The Burning of Falmouth - Mowat's Revenge

The Burning of Falmouth - Mowat's Revenge

We pick up today where we left off yesterday: Falmouth, Massachusetts.

Known today as Portland, Maine, the citizens of this small town won a standoff with a British Ship in the weeks following the Battle of Lexington and Concord.

Now, five months later, the enemy had returned.

Their mission?

Burn it to the ground.


The Ships Arrive

On October 16, 1775, five British ships sailed into Falmouth harbor.

The commander of this fleet, Henry Mowat, had been held hostage by the citizens of this same town half a year earlier. He was here for revenge.

Mowat sent a messenger into the town alerting them to his plan...send out gunpowder, ammunition and hostages or suffer the consequences.

Refuse to cooperate and the town would be blasted to bits.


The Desperate Plea

The people of Falmouth were Patriots.

They had no interest in submitting to Mowat’s demands. 

Instead, they asked for time to clear the women and children out of town.

Mowat, though the villain in this story, was a gentleman. 

He gave them two days. 


The Burning of Falmouth

By October 19, the city was deserted.

At 9:00 in the morning, the cannon fire began.

Falmouth was shelled all day long, with much destruction as a result.

Not satisfied with the attack, Mowat sent several marines ashore to burn the city manually.

Although the local militia did attempt to put up a resistance, they were clearly undermanned. To their credit, the brief fight they put up before the retreat left one Redcoat dead and another wounded.


The Destruction

The aftermath of the Burning of Falmouth was astounding.

The entire town was burned. At least 300 (and possibly up to 400) buildings were destroyed.

A thousand people, almost half of the population, were left homeless while winter began to set in.

Though times were tough for the small community, donations and support from the Massachusetts Provincial Government helped them through.

It took almost 20 years to fully rebuild the area.


The Reaction

A Committee of Conference, who was sent to Cambridge to evaluate the status of the Continental Army, happened to be with General Washington when news of the Burning of Falmouth arrived.

Consisting of Thomas Lynch, Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin Harrison, this Committee noted in their official report to the Continental Congress that every enlisted person from Falmouth begged leave to return home and find lodging and food for their families. 

While it was, “too reasonable Request, to be refused,” this activity was a frightening premonition of what could happen in the near future. Word was the British Navy anticipated bombarding towns all along the New England coast, which could lead to the resignations of thousands of soldiers.

The Burning of Falmouth, along with the arrival of the King’s declaration that the colonies were in open rebellion, led directly to Congress establishing the Continental Navy in an effort to combat the British at sea.


Here are some more Founders who spent at least part of their career in Maine:

Jeremiah O’Brien Commands the Battle of Machias

Matthew Thornton and a New New Hampshire

Peleg Wadsworth and the Disaster at Penobscot Bay

If you’d like to read a modern retelling of this persons in this story, I suggest the below biography of Henry Mowat.

I know, I know, he’s the villain in this tale, but as they say…know your enemy.

‘The Maritime Marauder of Revolutionary Maine’ gives a full account of Mowat’s adventures on the seaboard and paint an important picture regarding one of the few parts of American which was left almost defenseless during the Revolutionary War.

If you’d like a copy you can get one through the Amazon affiliate link below (you’ll support this site, but don’t worry, Amazon pays me while your price stays the same).

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