Friday, November 4, 2011

The Battle of Falmouth- Part 2

The Battle of Falmouth- this painting hangs in Falmouth Town Hall

"Like an oak that stands unmoved though all the winds employ their ceaseless roar."

Its possible that Falmouth would have been burned to the ground if it not for the assistance of a Tory or loyalist to the British crown named John Slocumb. Slocumb, the owner of a tavern on the island of Pasque, was entertaining the British the night of April second. During the evening, Slocum overheard the officers of the fleet discussing their plans to destroy Falmouth on April third.

Apparently, the soldiers had been rather unkind to Slocumb’s family while spending their time at the tavern. Perhaps it was this ill treatment that convinced Slocumb to warn Falmouth. Perhaps he simply did not want to see the town destroyed, as it was more than likely he had friends and family there. Either way, Slocumb secretly sent his son to Woods Hole during the dead of night to warn to Cape Codders that the British were planning to invade early the next morning and fire the town.

Word came to Joseph Dimmick and the other defenders of the coast. Falmouth began to prepare for invasion by improving the already existing trenches along the beaches close to the town’s main harbor, which is today Surf Drive Beach and Surf Drive Road.

Although the original settlement of Falmouth had grown since its foundation, and stretched as far north as Hog Island (Chappy Island) and Coonamesset Pond, the oldest and most densely settled areas were near modern Mill Rd, modern Main Street, and Woods Hole. If the British landed at what was once Old Stone Dock (Now Surf Drive beach), most of Falmouth would have been vulnerable.

Surf Drive Beach 2011-What remains of Old Stone Dock can still be seen.

If you are wondering, as I did, why the British did not invade the current Falmouth Harbor area, which would provide great access to much of Falmouth’s original settlements, the current Falmouth Harbor was not opened until 1908. It was formerly a small salt pond called Deacon’s Pond.

Deacon's Pond. This area is now Falmouth Harbor
According to Jenkins in Three Lectures on the Early History of the Town of Falmouth, Joseph Dimmick also called for reinforcements from the towns of Sandwich and Barnstable, both of which responded quickly.

The expected invasion came early in the morning of April 3rd. The fleet consisted of two schooners and eight sloops, according to Amelia Forbes in the Early History of Nuashon Island. About 80 men initially arrived at the entrenchments to meet the enemy, including Major Dimmick.

If you compare the following pictures, you can make generalizations about where the trenches might have been along Surf Drive and where most of the battle actually took place.

Town Hall Painting- Old Stone Dock is clearly visible

Surf Drive- Old Stone Dock and Nobska Point beyond
At 11:30AM the British ships opened fire on the town. Sources indicate that the ships fired what the militiamen called “hoits,” which seemed in the source material like some sort of artillery meant to cause initial impact damage, then spread fire throughout the town.

However, as New Englanders know, winter is just wrapping up in early April around here. In April of 1779, the town of Falmouth was just beginning to thaw out. This thaw actually protected Falmouth by preventing canon balls from ricocheting off the ground and spreading damage. The “hoits” would land and only cause damage to whatever they actually hit, but the thawing ground prevented the damage and fire from spreading.

The British soon launched ten boats from their small fleet. All together, these boats contained about 220 soldiers according to Frederick Freeman in The History of Cape Cod. The British attempted to land in several places near Old Stone Dock and along Surf Drive. However, Major Dimmick and the Falmouth militia were already there to meet them.

Although some modern sources claim that Major Dimmick defended the shores of Falmouth with only 50 men, this is a bit misleading. Dimmick had called for reinforcements from the towns of Sandwich and Barnstable. By the time of the battle, the Sandwich militia had arrived. According to Jenkins, four companies were assembled along the coast to meet the British. At least two of these companies were from Sandwich, one commanded by Captain Simeon Fisk.

Combining the numbers of all four companies, there were about 200 militiamen prepared for battle. Major Dimmick was second in command. However, he was himself in command of a group of 25 to 50 men within the trenches along the beach. The accounts of the battle and the actions of Major Dimmick are pretty fantastic.

With canon balls flying overhead, small arms fire pouring from the redcoats in the invading boats, Dimmick and the militia successfully prevented several British attempts to land at the beach. According to Jenkins:
"The most urgent entreaties could not induce Dimmick to protect himself in the trench; he continued to pace the breastwork whilst the balls were flying around him and with every report of the gun would wave his sword in defiance."
Dimmick sounds like he put up a pretty impressive fight. In fact, the quote which began this article was used by Freeman to describe Dimmick holding his position against his enemies.

The British did manage to at least land their boats on the beach several times, but the fire from the militiamen was too fierce to allow them to carve a foothold. The British continued to fire at the town and exchange small arms fire with the militia until 5:30Pm. However, they soon began to understand that their attempts were not going to be successful. At a signal from their flagship, the smaller boats returned to the warships and the entire fleet moved off toward Nobska Point and Woods Hole. The militia followed.

Nobska Point as seen beyond Old Stone Dock
The British attempted again to land in Woods Hole, but were repulsed by the Militia. At this point the British took refuge on Nonamesset Island, where they instantly began to slaughter the livestock. The British vented their frustration at the islanders, threatening them. The British soldiers stated that the “Damn rebels” had been killing them and that the rebels “fought like Devils.”

All animals were slaughtered on the island, including the animals of the once helpful Tories. There was one pig, whose squeals could be apparently heard from the most extreme point of the mainland. The militia had been watching the actions of the enemy from the shore when they head the poor pig. One of the men, named Simeon Hamlin, sat down and began to cry. The others asked him why he cried and he responded:

"Why, I hear that poor pig, and can’t help crying, to see how those cruel English will treat their fellow beings."

I thought that was an amusing line.

Over the next couple days the British fleet slowly broke up and headed away from the Cape. The ships did attempt to fire on the town again, but the militiamen stayed in their trenches and the enemy did not make another attempt at a landing.

Although other parts of the Cape and Islands suffered additional attacks and invasions, Falmouth never again needed to meet the Empire of Great Britain in combat, at least in the Revolutionary War. The town’s destruction had been prevented by the skill and bravery of a couple hundred farmers and fisherman who refused to let their homes be destroyed. Joseph Dimmick, of course, deserves recognition for the major role he played in Falmouth’s defense even after the battle.
Joseph Dimmick's Plaque in Falmouth's First Burying Ground

Dimmick remained heavily involved in the conflict even after the Battle of Falmouth. Jenkins goes as far as calling him, “the heart and soul of the military movement in this region." Although there were no more show downs on the beaches of Falmouth, Dimmick was involved in many more daring missions against the British.

Later, during the war, a ship had been sent to the Connecticut River to purchase corn, which had become very rare. On its return trip the ship was intercepted and captured by British Privateers just inside Vineyard Sound. However, the captain escaped and ran to Falmouth seeking the help of Major Dimmick.

Joseph Dimmick gathered his brother Lot and about twenty other men. They headed for Woods Hole. They took three small whale boats and silently rowed out to Tarpaulin Cove, where the Privateer and the captured trading vessel lay at anchor.

Lot Dimmick's Headstone at Falmouth's First Burying Ground

When they came in sight of the larger ships, the militiamen and the privateers exchanged fire. The militiamen killed at least one pirate and boarded the captured ship. They got the ship under way and accidently ran it aground near the Vineyard. They waited for high tide to free the ship, defending their catch from the British.

When the tide came in, they escaped with the trading ship and arrived safely in Woods Hole with its life saving cargo.

Dimmick and the men of Falmouth even captured an English ship of their own once. The ship held 33 English soldiers, who were all delivered to Boston as prisoners of war.

Even after peace was declared in 1781, Dimmick remained very influential and respected in town. Children gawked at their local war hero on the streets. He was honored by Governor Hancock as a guest of honor. He was elected High Sherriff, a position he held for 25 years. In addition, he served on the Massachusetts senate and was raised to the rank of General after the war. According to Jenkins:
"It may be said of him that he feared nothing human. It was his delight to be at the post of danger, and he was generally selected when any hazardous enterprise was undertaken."
Dimmick really seems like he was quite a guy. On top of being a local war hero, he seemed somewhat modest. According to Jenkins, on his tombstone is written, “He merited this noblest of his mottoes- An honest man.” Dimmick died in 1822.

Joseph Dimmick's Headstone at Falmouth's First Burring Ground
Strangely I did not see the inscription that was supposed to be there
Although, I could not discover where Joseph Dimmick’s original house was, his son built a house on modern Main Street in Falmouth. The house built by Braddock Dimmick is right across the street from the Village Green, where his father trained the soldiers of Falmouth’s militia.

The Dimmick House- Main Street Falmouth
This house even has a ghost story of its own. It is said to be haunted by one of the grandchildren of Joseph Dimmick. It is currently a bed and breakfast. The story says that if you sleep in the spirit’s bed, she may wake you and ask what you are doing there. My fiancĂ© was not willing to stay the night with me, she was way more interested in the great cupcake store down the street.

I have to say I felt a little guilty researching the martial history of the town I grew up in. I had a vague idea of the Battle of Falmouth, but had no idea where it had taken place. Nor had I ever heard of Joseph Dimmick and what an absolute local hero he was. Where is the statue, town of Falmouth?

In Falmouth’s defense the historical society has done a beautiful job with marking the headstones at the First Burying Ground, so these graves can be easily located. Plus, Falmouth has done at least two reenactments of the battle for the town.

No, the Battle of Falmouth was not a true turning point in the American Revolution like the Siege of Yorktown. Instead, it demonstrates the growing feeling of nationalism and independence during the Revolution, even on rural Cape Cod. Further, it demonstrates the willingness of the small town farmers and fishermen of New England to fight for their land against largely overwhelming odds.

I wish history classes could spend more time on local events like this. It really puts one’s own hometown into a meaningful historic perspective. If one is truly supposed to learn lessons from the past through the study of history, the more I look into these local stories, the more I realize it would be hard to find a better teacher than a Yankee. Certainly, General Dimmick and the men of the Cape’s Revolutionary militia are no exception.


  1. Hi!
    My name is Jane and I'm with Dwellable and this blog is SO COOL!
    I was looking for blog posts about Surf Drive to share on our site and I came across your post...If you're open to it, shoot me an email at jane(at)dwellable(dot)com.
    Hope to hear from you :)

  2. Hello Wicked Yankee...Thanks for posting the information on The Battle of Falmouth...I came across it while doing family research on the Dimmick's. Gen Joseph id related and btw so is James Otis. I have attached the links to your blog to my family research. Thanks again...John

    1. Hi,
      Wow, I am pretty jealous. You have some great ancestors. I really liked learning about Dimmick. He seemed like a very valiant Cape Codder, who doesn't get his just mention in history classes. Of course, James Otis is wonderful old Cape Cod patriot as well. Thanks for stopping by to read the article and thanks for keeping a link.

  3. Good Morning Wicked Yankee. I too stumbled on your blog through Google Search while I was researching Lot Dimmick. You wrote an outstanding article and I would love to read The Battle of Falmouth part 1. How can I find it? Thank you so much for your historical work.



  6. Wicked Yankee, Wicked Good Site. I found this site while doing research on my family history. Joseph Dimmick is my 6x GGF. Something else to be jealous about is that my 10x GGF is Isacc Robison. He was the first to build a house between Fresh and Salt ponds back in 1661. One of 5 men to start Falmouth known back then as Succonesset.