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The British Raid on Essex

The Forgotten Battle of the War of 1812

Jerry Roberts

Publication Year: 2014

This is the dynamic account of one of the most destructive maritime actions to take place in Connecticut history: the 1814 British attack on the privateers of Pettipaug, known today as the British Raid on Essex. During the height of the War of 1812, 136 Royal marines and sailors made their way up the Connecticut River from warships anchored in Long Island Sound. Guided by a well-paid American traitor the British navigated the Saybrook shoals and advanced up the river under cover of darkness. By the time it was over, the British had burned twenty-seven American vessels, including six newly built privateers. It was the largest single maritime loss of the war. Yet this story has been virtually left out of the history books—the forgotten battle of the forgotten war. This new account from author and historian Jerry Roberts is the definitive overview of this event and includes a wealth of new information drawn from recent research and archaeological finds. Lavish illustrations and detailed maps bring the battle to life.

Published by: Wesleyan University Press

Series: The Driftless Connecticut Series & Garnet Books

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

This is the story of two battles, the British Raid on Essex in 1814, and the effort to bring this untold chapter of American history into the light of day. The original struggle lasted less than twenty-four hours. The second has taken a bit longer. The rediscovery of the British Raid on Essex actually began in Halifax...

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Chapter One. Forgotten Battle

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pp. 1-8

The light was fading. Thirty-two- year- old Captain Richard Coote peered through his ship’s glass, once again scanning the bluffs overlooking the river a mile to the south. His position was exposed. He was anchored in the Connecticut River, five miles north of its mouth and the safety of his warships...

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Chapter Two. Decatur’s War

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pp. 9-26

President Madison’s Republican-dominated Congress declared war on Great Britain on June 18, 1812. The British did not want this war and neither did New England—especially Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Not a single Federalist voted in favor of going to war. Some historians contend...

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Chapter Three. The Raid

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pp. 27-46

Now armed with a willing pilot, Capel quickly put together a bold plan. Pettipaug lay a full six miles up the Connecticut River which was well known for its deceptively shallow areas and challenging navigation. But the real problem facing Capel and whatever force he might send was the massive sand shoal...

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Chapter Four. In the Heart of the Enemy’s Country

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pp. 47-60

As the militia moved away from the village, they encountered scattered late arrivers moving toward the point in ones and twos. They told them there were no officers, no orders. They withdrew from the village hoping to regroup and find some leadership. Should they take to the high ground above the village...

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Chapter FiveThe Ships

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pp. 61-71

Burning a harbor full of vessels was no simple task. The vessels in Pettipaug came in many shapes and sizes ranging from small twenty-five- to seventy-ton sloops, to schooners, brigs and full-rigged ships ranging from one hundred fifty to four hundred tons. In terms of size the vessels ranged from fifty-five...

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Chapter Six. Getting Out

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pp. 72-85

While Lieutenants Parry and Liddon were busy with the prize crews preparing the Eagle and the Young Anaconda, which were anchored in the harbor, they saw a dory being rowed out from shore showing a white flag. The man putting his back to the oars was none other than Captain Jeremiah Glover, a...

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Chapter Seven. In the River

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pp. 86-100

Sometime between 11:00 a.m. and noon Major Ely and those working to prepare defenses a mile further downriver may have looked north and observed the British as they rounded Hayden’s Point and turned south. It must have been a bit surreal to witness the two newly built American privateers coming...

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Chapter Eight. The End Game

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pp. 101-108

As Lieutenant Bull’s gun crew rushed their team north the British were making preparations to resume their escape. When Coote had made his decision to stay where they were until darkness it had meant that when theydid head for the mouth of the river they would not be in the schooner. Coote realized that...

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Chapter Nine. After the Battle

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pp. 109-116

Once the British were gone, the people of Pettipaug Point were left with cleaning up the mess, salvaging what they could and moving on. Several ship owners lost numerous vessels. The Hayden, Pratt and Starkey dynasties were particularly hard hit. Estimates of the value of the financial loss from the raid...

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Chapter Ten. Fighting for the Lost Battle

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pp. 117-124

I came to Essex in July 2006, after eighteen years at the Intrepid Sea Air Space Museum in New York to take over as executive director of the Connecticut River Museum, located on the Essex waterfront. I knew nothing of the British raid. My wife had googled Essex before we came and told me about Loser’s...

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Chapter Eleven. The Problem with History

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pp. 125-132

By this time we had distilled the documents, old maps, newspaper accounts and other research into a comprehensive narrative. But now we needed more. We needed to define and map the battle site with solid battlefield archeology. We needed the physical evidence of a battle. To accomplish this we needed a field team with specific experience in this...

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Appendix One: Primary Documents

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pp. 133-165

While many of these documents are quoted or referenced throughout the course of this book, the opportunity to read them in their full and intact format helps shed a great deal of light on the mood of the times in which they were written, adding nuances of detail for those who want to read between...

Appendix Two: Order of Battle

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pp. 166-170

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pp. 171-172

There are many people and organizations whose resources, expertise and encouragement have helped to make this book possible. I want to start by thanking Admiral Pullen, Commander Albert Dock, Captain Russell Anderson and the Essex Historical Society for tracking down and publishing the British Admiralty Papers and other important documents in 1981. Thanks also to the Sailing Masters of 1812 fife and drum corps for keeping the tradition...

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Notes and Sources

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pp. 173-184

The original purpose of this project was to document the British Raid on Essex in order to attain official state and national recognition of the battle site. All of our research was geared toward that goal. This book is a result of some of the information we collected. Each discovery has lead to its own spider web of additional information, and additional threads to...


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pp. 185-190


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pp. 191-197

Series Page

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About the Author

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About the Series

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E-ISBN-13: 9780819574770
E-ISBN-10: 0819574775
Print-ISBN-13: 9780819574763

Page Count: 220
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: The Driftless Connecticut Series & Garnet Books