Independence Day (also our dear brother’s birthday) is right around the corner, so it seems like a good time to relate the further adventures of our Tukey ancestors in Falmouth, Massachusetts (aka Portland, Maine), for both the family and the place played a part in the Revolutionary War. Although we celebrate the birth of our country on July 4th, the day that our brave founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence, the war for freedom from Great Britain started more than a year earlier, in April 1775, at the Battles of Lexington and Concord.
Throughout the summer and fall of 1775, the British Navy attacked ports up and down the coast from Boston north, and the coastal towns fought back. In May, the men of Falmouth captured Lieutenant Henry Mowat of the HMS Canceaux only to release him shortly afterward (a serious mistake), and in June the people of Machias captured the HMS Margaretta and killed its captain. In July, our ancestor Stephen Tukey enlisted in Captain Noyes’s company which mustered to defend Falmouth. Meanwhile, the newly freed Henry Mowat began a punitive expedition against the coastal towns, and on October 18th, 1775, he bombarded Falmouth for several hours and then landed men to set fire to whatever buildings still stood. (To be fair, he had offered the citizens a chance to surrender and swear fealty to King George. They declined.) During the ensuing battle in which Stephen Tukey took part, several of Mowat’s men were killed, though they succeeded in burning down Falmouth, thus leaving its citizens homeless and destitute. The patriots rebuilt and kept fighting.
The war raged on. In 1779, the Americans launched what would be their largest naval campaign of the war, an effort to expel the British from Penobscot Bay. The expedition was an unmitigated disaster because the American commanders, Saltonstall and Lovell, couldn’t agree on what to do and fell prey to their own disorganization, and the British were better equipped, led and trained. One article assessed the American fleet’s weaknesses thus:
“…most of the 900 officers and enlisted men were militia soldiers from Massachusetts or Maine, augmented by 300 Continental marines. Fully 500 more militia conscripts failed to report at Townsend, nearly one-third of the number ordered to do so. Untrained as a unit, few of the men in the expedition had any experience in making an amphibious landing on a hostile shore. Likewise, the 18 armed warships, mounting 334 cannons and augmented by three colonial vessels and 12 privateers, had no prior training together as a fleet. Even worse, the privateers had no military experience acting under orders from a fleet commodore”.
Stephen Tukey and his brother Houchin participated in the ill-fated expedition. Both served in Captain Peter Warren’s Company of Jonathan Mitchell’s Regiment, Stephen as a Sergeant and Houchin a private. And wouldn’t you know — one of the major players on the British side was none other than Henry Mowat, now a captain in command of several ships.
The Americans ended up burning most of their own fleet and making their way home overland in small groups. Commodore Saltonstall was court-marshalled afterward, and Paul Revere, who had commanded the artillery train, was accused of disobeying orders and of cowardice. It’s quite a story. You can read more about it here or try Bernard Cornwell’s novel, The Fort. (I have never read any Cornwell but might have to check it out.)
All in all, Stephen Tukey served for something like 8 months, but those months were full of action and peril. Maybe he didn’t do anything wildly memorable, but he did his part and deserves our respect. Stephen married Hannah Cushing sometime during the war, had at least five children, and lived to the ripe old age of 79.
This July 4th raise your glass to those doughty men and women to whom we owe our country. If only we were better at living up to their example.