History lesson: Freeport's Dash made a splash in War of 1812

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FREEPORT — In the annals of warfare, the War of 1812 may be mostly recognized for a song.

Christina White and the Freeport Historical Society would like to expand local knowledge of the war beyond “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Author Joshua M. Smith, an associate professor of humanities and interim coordinator of the American Merchant Marine Museum at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, will discuss his book”Free Trade and Sailors Rights: the War of 1812,” in a program at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 6, at the Harrington House, 45 Main St.

Visitors will also learn about the Dash, a Freeport-built schooner commissioned as a privateer by President James Madison, and crewed in part by Freeport sailors. The Dash lived up to its name in the latter stages of the war, evading British blockades of coastal Maine to deliver supplies, and capturing British ships on the high seas.

Built in 1813 at Porters Landing, the Dash was a schooner built for speed. It made three voyages before Madison commissioned it in September 1814. The commissioning came about three weeks after British forces captured and burned Washington, D.C.

The day the Dash was commissioned, British troops and naval forces attacked Baltimore, losing their commanding general in a land battle. A subsequent bombardment of Fort McHenry was unsuccessful, but was the inspiration for “The Star Spangled Banner,” written by Francis Scott Key after his confinement aboard a British ship.

The War of 1812 was not popular in New England, where the declaration of war fueled secession efforts and coastal Maine bore a heavy price as it was overrun and blockaded by British forces. The effects of the war fueled efforts to grant statehood to Maine, which occurred in 1820.

The root causes of the war will be discussed as Smith delves into quarrels between the Americans, British and French regarding free trade and the “impressment” of American sailors to serve on foreign ships.

After the Battle of Baltimore, Americans and other forces defeated the British in the Battle of New Orleans, fought after a peace treaty had been signed in 1815. A month before the Treaty of Ghent was signed in February 1815, the Dash disappeared in a gale, possibly off Georges Bank in the Atlantic Ocean.

Admission to the program is $5, with historical society members admitted free.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow David on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

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Artist James Lee Berkeley drew this rendering of the Freeport-built Dash, which evaded blockades and captured British ships during the War of 1812. The ship disappeared in a storm in January 1815, according to records at the Freeport Historical Society.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.