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Saint Croix Courier, St. Stephen, NB
January 19, 1893

GLIMPSES OF THE PAST

Contributions to the History of Charlotte County and the Border Towns.

LI – THE SIEGE OF PENOBSCOT.

[Dr. Caleff’s account, with introduction by Edward Jack.]

Dr. John Caleff was in the legislature of Massachusetts about the date of the Revolution, and was one of the famous Seven Rescinders.  His father-in-law was the Revd. Jedediah Jewett, of Rowley, Massachusetts.  Dr. Caleff was one of the pall-bearers at Whitefield’s funeral.  He took an active part on the Royalist side at the time of the Revolution.  He was sent to Great Britain by the Penobscot Associated Loyalists, to endeavour to have the Penobscot made the boundary, remaining there for two years.  He had been hopeful of success all along, when, one morning, entering the office of Lord North, these hopes were chilled by his lordship saying, “Doctor, doctor, we cannot make the Penobscot the boundary; the pressure is too strong.”  He came to Saint Andrews with the Penobscot Associated Loyalists; and built a house there, at the upper end of the town, in front of which were planted three large elm trees.  The house I have often seen, but I believe it is no longer standing; though I think some of the trees which he planted are still growing.  He practised his profession as a physician and surgeon in Saint Andrews.

A relative once told me that Dr. Caleff attended a ship master whose leg was broken.  His bill, which was for the sum of a little over one pound of the then currency, was sent to the office of the ship’s agent, in Saint Andrews, where one of the clerks put a cypher after the one, making it ten pounds.  The captain said he thought the charge a very reasonable one, and was about paying it, when he was informed of the joke.

When in England, Dr. Caleff made the acquaintance of Selina, Countess of Huntington.  This pious and charitable lady sent to the people of New Brunswick, through the doctor, on his return, a large number of bibles and hymn books, he having informed her that the Loyalists had lost most of their books during the war.  The same kind lady sent out as missionaries the Revd. Messrs  Milton and James.  They were not allowed to preach in Trinity church, St. John.  The doctor, liberal minded man that he was, regretted that they had not received episcopal ordination; not that he thought anything about it himself, but that they might thereby have gained admission to Trinity and thus have been enabled to do good to the people of St. John by their preaching.

Doctor Caleff was one of the Puritan gentry of Massachusetts.  He was dead before my remembrance; but I was well acquainted with his daughters, who lived to a great age, as well as with his son, who owned what is now called Fry’s Island, near Latete, where he resided for a long time.  Dr. Caleff was a man of excellent education and wrote admirably well, with great clearness, brevity and simplicity.  Among books which were once his property I have seen the Critica Sacra, of Edward Leigh, (1602-1671,) Puritan linguist and theologian, and a Latin work on Human Happiness, by William Ames, the famous Puritan divine.

Dr. Caleff was present at the siege of Penobscot, and has left an excellent account of it, which is to be found in the library of Harvard college.  From it the writer, some time since, made a condensation for the Saint John Daily Sun, an extract from which is here given:

On the 17th June, 1779, Brigadier General McLean landed at what was then called Majabigwaduce (Castine), at the mouth of the Penobscot, with about 700 of his majesty’s forces composed of detachments of the 74th and 82nd regiments to take post in eastern New England.  A month’s time was occupied in clearing a spot for and building a fort, as well as a battery near the shore, with store houses.  On the 18th of July intelligence was received that a fleet and army were preparing at Boston to besiege Penobscot, of which little notice was taken.  Capt. Henry Mowat, of H. M. sloop Albany, having been many years on the American station and well acquainted with the disposition of the inhabitants, gave credit to the information and ordered his three sloops of war into the best situation to defend the harbor, annoy the enemy and co-operate with the land forces.  On the 19th about 100 inhabitants came in, with their captain, John Perkins, at their head, as volunteers, and having worked three days gratis, cleared the land of wood in front of the fort.  On July 23rd several canoes from the islands below came to advise the general of a large number of vessels being becalmed off St. George’s island, standing with their heads to the eastward.  At 4 a. m.

A LARGE FLEET

was discovered standing up the bay, on which account Capt. Mowat concluded to detain the North and Nautilus sloops which had been ordered for other service.  At five o’clock the ships were cleared for action.

The Albany, North and Nautilus had dropped down the harbor and moored in a well formed and close line of battle across the entrance immediately within the rocks on Bagwaduce point and the point of Cross island, giving a berth out of the line of fire to three transports stationed and prepared to slip and run foul of the enemy’s ships should they attempt to enter the harbor.  At 3 p. m. nine ships in three divisions stood toward the king’s ships, and as they advanced, hove to and engaged.  A very brisk cannonade continued for some time, when the enemy bore up to anchor in the bay without.  The fire of the enemy was random and irregular, the king’s ships suffering only in their riggings.  During the cannonade the enemy made an attempt to land, but were repulsed with some loss.  On the retreat of the enemy’s troops and ships, the garrison manned their works and gave three cheers to the men-of-war, which they returned.

On July 26th the enemy’s ships got under way, and forming their divisions as before, stood in and

ENGAGED THE KING’S SHIPS

four glasses and a half.  As before the damage done was to the rigging, and their fire appeared to be directed to the moorings, which not proving successful they bore up and anchored without.  They then again attempted to land their troops, but were driven back with some loss.

At 6 p. m. the enemy, having stationed two brigs of 14 guns and one sloop of 12 on the east side of Nautilus island, landed 200 men, dislodging a party of 20 marines and taking possession of four 4 pounders and a small quantity of ammunition.  At 9 p. m. the men-of-war were moored further up the river, the transports moving up at the same time.  This was done in order to avoid the effect of the heavy artillery which the enemy had landed on the island.

July 27th, at 3 p. m., a boat passing from the enemy’s ships to Nautilus island was sunk by a random shot from the fort.  At 3 a. m. of July 28th the enemy made good their landing, obliging the king’s troops to retreat to the garrison.  At 6 a. m. the enemy opened their battery of 18 and 12 pounders from Nautilus island, and kept up the whole day a brisk and well directed fire against the king’s ships.  The battery on the island still keeping up a heavy fire, Capt. Mowat thought proper to move further up the harbor, which he did in the night, and the line now formed again, he being determined to dispute the harbor to the last extremity, as on that entirely depended the safety of the garrison.  On July 29th some guns were landed and dragged by the seamen over rocks and stumps of trees to the fortress, for its use and that of the batteries.  In the afternoon the enemy opened their batteries and kept up a warm and incessant fire, their grape and round shot considerably damaging the storehouse of the garrison.  Six pieces of cannon at the Half-moon battery near Banks’ house, which belonged to the fortress, being found necessary for its particular defence, were moved up to it and replaced with some ship’s guns under the direction of the gunner of the Albany.

At the close of the evening Capt. Mowat, suspecting the enemy’s intentions, sent 140 men under the command of Lieut. Brooke, into the garrison.  During the night the enemy threw a number of shells into the fortress.  On the 30th July there was a brisk cannonade between the fortress and the enemy’s batteries on the heights and a number of shells were thrown on both sides.  On July 31st the seamen and marines of the enemy’s fleet landed to the westward of the Half-moon battery and under cover of night attacked the picket, obliging them to retreat.  Fifty men, however, under Lieut. Graham, being detached from the garrison,

DROVE THEM BACK WITH LOSS.

On the 3rd of August, a number of pikes were brought from the king’s ships to the fortress and put in the hands of the seamen to prevent the enemy from boarding the bastion.  At 9 a. m. of August 4th, the enemy opened their new battery near Wescoat’s house on the main to the northward of the shipping.

On August 7th, it was learned by a deserter from the enemy that Gen. Lovell had sent out small parties from his army round the country, and brought in a great number of loyal inhabitants, who were sent on board their fleet and thrust down the holds, heavily laden with irons both on their hands and feet.  Their cows and other stock had been killed for the enemy’s use, all their moveables destroyed or plundered, and their wives and children left destitute.  August 8th there was considerable cannonading all day as well as on the 9th, in the afternoon of which day it was discovered that the enemy had moved their picket from Hainey’s plantation and given up their design of carrying on a work for two 18 pounders against the men-of-war.  On the 10th there was slack fire on all sides.  On the 11th there was smart firing again, which slackened off on the 12th, at 9 p. m. of which day a large body of seamen and mariners from the enemy’s fleet landed below Bank’s house to the westward, and after setting fire to some barns and houses retreated to their ships again.  On August 13th at 1 p. m. there came in some deserters, who said the boat chased on shore at Hainey’s plantation had in her their commodore and some officers of their fleet who, having escaped, returned to their ships after lying two days and a night in the woods.

Capt. Mowat also obtained information that in consequence of a council held this morning on the Warren it was determined to face the harbor next tide and take or destroy the men-of-war; that five ships were destined for this service, one of which was the Warren, but that the Putnam of 20 guns was to lead, and that each ship was doubly manned with picked men.  The marines were now called on board their respective ships, the barricades strengthened, guns double shotted and disposition made for

THE MOST VIGOROUS DEFENCE.

The St. Helena transport had been brought into the line and fitted out with what guns could be procured, and the crews of the transports (now scuttled and laid on shore to prevent them from falling into the enemy’s hands) turned on board to fight her, while the general had also advanced five pieces of cannon under care of an e’paulement to salute them as they came in, but at 5 p. m. the appearance of some strange sail in the offing disconcerted the enemy’s plan, and the five ships getting under way again stood off and on during the whole night.  At daybreak on the morning of August 14th, it was discovered that the enemy had during the night moved off their cannon, and, quitting the heights of Majabigwaduce, silently embarked in small vessels at 4 a. m.  After firing a shot or two they also evacuated Nautilus island, and leaving their cannon spiked and dismounted, got on board a brig lying to receive them and made sail with the transports up Penobscot river.  The whole fleet now got under way, and upon one of the brigs heaving in sight off the harbor’s mouth with various signals flying, they bore up with all sail after the transports.

There now remaining no doubt that but that the strange fleet was the relief expected, the off-side guns of the Albany, North and Nautilus were got down from the fortress, and being taken on board the three slipped their stern moorings, hove up their bower anchors and, working out of the harbor, joined in about the centre of the king’s fleet in pursuit of the flying enemy, who were now crowding on every sail they could set.

The Hunter and Hampden, two of the enemy’s ships of 20 guns each, attempted to escape through the passage of Long Island, but were cut off and taken.  The former ran in shore all standing, and was instantly deserted by her crew, who got safe on shore.  The Raisonnable and Sir George Collier, being the sternmost ships of the fleet, took possession and got her off, then coming to anchor near her.

The rest of his majesty’s ships continued in chase of the enemy until it grew so dark as to render navigation exceedingly dangerous, when they were obliged to anchor for the night, while the enemy, having good pilots, ran some miles further up the river.

The Defiance, brig of 14 guns, ran into an inlet, where she could not be pursued, and was set on fire by her crew.  During the night the enemy set fire to several ships and brigs, which blew up

WITH GREAT EXPLOSIONS.1

The manoeuvres of the three sloops of war under the direction of Capt. Mowat had been such as enabled the king’s forces to hold out a close siege of 21 days against a fleet and army of more than six times their number and strength, insomuch that, on the first appearance of the reinforcement from New York in the offing, the enemy debarked their troops and sailed with their whole fleet up Penobscot river where they burnt their shipping, and from thence marched to their respective homes; and the loyal inhabitants who were taken in the time of the siege and cruelly treated on board of their ships, had their irons taken off and were set at liberty.


1The loss of the British in this expedition amounted to 70 killed, wounded and missing.  The enemy’s loss is placed at 474 men; while 10 ships, 10 brigs, 1 sloop and 24 transports and storeships, in all 46 vessels, were taken or destroyed.


Addition: Article LXXXIV contains the following additional information:

"Since the date of your publication of the account of the siege of Penobscot, a plan, giving all the details of position of forts and fleets at the scene of that important event has come into my possession.  It is on a large scale, and everything is shown with the most minute accuracy.  It was evidently compiled by an eye witness.  Although no name nor date is given, the letters G. R. occur on the water mark of the paper on which it is drawn.  From the marginal references given thereon, I copy the following:

‘10, British fort defended by Gen. McLean with 800, against the whole Rebel force amounting to 3,500 men.’

‘11, Albany, North and Nautilus defending the harbour.’

The numbers are the reference to similar numbers on the plan.

LIST OF REBEL FLEET.  

  Metals Guns Men
Warren, Commodore’s ship 18 & 12 pounders 36 300
Sally, blown up 9 & 16       " 22 130
Putnam,       " 9 & 6        " 20  
Vengeance,   " 9 & 6        " 20  
Black Prince,   " 9 & 6        " 20  
Hampden, taken 9 & 6        " 20  
Monmouth, blown up         6        " 20  
Hunter, taken 4 & 3         " 18  
Sky Rocket, blown up 6 & 4          " 18  
Hector, blown up 6 & 4          " 18  
Hazard, brig,   " 6                 " 18 80
Defence,   "     " 6                 " 16 70
Diligent,    "     " 4                 " 14 50
Tyranicide, brig, blown up 4                 " 14 50
Active, bg, blown up 4                 " 16 66

35 transports ordinance vessels, &c., taken and destroyed.

 

BRITISH FLEET.  

    Guns
Under Sir George Collier:    
Raisonable.   64
Blonde. 12 pounders 32
Virginia. 9         " 28
Grey Hound. 9         " 28
Galatea. 9         " 20
Camilla. 9         " 20
Under Capt. Mowat and block’d up with Gen. McLean:    
Albany 6         " 16
North 6         " 16
Nautilus 6         " 16

                                                                                                                                                                - Edward Jack."