With a Name Like Peleg Wadsworth….

When using Google to search for people and their place in history, you always hope you’re not looking for Joe Jones. So when the name Peleg Wadsworth appeared on a page of the Liberty Paper Mill ledger, there was great hope of finding him.

As you can see, Wadsworth bought only small amounts of writing paper, bonnet board – and 12 bottles of snuff – during 1774 and 1775 when he was a teacher in Plymouth, Mass. His Wikipedia entry tells us:

Wadsworth was born in Duxbury, Mass., to Peleg and Susanna (Sampson) Wadsworth. He graduated from Harvard with an A.B. (1769) and an A.M. (1772), and taught school for several years in Plymouth. There he met Elizabeth Bartlett (1753 to 1825), whom he married in 1772.

As was quite typical of the day, Wadsworth paid for his paper and snuff thusly:

He sold rags to the mill, sold paper and earned a commission, and evidently carted rags or paper.

Pretty normal stuff, but the events of April 19, 1775 were to change his life dramatically. After Lexington and Concord, Wadsworth recruited a company of minutemen, of which he was chosen captain.  The Plymouth Countybattalion, commanded by Col. Theophilus Cottonmarched to Marshfieldto attack a garrison of British troops there. The attack was delayed for two days, allowing the British time to escape Marshfield by sea. During that time, Capt. Wadsworth, frustrated with the delay, advanced his company to within firing range of the British encampment, nearly instigating combat.

Wadsworth served as aide to Gen. Artemus Wardin March 1776, and as an engineer under Gen. John Thomasin 1776, assisting in laying out the defenses of Roxbury, Mass. He was present at the Battle of Long Island on August 1, 1776. He was made brigadier general of militiain 1777 and Adjutant General of Massachusetts in 1778.
But it was the Penobscot Expedition that brought out his best, even during what was to become the worst American naval disaster until Pearl Harbor.  In the summer of 1779 he served as second in command to General Solomon Lovell over the land forces sent to make a land and sea attack on the British fort at Castine, Maine. Commodore Dudley Saltonstall commanded the naval forces. Lt. Colonel Paul Revere also served in this expedition as commander of artillery.

In short, While General Lovell remained aboard the Commodore’s vessel, Wadsworth and Revere landed with the infantry and artillery and laid siege to the fort for about two weeks. Due to the reluctance of the Commodore to launch a naval attack in support of the ground forces, the British garrison held out until ships of the Royal arrived from Halilfaxand drove the American Navy up the Penobscot River where all 43 American warships were sunk or were scuttled and burned, comprising most of the American fleet.

Wadsworth organized a lengthy retreat through Maine that helped save what was left of the militia.

An engaging account of the Penobscot Expedition by  Windows on Maine can be found here.

A committee of inquiry interviewed several officers, including Wadsworth, and blamed the American failure on poor coordination between land and sea forces and on Commodore Saltonstall’s failure to engage the British naval forces. Saltonstall was declared to be primarily responsible for the debacle, and he was court-martialed, found guilty, and dismissed from military service. Paul Revere was accused of disobedience and cowardice, resulting in his dismissal from the militia; he later had the charges cleared.

“The Failure of the Expedition under Enquiry seems to me to be owing principally to the Lateness of our Arrival before the Enemy, the Smallness of our Land Forces, and the uniform Backwardness of the Commander of the Fleet.”

–Brigadier General Peleg Wadsworth, 29 September 1779

The historical irony to all of this is that Wadsworth assisted in having Revere publicly disciplined. His grandfather, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow sang Revere’s highest praises in “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.”

Following his military service, Wadsworth moved to Portland, Maine, In 1792 Wadsworth was chosen a presidential elector and a member of the Massachusetts Senate, and from 1793-1807 was the first representative in Congress from the region of Massachusetts that later became Maine.

In January 1807 he moved to Hiram, Maine, where he incorporated the township  and served as selectman, treasurer and magistrate. For the remainder of his life devoted himself to farming and local concerns. He died in Hiram on July 18, 1829, and is buried in the family cemetery at Wadsworth Hall.

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