In the early 1800s, Abigail Hatch ran The Hatch House with a velvet fist, insisting on good house and table manners at all times. Every meal served at the popular Bangor inn, restaurant and boarding home was served on her finest dishes and in her best crystal brought home by her husband, a ship’s captain.
When the War of 1812 arrived on Bangor’s doorstep though, Hatch and her inn found themselves smack in the middle of the action.
Following the defeat of the Eastern Militia in the Battle of Hampden on Sept. 3, 1814, British forces occupied Bangor. The British troops had arrived on three naval ships that had sailed up the Penobscot River. British Capt. Robert Barrie demanded the people of Bangor open up their homes to provide free housing for his men.
Refuse and he’d order his men to burn the town to the ground.
He also ordered his men not to consume any alcohol while occupying Bangor but that was largely ignored. British troops found barrels of rum as they went from house to house and business to business breaking in to loot, plunder or destroy whatever captured their fancy.
Then they arrived at Hatch House.
Bursting in, the troops headed straight to the dining and tavern area. Then, drawing their swords, they swept every plate, bowl, mug, glass and vase on every table sending it all crashing to the ground in shards of porcelain and crystal.
Hatch’s porcelain and crystal.
With the place in shambles, Hatch was livid. It was bad enough that she was going to be forced to house and feed these invaders, but now she faced a massive cleanup and loss of some very precious and valuable possessions.
That night Hatch and her family could see the flames of the 14 American ships across the river being burned by the British. The next morning, with ships still burning across the river in Brewer, Bangor’s leaders were ready to negotiate with the British. Barre agreed to meet and hear them out.
Hoping to spare their city, its leaders offered a cash bond and ships. Four ships were being built and outfitted already in Bangor, and they promised to deliver them to Castine for British military use.
Barre agreed — and also helped himself to five other vessels tied up in Bangor.
The 191 Bangor residents who’d been taken hostage were placed on parole, as long as they agreed to never take up arms against the British throne again.
But that wasn’t enough for Hatch.
By the third day of the occupation, the British were getting ready to move back down river and destroy what was left of Hampden. Hatch, however, wasn’t letting Barre get away without compensation.
She marched into the home occupied by Barre and slapped down a piece of paper with the total accounts and value of every item in her home his troops had destroyed.
Barre was a successful navy captain with many sea and land victories under his belt. He had faced down enemies at sea around the Atlantic and never flinched. But looking at the formidable woman across the dining room table he was using as a desk, he knew he’d met his match.
With barely a word to Hatch, he scribbled some notes on a piece of paper, signed his name to it and handed it off to a junior officer standing nearby.
The junior officer took one look at the note and ran from the building, returning 30 minutes later with the Navel Quartermaster. The Quartermaster reached into a pouch secured to his belt and handed over the exact amount of money demanded in compensation to the captain who then handed it to Hatch.
Hatch saw no need to offer thanks or any acknowledgment. She was simply getting what was rightfully hers. And it was made sweeter when the junior officer grumbled it was coming directly from the soldiers’ pay.
Sources: Matthew Bishop, curator and operations manager at the Bangor Historical Society; The online Maine Memory Network; The Bangor Daily News; “The Battle of Hampden and its Aftermath,” Robert Fraser, Maine History Vol. 43, No. 1.