelation that the fellow in command of these vessels was in fact Captain Mowat, the man these citizens had graciously rescued from rural captors only a few months before. On that fateful afternoon of 17 October 1775, however, shortly after winning his daylong battle with the autumn winds in the effort to position his ships in their ominous formation, Mowat sent a junior officer ashore to read aloud a message he had prepared for the people of Falmouth. “After so many premeditated attacks on the best of sovereigns,” it began. Captain Henry Mowat, as it would soon become apparent, had come to burn the town.

Despite the bold rhetoric of the missive read to the people of Falmouth that day (bitter residents would long remember Mowat's text as much for its distressing display of semi-literacy as for its disturbing show of horrific intentions), other New England seaports – Cape Ann and Machias foremost among them – had probably done more to warrant a reprisal under Admiral Graves’ brutal plan for insurgent communities than had Falmouth. Those towns, however, had been settled in a less compact manner, and would therefore present problems to an anchored eighteenth-century fleet luridly seeking to erase an entire city from the map. Early Falmouth, in contrast, had been squeezed into its single square mile ever since the late seventeenth century, as a result of a state-mandated effort to reduce the incidence of Indian attacks on outlying, isolated, and therefore indefensible homesteads. Now in its third iteration, and little changed in density from the compact version that had preceded it, the bustling settlement of Falmouth had risen to the top of Graves’ list of doomed towns primarily by offering its attackers a prime example of what contemporary warmongers have called a “target-rich environment.”

Shortly after the town received its notice, an ad hoc committee of three Falmouthers of varying political persuasions (one that included man about Middle Street Jedediah Preble) met with a not-entirely resolute Mowat aboard his Canceaux to discuss the situation. Although the captain had not been authorized to bargain with the locals, nor was he even to have warned them in the first place, Mowat risked his commission that evening by agreeing with his guests to a condition by which the people of Falmouth could obtain a temporary stay of bombardment. By the terms of this agreement, the residents of Falmouth were to surrender to Mowat all of their guns by the coming morning; in return the squadron would postpone its attack until the captain could receive further word from Admiral Graves. Ashore, the committee communicated the news of the drab bargain they had struck, throwing the town into its third rowdy panic of the year, one that somewhat understandably precluded the possibility of convening as a town to come up with a plan; one that much less justifiably saw an utter lack of armed response from the region's militiamen. In the place of such activities, throughout the night, earthly possessions and elderly relatives were instead hastily removed from the center of town to the safety of the countryside (which, in those days, included some bucolic patches of the peninsula itself, including the Eastern Cemetery). By morning, with the exodus still ongoing, although a token number of arms had been delivered, most guns had been kept. Unmistakably, the moderate people of Falmouth had not met Mowat’s immoderate terms for a stay, and the military man would now be faced with the decision whether or not to strike.

At precisely 9:40 AM, after throwing the stalling committee of locals off his ship for a final time, Mowat commenced his attack on the town, ordering his ships to fire cannon at the settlement throughout the morning, and dispatching crews of arsonists ashore to finish the job in the afternoon. Their guns secure (yet perplexingly un-deployed), the residents of Falmouth had simply assured themselves of the greater catastrophe, as by evening Mowat’s forces had made good on their promise to burn almost everything else to the ground.

Fortunately, no one was killed in the blaze that reduced most of Falmouth to ashes on October 18th, 1775. Thirteen merchant ships trapped in port by the squadron’s sudden arrival were lost, and more than 400 buildings were razed or ruined. Middle Street lost its ten-year-old Anglican church (which had not, of course, as a Tory stronghold, ever tolled its bell in solidarity with the closed port of Boston in 1774), its elaborate year-old courthouse, its remarkable pump fire-engine and fire house, dozens of homes, and a small number of shops. In the years that would follow the coming War of Independence, the area around the street would need to be rebuilt almost entirely.

Some of Middle Street’s buildings survived the arson of 1775. Sarah Bradbury and her husband Theophilius, a Tyng relation and a future Massachusetts Supreme Court justice, managed to douse the flames set repeatedly to their home at the present-day eastern corner of Middle and Pearl. William McLellan, Sr., grandfather of 19th century Portland savior Jacob McLellan, saw his new house withstand the flames at old 137 Middle Street (a part of today’s monolithic One City Center). Aging cuckold Deacon Codman helped both his two-and-a-half-story home and his gambrel-roofed store near Middle’s bend survive the bombardment, while the former object of his wife’s affection, Jedediah Preble, saw most of his old Middle Street properties go up in karmic smoke. Preble’s old friend and accuser, sheriff William Tyng, saw his impressive mansion at old 47 Middle spared by Mowat’s troops, but like so many loyalists, the kindly colonel was later forced to flee his home in fear of those angered by the transparent show of favoritism. Safe in British-controlled New York City during the war, there Tyng would later care for Preble’s captured son, buying the young revolutionary food and clothing until ultimately he secured the young man's release, personally escorting the soldier back to Falmouth.

Mowat’s outrageous action against Falmouth, recounted in numerous periodicals of the day, prompted a range of response worldwide. The people and press of Britain seemed disbelieving that such an attack could have occurred at all, let alone progress from the relatively benign consecution of events that had preceded it. The French, with cool rationality, dismissed Graves’ hapless strategy – the removal of coastal bases that an army would require if it were later to penetrate the countryside – as a tragic farce for a military on the brink of war. Certainly the insurrectionary spirit of the anti-royalist citizens of Falmouth itself remained unbroken by the firebombing; now firmly resolved to fight for independence, those that remained in their homes would soon commit men and money to war against their attackers, petitioning General Washington for assistance in protecting what little remained of the town. Elsewhere in the American colonies, the burning of Falmouth served to galvanize separatist fervor among the set of confirmed revolutionaries and even within the hearts of a few of the formerly unconvinced. George Washington, for one, saw his dim opinion of British magnanimity confirmed by Graves’ brutal tactics; John Adams, at the Continental Congress, would receive numerous letters on the topic urging him to lead his colleagues there in decisive secessionist action. (Adams would have been quite familiar with the descriptions of the ruined Falmouth, as during his early years as a barrister he had stayed on numerous occasions at the Preble family’s inn at old 95 Middle Street when attending the Falmouth court, including the time he ran old customs comptroller Arthur Savage out of town). Perhaps the most gripping of reactions to Falmouth's bombardment belonged to John’s wife Abigail, who, in searching to understand Mowat’s crime, wondered privately if their society’s abiding shame – the institution of slavery – hadn’t somehow warranted such a terrible retribution.

Some later historians couldn't bear to admit of Falmouth's tepid response to revolution and to threat. Our town [on the occasion of Mowat's offer] "...defiantly voted to reject British terms," the urbane, influential 1972 book Portland misleadingly assures us; "Few towns felt more ardently... the cause of Independence, than Falmouth," Willis writes in his History, tallying only the defiant while omitting the more complex remainder. In truth, the town of Falmouth, with its singular focus on profit, had always been divided, and when given the chance to fight, it half-assed its way. Genteel Whigs who had before the revolution wrote. of popular self-determination had now seen how. The people from the hinterlands wanted it more. That conflict wasn't going anywhere.

Samuel Thompson grew to be respectable, Representative of the hinterlands (who'll always be something to think about. keep that frame active) who opposed the Constitution. the town wanted to secede from mass, the hinterlands objected.

In any event; as can be expected from the employment of such myopic, brutal tactics, the semi-arbitrary firebombing of a civilian enclave did little to quell the mounting spirit of insurgency felt among the afflicted population. [1] During and after the War of Independence that followed Falmouth’s burning, a war whose rapid escalation was catalyzed to a not inconsiderable degree by this very event, the place of Portland was changing in ways that would allow the place to come back same but different. ¶ Falmouth in wartime During wartime There were a few successes: Joseph Holt Ingraham's silver shop. Most of the merchants that remained were saddled for years by debt incurred from the tremendous losses resulting from Mowat's fire. With a single misfortune, the town had lost the bulk of its economic base, and for several years after, little was rebuilt. As Barry has reported, during this time Falmouth's citizens wallowed in a calculated self-pity before the Massachusetts General Court to ensure a favorable tax rate; in these gloomy economic self-assessments they often neglected to tally the many Falmouth privateers engaged in wildly profitable, tax-free trade with the West Indies. As the town bid its time, awaiting the proper moment to renew, it was cultivating a climate in which a new set of capitalists could emerge.

>> [1] Donald A. Yerxa, “The Burning of Falmouth, 1775: a Case Study in British Imperial Pacification,” (Portland, ME: Maine Historical Society, 1975) 133-142, 145-150; Lydia B. Summers, Portland, (Portland, ME: Greater Portland Landmarks, 1972), 7, 16; Rory Goff, Middle Street, Portland, Maine, (Portland, ME: Merrymeeting Press, 2003) Adobe Acrobat Reader e-book, 22, 28, 29, 46, 51, 56, 57, 76, 77, 93, 127, 129, 133, 281, 93, 127; William Goold, Portland in the Past With Historical Notes of Old Falmouth, (Portland, ME: B. Thurston & Co., 1886) 313, 323, 415-6;, 2/04;Alan Brinkley, American History: A Survey, Volume 1: To 1877, Ninth Edition, (New York: McGraw Hill, 1998), 155-9, 205-6; James Howard Kunstler, The Geography of Nowhere, (New York: Touchstone Books, 1994), 29, 30; James Howard Kunstler, Home From Nowhere, (New York: Touchstone Books, 1998), 17.; Edward H. Elwell, Portland and Vicinity, (Portland, ME: Loring, Short, & Harmon, and W.S. Jones, 1876), 15; William Willis, The History of Portland, 256, 298, 4/04 THRILLING INCIDENTS IN AMERICAN HISTORY COMPRISING THE MOST STRIKING AND REMARKABLE EVENTS OF THE REVOLUTION; THE FRENCH WAR; THE TRIPOLITAN WAR; THE INDIAN WARS; THE SECOND WAR WITH GREAT BRITAIN, AND THE MEXICAN WAR. BY THE AUTHOR OF "THE ARMY AND NAVY OF THE UNITED STATES." WITH THREE HUNDRED ILLUSTRATIONS. PHILADELPHIA: JOHN E. POTTER & COMPANY. Nos. 29, 31, 33, AND 35 NORTH 10TH STREET.

Burning of Falmouth BURNING OF FALMOUTH. ONGRESS having intimated to General Washington that an attack upon Boston was much desired, a council of war was called (October 18), but unanimously agreed that it was not expedient, at least for the present. On the same day Captain Mowat destroyed a hundred and thirty-nine houses, and two hundred and seventy-eight stores and other buildings, the far greatest and best part of the town of Falmouth, (now Portland, Maine), in the northern part of Massachusetts. The inhabitants, in compliance with a resolve of the provincial congress to prevent tories carrying out their effects, gave some violent obstruction to the loading of a mast-ship, which drew upon them the indignation of the admiral. Captain Mowat was despatched in the Canceaux of sIxteen guns, with an armed large ship, schooner and sloop. After anchoring toward the evening of the 17th within gun-shot, he sent a letter on shore, giving them two hours for the removal of their families, as he had orders to fire the town, they having been guilty of the most unpardonable rebellion. A committee of three gentlemen went on board, to learn the particular reasons for such orders. He answered, that his orders were to set on fire all the seaports between Boston and Halifax; but agreed to spare the town till nine o'clock the next morning, would they consent to send him off eight small arms, which was immediately done. The next morning the committee applied afresh; he concluded to spare the town till he could hear from the admiral, in case they would send him oft four carriage guns, deliver up all their arms, ammunition, &c. and four gentlemen of the town as hostages. That not being complied with, about half-past nine he began to fire from the four armed vessels, and continued it till after dark. With shells and carcasses, and about thirty marines whom he landed, he set the town on fire in several places. About a hundred of the worst houses escaped destruction, but suffered damage. The inhabitants got out a very considerable part of their furniture, and had not a person killed or wounded, though the vessels fired into the town about three thousand shot, beside bombs and carcasses. General Lee reprobates their cowardice, in admitting such a paltry party to land with impunity, and set their town in flames, when they had at least two hundred fighting men, and powder enough for a battle. In the private letter wherein he expressed these sentiments, he made no mention of the sailors being repulsed with the loss of a few men; though this might happen in the close of the day, and give occasion for its being related by others. The burning of Falmouth spread an alarm upon the sea-coast, but produced no disposition to submit to the power and mercy of the armed British agents. The people in common chose rather to abandon the seaports that could not be defended, than quit their country's cause; and therefore removed back, with their effects, to a safe distance. Web conversion Copyright © 2003-2008 by Walter Bright April 2007 | UNCATEGORIZED Column Parallel 44: Why the Royal Navy burned Portland in 1775 by Colin Woodard Take a close look at the chandelier in Portland's First Parish Church, just up the street from City Hall: there's a cannonball hanging from the end of it. Poke around under the pews and you'll find more ordnance plucked from the walls of the Old Jerusalem Church, a wooden structure that stood on the site during the American Revolution, when the Royal Navy all but wiped Maine's largest city from the map. Portland, of all of New England's rebellious towns, wound up being the one the British burned to the ground. Portsmouth, Salem, and York still have much of their late 17th and 18th century architectural heritage; in Portland, what little survived the 1775 naval bombardment was destroyed in the great fire of 1866. So, why Portland? On the face of it, anywhere in Maine seemed a poor target. Ever since Massachusetts had annexed Maine in the 1650s, residents of this coast had looked to the crown to protect them from the excesses of their overlords in Boston. The Anglican church -- the Church of England -- was stronger here, seen as a counterbalance to the official Puritan church of the Bay Colony. But Britain's response to the Boston Tea Party devastated Maine's fragile economy. In 1774, the British closed the port of Boston to all American vessels, save those carrying food and firewood into the city, leaving Mainers without adequate provisions. The military governor in Boston assumed control of town meetings and local judicial appointments across New England. Many residents of Maine felt betrayed by the crown. Not a few descended into open rebellion. Angry militamen from frontier towns like Brunswick and Gorham terrorized British sympathizers. The Brunswick militia, led by tavern keeper Samuel Thompson, broke into the Lincoln Country Courthouse to harass and humiliate the judges working inside. But Thompson had bigger plans: to surprise and capture a Royal Navy warship. In April 1775, an opportunity presented itself. HMS CANCEAUX, a 180-ton, 8-gun converted merchantman, was paying a visit to Portland, then known as Falmouth, to protect a loyalist merchant ship. CANCEAUX's commanding officer, 41-year old Lt. Henry Mowat, had spent the previous 11 years surveying the waters of Maine and Eastern Canada, but he'd recently been ordered to cut short his survey and to help the Navy enforce the King's authority. Though Mowat was preparing to proceed to Halifax to repair CANCEAUX's damaged keel, Vice Admiral Samuel Graves had ordered him to Portland instead, in the "hope her presence will be some check to the common disturbers" there. The situation was tense. Three days after dropping anchor, a group of small boats approached CANCEAUX in a menacing fashion, refusing to respond to Mowat's hails. They retreated only after Mowat's men fired a splay of grapeshot in their direction, according to the CANCEAUX's logs, which have recently been published as Voyage of the CANCEAUX (Heritage Press, 2003). Sleet, snow and drizzling rain made life uncomfortable for the 45 men who comprised her crew. Meanwhile, Thompson's men were fitting out a pair of sloops in Georgetown, intending to ambush the warship. They were forced to abandon this plan, however, after word if it got to Portland, whose town fathers could not be counted to keep such a secret. Thompson would not give up so easily. In the middle of the night of May 8, Thompson and 60 of his men landed on the backside of Portland neck, where they waited in the woods for their chance to make a move. It came the very next morning, when Mowat decided to take a stroll ashore with the local Anglican minister. On the outskirts of town he was captured by Thompson's men, who wore spruce twigs in their hats and carried "a spruce pole with a green top on it" as their battle flag. CANCEAUX's first officer responded by discharging two if his cannon towards the town. "Although there were no shot in them," resident Jebediah Preble recalled, "it frightened the women and children to such a degree that some crawled under wharves, some ran down cellar, and some out of town." In reaction, some 600 miltiamen poured into the town to protect Thompson and ransack loyalist homes. The town fathers, fearing the town would be bombarded, came to the pub where Thompson was holding his prisoners and talked him into letting the officer go. Even so, the visiting militia continued to take pot shots at the CANCEAUX, and loudly threatened to set it on fire. Mowat demanded that Thompson be turned over to him, but instead the townspeople "treated Col. Thompson with civility, and his men were [fed] at the expense of persons in this town, as long as they pleased to tarry" there. After a few days of frustration, Mowat gave up and sailed for Boston. Mowat would have his revenge, however. In October, following a series of deadly attacks on Royal Navy personnel, Admiral Gage ordered CANCEAUX to punish the rebellious ports of northern New England. Marblehead, Gloucester, Newburyport, Portsmouth, Saco, and Machias were all slated for destruction, but it was Portland that would pay the price. On October 16, Mowat returned to Portland with the Canceaux and four support vessels, and, after a night's warning, opened fire on the town. Witnesses said the bombardment lasted for nine hours "without many minutes cessation" triggering fires that burned three-quarters of the buildings in the city, including the entire downtown clustered around what is now India Street. The Old Jersusalem Church escaped the fire because it was located in what was then the fringe of town, but several cannonballs tore through its wooden walls. At several points, Mowat landed marines ashore to set fires in undamaged neighborhoods, leading to musket battles with local militia. The downtown never recovered from this blow, and in the aftermath the city center moved instead to what is today the Old Port. The bombardment shocked public opinion in both America and England. "To burn a town thus in cold blood surpasses every idea of savage barbarity and brutality," read one letter to the London Public Ledger. "If I, an Englishman unconnected with thus agitated... what effects must it have produced in the breasts of those who saw their habitations smoking in ruins?" The King's Navy had shown itself be far more of a threat to life and property than Thompson's rough backcountry militiamen. Britain had lost the hearts and minds of Maine's people, who would stand firmly behind the revolution from then forward. -- Colin Woodard is the author of The Lobster Coast: Rebels, Rusticators, and the Struggle for a Forgotten Frontier. His new book, The Republic of Pirates, comes out in May. He maintains a website at

Maine Historical Society Maine Memory Network Liberty Threatened: Maine in 1775

The town of Falmouth, burnt by Capt. Moet, Octobr 18, 1775 Text by Candace Kanes Images from Maine Historical Society American colonists had struggled at least since 1763, the end of the Seven Years' War, with British regulations and taxes that they found unfair. The conflicts escalated, especially in Massachusetts (of which Maine was a part) until the Revolution began on April 19, 1775. In Maine, some colonists also demanded that residents comply with the embargo of British goods. Disputes then arose between patriots and loyalists, the latter group siding with the British government. In 1775, conflict erupted in Machias and Falmouth (Portland). In addition, Benedict Arnold and his troops marched through Maine on their way to Quebec, leaving a legacy of a failed mission to drive the British out of the north. Many more Mainers would become involved in the war after these opening battles, but the events of 1775 helped make clear what some of the pressures would be in Maine and on Maine people. View this Exhibit

Copy of Capt. Mowat's warning letter to the people of Falmouth Description Captain Henry Mowat of the British Navy was commanded to bombard ports, shipping and towns along the Massachusetts coast during the early days of the American Revolution. Captain Mowat drafted this letter addressing the people of Falmouth (now Portland) warning them of what his ships were about to do, and offering refuge for British Loyalists.

Canceaux Falmouth 16th October 1775. After many premeditated attacks on the legal Prerogatives of the best of Sovereigns. After repeated Instances you have experienced in Britain’s long forbearance of the Rod of Correction; and the Merciful and Paternal extension of her Hands to embrace you, again and again have been regarded as vain and nugatory [?]; And in place of a dutiful and grateful return to your King and Parent state, you have been guilty of the most unpardonable Rebellion, Supported by the Ambition of a set of designing men, whose insidious views have cruelly imposed on the credulity of their fellow creatures, and at last have brought the whole into the same Dilemma, which leads me to feel not a little for the Innocent of them, in particular on the present occasion, having it in orders to execute a just Punishment on the Town of Falmouth. In the name of which Authority I previously warn you to remove without delay the Human Species out of the said town, for which purpose I give you the time of two hours, at the period of which, a Red pendant will be hoisted at the Maintop gallant Masthead with a gun but should your imprudence lead you to show the least resistance, you will in that case free me of that Humanity, so strongly pointed

out in my orders as well as my own Inclination. I also observe that all those who did upon a former occasion fly to the King’s Ship under my Command for protection, that the same door is now open and ready to receive them. The Officer who will deliver this letter I respect to return unmolested. I am [?] H. Mowat

To The people of the Town of Falmouth Endorsement Copy of a Letter from Lt. Mowat to the People of The Town of Falmouth 16 Oct. 1775 No. 1 In S. A. Graves’s Lre 28 Novr.

Educational Use Only Copyright 2002 Contributed to the Maine Memory Network by the Maine Historical Society (Local Code: Coll. 1157, p. 6-7) Creation Date: October 16, 1775 Description: Captain Henry Mowatt’s warning to the residents of the Town of Falmouth (Portland) prior to the bombardment of the town.

Letter describing the burning of Falmouth (Portland), Oct. 18, 1775 Contributed to the Maine Memory Network (document 1283) by the Maine Historical Society (Local Code: Col. 422 v.1 p.54) Date of Creation: February 16, 1776 Description: Letter describing the burning of Falmouth (Portland) by Capt. Mowatt of the British Navy. Educational use only Copyright 2002 Feby 16 1776 On the 18th Octbr last a Fleet under the command of Capt Mowatt burnt the Town of Falmouth as you’ve undoubtedly heard by Mr T—. Your House Barn Out Houses. Fences & Office are all in Ashes. We had so few Hours notice of our Destruction, that we had no Time nor Team to save either your Furniture or mine – I was obliged to flee for my Life – I knew not where till a Quaker offered me a lodging in his House, which had not a finished room in it— However I was obliged by the offer— and my wife & I were were forced to foot it with large Bundles on our Arms about 6 or 8 Miles & abused as we passed the Road What little time I had was employed in throwing my Furniture into the Garden from whence a good deal was stole and the most of the remainder broken or torn in pieces— The Church is also burnt but not the Meeting House— All below Doct r Watts except a few Houses in Back Street and Bradbury & Mrs Ross’s two Houses are clean gone— The upper End of the Town supposed to be about one third of the whole is standing among which is the House I lived in by reason of that fortunate Event, I saved some of my Furniture but am Still in the Woods, where if I cant get off either to London, Boston or Hallifax . I intend to remain till Peace be restored to this infatuated, this distracted Country— Capt. Mowatt

Map The town of Falmouth, burnt by Capt. Moet, Octobr 18, 1775 Contributed by Maine Historical Society

Item 6278 enlarge zoom send e-card add to album share what you know Purchase a reproduction of this item on File:FalmouthBurning1775.png From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Summary Description English: The source image is an engraving from a book first published in 1782. It is captioned: "The town of Falmouth, burnt, by Captain Moet, Octbr. 18th 1775". This image has been cropped to remove borders. Date 1782

Source From the Library of Congress Photographs and Prints Collection. URL at time of upload:,brum,detr,swann,look,gottscho,pan,horyd,genthe,var,cai,cd,hh,yan,lomax,ils,prok,brhc,nclc,matpc,iucpub,tgmi,lamb,hec,krb:1:./temp/~pp_uZ11::displayType=1:m856sd=cph:m856sf=3a45441:@@@mdb=fsaall,brum,detr,swann,look,gottscho,pan,horyd,genthe,var,cai,cd,hh,yan,lomax,ils,prok,brhc,nclc,matpc,iucpub,tgmi,lamb,hec,krb Digital ID: cph 3a45441 Author John Norman

Permission (Reusing this image) See below. This image (or other media file) is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.

This applies to the United States, Australia, the European Union and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 70 years.

Henry Mowat: Voyage of the Canceaux 1764-1776. Abridged Logs of H. M. Armed Ship Canceaux (Paperback) by Andrew J. Wahll (Author) List Price: $40.00 Editorial Reviews Product Description Henry Mowat: Voyage of the Canceaux 1764-1776. Abridged Logs of H. M. Armed Ship Canceaux. - Transcribed and annotated by Andrew J. Wahll. In 1764, the Canceaux began a voyage of 12 years during which the officers and men performed survey work used in the creation of one of the most important and magnificent coastal marine atlases ever produced covering 3,000 miles of New England coastline. In 1775, under the gathering storm clouds of the American Revolution, the Canceaux was redirected to undertake an expedition along the coast of the District of Maine to assert the authority of the crown. The Canceaux, under these Admiralty orders, participated in the bombardment and subsequent destruction of the thriving seaport of Falmouth in the District of Massachesetts. The Canceaux's logs were kept by commander Lieut. Henry Mowat, R. N. and sailing master Ensign William Hogg, R.N., aboard the sloop of war, while surveying for the Atlantic Neptune along the coast of the District of Maine, and undertaking the Falmouth Expedition. The log contains details on supplies, presence and movements of ships nearby, ship routine including discipline, court martials, weaponry, significant weather events and activities of the surveyors. Maps and illustrations enhance this valuable work. 2003, 398pp, illus., maps, bibl, paper. W2349-A4027HB ________________________________________ Product Details • Paperback: 398 pages • Publisher: Heritage Books Inc. (May 1, 2003) • Language: English • ISBN-10: 0788423495 • ISBN-13: 978-0788423499 • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 1 inches

Personal tools