HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Connecticut residents will have an opportunity to tour the Governor’s Residence in Hartford.
This year’s holiday open house will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Dec. 4 and Dec. 5, and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Dec. 6.
Admission is free and tickets are not needed. Donations will be accepted for Operation ELF, an annual effort by the Connecticut Military Department to help families of soldiers and airmen deployed during the holiday season.
About 30 volunteers will be on hand to provide tours of the residence, which will be decorated with six Christmas trees and other holiday adornments. The trees, wreaths and seasonal plants have been donated by Connecticut growers.
The residence is located at 990 Prospect Ave.
Brimming with seasonal spirit, New England offers a warm welcome to sojourners who venture to the Northeast during Christmastime. Daylight promises excursions to storied attractions, while evenings bring opportunities for fine dining and world-class entertainment. Whether elegant boutique hotels or quaint bed-and-breakfasts, gracious accommodations await that make visiting this beloved region even more enjoyable. In Connecticut, both the Griswold Inn and the Boardman House Inn have been extending hospitality for generations.
Griswold Inn, in the riverside town of Essex, shares its beginnings with the country’s bid for independence. Complementing tranquil vistas of water or village life, individually appointed quarters are decorated with a mix of antique and period-reproduction furnishings. Many of the thirty-three bedrooms boast a fireplace—an ideal spot for reminiscing about the array of holiday events located within walking distance of the hotel. During November and December, Stay & Save rates include incentives for exploring the shops that line Main Street.
An award-winning B&B in the historic district of East Haddam, the circa-1860Boardman House Inn is a sterling example of the French-inspired Second Empire style of architecture. Guests settle into luxurious rooms, where cozy linens and heated marble bathroom floors chase away even a hint of winter’s chill. This haven proves a convenient launching point for discovering the rural charms of the Connecticut River Valley. Nearby outings include exploring Gillette Castle State Park, or scheduling a tour with Essex Steam Train and Riverboat.
To read about some of our favorite New England destinations during Yuletide, see “Christmas in Connecticut,” on page 25 of the November/December 2015 issue of Victoria magazine.
Famous Last Words
Mark Twain once wrote that a man of eminence should not delay preparing his final utterance. He should write his last words down on a slip of paper and get the advice of his friends on them. He should never leave such an important matter to the last minute and trust to inspiration “to enable him to say something smart with his latest gasp and launch him into eternity with grandeur. No–a man is apt to be too much fagged and exhausted, both in body and mind, at such a time, to be reliable.”
“There is hardly a case on record,” Twain continued, “where a man came to his last moment unprepared and said a good thing–hardly a case where a man trusted to that last moment and did not make a solemn botch of it and go out of the world feeling absurd.”
The Essex, named after the ship building village in Connecticut: The True-Life Horror That Inspired Moby-Dick
The True-Life Horror That Inspired Moby-Dick
The whaler Essex was indeed sunk by a whale—and that's only the beginning
By Gilbert King
In July of 1852, a 32-year-old novelist named Herman Melville had high hopes for his new novel, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, despite the book’s mixed reviews and tepid sales. That month he took a steamer to Nantucket for his first visit to the Massachusetts island, home port of his novel’s mythic protagonist, Captain Ahab, and his ship, the Pequod. Like a tourist, Melville met local dignitaries, dined out and took in the sights of the village he had previously only imagined.
And on his last day on Nantucket he met the broken-down 60-year-old man who had captained the Essex, the ship that had been attacked and sunk by a sperm whale in an 1820 incident that had inspired Melville’s novel. Captain George Pollard Jr. was just 29 years old when the Essex went down, and he survived and returned to Nantucket to captain a second whaling ship, Two Brothers. But when that ship wrecked on a coral reef two years later, the captain was marked as unlucky at sea—a “Jonah”—and no owner would trust a ship to him again. Pollard lived out his remaining years on land, as the village night watchman.
Melville had written about Pollard briefly in Moby-Dick, and only with regard to the whale sinking his ship. During his visit, Melville later wrote, the two merely “exchanged some words.” But Melville knew Pollard’s ordeal at sea did not end with the sinking of the Essex, and he was not about to evoke the horrific memories that the captain surely carried with him. “To the islanders he was a nobody,” Melville wrote, “to me, the most impressive man, tho’ wholly unassuming, even humble—that I ever encountered.”
Pollard had told the full story to fellow captains over a dinner shortly after his rescue from the Essex ordeal, and to a missionary named George Bennet. To Bennet, the tale was like a confession. Certainly, it was grim: 92 days and sleepless nights at sea in a leaking boat with no food, his surviving crew going mad beneath the unforgiving sun, eventual cannibalism and the harrowing fate of two teenage boys, including Pollard’s first cousin, Owen Coffin. “But I can tell you no more—my head is on fire at the recollection,” Pollard told the missionary. “I hardly know what I say.”
The trouble for Essex began, as Melville knew, on August 14, 1819, just two days after it left Nantucket on a whaling voyage that was supposed to last two and a half years. The 87-foot-long ship was hit by a squall that destroyed its topgallant sail and nearly sank it. Still, Pollard continued, making it to Cape Horn five weeks later. But the 20-man crew found the waters off South America nearly fished out, so they decided to sail for distant whaling grounds in the South Pacific, far from any shores.
To restock, the Essex anchored at Charles Island in the Galapagos, where the crew collected sixty 100-pound tortoises. As a prank, one of the crew set a fire, which, in the dry season, quickly spread. Pollard’s men barely escaped, having to run through flames, and a day after they set sail, they could still see smoke from the burning island. Pollard was furious, and swore vengeance on whoever set the fire. Many years later Charles Island was still a blackened wasteland, and the fire was believed to have caused the extinction of both the Floreana Tortoise and the Floreana Mockingbird.
By November of 1820, after months of a prosperous voyage and a thousand miles from the nearest land, whaleboats from the Essex had harpooned whales that dragged them out toward the horizon in what the crew called “Nantucket sleigh rides.” Owen Chase, the 23-year-old first mate, had stayed aboard the Essex to make repairs while Pollard went whaling. It was Chase who spotted a very big whale—85 feet in length, he estimated—lying quietly in the distance, its head facing the ship. Then, after two or three spouts, the giant made straight for the Essex, “coming down for us at great celerity,” Chase would recall—at about three knots. The whale smashed head-on into the ship with “such an appalling and tremendous jar, as nearly threw us all on our faces.”
The whale passed underneath the ship and began thrashing in the water. “I could distinctly see him smite his jaws together, as if distracted with rage and fury,” Chase recalled. Then the whale disappeared. The crew was addressing the hole in the ship and getting the pumps working when one man cried out, “Here he is—he is making for us again.” Chase spotted the whale, his head half out of water, bearing down at great speed—this time at six knots, Chase thought. This time it hit the bow directly under the cathead and disappeared for good.
The water rushed into the ship so fast, the only thing the crew could do was lower the boats and try fill them with navigational instruments, bread, water and supplies before the Essex turned over on its side.
Pollard saw his ship in distress from a distance, then returned to see the Essex in ruin. Dumbfounded, he asked, “My God, Mr. Chase, what is the matter?”
“We have been stove by a whale,” his first mate answered.
Another boat returned, and the men sat in silence, their captain still pale and speechless. Some, Chase observed, “had no idea of the extent of their deplorable situation.”
The men were unwilling to leave the doomed Essex as it slowly foundered, and Pollard tried to come up with a plan. In all, there were three boats and 20 men. They calculated that the closest land was the Marquesas Islands and the Society Islands, and Pollard wanted to set off for them—but in one of the most ironic decisions in nautical history, Chase and the crew convinced him that those islands were peopled with cannibals and that the crew’s best chance for survival would be to sail south. The distance to land would be far greater, but they might catch the trade winds or be spotted by another whaling ship. Only Pollard seemed to understand the implications of steering clear of the islands. (According to Nathaniel Philbrick, in his book In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, although rumors of cannibalism persisted, traders had been visiting the islands without incident.)
Thus they left the Essex aboard their 20-foot boats. They were challenged almost from the start. Saltwater saturated the bread, and the men began to dehydrate as they ate their daily rations. The sun was ravaging. Pollard’s boat was attacked by a killer whale. They spotted land—Henderson Island—two weeks later, but it was barren. After another week the men began to run out of supplies. Still, three of them decided they’d rather take their chances on land than climb back into a boat. No one could blame them. And besides, it would stretch the provisions for the men in the boats.
By mid-December, after weeks at sea, the boats began to take on water, more whales menaced the men at night, and by January, the paltry rations began to take their toll. On Chase’s boat, one man went mad, stood up and demanded a dinner napkin and water, then fell into “most horrid and frightful convulsions” before perishing the next morning. “Humanity must shudder at the dreadful recital” of what came next, Chase wrote. The crew “separated limbs from his body, and cut all the flesh from the bones; after which, we opened the body, took out the heart, and then closed it again—sewed it up as decently as we could, and committed it to the sea.” They then roasted the man’s organs on a flat stone and ate them.
Over the coming week, three more sailors died, and their bodies were cooked and eaten. One boat disappeared, and then Chase’s and Pollard’s boats lost sight of each other. The rations of human flesh did not last long, and the more the survivors ate, the hungrier they felt. On both boats the men became too weak to talk. The four men on Pollard’s boat reasoned that without more food, they would die. On February 6, 1821—nine weeks after they’d bidden farewell to the Essex—Charles Ramsdell, a teenager, proposed they draw lots to determine who would be eaten next. It was the custom of the sea, dating back, at least in recorded instance, to the first half of the 17th century. The men in Pollard’s boat accepted Ramsdell’s suggestion, and the lot fell to young Owen Coffin, the captain’s first cousin.
Pollard had promised the boy’s mother he’d look out for him. “My lad, my lad!” the captain now shouted, “if you don’t like your lot, I’ll shoot the first man that touches you.” Pollard even offered to step in for the boy, but Coffin would have none of it. “I like it as well as any other,” he said.
Ramsdell drew the lot that required him to shoot his friend. He paused a long time. But then Coffin rested his head on the boat’s gunwale and Ramsdell pulled the trigger.
“He was soon dispatched,” Pollard would say, “and nothing of him left.”
By February 18, after 89 days at sea, the last three men on Chase’s boat spotted a sail in the distance. After a frantic chase, they managed to catch the English ship Indian and were rescued.
Three hundred miles away, Pollard’s boat carried only its captain and Charles Ramsdell. They had only the bones of the last crewmen to perish, which they smashed on the bottom of the boat so that they could eat the marrow. As the days passed the two men obsessed over the bones scattered on the boat’s floor. Almost a week after Chase and his men had been rescued, a crewman aboard the American ship Dauphin spotted Pollard’s boat. Wretched and confused, Pollard and Ramsdell did not rejoice at their rescue, but simply turned to the bottom of their boat and stuffed bones into their pockets. Safely aboard the Dauphin, the two delirious men were seen “sucking the bones of their dead mess mates, which they were loath to part with.”
The five Essex survivors were reunited in Valparaiso, where they recuperated before sailing back for Nantucket. As Philbrick writes, Pollard had recovered enough to join several captains for dinner, and he told them the entire story of the Essex wreck and his three harrowing months at sea. One of the captains present returned to his room and wrote everything down, calling Pollard’s account “the most distressing narrative that ever came to my knowledge.”
Years later, the third boat was discovered on Ducie Island; three skeletons were aboard. Miraculously, the three men who chose to stay on Henderson Island survived for nearly four months, mostly on shellfish and bird eggs, until an Australian ship rescued them.
Once they arrived in Nantucket, the surviving crewmen of the Essex were welcomed, largely without judgment. Cannibalism in the most dire of circumstances, it was reasoned, was a custom of the sea. (In similar incidents, survivors declined to eat the flesh of the dead but used it as bait for fish. But Philbrick notes that the men of the Essex were in waters largely devoid of marine life at the surface.)
Captain Pollard, however, was not as easily forgiven, because he had eaten his cousin. (One scholar later referred to the act as “gastronomic incest.”) Owen Coffin’s mother could not abide being in the captain’s presence. Once his days at sea were over, Pollard spent the rest of his life in Nantucket. Once a year, on the anniversary of the wreck of the Essex, he was said to have locked himself in his room and fasted in honor of his lost crewmen.
By 1852, Melville and Moby-Dick had begun their own slide into obscurity. Despite the author’s hopes, his book sold but a few thousand copies in his lifetime, and Melville, after a few more failed attempts at novels, settled into a reclusive life and spent 19 years as a customs inspector in New York City. He drank and suffered the death of his two sons. Depressed, he abandoned novels for poetry. But George Pollard’s fate was never far from his mind. In his poem Clarel he writes of
A night patrolman on the quay
Watching the bales till morning hour
Through fair and foul. Never he smiled;
Call him, and he would come; not sour
In spirit, but meek and reconciled:
Patient he was, he none withstood;
Oft on some secret thing would brood.
Books: Herman Melville, Moby-Dick; Or, The Whale, 1851, Harper & Brothers Publishers. Nathaniel Philbrick, In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, 2000, Penguin Books. Thomas Nickerson, The Loss of the Ship Essex, Sunk by a Whale, 2000, Penguin Classics. Owen Chase, Narrative of the Whale-Ship Essex of Nantucket, 2006, A RIA Press Edition. Alex MacCormick, The Mammoth Book of Maneaters, 2003, Carroll & Graf Publishers. Joseph S. Cummins, Cannibals: Shocking True Tales of the Last Taboo on Land and at Sea, 2001, The Lyons Press. Evan L. Balkan, Shipwrecked: Deadly Adventures and Disasters at Sea, 2008, Menasha Ridge Press.
Articles: “The Whale and the Horror,” by Nathaniel Philbrick, Vanity Fair, May, 2000. “Herman Melville: Nantucket’s First Tourist?” by Susan Beegel, The Nantucket Historical Association, http://www.nha.org/history/hn/HN-fall1991-beegel.html. ”Herman Melville and Nantucket,” The Nantucket Historical Association, http://www.nha.org/history/faq/melville.html. Into the Deep: America, Whaling & the World, “Biography: Herman Melville,” American Experience, PBS.org, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/biography/whaling-melville/. “No Moby-Dick: A Real Captain, Twice Doomed,” by Jesse McKinley, New York Times, February 11, 2011. “The Essex Disaster,” by Walter Karp, American Heritage, April/May, 1983, Volume 34, Issue 3. “Essex (whaleship),” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Essex_(whaleship). ”Account of the Ship Essex Sinking, 1819-1821., Thomas Nickerson, http://www.galapagos.to/TEXTS/NICKERSON.HTM
Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-true-life-horror-that-inspired-moby-dick-17576/#04v9fFQKje9IVBwK.99
Stephen Birmingham, Chronicler of the Rich and Other Elites, Dies at 86
By SAM ROBERTSNOV. 18, 2015
Stephen Birmingham, the prolific novelist, purveyor of popular sociology and raconteur of the rich and famous in best-selling books like “ ‘Our Crowd’: The Great Jewish Families of New York” and “The Right People: A Portrait of the American Social Establishment,” died on Sunday at his home in Manhattan. He was 86.
His son Carey confirmed the death on Wednesday, saying that the cause was cancer.
Mr. Birmingham was not to the manner born himself, but to manners bred. He was often mistaken for being Jewish because of his trilogy of social histories of American Jews. The others were “The Grandees: America’s Sephardic Elite” and “The Rest of Us: The Rise of America’s Eastern European Jews.”
Mr. Birmingham made more than a dozen literary excursions into pop sociology, including a group portrait of the Dakota, the exclusive Manhattan apartment building, and explorations of the Irish-American and African-American elites.
To be sure, some of his books were embraced neither by the academy nor by some of the individuals, families or ethnic groups whose social climbing he chronicled.
Roger Wilkins, the civil rights leader and journalist, dismissed Mr. Birmingham’s “Certain People: America’s Black Elite” in scathing fashion in 1977 in The New York Times Book Review, writing of its “snippets of elementary psychology, flawed sociology, half-baked history and, to spice it all up, bits and pieces of plain mean gossip.”
Reviewing “Our Crowd” for The Guardian, Mordecai Richler wrote that Mr. Birmingham was “glossy and entertaining, but that’s all.”
For many readers, that was enough. His books were often best sellers — “Our Crowd” was on the Times list for 47 weeks, — and most of his nine full-length novels were acclaimed by critics, too.
His first, “Young Mr. Keefe,” about young people transplanted from Connecticut to California, was published in 1958, before he was 30. Other novels he wrote appeared to have been inspired at least in part by his research for his nonfiction books.
One, for example, was about the offspring of a Canadian liquor baron fending off scandal and anti-Semitism; another was about the moral decay of a marriage in a small town dynasty.
“ ‘Our Crowd’ ” was Mr. Birmingham’s first nonfiction book. He embarked on it, he explained in the preface, not simply to write about the rich.
“As a novelist,” he wrote, “my interest has always been in the romance of people, and I suppose I am always a bit more concerned with what people are than what they do.”
Stephen Gardner Birmingham was born in Andover, Conn., east of Hartford, on May 28, 1929, to Thomas Birmingham, a lawyer, and the former Editha Gardner. His parents sent him to the elite Hotchkiss School in Connecticut, where, he recalled, “there were no blacks, maybe one Chinese person, who was the son of a missionary, and a quota on Jews.”
One story he liked to tell was about the time, when he was 15, that he confided to a dowager his embarrassment at having a committed a faux pas at his first formal dance the night before. While balancing his and a female friend’s dinner plates and glasses of Sauternes, it seems, he slipped and poured the food up his sleeve. The dowager was aghast.
“Do you mean they served Sauternes and not Dubonnet?” she sniffed. “How dreadful!”
After graduating from Williams College in 1950 with a degree in English, Mr. Birmingham worked as an advertising copywriter in New York for Needham Harper Steers (now DDB Worldwide). His accounts included the department store Gimbels and Ladies’ Home Journal, for which he was credited with writing the slogan “Never underestimate the power of a woman.”
His Army service was sandwiched between ad agency work, which he left after finding success with magazine writing and his first novel. The book was recommended to a publisher by the novelist John P. Marquand, with whom he shared a literary agent.
In 1973 Mr. Birmingham moved to Ohio, where he taught creative writing at the University of Cincinnati and continued to write.
Until their divorce in 1974, Mr. Birmingham and his wife, the former Jane Tillson, lived in Rye, N.Y., where they raised their three children.
In addition to his son Carey, survivors include Mr. Birmingham’s partner, Edward Lahniers; another son, Mark; a daughter, Harriet; his sister, Susan Losee; and a granddaughter.
The idea for “Our Crowd” was suggested by Roger H. Klein, an editor at Harper & Row, and Mr. Birmingham was persuaded to pursue the project after the mother of a former schoolmate showed him an unpublished memoir by Adolph Lewisohn, the investment banker and philanthropist.
As he did with all his books, Mr. Birmingham pecked it out with two fingers on a Royal typewriter. His photo on the jacket was taken with a Polaroid camera by 12-year-old Carey.
The book began: “By the late 1930s the world of Mrs. Philip J. Goodhart had become one of clearly defined, fixed and immutable values. There were two kinds of people. There were ‘people we visit’ and ‘people we wouldn’t visit.’ ”
The ones that the German-Jewish aristocracy would visit were “our crowd.”
Mr. Birmingham went on to recount the time one of Mrs. Goodhart’s assimilated sisters-in-law was turned away by a hotel in the Adirondacks “because, of all things, the hotel politely said it had a policy and did not accept gentiles!”
The book also delivered historical footnotes, like the fact that until 1924, nearly 75 years after it was founded, all the partners at Lehman Brothers were named Lehman.
The success of “ ‘Our Crowd’ ” led to other ethnic studies, including “Real Lace: America’s Irish Rich” and “Life at the Dakota: New York’s Most Unusual Address,” as well as biographies of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Wallis Warfield Simpson.
Reviewing “The Right People,” William F. Buckley Jr., himself a charter member of the social establishment portrayed in the book, lumped Mr. Birmingham with “the panting taxonomists” who “sweat up pseudo theses around which to drape loose talk about rich and squirish Americans.”
The book critic Phoebe-Lou Adams once described Mr. Birmingham in The Atlantic as “a persistent explorer of ethnic byways provided they are paved with gold.”
He did not disagree. “Yes,” he told an interviewer from Publishers Weekly in 1984, “I think rich people are more interesting than poor people, don’t you?”
Essex — A project to find submerged historic treasures has been taking place on the lower Connecticut River this month, as a team of marine archaeologists with sensitive sonar and magnetic measuring equipment scan the shallow coves and inlets of Essex harbor, Old Saybrook and Goose Island in Old Lyme in an open pontoon boat.
“We’ve never really had a good understanding of our submerged resources,” Catherine Labadia, deputy state historic preservation officer for the state Historic Preservation Office, said Wednesday on the docks of the Connecticut River Museum, as the crew of the 28-foot research boat prepared to launch for the afternoon. “This is a unique opportunity for us to find out what’s out there.”
The purpose of the project, funded with about $1 million in federal grants, is to identify the location and condition of submerged artifacts but leave them in place, and by doing so help ensure they will be protected in the case of future projects — including those designed to help shoreline areas recover and better withstand intense storms.
The federal grants were made available in response to the effects of Hurricane Sandy, to help historic resources in shoreline areas buttress against future storms.
The research team, from R. Christopher Goodwin & Associates of New Orleans, began its search in Essex harbor for remains of the 27 ships burned by the British there during the War of 1812, but are looking for any other significant artifacts the equipment turns up in the process, said Steve Schmidt, senior nautical archaeologist for the company.
Labadia said the project will ultimately extend east of the river to the Rhode Island border but began in Essex “because this port and harbor were high on everyone’s radar” because of the historic events of 1812.
Schmidt said the data collected thus far has to be combined and analyzed before he and the crew can say what if any artifacts have been found.
“Some of those vessels burned by the British may be buried under sediments” but could be detected with the magnetometer equipment, he added.
The team is using a University of Rhode Island vessel uniquely suited to working in areas as shallow as 18 inches.
David McCullough, nautical archaeologist with Goodwin & Associates, said that as part of the project, the team will identify submerged artifacts that are particularly vulnerable to impact from future storms and from recovery efforts along the shoreline.
The information will also be useful when proposals for future energy projects involving placement of submerged cables or equipment are made, Labadia added.
“If some of the artifacts found are especially valuable, we can establish an archaeological preserve,” she said.
Currently the state has two preserves protecting submerged artifacts — the remains of Gillette Castle owner William Gillette’s houseboat, Aunt Polly, and the Cornfield Point Lightship in Old Saybrook.
As part of the project, the marine archaeology company will write a plan the state can follow to protect its submerged artifacts in the future, said Christopher Goodwin, owner of the company.
The plan will assess possible effects of future nor’easters, sea level rise and resiliency projects, for example, he said.
The British Raid on Essex
By Jerry Roberts for Connecticut Explored
On a cold April night in 1814 a British raiding force rowed six miles up the Connecticut River to burn the privateers of Essex, then known as Pettipaug. Before the raid was over they had torched 27 ships and taken or destroyed thousands of dollars’ worth of rigging materials. The raid resulted in the single greatest loss of American shipping of the entire war.
During the War of 1812 the British navy’s blockade of Long Island Sound nearly shut down commerce along the Connecticut coast. In shipbuilding towns such as Pettipaug many hard-pressed merchant ship owners were unable to carry out the normal coastal and West Indies trade that their livelihoods depended on. Some began arming their vessels as privateers. These were privately owned warships meant to attack and capture British merchant ships on the high seas. The captured vessels and their cargos were sold at auction and the profits split between the owners, the captain and crew, and the US government. For the young United States with its extremely limited federal navy, privateering was an important part of the war effort.
Despite the obvious risks, the building and financing of privateers represented a potentially lucrative investment opportunity while also serving the national cause. Pettipaug was already a well-known shipbuilding center. That several vessels were now being armed and new privateers were being built there did not escape the Royal Navy’s attention.
But a raid on Pettipaug would not be easy. Essex is located six miles up the Connecticut River from Long Island Sound and a great sand bar at the mouth of the river prevented large naval vessels from entering. A raiding force would have to penetrate deep into the American heartland without the direct support of warships. Still, the British recognized that the chance of destroying a large number of privateers in one place, rather than having to hunt them down one by one on the high seas, was worth the risks involved. The raid was led by Captain Richard Coote of HMS Borer and involved crews mustered from four British warships of the squadron blockading New London and the Sound. They anchored off the mouth of the Connecticut River on the evening of April 7 and dispatched 136 sailors and marines in six heavily armed ships’ boats.
Their first task was to secure the fort at Saybrook, which dominated the mouth of the river, so the raiding force would not be trapped on the way out. Unbelievably, two years into the war, the British found the fort without a garrison, guns, or ammunition. They continued to row upstream against wind and tide, arriving on the Pettipaug waterfront at 3:30 the next morning.
According to Coote’s report to the Admiralty, “We found the town alarmed, the militia all on alert, and apparently disposed to oppose our landing with one four pound gun.” But the British had come with overwhelming force, their boats undoubtedly armed with swivel guns and carronades. “After the discharge of the boat’s guns and a volley of musketry from our marines,” Coote continued, “they prudently ceased firing.”
No one in the sleepy village had expected the war would be brought so far inland. But here it was. According to a report published in the Connecticut Gazette a few days after the raid the British made a simple ultimatum to the town’s people gathered there in the wee hours. “Captain Coote informed them that he was in sufficient force to affect the object of his expedition, which was to burn the vessels; and that if his party were not fired upon, no harm should fall upon the inhabitants, or the property unconnected with the vessels…” In other words, the message was, stay out of our way and you can keep your town. The good people of Pettipaug looked at the marines, did the math, and withdrew. Quietly, riders were sent out into the night to seek military assistance from New London and surrounding communities.
As British marines secured the town, sailors set to burning ships and removing naval stores from waterfront chandleries and warehouses. They also took the town’s considerable stocks of West Indies rum, an important commodity in an age when soldiers and sailors on both sides were issued half a pint of rum a day as part of their compensation.
As the harbor blazed throughout the night, several heroic but futile attempts were made to save individual ships by towing them out of sight or extinguishing flames with buckets of water. Despite these efforts, however, by 10:00 the next morning the British had torched 25 vessels, keeping meticulous records of the names, tonnage, rigs, and potential armaments of each, from the 400-ton ship Osage to 25-ton coastal sloops. They loaded the stolen chandlery supplies and rum into two captured privateers, the brig Young Anaconda and the schooner Eagle. With militia from neighboring towns beginning to reach the area, it was time for Captain Coote and his men to make their escape.
As the British towed the two captured ships down river against the wind on a falling tide, the Young Anaconda went aground a mile south of the town. Its cargo was transferred to the schooner, and the brig was torched. Despite being exposed to sporadic musket fire from shore, Coote decided that proceeding through the narrower stretch of river farther downstream in broad daylight posed a greater risk than waiting for the cover of darkness. He anchored the schooner and his boats and waited for nightfall.
At this point, Major Marshe Ely, commanding the growing American militia forces from Lyme and Saybrook, sent a small boat under a flag of truce to deliver a message to the British. Ely was confident he now had Coote at his mercy: “Sir, To avoid the effusion of human blood is the desire of every honorable man. The number of forces under my command are increased so much as to render it impossible for you to escape. I therefore suggest to you the propriety of surrendering your selves prisoners of War and by that means prevent the consequence of an unequal conflict which must otherwise ensue.”
Coote disagreed with Ely’s assessment. In his report to the Admiralty he wrote with typically British understatement, “My reply was verbal, assuring the bearer, that tho’ sensible of their humane intentions, we set their power to detain us at defiance.”
At sunset the British transferred the stolen supplies and rum to the boats, set fire to the schooner, muffled their oars, and began slipping downstream under cover of darkness. US marines dispatched by Stephan Decatur from New London had begun to arrive, along with federal troops and additional militia and volunteers. Several artillery pieces were quickly set up on both sides of the river. The British came under increasing musket and cannon fire from both banks. Two British marines were killed as the boats ran the gauntlet, now illuminated by bonfires and picket boats with torches. The musket and cannon fire from the narrows (today spanned by the I-95 Baldwin Bridge) was intense. Coote reported, “I believe no boat escaped without receiving more or less shot.” Yet the black of night and the swift outbound current enabled the British to drift silently past the fort at Saybrook, drawing only ineffectual parting shots from the defenders now gathered there.
By 10:00 p.m. the raiding party had reached the safety of the British warships. For the loss of only two men killed and two seriously injured the British had torched more than two dozen American ships and taken or destroyed thousands of dollars’ worth of supplies and equipment—not to mention all that rum. It was perhaps one of the most successful small boat raids in history.
The British raid devastated the local economy and nearly ruined the handful of old shipbuilding families who owned most of the vessels that had been destroyed. The prevailing local attitude was that the disaster had resulted from the federal government’s total neglect of its duty to protect this important shipbuilding community. This was made clear in a letter from the selectmen of Saybrook (which at the time included Pettipaug) to Connecticut Governor John Cotton Smith. “Your Excellency must be sensible that the Inhabitants of this Town feel Indignant at the General Government for declaring a war of offence & then leaving…the Mouth of the Connecticut River unprotected… under the guns of a large squadron of the enemy.”
Four months later the British bombarded Stonington. Unlike the strategic raid on Pettipaug, the attack on Stonington was a punitive bombardment of an extremely exposed, and as it turned out tenaciously brave, coastal town. Two weeks after that, on August 24, the British burned the nation’s capital. The raid on Pettipaug had been eclipsed, and the town did its best to forget this dark chapter in its history. Within two years it had changed its name to Essex, and the raid passed into obscurity and folklore.
Jerry Roberts is executive director of the Connecticut River Museum.
© Connecticut Explored. This article originally appeared in Connecticut Explored (formerly Hog River Journal) Vol. 10/ No. 3, SUMMER 2012.
“Connecticut and the War of 1812.” New London County Historical Society, 2012. Link.
“The British Raid of 1814.” Connecticut River Museum, 2012. Link.
“Connecticut River Museum,” 2012. Link.
Marsh, Major Ely. “Manuscript: Request for Surrender,” April 8, 1814. Connecticut History Illustrated, Connecticut Historical Society. Link.
1814 New London. Pettypaug Point. Brooklyn, NY: Privately Printed, 1881. Link.
Roberts, Jerry. The British Raid on Essex the Forgotten Battle of the War of 1812. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2014. Link.
Anderson, Russell F., Albert Dock, and Essex Historical Society. The British Raid on Essex: April 8, 1814. Essex, CT: Essex Historical Society : Hills Academy, 1981.
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This is a book of short stories taken from the things I saw and heard in my childhood in the factory town of Ansonia in southwestern Connecticut.
Most of these stories, or as true as I recall them because I witnessed these events many years ago through the eyes of child and are retold to you now with the pen and hindsight of an older man.
The only exception is the story Beat Time which is based on the disappearance of Beat poet Lew Welch. Decades before I knew who Welch was, I was told that he had made his from California to New Haven, Connecticut, where was an alcoholic living in a mission. The notion fascinated me and I filed it away but never forgot it.
The collected stories are loosely modeled around Joyce’s novel, Dubliners (I also borrowed from the novels character and place names. Ivy Day, my character in “Local Orphan is Hero” is also the name of chapter in Dubliners, etc.) and like Joyce I wanted to write about my people, the people I knew as a child, the working class in small town America and I wanted to give a complete view of them as well. As a result the stories are about the divorced, Gays, black people, the working poor, the middle class, the lost and the found, the contented and the discontented.
Conversely many of the stories in this book are about starting life over again as a result of suicide (The Hanging Party, Small Town Tragedy, Beat Time) or from a near death experience (Anna Bell Lee and the Charge of the Light Brigade, A Brief Summer) and natural occurring death. (The Best Laid Plans, The Winter Years, Balanced and Serene)
With the exception of Jesus Loves Shaqunda, in each story there is a rebirth from the death. (Shaqunda is reported as having died of pneumonia in The Winter Years)
Sal, the desperate and depressed divorcee in Things Change, changes his life in Lunch Hour when asks the waitress for a date and she accepts. (Which we learn in Closing Time, the last story in the book) In The Arranged Time, Thisby is given the option of change and whether she takes it or, we don’t know. The death of Greta’s husband in A Matter of Time has led her to the diner and into the waiting arms of the outgoing and loveable Gabe.
Although the book is based on three sets of time (breakfast, lunch and dinner) and the diner is opened in the early morning and closed at night, time stands still inside the Diner. The hour on the big clock on the wall never changes time and much like my memories of that place, everything remains the same.
The Winter Years
He was reading the newspaper while he waited for his order to arrive. He never read the newspaper before she was gone. Now he read it because it was something to do. He was reading an article in the newspaper about the young mother of four children who lived in town and had died of pneumonia. She was 22 years old and had worked as a security guard down in New Haven and now her children would be sent to live with their grandmother who was also of that city and was reported to be thirty-eight-years old.
He put the paper down and thought that life is unfair. He remembered that she closed the door tightly and locked it but she did not want to go. She adored her home. She paused to wonder what it would be like to wake up and have no breasts. She pushed that thought out of her mind and remembered that the doctor said he wanted to talk to her. There were other developments, he said. She told him that she would see him after the operation. It was just too much to deal with. She knew, anyway.
She looked out into the day and it was beautiful. It smelled cold. The sun was bursting brilliantly in the deep blue sky. The New England snow slowed things, and in the early morning hours, when the snow was untouched and pristine, it blanketed the Valley with a pleasant sense of peace and calm. Beautiful winter days like this were a part of the reason she loved this place and why she had never left.
She held the thin black iron rail and stepped carefully down the slate and cement steps. Watching her, he said across the freshly fallen snow, “Ice is gone. I got it.” And he had. In fact, it was gone before the sun had risen over his Valley’s hills. He took shoveling seriously.
She went over the mental list of food she had left prepared for him. There was Golabki, stuffed cabbage and Chlopski Posilek, bacon and cabbage, Rosoz kurczaka and golden chicken consommé with noodles. There was Placki kartoflane, potato pancakes, and Klopsiki, meatloaf stuffed with eggs. There was Kotlet schabowy and breaded pork cutlet. She left Faworki, pastry twists, and Makowiec, sweet poppy cake for dessert.
“I left you a few things inside the frig-er-rater,” she said and went over the working of the mysterious microwave with him, again, although they both knew its intricacies would elude him anyway and he would nuke the food so long that smoke would billow out of its every crevice.
He let the engine idle and turned on the heater to warm the protective vinyl coverings on the seat. A slight steam of blue grey smoke from the exhaust floated ghost like over the open trunk where he had carefully placed her white Naugahyde covered luggage over an old quilt in the unlikely event that there was dirt on the trunk floor. She had packed only the clothes she knew she would need, her nightgowns, slippers, her best dress, shoes, and her good jewelry.
He smelled the cold too and he liked it. He liked the way it felt on his cheeks and on the tip of his nose. He liked outside because you were alone outside. Years ago, he had worked inside the shop for a few months but he didn’t like it. He did not like the way some of the guys talked dirty talk about girls. Some of them even had dirty magazines with naked pictures of girls jammed inside their lockers. They would show him and he would say, “I go to mass, you know,” and they stopped doing that. That was why he took the driver’s job, hauling loads from Ansonia up to Springfield and back again.
Twenty-four years behind the wheel of a big rig had left him with enormous flat hands, thick wrists and a flabby rear end that was distinctly disproportionate to the rest of his wide muscular body. Decades of handmade kielbasa, and potato cheese pierogis topped with bacon, and fried onions had left him with an enormous belly. And those were the only things about him that were memorable or unique except that he was a kind man, a benign gentle man. She always said that the crew cut on his still blonde but thinning hair made him look like a Polish prison guard and men who didn’t know him stepped out of his way. But children liked him instantly and he had that aura of men who would rather listen than speak.
He did not speak about this hospital situation. He didn’t understand it and sitting there on the edge of his thoughts was how he would take care of himself after she was gone. He worried about the laundry the most. Those machines were a mystery to him. When she was in the hospital that time with the baby, he had fought it out with the laundry machine and the laundry machine won by shrinking everything to half its size. He wondered if she would feel pain. There were a lot of times over these past few weeks that he closed his eyes and talked to the Virgin Mary. He said to her that if there had to be pain involved, let him feel it instead of her, because he could take it and he was not sure she could. She was a small woman he thought, and God must have made him this big for a reason.
He did not want to think about any of that now. In a half hour, he would be alone and then he would have no choice but to think about it, because there would be no one else to talk too. He turned his attention to the slate wall and noted that roots had pushed their way into the tiny porous holes in the cement and pushed apart and severed the gravel that kept the wall together.
She slowly made her way over to him and stared at the crumbling wall as well.
“It’s gotta come down,” he said, “before it falls down on its own. You don’t want that.”
“I remember you and the boys built that.” She pointed to the patch of wood in back of the house. “Took the rocks from the back. Remember? We took the Easter pictures here with yous in your red suit coats.”
The memory brought a wonderful smile to his face.
“Yous were so handsome,” she said with pride that lifted her chin. “Oh honest to God though.”
He pulled a large rock from the top of the wall and placed in on the lawn. “Well, it’s gotta come down now while we can still save it.”
He turned to see her eyes had welled up. “Hell, woman, it’s just a damn wall,” he said trying his best to sound gruff but coming nowhere close to the effect he wanted. She locked her short soft arm into his and he turned and embraced his bride for a long moment because he loved her and because he missed her already and because hospitals upset him and he held her to keep out the world, if only for another moment.
They walked silently to the car, arm in arm. The snow was tapering off into rain, a rain that unlike the snow, seemed to come as an assault, an attack that would somehow, alter things forever. He opened the door. She slid in. He shut her door, and he drove his bride to the hospital.
He ate alone these days. He arrived to the Diner at six every evening and sat at the same place at the counter and thought of her often while he waited to see her again.
The Valley Lives
By Marion Marchetto, author of The Bridgewater Chronicles on October 15, 2015
Short Stores from a Small Town is set in The Valley (known to outsiders as The Lower Naugatuck Valley) in Connecticut. While the short stories are contemporary they provide insight into the timeless qualities of an Industrial Era community and the values and morals of the people who live there. Some are first or second generation Americans, some are transplants, yet each takes on the mantle of Valleyite and wears it proudly. It isn't easy for an author to take the reader on a journey down memory lane and involve the reader in the life stories of a group of seemingly unrelated characters. I say seemingly because by book's end the reader will realize that he/she has done more than meet a group of loosely related characters.
We meet all of the characters during a one-day time period as each of them finds their way to the Valley Diner on a rainy autumn day. From our first meeting with Angel, the educationally challenged man who opens and closes the diner, to our farewell for the day to the young waitress whose smile hides her despair we meet a cross section of the Valley population. Rich, poor, ambitious, and not so ambitious, each life proves that there is more to it beneath the surface. And the one thing that binds these lives together is The Valley itself. Not so much a place (or a memory) but an almost palpable living thing that becomes a part of its inhabitants.
Let me be the first the congratulate author John William Tuohy on a job well done. He has evoked the heart of The Valley and in doing so brought to life the fabric that Valleyites wear as a mantle of pride. While set in a specific region of the country, the stories that unfold within the pages of this slim volume are similar to those that live in many a small town from coast to coast.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John William Tuohy is a writer who lives in Washington DC. He holds an MFA in writing from Lindenwood University.
He is the author of No Time to Say Goodbye: Memoirs of a Life in Foster Care and Short Stories from a Small Town. He is also the author of numerous non-fiction on the history of organized crime including the ground break biography of bootlegger Roger Tuohy "When Capone's Mob Murdered Touhy" and "Guns and Glamour: A History of Organized Crime in Chicago."
His non-fiction crime short stories have appeared in The New Criminologist, American Mafia and other publications. John won the City of Chicago's Celtic Playfest for his work The Hannigan's of Beverly, and his short story fiction work, Karma Finds Franny Glass, appeared in AdmitTwo Magazine in October of 2008.
His play, Cyberdate.Com, was chosen for a public performance at the Actors Chapel in Manhattan in February of 2007 as part of the groups Reading Series for New York project. In June of 2008, the play won the Virginia Theater of The First Amendment Award for best new play.