April 19, 2017

The War of 1812

Correspondence from Boston to Salem Selectmen
When the War of 1812 broke out in June of that year, Salem's once bustling seaport and maritime industry had been waning for close to a decade. Following acts such as Jefferson's Embargo of 1807, Salem's once vibrant waterfront was forced into a decline. With more restrictions placed on foreign trade, and the growing war between Britain and France threatening all maritime travel, many once prominent mariners were now without an income.

Contrary to popular belief, the War of 1812, lasted almost three years. In April 1814, the U.S.S. Constitution was being pursued by two British vessels, HM frigates Tenedos and Junon. After being chased out of Boston Harbor, the Constitution sought refuge in Marblehead Harbor. The Tenedos and Junon continued their pursuit and anchored just outside the harbor, trapping the Constitution. Unsure of Marblehead's Fort Sewall's strength against the two well armed British frigates, the Constitution's only choice was to escape Marblehead Harbor and flee to Salem. Which it narrowly did. After about a week, the frigates abandoned their pursuit and the Constitution was able to return safely to Boston.

July 1814, Fort Sullivan in Maine (then part of Massachusetts) was conquered by British ships. Forts across New England began intense fortification, including the construction of a new fort in Boston, with a certainty that an attack on the city was imminent. Multiple cities along the eastern coast were attacked by British forces, including Orleans on Cape Cod. However, British cannonballs fell short of land and the town remained undamaged.

The signing of the Treaty of Ghent marked the end of the war as an impasse on December 24, 1814. However, news of the treaty took close to a month to reach all naval forces. Additional warfare ensued until February 1815 with the ratification of the Treaty of Ghent by President James Madison and the U.S. Senate.


*Written and researched by Jen Ratliff for use by Salem Historical Society.