posted April 2007
Richard K. Murdoch
The Battle of Orleans, Massachusetts (1814) and Associated Events
The American Neptune 24: 172-182 (July 1964)

The Battle of Orleans, Massachusetts (1814) and Associated Events


THE brief military skirmish involving the townspeople of Orleans, Massachusetts, and a small force of British marines on 19 December 1814, an event usually referred to as the 'Battle of Orleans,' has received considerable attention in several general histories of Cape Cod based on a number of local accounts.1 On the other hand, the fact that little attention is paid to this event in many national histories and even in detailed accounts of the War of 1812, tends to support the view that local pride combined with a desire to relieve the rather gloomy story of the war, may have resulted in some exaggeration of the importance of the events at Orleans.2 A monument erected at the probable site of the engagement tersely states: 'Here, Dec. 19, 1814, Orleans Militia repulsed British landing from HMS Newcastle—intent: burning village and vessels. War 1812.' A comparison of contemporary accounts appearing in newspapers from Boston to Savannah reveals a basic agreement with this appraisal but with a wide variation in minor details.3 When local his-

1 One of the earliest accounts of the engagement at Orleans appeared in Enoch Pratt, A Comprehensive History, Ecclesiastical and Civil, of Eastham, Wellfleet and Orleans, County of Barnstable, Massachusetts, from 1644 to 1844 (Yarmouth, 1844). Accounts in similar vein, presumably relying heavily on Pratt, later appeared in such works as Frederick Freeman, The History of Cape Cod: The Annals of Barnstable County, 2 vols. (Boston, 1858-1862); Shebnah Rich, Truro — Cape Cod or Land Marks and Sea Marks (Boston, 1883); Herman A. Jennings, Provincetown or Odds and Ends from the Tip End (Yarmouthport, 1890); Charles F. Swift, Cape Cod the Right Arm of Massachusetts, an Historical Narrative (Yarmouth, 1897); Henry C. Kittredge, Cape Cod: Its People and Their History (Boston. 1930); Mary Rogers Bangs, Old Cape Cod: The Land: The Men: The Sea (Boston, 1931); and Jeremiah Digges, Cape Cod Pilot (Provincetown, 1937). Among the numerous embellishments added to the original account in Pratt, was the statement that the inhabitants on shore openly jeered at the discomfiture of the British when Newcastle ran aground. Digges, Cape Cod Pilot, pp. 144-145.

2 Some of the better-known episodes of Cape Cod history during the War of 1812 appear in. Samuel Perkins, A History of the Political and Military Events of the late War between the United States and Great Britain (New Haven, 1825).

3 In preparing this article, newspapers from Augusta (Georgia), Baltimore (Maryland), Boston (Massachusetts), Philadelphia (Pennsylvania), Richmond (Virginia), Savannah (Georgia), and Washington (D. C.) were consulted.                                                                                                   



torians collected material for secondary accounts long after the events, the original reports, most of them extracted from Boston newspapers, were passed over in preference for what might be called 'local and popular reminiscences,' often the most unreliable sort of evidence because of the virtual impossibility of verification.

Even newspaper accounts from that period are often unreliable for there were no 'roving reporters' to rush to the scene of the action to write vivid first-hand accounts, nor were there photographers to record the events on film. Most early nineteenth-century editors relied on copying news of distant events from other papers brought to their offices by boat or stage, or upon building a news story on letters or dispatches from persons witnessing the action or at least claiming to have first-hand information. Little effort could be made to verify such stories although the wise editor protected himself by the use of the expression, 'it was reported that. . . .'

As there were no newspapers appearing locally on Cape Cod in 1814, all news items reaching Boston from the southeastern part of the state came in the form of letters from private individuals, dispatches from towrn authorities and postmasters, or by word of mouth carried by travelers or by captains and crewmen of coastal vessels. With the British successfully blockading Boston harbor and other ports of entry throughout 1814, most of the news was received by the longer and more time-consuming overland route.

In order to treat a controversial event fairly both sides should be heard, and luckily in the case of the action at Orleans in 1814, there is available a second source of information to assist in arriving at a more accurate and complete narrative. This source is the official ship's log of H.M.S. New-castle, the British warship most directly involved in the events of 19 December 1814.4 As was usually the case the log was kept by the officer of the watch, usually a junior officer, under the supervision of the ship's commander, Captain Lord George Stuart.5 To back up the entries in New-

4 The official log of Newcastle is located in the Manuscript Division of the Public Record Office, London, England, and pertinent portions on microfilm are in the possession of the author. The Admiralty listed Newcastle as a 1,556-ton ship of the line, fourth-rate, which indicated a normal armament of 50 guns. The ship was built at Blackwall in 1813. William Laird Clowes, The Royal Navy: A History from the Earliest Times to the Present, 7 vols. (London, 1900-1903), III, 331, and V, 13. Several accounts in American newspapers listed her normal armament as 58 and 64 guns, but it was the New England Palladium of 20 December 1814, that carried the most accurate description of Newcastle after she had been fitted out with 8 additional guns.

5 For the official account of the career of the Right Honorable Lord George Stuart, C.B., see John Marshall, Royal Navy Biography, 10 vols. (London, 1823-1830), II, part 2, pp. 864-873; and for additional details, see Clowes, The Royal Navy, VI, passim throughout. Due to a mistake in spelling, several contemporary accounts asserted that Newcastle and Constitution were commanded by persons of the same last name. An example of this mistake stated: 'The coincidence of names of the


castle's log, there are the logs of H.M.S. Acasta and H.M.S. Arab, both associated with the larger ship in the blockade of the port of Boston,6 and several dispatches from Captain Stuart to his superiors written a few days after the events took place.7 Unless questioned in some way, the captain's log stands in naval records as the authoritative account of the day-to-dav activities of the ship and the crew. The information contained in the log of a ship in the Royal Navy is virtually above suspicion as it would be almost impossible for the master to alter the facts of an engagement in an attempt to hide personal culpability. The most serious shortcoming of a ship's log is its brevity and the almost total absence of individual names and of details considered unimportant by the writers but vital to the historian. The master was generally too pressed for time to go into lengthy explanations beyond what might be required of him by his superiors. The officers entering the events of the day made few references to the possible causes of the circumstances involving Newcastle and its crew, and they apparently felt no obligation to explain why certain actions were taken by the captain. There is nothing to indicate whether these numerous omissions of established facts were due to a lack of knowledge, to the feeling that the events were unimportant, or because the captain intended to make a special report on the skirmish at Orleans at a later date to the commander of the North Atlantic Station or to the Admiralty.8

The engagement fought on 19 December 1814, was a belated aftermath of the grounding of Newcastle somewhere off the southern tip of Billingsgate Shoal during the early evening darkness of the twelfth and

commanding officers and pursers of the Newcastle and Constitution, is a singular circumstance, viz: Newcastle, Capt. Stewart, Purser, Pottinger; Constitution, Capt. Stewart, Purser, Pottinger.' Richmond Enquirer, 27 December 1814. The correct spelling of the names was (George) Stuart and (Charles) Stewart. Although no records have been located to identify the Pottinger said to have served on the British ship, contemporary records indicate that the purser of Constitution in the fall of 1814 was Robert Pottinger. Massachusetts Register and the United States Calendar . . . 1814 (Boston, 1814), p. 209.

6 Acasta, a 40-gun frigate commanded by Captain Alexander Robert Kerr, C.B., assisted Newcastle in the blockade of Boston. For a brief summary of the career of Captain Kerr, see Marshall, Royal Naval Biography, IX, 34-43. The armed brig Arab, 18 guns, Captain Henry Jane, was employed as a dispatch boat on the run from Halifax to Cape Cod Bay where provisions and prisoners could be safely transhipped. William A. Fairburn, Merchant Sail, 6 vols. (Center Lovell, Maine, 1945-1955), II, 795-797. The official logs of Acasta and Arab are also located in the Manuscript Division of the Public Record Office, London, England.

7 Captain Stuart prepared several dispatches including a report of the escape of Constitution. See Admiral Henry Hotham to Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane, off New London, 2 January 1815, in Sir Alexander Cochrane Papers, National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh, Scotland.

8 Three short reports on the grounding of Newcastle and subsequent events were drawn up by Captain Stuart on 23 December 1814 and handed to Captain Jane of Arab for delivery to Admiral Hotham, then blockading Nantucket and the eastern end of Long Island Sound. He in turn forwarded them to Admiral Edward W. Griffith in Halifax, who, on 8 February 1815, sent them with a critical covering letter to Admiral Cochrane. Sir Alexander Cochrane Papers, National Library of Scotland.


the subsequent loss of spars and rigging thrown overboard to lighten the vessel during the prolonged effort to refloat her the next day.9 The incoming tide apparently carried some of the spars toward the Orleans — Eastham shore where a group of local inhabitants made them into a raft, dragging it into Rock Harbor Creek. There they fell on the tackle with axes and hatchets in an effort to reduce it to useless debris in case the enemy made a recovery attempt.10 There is no valid evidence to support the assertion that at the orders of Captain Stuart 'guns and other ordnance were thrown overboard' or that at any time he contemplated blowing up his ship to prevent her capture.11

On the afternoon of the thirteenth, shortly after freeing his vessel from the sands, Captain Stuart dispatched a launch and a yawl to search for the missing tackle and other equipment such as anchors lost during efforts to refloat Newcastle. The yawl with a crew of nine and a coxswain gave chase to the sloop Camel on her way from Boston to Orleans with a cargo of provisions.12 After the sloop had been grounded near the entrance to Rock Harbor Creek in a futile effort to escape she was abandoned by all but one of her crew. Seamen from the yawl took the one remaining American prisoner to help navigate their vessel to Provincetown whither Newcastle had sailed to make repairs and reset her spars.13 At the orders of the coxswain a portion of Camel's cargo was transferred to the yawl while he went ashore to make a hurried examination of the tangled mass of tackle from Newcastle.14 He discovered that considerable damage had been done to the larger pieces and he therefore ordered only the smaller spars and canvas to be loaded on the yawl. Having only nine men under his command, he was unable to put a prize crew on Camel and perforce he left the grounded vessel behind. As it was getting dark, he ordered the captured sailor to head the yawl toward the north and the presumed location of Newcastle. A short time later, the pilot ran the yawl aground, apparently by intent, off Wellfleet Harbor. If the Boston newspaper accounts are to

9 A brief statement on the grounding of Newcastle without reference to the cause is to be found in the ship's log for 12 and 13 December 1814.

10 Captain Stuart recorded that the major damage was to the auxiliary topmast which 'had been damaged in several places by the people on the shore.' Log of H.M.S. Newcastle, 19 December 1814.

11 Rich, Truro . . ., p. 357, and Boston Gazette, 19 December 1814.

12 According to newspaper reports, Camel was commanded by a Captain Cummings of Orleans who may have been Daniel Cummings. New England Palladium, 20 December 1814, and Savannah Republican, 3 January 1815.

13 The coxswain had no way of knowing exactly where Captain Stuart was planning on anchoring Newcastle although from past experience he knew that the ship usually anchored about three miles to the southeast of Provincetown harbor.

14 It was later claimed by the owners of Camel that the seized provisions were worth $50. New England Palladium, 20 December 1814.


be given credence, all the enemy seamen immediately deserted, waded ashore and were in short order rounded up by the aroused townspeople.15 Five of the men were immediately sent on foot under guard to Boston,3'3 arriving there early on the morning of 20 December,17 three days alter the frigate Constitution had slipped out of the harbor on her fourth and last cruise of the war.18

Under interrogation in Boston, the five seamen claimed that most of the crew of Newcastle was 'generally discontented,' and that Captain Stuart and the senior officers interfered but seldom in the brutal manner in which the junior officers treated the crew.19 All of the prisoners, especially a young Irishman who seems to have acted as the spokesman, declared that they were desirous of personal liberty and that they were most grateful for the kind treatment they had received from the townspeople en route to Boston,20 a fact that drew the ire of certain ultranationalists long critical of the 'weak' stand of New England in the war effort. The remainder of the crew of the captured yawl together with the coxswain, were sent to Boston under guard at a later date.21

In the meantime, the inhabitants of Wellfleet had taken possession of the abandoned yawl and had unloaded some of the provisions that had originally been taken from Camel. The spars and sails were too cumbersome to remove far from the water's edge. To ascertain the exact fate of the yawl and its crew on the morning of 14 December, Captain Stuart, then at anchor in Cape Cod Bay off Truro, dispatched a small recently captured fishing boat in the general direction of the Orleans — Eastham shore. After scouting along the coast as far as the southern end of Billingsgate Island the boat returned to Newcastle with information that the yawl lay abandoned and it appeared that its cargo was on shore in the hands of the inhabitants. An armed barge was then dispatched to recover the yawl

15 A lengthy account of the loss of Newcastle's yawl is to be found in the New England Palladium, 20 December 1814, an account reprinted in part in Niles Weekly Register, 24 December 1814.

16 At least two secondary accounts state that the prisoners from the yawl were taken to Salem. This is unlikely as it presumably would have necessitated a trip by water. Bangs, Old Cape Cod, p. 155, and Agnes Edwards [Rothery], Cape Cod New and Old (Boston, 1918), p. 103.

17 The first news of the grounding of Newcastle apparently reached Boston, by boat, late in the evening of 16 December and by the next day this information was on the way to New York and Philadelphia. Boston Gazette, 19 December 1814, National Intelligencer, 24 December 1814, and Richmond Enquirer, 27 December 1814.

18 The first newspaper report of the departure of the American warship stated, '3 p.m. Sailed. the U. S. frigate Constitution, (generally called by her crew, Old Iron Sides) Captain Stewart, on a cruise.' National Intelligencer, 24 December 1814.

19 During November and December 1814, the log of Newcastle indicates that an unusually large number of floggings were administered for drunkenness, insubordination and refusal to carry out lawful orders.

20 New England Palladium, 20 December 1814.                         

21 National Intelligencer, 24 December 1814.


and apparently this mission was accomplished on the eighteenth without opposition from the townspeople lined up along the shore.22

The arrival of H.M.S. Acasta, one of the vessels assigned to assist Newcastle in blockading activities in Cape Cod Bay on the morning of 16 December, enabled Captain Stuart to carry out an armed reconnaissance of the Orleans shore. He had learned from information brought back from Wellfleet that the inhabitants of Orleans had taken possession of the remaining spars that had floated up on the beach and that there were a number of small American vessels at anchor in Rock Harbor Creek, long known as a haven for coastal boats trying to penetrate the blockade of Boston. At first daylight on 19 December four armed barges were sent out from Newcastle to investigate the situation at Orleans and, if possible, to reclaim the usable portion of the jettisoned tackle. One of the barges, a fourteen-oared vessel, commanded by Lieutenant Frederick Marryat with a midshipman, Charles Underwood, and a crew of twenty-two seamen and marines, led the way along the coast to the mouth of Rock Harbor Creek.23 Finding that there was sufficient water to proceed up the estuary to the site of the wharf and salt houses, the lieutenant ordered the other three barges to remain in open water to blockade the mouth of the creek and to come to his assistance if necessary. When Marryat's barge entered the creek it was seen that the sloop Camel was still there, together with the sloops Washington and Nancy, and the schooner Betsy, the last heavily laden with salt.24

Although none of the crew of the four American vessels were on board when the enemy barge entered the creek, there were at work at the nearby salt works several men who witnessed the British landing and the seizure of the four vessels. At least one of these men was captured at gunpoint by the marines and was held prisoner while the remainder fled along the recently completed road to give the alarm to the town of Orleans.25 After a preliminary search of the small vessels and the sheds on the wharf, Marryat ordered Betsy, lying closest to open water, under a prize crew of nine seamen commanded by Midshipman Underwood, to be sailed to the

22  According to Newcastle's log, at five in the afternoon, 'the barge returned with the launch and part of the stores.' Log of H.M.S. Newcastle, 18 December 1814.

23 For a brief summary of the career of Frederick Marryat, K.C.B., see Marshall, Royal Naval Biography, V, 261-270. This is the same Marryat who years later traveled throughout the United States and wrote A Diary in America, with Remarks on Its Institutions (London, 1839). For a. brief summary of his views and short estimate of his importance, see Allan Nevins (ed.), America through British Eyes (New York, 1948), pp. 171-188.

24 The names of the American vessels were listed in the New England Palladium, 27 December 1814.

25 The Rock Harbor road was laid out and completed in 1813. Pratt, A Comprehensive History . . ., p.163.


anchorage of Newcastle. As soon as the captured schooner was readied for sea. Underwood with the American prisoner acting as reluctant pilot made sail. Under cover of gathering darkness and thick snow squalls the pilot managed to maneuver the schooner to the west instead of the east and soon ran her aground on Yarmouth Beach where the vessel and crew fell into the hands of the local militia, already alerted of the events taking place earlier in the day at Orleans.26

Once Betsy had been manned, Lieutenant Marryat ordered the spars found on the shore of the creek loaded on the three barges standing offshore and directed them to sail to the anchorage of Newcastle.27 A quick survey of the damage to the spars indicated that the Americans had succeeded in rendering some of the larger ones virtually useless. Since Marryat's orders apparently included taking revenge on the property of the townspeople, he landed his small force of marines from the remaining barge with orders to fire the salt works and any of the three sloops that were hard aground and could not be hauled out of the creek as prizes. He likewise ordered the seamen to dump all the loose salt into the water.28

While the British were in the process of taking possession of Betsy and examining the spars along the shore, several of the townspeople armed with muskets, possibly including three militiamen stationed along the Bay shore as sentinels to warn of the appearance of enemy landing parties, had opened fire from the cover of a clump of trees on the west side of the creek near where a sand breastwork was reported to have been constructed.29 The British immediately returned the fire, and in the firing that followed one of the marines was fatally wounded and several others also may have been hit, but no heavy casualties nor general carnage took place as reported in some accounts.30 Likewise there is no evidence to

26 New England Palladium, 27 December 1814. Although later accounts of the recapture of Betsy give various numbers of crewmen, Newcastle's log states that nine men were lost at Yarmouth. Log of H.M.S. Newcastle, 21 December 1814.

27 The three barges reached Newcastle about four in the afternoon during a light snow. Log of H.M.S. Newcastle, 19 December 1814.

28  Although there were no exact figures available as to the value of the Orleans salt works, an estimate of $2,000,000 has been made for the value of all Cape Cod salt works shortly after the War of 1812, and 25 per cent annual dividends were not uncommon. Digges, Cape Cod Pilot, p. 99. Admiral Cochrane's orders 'to lay coastal towns under contributions' on threat to burn local salt works was well known to all New Englanders and Orleans had made its stand against such payments well known. Perkins, History of the Political and Military Events . . ., p. 351.

29 During the fall of 1814, after the enemy had made threatening gestures toward Brewster which had then paid a 'ransom,' several militiamen were kept on duty as a patrol along the shore line. Pratt, A Comprehensive History . . . , p. 163. According to the official records of the Massachusetts Militia, three privates from 'Sgt. John Jarvis' Guard of Captain Henry Knowles' Company of Snow's Regiment,' were on shore duty during the fall months. Records of the Massachusetts Volunteer Militia called out by the Governor of Massachusetts to suppress a Threatened Invasion during the War of 1812-14 (Boston, 1913), pp. 104, 106 and 126.

30 A distorted account of Marryat's actions in his official naval biography in part reads: 'On the


support the assertion that 'there was a pitched battle in these very streets of Orleans . . . resulting in the death of several of the enemy/31 nor was there any naval bombardment of the town on that day as all three warships in the blockading squadron can be accounted for at locations far removed from Rock Harbor Creek.32

Although the salt works, the pier, and both Washington and Nancy had all been set afire, quick work on the part of the inhabitants extinguished the smouldering blaze before much damage was done. Likewise the shoveling of dried salt into the creek was interrupted by the appearance of a fairly large body of armed men, who at once took up strategic positions and commenced a heavy fire on the marines under Marryat's command. It is presumed that these armed men were the first contingent of the two local militia companies that had been called out when the first news of the enemy's arrival at Rock Harbor Creek had been carried to the village.33 It is also possible that volunteers from Eastham and Brewster rushed to the scene of the action. In the face of growing resistance, Lieutenant Marryat ordered the marines to cover the retreat to the remaining barge. He placed a small prize crew on Camel, which he ordered to make sail for Wellfleet under cover of growing darkness. He then boarded the barge and headed out of the creek and toward the north. Thus ended the military engagement usually called the 'Battle of Orleans,' involving a small British force and what Captain Stuart later referred to as 'those wretches in Orleans,' who, according to his view, violated their promise of neutrality in return for being permitted to make their livelihood without interference from the blockading fleet.34

19th of Dec. 1814, he commanded the Newcastle's barge, and cut four vessels out of Boston bay: in accomplishing which service eleven of his crew were killed and wounded.' Marshall, Royal Naval Biography, V, 267. Captain Stuart's entry in Newcastle's log reads, 'at eight Lieut. Marryat return'd with 5 men—having lost the Barge with 2 men when blowing a Gale of Wind together with 9 men in a Schooner—supposed to be taken Prisoners & 1 Marine killed.' Log of H.M.S. Newcastle, 21 December 1814. According to the Muster Book of Newcastle, the marine killed in action on 19 December, was named Thomas Walker. Muster Book of H.M.S. Newcastle as quoted in letter of the Secretary, Public Record Office, London, England, 31 December 1959.

31 Rothery, Cape Cod, p. 103.

32 According to the logs, Newcastle was at anchor off Truro, Acasta was at anchor in nine fathoms of water off Provincetown, and Arab was at sea off Boston harbor. Thus stories of cannon balls flying toward Orleans seem to be groundless although it is possible that a few months earlier the town may have been bombarded by H.M.S. Spencer, Captain Ragget, while he was trying to force Brewster into paying a 'ransom.'

33 The official militia records state that Captains Moses Higgins and Henry Knowles, both of Orleans, called out their companies of militia and that over one hundred armed men later claimed pay for services 'in battle at Orleans,' on 19 and 20 December 1814. Captain Higgins' company comprised Lieutenant Isaac Sparrow and Ensign Benjamin Linnell together with nine NCOs and sixty-three privates, although all did not respond to the call to the colors. Records of the Massachusetts Volunteer Militia . . ., pp. 104 and 106.

34 Admiral Edward W. Griffith to Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane, 8 February 1815. Sir Alexander Cochrane Papers, National Library of Scotland.


As the night of 19/20 December wore on the weather got worse and hard snow squalls driving across the Bay so confused the pilot of the barge that he failed to negotiate the shoals off Wellfleet, and early on the morning of 20 December Lieutenant Marryat found his craft hard and fast in an ebb tide.35 He decided to abandon the barge and transfer the remaining five crewmen and the marines to Camel, standing by a short distance away in deeper water. In the process of transfer it appears that two of the seamen took the opportunity to wade ashore where they were at once apprehended by several militiamen on the beach. Camel skirted the shoreline and finally reached the safety of Newcastle's anchorage on the afternoon of 2,1 December. The sloop was in such unseaworthy condition that Marryat signaled for assistance as he found it necessary to beach his craft lest it sink with all hands. A longboat from Newcastle was dispatched to bring the survivors to the warship, and Marryat with his men came on board at eight in the evening. He informed Captain Stuart of the loss of the barge on the shoals off Wellfleet and when he was told that Betsy with the prize crew of nine had not made an appearance, he had to admit that that vessel was also presumably lost.36 Early the next morning a crew was sent ashore to bring the beached Camel alongside Newcastle in order to salvage the rigging and sails and to break up the hull for firewood for the ship's galley.

About noon on 21 December the brig Arab anchored near Newcastle and Acasta, which had dropped down from Provincetown to be near the larger vessel, moved a bit closer. Supplies were unloaded from the brig and Captain Jane of Arab went on board Newcastle to receive new orders from Captain Stuart. As the latter had been absent for a week from his assigned post off Boston, he ordered Arab to sail early the next morning to reconnoiter offshore and to try to ascertain marine conditions in Boston harbor.37 According to Captain Jane's log, at '4:30 observed Constitution had sailed, bore up and boarded a fishing boat who confirmed it. . . .' He then 'made all sail possible for squadron . . .' which he reached at approximately 8:30 in the evening.38 It was obvious to Captain Stuart that the American warship had taken the golden opportunity when Newcastle was undergoing repairs to breach the blockade, presumably making

35 The log of Newcastle mentions 'fresh breezes from the North with hard snow' during the night of 19/20 December and Arab's captain records '16-20 gales from the North.' Log of H.M.S. Arab,; 20 December 1814.

36 Log of H.M.S. Newcastle, 21 December 1814.

37 Log of H.M.S. Arab, 21 December 1814.

38 Ibid., 22 December 1814. Apparently the crew of the fishing boat informed Captain Jane that Constitution had sailed from Boston on the afternoon of 17 December and that Congress had also eluded the blockade off New York.                                                                                                                           


off for the English Channel or the Mediterranean. As his orders from Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane were to prevent this event from happening, he was forced to give up any plans he might have harbored to renew the attack on 'the wretches' in Orleans and to undertake a complete overhaul of his ship's rigging and sails. He ordered the crews of Newcastle and Acasta to prepare for immediate departure for sea duty. The night of 22 December was spent in loading fresh supplies from Arab and in transferring a number of American seamen captured earlier in the month.39 Captain Jane was ordered to make a rendezvous as soon as possible with the British fleet off the eastern end of Long Island and then to proceed to Halifax to deliver the prisoners and to inform the authorities there that Newcastle and Acasta had started in pursuit of Constitution in spite of her six-day lead.40 Newcastle slipped her moorings in the Bay at 10:20 on the morning of 23 December, and in company with Acasta, began the long search for the American frigate that was to terminate in a near battle on 12 March 1815, not far from Praya on the island of St. Iago in the Azores.41 By no stretch of the imagination can the 'Battle of Orleans' of 19 December 1814, be assigned a vital role in the prosecution of the War of 1812. This does not in any way detract from the bravery of the townspeople in refusing to pay tribute to the enemy, nor the local militia in counterattacking the enemy marines. It was well known throughout coastal New England that the dreadful fate of Castine could be visited on any seaside town in retaliation for daring to fire on British vessels and crews. The standing orders of Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane were to burn any coastal town that offered armed resistance or whose shipping was detected in scouting operations or in carrying forbidden commerce to blockaded ports such as Boston and Nantucket. Likewise it is doubtful that the citizens of Orleans were 'of bolder kidney [than those of Brewster]' as one author suggests.42 As the town lay well inland and away from the guns of enemy warships the inhabitants could afford to take a more belligerent stand. It should be remembered that with the exception of Barnstable and Falmouth, Orleans was the only town on Cape Cod that strongly opposed the antiwar stand of Governor Caleb Swift.43

39  In spite of the transfer of numerous prisoners, some were retained on board Newcastle. Log of H.M.S. Newcastle, 24 December 1814.

40 Arab encountered H.M.S. Pictou off Nantucket and took eighteen additional prisoners on board. Log of H.M.S. Arab, 25 December 1814.

41  For an account of the action in the Azores, see Fairburn, Merchant Sail, II, 795-797, and Howard I. Chapelle, The History of American Sailing Ships (New York, 1935), p. 149.

42  Bangs, Old Cape Cod, p. 154.

43 In the election of 1813 Orleans cast 41 votes for Swift and 103 for his opponent. The following year Swift received only 21 votes and his opponent 101. Governor Swift carried Barnstable County by comfortable margins in both elections. Swift, Cape Cod, p. 249.


The real significance of the events in the ten days following the grounding of Newcastle on 12, December 1814, and the subsequent period of repairs in Cape Cod Bay, lies in the escape of Constitution from her safe haven in Boston harbor. The fourth cruise of the American frigate might have been costly to the British although as it later turned out, after capturing two small enemy warships, Constitution returned to New York City on 1 May 1815, to find that the war had ended several months earlier. If the war had not been in its terminal stage, it is quite possible that Captain Stuart might have been asked to explain his misadventures in Cape Cod Bay, for Admiral Edward W. Griffith wrote Admiral Cochrane that Stuart had shown 'great lack of caution of the employment of his boats.'44

Even with the termination of hostilities the story of the 'Battle of Orleans' was not complete, for many years later, on 3 March 1855. by an act of Congress, the government was authorized to pay a bounty to the survivors of the skirmish on 19 December 1814, or to their widows or children, if still living. Warrants were to be issued to each for 160 acres from the public lands.45 An interesting study might be made of these grants to locate them and to ascertain if any Orleans citizens actually moved away to claim the land.

Regardless of the passage of time and the harsh words spoken in Congress during the debate over Senator Brodhead's pension bill when the courage and patriotism of Governor Caleb Strong of Massachusetts and his antiwar supporters were impugned, the fact remains that the 'Battle of Orleans' was fought and the luster surrounding the participants is still untarnished.46 While this may not have been the 'shot that was heard round the world,' it was the 'shot that was heard throughout Cape Cod.'

44 Admiral Griffith to Admiral Cochrane, 8 February 1815. Sir Alexander Cochrane Papers, National Library of Scotland.

45 The pension bill was titled 'A Bill in addition to certain acts granting bounty land to certain officers and soldiers who have been engaged in the military service of the United States,' and it applied to a number of types of militia in all the wars of the United States. It was a revision of the pension laws of 1822 and 1830. The Congressional Globe, 2 and 3 March 1855, XXX, 1114 and 1139.

46 Senator Richard Brodhead of Pennsylvania was the chief sponsor of the 1855 pension bill and after a vigorous battle he pushed it through the Senate on 5 February 1855, by a vote of 30-15.

Richard K. Murdoch is a Bostonian who got his A.B. at Harvard before going to California where he received his Ph.D. He is presently Associate Professor of History (Latin American) at the University of Georgia, but maintains a summer home in Orleans on Cape Cod which has been in his family since 1858. His articles on the Revolutionary and early independence period have appeared in various historical publications.