Scituate Lighthouse’s “Army of Two” During the War of 1812
In Massachusetts, Scituate lighthouse was built in 1811, just before the War of 1812 broke out between the new America and the British. Scituate’s first Keeper was Simeon Bates, who stayed on until his death in 1834. He and his wife lived with their nine children at the lighthouse. Two of their daughters, Abigail and Rebecca Bates, became famous heroic figures in saving the town from a British invasion.
During the War of 1812, British warships would frequently raid New England coastal towns. On June 11, 1814, British forces burned and plundered a number of ships around Scituate’s Harbor. The keeper himself fired a small cannon twice at a British warship as it departed from the harbor, although it missed and the ship continued on its way without retaliation. After the incident the townspeople were on constant watch for another possible invasion into the town, including the keeper and his family at the lighthouse.
On September 1, 1814, most of the Bates family had gone into town to gather supplies and visit with other family members. Twenty-one year old Rebecca was left in charge of the lighthouse with her younger sister Abigail. The sisters enjoyed playing a fife and drum together, as the older Rebecca could play four military tunes with her fife, including “Yankee Doodle.”
Anchored outside Scituate Harbor, the sisters noticed to their horror, a British warship in the distance, with two boats of “red coats” leaving from the ship, rowing towards the mainland. Knowing that firing shots from a musket from the lighthouse may only wound or kill a couple of soldiers as they neared, and fearing the British were about to engage in an attack on the town, Rebecca decided to try another approach. She grabbed her fife, and told Abigail to grab her drum. The two girls then ran into a nearby group of cedar trees out of site of the British and began to play “Yankee Doodle” as they had practiced many times before. They kept playing louder and louder in hopes of making the British believe a local regiment was organizing nearby to protect the town. Apparently they had succeeded in deceiving the commander of the British warship, as they could see the boats returning back to the ship, and the vessel starting to sail out of site. The famous “Lighthouse Army of Two” became local heroes for preventing a British Naval Force from sacking the town.
Both Rebecca and Abigail in their later years, received pensions from Congress in recognition of their heroism. After their deaths many years later, some locals claimed to have seen the ghosts of the daughters, and there have been many accounts of fife and drum military music playing by the lighthouse.
Another famous account from Scituate also occurred previously during the War of 1812. In 1813, a famous sea battle occurred which could be seen from the lighthouse between the American USS Chesapeake and the British HMS Shannon. The sea battle itself is not so famous, but the final words of the USS Chesapeake‘s Commander, Captain James Lawton, is well known when he cried “Don’t give up the ship!” although the American vessel lost the battle.
Scituate Lighthouse is the oldest complete original lighthouse tower and keeper’s house combination in the country.
Exploring Scituate Lighthouse and Grounds
Scituate lighthouse is a favorite destination for tourists to drive to and explore the surrounding area. There is a nice walk along the breakwater jetty for views of Scituate Lighthouse from the water, and behind the lighthouse there is a quiet beach and jetty to relax or explore. The area around the lighthouse is a favorite place for many artists to paint and enjoy, and the keeper’s building is also a museum open to the public.
For the history buffs, visit the Maritime and Irish Mossing Museum, where you can learn about lifesaving stations and artifacts, information on the Portland Gale of 1898, and learn about the life of being a sea captain.
Each year the town puts on Scituate Heritage Days usually in August to celebrate the town’s history, local business, and lots of events and entertainment. Take a ride along the south shore of Massachusetts and visit this beacon!
Here are some photos I’ve taken of Scituate lighthouse.
My 300-page book, Lighthouses and Coastal Attractions of Southern New England: Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, provides special human interest stories from each of the 92 lighthouses, along with plenty of indoor and outdoor coastal attractions you can explore. These include whale watching excursions, lighthouse tours, windjammer sailing tours and adventures, special parks and museums, and lighthouses you can stay overnight. You’ll also find plenty of stories of haunted lighthouses. Lighthouses and their nearby attractions are divided into regions for all you weekly and weekend explorers.