Year
1779
Month Day
July 19

Massachusetts begins ill-fated Penobscot Expedition

On July 19, 1779, Massachusetts, without consulting either Continental political or military authorities, launches a 4,000-man naval expedition commanded by Commodore Dudley Saltonstall, Adjutant General Peleg Wadsworth, Brigadier General Solomon Lovell and Lieutenant Colonel Paul Revere. The expedition consisted of 19 warships, 24 transport ships and more than 1,000 militiamen. Their objective was to capture a 750-man British garrison at Castine on the Penobscot Peninsula, in what would later become Maine.

The expedition arrived on July 25 and proceeded to launch a series of inconclusive land attacks, leaving Patriot naval forces underutilized and allowing the British plenty of time to send for reinforcements. The land commander, Brig. Gen. Lovell, began to retreat at the arrival of Sir George Collier’s seven British warships, expecting Saltonstall to engage in a naval battle. Saltonstall, however, did not fight for long: the naval engagement concluded in total disaster on August 14, when Saltonstall surprised both Patriot and British commanders by fleeing upriver and burning his own ships. The Patriots lost in excess of 470 men, as well as numerous Continental Navy and Massachusetts ships that were burned during the retreat. The British achieved their victory at a cost of only 13 men.

Saltonstall and Paul Revere later faced court martial because of the fiasco. Saltonstall lost his commission, but Revere won acquittal. By contrast, Peleg Wadsworth, who served as Revere’s second-in-command, won acclaim for his performance in the engagement. He had organized the retreat, which was the only well-executed aspect of the mission. Wadsworth’s family continued to play a celebrated role in American history: his grandson was the famed poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The failed Penobscot Expedition was considered the worst naval disaster in American history until the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, more than 160 years later.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Seneca Falls Convention begins

At the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls, New York, a woman’s rights convention—the first ever held in the United States—convenes with almost 200 women in attendance. The convention was organized by Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, two abolitionists who met at the 1840 ...read more

Lady Jane Grey deposed as Queen of England

After only nine days as the monarch of England, Lady Jane Grey is deposed in favor of her cousin Mary. The 15-year-old Lady Jane, beautiful and intelligent, had only reluctantly agreed to be put on the throne. The decision would result in her execution. Lady Jane Grey was the ...read more

Rosetta Stone found

On July 19, 1799, during Napoleon Bonaparte’s Egyptian campaign, a French soldier discovers a black basalt slab inscribed with ancient writing near the town of Rosetta, about 35 miles east of Alexandria. The irregularly shaped stone contained fragments of passages written in ...read more

Doc Holliday kills for the first time

Doc Holliday commits his first murder, killing a man for shooting up his New Mexico saloon. Despite his formidable reputation as a deadly gunslinger, Doc Holliday only engaged in eight shootouts during his life, and it has only been verified that he killed two men. Still, the ...read more

United States withdraws offer of aid for Aswan Dam

Secretary of State John Foster Dulles announces that the United States is withdrawing its offer of financial aid to Egypt to help with the construction of the Aswan Dam on the Nile River. The action drove Egypt further toward an alliance with the Soviet Union and was a ...read more

George Washington Carver begins experimental project with Henry Ford

The agricultural chemist George Washington Carver, head of Alabama’s famed Tuskegee Institute, arrives in Dearborn, Michigan at the invitation of Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motor Company. Born to slave parents in Missouri during the Civil War, Carver managed to get a high ...read more

America bombs Rome

On July 19, 1943, the United States bombs railway yards in Rome in an attempt to break the will of the Italian people to resist—as Hitler lectures their leader, Benito Mussolini, on how to prosecute the war further. On July 16, President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime ...read more