In Episode 109, Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger explore the shores of Portland, Maine, in search of the one-legged ghost of a British soldier who was allegedly shot here in October of 1775, shortly after British warships leveled the city as retribution for a rebellious uprising. This attack may have been more personal than business.
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Edited by: Ray Auger
Additional Voice Talent: Michael Legge and Carl Hutchinson.
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*A note on the text: Please forgive punctuation, spelling, and grammar mistakes. Like us, the transcripts ain’t perfect.
[SFX OCEAN WAVES]
JEFF: The house would have been in this area right around here.
RAY: It’s a pretty spot here on the shores of Portland, Maine. I can see why a ghost would want to haunt this area.
JEFF: It is beautiful, but what happened here in 1775 wasn’t pretty at all. It was horrific. Maybe that’s why the area is haunted.
RAY: They say hauntings come from unfinished business, or a ghost is looking for something.
JEFF: That’s exactly the case here, Ray. The story goes this ghost is looking for his lost leg.
JEFF: Hi, I’m Jeff Belanger and welcome to Episode 109 of the New England Legends podcast. If you give us about ten minutes, we’ll give you something strange to talk about today.
RAY: And I’m Ray Auger. Thanks for joining us on our mission to chronicle every legend in New England one week and one story at a time. And we just couldn’t do it without the help and support of our patreon patrons. This a grass-roots show. And these are the people who help pay for our hosting costs, production costs, and promotion so we can bring you a new story every week. If you want to become a bigger part of the movement, head over to patreon.com/newenglandlegends and for just $3 bucks per month you’ll get early access to new episodes plus bonus episodes that no one else gets to hear.
JEFF: Also, if you go to our Web site at ournewenglandlegends.com, not only will you find our entire show archive, plus photos and video clips, you’ll also see a link to the just-released 2020 Haunted New England wall calendar featuring my stories and the eerie photography of Frank Grace. These are limited edition just like last year, so once they’re gone. They’re gone. Plus, if you act now we’ll throw in an extra day for 2020.
RAY: And I’m sure that has nothing to do with 2020 being a leap year.
JEFF: It might have a little something to do with that.
RAY: Got it. Okay, Jeff, we’re looking for a ghost who lost his leg?
JEFF: That’s right.
RAY: Lost his leg while he was alive or lost his ghost leg?
JEFF: Yeah, I can see how that would be confusing. Let’s head back to October of 1775, back when Portland was knows as Falmouth, and see if we can figure this out.
RAY: It’s October 8th 1775, and a British naval squadron of four ships just set sail heading north from Boston Harbor.
RAY: The Canceaux is the lead ship, and Lieutenant Henry Mowat is in command. The thing is, this is a British revenge mission. Some colonial towns are getting unruly. There’s talk of revolution. And the British won’t have it. So Lt. Mowat and his crew are hell bent on retribution.
JEFF: The British have identified ten towns as potential targets. All of the targets are along the coast north of Boston. One of the primary targets is the town of Machias. A few months ago some rebels in Machias seized two British vessels, killing the commander of one of the vessels and imprisoning the commander of the other. Admiral Samuel Graves gave Mowat clear orders to hit as many of these towns as he can, but Machias should be one of them.
RAY: Lt. Mowat was given full discretion as to the targets. And Mowat didn’t have to think about it very long. Machias can wait. His first target would be Falmouth.
JEFF: Hmmm… There’s something you should know about Lt. Mowat and Falmouth.
RAY: What’s that?
JEFF: There’s some history between the two.
RAY: Ohhhh. Do tell!
JEFF: About five months ago, Lt. Mowat was enjoying some shore time in Falmouth, when a local militia group seized him, and threw him in jail.
RAY: What was his crime?
JEFF: Being a British officer for one. And possibly spying on colonial rebels.
RAY: I see. These are troubled times.
JEFF: They are. Still, Falmouth leaders didn’t think it was right to arrest Mowat, so they came to his aid and secured his release right away. Their one condition wat that he return to Falmouth the next day to sort everything out with the militia. Lt. Mowat gave his word that he would return the following day.
[SFX COCK A DOODLE DOO ROOSTER]
JEFF: The sun rose, and the leaders of Falmouth waited… but then they soon learn that last night Lt. Mowat boarded his ship, and pushed off for Boston in the south.
RAY: I’m guessing this little arrest really upset him.
JEFF: It did. Mowat stewed over the event for months. And now, leading a squadron of British ships, he’s itching to take out his anger on Falmouth. After all, it IS on the list of targets.
RAY: October 16th arrives to find Mowat’s four ships sailing into Falmouth harbor. But sitting in their way is a small schooner that refuses to move along. It’s blocking their entrance to the harbor. Mowat doesn’t hesitate.
[SFX CANOON BOOMS]
RAY: In a flash he destroys the schooner, and alerts the people of Falmouth that these British war ships mean business.
JEFF: Everyone is town is in furious agitation. They’re securing the farm animals, others are taking up arms to intimidate local British loyalists. Meanwhile, the four British war ships are dropping anchor just offshore in Falmouth harbor. The Reverend Jacob Bailey witnesses the whole thing.
REV BAILEY: The whole fleet stood directly up the river, and formed in line of battle before the town. We now plainly discovered one ship of twenty guns, one of sixteen, a large schooner of fourteen, a bomb sloop, and two other armed vessels.
JEFF: As you can imagine, the leaders of Falmouth are confused. They know Lt. Mowat is in command, and they also recall getting him out of jail five months ago. Maybe he’s coming to make some kind of peace offering?
RAY: No, look over there. A British officer is coming ashore to deliver a message. Rev. Bailey is listening.
REV BAILEY: The officer landed at the lower end of King Street, amid a prodigious assembly of people, which curiosity and expectation had drawn together from every quarter. Some of the multitude appeared in arms, who united with the rest to convey the officer with uncommon parade and ceremony along the street to the Town House. His entrance was immediately followed by a confused mixture, which filled the apartment with noise and tumult.
RAY: The officer emerges from the Town House, and reads a proclamation.
BRITISH OFFICER: After so many premeditated Attacks on the legal Prerogatives of the best of Sovereigns; After the repeated Instances of Britain’s long forbearance of the Rod of Correction; and the Merciful and Paternal extension of her Hands to embrace you, again and again, have been regarded as vain and nugatory And in place of a dutiful and grateful return to your King and Parent state; you have been guilty of the most unpardonable Rebellion … Having it in orders to execute a just Punishment on the Town of Falmouth … I warn you to remove without delay the Human Species out of the said town; for which purpose I give you the time of two hours.
JEFF: Oh man, two hours to clear out? The news sends everyone in town into a panic.
[SFX SCREAMS OF A CROWD]
RAY: Lt. Mowat agrees to delay his assault to the following morning if Falmouth turns over its weapons. They gather up some rifles and a few other weapons as a good-will gesture, but Mowat sees through it. Still, he offers to delay is attack until 9:00 AM the following morning. If Falmouth turns over its cannons and muskets, plus provides some hostages, he’ll agree to delay the assault until the Admiral can make a decision.
JEFF: It’s a rough night in Falmouth. Militias arrive from neighboring towns, because they’re looking for a fight. Many people spend the evening trying to save whatever possessions they can move out of their homes. By morning, there’s nothing but confusion and chaos in the town. Rev. Bailey delivers a message to Mowat.
REV BAILEY: We’re astonished to find that no part of the inhabitants have assembled in the morning to turn over their muskets. The whole town is in great confusion, with many women and children still remaining.
RAY: Lt. Mowat allows the 9:00 AM deadline to pass, giving the stragglers time to get out of harm’s way. (PAUSE) But at 9:40 AM, he lets loose on the town.
REV BAILEY: The cannon began to roar with incessant and tremendous fury … In a few minutes the whole town was involved in smoke and combustion. About a thousand men in arms attended this scene of devastation, besides a prodigious number of both sexes, without attempting any repulsion. The bombardment continued from half after nine till sunset, during which all the lower end and middle of the town was reduced to a heap of rubbish. In a word about three quarters of the town was consumed and between two and three hundred families who twenty four hours before enjoyed in tranquility their commodious habitations, were now in many instances destitute of a hut for themselves and families, and as a tedious winter was approaching they had before them a most gloomy and distressing prospect.
JEFF: The town had no cannons ready to defend themselves. And though they had men willing to fight, there’s little they can do from shore when the British cannons are raining fire down from above.
RAY: When the bombardment ends, Lt. Mowat sends some boats to shore to survey the damage. It’s a miracle that no one was killed in the all-day attach. The British soldiers find a smoldering ruin of a town.
JEFF: One British soldier, a man named Henry Reed, is shaking his head as he wanders among the smoke and ashes, then suddenly some local militia men hiding in the rubble open fire.
[SFX MUSKET FIRE]
JEFF: Reed takes a bullet in the leg. The other British soldiers manage to scare off the attackers who seem content with firing off a few shots and then running for it. But Reed’s leg… it’s bad. A gaping hole is oozing blood. The ship’s surgeon decides to amputate on the spot in order to save the soldier’s life.
JEFF: The leg is removed, and tossed into a shallow hole by the water’s edge. Reed is going to survive.
RAY: Henry Reed is carried back to his ship and is fitted with a wooden leg. He’s fortunate to make his way back home to England.
JEFF: Meanwhile, Falmouth rebuilds.
JEFF: Houses are built along the shore, town offices are rebuilt, and under the new name of Portland, this town will go on to become Maine’s first state capital.
RAY: And right here where we’re standing, a house was built. A house that never had any kind of paranormal problems… not until years later when way over in England, Henry Reed passes away from old age. That’s when the trouble starts.
[SFX PEGLEG WALKING ON WOOD THUMP THUMP THUMP]
JEFF: Folks in town spot a strange, hobbling apparition walking around this house, and somehow right through it. And the family inside? They’re scared. They’re clearly dealing with a haunting.
RAY: That’s when some old-timers in town recall the raid on Falmouth back in 1775. They remember the British Soldier who lost his leg. It’s one of those fuzzy town memories that suddenly comes into clear focus. The best everyone can figure, old Henry Reed must have made his way back across the Atlantic in search of his missing leg.
[SFX PEGLEG WALKING ON WOOD THUMP THUMP THUMP]
JEFF: Those strange sounds continue. Windows and doors open by themselves. The ghost is ever-present, and the family is at a loss for what to do until one old-timer suggests, maybe Reed’s leg is buried around here somewhere?
RAY: The desperate homeowners waste no time in taking a shovel to their dirt floor basement.
RAY: And pretty soon, they uncover a small pile of bones. It’s what’s left of Reed’s missing leg.
JEFF: In the corner of the basement, a one-legged apparition forms, glowing slightly green. He slowly floats toward the bones, and that’s when a ghostly leg floats up from the bones. The one-legged man and his severed limb reunite, and slowly the spirit vanishes never to be seen again. And that brings us back to today.
RAY: Woah, a ghost who crosses an ocean just to get his leg back.
JEFF: That’s what they say.
RAY: Losing a limb in battle isn’t something you’d ever forget.
JEFF: No, and it seems Henry Reed may have carried a beef with Falmouth… now Portland… for the rest of his life.
RAY: There’s definitely a pattern. Lt. Mowat never liked this town either.
JEFF: I can’t say I blame them. Mowat was arrested here, Reed lost his leg. But still, I love the moral of this ghostly legend. The idea that there’s no lengths a person won’t go through to be made whole again.
RAY: If you enjoy listening to these strange-but-true legends each week, your friends might as well. Please consider sharing our episodes on your social media.
JEFF: And if you don’t already subscribe to us, do it, because it’s free. You can find us on iTunes or Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, Google Play, iHeartRadio, or wherever you get your podcasts.
RAY: Visit our Web site at ournewenglandlegends.com where you can see our entire archive of shows, plus dates for Jeff’s on-going story tour.
JEFF: We’d like to thank Michael Legge and Carl Hutchinson for lending their voice acting talents this week.
RAY: Carl’s British accent was most convincing.
JEFF: I hope so! He’s British. Cheers, mate!
RAY: And our theme music is by John Judd.
JEFF: Until next time remember… the bizarre is closer than you think.
Copyright © 2019 New England Legends. All rights reserved.
Robert FraserMarch 29, 2020
The English officer who reads the proclaimation is one Lieutenant Alexander Fraser. He also led the men who came ashore after the bombardment. Here’s the extract from his biographical memoir in 1814.
“Mr. Fraser was ordered on board the Canceaux as lieutenant. The town of Falmouth being the first object, Mr. Fraser was sent on shore with a flag of truce, offering to spare the town, on the Condition of delivering up all their arms, and giving hostages in the mean time : this not being complied with, a bombardment took place, by which a great part of the town was reduced to ashes; and Mr. Fraser, with a party of seamen and marines, landed to set fire to such parts as could not be destroyed from the ships : in effecting this, he was a good deal annoyed by the Americans from behind hedges, &c. ; but, being covered by the ships, he reimbarked the whole party, having only a few wounded. In this service he was assisted by the late Captain John Elphinstone, and D’ Auvergne, Prince of Bouillon, both at that time midshipmen”
He went on to become an Admiral, and amomgst others friends with Nelson and Royalty. He was also known as a B*****d of a captain, occasioning a crew to write to the admiralty to remove him from command. He is a distant cousin to me.