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SALLY RYAN (New London Municipal Historian): Being a seaport, New London has always had a customs house. This customs house was built in 1833, designed by Robert Mills who actually designed the Washington Monument. A customs house was important because the federal government depended on custom duty to finance the government. …The whaling ships that came in, their cargo would come through this customs house.

Today, this building is now a museum. … but … the federal government still does maintain an office here as a customs office because New London is still an active seaport.


CRONKITE: Connecticut’s impact on America’s maritime naval tradition goes back to the very beginning of the country.

In the American Revolution, Connecticut’s government protected the seacoast and the commerce of the state with a small state navy of about 13 vessels.  In both the American Revolution and the War of 1812, Connecticut, like other states, also licensed privateers, which were commercial vessels converted to military use in order to disrupt British shipping.  Captured cargoes would be divided among the privateer crew and the government.

REAR ADM. DOUGLAS H. TEESON (Supt., U. S. Coast Guard Academy):  in the time of the American Revolution New London was the home to the greatest concentration of privateers who went out and helped win the revolution.  I think that’s why Benedict Arnold came here and burned the place down.

CRONKITE: In addition to privateering, smuggling helped win the revolution. But after the Revolution was won, Alexander Hamilton founded the Coast Guard to help the custom service collect shipping revenues.

REAR ADM. DOUGLAS H. TEESON (Supt., U. S. Coast Guard Academy): Smuggling had been a time honored practice. …but as soon as the …war was won it was then necessary to build the economy and so the Coast Guard got its start as a maritime force to enforce the customs laws …of the day.

IRVING KING (Prof. Emeritus of History, U. S. Coast Guard Academy): It was the only source of revenue that the nation had at the time that which it took in from tariffs and tonnage duties.

The Coast Guard Academy was begun in 1876, ’77 to provide a well-trained professional officer corps really in response to a problem of corruption in the old collecting service.

REAR ADM. DOUGLAS H. TEESON (Supt., U. S. Coast Guard Academy): The Coast Guard Academy started on a school ship, not as big as the Eagle but a schooner. It was called the Dobbin. Initially out of Baltimore. Later it sailed out of New Bedford.  The skipper of the first school ship wanted the home port to be New London but the Coast Guard Academy didn’t come here until about 1910. And initially the academy ran at Fort Trumbull.

IRVING KING (Prof. Emeritus of History, U. S. Coast Guard Academy): The Coast Guard Academy again began to outgrow the old revolutionary era fort site at Fort Trumbull in the 1920’s which was the result of the fact that the service expanded so during its fighting the rum war at sea to enforce prohibition.


IRVING KING (Prof. Emeritus of History, U. S. Coast Guard Academy): We here at the academy train officers who end up being important to the shipping of the world to the safety of life at sea in the world to the saving of the environment.

REAR ADM. DOUGLAS H. TEESON (Supt., U. S. Coast Guard Academy): One of the things we try to teach our future leaders as – as we say it, a liking for the sea and its lore and as far as a place to have the Coast Guard Academy this city and this stretch of coast has it all.  We have the harbor here with its commercial activity, we have the passenger ferries coming and going, we’ve got the recreational use of things like Ocean Beach, and then we’ve got great neighbors like Mystic Seaport.  And then when you think about the Navy’s presence here in terms of the submarine force, I could go on and on but basically the stretch of coast here has everything you’d want if you were picking a place to put the Coast Guard Academy.


In 1814, the British attacked Stonington and bombarded the town.

JAMES TERTIUS DEKAY (Author, The Battle of Stonington):  On August 9th, 1814, the war was going badly for America in the War of 1812and the Royal Navy under the command of Thomas Hardy who was a famous British Royal Navy Officer, came in and he didn’t want to hurt the people in the town, he just wanted to destroy the town. And he sent in a note to that effect.

MUSIC: Tom Callinan – Battle of Stonington

Four gallant ships from England came,
Trade indeed with fire and flame,
And other things we need not name,
To have a dash at Stonington

JAMES TERTIUS DEKAY (Author, The Battle of Stonington):  And the people rose up, they were outraged by this, they said, no you’re not. We’re gonna fight back.  Which was an extraordinarily brave and, let’s face it, foolhardy point of view to take because they had two cannon, this is one of them, and the Royal Navy had at least 120 cannon on these five ships that they brought in.

They made as though they little cared,
For that came so very hard,
The cannon played on Stonington.
For the bombs were thrown, 
The rockets flew.

All of a sudden Commodore Hardy is sitting there saying, hey, look, I’m a hero, I don’t want to be known as someone who killed a lot of innocent Yankees because they were brave enough to try to protect their homes and things like that.

He tried to attack but he tried to attack in ways that wouldn’t hurt too much, and that didn’t work. So then he tried to send some marines in, in boats, and the cannon, they brought the cannon down to the point and they started firing at the boats and they sunk a couple of the boats and so Hardy pulled them back. 

And killed all wounded of her crew.

This thing went on and off for like three or four days and finally the British left.

The Battle of Stonington was a tiny little military operation but a remarkably important piece of propaganda for America at a time …when America was desperately in need of one. We were absolutely losing the war and the Battle of Stonington gave great heart to people at a time when they desperately needed it.

It cost the king ten thousand pounds, 
To have a dash at Stonginton.


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Last modified: September 03, 2012