The centerpiece of Rockport’s historic district is the Rockport Congregational Church. The church itself was founded back in 1755 (85 years before the town was founded) and is the oldest institution in Rockport.
The building itself was built back in 1804 as the Sandy Bay Meetinghouse. The church was affectionately dubbed the Old Sloop, by fisherman and sailors, as the steeple successfully guided mariners into Rockport harbor for centuries.
The church has some impressive ties to American history, including a pastor who was a field chaplain in both the Revolutionary and French and Indian War. In 1843, the church voted strong support for the abolitionist movement, and in 1865 it was the location where President Franklin Pierce stood welcoming back soldiers from the Civil War.
But, without a doubt, the most interesting connection to history is the Church’s role in the War of 1812. Let’s take a closer look at the Rockport Congregational Church and the War of 1812.
The War of 1812 was very hard on the residents of Cape Ann. Their livelihoods tied to the ocean, conflict with Great Britain significantly impacted the free use of the sea for fishing and commerce. In Sandy Bay a company of about 60 men formed the Sea Fencibles to protect the parish.
On September 8, 1814, a British frigate, Nymphe, made its way into Sandy Bay. It took one of the fishing boats belonging to Sandy Bay. Below is an example of what the Nymphe may have looked like. There have actually been 7 ships of the Royal Navy named HMS Nymph, Nymphe or Nymphen.
The British then sent two barge loads under the cover of night. One successfully captured the fort at Long Cove. The second barge was observed on the western side of the Neck, at daybreak, and the Congregational Church bell rang to warn the town of the invasion.
Members of the Sea Fencibles, gathered and directed musket fire upon at the barge. Despite significant exchanges of fire, no soldiers, on either side, were injured.
The British barge then fired at the Congregational Church bell to try to silence it but ended up hitting the steeple instead, where the cannonball became lodged.
The bell was never silenced and, unfortunately for our British friends, the recoil from the shot launched the cannon through the bottom of their ship. The boat began taking on water and the soldiers were forced to come ashore in their sinking vessel and many were captured.
A prisoner exchange was ultimately arranged, and the British soldiers departed Sandy Bay.
When walking down main street in Rockport you can look up at the steeple and see a reproduction of the cannonball still lodged in the steeple. You can also see the steeple over the Rockport rooftops when spending the night in our Crow’s Nest Suite , at our Rockport MA Hotel.
According to church spokesman Geof Lyon, “It’s a wooden ball glued onto a piece of siding and painted black. It’s more symbolic than anything else.” While that is true, we still think that the recognition of this history is fantastic.
The church does still have the original cannonball. It’s kept under lock and key and it’s brought out for special occasions. An incredible connection between the Rockport Congregational Church and The War of 1812.