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Essex - Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, attending the annual Burning of the Ships Parade today commemorating the 198th anniversary of one of the nation's worst maritime disasters, told 300 onlookers congregating at the foot of Main Street that the War of 1812 proved key to cementing America's once-fragile union.
The Revolution, he said, may have forged a nation, thanks partly to Connecticut's role as the "provision state" that churned out needed materials. But the War of 1812 may have saved it, he said, bringing the nation together in its opposition to British imperialism.
And it was the destruction or capture of 27 U.S. ships in Essex Harbor during a nighttime raid in April 1814 -- the largest American maritime loss until Pearl Harbor -- that helped galvanize opposition to the British.
"It's not what battles you lose," Malloy reminded the crowd that braved heat in the 80s. "It's if you win the war. And we did. Twice."
The state Historic Preservation Council earlier this year designated parts of Essex Village as the "British Raid on Essex Battle Site District." Officials from the Connecticut River Museum, whose property once housed the vessels that were targeted and which fought for the state designation, are now hoping the area receives national recognition as a historic battle site within the next year or so.
The Burning of the Ships Parade has been celebrated by Essex for nearly half a century. Sponsored by the Sailing Masters of 1812, the parade featured 14 fife and drum corps this year. Other events included a community rowing competition, an exhibit at the museum, period re-enactors and the annual Regency Ball.
"Any town that would celebrate the worst day in its history is a town with a lot of confidence," said First Selectman Norman Needleman.