, Newburyport, MA


June 26, 2013

The British are coming! Or not


One man hid private documents under a large stone in his field and battened down the hatches with musket in hand, “resolved to sell his life as dearly as possible” (Coffin). Another woman threw all her precious silver in the well, but her fresh, hot pies were another matter — no rebel would get a taste of her tarts. There is also a report of one confused woman who ran five miles before making a pit stop on the steps of Reverend Noble’s meetinghouse to nurse her infant, only to discover she grabbed the cat instead.

In many cases, the able-bodied left those who were bedridden or elderly to fend for themselves. One feisty fellow, “whose excessive corpulence rendered retreat on his part impossible, seated himself in his doorway with his loaded king’s arm” and mustered his neighbors to “stop and shoot the devils” (Coffin).

Several headed for safety by boat to Salisbury. One man, while escaping to Ring’s Island, almost sacrificed his little tyke when anxiety reached a critical point, shouting to his wife, “Do throw that squalling brat overboard, or we shall be all discovered and killed!”

As the tale grew more gruesome, the great panic eventually spread as far as Haverhill and into New Hampshire. “Almost simultaneously, the people of Beverly were smitten with the same terror. It was then believed that the enemy had fallen upon Ipswich and massacred the inhabitants, without regard to age or sex” (Salem Gazette). At one point, the destruction of the Parker and Thorla bridges was proposed, but thankfully, a handful of concerned citizens decided that it would be wise to validate the claim before repeating it. They soon discovered it had no credence.

Finally, Eliphalet Hale of Exeter rode from Ipswich to Newbury in 50 minutes. He let all who came in his tracks know that it was a hoax. The following day, Benjamin Greenleaf addressed the false accounts in a letter to the Committee of Safety in Boston, asking them to call off the troops. Even so, the fear of invasion by sea was real, and for the next few months, all who endured this great fright took extra precautions.

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