War of 1812 saga to be recounted on East End

Thanks to the Portland Daily Sun for your coverage!

Published Date Wednesday, 04 September 2013 20:52
Written by Staff Report

The story of Maine's greatest sea battle in the classic age of sail will be presented by former State Rep. Herb Adams at a special event sponsored by the Friends of the Eastern Prom this Thursday, Sept. 5. The group Roll N Go will present sea shanties and maritime music in honor of the 200th anniversary of the battle that pitted the HMS Boxer against the USS Enterprise in the War of 1812. The event will be held from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the East End School Community Room, North Street, Portland, overlooking the bay that was home port to the USS Enterprise. The evening will be a kick-off event for a series of special 200th anniversary panels and ceremonies sponsored by the Maine Historical Society and the Maine Humanities Council. The event is to "celebrate our heritage, peel back some mysteries, and mark Maine's role on the world stage just at the dawn of Maine statehood. Both the United States and the not-yet state of Maine are on the edge of big things at that moment. And the battle of the Boxer v. the Enterprise makes for a rocking remarkable story," said Adams. The War of 1812 was a disaster for the young United States and the-then "District of Maine," still an unhappy part of Massachusetts, said Adams. "Every land battle was a disaster for the Americans. The British burned Washington, D.C., and the Americans burned down Buffalo, NY, themselves ," said Adams. "Boston abandoned Maine to the British, who seized all Maine east of the Penobscot River and planned to annex it to Canada as the "Province of New Ireland," where the Crown would settle Tories and the Irish — to the Brits, getting rid of two troubles at once," said Adams. Only at sea did the young United States show surprising muscle, in a series of ship-against-ship victories that made new frigates like the USS Constitution famous as "Old Ironsides" and made national heroes of navy commanders like Hull, Bainbridge and Stephen ("My Country Right or Wrong") Decatur. "Maine's greatest sea battle was between the HMS Boxer and the USS Enterprise off Monhegan on Sept. 5, 1813, a fierce fight in anyone's book," said Adams. Fought often less than 100 feet apart, "the two brigs were almost perfectly matched in size, number of guns, and number of crew, and captained by two young, ambitious men still in their late twenties," noted Adams. "The battle lasted barely 45 minutes, a literal barrage of red-hot iron, and the two young captains — Capt. Samuel Blyth of the HMS Boxer and Capt. William Burrows of the USS Enterprise — both fell in the first exchange of fire. The Enterprise emerged victorious, while the Boxer was in ruins, barely afloat." The bodies of both captains were returned to Portland, home port of the victorious USS Enterprise. Days later, Portland formally buried both men with colorful military honors side-by-side in Portland's Eastern Cemetery, where they still rest, and where ceremonies will be held again this Thursday, Sept. 5, 200 years later. "Equal honor was given to both victor and vanquished. Crews of both ships marched in the funeral procession. It was about the last time the words 'war' and 'chivalry' could appear in the same sentence, and still mean something," said Adams. The backstory of the battle includes young Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and the role of illicit smuggling by Maine's most powerful politicians, kept secret for 150 years, noted Adams. "There are surprises, twists and turns, valiant youths like Blyth and Burrows, and some other heroes and villains who are not at all what they seemed. History sometimes tries to keep its secrets," Adams said. Since 1813, all U.S. Navy vessels that have been named Enterprise are in honor of this Portland-based ship, said Adams. "Captain Kirk's and Mr. Spock's future starship owes its name to us in Casco Bay — yes, true!" said Adams. Adams' presentation will share the stage with Roll N' Go, the popular Maine-based presenter since 1990 of sea shanties and songs of Down East's maritime heritage. The group has authored several new songs in honor of the sea battle that will make their world premier in honor of the 200th anniversary . For more details contact Friends of The Eastern Prom at http://easternpromenade.org.