J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, February 07, 2009

“Wrecked on the Back Side of Provincetown”

Boston 1775 takes a short break from CSI: Colonial Boston for this important message—not that we’re trying to sell anything.

The Somerset was the Royal Navy warship anchored in the ferryway between Boston and Charlestown when Paul Revere rowed across the Charles River to start his ride to Lexington. Its firepower later shielded the British troops on their return from Concord. That warship also fired the first cannon shots of the Battle of Bunker Hill, aiming for the provincial soldiers digging a redoubt on the rise called Breed’s Hill.

Later in the war, the Somerset patrolled the New England coast, trying to hinder arms shipments coming into America and privateers leaving America. This description of its ultimate fate comes from Charles Francis Swift’s Cape Cod, the Right Arm of Massachusetts (1897):

Nov. 2-3, 1778, the British war ship Somerset, Capt. Aurey [actually George Ourry], was wrecked on the back side of Provincetown, having, while in pursuit of the French fleet, struck on Peaked Hill bars, and, like many a good craft before and since, was unable to extricate herself. After unavailing efforts to lighten the vessel by throwing over guns and ammunition, a succession of great waves lilted her over the bar and landed her, a helpless wreck, a long way up the beach. There was a rush of people to the wreck to plunder whatever might come ashore.
Twenty-one British sailors died. The rest became prisoners of war. More details here.

His Majesty’s Ship Somerset is a group of Revolutionary-War reenactors. They don’t actually have a 1746 three-masted man-of-war, though they give the impression that if they did they’d know what to do with it. (Be warned: their website plays music at you.)

The latest addition to the group’s website is a gallery of photographs from Bob Conrad of the wreck of the original Somerset, as the tides revealed it in 1973. The National Park Service’s report on the wreck (P.D.F. file here) says that was only the second time that the Somerset’s remains have surfaced in the last two centuries.

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