annual two week vacation on the coast of Maine is one of mental
decompression. I head down east each year to sit by the harbor
relax away the stresses of life, either from an Adirondack chair or a
barstool. We stay in an old farm house built in 1780 that
Boothbay Harbor. There are no televisions, so when we are at the
entertainment consists of watching the boats roll in and out from the
front porch, playing a little Wiffle Ball, and lots of reading.
Over the last few years I have made it a habit to read the latest book
from acclaimed Maine author James
L. Nelson, who has written terrific
historical works of both fiction and nonfiction. This year’s gem
Revolutionary War book called George Washington’s Secret Navy, about
Washington’s early attempt to disrupt British naval superiority.
Typical of Nelson, it is an incredibly readable account of a pivotal
time in history. He speaks of the period and of the maritime
general, with a noticeable enthusiasm that keeps you hooked and the
The book is filled with fascinating stories about the causes and early
part of the American Revolution. It tells the story of how George
Washington sent a small group of vessels to sea to face the world’s
strongest naval superpower, largely without the knowledge of the
Continental Congress. Among the many stories, most of which I
very little about, it discusses a long forgotten hot-button moment that
lead to the out break of full-scale war in the colonies, the burning of
Falmouth, what is now called Portland, Maine.
JAMES L NELSON'S ENGAGING BOOK
is a town my family and I like to travel to each year, despite
the hour long drive from our seaside farmhouse. The Old Port
is a great place to stroll along the harbor and is filled with great
shops, museums and taverns, like Maine’s first brewpub GRITTY McDUFF'S. This
year, while reading Mr. Nelson’s book, I couldn’t help
but view this town that has long been a favorite of mine in a new light.
October of 1775 the commander of the North American Squadron of the
British Navy, Admiral Samuel Graves, dispatched Lieutenant Henry Mowat
to sail north with orders to “chastise Marblehead, Salem, Newbury Port,
Cape Anne Harbour, Portsmouth, Ipswich, Saco, Falmouth in Casco Bay,
and particularly Mechias…”. In other words, the British wanted to
essentially lay waste to all the seaports that they deemed sympathetic
to the rebel cause. Due to circumstance, Mowat made it as far as
Falmouth and essentially destroyed the town. New England was in
at the news of England’s atrocity, and the even helped galvanize
Americans behind the cause of liberty.
But why has this horrific event been so forgotten? And what did
mean to the lead up to war? Fascinated by the book, I decided to
into this a bit more and contacted James
L. Nelson directly .
|Q: "Mr. Nelson, in your book George
Washington's Secret Navy, I was struck
by the story of the burning of Falmouth (now known as Portland) by the
British in October of 1775. Can you tell me the importance this
had on subsequent events leading up to the start of the war?"
A: "By the Fall of 1775, a lot of Americans still didn't think
we were on
the verge of war. Sure, the shooting had started in Concord and
Lexington, and there had been a few other skirmishes, including Bunker
Hill, but those could be written off as defensive action by the
British. But the burning of Falmouth, a town which had had little
participation in the Revolution, was such a shocking atrocity that many
Americans were forced to realize that the British meant all-out war. A
lot of American fence-sitters were knocked into the Rebel's camp,
exactly what the British did not want to happen."
Q: "Can you
explain why such a shocking and violent event leading up to the
American Revolution seems to be almost completely forgotten?"
A: "Hard to
say. In part, I think because Falmouth and all of Maine was
something of a backwater (still is, and we like it that way) and so it
didn't have the same impact as say an attack on a Massachusetts town.
Also, even though the attack had the effect I mention above, it is hard
to quantify the impact. Not like the immediate cause and effect of
Lexington and Concord."
"I have more than a passing interest in the American Revolution, and
after reading George Washington's Navy I must admit that I learned
quite a few new things. Was this part of your inspiration to
always a goal in writing history to write stuff that people did
not know before. That said, it's nearly impossible to find a subject
that has not been covered by some (there have been other books on
Washington's Navy, for instance). So with that in mind, the other goal
is to tell the story in more detail and with a more readable and
enjoyable style so the reader learns something and has a good time
doing it. I think I am lucky in that I started my career as a novelist.
That helped me hone storytelling skills that I think come in handy with
nonfiction. I want people to enjoy my books, as well as find them
|A EXCEPTIONAL SELECTION OF GRITTY'S OWN BREWS
ARE OFFERED AT
much anticipated tradition during my trips to Maine is a
meeting with an old friend at Portland’s famed brewpub GRITTY McDUFF'S. Besides the
second-to-none quality beer, GRITTY'S
of the Old Port section of Portland that is something like a walk back
in time to a bygone era of New England’s maritime history. Unlike
other New England ports like Boston, Salem, and Marblehead, Portland
gets sometimes forgotten by those looking for a glimpse into the areas
colonial past. But the cobblestone streets and sea-worn, crooked
buildings are as authentic as you will find anywhere in the
And its history, though also largely forgotten by the rest of the
country, is palpable.
|OLD PORT SECTION OF PORTLAND, MAINE
though it only opened in 1988, GRITTY'S
itself blends in perfectly
with its historic surroundings. Walking into the place is not
walking into your typical brewpub. When you enter Gritty’s, you
like you have entered a seaport tavern that may soon be filled with
privateers and fisherman who have just stepped off their schooners and
walked up from the docks to spend their hard-earned, if not always
There is a sort of odd irony here, that GRITTY
McDUFF'S is the perfect
place in Portland to stop when discovering the history of this
rebellious colonial seaport. After all, they are best known for
some of the finest British-style ales you’ll find anywhere in the
thirteen colonies. I suppose that even though we don’t hoist a
Jack above Casco Bay, we can still proudly hoist a delicious pint
English bitter in the comfortable confines at GRITTY'S.
|EXCELLENT BEERS FRESHLY BREWED
|. . . PERHAPS WITH HEAVENLY HELP
year’s trip to Portland was even more memorable then in past
years. Armed with a new appreciation for the city’s legacy,
thanks to James L. Nelson, I suddenly
began to see things that have escaped me
for all these years. I could almost see the tall masts on the
waterfront, or even imagine the cannons firing. I guess that’s
good book and a great tavern can do for you.