On the evening of January 28, 2014 the town of Falmouth commemorated the 200th anniversary of the bombardment of the town by the British ship HMS Nimrod. The Nimrod was a man-of-war that patrolled New England’s waters during the War of 1812. She was the most feared ship in these waters at that time and was involved in most of the battles that occurred in this area. Falmouth was one a few Cape Cod towns that refused to pay ransom to the captain of the Nimrod. In fact Falmouth residents routinely harassed the ship when it was in our waters. There were two brass cannons at Surf beach that had fired upon the ship. Also, the folks in Woods Hole had been known to take pot shots at the sailors when they were in their long boats. The people of Falmouth were a great annoyance to the Nimrod’s captain and crew. Other towns did pay ransom including the island of Nantucket that made a treaty of neutrality with England so that they could continue uninterrupted trade during the war.
On the morning of January 28, 1813 the Nimrod was anchored about a quarter of a mile off Surf beach, when they sent a long boat ashore, under a flag of truce. A ransom was demanded and they also demanded the two cannons and a Nantucket mail sloop that was tied to the stone dock. Weston Jenkins was the captain of the Falmouth Militia said ” You can have our cannon, but we will give you what’s inside them first.” It was then announced that the bombardment would begin in two hours. The reason for the delay was to allow the evacuation of women and children. The captain’s log entry reads, “…to destroy the town”. The bombardment began at 12:00 noon and continued for 4 1/2 hours until darkness fell. Many buildings were damaged including the main house of the Elm Arch Inn and the house that was the Nimrod restaurant but thankfully, no one was hurt. In those buildings the damage is visible to this day, however, most of the damage, throughout the bombarded area, was repaired. The salt works, that were located across from Surf Drive was heavily damaged also. Salt was an important part of Falmouth’s economy at that time. Prior to refrigeration it was necessary for people to preserve meats and fish for winter use. Salt was also put on ships and sold to the southern states.
The cannon balls went over the heads of the men who were manning the cannons and who were positioned to prevent a landing on the beach. The cannon balls weighed 32 pounds and were five inches in diameter. One theory is that because they were so large, it was easy to see them coming and people could get out of the way before the impact. After the bombardment people went around the town and collected the balls there were about 350 balls counted. Many were used as door stops or as weights for garden gates. The Falmouth Historic Society has a tree trunk with an embedded ball. That tree was on the Village Green and came down in a hurricane in the 1930′s. That section of the trunk was preserved and can be seen at the Falmouth Museums on the Green.
At that time the American Navy had three war ships and the British had one hundred fifty-four. The Nimrod was a brig and was not one of their larger ships, however, with eighteen guns and one hundred ten feet in length she was small in comparison to the seventy-four gun ships that were the pride of their fleet. By comparison, the pride of the US fleet was the USS Constitution that has 44 guns.
The name Nimrod comes from the Old Testament and means “Great Hunter”. It is not a unique name, in fact over the years, the British had several ships bearing that name.
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