A new gravestone was unveiled Saturday honoring a forgotten War of 1812 hero, Samuel Drinkwater, of Portland, who lived from 1742-1834. Historian Larry Glatz, of Scarborough, researched Drinkwater’s role of piloting a ship in a critical battle, which defeated a British ship. Glatz discovered that Drinkwater was buried in an unmarked grave. Bonnie Washuk/Staff Writer

When the American brig USS Enterprise defeated the HMS Boxer in a quick, bloody battle off Pemaquid Point during the War of 1812, the British captain was killed and his American counterpart was mortally wounded and died eight hours later.

Both were buried with fanfare at Portland’s Eastern Cemetery.

On Saturday, an American sailor from Portland whose skill at the helm of the Enterprise was instrumental in the Boxer’s defeat was honored at the cemetery with a ceremony and a new headstone almost two centuries after he was buried in what became an unnoticed, unmarked grave near those of the two captains.

Samuel Drinkwater, of Portland (1742-1834), piloted the Enterprise when it captured the British brig. Through the efforts of historian Larry Glatz, of Scarborough, a headstone was obtained from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Drinkwater was a patriot who sacrificed for his country, but years ago, “his gravestone disappeared,” Glatz said. “If you wanted to find him in the cemetery, you couldn’t.” Much was made of the two captains who died in battle, “but we don’t hear about the others who were involved,” he said.

Saturday’s ceremony was conducted with military honors and included speeches and tributes. Historian Herb Adams told how Drinkwater piloted the Enterprise, whose victory over the English brig was in part due to Drinkwater’s skill.


The Enterprise was based in Portland and commanded by Capt. William Burrows, 28. The HMS Boxer was commanded by Capt. Samuel Blyth, 29. Drinkwater was over 70 years old, “more than twice as old as either captain,” Adams said.

The battle was gruesome.

“It is September 5, 1813. Two vessels sit about 9 miles off Monhegan Island with dawn coming,” Adams said. The two brigs were evenly matched – similar size, armaments and crews.

A helmsman’s skill in such a battle was critical, Adams said. “Only air moves these ships,” he said. “A pilot knows how to use that wind.”

During the fight, “sailors and gunners fought barefoot for traction, so as to not slip in the blood,” the historian said. “Powder boys scampered among them with silk sacks of powder run up from below. In the thick of battle on the open deck, their only protection was their small size and their swiftness,” Adams said.

Each time the cannons were fired, the decks were cleared, the cannons reloaded and fired again. “Just the shockwave of a nine pound cannon ball by your head that missed you could crack your skull or cause deafness,” Adams said.


On deck, the commander, standing erect to see the battle and shout orders, was extremely vulnerable, as was Drinkwater standing at the wheel. Turning the boat’s rudder took muscle and a quick response from the pilot, Adams said.

As the battle raged, the British captain “was cut into two” by a cannon ball. Soon the American captain was hit, “ripped ankle to gut by a shell,” Adams said.

The Enterprise had been hit, but “Samuel Drinkwater holds steady as he turns into the Boxer,” Adams said. Drinkwater steered the ship close to the enemy ship as the Enterprise fired its guns, destroying the Boxer’s main mast and sails, which crashed into the Atlantic.

The battle was over in about 30 minutes. The sword of the dead English captain was presented to the dying Capt. Burrows, Adams said.

The Enterprise towed the crippled British ship to Portland where both captains were buried with much fanfare. Drinkwater, who lost his hearing because of the noise of the battle, received “silence from his country,” Adams said. “For the rest of his life, he fought for a pension for his service.”

His valor, where he was buried and his critical role in the battle went unrecognized until 2018, when Glatz began conducting research on those who contributed during the War of 1812.


Glatz began in 2008 to look at national web sites with old records of veterans who received pensions. He found the name of Samuel Drinkwater, who was connected with the two captains, Blyth and Burrows. He kept digging, and eventually found old records showing Drinkwater was buried in the Eastern Cemetery, but that there was no longer a headstone. There was, however, a headstone on Drinkwater’s wife’s grave, and Glatz found out that was where Samuel was buried as well.

“When pilot Drinkwater was laid to rest, did Portland have a procession? We don’t know,” Adams said. “Here in this quiet spot today, his place of rest is marked. Today he is remembered. Today we assemble for the pilot, not for the captains and the kings.”

The Rev. Gary Drinkwater, of Auburn, a descendent of Samuel Drinkwater, blessed and saluted the grave.

“You have served your country well, and I am proud to be your descendant,” he said.

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