194th Anniversary Battle of Stonington

by Mary Beth Baker

Stonington will celebrate an amazing feat on August 10. The War of 1812 did not provide the new American nation much to cheer about. It did give young Francis Scott Key, at Fort McHenry, MD, inspiration for a poem that is now the national anthem. And a month before Key watched over the ramparts, the small port of Stonington, drove off a naval attack. On August 9, 10, and 11, after a long British bombardment, residents of Stonington armed with three cannons, turned back His Majesty’s squadron of five vessels, including a bomb ship called Terror.

This victory was of such crucial value  to morale that as the 19th century rolled ahead, August 10, “the Glorious Tenth” became an annual occasion for celebration in Stonington. Now, as the bicentennial of the battle nears, the Stonington Historical Society is reinstituting observances to recall the determination and courage of Stonington’s militia and civilians of that day.

Everyone in the area is invited to join in the celebration, Sunday, Aug. 10, from 4 to 6:30 p.m. The locale will be the lawn of the Old Lighthouse Museum on Stonington Point, close to the site of Stonington’s 1814 land battery, not far from where the two of the old cannons now rest in a small public square overlooking the waters where the British warships anchored.

There will be a family picnic, hamburgers, hot dogs and soft drinks.  Geoff Kaufman, a popular folk singer from Mystic Seaport, will lead singing. Philip Freneau’s air, “The Battle of Stonington,” will certainly be heard, along with other ballads from the War of 1812. The Lighthouse will be open for tours. There will be games on the lawn.

James Tertius de Kay, author of the authoritative book “The Battle of Stonington,” will speak about curious and little-known aspects of the war and the battle.

Of particular interest, the jacket worn by John Miner, a 19-year-old farmboy from Quiambog Cove, will have one of rare public displays. Miner’s jacket is still stained with its wearer’s blood. He was alongside Jeremiah Holmes, hero of the battle, when the defenders scored a hit on the British ship Dispatch. The cannon grew so hot from rapid firing, de Kay’s account says, that a cartridge of gunpowder exploded prematurely, injuring several men and permanently impairing Miner’s sight.

Joell Kunath, a textile expert long associated with the Metropolitan Museum in New York, will explain what modern textile analysis can tell about Miner’s coat. The coat, incidentally, was given to the Historical Society in 1914, a century after the battle, by John Miner’s son, John Haley Miner.

Admission to the celebration will be $10 for an adult, $5 for a child, and no more than $20 for a family.

At 3 p.m., before the activities begin at the Lighthouse, a plaque commemorating the 1814 battle will be dedicated on the south wall of Stonington Commons, the complex built on the site of the old Atwood-Monsanto plant. This plaque will replace one donated in 1914, at the battle centennial, by the National Society of United States Daughters of 1812, State of CT. That plaque was stolen in 1997, before the old plant burned. The money for a replacement was collected by residents of Stonington Commons and others. The president of the Stonington Historical Society, Michael H. Adair, will preside at the rededication. The Society’s president presided at the dedication in 1914.

Government officials are expected to participate, including State Senator Andrew M. Maynard of the 18th District; General Assembly Member Diana S. Urban of the 43rd Assembly District; Edward  Haberek Jr., First Selectman of Stonington, and Donald R. Maranell, Warden of Stonington Borough. A delegate from the Daughters of 1812 is also expected.