The Battle of Rock Harbor
The HMS Newcastle and her captain, Lord George Stuart, were part of a British Royal Navy squadron demanding payment from towns in exchange for letting them be. When the ship ran aground off Wellfleet, the men threw rigging and spars overboard in an attempt to lighten the ship. The tide carried these supplies toward the Orleans shore, where residents used axes to destroy the tackle and rigging, making them useless if the British attempted a recovery.
On December 19, after Captain Stuart learned what the residents had done, he ordered his men to take revenge by setting fire to American vessels in Rock Harbor and destroying the salt works. Though the Newcastle was too large to enter Rock Harbor, the vessel sent several barges full of troops ashore.
With no standing army in the area and no support from Boston, many Cape Cod towns had established militias that were ready to fight at a moment’s notice. Revolutionary War veteran and Orleans resident Isaac Snow took it upon himself to train a militia in Orleans. When the British attacked the town in December of 1814, the military were prepared to defend their home thanks in part to Snow’s training.
The militia intercepted Captain Stuart’s plans before too much damage had been done and fired back at the British. Taking cover behind rocks, trees, and whatever else they could use as protection, the militia was able to fatally wound a British marine and injure several others before the Newcastle left the scene.
Just five days later, on Christmas Eve of 1814, British and American representatives signed the Treaty of Ghent, ending what we know as the War of 1812. Although the battles on Cape Cod are just footnotes to the war, these struggles comprise a memorable chapter of local history, written with strokes of defiance.
Orleans historian Bonnie Snow and author William Quinn were consulted in the writing of this story.
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