Falmouth Under Fire

British invaders raided harbors throughout the Cape and Islands, terrorized its communities, destroyed property, and stole crops and livestock. Falmouth and other towns on the Cape defied the British advances—but defiance didn’t provide protection from the British Navy.

Sent to patrol the waters of southern New England in the fall of 1813, the HMS Nimrod struck fear in those who knew its name. The Nimrod made its base at Tarpaulin Cove on Naushon Island, home to a well-known inn. Legend has it that the innkeeper, Mr. Slocum, overheard the Nimrod’s crew discussing plans to launch an attack on Falmouth in order to capture two brass cannons. The town was alerted and prepared for the attack.

Falmouth resident Captain John Crocker described the events in a letter to the New England Palladium, published on February 1, 1814. The Nimrod anchored off Falmouth around 10 a.m. and sent men ashore to make their demands, including the surrender of the town’s cannons and a sloop at the wharf. If these demands weren’t met, the town would be bombarded at noon the same day. As a militia was assembled to help the town’s sick, women, and children get to safety, the British began cannonading the town, a shelling that continued into the night. By the time the Nimrod left to join a ship in Tarpaulin Cove, she had fired 300 cannonballs on Falmouth. Houses, outbuildings, and saltworks all sustained damage, but no life was lost.

Remnants of the attack can still be seen in Falmouth. The Nimrod, a restaurant located on Dillingham Avenue, was a private residence that came under fire during the attack. The hole where a cannonball came crashing through can still be seen today in the men’s room.

The Cape Fights Back

What the United States lacked in sheer power it made up for with some of the world’s most accomplished seamen. The HMS Endymion had minor success capturing a handful of American privateers during the war, but suffered a great loss on October 11, 1814. While in pursuit of Prince de Neufchatel, a notoriously fast U.S. privateer that had caused problems for Britain before, the Endymion suffered almost 100 casualties. Captain Henry Hope of the Endymion sent several boats to the Prince de Neufchatel under the cover of night. The Prince’s captain, John Ordronaux, was aware of the attack and called all hands immediately. Under assault from five sides, the men used their limited resources to repel the attackers.

During the war, the British often practiced extortion: Towns needed to pay a certain amount of money by a certain date or face an attack. In September 1814, Captain Richard Raggett of the HMS Spencer demanded $2,000 from Wellfleet, $1,200 from Eastham, and $4,000 from Brewster. Each town paid rather than suffer the consequences. Similar demands were made to Falmouth, Sandwich, Barnstable, and Orleans, all of which refused to pay, arousing the British to maintain surveillance on the towns. And in December 1814, things escalated in Orleans.

A frequent intimidation tactic deployed by the British was to ransom small towns in return for their safety. This was especially frequent on Cape Cod where the British has easy access to ports. This note from Captain Richard Raggett of the HMS Spencer to the people of Orleans demands $1,000 for the guaranteed safety of the town’s saltworks.

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