Burning of Falmouth, 1775

Engraving of the burning of Falmouth, from c.1782. Original in the collection of the Library of Congress.

Location Falmouth, Massachusetts

In 1775, while the British Army was under siege in Boston by rebel forces, the Royal Navy was directed to support them by running in supplies and suppressing the Patriot movement. In October, one of the towns that was targeted was Falmouth, Massachusetts (now Portland, Maine). Falmouth had been the scene of a Patriot seizure of cargo ships headed for Boston earlier in the year, making it a logical target, and a squadron, led by Captain Henry Mowat, arrived on the 16th. The next day, Mowat sent a messenger ashore announcing the upcoming bombardment, and giving the town two hours to evacuate. Upon requests for mercy, Mowat gave the town the opportunity to swear allegiance to the King and hand over their arms and munitions. Only a few muskets were turned in, and the squadron began firing at 9:40 the next morning. Incendiary shot was used to set the major buildings on fire, and most of the town was ablaze by 6 pm when Mowat ordered a cease fire, and sent a landing party ashore to finish any buildings still standing. Eleven small ships were also destroyed, with another four taken when the British left. One British marine was killed during the landing. The major effect of the raid was to stiffen efforts against the British, and prompt the Continental Congress to issue letters of marque for privateers. Roughly 1,000 people of the 2,500 living in Falmouth were left homeless, and it would take nearly twenty years to rebuild.