Many heroic tales emerged from the War of 1812. One of the most famous is the story of Dolley Madison’s flight from the White House before the British burned it in the middle of the war in 1814. In her escape, she managed to save an important painting of George Washington. But there is a lesser known story that is just as heroic, and it involved two young girls who managed to ward off an attack by the British Navy.
Our story takes place in 1814, the same year of the White House fire. Britain’s Navy was attacking towns and cities along the east coast. They would steal supplies and destroy houses and boats before leaving.
Scituate Harbor had already been attacked three times, but the local militia had done their best to repel the British. They remained in Scituate throughout the summer, but returned home in September. Unfortunately, the British returned after they left.
The children of the Scituate lighthouse keeper, Simeon Gates, were the first to notice the British ship’s approach. Simeon’s son immediately ran for help, leaving his two sisters Rebecca (age 21) and Abigail (age 15) to watch in fear as the enemy drew closer.
But the girls were not content to sit by and watch their town be destroyed. There might not have been any soldiers or militia on hand to protect Scituate, but they could make the British believe otherwise.
The girls owned a fife and drum, and they had learned to play some military songs from the militia who had been stationed there that summer. They took their instruments and hid behind some trees near the beach, where they could see the British sailors loading on to barges to attack the town. There, Rebecca played “Yankee Doodle” on her fife while Abigail tapped out “Roll Call” on her drums.
As the British weren’t expecting to find soldiers in the harbor, the music appeared to surprise them. Since the British could not see who was playing the music, they most likely assumed that militia had been alerted and were on their way attack them. They weren’t prepared for a fight, so the ship signaled the barges to return. Then, miraculously, the ship raised its anchor and left the harbor.
Though some doubted the story, the girls’ story never changed, and they both swore affidavits attesting to its truth. When Abby died, she was carried to her grave by Union Army veterans, and the Scituate Historical Society has also verified the story as true to the best of their abilities. They have gone down in history as “America’s Army of Two,” though many today have not heard of their story.