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ESSEX - Two hundred years ago, visitors would have approached Essex by boat, walking up Main Street through the bustling boatyards, rubbing shoulders with shipwrights, rope makers, ship carvers, and "all manner of tradesmen," Christopher Dobbs, executive director of the Connecticut River Museum, explains.
"Essex life had a unique focus on the river and the world and markets beyond, out to Long Island Sound and then the ocean," Dobbs says.
The river and the access it provided sent Essex ships out into the world, and brought the world to Essex. That world included war, specifically the War of 1812. In 1814 British ships sailed up the river, launching raiding parties that made their way into the town through the docks and shipyards at the foot of Main Street. Through this action, in which 27 vessels were burned, but no lives lost, Essex has been cited as Connecticut's first official battle site of the War of 1812 and is recognized by the State Register of Historic Places.
On Friday and Saturday, May 9 and 10, Essex hosts a weekend of history, remembrance, and commemoration. Experience re-enactments, narrated boat tours, a parade, historic walking tours, house tours, period teas, musical events, an evening ball, and more.
Saturday professional re-enactors from Maryland will present a historically accurate portrayal of British officers, soldiers, and marines attacking and patrolling the town, while Connecticut-based re-enactors Free Men of the Sea will play the parts of the local militia attempting to defend the town.
Additionally, there will be narrated boating excursions tracing the events that occurred along the Connecticut River, historic walking tours, special exhibits, period dining, and musical events and even an 1814 commemoration ball. These events will surround the Commemoration Day Parade, also known as the Burning of the Ships Parade, hosted and led by the Sailing Masters of 1812, a fife and drum corps. This year will mark the parade's 46th anniversary.
The Battle of Essex Remembered
• Historic Night at the Griswold Inn: 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. A historic candelight supper featuring period classical music, costumed waitstaff, and traditional fare. Reservations recommended; call 860-767-1776 or visit www.griswoldinn.com.
• A Spirited Musical Evening: 8:30 to 10:30 p.m. Long Splice performs in the Griswold Inn's Tap Room.
• Narrated Boat Tours: 9:30 and 11:45 a.m. Explore the river and hidden battle site locations aboard RiverQuest. Depart from Essex waterfront.
• Other Morning Activities: Community rowboat racings at the Connecticut River Museum and an 1812 Tea at the Pratt House.
• Annual Commemoration Day Parade: 2 p.m. Begins at Essex Town Hall and ends on waterfront. Features fife and drums and bagpipes.
• Re-enactment of British Landing: 3 p.m.
• Tavern Night at the Gris: 8 to 11 p.m. Features sea shanties and songs of the 1812 era performed by The Jovial Crew.
• Annual Regency Ball: 8 to 11 p.m. Hosted by the Sailing Masters at Essex Town Hall.