"Nimrod" has little meaning for most of us in these secular times, but the name of the legendary biblical hunter and Mesopotamian tyrant was once considered fitting for a fast sailing warship. There have been six ships in the British Royal Navy with this name, but the second of these Nimrods is of particular interest this Memorial Day weekend as I sit overlooking the sparkling waters of Buzzards Bay. From this vantage point in June of 1814, I might have seen HMS Nimrod launching her boats to burn the shipping in Wareham.
This HMS Nimrod was a new warship, a Cruizer Clas brig-sloop mounting 18 guns and launched on May 25th, 1812. Over 100 brig-sloops of this design were made during the Napoleonic Wars, but in 1814 Bonaparte was in exile and the British were free to give their attention to the war in North America. The coast of New England was soon dominated by the British navy. Two frigates at Provincetown owned Cape Cod Bay, and the British maintained an anchorage on Naushon Island's Tarpaulin Cove, long a refuge for smugglers and freebooters. From this base, Captain Vincent Newton and HMS Nimrod patrolled Nantucket and Vineyard sounds as well as Buzzards Bay as part of a squadron lead by Commander Paget of the HMS Superb, a 74 gun third rate ship of the line.
Some of the towns on the shore paid the British to spare their property - Nantucket chose neutrality over blockade and starvation - but others like Falmouth at the head of Buzzard's Bay defied the British and received 300 cannonballs worth of broadsides from the Nimrod for their trouble. Aside from the local militia and a few field pieces, the only defense available for the Bay towns were two Jefferson gunboats based in New Bedford. There were shallow draft vessels, 50 feet long and 18 feet wide, with about twenty crew and 2 or three heavy guns. They were utterly outclassed in men and armament by Nimrod, and the gunboats were reduced to hiding in the Acushnet River rather than taking on the British.
The raid on Wareham took place on June 13, 1814. The town was a likely target of opportunity as a center of shipbuilding, iron, and leather manufacturing, and there was even a cotton factory. A number of vessels from Falmouth had taken refuge in the Wareham River at the head of the Bay and there were no fortifications besides the shallow waters of the bay to prevent attack. On the 13th of June, Nimrod took some of Superb's barges and impressing local navigators made her way up the Bay. At 10 O'Clock with a flood tide and fair wind, the Nimrod anchored in the vicinity of Bird Island, about 6 miles from Wareham. Six barges were promptly manned with 220 sailors and marines. Hoisting their lateen sails and shipping their oars, they proceeded two abreast toward Wareham.
The town had warning - Ebenezer Bourne sailed ahead of the British when he spotted them off Mattapoisett and cut overland across the next to alert the selectmen. The militia, however, had only just begun to muster when they were told not to oppose the British because a treaty had been negotiated with the raiders to spare private property. A history of the Town from 1867 describes the events of the raid in detail;
The British came to the turn of the channel---here set a white flag, and proceeded to the lower wharf, where the marines landed---being about 200 in number---paraded on the wharf, and set a sentinel upon the high land back of the village, with orders to let no citizen pass from the village;---and
about this time, [William] Fearing and [Jonathan] Reed approached the enemy with a white handkerchief upon a cane, and made the treaty aforesaid. The enemy then marched up the street, detaching sentries upon the high land, at convenient distances, until they arrived at the Cotton
Factory. This, they set on fire by shooting a Congreve rocket into a post in. the middle
of the first story, and returned, taking the arms and powder at Capt. Bumpus' house, and
threatened to burn the house, if the town stores were not surrendered, which they thought
"About this time, four schooners belonging to Falmouth, and one belonging to Plymouth,
which had put into this port, for safety, were set on fire by the men left with the
barges;—these, and the Factory, as they asserted, not being private property. As they
passed up, they called at Wm. Fearing's store, took something to drink, and went into
his kitchen, took a brand of fire, and proceeded to his ship-yard, immediately in front
of his house, and here set fire to a new brig, nearly finished, upon the stocks, belonging
to said Fearing, he remonstrating and reminding them of their treaty, but they asserting
that she was built for a privateer, put her well on fire, so that she burnt to ashes.
They fired also a ship and brig lying at the wharf, and five sloops, all of which, as well
as the Cotton Factory, were put out. Six vessels were not set on fire. They next took
twelve men as hostages, to prevent our citizens from firing upon them---and hoisting a
white flag, and saying if a gun was fired the hostages would be massacred, embarked.,
having tarried on shore about two hours. About this time, Capt. Israel Fearing assembled
12 men on the opposite side of the Narrows, and showed fight. One of the barges dropped
over that way, and the Narrows citizens begged him not to fire, as a treaty had been made
and hostages taken to insure its performance---whereupon he fell back, to watch their
further movements, kept his men assembled, but, as the hostages were not given up until
they passed below him, he did not fire, and the enemy departed in peace, landing our
citizens on Cromeset Point. The barges formed a line, fired a Congreve rocket into the
air, fired a swivel from the bow of each barge, gave three cheers, and proceeded leisurely
to the brig..."
The damage done in Wareham was more than $20,000, comparable to nearly $1 million today. The ships burned "were identified as the Fair Trader, 444 tons, pierced for eighteen 12-pounders and the brig Independent, 300 tons, pierced for 14 guns and on the stocks ready for launching. The schooners Fancy, Elizabeth and Nancy, all of Falmouth, were also brand new. The value of the cotton factory was estimated at half a million dollars."
Nimrod did not get away completely unscathed. Passing through Quick's Hole at low water about midday the day after the raid, she struck the shore by North Rock on the northeastern part of Nashawena Island, according to a site maintained by the Plymouth Archaeological Rediscovery Project:
"14th June At 5 Weighed— running towards Quick’s Hole. At 11:30 hawled up for the Hole. At 12:30 observed the Brig [Nimrod] to strike the shore. Shortened and furled the sails. Employed getting anchor out astern to Heave her off. Boat from Superb came to our assistance. Got out several of the Guns and Shot. At 3:30 Hove her off & anchored with the Small Bower. At 6 Weighed and stood towards the Superb. At 7:30 anchored off Gay Head."
This bit of detail from Nimrod's own log is a significant piece of information , because tradition had the Nimrod grounding farther up the bay off Round Hill and jettisoning cannon to lighten the ship. In fact, a number of 3 pound cannons were discovered in the 1980s at this spot and have been attributed to the Nimrod, but a convincing case is made here these were from an older ship and not the Nimrod. Nimrod would likely have offloaded some of her armament of heavy carronades at Quick's Hole into the boat sent to her aid by Superb rather than pitching them overboard. The cannons that were found in the bay by the late Henry W. Kendall and David W. Schloerb were part of the Kendall Whaling Museum's collection until that institution merged with the New Bedford Whaling Museum. Three of the cannon were awarded to towns impacted by the Nimrod. Falmouth and Wareham each got one, stored in an alkaline bath of fresh water and sodium carbonate to reverse the ionization of the iron and stabilize the metal for later display. Whether or not they came from the Nimrod, they are truly one of the treasures of the Bay.
HMS Nimrod continued to raid off Rhode Island that summer. She was wrecked on a rock off the coast of Wales in 1827, salvaged, and sold out of naval service. Wareham now has a condominium and yacht club called "British Landing."