Nearly 600 feet above sea level, its summit of bare granite flecked with quartz crystals glittering in the sun, Lantern Hill (or Tar Barrel Hill, as it is also called) in North Stoningotn has served as both landmark and lookout since the first peoples came to this region where the continent meets the sea. Tradition says that it has served fisherman and deep water sailors as a day-beacon, guiding them safely in to the eastern Long Island Sound ports like Mystic or Stonington, from the earliest days of maritime activity on the coast. Since the shimmering, white summit can be seen from many miles at sea on a clear day, the landmark tradition probably has a sound basis in historical fact.
By the same token, on a clear day observers on the gleaming peak of Lantern Hill can see five states---New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont--as well as more than a hundred miles of coastal waters. Sassacus, the fierce Pequot chieftain, was said to have stood on the summit many times, squinting seaward, eternally watching for the approach of enemy war canoes, or landward, seeking signs of hostile Narragansett campfires.
But it was an incident that occurred during the War of 1812 that finally gave this unusual height of land the name it still know by today. Fearful of enemy naval attacks along the Connecticut coast, the people of Stonington had maintained a round-the -clock watch from the top of Lantern Hill since the troubles with England began. Then, in April of 1814, several hundred British sailors and marines had landed at nearby pettipaug Point (Essex) on the Connecticut River and systematically destroyed an estimated $200,000 worth of property, including some twenty ships. When word of the Essex raid reached the Stonington area a short time later, the vigilance of the lookouts on Lantern Hill intensified and a system of warning the eastern shoreline villages of impending attack was implemented.
Huge hogsheads of tar--the same kind used to preserve manila lines aboard ship--were hauled to the summit of Lantern Hill. If a lookout spotted any sign of enemy sail, the men on watch were to put a torch to all the tar barrels, as a warning of imminent danger. The flames from such "lanterns" could, of course, be seen for many miles around. On the bright night of August 11, 1814, the tar barrel lanterns on top of the hill began to flicker, immediately, the people of Stonington went into action. Women, children and elderly quickly packed a few personal belongings in wagons and carts and hurried inland that very night, to seek refuge with friends and relatives in the country. The able men and militia headed for the waterfront to prepare the cannon for firing. When the dawn revealed a large British fleet standing in the harbor, apparently ready to land troops for a raid, the little village was ready, thanks to the timely warning
for two days the British naval vessels milled about in the harbor, pounding the coastal defenses, with an estimated sixty tons of cannon balls and shot. But the expected landing never came. When the enemy realized that their softening-up bombardment was having little effect on the Americans (who seemed only too well prepared to defend themselves), the English broke off their attack, set sail for open sea and disappeared below the horizon.
Ever since frustrating the British raid at Stonington, it citizens have taken understandable delight in poet Philip Freneau's lines on the battle.
IT COST THE KING TEN THOUSAND POUNDS -------TO HAVE A DASH AT STONINGTON,-
And ever since, the place from which the crucial early warning was flashed has been called Lantern (or Tar Barre;) Hill.
EDITORIAL FOOTNOTE; This article came from the Mashantucket Pequot Museum. I have climbed the hill many times. It is a little tiring . Take a bottle of water and climb it. It is fun and the view is great. What do you think?