FAME’s Visit to Sail Boston Recalls Tumultuous War of 1812

by Capt. Michael Rutstein

Although the Salem-based schooner FAME is one of the smaller vessels attending next month’s Sail Boston event, she has a fascinating connection to Boston’s history.

FAME is a replica of a Salem privateer of the same name from the War of 1812. During the war, Salem — then a major seaport and a serious rival to Boston — sent out over 40 privateers to attack British merchant shipping. In Boston, however, many influential shipowners opposed the war. Instead of sending out privateers, they carried on illegal trade with the British.

After Congress acted in 1813 to criminalize this trading with the enemy, Salem privateers such as FAME took it on themselves to police Boston Harbor. They would chase down and search inbound ships for evidence that they had been smuggling. In August of 1813, FAME and another Salem privateer (tellingly named CASTIGATOR) stopped an incoming Boston brig called the DISPATCH and concluded that she had been trading in British ports. They put a prize crew on board and began to convey the vessel into Boston to be impounded.

However, members of the brig’s crew escaped and rowed themselves quickly up to town, where they located the brig’s owner, Boston merchant Cornelius Coolidge. Coolidge was incensed to hear that his brig had been seized by privateers. He gathered a score of men armed with muskets and set off in two large rowboats to free the DISPATCH. Soon, a firefight had broken out in the middle of Boston Harbor between the prize crew, the privateer schooners, and Coolidge’s armed boats. The battle was only ended by the intervention of the Federal garrison at Fort Independence.

After a sensational trial in which no less than three witnesses were charged with perjury, DISPATCH was awarded to the privateers as lawful prize.

It was a victory for Salem and her mariners, and the smugglers of Boston were suitably “castigated”. But the decades after the war saw a steady movement of talent and capital from Salem to Boston, which has ever since reigned as the chief port and economic center of Massachusetts.

A fleet of international Tall Ships is sailing into Boston this month in the largest gathering of its kind in 17 years. The festival-opening Parade of Sail happens on Saturday, June 17. Many of the ships will be open for boarding in Boston June 18-21. The fleet departs Boston on June 22, bound for a starting line off Gloucester. From that point, they will race to Nova Scotia.

FAME, which is based at Salem’s Pickering Wharf Marina, will participate in the Parade on the 17th and offers round trips from Salem to Boston each day of Sail Boston 2017. She’ll also be sailing out to watch the start of the race on the 22nd.

Tickets are available at SchoonerFame.com.

Salem.org