A successful ruse with circular marching and cornstalk guns – Delaware State Quarter Coin

Today, the Delaware State Quarter Coin continues the story of the attack on Lewes 203 years ago – see the March 14th post for the beginning.

Continuing from the book, Some Records of Sussex County, Delaware compiled by C. H. B. Turner of Lewes and published in 1909:


Not until April 7th did Beresford make the attack.

One of the newspapers of that day says:—

“Commodore Beresford would seem to have suddenly altered his mind with respect to burning down Lewistown, to make a fire to roast the Delaware oxen by.

“It would be too offensive to suppose a British officer would threaten without meaning to make good his word.

“But certain it is that the Commodore has fallen into a dilemma, which ‘his friends’ at the coffee house have not explained.

“Delaware beef is highly seasoned, and if served up with forced meat balls, might not prove as palatable to this nautical hero as the beef of old England.”

At last the attack was made. Colonel Davis’ dispatch to the Governor says:—

“This evening the Belvidere and two small vessels came close into Lewes and commenced an attack by firing several thirty-two pound shot into the town, which have been picked up; after which a flag was sent; to which the following reply was returned :—

“ ‘SIR :—I reply to the renewal of your demand, with the addition for ‘a supply of water,’ I have to inform you, that neither can be complied with. This, too, you must be sensible of; therefore I must insist the attack on the inhabitants of this town is both wanton and cruel. I have the honor to be your most obedient servant

“ ‘S. B. DAVIS

“ ‘Colonel Commandant.’ ”

One Captain R. Byron seemed deputed by Beresford to continue the correspondence for supplies. He says:

“No dishonor can be attached in complying with the demand of Sir John Beresford to Lewes in consideration of his superior force. I must, therefore, consider your refusal to supply the squadron with water, and the cattle that the neighborhood affords, most cruel, upon your part, to its inhabitants. I grieve for the distress of the women and children are reduced to by your conduct, and earnestly desire they may be instantly removed.”

Colonel Davis answered that he had already taken care, of the ladies.

The attack was made immediately, “and continued till near ten o’clock. The fire from our battery silenced one of their most dangerous gunboats, against which I directed the fire from an eighteen-pounder, for which I request you (the Governor) will immediately send me a supply of shot and powder, as it is uncertain how long the bombardment will continue. They have not succeeded with their bombs. in reaching the town, and the damages from their thirty two-pounders and canister cannot be ascertained until daylight.”

A letter sent from Dover, April 7th, to the Baltimore Federal Gazette, says:

“When the bombardment began, two eighteen-pounders were serviceable, but without ball; two nine-pounders, ball too large; there were but fifteen casks of powder.

“One of the eighteen-pounders mounted on the 6th played on a sloop and silenced its guns.

“Our men behaved well; the women and children left the garrison; the Belvidere came within two miles of the town, too close for her shot to fall in it; the smaller vessels sent balls flying over the town.

“On the fifth of April there were 286 men, 418 muskets complete; 8000 cartridges; 25 bags of grape-shot; 15 kegs of powder; 2270 flints; 41 twelve-pound balls; 88 nine-pound ball; 167 six-pound ball; 216 four-pound ball; 434 kegs of lead; 2 eighteen-pounders, one mounted; 2 nine-pounders, badly mounted; 4 six-pounders, badly mounted; 3 four-pounders, mounted.”

The Baltimore Patriot, April 7th, read:

“This morning a very steady smoke was seen in the direction of Lewistown, supposed to be occasioned by throwing rockets into that place.

“The enemy fired eight hundred cannon balls on shore, which were picked up by the brave people of Lewes, and ‘returned to the enemy with interest.’

“A spectator describes the scene as follows: ‘He was just above the town and have a clear view. The British ships were ranged in line of battle; the fire ceased about two o’clock, when he visited the earth-works. The weather was threatening, wind easterly. Captain Byron drew off his squadron at four o’clock, a few miles, where he remained until sailing for the Capes.’

“About five-hundred shots were fired. A collection was made of one hundred and fifty of small sizes and a few bombs. Houses were injured, chimneys cut almost in two, the corner-posts, plates, and studs cut off in several houses. The foremast of a schooner was cut away, and another received a shot in her hull.

“Of two particular rockets thrown, one fell on a lot, another in a marsh.

“A fire was directed at the breastwork, where more than thirty men were stationed. Shot struck the battery and broke the pine logs. Two shots entered by the guns.

“A further account mentions that one bombshell fell in the town, likewise the shots of the Belvidere, and fell some distance beyond. The loss by destruction of property was estimated to be $2000.

“On the tenth of April a letter reached Philadelphia from Dover, dated the 8th inst., written at quarter past 8 o’clock, saying: ‘Lewes is yet safe, Mr. White left there at eleven o’clock yesterday, and says the enemy cannot, in his opinion, destroy the place unless they land, which he thinks they would probably do in the course of the day. The barges, to the number of five, were full of men. The house of Peter Hall (a tavern on the bank) was demolished, and several others damaged; the bombs and rockets fell short of the town.’ ”

The same paper concludes: “The British withdrew from Lewistown on the eighth, after bombarding and cannonading it incessantly for twenty-two hours, without doing any material injury to the place, most of their shot and shell falling short of their object.”

Another paper says:

“The militia fired but few shots, as they had only one eighteen and one nineteen-pounder and but few shots for them, and of which they endeavored to make the best possible use, and have reason to suppose they gave one of the sloops the contents of the eighteen pounder, as she was obliged to haul out of the line soon after it was seen to strike her.

“We are assured the inhabitants of Lewis and Pilot-towns, the volunteers and militia under the command of Colonel Samuel Davis, behaved in a cool and determined manner. The pilots who were stationed in the fort deserve the highest praise, and the whole was so judiciously stationed by the commanding officers that had the British landed they would have been able to give a good account of themselves.

“Powder from Dupont’s Mills in Wilmington was rapidly sent forward to Lewes, and ball was hurried there, too.

“The general government had furnished Delaware one hundred and fifty stands of arms, part of its war quota; these were distributed among the volunteers at Lewes. The British made an attempt to land on the 8th; a number of small vessels with armed men approached the shore, the militia and volunteers hastening to the beach to receive them.

“The British were called back by a signal from their squadron. Col. Davis resorted to a ruse. He marched the militia and volunteers along the water front up to where, unseen by the enemy, they could enter a back street of the town, countermarch to the water front and along it, go and return; thus deceiving the British into believing – that an advancing army was flooding Lewes with troops.”

The old inhabitants say that many of the marchers carried cornstalks to represent guns.

“On the 8th, the fleet was at its anchorage at the capes, foiled and dispirited, without bullocks, vegetables, hay, or so much as a cup of cold water.

“April 28 the Belvidere put to sea, sailing for the Chesapeake with a few prisoners.”

Niles’ Register of April 24th, says: “The people of Lewistown are making themselves quite merry for the late bombardment of that place. They enumerate their killed and wounded as follows: one chicken killed, one pig wounded—leg broken. It was a ridiculous affair on the part of the enemy. We have nothing new from this quarter except that Sir John Beresford has captured five oyster-boats, and, after a severe engagement, caused these whole cargoes to be devoured.”


The Delaware State Quarter Coin shows with an image of Cape Henlopen near Lewes, circa 1891.

Delaware State Quarter Coin