story & photos
by Maren Schober
It is the middle of August and Stonington Village is at its best. Colorful flags and flowers accent store fronts and banners extend over Water Street. The mood is happy and festive. Joy abounds and radiates from the residents in town. What is going on?
Ever since 1814 the residents of Stonington gather every August to commemorate the Battle of Stonington; a bit of Stonington history they are very proud of. This year the commemoration of the Battle and re-dedication of the two recently refurbished cannons at Cannon Square took place on August 14.
The two original cannons fired August 9-12, 1814 in defense of the town were taken away two years ago to be restored. They were restored at Texas A&M University while the two carriages were restored at Deschenes and Cooper in Pawcatuck. All corrosion was removed and the cannons were repainted.
I love a mystery, don’t you? There is mystery surrounding the story of the Battle of Stonington which took place during the War of 1812. The Stonington victory over the British naval invasion raises some serious questions.
James Tertius deKay, author of The Battle of Stonington written in 1990, shares with me what he knows and does not know about the battle. “For four days in August 1814, the tiny seaport of Stonington was attacked by a large, heavily armed British Naval Squadron, intent on destroying the town. Every day the village was bombarded with explosive shells, rockets, incendiary missiles and cannonballs. About fifty tons of British ammunition was thrown into the village.”
Continuing his findings James says, “A small handful of Stonington volunteers fought back as best they could, but they were hopelessly outgunned. The British had over 160 cannons, while the village only had two 18-pounder cannons and a brass 6 pounder.”
“I wrote this book because I wanted to solve the mysterious outcome. There were so many questions unanswered; for example Why did British Naval Captain Thomas Masterman Hardy attack Stonington Village? Why were the villagers so recklessly courageous in their response? Why did the British inflict so little damage? Why, with his overwhelming superiority in men and material, did Hardy lose?”
“Captain Thomas Hardy was ordered by Admiral Hotham to attack points along Long Island Sound. Hardy chose Stonington to be a target not because it deserved attack but because it was geographically approachable and would present fewer problems for his ships.”
After four days of fighting the British captain suddenly ordered an end to the bombardment and pulled out of Stonington. Why??!!
“The mystery is still unsolved and probably will never be solved,” James comments. “The witnesses to the battle died. There is no one left to share what they saw and heard. It could be that Hardy’s moral convictions kept him from destroying the village. He faced a group of volunteers bravely and recklessly defending their homes and families in a hopeless situation. Perhaps he just lost his zeal for the battle.”
Copies of the book The Battle of Stonington by James are for sale at the Stonington Historical Society, 860.535.8445. Copies are also sold at Borders and other local bookshops.