Southwestern Indiana's Catholic Community Newspaper

The Situation In Scituate

By Brenda Hopf
Brenda Hopf

As we boarded the bus for a day trip outside the city of Boston this past fall, our bus driver gave us a brief rundown of the agenda for the day. As he mentioned that we would visit the site of the historic Scituate Lighthouse in Scituate, Massachusetts, I half-heartedly listened as I was more interested in the main part of the trip, which was to see Plymouth Rock and visit Plymouth Plantation.

As we headed to Scituate toward the end of the day, the driver gave us some history of the town and lighthouse, briefly mentioning the “army of two” who saved the town in 1814 from invasion by hundreds of British during the war of 1812. Say what? Two people saved the town from an army of hundreds? The driver had my attention now and of course, I had to know the rest of the story.

As the story goes, Simeon Bates, a local ship captain, was assigned the job of keeper of the new lighthouse in 1812 and moved into the adjacent keeper’s house with his wife and nine children. In 1814, during the war of 1812, the harbor of Scituate was attacked. Although they never made landfall, the British burned 10 fishing vessels. The local militia was then called in to stand guard over the town as they expected the British would soon return.

While there, lighthouse sentinels befriended the Bates family and, in particular, daughters Rebecca and Abigail. Abigail was taught how to play the drums and could replicate different military signals. Rebecca was taught four different military songs on the fife.

After months of no British activity, the militia was slowly called back from their posts. One day, as only Rebecca, Abigail and their mother were home and as Rebecca was beginning to prepare the evening meal, she spotted out the kitchen window a British ship anchored outside the harbor. Rebecca and Abigail ran to the top of the lighthouse to get a better view and they spotted the ship lowering two barges of Redcoats into the water. The barges began heading toward the harbor. Rebecca and Abigail had to think fast. Without enough time to warn the townspeople, they grabbed their drum and fife and ran to the water’s edge, hiding behind a grove of trees near the beach. Abigail began to play “roll call” on her drums while Rebecca played “Yankee Doodle” on her fife. Looking through the thicket, both girls could see the British had stopped rowing their barges toward the harbor so the girls played even louder and with more spirit than before. The British must have assumed the local militia was gathering to meet them and so they turned both barges around and rowed back to the ship, eventually raising their anchor and heading back to the open sea.

What would have happened had Rebecca and Abigail not acted quickly in the critical first moments of that situation? What if they had not chosen to use the skills taught them by the militia, but instead just ignored the situation, perhaps hiding out of fear? I dare say, many lives would have likely been lost…possibly hundreds…possibly Rebecca’s, Abigail’s and their mother’s. The town of Scituate may have been destroyed. We can only surmise what devastation likely would have occurred.

What about you and me? Do we look at each moment of our day as an opportunity to positively affect the world around us? And yes, I said world. The actions of Rebecca and Abigail are still affecting people today – people who do not even realize that their lives have been impacted by these two young women. We are no different. The choices we make with our words and actions every moment of every day have a ripple effect, which can be positive or negative. I admit that I myself do not always take each moment of every situation as seriously as I should. What about you? What situations do you come upon each day in which you have a choice, a choice to act or perhaps even ignore the situation? My answer to this question is not one of which I am personally proud. As I look into the depths of my heart, I see I have much work to do as I make those choices in each moment of every situation.

As I begin my Lenten journey and take some quiet time in the desert, I am going to challenge myself to be more aware of my words and actions and the choices I make, remembering the possible long-term effect of what even seems to me to be the smallest action or perhaps even inaction in each moment of every situation of every day – choices that could have a lasting effect, either positive or negative, on the world. I invite you to join me and through the guidance of the Holy Spirit may we all become more aware of our words and actions – words and actions that are always our choices to make, in every moment and every situation. Like Rebecca and Abigail in the midst of the situation in Scituate, in each moment of every situation in our lives, may we make the right choice—a choice made with our free will that could very well forever affect the world. 

Brenda Hopf is a member of Divine Mercy Parish in Dubois County and also contributes to the “Sharing the Load” column in The Message.