Locals Stand Strong: The Battle of Stonington in the War of 1812

Edward Dorgan
Har-Bur Middle School, Regional School District 10


Historical Background

Many Connecticut members of the Federalist Party were opposed to the War of 1812 (which they blamed on President James Madison and his political allies) often referring to it as “Madison’s War.” After the failed American invasion of Canada, the British turned its navy to patrolling Long Island Sound, where they seized fishing and merchant ships and blocked coastal communities that relied on the sea for their livelihoods. Then, in August 1814, the small coastal town of Stonington, Connecticut, found itself under attack. On August 9, four British ships led by Captain Thomas Hardy anchored off Stonington Point. Hardy sent an ultimatum to the town giving them one hour to evacuate. A small band of militiamen, led by Jeremiah Holmes, who had become an expert gunner when impressed into the British Navy earlier in his life, defended the town over the next several days with only three cannons. On August 13, the British set sail from Stonington, leaving only moderate damage and few injuries. Newspapers, chroniclers, and poets hailed the bravery of Stonington residents and held up the battle as an important symbolic victory of the war.

D1: Potential Compelling Question

What is the significance of a military victory in the face of overwhelming odds, both at the time of the event and when looking back on history?


  • What role did Connecticut play in the War of 1812?
  • Why did the British navy attack the town of Stonington in August 1814?
  • Who won the Battle at Stonington and why?
  • What sources can we use to learn about local events in history?
  • How does news coverage at the time of an event differ from or influence how the event is remembered afterwards?
  • What role do town historical societies and local museums play in helping us remember past events?



  1. Start by having students examine the two paintings: Heroic Stonington by George Bertrand Mitchell and The Bombardment of Stonington by S. Francis Smitheman. Record all of the students’ observations and details they notice, either individually or as a class. Based on what they SEE, ask students what they THINK is going on (inferences they can draw). Then ask what questions they have.
  2. Explain that both of these paintings were made long after the actual battle they depict (100-200 years). Ask if that changes what students THINK or WONDER about the painting.
  3. Next, have students read the three newspaper articles and poem written within days/months of the battle. Students can read all four sources or break up into groups with different sources and then report out. You may want to have students use the Library of Congress Primary Source Analysis Tool worksheet or another organizer of your choice to record their thoughts.
  4. Discuss the information or “facts” provided in each of the sources and the general tone of the reporting. Discuss how these reports compare to the later paintings—what elements are the same? Which, if any, are different?
  5. Finally, have students read a historian’s account of the battle, Nancy Steenburg’s article “War of 1812: Attack on Stonington.” Having read both the modern article and the sources from the time, which of the two paintings do students feel is more historically accurate? Why?
  6. Revisit students’ questions from earlier in the lesson, other supporting questions, and the compelling question. What was the importance of the Battle of Stonington during the War of 1812?


  • Most history textbooks do not mention the smaller battles of the War of 1812. Students will use the primary sources in the toolkit and the adapted version of Nancy Steenburg’s article, “War of 1812: Attack on Stonington” to create their own entry about the Battle of Stonington.
  • Students will write a persuasive letter to a real or imaginary publisher arguing why the Battle of Stonington or War of 1812 should be included in their textbook.
  • Students will conduct additional research into Connecticut’s role in the War of 1812 and create a timeline based on their discoveries.


Place to GO

Stonington Lighthouse Museum, Stonington

Connecticut’s Old State House, Hartford. Location of the 1814 Hartford Convention.

Things To DO

Watch a video:

Conduct additional research into Connecticut’s role in the War of 1812. For a mid-19th-century history and compilation of documents related to the Battle of Stonington, read: The Defence of Stonington (Connecticut) Against a British Squadron, August 9th to 12th, 1814. J. Hammond Trumbull. Hartford: 1864.

Websites to VISIT

Articles to READ


War of 1812: Attack on Stonington” by Nancy Steenburg. Connecticut Explored, summer 2012.

War of 1812 ever-present in Stonington” by Joe Wojtas. The Day, June 28, 2012.