Freeport History in the War of 1812

Many people often associate Freeport with shopping and are delightfully surprised to find out how much there is to see and do throuhout the area.  They are also surprised to learn how much history there is in Freeport and the part Freeport played in the War of 1812.

One of the peculiar aspects of the War of 1812 was government licensing of private armed vessels.  Commonly known as privateers, each vessel received a “Letter of Marque and Reprisal” signed by the President.  These privateers, although not part of the fledgling United States Navy, were nevertheless authorized “to subdue, seize and take” enemy vessels as prizes and to keep or sell the “apparel, guns and appurtenances.”  They were essentially licensed pirates

Freeport was home to a famous Privateer, The Dash.  Dash was built at Porters Landing, Freeport, Maine in 1813 by master builder James Brewer for Seward, Samuel, and William Porter, all born and raised at Porters Landing and part of a family which included twelve brothers.  Most were involved with the sea in some fashion.  Dash, a fast topsail schooner, was designed to evade the Embargo keeping American shipping bottled up in harbors all along the East Coast and the Canadian border.  She was successful in breaking the Portland blockade and made several quick runs to the West Indies, where she  exchanged lumber and other local crops for profitable cargoes such as coffee and sugar cane.

During 1813 and early 1814 she made three voyages, successfully evading the Royal Navy and United States port restrictions.  At some point during this period she was re-rigged as a hermaphrodite brig with a special “ringtail sail” to increase her already impressive spread of canvas.  She was fast!

Dash, under the command of John Porter, continued to take other prizes on subsequent voyages during the fall of 1814.  A total of fifteen prize vessels were taken without a single injury to any of her crew.

After a short layover in Portland in January, 1815 Porter took Dash to sea.  With her was the new privateer Champlain, a schooner from Portsmouth, waiting to test her own speed against that of Dash.  Dash gradually pulled ahead over the next day.  When a heavy winter gale came on, Champlain changed her course, but Dash kept on.  She was never heard from again.  It is assumed that Capt. Porter underestimated his speed and lost his vessel on the treacherous shoals of Georges Bank.  Sixty men, including John, Jeremiah, and Ebenezer Porter, and thirteen others from Freeport, were among those lost.

Dash was known as a lucky ship.  She never let a chase escape, and she was never injured by a hostile shot.  With seven voyages under four captains taking fifteen prizes, she was one of the most successful privateers of the War of 1812.  Her record was never equaled.

This is just a small piece of Freeport history but certainly one of the more significant, especially as it is the 200-year anniversary of the War of 1812.  If you would like to learn more aobut Freeport during your visit, just ask.  A great place to visit to learn more is Freeport Historical Society, located right on Main Street.  Throughout Freeport there is also wonderful signage, “Heritage Trails,” offering glimpses into the people and places of Freeport’s past.  Take some time to check it out and take a piece of history home with you.