Borough to commemorate 1814 skirmish with British

Along with the British attack on Fort Griswold in 1781 and Capt. John Mason's 1637 attack on the Pequot Fort in Mystic, the 1814 Battle of Stonington is arguably one of the region's most significant military events.

Beginning this month and culminating the week of Aug 9-10, the Stonington Historical Society and other local organizations will celebrate the bicentennial of the battle with a long list of events. These include an Aug. 10 parade and commemoration, exhibits, lectures with battle experts, concerts, battled themed walking tours, cruises and a rare public display of the tattered flag that flew over the village during the battle. Most of the events are free and open to the public.

During a four-day period in early August of 1814, five British Royal Navy ships commanded by Commodore Thomas Masterman Hardy attacked the village after residents refused to surrender. Using three cannons, two of which are on display today in Cannon Square, the residents repelled the attack which damaged many borough homes leaving cannonballs in their wall.

"It was victory at a time when there were not many victories for the country,' said Mary Beth Baker, the executive director of the historical society. "And it was a victory in a state that had reservations about the war. It was a way for Connecticut to rally behind the cause."

She said the battle was the talk of the country at the time but was overshadowed two weeks later by the attack and burning of Washington, D.C., by the British.

"But locally it remained well known," she said.

The town began commemorating the battle a year later with annual multi-day celebrations.

"It overshadowed even the Fourth of July each year," Baker said.

The centennial celebration in 1914 featured five U.S. Navy destroyers that converged near Stonington Point along with a "pageant parade" with 1,400 participants, as well as motorboat races.

After World War I, she said the celebration began to decline in prominence. At some point it ceased.

Planning for this year's celebration began in 2011. It is being underwritten by Dime Bank, which overlooks Cannon Square, the Stonington Village Improvement Association, the Stonington Historical Society, and a group of patrons.

Among the many organizations participating in the event are the New England Science and Sailing Foundation, the Portuguese Holy Ghost Society, the Stonington Community Center and Mystic Seaport. Other partners include the Warden and Burgesses, the Coast Guard Academy, the Stonington Police Department, the Stonington Ambulance Corps, the Borough Merchants Association, and others.

"The historical society felt we should step up and get people interested in it again," Baker said about the thought behind this summer's events.

The historical society also plans to release a new book before the celebration weekend by local author Jim Geary entitled "Our Flag is Still Here: The Story of Stonington's Star Spangled Banner - A Scrapbook History."

An exhibit entitled, "Sixteen Stars, Sixteen Stripes: A Celebration of the Battle of 1814," opened July 11 at the La Grua Center. The exhibit is open free of charge weekdays from noon to 4 p.m., Saturdays from noon to 3 p.m. and Aug. 9 and 10 from noon to 4 p.m.

J.WOJTAS@THEDAY.COM

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