Show respect: Light the Scammell Bridge

In a quiet side area of the Great Bay Estuary sits a quaint little bridge that helps to connect Durham and Dover. However, this bridge is more than just a link between communities. It is our connection to an important piece of New Hampshire history. A history deserving of light.

The Colonel Alexander Scammell Memorial Bridge is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful modern bridges in the New England area. Its delicate design blends perfectly with the Great Bay National Wildlife Refuge, yet the bridge has a classical appeal, featuring characteristics that are reminiscent of the historical bridges of England, Scotland, and Ireland.

Every element of the Scammell Memorial Bridge was carefully considered, none more so than the choice of the lights. The old-world elegance, the perfect height with just a subtle overhang, which helps to add a romantic glow to the bridge. On a clear summer’s night, when the moon is aligned just right, the Scammell Bridge is a fitting tribute to a forgotten New Hampshire hero.

The story of Colonel Alexander Scammell reads like a Greek fable or American folklore. During the final days of our War for Independence, at the Battle of Yorktown, Colonial Scammel was wounded during a skirmish with British soldiers. Taken captive and held prisoner, Scammel would succumb to his wounds. The manner of his death was shrouded in mystery only partially acknowledged, and complicated by the surrender of the British at Yorktown. Hardly “the last bullet of the last battle of the last war,” Scammell would be the highest ranking Colonial officer to die at Yorktown, and one of the final casualties of our War for Independence. As with all too many deaths during war, Scammell’s loss extinguished the light of a man destined for immense importance in the founding of our new government. We know this to be true if only by a casual look at Scammell’s life leading up to his death.

Born in Massachusetts and educated at Harvard, Scammell would find his true home in New Hampshire. Surveyor by trade, Scammell also taught school when he was not exploring the then wilderness of New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts. Ever hungry for knowledge and driven to improve himself, Scammell fell in love with the law, which would lead him to another great New Hampshirite, John Sullivan (who’s namesake bridge, the General Sullivan Bridge, sits less than a quarter mile from the Colonel Alexander Scammell Memorial Bridge).

Scammell was present at many of the crucial events that helped to shape our young nation. Scammell participated at the first real armed Colonial insurrection against the British at the raid of Fort William and Mary. Historians believe that it was Scammell himself who lowered and seized the British flag from the fort.

The Battle of Bunker Hill, the Battle of Long Island, the Crossing of the Delaware during the Battle of Trenton, and Valley Forge. Scammell was not only instrumental at each of these, but he so distinguished himself during these engagements that he drew the attention of the General and Commander in Chief – Army of the United Colonies, George Washington.

Washington awarded Scammell with two commissions within four months, and eventually promoted Scammell to Adjutant-General of the Continental Army. Historians tell us that Washington had a great affection for Scammell, and during the darker periods of the War for Independence, only Scammell’s easy manner and humor could lighten the mood of the future first President of the United States. Washington was not the only Continental Officer who thought fondly of Scammell. Upon learning of Scammel’s death, Major-General (Light-Horse) Henry Lee stated “This was the severest blow experienced by the allied army throughout the siege. Not an officer in our army surpassed in personal worth and professional ability this experienced soldier.” Scammell’s friend, and fellow officer Col. David Humphrey, mourning the loss of his friend, would later write the inscription engraved on Scammell’s memorial (located in Williamsburg, VA):

What though no friend could ward thine early fall,

Nor guardian angels turn the treacherous ball;

Bless’d shade, be soothed! Thy virtues all are known–

Thy fame shall last beyond this mouldering stone,

Which conquering armies, from their toils return,

Read to thy glory while thy fate they mourn.

Sadly, what we know of Scammell has been lost to many of us over time, which is why the Scammell Bridge, in all its glory, is the least we can do in memory of an incredible patriot. Colonel Alexander Scammell is worthy of our attention. He was a fitting ambassador of the virtues and devotion to duty we hold dear as New Hampshirites. It is only fitting that we honor a gentle servant such as Scammell with a memorial truly representative of his deeds and his unfulfilled destiny.

Today, the Colonel Alexander Scammell Memorial Bridge remains dark, absent of light. I am told that the lights on the bridge will be turned back on. Let us hope that commitment is realized in earnest. Let us not delay, nor leave the lights extinguished any longer. Let us turn the lights on to remind us of a wonderful citizen of New Hampshire. Scammell’s actions in life are deserving of illumination in our present and future, which were made possible by such men as Alexander Scammell.

Please, out of respect, turn on the lights.

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