Cohasset and the War of 1812
Louis F. Eaton, Jr.
Reproduced, with permission, from Treasury of Cohasset History,
ed. J. M. Dormitzer (Cohasset, Mass., 2005), pp. 61-64.
You probably know that the War of 1812 was exceedingly unpopular in
New England and was economically disastrous for Cohasset. After the
British blockade of American ports took effect in 1813, the total catch
from Cohasset's fishing fleet was 451 barrels, which was only one-tenth
of the annual amount in the years preceding the war. By the spring of
1814 a British frigate was "harrying the shores of Massachusetts
Bay," burning fishing vessels when they were captured. The coast
of Maine, which was then a part of Massachusetts, was similarly raided.
According to Bigelow, the Cohasset fishing fleet was unable to stir
from harbor, and twenty-seven vessels were taken up into the Gulf and
scuttled and sunk to prevent them from being burned by the enemy. Several
Cape Cod towns paid ransoms to escape destruction of their property:
Wellfleet $2,000, Brewster $4,000, and Eastham $1,200, according to
Bigelow. Cohasset fishermen's loss in the summer of 1814 was total,
and in addition the little packet they sailed to Boston was taken by
In early June 1814 Scituate Harbor was raided by a landing party of
British marines sent in from two warships off shore, described by Bigelow
as a “flotilla of barges,” and they burned the shipping
found in the harbor. (A barge was a long, narrow boat usually rigged
for ten oars and normally carried on the deck of larger men-of-war.)
The vessels involved were apparently a seventy-four-gun ship-of-the-line,
the Bulwark, and a frigate. Between them, they probably carried about
A messenger brought word of this to Cohasset’s Peter Lothrop,
captain of the town militia, early in the morning of June 16. “He
leaped from his bed and without hat or coat, mounting a horse without
a saddle, rode through our village and roused the slumbering inhabitants.”
His local militia, numbering about 130, were ordered to “repair
immediately, armed and equipped, to the Cohasset Meeting House to await
further orders.” They were advised that the British were only
awaiting a favorable tide to come into Cohasset Harbor.
Bigelow had the benefit of having the diary of Thomas
Stoddard (1787-1854), a portion of which appears in the Narrative
History, pages 345 to 349, telling of his participation in the
affair. Excerpts from his account follow:
At noon of that day, we all assembled at the meeting
house at one o’clock, all enrolled men composing one company
of militia numbering about 130: Peter Lothrop, Captain; John Beale,
First Lieutenant; every man well equipped with ball, cartridge,
and provision. We were marched to Hominy Point, where we found a
trench dug about two feet deep, the dirt thrown fronting the water.
Into this we were marched and ordered to remain ready for action:
a miserable defense, truly. Here we all remained until after sunset
. . . About ten o’clock . . . men in a boat came for a sloop
from Plymouth, which the enemy had driven into Cohasset, having
obtained permission of the Commodore to take her to Plymouth. They
reported the force intended to attack Cohasset at 400 men in eleven
barges, with ten pieces of artillery.
During the afternoon and evening of this day, there
arrived at the head of the harbor two companies from Weymouth, one
company of artillery from Hanover, one company of artillery from
Randolph, and the Hingham Rifle Company, which with the Cohasset
company would number about 600 effective men, all under the command
of Colonel Webb of Weymouth. The out-of-town companies were quartered
in the best possible manner as circumstances would admit. At dawn
of the following day, the cannon awakened those who might be fortunate
enough to get some sleep, however few their number might be. The
drums beat the reveille, a hasty breakfast was prepared, and at
six a.m. the whole camp was in marching order for review and inspection.
This day was the Sabbath: no church bell rang. This day companies
of artillery, infantry, and riflemen were constantly coming in from
the neighboring towns. The hills and high rocks around were covered
with anxious spectators, both male and female. The inhabitants were
busily employed cooking for the soldiers and packing up their valuables
in readiness in case the enemy should land to destroy the town,
which he had threatened in case of resistance.
At nine a.m. upwards of 1,200 men were stationed
at different points of defense near the Cove. It was now high water.
The enemy in eleven barges and a sloop tender hove in sight off
the Glades. When they had a position so as to look into the Cove,
they lay on their oars for observation. They dispatched the tender
to the westward to reconnoiter the shore; several officers landed
at the Glades from a barge, also to reconnoiter. All was now perfect
stillness and anxiety. The officers of each company were encouraging
men to fight manfully, and in case they should desert in time of
action, they were told they would be immediately shot down. The
American flag was displayed from various posts where the troops
were stationed. At eleven a.m. a signal was made from the Bulwark
for the barges to return to the ships. The attack was withdrawn
in consequence of their observing such a superior force to oppose
The troops remained at their posts through the day,
expecting the barges to return the next high water. A strong guard
was posted at different points. A strong boom had been placed across
from Hominy Point to Bassing Beach and every preparation for defense
was complete. The town presented the appearance of a military camp.
Several bands of music were occasionally playing, relieved by the
drum and fife. The plain around the meeting-house was occupied as
the grand parade.
On the morning of the twentieth, the ships weighed
anchor and stood to the eastward. All the troops, excepting one
Hingham and one Weymouth company, returned to their respective homes.
Stoddard's diary describes his continued six weeks of guard duty at
the Cove, quartered in the store of Elisha Doane, Esq., on his wharf.
He further tells of a draft from Captain Lothrop's company of ten men
to join a force of about a thousand militia and two companies of U.S.
troops at Fort Independence in Hull; in all 1,200 men in the fall. "Winter
closed the campaign at Cohasset; the company of drafted men were disbanded."
As Bigelow notes, "The owners [of the twenty-seven fishing vessels]
felt fortunate with their escape from depredations when they knew what
other towns had lost."
The great good news of the signing of the Treaty of Ghent ending the
War of 1812, which was signed on Christmas Day, 1814, reached Cohasset
in the middle of January 1815 and was greeted with enormous jubilation.
However, "the rigors of winter prevented that activity and stir
of business which would have otherwise occurred on the reception of
the joyful news.” But on February 22, “the anniversary of
the birthday of the immortal Washington" was combined with the
celebration of the return of peace, and inhabitants throughout the land
observed a day of public rejoicing. That spring "our dismantled
vessels were again fitted out for their voyages, as many as possible,
and their industry commenced the steady increase which lasted for many
years. Cohasset was never so dangerously near to the furies of war as
it was on June 17, 1814, when the British frigates lay off our harbor
and eleven barges of British soldiers attempted to destroy our town."
From Louis F. Eaton, Jr., article in the Cohasset Mariner,
May 23, 2002. Reprinted with permission of the author. For more information
on Cohasset and the War of 1812, see Bigelow, Narrative History,