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Highlighting Historical Hampden

War of 1812

Text by Karyn Field

There is no doubt that by the time of the Battle of Hampden, September 3, 1814, the British were already familiar with Hampden. In 1779, after taking Castine, the British chased the fleeing American ships the Vengeance and the General Putnam. Both American ships burned in the Penobscot at Hampden, either set afire by their own crews or by the British. Years later during the War of 1812, a serious military battle took place in the area surrounding Pitcher’s Brook, currently known as Reeds Brook. Shortly before the battle began, Captain Charles Morris of the U.S.S. Adams had been wreaking havoc among British ships when his vessel ran aground off foggy Isle au Haut. With great difficulty, he managed to sail his ship to Crosby’s Long Wharf in Hampden for repairs. Having taken Castine on September 1, 1814, British ships set sail toward Hampden with the goal of capturing the disabled U.S.S. Adams.

Captain Morris contacted General John Blake of Brewer, head of the Eastern Militia, as soon as he learned that the British fleet was heading toward Hampden. Both Blake and Morris were ready to defend the ship, but they found that the people of Hampden did not share their enthusiasm for heading into direct battle. These men were shipbuilders and tradesmen, not military men. Captain Morris, General Blake, and prominent Hampden citizens held a heated and confused meeting at the Hampden Academy building. In the end General Blake was allowed to make the decision to defend the town. The two leaders assured the citizenry that victory was all but guaranteed.

The morning of September 3, 1814, was reportedly dark and rainy with extremely dense fog. The British troops were experienced, while their American counterparts were drafted into service the night before the battle. The fog was so heavy that the British soldiers were heard, but could not be seen. When General Blake’s men finally saw the British, they were so fearful that they ran from the fighting. It has been said that the officers attempted to bring the men back, but were unsuccessful; finding themselves alone on the battle field, they too retreated. Those officers included Major Chamberlain, whose grandson, Joshua, became a hero in the Civil War. The elder Chamberlain was a shipbuilder from Orrington and lost two ships in the Battle of Hampden. (Little 1909)

Many townspeople were held captive on a British prison ship and others were held in John Crosby’s warehouse at the corner of Elm Street West and the Main Road. The British left a cannon ball hole in the warehouse and pillaged the town. There were a handful casualties, and the citizens were forced to give a bond of $12,000 against the October completion of several unfinished vessels. This bond saved the town from being completely burned down. Later, the British returned and took two of the still unfinished vessels; the remainder was subsumed into the Treaty of Ghent on December 14, 1814. Word of the treaty reached Hampden in February of that year.