Primary tabs

Account of the Destruction of the Town of Falmouth



Falmouth, January 15, 1776.

Last March, one Captain Coulson, who had been for two or three years an inhabitant and trader in this Town, imported from Great Britain a quantity of sails and rigging; he immediately applied to the Committee of Inspection for leave to use them, in preparing a ship he had launched for her voyage to England. The Committee judged it would be a breach of the Continental Association, and refused to give him liberty, though they thought the case was hard, and would gladly have construed the Association in his favour; but he grew angry, and bade defiance to Committees and Congresses. However, under the prefence of going to the Provincial Congress for leave to rig he went and obtained the Canceau, Captain Mowat, which arrived about the beginning of April, and under her protection rigged his new ship.


On the ninth day of May, Captain Mowat fell into the hands of Lieutenant-Colonel Thompson and Company, who had lain in wait for him; but, by the earnest solicitation of some gentlemen among us, as the Navy of Britain had not then commenced any hostilities against any part of the Continent, and as we expected several provision vessels to arrive soon, which we stood in great need of, he was persuaded to set him at liberty, the said Mowat promising to deliver himself up the next day, which promise he did not think proper to fulfil. A day or two after, without any affront or injury being offered him by the Town, Captain Mowat sent us a letter, threatening to fire upon the Town, if we would not by force expel Colonel Thompson and his Company. Instead of regarding it, the Town treated Colonel Thompson with civility, and his men were victualled at the expense of persons in this Town, as long as they pleased to tarry with us; the Town expecting as a consequence of it, for two or three days, to be cannonaded; in which time the inhabitants were at great expense and trouble in removing themselves and effects into the back settlements.

Soon after this, one Mr˙ Crandell was taken into custody by Admiral Graves; and after he was liberated, reported, that the Admiral inquired of him whether Captain Coulson had loaded. To which he answered in the negative; and that the Admiral then said, if that Town prevents his loading, I will lay it in ashes, or to that purpose. This report was but little attended to at the time, as the said Mr˙ Crandell was but little known in this place. But since the conflagration we have obtained from him the following deposition:

"I, Philip Crandell, of Harpswell, in the County of Cumberland, and Province of Massachusetts-Bay, being of lawful age, do testify and say: that some time in the month of June last I sailed from Harpswell, for Salem, and upon my passage there, I, the deponent, was forcibly taken by an armed vessel, and carried into Boston; and being in the presence of Admiral Graves, he asked me if such a man of war (he named her, but I forgot her name) had arrived at Falmouth. I answered that I heard she had. He then asked me if I thought she would be opposed by the people. I replied, I could not tell. He then asked me if Captain Coulson was loading at Falmouth. I answered, that I had heard he met with such opposition from the people as to prevent it. Upon which the Admiral said, you may tell them, if they will not let him load, that I will send a ship or ships, and beat the Town down about their ears. I then told the Admiral that Captain Coulson' s being prevented loading was not owing to the inhabitants of Falmouth-Neck, but to the country people. I do not remember that the Admiral made any reply, or said anything further relative to Falmouth or Captain Coulson. And further I, the deponent, say not.


"CUMBERLAND, ss. Harpswell, January 1, A˙ D˙, 1776:

"Then the above named Phillip Crandell personally appeared and made solemn oath to the truth of the above deposition by him subscribed, before me,

"WM˙ SYLVESTER, Just˙ Pacis."

Mr˙ Crandell' s mistake in thinking Captain Coulson' s being prevented loading was not owing to the inhabitants of Falmouth- Neck will appear by and by. Captain Mowat, despairing, as we suppose, of being able to protect Captain Coulson, went away with him to Portsmouth. Captain Coulson returned the 7th day of June, in his ship, together with the Senegal, Captain Duddingston. The same day, or the day following, a party of the inhabitants of the Neck, by the direction of the Town' s Committee, and in compliance with a resolve of the Provincial Congress, to prevent Tories carrying their effects out of the Country, seized a number of masts, which the said Coulson was just ready to take in, and towed them up a river, to a place where neither Coulson nor Duddingston dared to go after them.

Nothing further happened, that we can recollect, that has any connection with the destruction of the Town, excepting our generally obeying the authority of Congresses, until Monday, the 16th day of October last, when Captain Mowat, in the Canceau, with another larger ship, called the Cat, a large schooner, and a small sloop, all armed vessels, arrived in our harbour, and anchored down by the


islands, a league from the Town. As the Town perceived it was Captain Mowat, by whom they had been before threatened, and knew him to have great reason to be bound in gratitude to several gentlemen in it, it was the less alarmed. But supposing him to be in quest of cattle and provisions, the Committee sent the greater part of Captain Noyes' s men, and some of Captain Knight' s, to guard the islands, where there were large stocks of cattle and quantities of hay. The next day, being Tuesday, we saw the fleet warping up towards the Town, as the wind did not favour them; and about four o' clock, P˙ M˙, they anchored in a line close to the Town. Though the publick has been told that Captain Mowat came ashore at this time, it is not true. He sent a messenger, with a flag, who delivered the following letter:

"Canceau, Falmouth, October 16, 1775.

"After so many premeditated attacks on the legal prerogative of the best of Sovereigns, after the repeated instances you have experienced in Britain' s long forbearance of the rod of correction, and the manifest and paternal extension other 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 the woes of the innocent of them in particular on the present occasion, from my 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 main topgallant mast head, 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 in my inclination. I do also observe, that all those who did, on 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 expect to return immediately, unmolested.

"I am, &c˙, H˙ MOWAT."

The Town met immediately, and appointed the Honourable Jedediah Preble, Esq˙, Doctor Nathaniel Coffin, and Mr˙ Robert Pagan, a Committee to wail upon Captain Mowat, to know of him in general the meaning of his letter, and the reasons for the threatenings therein contained. The Committee acted accordingly, and have testified as follows:

"Captain Mowat informed us, that his orders from the Admiral did not authorize him to give any warning to the inhabitants, but that they required him to come opposite the Town with all possible expedition, and there burn, sink, and destroy; and that he had taken upon him to give this warning at the risk of his commission. He further told us, that these orders did not respect this Town only, but also all the sea-port Towns upon the Continent. We then expostulated with him upon the severity of such orders, and entreated that, if possible, some method might be fallen upon to save the Town, or at least to give the inhabitants an opportunity of removing some of their effects, &c˙; upon which he said, if the inhabitants would, in the morning, by eight o' clock, deliver up four pieces of cannon which were in the Town, with their arms in general, and ammunition, he would in that case do no hurt to the Town, until he had despatched an express to the Admiral, who, he did not doubt, would order him to save the Town. And as a token that his demand would be complied with, he required that eight arms should be delivered up by eight o' clock that evening, which should be the condition of the Town' s being safe till eight o' clock next morning. We told him we were pretty certain these demands would not be complied with; but, that in discharge of the trust reposed in us, we must inform the Town of his demands. Upon this, we went to the County house, and acquainted our constituents with the terms abovementioned,


who disapproved of delivering up the cannon or their arms. But that they might have an opportunity of removing the sick, with the women and children, and as many of their effects as possible, they ordered the eight arms to be sent on board, and desired us to inform Captain Mowat that the Town would meet early in the morning, and send him an answer by eight o' clock. The Town accordingly met in the morning, and resolved by no means to deliver up the cannon or their arms, and sent us with this message, at the same time desiring us to endeavour to prolong the time on board as long as possible, that more effects might be removed. We went on board with this message, and staid till half past eight o' clock, when we were desired to go ashore, and Captain Mowat, at our request, gave us half an hour longer, to get out of the way ourselves; at the expiration of which time, the firing upon the Town began.


It was about nine o' clock on Wednesday, being the 18th of October, that the firing began from all the abovementioned vessels, with all possible briskness, discharging on every part of the Town, which lay on a regular descent towards the harbour, an horrible shower of balls, from three to nine pounds weight, bombs, carcasses, live shells, grapeshot, and musket balls. The firing lasted, without many minutes cessation, until about six o' clock, P˙ M˙, during which time several parties came ashore and set buildings on fire by hand. Parties of our people, and others from the neighbouring Towns, ran down to oppose them, and it is thought killed several. One officer, after he fell, was stripped of a neat pair of pistols, his flask, and cockade. Through the goodness of God, no life was lost on our side, and only one man wounded, viz: Mr˙ Reuben Clough, of this Town. Had no opposition been made, we do not believe they would have left one building standing; and more opposition would have been made, had not the people' s attention been taken up in securing their effects. Besides, it was very unfortunate that our Companies of sea-coast men were put under the direction of a Committee; for they did not, and we suppose could not, get together in the hurry of affairs, and therefore could give no authoritative directions.

As near as we can judge, about three-quarters of the buildings, reckoning according to their value, are consumed, consisting of about one hundred and thirty dwelling-houses, many of which held two or three families apiece, besides barns, and almost every store and warehouse in Town. St˙ Paul' s church, a large new building, with the bell; a very elegant and costly new court-house, not quite finished; a fine engine, almost new; the old Town house, and the publick library, were all consumed. But one or two wharves have escaped the flames; and every vessel in the harbour, of any considerable bigness, was burnt, excepting two, which the enemy carried away with them. The warning given was so short, that but few teams could be procured to remove the goods out; much was carried out by hand; but, as far as we can learn, not much more than half of the moveables were saved out of the buildings that were burnt. All the compact part of the Town is gone; and among the hundred dwelling-houses that are standing, there are but few good buildings, and those damaged with balls passing through them, or bombs bursting. They are mostly the refuse of the Town, and their owners do not generally inhabit them, as we are apprehensive our enemies will soon endeavour to seize so fine a harbour as ours, and to possess themselves of so advantageous a post as the remarkable eminence on our neck.

Our hearts ache for the misery in which a great part of our people are involved. The most were greatly impoverished before the final catastrophe, by the decay of navigation and trade, which were our sole means of support; so many have lost a part or the whole of their substance, that we conjecture not less than a hundred families must have suffered for want of necessaries, unless relieved by charity. The settlements back of us are new, and but little cultivated. The inhabitants are mostly poor, and have never yet been able to raise their own bread, so that much alms is not to be expected from them.


From this state of facts, it follows most evidently, in the first place, that the Town of Falmouth was destroyed for no other reason, but because of its obedience to the Continental and Provincial Congresses, and its attachment to the cause of liberty and America. In the next place, that those who live remote from us would do well to minister something, out of their abundance, for the relief of our suffering poor, until it becomes possible for them to get into some way to support themselves, as we find with pleasure and gratitude this Province, by its Representatives, have began to do.


Selectmen of the Town of Falmouth.