Whenever we travel to another country, we pay close attention to everything the area has to offer. We ogle the architecture, read all the signs at monuments (well, Mike does) visit museums, battlefields, parks, churches–anything and everything that could possibly be of interest.
But what about our own surroundings? I realized that I certainly take them for granted. Now that I am a retiree, however, I have the wonderful gift of time, so I can slow down, and really LOOK at everything I never fully noticed before. Mike and I won’t be traveling for a few more months, so in the interim, I’m going to be a “day tripper”, a local tourist.
First stop, my childhood town of Fairhaven, Massachusetts.
In 1775, shortly after the battles of Lexington and Concord, General Gage sent the British ship Falcon to Martha’s Vineyard to rustle up some food and supplies. Something tells me he left his MasterCard at home, figuring this “shopping excursion” would indeed be price-less, or at least payment-less.
When the Fairhaven militia discovered two of the Falcon’s tenders anchored off nearby Buzzards Bay, they grabbed their muskets, set sail and returned with “more than 25” members of His Royal Majesty’s marines as their captives. According to local lore and immortalized on a stone tablet, this was the first naval battle of the revolution. Would it not therefore be the first naval battle of what would eventually become the United States of America? Why didn’t THAT fact make it into the history books? We Americans are inordinately fond of firsts. So, we Fairhavenites should all feel rightfully proud!
The Fairhaven locals soon realized they needed to protect their harbor and nearby New Bedford, so they spent the next two years building this fort.
General Gage, understandably miffed at the township for the ignominious defeat his mighty navy suffered at the hands of the Fairhaven militia, waited till the fort was finished. In September of 1778, he returned with 4,000 troops to set the town and its ships aflame. He really must have been intimidated by those plucky militia men, because it was highly unlikely that the entire Fairhaven population back then was anywhere close to 4,000–even counting the chickens and cows.
Although the vengeful Gage succeeded in destroying the fort and, in general, creating a huge mess, he was stopped from sacking Fairhaven by a great soldier with an even better name. Major Israel Fearing marched 15 miles from Wareham to save the day–and the town. Try as I might, I couldn’t get a head count for Major Fearing’s fighting force. But I DID confirm the distance between Wareham and Fairhaven with Mapquest, so it has to be right. Funny, as a kid, I always thought Wareham was a lot further away than a mere 15 miles. Maybe it only FEELS further on a Sunday drive, when you are sitting in the back seat, being tormented by your younger brother.
You can’t keep a Fairhavenite–or a fort–down, so in record time, like the mythical Phoenix, it arose from the ashes, ergo its name. Despite living in Fairhaven for over 20 years, I never made the connection until I read yet another on site stone tablet.
Right by the fort is another important protective structure, the hurricane dike. It might not be as big as the Great Wall of China, but like that other wall, you can stroll along it to get a view of the surrounding area and watch the fishing boats sail through.
The dike also allows you to peer into the back side of the stately old homes near the Fort. The one below has”widow’s watch”, a small room at the top of the house with windows on all four sides. The story goes that back in the whaling days, the lady of the house would scan the horizon, watching for her husband’s ship.