The People

Captain Isaac Chauncey

After the embarrassing victories of Brock, the Americans realized a renewed effort on the Great Lakes was required. On August 13, 1812, Captain Isaac Chauncey was given command of the American naval forces on Lakes Erie and Ontario. On his arrival at Oswego, Chauncey ordered Lt. Woolsey to gather some merchant schooners for the new squadron. Chauncey also recruited many additional seamen and ship builders from the New York navy-yard; among these recruits was Ned Myers, a later survivor of the sinking of the Hamilton and Scourge. When the squadron was finally assembled, the Lord Nelson, renamed the Scourge, and the Diana, renamed the Hamilton, were among the vessels under Chauncey’s command. Preparations were then made for an attack on Kingston harbour.

Lieutenant Melancthon T. Woolsey

United States Navy Lieutenant Melancthon T. Woolsey was sent from Washington to Oswego in 1808 to construct ships for the enforcement of the Embargo Act of 1807, and prevent the widespread smuggling across the American-Canadian border. Woolsey set about his work at once, constructing the Oneida in less than a year, and stationing militia groups at points along the southern shores of Lake Ontario (including Sackets Harbor) to watch for smugglers.

As war seemed to loom on the horizon, Woolsey began preparations for the provisioning of the southern shores of Lake Ontario. He drew up a list of schooners that could be pressed into military service; among these vessels was the Diana, an American merchant ship that was later renamed the Hamilton. Woolsey was also present at the capture of the Lord Nelson, later renamed the Scourge. The Lord Nelson was a Canadian merchant ship that was stopped by Woolsey (aboard the Oneida), and suspected of being involved in smuggling activities. Based on these suspicions, the Lord Nelson was taken into custody by Woolsey and the U.S. Navy, and the ship’s owner, James Crooks, spent the rest of his life trying to claim reparation for his vessel’s ‘theft’, which occurred 13 days before the official declaration of war.

Woolsey, however, had a gallant streak, and invested much time and money in attempting to return some trunks found aboard the Lord Nelson to a Mrs. McCormick.

The Capture of the Lord Nelson [Scourge] and Mrs. McCormick's Trunks

When American Lieutenant-Commander Woolsey captured the Lord Nelson, he also laid claim to all of her contents. Among the trunks containing dry goods, sugar, liquors and the like, were six or seven large trunks containing women's apparel. These last items belonged to Mrs. McCormick of Queenston, a daughter of British Secretary William Jarvis, who had recently married. Woolsey, in a show of gallantry, made efforts to get these goods returned to the lady.

In October, 1812, four months after her capture, the goods from the Lord Nelson were put up for auction. Woolsey did not expect anyone to bid for Mrs. McCormick's trunks, since it was widely known that he planned to return them. However, by the end of the auction, Woolsey was forced to bid $5,000 for them (by contrast, the ship itself was valued at $2,999.25!). A later appraisal set the value of the trunk's contents at $380.00. Woolsey had to write to the secretary of the Navy, William Jones, in hopes that his bid would be paid by the Navy in a show of "support [for] your officers in all acts of justice or patriotism and valor."

The issue of the trunks still had not been settled by May 11, 1813, when Woolsey returned to Sackets Harbor after Chauncey's attack on York to find that Mrs. McCormick's possessions were up at auction once again. Woolsey did not manage to return any of the trunks until after the War; and even then all he could manage for all his gallantry was a single trunk "containing a variety of articles which have been saved from the general wreck," delivered to Montreal in 1815.

Captain Yeo

On March 12, 1813, the Royal Navy put a new officer in command of Britain's Lake Ontario squadron. Sir James Lucas Yeo arrived in Upper Canada with 400 seamen and some other Navy officers. He would have to wait a month after his arrival for Commodore Isaac Chauncey to launch a second attack, this time on York.

Death of Zebulon Pike

American General Zebulon Pike was killed on April 27, 1813, when the magazine at Fort York exploded. Apart from being a general, Pike is also remembered as an explorer of the American west.

 

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