By Amanda Wyatt
It’s sometimes been called “the forgotten war,” but in Sag Harbor, the War of 1812 is certainly getting its due.
Last week, David Thommen, a Sag Harbor native and local history enthusiast, earned the approval of the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees for his proposal to raise a flagpole at the small stone monument between Mulford Lane and High Street where an American fort stood during the war.
Although a date has yet to be decided, Thommen would ideally like to hold a flag raising ceremony either on or near July 11, which will mark the 200th anniversary of the attack on Sag Harbor by British forces.
“Sag Harbor did see combat action during that conflict,” said Thommen in an interview last week. “We had an attack on the village and they actually had canons up here, and [local militia members] chased them out with the canon fire.”
In his research, Thommen discovered an official report of the incident, which was written by General Abraham Rose on July 11, 1813.
“Five barges from the British squadron came and made an attack upon Sag Harbor, took three vessels, set fire to one, but met with a reception so warm and spirited from our Militia there stationed, who are entitled to much credit, as also many citizens of the place, that they abandoned their object and made a very precipitate retreat,” wrote Rose.
But as far as Thommen could tell from his research, the conflict had never been properly commemorated. While a stone monument built in the early 1900s acknowledges the fort, he said “they never truly had a dedication and they never had a flag fly over it. And I live here and I thought it would be kind of a cool thing to do.”
Following the ceremony, Thommen hopes to hold a small reception at his home on Rysam Street, which is located “a stone’s throw away” from the monument. In fact, Thommen — whose family has lived in the village for generations — can remember playing on the monument as a child.
Since he lives next door, Thommen has also volunteered to serve as the flag steward. Besides, as a retired dock master for the Town of Southampton, he noted that he certainly has practice when it comes to proper flag etiquette.
For the dedication ceremony, Thommen hopes to find a copy of the historic 15-star, 15-stripe flag — the flag flown over Fort McHenry in Baltimore when Francis Scott Key wrote ‘The Star Spangled Banner.’”
He has also been researching flagpoles online and estimates that the cost will be about $1,000, which will be paid for through private fundraising efforts. One such event will be a backyard barbecue fundraiser, which Thommen plans to hold sometime in the spring.
“I do have some anonymous private investors who are willing to write me a check,” said Thommen of the fundraising effort to date.
So far, he has received positive feedback from many members of the community, including Mayor Brian Gilbride. In an interview last week, the mayor called the flag-raising project “a great idea.”
“It’s great that David wants to privately raise funds and really shepherd it,” he said. “I look forward to attending his fundraiser.”
Besides, Gilbride added, “it’s nice to pay tribute to the people who sacrificed in the War of 1812.”
And while Thommen noted that no American lives were lost during the attack on Sag Harbor, there were two young men stationed at the fort who were killed a few years later. Their names were Nathaniel Baker and John Peirson.
“When they got word that the war was over, they decided to shoot off a canon in celebration and blew themselves up — vaporized themselves. They blew up the entire powder building where all the gunpowder was kept,” he explained.
“So there’s an empty grave up here in the graveyard next to the Presbyterian Church with their names on it because there was nothing to bury. And it’s in my backyard,” he said.
Even though no one was killed in combat, Thommen noted that many people served at the site, and it deserved more than a small granite monument.
“We have this fort that saw action during the War of 1812, and I think it should be in the other group of respectful sites [dedicated] to those who have served,” he said.