I have a special challenge including those interested in Newburyport’s history and that includes the serious amateur and professional historians as well. I have been unable to confirm the following assertions that I have caught in some anecdotal accounts found in writings not necessarily from Newburyport. Accompanying them are accounts though obscure that seem to affirm these assertions, even confirming the whereabouts and activities.
As far as I am concerned, this will be firmly in the “legends” section and repeated by over enthusiastic tour guides. Nevertheless, there is enough evidence that some version of the account is true. What we need is proof.
You see, the early official published accounts for Newburyport’s history were written often by later historians in the late 19th and early 20th century. Not casting negative aspersions their way, the touchy subjects of privateering and smuggling and the Triangle Trade were not aggressively covered. By the time the accounts were made, the respectable stories of great men, internationally-connected merchants and magnificent clipper ships were the pride of the City. There was little to connect them to the amazing world of fabulous wealth and dark industries so these subjects were lightly handled. Why else would the smuggler tunnels be hidden until the 70’s? Even today, in Salem, MA; there are many who are lividly opposed to capitalizing Salem’s involvement in witchcraft or its privateering past; many won’t step inside the Witch Museum or cross the threshold of the Pirate Museum. They would prefer to be known as the place of Macintyre’s handiwork or tell of the china merchants, not vaudeville acts. Such Wild subjects take away from the respectability of history or so say the ‘respectable historian’.
But even the detractors will admit it’s these kinds of things that ‘pay the bills’. Such a thing is just what we need to emphasize heritage tourism in Newburyport. Therefore, we need to verify these ‘stories’.
Here is the legend:
After the dramatic damage that Newburyport inflicted upon British shipping during the Revolutionary War, the Royal Admiralty decided to blockade the mouth of the Merrimack. During this blockade, a British expeditionary force attempted to land near Deer Island. The young soldiers plied their way up the forest path heading toward approximately where Storey Avenue is today. They did not get very far when they encountered a large contingency of Newbury farmers and armed militia from Newburyport. Greatly taken aback, after a few shots were fired, the soldiers high tailed it back onto the boats and returned to the siege ships off Plum Island.
So, here is the question. Was the harbor blockaded at all? If so, how long did the British blockade last? How successful were they in their blockade since historical records do confirm Newburyport fielding a rather successful privateering fleet? Did the expeditionary force ever exist? Is the forest which lies now buried beneath Vinyl Village the actual place of their landing and small skirmish? Did the skirmish occur actually in the Revolutionary War time period? And finally, are there any firm historical records that can establish the fact and details of this entire event?
Okay, readers, this is your holiday homework (or Christmas Challenge).
See what you can find and tell us all. And no, the answer is not found on page 92 (as magazines are fond to do.)