On July 16, 1813, a British Royal Navy fleet departed Ocracoke Island, bringing to an end a little known episode of the War of 1812. The fleet appeared off the coast on July 11. Under the command of Admiral George Cockburn, the expedition landed at Ocracoke and Portsmouth as part of a surprise attack. The British invaders plundered the islands of hundreds of livestock. Their objective was to take New Bern and the state’s interior.
The United States Revenue Cutter Mercury, built at Ocracoke in 1807, usually policed the inner coast, enforcing state customs laws under the leadership of Captain David Wallace. On receiving word of the invasion, the Mercury set course for New Bern to deliver a warning of the fleet’s presence. Several of the British ships chased, but failed to overtake, the Mercury which very narrowly escaped by running up all its sails.
The timely warning allowed the state to prepare a defense, thus preventing a full-scale invasion. As news reached the mainland of the threat, militia units from across the state gathered at New Bern. British commanders abandoned their mission once the advantage of surprise had been compromised. The U.S. Revenue Service was the forerunner of the U.S. Coast Guard.
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