The Sacking of Lunenburg happened on the 1st of July 1782. It was a precise military operation lead by a Boston privateer named Noah Stoddard and is perhaps the most significant event of local history.
This article is rather long and is arranged in three parts. Part I covers the events of 1 July 1782, part II the events of 30 June 1782, and part III the aftermath and conclusions. In both parts I and II, I have listed a summary of observations which identify the inconsistencies of the story told by Chester's Justice of the Peace.
I have studied and dissected in great detail the events relating to the sacking, perhaps more than any other parts of my research. Events, narratives, and conflicting testimony will clearly show the Sacking of Lunenburg linked officials of Chester and Lunenburg into a conspiracy of lies. These officials would be Dr. Jonathan Prescott, Justice of the Peace of Chester (who controlled the lots of Oak Island), and Casper Wollenhaupt who was an influential Lunenburg business man and who would come to represent the Town of Lunenburg for the next General Assembly. Prescott owns island lots 8 and 22 at this time, and Wollenhaupt specifically owning (or coming to own) lot 18. He would sell this lot to John Smith in 1795. We must remember under what circumstances Wollenhaupt came to possess lot 18 is still unknown, there is no record of him coming into possession, only a deed of sale to John Smith.
Both the Continental Congress and the State of Massachusetts offered legal commissions for the establishment of Privateers. Both levels of governments had rules and regulations for the conduct of privateers and diligently enforced these rules. One specific rule was for privateer commissions to end at the high water mark. Basically, they were not allowed to engage in activities on land. This rule was reinforced at several times throughout the Revolution with the Massachusetts Assembly specifically issuing instructions in 1781 for privateers not to engage in NS above the high water mark.
There exists today, only two eyewitness account of the sacking. One is of good detail, and the other is not. Haliburton mentions the sacking in his history of NS Vol. II, and Judge DesBrisay provided very good detail in his 1870 First Edition History of Lunenburg County. The judge used the statement of Leonard C Rudolf as a basis for information. No letters from Colonel Creighton are found in the Public Archives and describe the sacking. This is most unusual as the various government letter books are very complete.
Another detailed account is by Archibald MacMechan is his 1923 Saga of the Seas, which credits DesBrisay, the Massachusetts Historical Society, and the Navy Department at Washington. The Boston Gazette on July 15 and August 5 1782 published a version, and so did the Massachusetts Spy on August 8, 1782.
Sacking of Lunenburg Account 1
Statement of Leonard C Rudolf, Esquire.
“Minutes of the invasion, and surprise of the town of Lunenburg , on Monday, the 1st July, 1782”
At the rising of the sun, the town was alarmed by the firing of a number of small guns, near the blockhouse and Mr. Creighton’s. The case was, that Mr. Creighton’s servant having perceived a large company of armed men coming on the road from the commons, had acquainted his master thereof. The night guard being already gone off, Colonel Creighton with only five men, got into the blockhouse, and at the approach of the enemy, they fired at, and wounded three men of the enemy.
The rebels directly divided in several parties, two of which ran to our two batteries, spiked the guns, broke everything, turned the guns and balls down to the water; some remained at Mr. Creighton’s, spoilt and burned his house and effects; they took himself with five men; and their vessels being now come round the point, they carried the Colonel, with others, prisoners on board their vessels. In the meantime other parties had overrun all the town, entered every house, seized all arms, which they either bent to pieces or kept, particularly the silver hilted swords and regimentals, to themselves. When their vessels were in, which were in all six, viz: one brigantine, a large schooner, a row galley, a sloop, and two small schooners, they landed more men, with some small carriage guns, which they carried up and placed near the old fort, with a main guard to secure themselves against our country people, that might come in that way. Now they fell a plundering the chief houses, and the shops, which they cleared-the sufferers are chiefly:
Mr. Creighton – his house robbed and burnt.
Ditto - the store on the warf cleared.
Mr. Foster’s store.
Mr. Jessen’s house spoiled and robbed.
Knaut’s heirs’ store robbed.
Mr. Bohlman’s store ditto.
Mr. Woolenhaupt’s stores.
Mr. Doing’s shop.
John Christopher Rudolf’s shop.
Mr. Munich’s and several other small shops.
These are to my certain knowledge, but there are many more robberies and damages done, whereof I am not yet informed. I am not able to value the whole loss, but think it will nearly amount to _____ “ left blank.
For the whole town we are at present almost without arms, ammunition, provisions, and merchandize; besides, I hear they have carried off from some houses money – gold and silver.
The surprise was so sudden, that we had no alarm, except by the report of the firing at the blockhouse.
When I saw Colonel Creighton was carried off, I ventured to expose myself by going from house to house to see matters, and if anything could be done. I was also with Mr. De Laroche to beg his advice, who afterwards ventured with some principal inhabitants, to go on the vessel to try what he could do for Mr. Creighton, but without success.
Taken from the History of Lunenburg County, Judge DesBrisay, First Edition, 1870.
Rudolf was an eyewitness; his statement was submitted shortly after the attack and even before they determined the value of losses. He says at sunrise and six ships with a military precision which can only mean the invader’s had intelligence of the town and knew the militia was absent. According to the NOAA Sunrise/Sunset Calculator, sunrise would have occurred at 4:36AM. This you will come to see these are very important details.
Sacking of Lunenburg Account 2
John Newton, Casper Wollenhaupt and OthoWm. Schwart
to Sir A. S. Hammond, Lieut. Gov. of Nova Scotia.
N.D. [1782.] — Memorial. Narrating that on the 1st of July last [no year stated, but this happened in 1782] a party of 90 men under the command of Lieutenant Batterman landed
from five privateers at a place called Red Head, two miles distant, and entered the town by surprise at 4 o'clock in the morning, the privateers sailing up in front of the town. The
principal part of the inhabitants were then at Halifax ; those remaining were taken prisoners, Colonel Creighton having only time to get 6 men with himself into the Block House, which
he defended between two and three hours until the privateers came abreast and fired, when he was obliged to surrender. The captain of one of the privateers, whose name was Babcock,
and who had command of the party on shore, sent Wollenhaupt with a flag to the militia, who were then assembling, to say that if no opposition was made they would only take the merchandize in the town and would not injure buildings in town, which was acquiesced in. Having plundered everything to the amount of about 10,000/., they got on board their vessels and then demanded a ransom of 7,000/. for the town, but agreed to take 1,000/., for which memorialists were obliged to give a promissory note payable to Noah Stoddard, captain of the largest privateer. The block house and Colonel Creighton' s dwelling house were burnt, the guns
spiked, and all the small arms carried away. Pray for a captain, two subalterns, and fifty British troops to be stationed with a hundred stand of small arms and ammunition for use of the militia.
Original. Vol. 54, No. 114. 2 pages
Sacking of Lunenburg Account 3
Boston Gazette, July 15, August 5, 1782 ; Massachusetts Spy, August 8, 1782
Four Massachusetts privateers engaged in an enterprise on the Nova Scotia coast which is described in the newspapers of the time. "Captains Babcock of the Hero, Stoddard of the Scammel, Woodbury of the Hope, and Tibbets of the Swallow, having determined to surprize and possess themselves of Lunenburgh, an elegantly situated Town, ten Leagues West of Halifax, landed Ninety Men two Miles below it, under the Command of Lieut. Barteman, on Monday the first Day of July Instant at half after Seven o'Clock A.M. This gallant Corps with amazing Rapidity reached the Town, and amidst many heavy Discharges of Musquetry from the Enemy, burnt the commanding Officer's House, a Blockhouse in the North West Part of the Town, spik'd up two 24 pounders, and forc'd the Enemy into the South Blockhouse, from whence they kept up a brisk and animating Fire and declared their Intention to hold out to the last Extremity. But their Animation subsided upon the Receipt of a few 4-pound Shot from the Hero and they reluctantly surrendered themselves Prisoners of War. The victorious Party with a natural and pleasing Vivacity fell to plundering, and quickly emptied the Stores of a Variety and considerable Quantity of Dry Goods, twenty Puncheons of good West-India Rum and the King's Beef, Pork and Flour. Upon the near Approach of the Combined Fleet, two 18 pounders were spiked up and dismounted and the Royal Magazine was safely deposited in the Hold of the Scammel. The strictest Decorum was observed towards the Inhabitants and their Wearing Apparel and Household Furniture inviolably preserv'd for their Use. The Town was ransomed for a Thousand Pounds Sterling and Colonel Creighton with some of the principal Inhabitants were shipped on board the Scammel. On the Side of the brave Sons of Liberty, three were wounded slightly, one dangerously; on the Part of the Abettors of Oppression and Despotism, the Number of slain and wounded unknown, only one of their slain being found."
The following is taken from Saga of the Seas, Archibald MacMechan, 1923. This narrative is the most complete and is based upon eyewitness accounts, local correspondence and various newspapers of the day. A statement of observations follows this article.
I FOREWORD OF HISTORY
THE town of Lunenburg in Nova Scotia was founded in 1753 with immigrants from the Lower Rhine, the Palatinate, and the Protestant stronghold Montbeliard on the border of Switzerland. It was named for the ancient city of Luneberg in Hanover, and it represented the policy of the British Government to people the province with Protestant settlers as a counterpoise to the French. Founded in a lull between two wars, when war was still regarded as a law of Nature, the site of the new town was selected with an eye to easy defense. It stands on a narrow hog's-back isthmus of a peninsula jutting far into the sea. The town itself was laid out as a small compact oblong of twelve streets crossing at right angles. Towards the nose of the peninsula seaward, two large parcels of land were set apart as commons and a series of garden-plots. On the landward side, beyond the isthmus, the farms were allotted on a generous scale. Each worthy settler received a town-lot, a garden-lot, a thirty-acre lot and a hundred acre farm. Chance decided the holdings, as the settlers drew from a pack of cards. Some of these cards are still occasionally produced as evidence in law-suits.
Three blockhouses, a pentagon fort with barracks, and a line of pickets protected the town on the west. Another blockhouse crowning a steep hill, one hundred and thirty-five feet above the water, defended the eastern flank. With adequate arms, a resolute garrison and fortifications in repair, Lunenburg should have proved a miniature Gibraltar.
This settlement has suffered many things. Even before the Seven Years' War broke out in 1756, Indians attacked the outlying farms, shooting, tomahawking, scalping helpless women and children till the terror stricken farmers abandoned their farms' and took refuge In the town. There, after a short decade of peace, the American Revolution came, bringing to the Lunenburg, as to the rest of the province, scarcity, high prices, and danger from enemy action. Their greatest hardship was the attack of the "rebels" in the last year of the war, when American privateers were most numerous and active. In 1775, two Yankee cruisers raided Charlottetown; Annapolis Royal was surprised and plundered in 1781; but the attack on Lunenburg is the best remembered and the most famous in the annals of the province.
II THE SURPRISE
At dawn on the 1st of July, 1782 (1), Magdalena Schwartz on Myra's Island went out to milk her cow. Hearing a noise, she looked up and saw a large band of armed men coming over the hill and trampling down her patch of barley. She dropped her pail in her fright, ran to the house and told her husband Leonard. At once he started to give the alarm, and, though fired at in crossing Rous's Brook, reached the town in safety. The enemy were close at his heels. In a few minutes every soul was awakened by the crackle of musketry fire about the eastern blockhouse. Fear and confusion reigned. What had happened?
The night before, Captain Weiderholt came in from Halifax and told Leonard Schwartz, "The Yankees are coming to-morrow." (2) The warning went unheeded, but the Yankees did come as predicted. During the night Six sail of privateers had landed a party of ninety men at Redhead, inside the harbor, two miles from the town, and at sunrise the invaders were on the march to attack it.(3)
The flagship of the hostile flotilla was the big topsail schooner Scammell of sixteen guns and sixty men. She was commanded by Noah Stoddard, a fitting name for a sailor. Like Lambro, "this sea-solicitor" was a genial pirate. His vessel was commissioned in April, and his first exploit, in company with the Lively privateer, Captain Adams, was rescuing the officers and crew of H.M.S. Blonde wrecked on Great Seal Island. The Blonde was a smart frigate, new coppered and "sailing swift as the wind," says the veracious Gazette; but the Blonde's high hopes of captures and prize-money were dashed. Some sixty American prisoners were on board when she was wrecked, but they escaped. Noah treated his unfortunate enemies with the greatest humanity, sending them back to Halifax and furnishing them with passes to secure them from molestation by other privateer men. In the long black record of privateers' brutality, such a deed shines like gold. Now Admiral Noah was directing with great skill a combined attack by sea and land upon a hostile provincial town. His “operations" are a good example, on a small scale; of what the strategists call amphibious warfare (3).
The other vessels (4) were the Massachusetts schooner Hero, nine guns and twenty-five men, George Waitstill Babcock, master; the Massachusetts schooner Dolphin, eight guns and thirty men, Greag Power, master; the Massachusetts brigantine Hope, six guns and thirty five men, Herbert Woodbury, master; the New Hampshire cutter Swallow, five guns and twenty men, John Tibbets, master; and a small row-galley of unknown armament and crew. According to Major Pernette -- and he is confirmed by the Boston Gazette-- the expedition was organized in Boston for the express purpose of attacking Lunenburg.(5)
The Americans were in overwhelming force. Lunenburg contained at that time no more than forty or fifty dwelling-houses; many of the inhabitants were absent.(6) When the old, the invalids, and the children are omitted from the muster, there could not have been more than twenty men available for the defence.(7) Still there was a show of resistance. The first citizen was undoubtedly Colonel John Creighton, who had seen service as a lieutenant in the British Army during the war of the Austrian Succession, and had been wounded at Fontenoy. The privateers men planned to surround his house, which was near the blockhouse, and secure him first; but his servant saw the enemy advancing along the road across the common, and warned his master. Such casual warning should not have been necessary. The eastern blockhouse had a night-guard, which should have remained at their post until properly relieved, hut with the lax discipline of militia-men, they had gone off at dawn and left the blockhouse undefended. (8) Into this deserted strong-point the old colonel hurried with five men, and opened fire on the attackers. His faithful black servant, Sylvia, did yeoman service, carrying cartridge and ball in her apron to the fort from the Colonel's dwelling nearby. When the musket balls rattled against the walls of the Creighton house she sheltered the colonel's son with her body. Sylvia was something of a heroine. Tradition has it that she helped to load the muskets in the blockhouse and even fire them. Some of the bullets found their billet, for at least three of the invaders were winged, and one severely wounded.
How long the tiny garrison of the blockhouse held out is not clear from the records. The first landing party was speedily reinforced.(9) Having impressed three Lunenburgers as pilots, the privateers were soon descried sailing round East Point.(10) Without mishap, they all reached the inner harbour, anchored in face of the town, and landed another strong detachment, with four ship's guns. Their objective was the undefended blockhouse to the west of the town. Two parties rushed to the two batteries at the ends of the picket line, spiked the two twenty-four-pounders, and rolled them with their cannon-balls down the steep banks. They established themselves as a main guard on Blockhouse Hill, which commanded the whole neck of land leading from the town to the country, and they planted the guns from the ships so as to sweep the streets. Lunenburg was now completely cut off from the surrounding district, the landing parties strongly occupying both flanks, and the menacing flotilla at anchor in the harbor. The attack was a brilliant success, and a credit to the staff work of Admiral Noah Stoddard. (11)
Further resistance was useless. Colonel Creighton in the eastern blockhouse had no choice but surrender. He and two of his men were taken prisoner, marched down to the King's Wharf, and put on board the Scammell. Faithful Sylvia was allowed to escape. The defense of the blockhouse that July morning was a small affair, and there has been a tendency to view it in a humorous light; but, as Montaigne says, a man may show as much courage in dislodging a musketeer from a hen-roost as in slaying a champion in the sight of two armies. Later in the day the Reverend Pierre de la Roche, with other leading citizens, went on board the Scammell to beg for the Colonel's release, but in vain (12). Captain Stoddard bore his prisoner no ill will. After the war he sent kind inquiries by a Haligonian about the family of his late enemy, and stated that he had “a great regard for the old gentleman."
The only other show of resistance was at Major D. C. Jessen's house. The major was a Holsteiner, who came to Nova Scotia in 1752. He held various civil posts in Lunenburg, amongst others, collector of imposts and excise. He made a stout defense, singlehanded of his home. The windows were smashed by musket bullets, and the door was being beaten in when he escaped by the back. Many years afterwards, when his house became Hirtle's tavern, bullet holes were still visible. He got safely out of the town, collected a number of militia-men and took post on the hill behind the town. He paid for the obstinacy of his defense. The privateer’s men looted the greatest part of his best furniture, his plate and all his clothes, besides a good deal of his money. The statement that he lost a large sum of public money collected for impost and excise he promptly contradicted in the Nova Scotia Gazette. His quarterly accounts bad been regularly made up, sent to Halifax and paid in there. The robbers got only a few shillings of government money, he declares, but he himself lost property valued at seven hundred pounds. That he did not suffer greater loss was due to Sylvia, who once more showed her pluck and mother-wit. After her escape from the blockhouse, she went to Major Jessen's house and packed his money and plate in a small chest. She wore very long skirts, and, when the privateer’s men came to ransack the house, she sat down on the chest and covered it completely with her ample draperies. She feigned to be badly frightened, screaming and crying with true African abandon. One man said, “See what's under the old thing," whereat Sylvia redoubled her cries of distress. The leader said. "Let the black hag go” and the marauders went on. Then Sylvia bestowed the chest in the well, which the raiders had previously examined for loot.(13) All that these picaroons gleaned at Major Jessen's was a small silver cream-jug and a few other trifling articles. The cream-jug has a history. The raiding party went on to another house, and one man took off his jacket with the jug in it, and put on the militia tunic belonging to the master of the house. He forgot to transfer the jug, and this relic of the raid is preserved by one of the old Lunenburg families until this day,
III THE SACK
"The victorious party with a natural and pleasing vivacity fell to plundering," says the Boston Gazette, in its gleeful but imaginative account of the affair. It was not the pleasing aspect of the Vivacity that struck the Lunenburgers. They were terrified, and knew not what to expect. Some fled to the country; some made attempts at defence; some took cover; some tried to hide their valuables. The whole town was in the greatest confusion. The privateersmen entered the stores and the principal houses, taking what they wanted. Arms were the particular object of their search. These they either beat to pieces or kept for themselves. They showed a special fancy for the scarlet regimentals of the militia, and the silver-hilted dress swords. The shops were full of new spring goods-Faster's, Bohlman's, Wollenhaupt's. Knaut's heirs'-and these they swept clean, as well as half a dozen others. Dry-goods, provisions, gunpowder, whatever would be useful to them was carried on board their vessels. The king's stores beside the wharf yielded rich booty in ration beef, pork and flour. The powder and ammunition from the magazine were transferred to the Scammel's hold. Twenty puncheons of "good West India rum" mentioned by the Boston Gazette must have been welcome. (14) All day the Americans must have been as busy as nailers, transporting their plunder down the narrow steep streets to the King's Wharf, ferrying it out in their boats to the anchored vessels, and stowing it below hatches. The stevedore job could not be carelessly done. .
The town itself was a spectacle. What the Americans did not want they destroyed, or left laying about. An eye-witness reported the narrow streets “strown with laces, ribbons, cottons, and many other kinds of shop goods." And the Lunenburgers were forced to look on helplessly at the wanton destruction of their property. One class of the community profited by the invasion-the small boys. To them the privateersmen were "very generous"-their generosity cost them nothing-giving them raisins and cakes and other goodies from the shops, no doubt to their huge delight.(15) The" pleasing vivacity" of the privateersmen showed itself also in a sort of impromptu masquerade. The wild-looking invaders, in their loose slop trousers and belts stuck full of pistols donned the red militia uniform tunics and stuck 'cocked hats, and women's bonnets, and mobcaps on their heads. The raid had a comic aspect to the raiders themselves. (16)
There is another item on the credit side of the ledger for the raiders. No woman was outraged or insulted, nor was any of the inhabitants assaulted or hurt. The Boston Gazette is correct in stating that "the strictest decorum was observed towards the inhabitants." There was one mild exception. Through the scenes of confusion moved the tall lank form of the Reverend Johann Gottlob Schmeisser, in his strange, foreign, clerical garments, doing his duty as a man of God by expostulating gravely with the invaders and trying to stop the pillaging. But he was fresh from Germany, he had assumed his charge only two months before, and, as his expostulations were in his native tongue, they had little effect. Still he made himself a nuisance, and asquad of impatient Yankees laid hands on him. He resigned himself to torture or death, but they only roped him, hands and feet. and left him lying like a trussed fowl in the middle of the Parade. His years as a theological student at Halle could hardly have prepared him for such an experience in the wilds of America.
IV THE RANSOM
While the privateersmen were working their will on the captured town, measures for its relief were being taken in two different directions. Early in the morning, two men had started from the Back Harbour in an open boat to carry the news to Halifax. Desbrisay says they did not reach their destination until Monday evening, which seems probable, for the distance to be covered was thirty-four miles, a long row. The Massachusetts Spy reports that armed ships started for Lunenburg the same day. As soon as intelligence reached Halifax, “ the most surprising exertions were made in fitting out the Cornwallis and two armed brigs, though they were in a manner totally unrigged, and their guns and stores out, yet they sailed for the relief of Lunenburg on Monday (read Tuesday?) forenoon (17). Since which another armed vessel has sailed." This was commanded by Captain Douglass of the Chatham. The Albacore and another armed vessel commanded by Captain Rupert D. George of the Charlestown, poor Evans's frigate, followed with two hundred Hessians from the regiment of Baron de Seitz. Everything possible was done, but the force arrived too late. This is evidently the “near approach of the combined fleet" which the Massachusetts Gazette refers to as taking place on the Monday and motivating the retreat of the privateer flotilla.
Some ten miles to the westward as the crow flies, at La Have Ferry, was Major Joseph Pernette(18), an old soldier who had served, like Colonel Creighton, at Fontenoy. He heard of the attack only about noon by word of mouth, as the fugitives from Lunenburg spread the alarm throughout the countryside. He went down in a boat to the Five Houses, and ordered the two twelve-pounders there to be fired, in order to alarm the militia in the harbour.(19) He gves as his reason for not acting earlier that there was no firing of great guns from Lunenburg.(20) In the next war, when anotherAmerican privateer appeared at the harbour mouth, the cannon at all the points, Kingsburg, Fort Boscawen and the rest, were fired at once, and set the militia-men in motion without delay. As soon as Major Pernette had assembled twenty men, he marched on Lunenburg, leaving orders for the rest to follow as fast as possible. But the roads were bad, and in spite of his efforts, it was not till after four that he effected a junction with Major Jessen, who was awaiting reinforcements on the hill outside the town. The two officers were concerting their plan of attack, when a messenger came posthaste from the town, begging them not to make any move for the relief of the inhabitants, as the Americans had threatened to burn down every house in the place if the attempt were made.(21) Colonel Creighton's house was actually going up in flames. Admiral Noah had demanded a ransom. In the last hour of the American occupation was carried out one of the strangest commercial transactions on record. Three of the leading citizens of Lunenburg, the Reverend Pierre de la Roche, "Ang. Presb." as he signs himself, from Geneva, Caspar Wollenhaupt and John Bohlman, owners of the gutted shops, signed a promissory note for one thousand pounds in favour of Noah Stoddard, payable at Halifax (of all places) in thirty days.(22) How" this sea-solicitor" expected to collect his money is a mystery.(23) At all events, the note was signed by the three representatives of the town; Majors Pernette and Jessen held their hand; and about five· o'clock, from their post of vantage on the hill, they saw the motley flotilla sail out of the harbor "deeply loaded with plunder." From the raiders' point of view the invasion was a brilliant success. Their plan of attack was executed without a hitch, they lost no men, and they got away safely with loot valued variously from eight thousand to twelve thousand pounds.(24) "The brave sons of liberty" had taught "the abettors of oppression and despotism" a lesson not soon to be forgotten. But they left trouble in their wake. The Lunenburgers begged Lieutenant-Governor Hammond for soldiers to protect them, and he had none to spare for an outpost.(25) They were left a prey to fears. The three signatories of the promise to pay protested publicly that they had no means of meeting their obligation. Their fellow-townsmen were in the same case. So the town lived in constant apprehension, for "rebel" privateers were always hovering about the coast, until Captain Bethell arrived in the fall with a detachment of troops. By the end of the year the war was over and the cloud of anxiety lifted. That black Monday must have been the strangest, the most eventful, and the most vivid in the whole history of Lunenburg. The record reads like a milder page from the history of the Thirty Yeats' War.(26)
In the words of modern radio personality Paul Harvey, ‘and now for the rest of the story’. Local legend and lore alone tell of Stoddard visiting Chester on the previous day. He was met by and dined with Chester's Justice of the Peace and community leader, one Dr. Jonathan Prescott. He is a very interesting man in his own right. Originally from Concord Mass, he came to Nova Scotia as a Captain of Engineers for the first siege of Louisburg. He would come to Halifax shortly after its founding and eventually become a very wealthy businessman. He would associate with men who were both sympathetic to the American cause and who were profiting from the Revolution. Jonathan's one son was a surgeon in the Revolutionary Army with ties to George Washington, his only nephew was Dr. Samuel Prescott, the very fellow who finished the ride of Paul Revere. Readers must keep the following in mind:
a. Dr. Jonathan Prescott never wrote to the government about events on 30 June 1782,
b. There are no letters in any government letter book, neither in nor out,
c. Details of these events were made public after the 1784 arrival of Loyalists.
The following is an article by H. Shirley Fowke, Red Coats from Atlantic Advocate 1962. This story encompasses all of the elements from Desbrisay and information found at Lordly House, Chester. The are no books and no authors which have linked the events of 30 June and 1 July 1782. You are reading it here for the first time.
I have underlines and put in parenthesis, references which follow in a summary of observations.
THE SOUTH SHORE of Nova Scotia - that stretch of two hundred miles or so of ragged coastline running from Halifax southwesterly to Yarmouth, at the tip end of the Province---is a treasure-house of lore for the weaver of tales.
Truth, here, is often stranger than fiction. Pirates, ghost ships, hoards of buried gold, bulk large in the mass of material. The sea either plays a leading role in the stories, or forms the background for their setting. Sinister, gentle, of variable mood, it is always there, never far from the core of the action.
The little town of Chester, built on its several hills, dreams still, under its ancient chestnut trees, of other days when it knew the stir of trade, for its ships voyaged far afield, and the hazards of wars fought out by the American privateersmen against the loyal militia of His Majesty of England.
Cannon balls may still be ploughed up in gardens about the narrow· front harbour and many relics – ancient swords, lovingly preserved, and scarlet uniforms stored in attic chests, bear mute witness to the exciting encounters of other times. There are still remains of a fort, begun but never completed, at the end of the sprawling point of land that guards the harbour entrance; while the garrison blockhouse remains a memorial to those periods of stress and dread.
On the Parade, flanking the monument to veterans of the First and Second World Wars are mounted two ridiculously small brass cannon that, incredibly, once helped to protect the town from attack. They formerly stood, facing out to sea, on Blockhouse Hill, threatening with their pygmy mouths the redoubtable ships of the Yankees that made constant forays on the inhabitants during the Revolution and the War of 1812.
Chester, indeed, was, for many years, a favorite target for raids by these marauders.
The plundering Yankees, sailing their fast ships, at least one of which was equipped with sixteen sweeps to ensure speed in calm weather, took delight in making unexpected descents on the settlers of that strip of coastline, carrying off cattle, hens, and any household goods they fancied-and their taste was catholic.
They had a fondness' for kidnapping the inhabitants, also, capturing them from fishing vessels surprised on the cod banks, or spiriting them out of their very beds. Now and then they ferried them to Boston or Salem, where they were held for ransom, or, if supplies on the ships were dwindling, they jettisoned them on some forsaken headland far from home, for the harassed and ill-fed settlers of the place to feed and care for.
This habit caused considerable complaint, but the privateersmen would always retort to the unfortunate settlers, on whom the unexpected guests were' so summarily bestowed:"You may be glad to get them. Suppose we had thrown them overboard?" (1)
In the eventful year of 1782, the Blockhouse at Chester had the good fortune to be commanded by a highly resourceful man, a Dr. Jonathan Prescott, who was also a captain of Engineers.
Captain Prescott had come to Nova Scotia as a volunteer with the forces collected by the Hon. William Pepperrell for the siege of Louisburg. He was assistant-surgeon to the contingent, and his age, at the time, was twenty.
A note under a print in the Nova Scotia archives reads:
"The Hon. Wm. Pepperrell Esq. afterwards Knighted went a volunteer & Commanded the New England Men who bravely offer'd their service, and went as private soldiers, in this hasardous but very glorious Enterprize" .
After the capture of Louisburg, and as a reward for his services, Captain Prescott received grants of land in Halifax, at Chester, and at Lunenburg. At the latter towns he built mills, but he lived and died at Chester, reaching the ripe age of eighty-two years, and his bones now lie in the English Church cemetery. The family he founded in the Province was one of great social distinction.
In 1782, the year of his highest fame, he was fifty-seven, and had already been in charge of the garrison and local militia of Chester for some time.
The Nova Scotia Militia had been founded in 1758. An Act for Establishing and Regulating a Militia was one of the earliest acts passed by the General Assembly that began on the second of October, in that year. Some of its clauses make entertaining reading today, and are highly illuminating.
Clause 1 provides that from and after 1st Dec., 1758, all males between 16 and 60 shall bear arms and attend all musters, etc.
3. Duty shall be continuous until discharged. Any evasion meant a fine, of 10 shillings.
4. Each person must provide a musket, gun or fuzil (not less than 3 feet long in barrel), 2 spare flints, and 12 charges of powder and ball; fine for non-compliance, 40 shillings, or one month of hard labour; Musters to be held once every six months or as often as ordered drill once every three months; fine' of 5 shillings for non-attendance and of £ 5 to each captain who fails to order parades as above.
An additional act put through in the session of the House begun 1st July, 1761, contained this interesting clause:
"When on actual service in time of war any insolence or neglect of duty punishable with fine of 40 shillings or in default of payment with riding the wooden horse for not less than half an hour, or 10 days labour."(2)
Captain Prescott was' highly versatile, but the piece of strategy he devised and carried out in 1782 has made his name forever famous in the annals of his town and province.
His Blockhouse, neat, four-square, designed on simple yet elegant lines, housed a small garrison of regular troops. But for most purposes of defence he could, as a rule, rely on the townsmen who, between the ages of sixteen and sixty, served in the militia.
However, on the day when the curtain went up on the greatest act in the Captain's life, the militia was noticeably absent. Almost to a man, they had gone to cut firewood north of the town, and were scattered to all points of the compass, deep in the forest.(3) Note: At Lordly house, a document says Prescott officially reported the Militia was away at Lunenburg; however, we know this not to be true from Part 1.
It would have required anything up to forty-eight hours to rally them to the colours.
Three Yankee vessels, sailing under the unwilling pilotage of a man who had been summarily removed from his fishing schooner in the port of Lunenburg for the purpose, headed in towards Chester on the wings of the afternoon breeze.(4)
They ran in swiftly, and began firing at the town as soon as they came within range (5).
Captain Prescott in short order had his little band of trained soldiers gathered before the Blockhouse, and gamely attempted to return the privateers' fire.
The glittering brass guns were loaded. But the powder was found to be bad, and the first shots failed.
By this time the women and children, the old men and boys of Chester had learned of the peril that threatened the town. It seemed inevitable that the enemy would land from the ships, take possession of the Blockhouse and loot and pillage to their hearts' content.
Captain Prescott hurriedly acquired some better gunpowder and fired another round of shots. (5)
One of the privateers was struck, and, considering discretion the better part of valour, the marauders withdrew around a sheltering point across the little harbour, in order to lick their wounds and take counsel before further action.
The upshot of their conference was that their commanders decided to land, with a sizeable force, and make an assault on the town on foot, using a flanking device.
Fully armed, they were presently observed marching purposefully over the intervening hill and down to the harbour.
Captain Prescott had already anticipated this move, and had drawn up his little force in full array on the opposite shore.
About fifty feet of water stretched between them, running inland for several hundred yards.
The privateers called out to the Captain who, in his brave uniform and epaulets, stood out distinctly from his men, and asked permission to bury their dead.
This pious desire was considered by the Captain and his men to be nothing more than a feint.
"Stack your guns!" the Captain called back to them promptly.
Since the privateers' crews were made up largely of adventuring private citizens of Salem and the little towns along the New England shore, their desire for bloodletting was always less than their desire for booty. Whenever they could avoid a hand- to- hand fight, even though the enemy force was appreciably smaller-as it appeared to be in the present case they did so. But what they lacked in
War like tastes they made up for in cunning and chicanery. (6)
In this, however, though they did not realize it, they had met their match in Captain Prescott.
He ordered them to advance in front of the Stacked guns, and, when they had obeyed, promised to approach them, hold a parley with their leaders, and make the necessary arrangements for the suggested interments.
Captain Prescott had proved himself no coward in the days of attack on Louisburg, but, being a gentleman of perspicacity and shrewdness, always preferred strategy to outright battle, whenever possible, and especially when, as now, he saw no hope of coming successfully out of an engagement.
Reinforcements of trained men from Lunenburg could not arrive, even with luck, for at least another day, and it was impossible to think of attempting to fight off the Yankees with the few muskets at present under his command.
He was a suave man, with a ready and courteous tongue, and charming manners, a polished commander, in fact, of the old school-a gentleman first, a military man second.
In conversing with the three captains of the privateers, he put forth all his most winning wiles, and so succeeded that to a man they fen into the trap he laid for them.
Openly and regretfully confessing the weakness of his garrison, the unprotected state of the town due to the absence of the militia, the hopelessness of making any adequate resistance, he invited them to the Blockhouse to take tea as his guests. (7)
The privateer captains considered it safe enough to accept, since their forces were so formidable, and his so weak. The town, after all, was at their mercy. It was merely a matter of time before they would leave again with a suitable ransom from the inhabitants in the shape of gold and silver coin and trinkets, and the usual cattle and poultry. The captain's kindly offer of hospitality was a delightful novelty, a change from their customary welcome in a Nova Scotia port.
Leaving their men on guard in case of treachery, or a surprise, they sallied forth to the Blockhouse as the shades of evening fell.( 8) Captain Prescott greeted them with the cordiality of a practiced host, and made them welcome at his table, groaning under all manner of the best dainties the town could provide on such short notice.
The evening passed in a highly agreeable manner and by common consent postponed as long as possible the delicate question of the appropriate sum to be exacted from the town for its capture. As the entertainment neared its end, a loud knock was suddenly heard at the door.
The captain and his guests ignored the interruption. But one of the captain's five sons went to find out what the late caller wanted.
He returned in a moment and asked, in a voice that carried with stunning force to the Yankees' ears, where he should billet one hundred men sent from Lunenburg by Colonel Creighton.
The captain, with unruffled composure, but a heightened gleam, no doubt, in his eye replied:
"Billet them in Houghton’s barn."
Then, turning to his discomfited guests, he said, with the air of a grandee accepting a challenge to a duel:
"Gentlemen, I will be ready for you in the morning."
The privateer captains then hastily withdrew to their ships, and not relishing a passage-at-arms with a force of a size equal to or larger than their own, put to sea without delay.
The winds of the South Shore are fickle, however, and as luck would have it, when morning came there was so little breeze stirring that the privateers, though heading hopefully for sea, had made small progress beyond the harbour mouth. The town remained fully exposed to their view and their guns.(9)
Captain Prescott was now in something of a quandary.
Since the privateering game was to a large extent based on a play of wits, he guessed that the enemy captains, watching the town as their ships dilly-dallied just out of reach of the Blockhouse cannon, would keep a weather-eye open for signs of the reputed force of a hundred men.
As the sun climbed higher in the blue, the wind remained capricious, and the ships continued to hover well within the first chain of islands, their sails flapping idly.
Captain Prescott was visited by the uncomfortable certainty that, unless some semblance of a formidable force of redcoats could be produced in short order, his guests of the night before would return, and, understandably annoyed at his ruse, would doubtless insist on doubling or tripling the town's ransom, as a mere matter of retributive justice.
Something must be done, and done immediately, to prevent such a catastrophe.
Captain Prescott did not spend long in racking his brains. Sending messengers through the town, he ordered all the able-bodied women to hurry at once to a hill at a discreet distance to the north, just within range of the enemy telescopes, and bade them take with them certain articles of popular feminine apparel, and either guns-if they were unloaded and their husbands had left any with them--or broomsticks and mop-handles.
It was the fashion in that day, for women to wear red petticoats or grey cloaks lined with scarlet. The latter were often donned, on gala occasions, with the lining outside.
Carrying the grey cloaks with them, or wearing the red petticoats under their dresses, the women converged on Target Hill, where the militia usually held their musket and marching drill under the captain's command at regulation times.
Young, old, the matronly, and the unmarried, they streamed along the grassy village streets to the foot of the slope.
Mothers left their children behind, not knowing whether, when they re-turned, they might find the privateers in possession of house, furnishings and family. One mother, with great presence of mind, hid her eight year- old daughter under an empty, upturned molasses puncheon, bade her breathe through the bunghole and remain there without a sound till her mother reappeared.
Reaching the hill, the women put on their cloaks, with the scarlet lining outwards, or modestly removed their red petticoats and hung them about their shoulders.
Then, with broomsticks slanted like musket barrels, they formed twos and marched up and down over the brow of Target Hill.
Many hearts must have been beating anxiously' in those critical moments, for no one knew if the captain's scheme would succeed or not.
Gallantly the women continued to parade.
Then, as the morning advanced, the wind came up, and settled into a steady breeze.
With joy and relief they saw that the privateers, in whose telescopes the red cloaks and petticoats looked like the jackets of scarlet uniforms, had been deluded by the muster of supposed redcoats, and were crowding on all sail to depart.
Rapidly the ships headed for the open sea and the women, soon after, marched back triumphantly into the town.
The gallant captain’s exploit has been handed down in the shape of story and song.
On gift shop shelves in Nova Scotia little dolls dressed in scarlet cloaks and eighteenth century costume, keep the legenq alive today. Each one is accompanied by a printed copy of the "Song of the Cloak" in which, however, poetic licence has somewhat distorted the true facts of the tale.
Clearly life that day in each community could not have been of a normal routine. We read the majority of males were reported as absent from each location, even though most were in the militia and the war was still going on. The testimony for the plan being devised in Boston for the sole purpose of Sacking Lunenburg cannot be true. If it were, then why would Stoddard’s fleet sail so deep into Mahone Bay and risk injury, but also engagement by the British? The genius of Stoddard in Lunenburg, when compared against the reported events of Chester cannot even be place in the same level of skill and planning.
The attack on Lunenburg was perfect planned and executed, while the visit to Chester was given the appearance of a folly. The privateers showed much courage and fight capturing Lunenburg; while in Chester, they just gave up and stacked their arms. The only reasonable explanation is embellishment either by Prescott or later narrators for the purpose of elevating Prescott's status.
The report by Prescott for the incident on 30 June 1782 cannot be true as elements of the story are unfounded and are contradicted by direct testimony and fact.
Recall, Stoddard had three pilots to take him into Lunenburg. I suggest Stoddard had the co-operation from Chester and it was they who were the pilots, additionally, the departure after sunset, with the arrival outside Lunenburg fits with the report of Captain Weiderholt seeing the Privateers at night. This would also allow nightfall to keep the ships from being visible from either land or sea.
The final little segment of information which illuminates this event is for three of the Captains to be related to folks in Chester. Rev Seccombe’s wife was a Stoddard, and the Woodburys were a founding family of Chester and who were granted the entire mainland opposite Oak Island.
So how does this all connect to Oak Island?
The astute reader must be wondering where was the rest of Stoddard's feet while he was visiting Chester? There were unaccounted for ships on 30 June 1782.
We know six privateer ships were present during Lunenburg, but only three reported at Chester. I contend the other three were at Oak Island. They were either dropping something off, or they were picking something up. Regardless, there is evidence on Oak Island for someone sympathetic to the American cause to have been present (at some point).
On the north shore boundary line which divides lots 14 and 15 there is a very large interesting rock. It currently rests on a rocky beach, but was once placed on the hill above. The rock itself sports a very interesting carving of a tree. The image contained below is of this rock. One can easily see it is an odd way to represent a tree with the design being very unique. The rock also has the engraved name of either a past treasure hunter or visitor which dates to 1897. The two cannot be related as they are of different engraving techniques, depths and widths. The tree even appears slightly more faded than the name. Additionally, trees are usually carved in the vertical axis, not horizontally. This present orientation of the tree, speaks to the rock having tumbled down the hill. Viewing closely into the first photo and behind the rock, one can see the rock split when it landed.
This is the stone. Besides showing the glyphs and graffiti, it has what I call a projection point. There are a few large stones on Oak Island which show this feature and I suggest it is not naturally occurring.
In the above photo one can even count the number of branches of the tree. If each set of lines represent the top and bottom of a limb, then it would have the exact number of limbs like in the photo below. Someone was sympathetic to the American cause, but why would they need to first cut this large stone while leaving a projection point, then leaving a common and well known glyph to mark the stone?
This flag is known like the name indicates, “Appeal to Heaven” and was an early flag used in Massachusetts during the period leading up the open hostilities.
The flag was also used as an ensign in the Massachusetts state Navy and a variant was used on George Washington’s ships.
The image from the rock above is an ideal match for this flag and would clearly speak to either American rebels being present on Oak Island, or American sympathizers.
Interesting notes to come from this investigation
The final connection to Oak Island by Stoddard’s fleet comes at a later period. During the 1800s, Stoddard was involved with the first bank of Fairhaven Connecticut. It was during this time we see the names of Putnam, Chappell, and Delano. While Putnam and Chappell are clearly identified and associated with the island, the name Delano is not.
All of the Chappells from Bay Vert or Green Bay came from two brother, Elipalet "Liffy" Chappell and Jabez Chappell. This family has origins in the same part of Connecticut where Stoddard settled. Our William Chappell of the 1890s originally hailed from Green Bay; however was still associated with Amherst during the 1890s. The original brothers themselves were already in NS prior to 1763, however they both came from very large families which remained in Connecticut . The Eddy rebellion in NS happened right on their door step and as we can read, these folks were right in the thick of it.
Warren Delano was a partner in the bank along with Stoddard. A few years later, Warren's daughter would give birth to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. While Oak Island authors speculate he was merely on a youthful summer adventure through happen chance, the evidence clearly shows a valid connection to a time of suspicious activities and from the very source of the suspicious activity, Stoddard.
Last Updated (Wednesday, 06 July 2011 20:13)
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