Eastern Frontier : Henry Mowatt
A career officer in the British navy, Henry Mowatt became one of the
most formidable opponents of the Revolution in Maine. As a lieutenant in
command of the HMS Canceaux, Mowatt arrived in Falmouth (Portland)
in April 1775 to protect a local Tory merchant who was defying the
Continental embargo against British goods. In the process, local militia
led by Samuel Thompson of Brunswick, captured and detained Mowatt for
several days. Local leaders eventually secured Mowattt’s release for
fear the HMS Canceaux might bombard the town. Mowatt and his Tory protégé
then sailed away to Boston carrying many of Falmouth’s loyalist
Six months later, on October 16, 1775, Lt. Mowattt reappeared at
Falmouth leading a small flotilla with orders from his superiors in Boston
to punish certain towns "in open rebellion" against the British
Crown. Falmouth was one of them. Although the towns’ leaders tried to
persuade the British to relent, negotiations failed. Two days later, on
October 18, Mowatt’s squadron commenced an all-day bombardment that
destroyed Falmouth’s shipping and left two-thirds of the town in ashes.
Americans were aghast at such barbarity, but Mowatt was soon rewarded with
advancement in rank and with a formal reception by King George III.
Mowatt next prominently appeared in 1779 as the commander of three
sloops of war helping to protect the new British outpost at Bagaduce,
known today as Castine, on the east side of Penobscot Bay. To expel the
British, Massachusetts sent an armada of 40 vessels; half of them were
transports carrying 1,000 militia, and the remainder were ships-of-war.
Capt. Mowatt, however, positioned his little fleet so its guns could
support the unfinished fort and also prevent an easy landing of American
troops in Bagaduce harbor. Mowatt’s three sloops and the British fort
situated above them presented a tactical problem the inexperienced
American leaders never solved before the arrival of a powerful British
relief fleet on August 13, 1779.
Mowatt’s three vessels then joined the newly arrived British ships in
destroying what few vessels the Americans did not destroy themselves in a
precipitous flight up the Penobscot River. Seldom was victory so complete
as it was for the British in the Battle of Penobscot Bay.
Mowatt, however, never received official recognition for his part in
the affair. His superior, Adm. Sir George Collier, failed to mention
Mowatt’s vital role in saving the British post. Mowatt then spent the
rest of the war seething with discontent while cruising the Maine coast,
plundering towns and kidnapping local rebel leaders.
Even after the war, Mowatt continued to sail the waters of the North
Atlantic. On April 14, 1798, while in command of HMS Assistance off
Chesapeake Bay, Mowatt died of an apoplectic fit and was buried in the
Episcopal churchyard at Hampton, Va.
THE DEFENCE | THE EASTERN FRONTIER |
THE CASTINE LOYALISTS
INTERVIEWS | TRANSCRIPT |