Monday, September 1, 2014

200 Years Ago: War Sails up the River: USS Adams

      The U.S.S. Adams was a small frigate built in the Brooklyn NY in 1798.  Some sources reference it as the first ship built by the US Navy. It began its duties in the West Indies, protecting American shipping from French privateers.  After that, she served in the Mediterranean and along the US coast.
       Captain Charles Morris was given command of the U.S.S. Adams in 1813, and he was not impressed.  He felt it “insufficient for sea service” and was able to convince a naval board of his opinion.  The frigate spent several months being converted to a twenty-eight gun corvette, a process which included cutting the vessel in half and adding fifteen feet in length.  In January 1814, Captain Morris took command at the Washington Navy Yard.  His first challenge was to move the U.S.S. Adams through a British Blockade of Chesapeake Bay.   He then sailed to the south, where he captured three to five small merchantman brigs, before taking a break in Savannah in either April or May.  From there, the U.S.S. Adams next sailed to Ireland;  where additional ships were captured.  On the passage home, he was spotted and outran a total of three British frigates.
     Unfortunately, on August 17th, while passing off the Western Ear of Isle au Haut, the USS Adams struck Flat ledge.  They continued on their journey, but the presence of leaks indicated repairs were required.  So the U.S.S. Adams sailed up to Hampden, arriving on August 19th. 
      They did not arrive unnoticed - HMS Rifleman had spotted them.  The Adams had unfortunate timing with its accident as a few days later, August 26, a British squadron of battleships headed for Machias from Halifax, Nova Scotia. But hearing that the U.S.S. Adams was undergoing repairs, plans were quickly changed.
      Instead of attacking Machias, the squadron added five additional British battleships to the force and sailed into Castine and Belfast's Harbors on September 1.  Both communities quickly surrendered to the superior force.  The British now bracketed Penobscot Bay to the north and south.  The U.S.S. Adams hadn't escaped, it had crawled into a deep trap.
Locations on Google Earth
     Almost immediately after capturing Castine,  a battleship, two sloops of war, a transport and various tenders  set sail  under the command of Captain Robert Barrie.  They were not silent as they headed up river, but randomly fired their guns, giving warning to those on shore of the strength of the force.   The battleship stopped at Frankfort Marsh.  By late Friday the remaining ships arrived at Bald Hill Cove where approximately 750 disembarked to camp.     

Low tide at Bald Hill Cove, but even then troops could land at the corner.

Five hundred militia, and thirty regular troops arrived in Hampden to defend the U.S.S. Adams.  The crew of the U.S.S. Adams moved nine guns to a high hill to assist with the defense.  Guns were placed on the wharf and  on the hill overlooking the river.  The militia set up their defense about a half mile south across from Hampden Academy and overlooking Pitcher Brook.  (Now Reeds Brook)  There they waited overnight, in the rain for the invasion.

Next post:  The battle!  (see next post for the ignominious conclusion)

On the Penobscot, by the mouth of the Souadabscook.  The pier is about where the wharf would have been

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