Town Musters Volunteers To Organize Revolutionary War Memorial

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Local History , Veterans

The memorial for the Battle of Chatham Harbor is tucked away on the north side of the lighthouse overlook. ALAN POLLOCK PHOTO

CHATHAM A stroll around Chatham reveals lots of war memorials, including ones for World War II, Vietnam and Korea. But nowhere are the town’s Revolutionary War veterans honored.

“We did have a Chatham presence before and during the revolution,” said selectmen Chairman Dean Nicastro, who asked the board to consider supporting the creation of a new memorial. Chatham never hosted a large battle and didn’t send any local men into the pages of high school history books, but it contributed to the war for independence and suffered mightily because of it.

The town sent some volunteer soldiers to fight for the Continental Army, and some were paid by the town – or, at least, promised money – for their service. Others took part in the coastal guard, and still others were privateers who sought to thwart the British blockade. But Col. Benjamin Godfrey, whose name is now associated with the windmill he built that now stands in Chase Park, had a hand in the fighting.

“He was originally a captain. He did serve at the Battle of Bunker Hill,” Nicastro said. There was also a Capt. Joseph Doane, Jr., whose ship was captured by a British warship disguised as a merchantman. He and Capt. Nathaniel Freeman of Harwich were imprisoned in New York until they were eventually traded for British war prisoners.

Hiat Young, a sergeant, served at the Valley Forge encampment, and his son, Joseph, followed suit – possibly falsifying his age so he could join.

There is one memorial in town related to the Revolutionary War, and it’s positioned at the Lighthouse Overlook, watching over the site of a skirmish known as the Battle of Chatham Harbor. On June 20, 1782, a British privateer entered the harbor and seized a local boat, attempting to steal it. Col. Godfrey and his coastal artillery crew mustered on the beach and fired on the boat, forcing the British to abandon it and flee for open water, with the local militia making chase in small boats. The monument to the Battle of Chatham Harbor – which is missed by most visitors to the lighthouse overlook – is one of the only public acknowledgments of the event.

“But there is no monument, per se, to the Revolutionary service of Chatham personnel,” Nicastro said.

Selectman Peter Cocolis said Chatham was a small town left in economic distress by the war, which disrupted shipping and fishing.

“They sent their youngest, their bravest,” Cocolis said. And having served with honor, many of those men “came back to a lot of nothing,” finding their their farms or businesses had suffered, and that the town had been unable to support their families.

The wives and family members who stayed behind during the war, keeping food on the table, deserve to be honored as well, Selectman Shareen Davis said.

“We often memorialize the men of the world here,” she said. The families who remained in Chatham made great sacrifices, she noted. “That should be considered in acknowledgment of those that went off to fight in the revolution.”

“Chatham was really rural and really poor, and really kind of down and out,” Selectman Jeffrey Dykens added. “This was not a vibrant place.”

Board member Cory Metters said he believes it should be a straightforward matter to secure funding and approval, and while a suitable location would need to be chosen, “I’m sure that something can be hashed out in a relatively short timetable.”

If town officials want to avoid creating a committee or subcommittee to oversee the project, they might just empower a group of volunteers to start working on the idea, Historical Commission Chairman Frank Messina said. Several people have expressed interest in working on the project, though none have volunteered to lead the effort, he said.

Though they took no vote, selectmen supported the idea of a Revolutionary War memorial and encouraged would-be volunteers to come forward.