NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

June 26, 2013

The British are coming! Or not

The celebration of our independence is fast approaching, and while we all know the story of the infamous dispatcher Paul Revere and his midnight ride to warn Adams and Hancock that the Brits were coming, many are unaware that Newburyport had a Revere as well.

Ebenezer Todd made tracks through the dusty trails and back roads of Newbury to “warn and save” just like Revere, only in his case, it was a false alarm. This wicked tall Tory tale from the archives lasted only a night, but managed to ignite a sizzling terror in the Port and, for you present natives, a cool chronicle tidbit for a hot season.

John Greenleaf Whittier called the event the “Great Ipswich Fright” because the whole debacle originated when a rumor starting circulating that British “regulars” had landed on Ipswich shores to execute a large-scale invasion to free prisoners jailed there. This mishap created quite a commotion, and like “most news, it spread like wild fire, being generally credited, and the consternation became almost universal” (Coffin, History of Newbury).

On Friday April 21, 1775, Todd, by order of “officials” from Rowley, broke up a community meeting hosted by Parson Carey, who was just about to give his opening prayer to comfort his flock and bring news of the fighting at Lexington. Todd approached the meetinghouse with “hurried hoof-beats” and stormed through the doors with “loosed haired and painting for breath,” shouting:

“For God’s sake, turn out! turn out! or you will all be killed!

“The regulars are marching this way, and will soon be here.

“They are now at Ipswich cutting and slashing all before them …

“By this time, they are at Old Town Bridge.”

According to Currier (History of Newburyport), “all sorts of ludicrous things were done by men and women to escape impending destruction.” Crazed and frightened townfolk scurried like mice from a hungry wild cat. Vehicles and carriages flooded the streets, and many headed for safer terrain on foot as well. Additional Revere wannabes added to the panic, screaming, “Flee for your lives! Flee for your lives! The regulars are coming!”

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