Stonington community observe the Bicentennial of the Battle

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For Release July 1 

From: The Stonington Historical Society 860-535-8445 ext. 10

The following is a summary of summer events relating to the Bicentennial of the Battle of Stonington.

director@StoningtonHistory.org

Illustrations: Courtesy of the Stonington Historical Society. Suggested cutlines:

Dr. Joseph O’Dell gives oration in 1914 at Cannon Square.

In 1914, the Stonington Battle Flag was part of the “pageant parade” that included 1,400 participants.

A commemorative jug was produced shortly after the 1814 Battle of Stonington, produced in Liverpool, England.

 STONINGTON — Two hundred years ago next month,  four ships of the British Royal Navy plus a new “bomb ship” called the Terror, as well as small boats for amphibious landings arrayed themselves before the village of Stonington and declared their intention to destroy the town. Stonington had one small cannon and two 18-pounders, the two that now preside over Cannon Square in Stonington Borough. But the Stonington guns held the squadron at bay, a squadron commanded by Admiral Nelson’s comrade, Commodore Thomas Masterman Hardy. In the end, one of the ships, the Dispatch, was so severely damaged by the locals that it had to leave the fray, and after four days of fighting, Hardy withdrew, leaving the village shaken but proudly standing. Thus was born the legend of the Battle of Stonington, celebrated ever after as a famous victory.

The Stonington community and its neighbors are joining forces to observe the Bicentennial of the Battle with a full schedule of events planned for July and August. The Bicentennial Committee, chaired by Meredith M. Brown of the Stonington Historical Society, has organized a menu of programs, as a prelude to the big weekend of August 9 and 10. 

Most of the events will be free and open to all. The Battle Bicentennial is being underwritten by Dime Bank, the Stonington Village Improvement Association, the Stonington Historical Society, and a group of generous patrons.

Many other community organizations are also participating. Among them are the New England Science and Sailing Foundation, the Portuguese Holy Ghost Society, the Stonington Community Center and Mystic Seaport. Other partners include the Warden and Burgesses of the Borough of Stonington, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, the Stonington Police Department, the Stonington Ambulance Corps, the Borough Merchants Association, and others. Organizations that would like to join in the parade scheduled for the afternoon of August 10 are asked to contact the Stonington Historical Society.  

battle jug

Stonington started commemorating the event in August 1815, a year after the battle, and the celebration grew throughout the 19th century until it often outshone the Fourth of July in fervor and fanfare. In the national centennial year, 1876, the celebration featured a hundred-gun salute, marching bands, militia units, a carriage graced by the Goddess of Liberty accompanied by 13 young maidens representing the original 13 states, and a lavish communal feast. The battle’s centennial in 1914 was even more ambitious: Five U.S. Navy destroyers converged near Stonington Point, and there was a “pageant parade” with 1,400 participants, as well as motorboat races.

Planning for 2014 began in 2011 when then Borough Warden Donald Maranell convened local organizations. For the last two years, the Bicentennial Committee has met regularly and has organized an array of events and exhibits:

A special bicentennial exhibit, “Sixteen Stars, Sixteen Stripes: A Celebration of the Battle of 1814,” sponsored by the Stonington Historical Society, will open on Friday, July 11, from 5  to 7 pm at the La Grua Center, 7 Stonington Commons, 32 Water Street, in the Borough. The exhibit will remain open, free of charge, on weekdays from noon to 4 pm; on Saturdays, from noon to 3 pm; and on the anniversary weekend of August 9 and 10, from noon to 4 pm. 

On Sunday, July 13, at 5 pm, at the La Grua Center, the Stonington Free Library will sponsor a lecture by James Tertius de Kay, author of the authoritative account, The Battle of Stonington: Torpedoes, Submarines and Rockets in the War of 1812.  Admission is free.

On Thursday, July 24 at 6 pm, at the La Grua Center, the Stonington Historical Society will sponsor a discussion, “The Rockets’ Red Glare over Stonington: The War of 1812 and the Battle of Stonington.” The panel will discuss the Battle of Stonington in the context of the War of 1812. Participants will be Glenn Gordinier, Meredith M. Brown, James Boylan, and Nancy Steenburg, contributors to the award-winning book, The Rockets’ Red Glare and the War of 1812 in Connecticut. Admission is free.

On Sunday, July 27, Noon to 4 pm at the Stonington Town Dock: The Blessing of the Fleet. 

At 6 pm, Salt Marsh Opera and the Stonington Historical Society will present a vocal program, “Music for 1814,” on the grounds of the Old Lighthouse Museum, 7 Water Street in Stonington Borough. The program will include excerpts from Beethoven’s opera Fidelio, written in 1814. Tickets: $10 in advance; $12 at gate; children under 14, free. 

The Stonington Community Center’s Village Fair will take place on Saturday, August 2, from 11 am to 4 pm at Wadawanuck Square, Stonington Borough. This year the fair will honor the Battle of Stonington. Look for the Historical Society’s booth featuring bicentennial items and books about the Battle of Stonington. Free Admission.

Friday, August 8, 5-7 pm, at the Woolworth Library and Research Center, 40 Palmer Street. There will be a special preview of Stonington’s rarely exhibited battle flag, with reception next door at the Capt. Palmer House. Special “pop-up” exhibit from Mystic Seaport of artifacts of the 1812 era. Jim Geary, the author of the Stonington Historical Society’s latest book, Our Flag is Still Here: The Story of Stonington’s Star Spangled Banner – A Scrapbook History, will be on hand to sign copies and share stories about the flag’s amazing history. Donation suggested.

Saturday, August 9

9 am to noon at Dime Bank (Ocean Bank building), 4 Cannon Square, Stonington Borough: U.S. Post Office cancellation session with commemorative cachets designed by philatelist Alan Bentz. Books published by the Historical Society will be available for sale.

10 to 4 pm: The Stonington battle flag, older than the Star Spangled Banner, will be exhibited at the Woolworth Library & Research Center, 40 Palmer Street. The flag was hand-woven of hand-dyed, hand-spun wool by the women of the local Congregational Church around 1800. The flag flew throughout the 1814 bombardment and survived, though torn and shot-through. It was displayed and paraded in Stonington Borough as a precious relic for generations, but is rarely displayed today because of its fragility. Also at the Woolworth Library, Mystic Seaport will display artifacts relating to the War of 1812. Seaport curator Fred Calabretta will be on hand to discuss these treasures. Admission is free.

Starting at 10 am, the Mystic Whaler, an 83-foot reproduction of a 19th-century coastal schooner, will offer one-hour narrated cruises throughout the day, departing from the dock at New England Science & Sailing, 70 Water Street, Stonington Borough. Adults: $30; children 12 and under: $15. 

10 – 5 pm: Old Lighthouse Museum, 7 Water Street, Stonington Borough. Lighthouse built in 1840 and converted to a local history museum in 1925. Tower overlooks the sites of the Battle of Stonington. Admission charged. 

11 am and 1 pm: Battle-themed walking tours depart from the Old Lighthouse Museum. $10 for adults; $5 for students under 21. 

Noon – 4 pm: La Grua Center. Exhibit, “Sixteen Stars, Sixteen Stripes: A Celebration of the Battle of 1814.” Free.

1 – 4 pm: Captain Nathaniel Brown Palmer House, 40 Palmer Street, a National Historic Landmark. Free tours on the hour and half hour. Home of Captain Palmer, a blockade runner at age 14 during the War of 1812 and the American discoverer of Antarctica in 1820. 

2 — 3 pm: Stonington (Evergreen) Cemetery, 345 North Main Street: Commemoration of British midshipman Thomas Barratt Powers (1794-1814) killed in action days before the Battle of Stonington.

6 pm: Dinner cruise aboard the Mystic Whaler with special guide, James Tertius de Kay, author of The Battle of Stonington: Torpedoes, Submarines and Rockets in the War of 1812. Boarding at 5:40 pm, New England Science & Sailing dock. Tickets required. $150 per person.

TBA – Old Lighthouse Museum. The Newport Artillery Company (one of the oldest militia units in the U.S., established in 1741) will be on hand to fire their historic brass cannons, made by Paul Revere in 1798. This Rhode Island group is an authentic historic military unit. Free.

Sunday, August 10 

10 am – 5 pm. Old Lighthouse Museum, 7 Water Street, Stonington Borough. Lighthouse built in 1840 and converted to a local history museum in 1925. Tower overlooks the sites of the Battle of Stonington. Admission charged. 

11 am & 1 pm: Battle-themed walking tours depart from the Old Lighthouse Museum. $10 for adults; $5 for students under 21.

10 am: 1812 Military Encampment opens on the grounds of the Old Lighthouse. Free Men of the Sea, a living history group of Pirates and Privateers will be joined by a contingent from the 1812 Marine Guards, who are part of the U.S. Constitution Marine Guard.

10 am-4 pm: Tea tent at the Old Lighthouse Museum: Early American refreshments and bake sale.

Noon – 4 pm, La Grua Center. Exhibit: “Sixteen Stars, Sixteen Stripes: A Celebration of the Battle of 1814.” Free.

1:30 pm: Parade through Stonington Borough. 

3 pm, Wadawanuck Square: Commemorative observance, with remarks by Governor Malloy and other senior officials.

4:30 pm: La Grua Center. Geoff Kaufman, balladeer and historical interpreter, presents “huzza for Home,” a dramatic telling of the ordeal of Benjamin Palmer, an imprisoned Stonington privateersman. Tickets: $5 adults; $2 for children under 12. 

Thursday, Aug. 21, 5 pm at the Capt. Palmer House. Alan Burghardt will give a program on ships of the 1812 era, illustrated by a number of his own models, including the Hero, which was part of the 1812-14 blockade-running fleet out of Mystic and later became Nathaniel Palmer’s “ship of discovery,” when the 21-year-old Stonington sea captain caught sight of Antarctica in 1820. 

The Stonington Historical Society, Inc., founded in 1895, seeks to preserve, interpret, and celebrate the history of Stonington. In addition to presenting programs and exhibits, the Society maintains three sites open to the public: the Old Lighthouse Museum; the Captain Nathaniel B. Palmer House, a National Historic Landmark and the home of the discoverer of Antarctica; and the Richard W. Woolworth Library, a research archive of local history. From more information on these sites and the Society’s programs, exhibits, and collections, visit the Society’s web site, http:/www/stoningtonhistory.org, or call the Society at 860-535-8445. 

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