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The War of 1812 in Connecticut--Groton Bank, Fort Griswold and the
Thames River Harbor
The Thames River Harbor, generally called New London Harbor, was
Connecticut's major center of continuous activity and strongest area of defense in the War of 1812. Beginning
June 1, 1813, a British fleet, commanded by Sir Thomas Hardy, chased Commodore Stephen Decatur's three ship squadron
into the Thames River and blockaded them here until the end of the War. Decatur quickly recognized that Fort Griswold,
high on the hill above the village of Groton Bank, was in an emminent position to defend the harbor and he helped strengthen
it with cannon from his ships before his squadron sought refuge further up the river.
Remembering the British bloody massacre of colonists here in 1781, and
fearing a repeat, residents were in a panic and began evacuating themselves and valuable belongings from Groton Bank
and New London in the early days of June 1813. At this time Groton Bank's
"Mother" (Anna Warner) Bailey became a national heroine for the act of removing her flannel petticoat
while crossing Thames Street and giving it to soldiers for cannon wadding. In contrast to 1781, the
Governor quickly deployed thousands of Connecticut State Militia principally assigned to Fort Griswold and points along
the Groton bank of the Thames River, and also to the smaller shore-level Fort Trumbull, the area's military headquarters in
New London. These troops were in addition to Connecticut Eighth Regiment of Volunteers, commanded by Groton Bank's Major
Noyes Barber. In addition, on June 19, 1813 the Secretary of War ordered that Fort Griswold be put in complete repair.
When an attack no longer seemed imminent residents of both towns returned.
For 20 months from mid-1813 through 1814 the British fleet off
the mouth of the river was frequently maneuvering and exercising their guns, keeping residents of Groton Bank and New
London in constant fear of an attack. But an attack never occurred here perhaps due to the the strong harbor
defense. Eastern Long Island Sound, off the mouth of the Thames River, was the British command center. On
June 25, 1813 the American "torpedo" ship "Eagle" exploded while being brought to the war ship of the British
commander causing him to intensify actions in Long Island Sound. By autumn 1813 more British war ships were
stationed off the mouth of the Thames River than any where on the American coast. The British fleet blockaded
trade, captured or burned many American vessels, fired on several of Connecticut's lesser defended coastal towns, and ordered
a number of raids along our coast including the Nov. 28, 1813 Battle at Roger's farm west of New London, the April
5, 1814 raid on Essex, the Aug 9-12, 1814 Battle of Stonington, and the Aug 12, 1814 Battle of Groton
An attack on Groton and New London never occurred probably due to
the strong harbor defenses at Fort Griswold and along the banks of the Thames River.
For a detailed account of the
"Thames River and Fort Griswold in the War of 1812"
see Connecticut History,
Vol. 52, No. 1, pp. 64-74 (Spring 2013).
June 14, 2014--The City of Groton's Summer in the City program in conjunction
with Connecticut Open House Day will feature a walking tour of the village of Groton Bank and a number of its historic
buildings will be open to the public. An approximately hour-long walking tour led by GBHA president Tom Althuis
will start at 10 AM at the Groton Monument, go through Fort Griswold (site of the 1781 Revolutionary War battle
and Connecticut's major defense in the War of 1812), past the Enz. Ebenezer Avery House in the Fort, and point out a variety
of architectural styles and notable historical events that occurred along Thames, Broad and Monument Streets.
Buildings along the tour and open to the public free of charge from 11AM to 3PM will be manned
by their respective organizations:
Groton Monument (1830) and Monument House Museum
Fort Griswold (1775) and Enz. Ebenezer Avery House (c. 1750)
- Avery-Copp Museum (early 1800s)
Mother Bailey House (Dr. Amos Prentice house of 1782)
Groton Congregational Church (1901)
Bill Memorial Library and Museum (1890)
Lite refreshments will be available
at some of the sites.
2013-14 Meetings of the Groton Bank Historical Association
FALL MEETING--Nov 11, 2013, 7 PM at Groton Conregational Church, 162 Monument
"Everyting You wanted to know about Groton Bank, Part II." This
meeting will focus on the history of churches on Groton Bank and organizations associated with Fort Griswold. Speakers
Barbara Frucht, Lorraine Chappell, Janet Purinton and Cathy Jonson will share the history of the Groton Heights
Baptist Church (originally the Groton Bank Baptist Church, the Groton Congregational Church, the Anna Warner Bailey
Chapter of the DAR and the Avery Family Association.
WINTER MEETING--January 27, 2014: Jim Streeter, Groton Town historian
and GBHA member, will speak about Civil War Veteran Robert A. Gray, a resident of Groton Bank and the only person from
Groton to win the Medal of Honor. Meeting will be at 7:00PM at the Groton Congregational Church, 162
Monument Street, Groton, CT preceed by a social gathering at 6:30PM.
SPRING MEETING--April 14, 2014: Kevin Johnson, of the CT State
Library's History and Genelogical Unit, will portray "Jordan Freeman: The Fight to Set a People Free". Freeman
was the body servant of Col. Ledyard, commander of Fort Griswold during the American Revolution and Benedict Arnold's
assult that occurred there on September 6, 1781. Freeman was one of the two black defenders of the Fort
in that battle.
2013 Meetings of the Groton Bank Historical Association
CANCELLED WINTER MEETING: Feb 11, 2013, 7pm Groton Congregational Church 162 Monument Street Groton, Connecticut.
Program: Everything you wanted to know about Groton Bank Part II: History of Churches, Organizations associated with Fort
Griswold, and Historic Artistic presentations. Speakers include Lorraine Chappell-Groton Congregational Church, Cathy Johnson-Avery
Memorial Family Association, and Barbara Morin-DAR. Liz McGee-noted Watercolor Artist, will present some of her works on local
historic sites. Refreshements will be served beginning at 6:30 pm.
SPRING/ANNUAL MEETING: April 29, 2013 "Groton Bank and the War of 1812", Speaker: Tom Althuis,
president of GBHA. The Thames Harbor with New London on the west and Groton Bank on the east was clearly
Connecticut's major arena of continuous activity in the War of 1812. On June 1, 1813 the British fleet chased
Commodore Stephen Decatur and his 3 ship squadron (the "United States", the "Macedonian" and the "Hornet," comprising
1/5th or more of the US Navy) in to the river and blockaded them there for the remainder of the war. British
war ships manevering in eastern Long Island Sound off the mouth of the Thames River first produced panic and then continued
fears among local residents that an attack was eminent. For the next 20 months the blocade of this port became a British
center of activity and had a severe economic effect essentially curtailing trade not only in the harbor but Long
Island Sound as well. Constant fear of an attack led to continued improvements in coastal defense. At Groton Bank, Fort
Griswold, 150 feet above sea level, with a battery 75 feet above the river, was the most significant defense for the
harbor and the state. Decatur helped to reinforce it in the early days of June 1813 as did troop regiments and improvements
continued through the year. The smaller Fort Trumbull at water level in New London was the district's military
headquarters. But most of the militia, at times approaching two thousand men, were stationed on the Groton
side of the river. The strong force at, and the strategic location of Fort Griswold coupled with
Fort Trumbull less than a mile across the river probably discouraged the British from attacking this harbor
as they did Sept. 6, 1781 during the Revolutionary War. After all any cannon shot coming from either
of the Forts could strike an enemy ship anywhere in the entrance of the river. What happened here is a largely ignored story
of successful harbor defense. Nevertheless in late 1813 through 1814, constant harassment by the British ships resulted
in skirmishes, capture of some American ships, a number of raids and some small battles elsewhere along
the Connecticut coast.
2011-2012 Meetings of the Groton
Bank Historical Association
|Click image to enlarge
November 12, 2012--"Everything you wanted to know about Groton Bank: Part I, "What's happening withThames Street
and the Mother Bailey House", Marion Galbraith, Mayor, City of Groton Part II, "Avery Copp Museum" Leslie
Evans, Curator; "Frederic Bill and others", Hali Keeler, Director, Bill Memorial Library
April 16, 2012 (Annual Meeting): Joanna Negri, owner of English Borders in North Stonington, will
speak about "Histories of the English Garden". Joanna specializes in perennial garden design and eco-friendly
gardening. She has a keen interest in the history of colonial homes and people who settled this area. She
and her husband have appeared in HGTV's "If Walls Could Talk", a show exploring historic homes and their hidden stories.
Joanna was born a stone's throw away from the famous Kew Gardens in London, England where childhood walks instilled
in her a life-long love of plants. Originally trained as a research chemist, in 2005 she followed her bliss
and made working with plants her profession. She is passionate about sustainable organic gardening and working in harmony
with both nature and architecture.
Joanna's talk promises to be filled with ideas that could be applied to lawns/gardens in our historic neighborhood.
February 6, 2012: Dr. Glenn Gordinier of Mystic Seaport and the University of Connecticut at Avery Point
spoke about "The War of 1812, Connecticut, and Groton Bank". He put Groton Bank in context of the larger developments
of the war and included comments about Mother Bailey and other Groton Bank residents of the time.
The War of 1812 became a serious concern for Groton Bank on June 1, 1813 when the British fleet blockaded Commodore
Decatur's squadron in New London Harbor for the remainder of the War. Area residents remembered Benedict Arnold's bloody
September 6, 1781 attack on Groton and New London. Fearing a repeat, the militia was sent out, forts were reinforced
and women, children and portable possessions were evacuated. Although there were a number of times in 1813 and 1814
that a British attack seemed emment, an invasion attempt never materialized perhaps due to better fortifications
and more manpower on land than we had during the Revolution.
Glenn is a visiting scholar at U. CT Avery Point and the Robert C. Albion Historian and co-director
of the Frank C. Munson Institute of American Maritime Studies at Mystic Seaport. He is also writing a book, "Rockets
Red Glare" in conjunction with a Lyman Allyn Museum exhibit on the War of 1812.
November 14, 2011: GBHA president Tom Althuis kicked-off the association's 40th season by stepping back
in time with a visit to Groton Bank more than a century ago. Using slides of old photos of houses, businesses and maps,
Tom took the audience on a tour of sites and architecture, describing historical events and people that made the growing
village of Groton Bank notable in local, state, national and occasionally even world history. Did you know:
- The largest ship in colonial America was launched here in 1725 and shipbuilding here has set records
- Almost all men who lived in the village were killed or wounded in 1781 during the Revolutionary War Battle
at Fort Griswold.
- A heroin of the War of 1812 who lived on Thames St. received national attention later to be visited here
by 3 U.S. Presidents.
- The most notabe and successful sea captains of the whaling era lived here.
- Groton Bank is an architectural gem with colonial to Victorian styles.
- Ferries were the only form of transportation across the Thames River until the first railroad bridge
opened in 1889 followed by the first car bridge in 1919.
Come join your friends and neighbors and learn about the people who lived in our neighborhood and
what happened here a century ago.
Unless otherwise noted, meetings are held at 7 PM in Fellowship Hall at the Groton Congregational Church,
162 Monument Street, Groton CT and preceded by coffee/tea and desserts at 6:30 PM
Some examples of historic houses, buildings and sites at