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By Roger Chartier


Local New Bedford, Ma. History
Revolutionary War attacks in New Bedford 1778

British fighters Revolutionary war -
1778 Note: Tories were British sympathizers who were loyal to the crown of England. There were many all over the colonies. The wealthy of Boston were mostly Tories as well as much of New York, Newport, Philadelphia and Baltimore. The Quakers are not to be confused with the Tories in that their refusal to bear arms was only due to their religious faith and was not a sign of British sympathies. They were friendly to the American cause just so far as their religion permitted.

1778 August 17
In anticipation of the British invasion:
The selectmen posted a notice in public places ordering inhabitants to move and hide anything of value out into the countryside and get it to a place of safety. The notice mentioned personal, business and public property and also said that after two days, it would be done at the owner's expense. The offer was made to use teams and or vessels if need be to help get this done.

The Fort at Fairhaven on Allen's land (Now Called Fort Phoenix) was prepared to resist an attack from the sea. Eleven cannon were mounted on platforms, and the magazine was full of ammunition and the garrison manned by 32 men under Capt. Timothy Ingraham and Lt. Foster. The barracks would accommodate 200 men.
There were two cannon mounted and working on Clark's point at the south end of present day New Bedford.
People thought this would repel a land invasion. Most ships and boats were moved a little way up river as if that would protect them.
The British invasion was to sail from the Harbor of New London. The invasion fleet consisted of 32 vessels under the command of Rear Admiral Gambier and referred to as the "New Lunnun Fleet" (New London Fleet). General Grey was onboard the largest ship of 40 guns and was the commander of the expedition.

Although no privateers fighting against the British were owned or fitted from New Bedford and mostly came from Connecticut, Boston or Rhode Island, they rendezvoused here, and the British were directed to punish Dartmouth (current New Bedford) for it. The village was a thorn in the side of the British.

A few days before the invasion a company of American artillery had been sent from Boston - eighty four men and four officers. They were entertained at the poor house on Sixth street south of Spring.
The garrison at the fort was there, but the artillery was gone to Stone Bridge other than a detachment with one gun that had just returned the day before the invasion.

There were a lot of citizens away from their homes, and the Quakers would not bear arms. Aside from the afore mentioned soldiery the muster showed less than fifteen able bodied men on this side of the river when the British came.


1778 Sept 4-5
The locals were scrambling to hide their goods in the out-of-the-way places. Storing their food where it could easily be recovered and doing what they could to make their stay in the woods bearable. William Russell who came to new Bedford in 1765 with the Rotches, lived in a house on the southeast corner of Water and School Street. The building since moved. Many of his household goods were moved into the woods.

Unfortunately he had to leave behind a tall clock which he highly prized. He first removed the works and carried them along with grandmother and baby off to Rockdale and hid the works in a stone wall leaving the family in the woods and returning to his house to await the enemy. The house was set on fire but he waited till they left and put out the fire thus saving his home.

Miss Betsey Tinkham lived in a house on the north-west corner of Union and Acushnet Ave (then called Ray Street), in the ancestral home of Daniel Rickettson a local historian.
Miss Tinkham was attending a wedding at Clark's cove on the day of the invasion. She looked out of the window there and saw the fleet of British approaching far down the bay.
She lost interest in the wedding and went home running, stopping at the Rickettson house at the head of the cove to rest for a few minutes then resumed her flight. She got home and packed her valuables into a boat and floated it up the river to supposed safety but they were burned, by the British, boat and all the following night. She along with her neighbors spent several days in the woods.

Jerusha Smith whose husband had been lost at sea was alone with her two little children when a neighbor offered to help. He carried the two year old girl on his back and the woman carried the baby. They went to find sanctuary somewhere. They reached a house where they were refused entry because the children had whooping cough. Another home was more hospitable and took them in saying they were more afraid of the enemy than the whooping cough.

Worth Bates was a soldier and while going down the bay he was the first to spot the enemy on the morning of September 5th.
He landed at the fort then alerted the garrison who fired a signal gun to alert the inhabitants on both sides of the river.


1778 Sept. 5,
Some of the fleet of British ships split off and went eastward passing egg island and landed on Sconticut Neck out of range of the guns on the fort (Fort Phoenix today)..

They landed 4-5,000 soldiers at Clark's Cove near where the old Alm's house later was (see map at the bottom of the page) piloted under the guidance of a traitor, a Dartmouth Tory (Pro-British).
When they landed a traitor named Joe Castle who had worked for Joseph Russell went to the British and acted as their guide. The previous evening he had written in Chalk on Russells barn door " I make no more stone-wall for old Joe Russell".
They created a bridge of small boats to disembark. It took most of the day to disembark and unload the barges.
The soldiers marched down Middle road (likely Brock Ave as it is called today) and across the head of the cove then through a forest path to County Road (County Street) up to Union Street (Then called King Street).

At this point, the troops divided, and one part marched down to the river to Bedford village and proceeded to torch and plunder the abandoned village destroying warehouses and homes and equipment.

The British had also attacked as side excursion into Padanaram, part of South Dartmouth today.
See the entry for the year 1773 for an anecdote about the school house.
On the Sunday morning barges loaded with soldiers were sent to that village and several houses burned.
Most of them belonged to the Aikin (Akin) family, enthusiastic supporters of the American cause.
They had been instrumental in expelling Richard Shearman, Eldad Tupper and William Castle from the vicinity. The first two acted as pilots for the British and Eldad Tupper went by land pointing out what would be of interest for the British to destroy. One house was saved by a stubborn woman who threw water on the soldiers and doused the fire herself.

A Side Note: At that time during the revolutionary war, what is now called Union Street was called King Street..

The story is more involved. As per Rickettson's book of history of the area, originally Union Street was Russell's cart path with a red gate at the top of County (Street) road.

He used it to move his carts etc. down to the river. In later years, the name of the current Union street was changed at some point to King Street and then to Main Street and later in response to patriotic motives of the time changed back to Union Street.

Bedford Village

Almost everything went up in flames the distillery was first, next 11 houses 20 shops and one ropewalk, 7 ships, 1 barque, 1 snow, 8 brigs, 7 schooners, and 10 sloops.
The brig "No Duty On Tea", totally on fire, floated up to Marsh Island and grounded there.

Other burning vessels drifted down river to the islands and Fort Phoenix and grounded there.
Sunken wrecks were a navigational hazard for many years afterward. One stayed on Crow island and others near Rodman's wharf.

An armed vessel was burned, got free from the wharf and floated to come to rest on the west side of Crow Island (the current home of Carl Pimentel). Some time afterwards the cannon were salvaged by diving down and tying a rope to them and hoisting them up.
Benjamin Myrick was drowned diving down to get the last one.

East of Rotch's wharf there was a sunken wreck that was a real problem for navigation for some time. Later near the mid 1800's the federal government cleared one east of Rotch's wharf.
Damage in the money of the day was calculated at $422,680.00 by one source some say as high as $500,000.00.

John Gilbert was hired by Joseph Russell, to move his household goods and was sent back for Russell's wife to get her to a place of safety.
Gilbert got there, but there was a note, Mrs. Russell had departed, but he should take Mrs. Akins instead.

He had the horse ready at the mounting block for Mrs. Akins when she decided that she had to go back in the house because she had forgotten something. (Figures!) He was urging her to hurry, but she took her time until it was too late and the British came marching down the street.

A soldier came up and seized the bridle and ordered him to get off. He didn't answer the Brit but pulled the reins suddenly and the horse knocked the soldier down, and Mr. Gilbert escaped leaving Mrs. Akins standing on the block to watch the parade. She was left unharmed by the British. Officers assured Mrs. Akins of her safety and accompanied her until the parade finished. Gilbert made his escape up Smith Mills Road.
(Rt 6 / Kempton St.)

Gilbert, while on his way told citizens William Hayden and Oliver Potter where the British troops were, and they hid in the wooded area along County Street near the head of North Street. (St. Lawrence Church is built on one corner today)

With muskets, they killed two of the soldiers. This was the first blood shed.

Revenge was swift. Citizens Abram Russell, Thomas Cook and Diah Tafford were armed and trying to leave the village walking by up North Street. They were spotted by the British who fired on them and attacked them with bayonets and sabers.

Russell died the next morning at about 10 AM in Joseph Russell's house, or some say in his barn, where he had been carried after lying in the road all night.

Cook was shot in the leg and bowels, and that shot went through his bladder. He lingered in the road all night and died the next morning.

Trafford was 14 days shy of 21 years old when he was shot in the heart and died instantly after which his face was cut to pieces with sabers.

All three of them had been laying in the open, in the road, all night and were taken into Joseph Russell's the next morning.

There was also a house near the corner of County and North Street, the home of the grandmother of David B. Kempton.
Many years prior she had told him that during the revolution when the British came she, and her children ran out of the house and to the west. While climbing a fence the British shot at them but they weren't hit. They laid down on the ground for a while then ran through the foliage and over the old grounds of the smallpox hospital (near the southern end of the Oak Grove Cemetery today) up to the corner of Rockdale Avenue and Hathaway Road. ( Haskin's Corner).
From there, they went to Smith Mills. They arrived at a friend, Mrs. Mott's house at midnight.

They were shouting to get in, and Mrs. Mott took them to be the British and shouted to her daughter "The regulars are here, the regulars are here!"

The grandmother still outside shouted for all inside to hear "We are regular enough after this journey through the woods, and the distance we traveled makes us perfectly harmless."

Meanwhile, the British had gone into the grandmother's house. Furniture, beds and bedding were destroyed. They threw crockery and light items into the well which was on the west side of County Street.

Kempton's grandmother being near the location of where the soldiers had been shot earlier, recounted the story that she had heard the men who shot the British shouting "Run soldiers, run the woods are full of men!"

The village had at that time an artillery company, but they had gone off to fight at the battle of Rhode Island.
One small part of the group had come back with one cannon.

Lieutenant Gordon the leader was captured by the British. The Lieutenant had gone into a house to get something to eat, and wasn't aware of the British coming.

He managed to seize a cape from one of his guards, and jumped over a wall and fled into the woods to join his command.

Yankee Lieutenant Metcalf with their one cannon saw some action but steadily retreated. At one point Lieutenant Metcalf was mortally wounded and brought to a hotel then at 30 North Water Street. He died there after three days.

William Tobey with his oxen and wagon were almost caught by the British, so he abandoned the wagon and all his possessions in it and fled into the woods.

The road at Head of the River is now known as Acushnet Avenue. A lot of people who fled used that road.

The British called at the house of another man named Dr. Tobey situated near the Head of the River. Since no one was there, they came in and smelling food cooking, went into the cellar, and ate the beans and food that had been cooking in the oven there. In so doing they had left the cellar door open, and it hid the door to the room where all of Dr. Tobey's valuables were. They left none the wiser.

When the British turned east at Lund's corner, they saw a large throng of people in the moonlight and thinking they were minutemen the British did not attack.


In Acushnet, the Brits went to the house of Thomas Hathaway, later known as the Laura Keene Farm located on the west side of the road. (Main Street, Acushnet).

His nephew Jonathan Kempton had been on Sconticut Neck but returned to the house and was leaving with a box of valuables when the British arrived and relieved him of the box. He was taken prisoner but soon made a deal with a soldier to trade an extra pair of pants that he was wearing to let him escape.

The soldier had previously stolen his watch. As Jonathan was running off, the soldier fired a shot to make it appear that it was a real escape. The shot hit a cherry tree. Jonathan then ran back to the house and extinguished the fire that the British had started before they left.
The traitor Tupper led the British to many homes of Yankee American sympathizers.

The next thing that they did was to burn a store belonging to Obed Hathaway. It was on the east side of the road and was filled with East India goods.

Tupper the traitor led them to the house of Bartholemew West, an old and feeble man who was mostly bed ridden. Tupper made the British aware of West's sympathies, and they looted, then burned the house with him still in bed. A woman named Hannah Sogg carried the old man out and put him on a feather bed against a wall in the orchard.

The house burned to the ground, and all that was left was a shed that later was improved and used as a home for the old man until he died.
Among the things taken away from his home was a bible that was in the late 1800's still in the possession of the Forty-Sixth Regiment later known as the Duke of Cornwall's Regiment, Light Infantry, stationed at Plymouth England.


The British were advancing south through Fairhaven and destroyed a store across from the home of Edward A. Dana it too was filled with East India goods. (Dana Farm)

Next the schoolhouse was burned.

They pushed on down the Road (Adam's Street), and Zeuriah Wood's house was set on fire. The family had fled to the woods. They rebuilt, and in following years there were additions to the house.

From the Garrison/fort, (current Fort Phoenix) two guns were fired at the British ships and then the guns spiked and the garrison of men retreated to the north leaving the American flag flying.

The British thinking that the garrison was still manned fired upon it but quit when the garrison did not return fire.

The Americans from the garrison were hiding not far away and waiting to detect where the British soldiers were. The British discovered them and fired upon them wounding a man named Robert Crossman with a ball through his wrist and the other wrist grazed.

John Skiff and his father were captured, but the rest got away and hid all night until the British had passed.

The enemy did not know where the Americans were and how many of them there were. The Brits did not pursue them much further.

The British entered the fort and destroyed what they could. They placed a train of gun powder leading to the magazine and applied a slow match to it. The magazine blew up prematurely and one British soldier was killed. Fragments of his gun, cap and clothes, were found nearby.
The British burned the barracks and guard-house.

While stationed there a party of the British troops had entered the fort. The Fairhaven garrison had abandoned it. After destroying those fortifications at Nabisco Rocks (Fort Phoenix), the British re-embarked onboard their shipping.
On the western shore on Sconticut Neck was the British place of embarkation on land later owned by Daniel W. Deane, they camped until Monday morning. In contradiction, the dispatches of the British General Grey said that they all re-embarked on Sunday September 6, but did not sail until Monday September 7.

Sixteen prisoners were taken on board, to exchange for the same number of British soldiers.

The night after their embarkation at eight o'clock, they attempted to land a large number of troops in Fairhaven in order to burn that village but when they were beginning to land and had set fire to two or three stores. The leader of the garrison, a feeble old man, told the troops there that it was no use to fight, and make any defense of the village.

Major Isreal Fearing came from Wareham with a militia of one hundred or one hundred and fifty men, joined by some from surrounding towns and organized a group of the soldiers that had abandoned the garrison. The British movements had been watched, and Major Fearing placed the men in a good position to meet the enemy. The British did not know that they were waiting.

The actions of the British in burning buildings, and moving towards the positions where the Americans were, demoralized the men in the forward positions, and they would have fled but Major Fearing posted himself at the rear and said that he would shoot anyone who deserted.

At the signal, they fired a tremendous volley into the British ranks.

The enemy fled in disorder. They took to their boats with their dead and wounded, and made good time to their ships in the lower harbor.

The next day the Brits sailed to Martha's Vinyard and Falmouth. They then destroyed many vessels and took money and cattle.

A Fairhaven resident tells a story of a woman who in her haste to get away, abandoned everything she owned other than the clothes she was wearing and her warming pan.

While running through the woods to hide from the British, the pan was banging against trees and branches, and making a loud clanging sound that could easily alert anyone to her whereabouts.

Her companions in the escape protested about carrying the pan any further, but she wouldn't give it up and they felt forced to abandon her.

She was left to battle the enemy single handedly with her warming pan.
Luckily no soldiers came that way.

The Map below shows where the British landed on Clark's Point near the site of the old Alms House
1858 map showing where the British landed in New Bedford in 1778 -
 sailboat -
British Warship 1778 -

Paul Cuffe -
Paul Cuffe
African - American
Whaling Ship Owner / Captain
1759 - 1817
New BEdford Harbor Sketch -
Early Sketch of New Bedford Harbor made in 1762
schoolhouse -n Padanaram 1773 - 45 School Street -
schoolhouse Padanaram 1773 plaque -
School House in Padanaram built 1773
Survived the British attack in 1778