February 12, 1815

News of Peace Treaty Reaches Boston

PRIMARY SOURCE: Newspaper, 1815
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On this day in 1815, news reached Boston that the War of 1812 was over. The U.S. had at first been a neutral party in a conflict between Britain and France. But when the British Navy began seizing American sailors, the U.S. imposed an embargo and then declared war. Both actions had severe consequences for Massachusetts, which was dependent on maritime trade. Once the war began, the state's coastal towns — especially those on Cape Cod — came under attack from the Royal Navy. For two years, bombardment, invasion, looting, extortion, and hostage-taking were almost routine. Even today there are buildings in Falmouth that wear battle scars in the form of cannonball-sized holes.

Many villages and towns reluctantly gave British commanders huge sums of money to avoid bombardment.

When word reached Boston that Britain and the United States had signed a treaty to end the War of 1812, residents of coastal Massachusetts breathed a deep sigh of relief.

The fighting lasted over two years; during all that time, people along the coast had lived under constant threat of raids by British naval crews seeking provisions, munitions, and hostages. Local militias had done their best to defend their neighbors, but they were generally no match for the mighty British Navy.

Many villages and towns reluctantly gave British commanders huge sums of money to avoid bombardment. Other communities refused to meet the British demands, and some paid a high price for their defiance. When the Treaty of Ghent ended the British blockade, the Massachusetts coast was left with the scars, stories, and relics of warfare.

Conditions worsened when the British Navy began boarding U.S. merchant vessels and forcibly enlisting, or "impressing," sailors

Massachusetts had suffered from Britain's naval supremacy even before the War of 1812. Much of the young state's economy depended on maritime trade between New England, the West Indies, and Europe. When war broke out once again between Great Britain and France in 1792, both European powers sought to disrupt each other's shipping.

Although the United States was initially a neutral party, the conflict seriously hindered Massachusetts trade. Conditions worsened when the British Navy began boarding U.S. merchant vessels and forcibly enlisting, or "impressing," sailors whom they claimed were British deserters. Outraged by this blatant disregard for its status as a sovereign nation, the U.S. government responded by imposing a trade embargo. The policy was unpopular and ineffective, and it had devastating consequences for the Massachusetts economy.

The residents of New England bore the brunt of the embargo, but they were not eager for war with Britain. They knew that the British Navy could easily blockade the coastline and choke off all trade. But "war hawks" in the southern and midwestern states took a different position. They wanted the U.S. to expand westward into areas that belonged to Britain and her allies. Using Britain's continued impressment of American sailors as their justification, they convinced President Madison to declare war. New Englanders' fears were soon realized, as their coastlines immediately came under attack.

The British raided Cape harbors and seized or burned boats almost at will.

Cape Cod was particularly vulnerable. The superior size and strength of the British Navy allowed it to blockade all of the ports on the Cape. Any ship that dared to run supplies or trade goods through the blockade risked being seized and its crew taken prisoner. The British raided Cape harbors and seized or burned boats almost at will. Sometimes landing parties ravaged the countryside, stealing crops and livestock. Militias that had last seen action during the Revolution were called upon to defend citizens and property as best they could.

British commanders did not hesitate to demand payment in exchange for holding off on an attack. Admiral Lord Howe sailed the H.M.S. Newcastle to Orleans on the Outer Cape; if the town did not pay $1,000, he promised to destroy the local saltworks. The neighboring towns of Eastham and Brewster had already paid substantial sums to save their saltworks, but Orleans refused. The Newcastle attacked. Fortunately for Orleans, the ship was too large to navigate the coastal marshes. Its cannonballs fell short. The local militia repelled an attempted landing and killed several British sailors; the town was saved.

Although the cannons of the Falmouth Artillery Company were little more than an irritant to the British, in January 1814 the H.M.S Nimrod was sent to silence them.

Falmouth was under almost constant attack. The town's strategic location allowed its guns to fire regularly on British ships passing along the Cape's southern shoreline. Although the cannons of the Falmouth Artillery Company were little more than an irritant to the British, in January 1814 the H.M.S Nimrod was sent to silence them.

On January 28th, the ship anchored off the coast of Falmouth, raised a flag of truce, and sent a boat ashore. The landing party "demanded the two field pieces [cannon] and a sloop lying at the wharf." Tradition has it that the Artillery Company commander replied, "If ye want the cannon, come and get them!"

The British responded that, if the town did not comply, the Nimrod would begin bombarding it within an hour. The British returned to their ship empty-handed, and the Battle of Falmouth began. The bombardment lasted all afternoon and evening. Although there was considerable confusion among the people and damage to the town,there were no casualties. On January 29th the Nimrod sailed west towards Rhode Island. A few months later, the Nimrod's cannon met a rather inglorious end. On June 13, 1814, the ship ran aground in Buzzards Bay. Desperate to lighten its load, the crew dropped some of the cannon overboard until the ship floated free. In 1987 a diving crew found five of the Nimrod's cannon in the bay. One was given to the Falmouth Historical Society, where it is on permanent display.

If You Go

The collections of the Falmouth Museums on the Green, operated by the Falmouth Historical Society, include a recovered cannon from the H.M.S. Nimrod.

Location

This Mass Moment occurred in the Southeast region of Massachusetts.

Sources

"Records of the Massachusetts Volunteer Militia Called out by the Governor of Massachusetts to suppress a Threatened Invasion during the War of 1812-14," by Br. Genl. Gadner W. Pearson, published by Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 1913.

Cape Cod Companion: The History and Mystery of Old Cape Cod, ed. by Jack Sheedy (Harvest Home Books, 1999).

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