A piece of Lewes history is the building on Front Street called the Cannonball House, recognized for the cannonball lodged in its foundation during the War of 1812. The Lewes Historical Society’s latest exhibition, “Breaking Britannia’s Grasp: Lewes, the Royal Navy & the Legacy of 1812,” is scheduled to open on Friday, Sept. 4, at 10 a.m. at the Cannonball House in Lewes.
The permanent exhibition is the first of its kind and provides a dual interpretation of the bombardment of Lewes by a British naval fleet on April 6 and 7, 1813. The family-appropriate exhibition delves into the lives of both the sailors aboard the British ships and the actions of Lewes citizens who fought to defend their homes in Lewistown.
Visitors will enter the exhibition by the 18th-century main staircase and are immediately immersed in the 22-hour battle that pursued. On the floor is a colorful reproduced “period” map of the Delaware River and Bay that clearly depicts how Lewes was positioned to be the protector of Philadelphia. Examples of a mighty ship’s hull, a feeling for its gun port, and a chance to see an actual 9-pound cannonball from the battle, are just a few things visitors will experience.
An American ship model, and an actual life-like tattooed hand and arm of a sailor from the ship Trafalger, along with a recreated sailor’s berth, are also among some of the features in the exhibit.
“We wanted to provide a revised interpretation of the bombardment,” said Andrew Lyter, joint exhibition curator, and LHS director of museum programing. “Our focus is to furnish a human element, highlighting the sailors that crewed the blockading fleet, in contrast to the men that defended Lewistown. This exhibition doesn’t just speak to local audiences, it highlights occurrences throughout the Eastern Seaboard,” added Lyter.
Lyter focused his research on the sailors aboard the British fleet, highlighting what life at sea was like for them. Part of the exhibit will share hints of what food they ate and what clothes they wore. The culture of the sailors will include what life was like below deck as well. Lyter based his renditions on his research of the muster roll book from the vessel and prison records from 1812.
In contrast, joint curator and LHS Director of Education Marcos Salaverria focused on the lives and actions of the residents of Lewes during the resistance.
“The bombardment of Lewes contributed in large part to the forging of Lewes’ identity,” said Salaverria. “Lewes refused a foreign powers demand for provisions, and resisted a superior force during this bombardment,” he continued.
Salaverria’s focus for the exhibit explores the perspectives of the people on the shore during the crisis. Names of local Lewes men who signed up for the militia will be identified, along with the only surviving image of one Lewes resident who helped defend the town in 1813. A period sword will also be available to view.
“Breaking Britannia’s Grasp” opens to the public at 10 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 4, and will be free on the opening day only. Following the opening, the hours will include Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission at all other times will cost $5 per person (children 12 or younger will be admitted free of charge). On Saturday, Sept. 5, a special $10 ticket will admit individuals’ access to the 1813 exhibition, all other LHS Museums and the Maritime Festival & 56th Annual Outdoor Antique Show.
Tickets purchased for this exhibition will also allow visitors free access, for the day, at all other Lewes Historical Society properties, including the Lewes History Museum. Tickets can be purchased at the Cannonball House located at 118 Front Street, or at the Ryves Holt House, the Lewes History Museum or the LHS Museum Store & Information Center. Advance tickets are suggested and are available online and at historiclewes.org.
Guests visiting the exhibition will be asked to maintain social distancing and to wear a face covering. Space is limited.