Local Historian Honors Sag Harbor’s Fallen Heroes from the War of 1812




A group of history buffs, elected officials and veterans gathered on Monday morning to pay tribute to two men who lost their lives 200 years ago, at the end of the War of 1812. From the left, Stephen Peters, David Thommen, Mayor Brian Gilbride, Trustee Ed Deyermond, Lilee Fell, Bethany Deyermond and John Burns. 

By Mara Certic

As strong winds whipped around on Monday morning, a group of seven people gathered at the location of an early 19th century fort to honor two men who lost their lives there exactly 200 years before.

The small gathering, which included a handful of veterans and elected officials, was there in the freezing temperatures to pay tribute to the village’s only casualties in the War of 1812, two soldiers who died as they celebrated the news that the war had ended.

David Thommen, a history buff who takes a special interest in the War of 1812, said a few words before placing a historically accurate wreath made of pheasant feathers, evergreen and raw cotton by Lilee Fell Flowers at the site of the fort that was built to protect the village from attack during the war against the British.

As Mr. Thommen lowered an era-appropriate 15-star flag he thanked all veterans: from those who served in the militias of Massachusetts in 1645 to those in the armed forces today.

“But today especially we remember John Peirson and Nathaniel Baker,” he continued.

As the story goes, the two men died on February 23, 1815, when word finally reached Sag Harbor that the war of 1812 had ended. The Treaty of Ghent, which formally ended the conflict, was signed on Christmas Eve, 1814, but according to Mr. Thommen it took much longer for the news to travel back to the United States from what is modern day Belgium.  So long that the famous Battle of New Orleans actually occurred after peace had been declared.

Nearly two months after the treaty had been signed, the good news finally arrived in Sag Harbor while John Peirson and Nathaniel Baker, both 22, were stationed at the fort.

Some reports say that the two men were killed by the accidental discharge of the cannon, while other records state that the men were celebrating the good news and the cannon discharged, causing a “massive explosion,” which vaporized everything in the area.

Mr. Peirson and Mr. Baker are the only two known East End casualties of either the war of 1812 or the Revolutionary War.

Mr. Thommen has worked for the past three years to attain some recognition for Sag Harbor’s role in the War of 1812, and two years ago he installed a flagpole at the site of the former fort. Monday’s ceremony honoring the two men he has researched so much was the culmination of all this work, he said.