February 18, 2020

Large Crowd Turns Out to Commemorate British Raid on Essex Ships 200 Years Ago

Mark Lander dressed inhistorical costume reads during the 'Light Up the Night' celebrations Tuesday evening.  Photos by Michaelle Pearson.

Old Lyme Historical Society Co-President Mark Lander, dressed in period costume, reads during the ‘Light Up the Night’ celebrations Tuesday evening. Photos by Michaelle Pearson.

REVISED 4/9/14: At 7.30 p.m. on Tuesday April 8, a goodly crowd gathered at the edge of the Connecticut River in Old Lyme to commemorate the bicentennial of the  1814 British raid on Essex.

Cannon on the boardwalk.

A cannon on the boardwalk serves as a reminder of the times of yesteryear.

“Light Up the Night” began with a drummer, who called the crowd to attention. Then the bonfire was lit and cannons fired as Mark Lander of the Old Lyme Historical Society read a narrative of the historic events.

Members of the Old Lyme Fire Department help keep the bonfire under control.

Members of the Old Lyme Fire Department help keep the bonfire under control.

Two hundred years ago to the day, the British Navy quietly slipped into the town of Essex (then called Pettipaug), looted it of arms and supplies and set fire to 27 American vessels before taking advantage of the swiftly running current to escape downriver to the Long Island Sound.  Along the shore, the citizens lit bonfires in an attempt to illuminate the river so cannons could be aimed at the departing British.

The event was one of a series of activities coordinated by the 1814 Bicentennial Committee.  Bonfires also took place at Gardiner’s Landing in Old Saybrook and on the water-side green at the Connecticut River Museum in Essex.

Mark Lander continues his reading.

Mark Lander continues his reading.

Old Lyme Historical Society Co-President Mark Lander related how the British Squadron blockading the Sound targeted River privateers and merchant shipping for destruction in a daring nighttime raid on an undefended and unprepared citizenry.

This evocative event was intended to inspire area residents to imagine the emotions of fear, frustration, and desperation experienced by the people who lived here in 1814.

“Light Up the Night” was sponsored by the Connecticut River Museum, and the Historical Societies of Old Lyme, Old Saybrook and Essex.

For more information about this and other historic events, visit www.battlesiteessex.orgctrivermuseum.org or oldlymehistoricalsociety.org

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  1. Carolyn Gilbert says

    On April 2, I attended a historical program in Mississauga, Ontario about the War of 1812. It focused mainly on the happenings in southern Ontario and Michigan during that war. I told the audience about the ship burnings in Essex and how the event has been commemorated each year with a parade, frequently referred to as the “Loser’s Parade.” The Ontario audience got a kick out of that fact.

    Thanks for the April 9 update. It is always fun to keep abreast of events in my former neighborhood. I’ll share this latest commemoration with my Mississauga friends.

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