By Muriel Bristol | October 5, 2018
Portsmouth newspapers reported the American defeat at the Battle of Bladensburg (Maryland) and the British capture of Washington, D.C. in late August 1814. In the following week, they published further reports of the British capture of Castine and Belfast, Maine, and actions in upstate New York and the American “Northwest.” British naval vessels were cruising off the coast.
Needless to say, Portsmouth’s government and citizens were “Alarmed.” (Portsmouth was also the NH state capitol).
On Saturday, September 3, the Portsmouth town meeting appointed a Committee of Public Safety, as well as adopting a number of other defensive measures. Fortifications on both the Kittery and Portsmouth sides of the harbor were to be put in a state of readiness and additional fortifications constructed by citizen volunteers.
A requisition, for militia, has been made by Gen. [Henry] Dearborn on the Governor of this state, and, we understand, a competent body of the hardy sons of Newhampshire are to be detached, without delay for our defence. A very few days, we trust, will put us into a posture that shall enable us to give a good account of the enemy, should this place receive a visit from him.
His Excellency Gov. Gilman arrived in town yesterday (NH Gazette, September 6, 1814).
NH Governor John Taylor Gilman (1753-1828) put out an urgent call (or “Alarm”) for militia and Milton responded by sending a company of militiamen under Captain William Courson. Captain Courson’s company became a part of the Fourth Regiment, NH Detached Militia, which was commanded by Lt. Colonel Isaac Waldron of Barrington, NH. (Also known as Waldron’s Command).
The muster roll of that company shows the following names, under date Sept. 11, 1814: Capt. William Courson, [2nd] Lieut. Jeremy Nute, Sergt. John Museron [John Meserve], Sergt. Jacob Nute, Sergt. David M. Courson, Corp. Thomas Wentworth; Musician Benjamin Dare [Benaiah Dore], Musician Lewis Hayes. Private soldiers: Ephraim Wentworth, Thomas Baker, Samuel Nute, Daniel Wentworth, John C. Varney, Ichabod Dodge, James Bragdon, Ezekiel Nute, George Dow, Daniel Hayes, Jr., James Twombly, Henry Miller, James Goodwin, William Downs, John Foss, Hapley Varney, Thomas Chapman, Amos Gerrish, Webster Miller, James Varney, Jr., Ebenezer Adams, John L. Varney, William Gerrish, William Foss, William Burroughs, John Remick, Norton Scates, James Hayes, Dowar Dow, Richard Plumer, Ambrose Tuttle, Nathaniel Pinkham, Isaac Hayes, Aaron Twombly, John Mills, William Drew, James Merrow, Jr., Phineas Wentworth, Beard Plumer, Andrew Dow, Dodivah Plumer, John Boise, Sergt. Patrick Hanscomb, Corp. Joshua Jones, Charles Recker, and Lieut. Hanson Hayes (Scales, 1914).
(The underlined names had appeared also several years earlier as heads of household in the Third (1810) Federal Census of Milton. There would be a tendency for the younger men, the “tick” marks of that census, rather than the older named heads of household to be sent on this adventure).
Major John Anderson (1780-1834) had issued a nationwide notification in late July, regarding the daily rations to be issued in the various military districts. The ration “at any place or place where troops may be stationed, marched, or recruited within the district of Maine or state of Newhampshire and their northern vicinities” was defined:
A ration to consist of one pound and a quarter of beef, eighteen ounces of bread or flour, one gill of rum, whiskey or brandy; and at the rate two quarts of salt, four quarts of vinegar, four pounds of soap, and one pound and a half of candles to every hundred rations (NH Gazette, September 6, 1814).
The rations of salt, vinegar, soap, and candles to be issued to groups of a hundred men were additional company-level rations. A large body of militiamen seems to have encamped outside the town proper at the Portsmouth Plains. Others were detailed to man various fortifications.
DEFENCE. The means of defence have been prosecuted in this [Portsmouth] town and neighborhood for the last fortnight with great assiduity. An attack is expected, and a determination to prepare for it and repel it, universally prevails. Several corps of Militia, Infantry and Artillery, have already arrived from the interior, and others are on their march. The Concord Artillery came in last evening. We are happy to learn that it is the intention of the Commander in Chief to command in person. Volunteers, from this and neighboring towns have offered in great numbers, to labor on the forts; and the works there continue to be daily and rapidly strengthening and improving. Sundry companies of volunteers, composed of those who are exempted from military duty by law [Editor’s note: men aged 45 or over], have already been organized, for the purpose of joining in the defence of the town and harbor (NH Gazette, September 13, 1814).
FEMALE PATRIOTISM. – With pleasure we observe, among other instances of patriotism, and much to the honor of the fair sex, that since the existing alarm a number of LADIES have been voluntarily employed at the State-House in this town, in making cannon and musket cartridges for the use of the militia (NH Gazette, September 13, 1814).
By September 20, the Portsmouth newspapers were reporting a British attack on Baltimore, Maryland, and the capture of the fort at Machais, Maine. They announced also that the troops defending Portsmouth were to be paid $10 per month for their service.
On Saturday last [September 24] the Portsmouth Regiment of Militia were under arms. They marched to the Plains, and in the afternoon were joined by the volunteers and detached militia now at this place. The whole presented a martial scene never before witnessed by our citizens; and their correct manoeuvring drew upon them the praise of numerous spectators (NH Gazette, September 27, 1814).
The expected British attack on Portsmouth never materialized and the militia troops called out to face it were discharged to return home at various times between September 24, 2014 and September 29, 1814.
Captain Courson’s Milton militiamen departed with the others, while he himself remained in the service until November 20, 1814.
Peace negotiations had been going on since August and both parties signed the Treaty of Ghent on December 24, 1814.
Captain William Courson (1782-1863)
William Courson was born in NH in 1782. He died in Fort Plain, NY, January 3. 1863. (He is buried in Fort Plain, NY).
William Courson headed a Milton household at the time of the Third (1810) Federal Census. His household included one male aged 26-44 years, one female aged 26-44 years, one female aged 16-25 years, one male aged under-10 years, and three females aged under-10 years. The census taker recorded his household between those of Paul Jewett and Jona. Young on the one side, and those of Daniel Grant and Peter Grant on the other. Benaiah Dore resided nearby.
Courson’s first wife – his Milton wife – appears to have died sometime between 1820 and 1824. He married (2nd) in Yonkers, NY, September 24, 1824, Elizabeth “Eliza” Kniffen. She was born in Westchester County, NY, in 1800. She died in 1884. (She is buried in Fort Plain, NY).
They were residing in Minden, NY, at the time of the Seventh (1850) Federal Census and the NY State Census of 1855. The two sons and a daughter of his second marriage were living with them. (Other family members appear to have remained in Milton).
Mrs. Eliza Courson, widow of William Courson, filed for a bounty land warrant in 1878, after his death in Fort Plain, NY, January 3, 1863. Her claim was based upon his service as a Captain in the NH Militia between September 11, 1814 and November 20, 1814. She herself died “prior to” January 28, 1885.
Find a Grave. (2018, January 21). William Courson. Retrieved from www.findagrave.com/memorial/186779569
National Archives and Records Administration. (n.d.). Index to the Compiled Military Service Records for the Volunteer Soldiers Who Served During the War of 1812. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration. M602, 234 rolls.
NH Gazette. (1814, September 6). Defence of the Town. Portsmouth, NH: NH Gazette.
NH Gazette. (1814, September 6). Notice Is Hereby Given. Portsmouth, NH: NH Gazette.
NH Gazette. (1814, September 13). Defence. Portsmouth, NH: NH Gazette.
NH Gazette. (1814, September 13). Female Patriotism. Portsmouth, NH: NH Gazette.
NH Gazette. (1814, September 27). Untitled. Portsmouth, NH: NH Gazette.
Scales, John. (1914). History of Strafford County. Retrieved from books.google.com/books?id=nGsjAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA526
Wikipedia. (2018, September 28). Gill (Unit). Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gill_(unit)
Wikipedia. (2018, July 26). Henry Dearborn. Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Dearborn
Wikipedia. (2017, November 29). John Taylor Gilman. Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Taylor_Gilman
Wikipedia. (2018, September 26). War of 1812. Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_of_1812