To commemorate the 200th anniversary of a War of 1812 battle that took place in Sag Harbor Village, more than 50 village residents and members of the local American Legion gathered in the rain last Thursday, July 11, to dedicate a new flagpole on High Street.
On July 11, 1813, at 2 a.m., five British barges made an attack on a nameless Sag Harbor fort, and according to the official report of General Abraham Rose, they were “met with a reception so warm and spirited from our militia stationed there, who are entitled to much credit as also many citizens of the place, that they abandoned their object and made a very precipitate retreat.”
The fort that stood on the site was built out of stone and timber in 1810 on High Street, because strategically it could overlook the bay, and the cannons—which shot melon-sized 18-pound and smaller 9-pound munitions—could reach boats in the bay from that location.
Built under the direction of Joseph G. Trotton, whose exact title is unknown, the fort had an officers’ quarters, two sets of barracks, a mess hall, a guard house and a storehouse for gunpowder, weapons and ammunition.
The fort was manned by the 4th Regiment of the New York Artillery, which, according to Dave Thommen, a resident of Rysam Street, which shares the hill with High Street, and a history enthusiast who spearheaded the dedication effort, is the equivalent of today’s Army National Guard. There was a rotating force of 3,000 men assigned to the fort, with about 10 officers and 50 soldiers stationed there at any given time.
The site had previously been marked with a stone back in 1902 but was never dedicated with a formal ceremony. Mr. Thommen, who said he often played on and around the stone as a child pretending to be a soldier, wanted the site dedicated with a flagpole and set to work to get it done before the 200th anniversary of the battle.
He spent two years researching the fort and the battle and, after gathering all the information available, petitioned the Sag Harbor Village Board to not only let him erect the flagpole but be its steward, raising and lowering the flag when necessary.
Mr. Thommen led the ceremonies on July 11 and chose to fly a 15-star and 15-stripe patterned flag, which would have been the flag flying at the Sag Harbor fort when the British attacked. The pattern of flag Mr. Thommen chose is known as “The Star-Spangled Banner” because, as the official flag of the Union until 1818, it was the one flying when Francis Scott Key wrote the national anthem.
Despite no American lives being lost during that battle, two Sag Harbor militiamen, Nathaniel Baker and John Peirson, died at the fort on February 18, 1815. While firing the cannons one last time to celebrate the end of the war, the cannons backfired and exploded.
The flagpole was dedicated by Mr. Thommen to honor both Mr. Baker and Mr. Peirson.
In the coming weeks, the front of the stone will be shaved down and smoothed in order to insert a new plaque describing the fort in better detail than the stone, which reads simply: “On this site stood an American Fort—1812.”