In Connecticut there remain heroes, heroines, sites, and poetry that represent the War of 1812. Fairfield County’s 1814 Powder House, the only such structure from the war in the state, enjoyed an award-winning restoration only a few years ago. Heavily built of local stone and covered with a cedar shingle roof, the building attests to the ongoing threat posed by the Royal Navy even along the western part of the Connecticut coast. The structure can be seen on the hill behind Fairfield’s Tomlinson Middle School. The twenty-first century buzzes around the building, which sits halfway between the Old Post Road and I-95, but in the tense days of 1814, it was strategically located to supply coastal defense forts with gunpowder.

One can also visit the sites of a number of coastal batteries along the western reaches of the Connecticut coast. The location of the 1812 fort protecting Bridgeport Harbor can be seen today just behind the black Tongue Point Lighthouse. Militiamen fired on the privateer Liverpool Packet from this battery. The reconstructed Black Rock Fort, renamed Fort Nathan Hale, can be found adjacent to Coast Guard Station New Haven on the eastern shore of that harbor. A larger, Civil War-era fortification lies behind the earlier battery. The promontory a short distance away, then called Beacon Hill, was also the site of earthworks in what is now Fort Wooster Park. Also near New Haven, the Eli Whitney Museum preserves the site, and the spirit of innovation, of Whitney’s armory, which produced so many muskets used in the War of 1812 (though most of the existing structures were built after the war). In Guilford, the Henry Whitfield State Museum displays artifacts of Captain Frederick Lee of the revenue cutter Eagle and a cannon from the war.

Hartford is the site of the historic 1796 Old State House, then one of Connecticut’s two capitol buildings. The classic structure was also the venue for the controversial Hartford Convention. The building, with its Senate Chamber where the secret meetings were held, houses a fine historic exhibit and welcomes visitors.

Essex remains a classic New England village with its Main Street running, literally, into the Connecticut River. A visit to the lower reaches of the village still evokes that fearful night in April 1814 when British forces fired into and took control of that vital river port. The Connecticut River Museum, on the waterfront, contains artifacts of the attack.

British raiding parties entered almost every creek between Branford and Mystic during the war. In Clinton, a cannon commemorates the repulse of an assault. Fort Saybrook Monument Park in Old Saybrook marks the site of that historic defensive position at the mouth of the Connecticut River. In Niantic, the site of the Rope Ferry Bridge that burned during a British attack is near the current road and railroad bridges. Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford occupies Goshen Point, off which a three-hour naval engagement occurred in 1814. Rogers’s farm and a saltworks in the vicinity of Ocean Beach, New London, were repeatedly attacked by British cannon fire.

In New London, the site of James and Elizabeth Stewart’s home is next to the Old Town Mill, which still stands beneath the southbound span of the I-95 Gold Star Memorial Bridge over the Thames River. On Bank Street, the doors of the customhouse—home to the New London Maritime Society—are made of wood from the USS Constitution. Across Bank Street, the Bulkeley House was home to Captain Charles Bulkeley, Revolutionary and War of 1812 privateer. At the head of State Street stands the 1784 courthouse in which was held the grand peace ball in February 1815.

The environs of Forts Trumbull and Griswold are easily found and accessible on their respective sides of the Thames River. Fort Trumbull, close to sea level in New London is an evocative site but, except for an earlier magazine building, it is dominated by an imposing Civil War-era granite fortification. Fort Griswold’s footprint atop Groton Bank on the eastern shore is similar to what militiaman Samuel Goodrich saw in 1813, but is more redolent of the bloody tragedy of September 1781.

The home of Mother Anna Warner Bailey was recently purchased by the City of Groton, which plans to renovate the historic structure. Bailey, who had seen with her own eyes the horror of the 1781 debacle at Fort Griswold, turned out in 1813 to contribute her petticoats when another attack on Groton Bank seemed imminent. As a resolute patriot, the aging tavern-keeper became a celebrity, and visitors—including three American presidents—came to meet her through the years. The “Mother Bailey” House can be seen at the corner of Thames and Broad Streets in Groton, not far from Fort Griswold. This heroine’s tombstone stands in the Starr Cemetery in Groton.

At Gales Ferry on the Groton side of the Thames River, north of today’s US Submarine Base, one can walk the promontory that guarded the blockaded American warships in 1813. Fort Decatur held a commanding view of the waterway, and the Commodore’s squadron was never challenged there at the foot of “Allyn’s Mountain.” An impressive remnant of the thwarted British threat is visible, however, in the form of a large ringbolt embedded in a riverside rock. The ring is said to have been the eastern anchor of a defensive chain that spanned the river.


As British ships threatened Stonington on August 9, 1814, the defenders of the village turned to these two 18-pound cannons, which had been manufactured in Salisbury, Connecticut, in 1781. Hauled out of storage and placed behind a breastwork on the west side of Stonington Point along with one smaller cannon, they opposed more than 160 cannons on the British attacking ships. Despite a shortage of gunpowder, local volunteers and militia used them to discourage landing parties, score a number of direct hits on HMS Dispatch, and contribute to the eventual withdrawal of the British squadron. In 1876 they were formally transferred to the Borough of Stonington by the federal government and placed in a park now known as Cannon Square. (Courtesy of Mystic Seaport, Mystic, CT; Photographer: Dennis Murphy)


Stonington Borough, with an 1814 monument at its point and the two cannon that actually defended the town now preserved on Cannon Square, cannot help but spark the visitor’s imagination. Perhaps even more evocative are the several 215-pound “carcasses” fired by HMS Terror that can be found on granite posts here and there about the village. The Stonington Historical Society contains artifacts of the battle. Just half a mile up North Main Street one can also find the final resting place of the young British officer, Thomas Powers. His obelisk, purchased by his fellow officers in HMS Superb and now discolored by time, stands as a touching reminder of the pathos of war.

For a lighter sensibility one can consider a name associated with Connecticut—though not by birth or residence—Phillip Freneau. Well known in his day,

Freneau had been a sailor and privateer during the War for Independence, but was more importantly a close friend of James Madison. The editor of the Democratic Party mouthpiece, The National Gazette, Freneau used his writing skills to help the Jeffersonian party in its assaults on Federalist policies. Also known as the “Poet of the American Revolution,” Freneau penned the witty, and once popular poem, “The Battle of Stonington on the Seaboard of Connecticut,” celebrating the attack in 1814. One still chuckles when reading, in Freneau’s words, how “They killed a goose, they killed a hen/Three hogs they wounded in a pen,” and how “It cost the King ten thousand pounds/To have a dash at Stonington.”

Largely ignored today, the War of 1812 deserves our attention and understanding. It helped change the face of Connecticut from a rural state that engaged in the Atlantic marketplace to a leading industrial center, whose maritime activities in its western reaches were dominated by New York port, as its eastern ports changed their focus to sealing, whaling, the fisheries, and shipbuilding. The War of 1812 also changed the character of the nation, a nation that found itself at war’s end on the brink of rapid expansion, technological revolution, and a forthcoming status as a challenger in the global marketplace. The war deserves to be remembered for the suffering and sacrifice of its generation, as well as for its role as a catalyst that triggered a “Golden Age” in America’s maturity and modernization.

By Glenn S. Gordinier, PhD
Williams-Mystic, the Maritime Studies Program of Williams College and Mystic Seaport, Mystic, CT