June 23, 2018
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British brig made maritime life miserable for Mainers during War of 1812

By David M. Fitzpatrick, Of the Weekly Staff

The HMS Sylph that fired the cannonball that killed William Reed was the fourth such British ship to bear that name since 1776. It was new in 1812, an 18-gun brig-sloop built by Tynes of Bermuda (according to BritainsNavy.co.uk). The 400-ton ship was 100 feet long and 30 feet wide.

According to Geoffrey K. Fleming of the Southold (New York) Historical Society, the two-masted Sylph was usually manned by 90 to 125 men. Fleming says that while the ship was rated an 18 based on the number of cannons typically on such a ship, the Sylph actually carried 16 24-pounder carronades, two long 12-pounders, and two 12-pound carronades.

Along with many other British ships, the Sylph made life miserable for Americans as it captured or destroyed merchant ships on Long Island Sound throughout 1814. But after a brief trip to England, the Sylph headed to Halifax, where it joined eight other warships and 10 transports. This convoy, under command of Commodore Barrie, with George Dickins as the Sylph’s captain, first captured Castine, and then headed up the Penobscot in pursuit of the USS Adams. This was a joint venture with the British army; Gen. John Coape Sherbrooke was aboard, and later led the charge at the Battle of Hampden where the British routed the local militia. Just before that was the attack that killed William Reed.

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