"Mattapoisett in the Making"
Chapter Two: Pirates and King William's War
By Charles Mendell
The settlers took to the sea as well as to the soil and began exporting the many products from the forest. Wharves had to be built so vessels could be loaded before setting sail to Newport, Nantucket and Boston where merchants would pay well for their cargo. Oxen lunged down the cartpath, snaking huge logs to the water's edge to be sharpened, placed, steadied, and driven down by knotty arms. The side logs and braces notched, and mortised into place; gnarled hands fill the pier with stones and hew the floor logs flat on one side. These are laid across the top, and then the cap logs placed along the edges and fastened with oak pegs that will swell with dampness and hold like iron. It is slow, backbreaking work, but the landing is ready.
From the forty acre woodlots the oxen plod again and again until the long stacks of wood make an avenue to the wharf. At high tide the beamy sloop is warped alongside and loaded. The next morning, after telling his boys to get the corn hoed, the brush cleared off the new lot, and to keep an eye out for that tarnal wildcat that ate the chickens just brought from Sandwich, the farmer, with a man to help make the sail, casts off and beats out of the harbor past the Neck into the Bay. There were such wharves at Brant Island Cove, up the River, at the mouths of the River and along Ned's Point shore.
At home in the log house, his wife goes about her chores as usual -- cooking, and sweeping, sewing and weaving, looking after the children and chickens and hogs and bean patch; but the lines in her face are set a little deeper than the day before. She knows. She's heard the men folk talk when neighbors stop by with the news. The uncharted shoals and reefs as jagged as broken teeth along the rocky coast, the swirling tide rips of Vineyard Sound. And if the wind hauls into the northeast and the forest moans, the swirling tide rips, she lifts her head to that rim of trees around the clearing, listening, worrying, seeing in her mind's eye the logy vessel, so clumsy it can scarcely claw off a lee shore. And even if the day is clear there is another fear -- a fear too dreadful to think about -- pirates.
The coasts are sparsely settled. The King's ships, few and far away. The colonial governments in Boston, Plymouth, and Rhode Island are weak and bankrupt. Buccaneers have little to fear and cling along the coast. And now, in the summer of 1689, here was a pirate right in the Bay. She had a devilishly strategic position. No one could get by her. By making her headquarters in Tarpaulin Cove and other harbors of Nashon Island -- only twelve miles across the Bay from Mattapoisett Neck -- she could sail back and forth through Quicks Hole or cross the end of Cuttyhunk and intercept every vessel that passed through Vineyard Sound or in and out of the Bay.
Something must be done. This infernal pirate is putting a crimp in things, stopping trade. So the men confer and ride through the forest trails to Sandwich; a complaint is sent to Boston, and the Governor acts. The armed sloop Mary, Capt. Samuel Pease, puts out around the Cape and into Vineyard Sound, "to surprise, and (in case of their making resistance) by force of Arms to take Thomas Hawkins and Thomas Pound who with a number of armed men joined with them had piratically seized several Vessels belonging to their Majestic Subjects of this colony and other parts of the Country." Captain Pease made Woods Hole on the fourth of October and learned that the pirate lay in Tarpaulin Cove, a few miles down the Sound. The Mary was put about and soon hove; in sight of the pirate vessel. Capt. Pease "mayde what sayle" he could and, as the report puts it:
"Soon came near up with her, spread our King's Jack and fired a shot athwarte her forefoot, upon which a red flagg was put out on the head of the Sloop's Mast. Our Capt. ordered another shot to be fired athwarts her forefoot, but they not Striking we came up with them,our Capn. commanded us to fire at them which we accordingly did and called to them to strike the King of England. Pound standing on the Quarter deck with his naked sword flourishing in his hand, said,
"Come on board you dogs and I will strike you presently," or words to that purpose. His men standing by him upon the deck with guns in their hands, and he taking up his Gun, they discharged a volley at us, and we at them again, and so continued firing one at the other for some space of time in which engagement our Capt. Samuel Pease was wounded in the Arms, in the side, and in the thigh; but at length bringing them under our power, we made Sayle towards Roade Island and on Saturday the fifth of October got our wounded men on shore and procured Surgeons to dress them ..."
Although Capt. Pease died of his wounds, the pirates were condemned at the bar in Boston, and there was prayerful rejoicing around the Bay and in the clearings on the necks, along the River, and by Pine Island Brook. Farmers and their wives went about their chores witha big load off their chests. The clear crisp days of October saw the maize harvested and the maple leaves burn crimson and fall. As the November days shortened and chilled, the hogs were slaughtered and the winter's wood chopped and stacked; and when all was snug against the north wind's cold weather, the farmers loaded their sloops again and put out into the Bay.
When they made port again and tied up at the ice encrusted landings and walked home to warm their spray chilled bones before the roaring fire, they found a new terror in the air. War. King William's War. There was news of the warhoop and massacres on the frontiers of Maine, New Hampshire, and central Massachusetts; rumors of French troops sailing down from Canada. Didn't the King -- God Bless him, of course -- back in London realize what he was doing? Whenever he went to war with the French, they fired up the Indians to scalp and burn and torture. And in addition, this was a defenseless coast, with its cabins and clearing back but little from the shore.
So the men leave their woodlots uncut and their sloops made fast to the landings, and attend to the war. Through the woods from Plymouth gallops a rider from the Court. Every town must raise a troop of soliders to be in readiness for home protection and for an "expedition for Canady and places adjacent." From the Necks along the River, from Pine Islands, the men gather with those of Sippican and Rochester Center to confer and make out the list "of all persons required by law to bear arms." They appoint officers of their company -- Joseph Dotey as the Ensign, and John Hammond, from the farm down on Brant Island Cove, as Lieutenant. They choose a council to "take care for watchings" on the necks stretching out into the Bay. They muster and march and call the roll, and order "that one third of the soliders at a time, come armed to meeting every Sabbath day until further notice."
Orders come quickly for the expedition to Canada. So from landing, mill, and farm, men with wind-whipped faces meet again. They decide which men of the town are to join the two hundred soldiers. They collect three charges of powder and shot, and "put on board the vessel provided to carry the soliders, two pounds and a half of powder and 12 pounds of suitable bullits for each man sent out." The lines are cast off and the vessel puts to sea. It's pretty hard on some clearings with a man away. As the long summer days go on, and the hay is got in and a few sloops poke cautiously in and out past the Neck, the news is slow in coming. Finally it comes -- Port Royal captured. There is rejoicing and relief, and the dark forests do not seem as fearful. Yet the war drags on; and the next year 1691, more men are needed, this time to go with Capt. Church to the coast of Maine.
When they load their sloops again they find the war has come right to their very landings. Beaten in Canada, the French send privateers along the coast. Privateers -- worst than pirates. They can capture and seize with the authority of their government, and nothing can be done about it. For over one hundred years they are to strike fear in every seacoast home where fathers, sons and brothers are out to sea.
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The above was written by Charles Mendell, and edited for The Wanderer by his son, Seth Mendell. Charles was curator of the Mattapoisett Museum from 1958 until his death in 1975, and Seth is currently President of the Mattapoisett Historical Society. This is the second installment in a series to be published throughout the year in commemoration of Mattapoisett's sesquicentennial.