Posts tagged ‘End of the War of 1812’

THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (March 15-March 21, 1815)

THE FINAL ACT, PART I.

March 18

Rear Adm. George Cockburn (Royal Museums Greenwich)

Rear Adm. George Cockburn
(Royal Museums Greenwich)

After of days of dickering with U.S. state and federal officials about the return of American property — including slaves — taken during more than a year of raiding towns and plantations on Chesapeake Bay, Rear Admiral George Cockburn leaves Cumberland Island, Georgia with his small fleet of ships.

The Treaty of Ghent, ending the war of 1812, required both sides to return property and territory seized during the war. The British had encouraged American slaves to flee their masters in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, the Carolinas, Georgia and elsewhere along the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Thousands did so, either working as paid laborers for the British or joining the Corps of Royal Colonial Marines. At first the British had their doubts about this unit of black troops, expecting them to be inferior to European soldiers. But the Colonial Marines proved to be an dependable unit, willing and eager to put the torch to places where they had been held in bondage — and causing panic among slaveholders fearing the sight of armed black men would spark a bloody slave revolt among those blacks who had not run away.

Colonial Marine in forage dress, British Army, 1814. (Image by Jakednb vis wikipedia)

Colonial Marine in forage dress, British Army, 1814.
(Image by Jakednb vis wikipedia)

Cockburn told the Americans that as far as he was concerned, any American slaves who made it to British soil — including Royal Navy ships  — were free the moment they came aboard. But he agreed to return five escaped slaves who enlisted in the Colonial Marines after the mid-February date of the treaty’s ratification by Congress, agreeing that the legal “window” to freedom has already closed. He sailed to Bermuda with more than 1,400, now free, blacks. Some would go to British possessions in the Caribbean where they joined West Indian regiments that had proven themselves at Bladensburg and New Orleans. Others were bound for Canada where they joined an existing community of free blacks who had escaped slavery in the states since the end of the American Revolution.

It is difficult to determine just how many blacks fled to the British and freedom during the war because both sides kept poor records.  Also, it is suspected American slaveholders inflated their claims and British officials might have low-balled the number, as the British were required to pay for unreturned property — including slaves. In his book, The Slaves Gamble: Choosing Sides in the War of 1812, Gene Allen Smith speculates that the number is somewhere between the 3,000 slaves  claimed by the British and 5,000-plus claimed by the Americans. Even so, Smith notes there were 1.1 million slaves in America in 1814, and those that sought freedom with the British were only a tiny fraction of the total slave population. After years of wrangling, both governments agree in 1826 that Britain would pay $1,204,960 to settle U.S. claims.

(We’ll discuss the role of blacks in the war further on Monday in Part II, which will consider the real winners and losers of the conflict.)

*** *** ***

Even a relatively small war like the one between the United States and Great Britain from 1812-1815 takes time to unravel, even after peace is declared. Here are some of the events that happened after the end of hostilities in 1815.

April 6

It takes time, too much time, to repatriate American sailors captured on privateers during the war. Hundreds of them, along with sailors taken off American commercial vessels by Royal Navy press gangs — one of the main causes of the war– but who refused to fight against the United States, have been confined in England’s notorious Dartmoor Prison. Fed up with the delay and harsh prison conditions, the Americans riot. Prison guards open fire, killing seven and wounding 31.

*** *** ***

April 26

British forces evacuate Castine, Maine (still a part of Massachusetts) which they attacked and seized in September, 1814. When they left, the British took more than 10,000 pounds in customs duties they collected while occupying the area, which they called the colony of “New Ireland.” That customs money was used to fund the creation of Dalhousie University at Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1818.

*** *** ***

May 22

U.S. troops reoccupy Fort Niagara in Western New York on Lake Ontario. It has been in British hands since it was captured on December 19, 1813.

*** *** ***

May 24

Sauk warriors who were allied with the British during the war under Chief Blackhawk, attack and defeat Missouri rangers on the Upper Mississippi in what has become known as the Battle of the Sinkhole.

*** *** ***

June 30

USS Peacock VS the brig Nautilus, the last naval action of the war. (via: The War of 1812: Chatham-Kent)

USS Peacock VS the brig Nautilus, the last naval action of the war.
(via: The War of 1812: Chatham-Kent)

In the Sunda Straits near the island of Java, the sloop-of-war USS Peacock, which hasn’t gotten word that the war is over, accosts the East India Company brig Nautilus. Peacock’s captain, Master Commandant Lewis Warrington, doesn’t believe the captain of the Nautilus when he says the war has ended. Warrington orders him to surrender, when he refuses, the Peacock opens fire, killing 7 and wounding six including Nautilus commander, Lieutenant Charles Boyce. When the severely wounded Boyce (he will lose a leg) presents documents proving a treaty has been ratified and the war is over, Warrington releases the 16-gun brig and sails off without making inquiry about the brig’s wounded. Peacock returns to New York on October 30. A court of inquiry in Boston a year later exonerated Warrington of all blame. It is the last  naval action of the war.

*** *** ***

July 1

U.S. troops return Fort Malden at Amherstburg (in what is now Ontario), captured in September 1813, to the control of British troops.

*** *** ***

July 18

British troops evacuate Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island at the far northern edge of Michigan Territory. The first U.S. post to fall to the British, the fort was taken by surprise exactly three years earlier because Washington was slow in getting the word to the frontier outposts that the United States had declared war on Britain.

On the same day, the United States begins negotiating a series of peace treaties with the tribes of the Upper Midwest including the Potawatomi, Kickapoo, Wyandot and Seneca.

TOMORROW: While neither the United States nor Great Britain could honestly claim to have won the war — or lost it — there were several winners and losers. Read abou them in Part II, the final posting of THIS WEK in the War of 1812.

March 15, 2015 at 8:35 pm 1 comment

THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (February 15-February 21, 1815) [Update]

Peace.

COLUMBIAN CENTINEL, Boston, Massachusetts, February 22, 1815

COLUMBIAN CENTINEL, Boston, Massachusetts, February 22, 1815

Updates to add details to items on Harford Convention and USS Constitution and correct number of canon balls embedded in Constitution’s hull.

February 15-18, Washington City

The day after the peace treaty (already ratified by the British) arrives in Washington, President James Madison submits it to the Senate, which under the Constitution, must ratify all treaties for them to take effect. On February 16, the Senate ratifies the treaty unanimously — even though it does not resolve any of the issues that led to war: the impressment of American sailors by the Royal Navy; British attempts to incite Native Americans in the Upper Midwest against U.S. settlements; freedom of the seas for U.S. naval and merchant vessels. Instead both sides agree to return to borders and boundaries before the war: the British will evacuate Maine and the areas of the Upper Midwest they have seized and the United States will relinquish the bit of Upper Canada (Ontario) it captured.

Madison signs to treaty and on February 18 proclaims the United States and Great Britain are at peace officially. The war declared by the U.S. Congress on June 18 1812 is finally over.

Sometime between the word of Jackson’s victory at New Orleans and the delivery of the peace treaty, delegates from the Hartford Convention in New England arrived in Washington. They had  with them proposals hashed out in private in Hartford, Connecticut in late December 1814-to-early January 1815. All the New England states (except and Maine which was still a part of Massachusetts and not yet a state in its own right), sent at  least one delegate to Hartford. Secret_Journal_of_the_Hartford_Convention

New Englanders, mostly members of the Federalist Party, were disturbed that the war, which they did not support, was ruining their economy — especially maritime commerce after the British extended their naval blockade to New England.  They also felt that the Southern and new Western states and the Democratic-Republican Party were taking over the country and its political system. While there were brief discussions about possible secession from the union, it was not taken seriously. Instead, delegates drew up several proposed amendments to the Constitution. They ranged from requiring a two-thirds majority vote for all future declarations of war to limiting presidents to one term and ending the three-fifths compromise language of 1787, which counted slaves as three-fifths of a person for the purposes of both representation in Congress and the direct taxation of states. Another proposal would have barred men from the same state from succeeding each other as president.  (Except for Massachusetts’ John Adams, every U.S. president up until then had hailed from Virginia — including pro-war-with-Britain Thomas Jefferson and Madison).  With the war with Britain over, and patriotic fervor at a fever pitch following the victory at  New Orleans, the Hartford Convention’s ideas are ignored or laughed off in Washington.

February 20, Off the West Coast of Africa

The 44-gun frigate USS Constitution, unaware that peace has come, plies the South Atlantic looking to disrupt British commerce. Four days after the peace treaty is ratified,  the fabled ship — known as “Old Ironsides” encounters two Royal Navy ships, the 34-gun HMS Cyane and the 21-gun HMS Levant off the coast of Africa.

USS Constitution takes on HM Cyane and HMS Levant. (usconstitutionmuseum.org)

USS Constitution takes on HMS Cyane and HMS Levant.
(usconstitutionmuseum.org) C

Constitution’s captain, Charles Stewart, first defeats, Cyane, and after a running gun battle, Levant strikes her colors. The British ships suffer about 40 killed and 80 wounded, while Constitution’s  losses are four killed and 11 wounded. Constitution suffers little damage although 12  32-pound British canon balls are found  embedded in Old Ironsides’ hull — but none penetrated the ship’s interior.

Stewart  places some of his officers and crew aboard the two British ships to sail them back to the United States as prizes of war. But after a stop in the Cape Verde Islands, Constitution and her two prizes encounter a three-ship British squadron, which re-captures Levant. But Stewart and his other prize get away. Cyane reaches a U.S. port in April. Constitution continues its raiding cruise but during a stop in Brazil to drop off her British prisoners, Stewart hears a rumor the war may be over and sets sail for America, arriving in New York May 15.

Following the rules of the day, Cyane is ruled a prize of war and not returned to Britain, but renamed USS Cyane and absorbed into the U.S. Navy.

February 16, 2015 at 12:58 am Leave a comment


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