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       AN HISTORIC PINT IN THE OLD PORT black and white logo
STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY DAVID McBRIDE

Gritty McDuff's in Portland, Maine as seen in American Public House Review
GRITTY MCDUFF'S BREWPUB IN PORTLAND, MAINE



My 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 and 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 overlooks Boothbay Harbor.  There are no televisions, so when we are at the house 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 was a 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 world in general, with a noticeable enthusiasm that keeps you hooked and the pages turning.

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 knew 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 GEORGE WASHINGTON'S SECRET NAVY  as seen in American Public House Review
JAMES L NELSON'S ENGAGING BOOK

Portland 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 section 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.



Portland Harbor in Portland, Maine as seen in American Public House Review
 PORTLAND HARBOR



In 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 shock 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 it mean to the lead up to war?  Fascinated by the book, I decided to look 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 event 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."


Q: "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 write this book?"

A: "It's 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 educational."




Gritty McDuff's Brewpub bar in Portland, Maine as seen in American Public House Review
A EXCEPTIONAL SELECTION OF GRITTY'S OWN BREWS ARE OFFERED AT THE BAR



Another 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 is part 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 country.  And its history, though also largely forgotten by the rest of the country, is palpable.



Old Port section of Portland, Maine as seen in American Public House Review
OLD PORT SECTION OF PORTLAND, MAINE



Even though it only opened in 1988, GRITTY'S itself blends in perfectly with its historic surroundings.  Walking into the place is not like walking into your typical brewpub.  When you enter Gritty’s, you feel 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 honest, loot. 

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 making 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 Union Jack above Casco Bay, we can still proudly hoist a delicious pint English bitter in the comfortable confines at GRITTY'S.



Gritty McDuff's sign in Portland, Maine as seen in American Public House Review

Mural at Gritty McDuff's in Portland< ME as seen in American Public House Review
EXCELLENT BEERS FRESHLY BREWED

.  .  . PERHAPS WITH HEAVENLY HELP



This 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 what a good book and a great tavern can do for you.



The bar at Gritty Mc Duff's Brewpub in Portland Maine as seen in American Public House Review
Gritty's Bar



Brewer mom in Gritty McDuff's Brewpub in Portland, ME as seen in American Public House Review



GRITTY McDUFF'S


396 FORE STREET
PORTLAND, MAINE 04101


(207) 772-2739


www.grittys.com



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