Those who are interested in the marine aspect of the War of 1812 are particularly fortunate in having a seminal source in:
William S. Dudley and Michael J. Crawford, eds 1985 The Naval War of 1812: A Documentary History 3 vols. Washington: Naval Historical Center Department of the Navy
The following extracts are taken from that work, cited by volume and page number.
Privateering in the War of 1812
American privateering developed naturally from an ancient seafaring tradition pursued in England and other countries1 During the, War of 1812, as in the wars during the colonial period and Revolution, entrepreneurs, sea captains, and seamen joined company in the building, fitting out, manning, and fighting of private armed ships. These civilian warships were of all rigs and sizes, and in effect, they augmented the naval forces of the United States. The distinction usually drawn between letter of marque traders and privateers was often blurred in practice. A government-issued letter of marque and reprisal gave license to a ship ’s captain to engage in warlike acts in self defence. Some ships with such a license would carry a cargo for trade while mounting cannon for defensive purposes, but others sailed with holds filled with munitions for the sole purpose of capturing or destroying enemy merchantmen. Letter of marque traders, however, might also seek out targets of opportunity as their navigation permitted.
The typical privateer ship of the War of 1812 was a fast-sailing schooner or brig out of Salem or Baltimore, heavily armed and carrying a large crew. Ship owners drafted their captains’ orders and expected that they would operate independently of other ships. Privateers did not usually choose to fight a British warship, and it was considered no disgrace to run from such an encounter when the odds were dubious. Privateering was a very speculative business venture and the taking of a heavily-laden merchantman was much more desirable than running the risk of damage or capture that could result from an attack on a man—of—war.
Owners, captain, and crew shared unequally in the proceeds of a successful capture. When possible, prize crews were placed on board captured vessels, and they were directed to sail to the nearest safe port where the prizes could be libelled and condemned in an Admiralty Court proceeding. After judgment, the ship and goods were put up for sale, and the proceeds went to the owners who received a 50 percent share. The remainder was then distributed to captain, officers, and crew in accordance with articles of agreement signed before the voyage.
As normal trade was either difficult or impossible during a naval war, merchants in most seaports looked to privateering as the only alternative for making profits with the ships and men at their disposal. On the other hand, seamen frequently preferred to sign on for a privateering cruise than to enlist in the navy for longer terms, lower pay, and stricter discipline. Under the circumstances, it is understandable that there was an enthusiastic response to Congress’ prompt action in passing a law to encourage and to govern privateering in June1812. The document that follows is an extract from the law that details the procedures for privateering. Within days of the publication of the act, privateers put to sea, anticipating an active and profitable summer.
1 . Some classic works on early American privateering are J. Franklin Jameson, ed., Privateering and Piracy in the Colonial Period (New York, 1923; reprint ed., 1970) and Howard M. Chapin`s Privateer Ships and Sailors, the First Century of American Colonial Privateering,1625-l725 (Toulon, France, 1926), Rhode Island Privateers in King George`s War, l739-1748 (Providence, 1926), and Privateering in King Georges War, 1739-1748 (Providence, 1928). A popular account of privateering from colonial times through the War of 1812 is Edgar Stanton Maclay’s A History of American Privateers (New York, 1899). William James Morgan`s"American Privateering in America ’s War for Independence, 1 775-1783" in The American Neptune XXX VI, No. 2 (Apr, 1976) provides a recent assessment of the state of research on the subject and questions Maclay's sweeping assertions. There are few specific works dealing with privateering during the War of 1812, but the contemporary George Coggeshall, a privateersman himself provided the colourful History of the American Privateers, and Letters-of-Marque, during Our War with England in the years 1812, ‘l5 and ’l4 (New York, 1861) and Jerome R. Garitee's The Republics Private Navy: The American Privateering Business as Practiced b yBaltimore during the War of l8l2 (Middletown, Conn., 1977) is an excellent history of urban business and seafaring during the war.
"AN Act concerning Letters of Marque, Prizes, and Prize Goods"
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled , That the President of the United States shall be, and he is hereby authorized and empowered to revoke and annul at pleasure all letters of marque and reprisal which he shall or may at any time grant pursuant to an act entituled “An act declaring war between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and the dependencies thereof, and the United States of America and their territories."
Sec. 2 . And be it further enacted, That all persons applying for letters of marque and reprisal, pursuant to the act aforesaid, shall state in writing the name and a suitable description of the tonnage and force of the vessel, and the name and place of residence of each owner concerned therein, and the intended number of the crew; which statement shall be signed by the person or persons making such application, and filed with the Secretary of State, or shall be delivered to any other officer or person who shall be employed to deliver out such commissions, to be by him transmitted to the Secretary of State.
Sec. 3 . And be it further enacted , That before any commission of letters of marque and reprisal shall be issued as aforesaid, the owner or owners of the ship or vessel for which the same shall be re-quested, and the commander thereof, for the time being, shall give bond to the United States, with at least two responsible sureties, not interested in such vessel, in the penal sum of five thousand dollars; or if such vessel be provided with more than one hundred and fifty men, then in the penal sum of ten thousand dollars; with condition that the owners, officers, and crew, who shall be employed on board such commissioned vessel, shall and will observe the treaties and laws of the United States, and the instructions which shall be given them according to law for the regulation of their conduct; and will satisfy all damages and injuries which shall be done or committed contrary to the tenor thereof by such vessel, during her commission, and to deliver up the same when revoked by the President of the United States.
Sec. 4 . And be it further enacted, That all captures and prizes of vessels and property, shall be forfeited and shall accrue to the owners, officers and crews of the vessels by whom such captures and prizes shall be made; and on due condemnation had, shall be distributed according to any written agreement which shall be made between them; and if there be no such agreement, then one moiety to the owners, and the other moiety to the officers and crew, to be distributed between the officers and crew as nearly as may be ,according to the rules prescribed for the distribution of prize money, by the act entituled "An act for the better government of the navy of the United States," passed the twenty-third day of April, one thou-sand eight hundred ....
Sec. 12 . And be it further enacted, That the commanders of vessels having letters of marque and reprisal as aforesaid, neglecting to keep a journal . . . or wilfully making fraudulent entries therein, or obliterating any material transactions therein, where the interest of the United States is in any manner concerned, or refusing to produce such journal, commission or certificate, pursuant to the preceding section of this act, then and in such cases, the commissions or letters of marque and reprisal of such vessels, shall be liable to be revoked; and such commanders, respectively shall forfeit for every such offence the sum of one thousand dollars, one moiety thereof to the use of the United States, and the other to the informer ....
Sec. 13 . And it be further enacted, That the owners or commanders of vessels having letters of marque and reprisal as afore said, who shall violate any of the acts of Congress for the collection of the revenue of the United States and for the prevention of smuggling, shall forfeit the commission or letters of marque and reprisal, and they and the vessels owned or commanded by them, shall be liable to all the penalties and forfeitures attaching to merchant vessels in like cases ....
Sec. 15 . And be it further enacted, That all offences com-mitted by any officer or seaman on board any such vessel, having letters of marque and reprisal, during the present hostilities against Great Britain, shall be tried and punished in such manner as the like offences are or may be tried and punished when committed by any person belonging to the public ships of war of the United States: Provided always, that all offenders who shall be accused of such crimes as are cognizable by a court martial, shall be confined on board the vessel in which such offence is alleged to have been committed, until her arrival at some port in the United States or their territories; or until she shall meet with one or more of the public armed vessels of the United States abroad, the officers whereof shall be sufficient to make a court martial for the trial of the accused; and upon application made, by the commander of such vessel, on board of which the of-fence is alleged to have been committed, to the Secretary of the Navy, or to the commander or senior officer of the ship or ships of war of the United States abroad as aforesaid, the Secretary of the Navy, or such commander or officer, is hereby authorized to order a court-martial of the officers of the navy of the United States, for the trial of the accused, who shall be tried by the said court ....
Sec. 17 . And be it further enacted, That two per centum on the net amount (after deducting all charges and expenditures) of the prize money arising from captured vessels and cargoes, and on the net amount of the salvage of vessels and cargoes recaptured by the private armed vessels of the United States, shall be secured and paid over to the collector or other chief officer of the customs at the port or place in the United States, at which such captured or recaptured vessels may arrive; or to the consul or other public agent of the United States residing at the port or place, not within the United States, at which such captured or recaptured vessels may arrive. And the monies arising there from, shall be held and hereby is pledged by the government of the United States as a fund for the support and maintenance of the widows and orphans of such persons as may be slain; and for the support and maintenance of such persons as may be wounded and disabled on board of the private armed vessels of the United States, in any engagement with the enemy, to be assigned and distributed in such manner as shall hereafter by law be provided.
Approved, June 26, 1812.
Peters, Public Statutes at Large, II: 759—60, 762-64.
Vol.1 pages 166-170.
Page 595 - 602
A Naval Presence at Savannah
That there was a small U.S. naval force, made up largely of barges, on duty at Savannah, Georgia, is one of the least known facts of the War of 1812. The men who served there have remained virtually anonymous and their deeds may have been ignored by all but avid local historians, but documentation in the National Archives yields clues to what took place. The officer in command of the navy barges at Savannah was Lieutenant Charles F. Grandison. During the month of November 1812, he reported directly to the Navy Department. It is clear from his detailed and frequent letters that he felt isolated and was often uncertain where to turn for support. But he was conscientious and tried to keep the secretary of the navy informed of his actions, despite little response from Washington. Anxious about the boldness of the British, who were cruising the coast and frequently raiding up local rivers, Grandison at one point exceeded his authority. He purchased an armed ship for the navy which formerly served as a British packet and had been captured by Joshua Barney’s Rossie earlier in the year. While this step may have pleased Savannah’s merchants, it gained only grudging approval from Secretary Hamilton. The following letters reveal the naval war from the perspective of the Georgia seacoast.
Lieutenant Charles F. Grandison to
Secretary of the Navy Hamilton
Savannah 7th November 1812
I have the Honour to inform you that I arrived here on the 5th inst. at night, and found one of the Barges here. She had lost six of her men by desertion. The officer Commanding her informed me that the Barges have lost 13 of their Men by desertion – that they had also lost 2 anchors and cables, and have expended all the powder I left with them (5 barrels) I fear there has been great remissness in the officers conduct who was left in command by Captain [Master Commandant George W.] Reed all this I shall be able to ascertain on my arrival at Sunbury and punish accordingly. There is now lying in this port a very fine schooner privateer called the Matilda built at Baltimore in 1809 – 6 ms under the immediate inspection of Captain George Stiles – she is 221 tons and coppered to the bends with heavy copper. She sails uncommonly fast, and is well calculated for the Service – she has a profusion of store of every kind requisite for a vessel of War – an may be perfectly equipped for the Service at a very trifling expense
2 suits of good sails 11 carriage guns
2 good cables 80 muskets
3 anchors 20 pistols
1 hawser 60 cutlasses
2 sets new rigging 20 boarding pikes
36 battle axes
2 tons cannon powder 50 bbls. Salt provision
5000 musket & pistol cartridges 35 bbls bread
80 water casks 100 gals each 25 tons of shot
The other articles are too numerous to mention in a letter. This vessel may be purchased as she now lays for $30,000 which in my opinion is very reasonable had we this vessel we might man her immediately, as seaman are very numerous here at present. She would be an excellent vessel to guard the entrance of this river- and occasionally run out as petty depredators may appear – and being a good vessel to receive such men as may enter for the Service. I could always draw men for her from the Barges, as the seamen will not enter for the Barges under any circumstances – the above vessel I have carefully examined in company with the Collector and others, all of whom are of the opinion that she would be a valuable acquisition to the force in this section of the Union, particularly at this moment, as there is now, and has been for a number of days, a British cutter privateer, mounting but 8 guns and manned chiefly with blacks about 70 in number, cruising between Savannah and Charleston – and has already done a great deal of mischief.
The following is a copy of a letter which was given to the Collector this morning by the owner of a vessel which was captured by her last Tuesday on her way to Charleston.
Cutter Caledonia at Sea
The persons named in the margin being citizens of the U.S. and taken by the Private Cutter of War Caledonia, in the sloop William from Savannah to Charleston and by me liberated. I hope you will have the goodness to send by the first opportunity as many subjects of great Britain, Prisoners of War in their stead, the said persons being liberated by me on the Parole of Honour, and you will oblige Dear Sir yours
Directed to the Commissioners for the department of War United States
The following are the names of the persons thus liberated. William Wilkie, Robert Frazier, Thomas Lindsay, Robert Webber and Anthony Gurney I have the honour to be [&c.]
[PS] The Southampton frigate is actually off Beaufort, she boarded a ship just arrived and impressed one seaman from her yesterday.
N.B. the Collector is this moment informed that the British Cutter is now actually anchored inside the Light-House and we have nothing to go in pursuit of her. I have done all I could to raise Volunteers and take the Matilda down to her, but the men 200, in number will not proceed unless I command them. The Captain however is opposed to this, but has no objections to go himself, and the people will not go with him, I think it possible that something may be done before night, as I have promised to repair whatever damage she may sustain, and replace such munitions of War as may be expended on this occasion. Respectfully Sir
Lieutenant Charles F. Grandison to
Secretary of the Navy Hamilton
Savannah 17th Nov: 1812
I hasten to inform you that it was officially reported to me by Major [Lawrence] Manning the Commander of the Land forces on this station, that the Boats of the blockading Squadron off this Bar, had actually sent their Boats in, man’d with 150 men; and had sounded as high as a place call’d 7 fathom – about 5 miles below Fort Jackson. That they had taken a Major Pope, who was gunning on the River, and had detained him 9 hours in their possession. Yesterday in the evening the alarm was so great, that the alarm bell was rang, and the Militia were under arms during the night – the British having threatened to burn all the shipping at the wharves. The two Barges which were here I ordered down the River to co-operate with the Fort – the Barges with the assistance of the privateers, I thought would be a sufficient force to impel the invaders.
The commanders of the Privateers – Matilda – United we Stand, and Divided we fall are entitled to the thanks of their country for their promptitude in volunteering their services for the defence of the City and Shipping. As their vessels could not go down (owing to wind & Tide) they went down in their Boats, and kept guard below the Forts during the night. However the Enemy did not appear. This morning the report of their having been in the River was corroborated by the arrival of a Brig, which was boarded by the Boats from the Southampton a little distance from the Fort. As the Gun-boats are not yet arrived, and as there is a necessity to keep the Barges in the Inlets (as the inhabitants of the South Islands and about those waters are very clamorous for the aid of the Naval forces here) I have at the earnest solicitation of Citizens of this state purchased a vessel for Eight thousand Dollars, purchase, as she had her guns and ammunition on board, and will be desire to protect the Coast I have the honour to Command, I hope this purchase will meet your approbation.
The want of officers on this station has induced me to detain Midshipman [Samuel] Le Compte, who lately arrived here on his way to St.Mary’s Officers are very much wanted on this station. Inclosed is the Inventory of the vessel I have purchased. Be pleased to observe, that the Ordnance and pig Iron Ballast, is worth the sum paid for the whole. Should peace take place this vessel will always sell for a much greater price than what has been now paid for her. I also take the liberty to enclose the Memorial of the Most respectable residents in this City.
The cold and inclement season fast approaching renders it absolutely necessary that the men which compose the crew of the Barges, should have a vessel of some kind to sleep on board of, or, I very much fear we shall loose the whole of them, either by Death, or desertion. All these considerations, taken in a clear view, I feel convinced will justify the steps which I have taken for the public good in the eyes of my Country & the Honourable the Secretary of the Navy. I have the honour [&c.]
P.S. In the memorial of the Citizens of Savannah, I have only selected those of the first distinction, as it would require a volume to send the names of all the Citizens of Savannah.
Inventory of the ship Princess Amelia
The Princess Amelia is a prize to the American privateer the Rossie of Baltimore, she was a British Packet mounting 8 guns. She is about five years old and her burthen 180 tons. Her hull is sound and strongly built and she is newly coppered. Her masts and spars (of which she has a full set) are good, and required no expense, except some of her yards which have shot holes in them. Her sails are very good, only pierced with shot.
Of rigging-takle- &c-&c-&c. She has the following.
One fore, & Main top sail half worn Three top gallant sails – half worn Two Royals half worn
One foresail, nearly new One main sail half worn One spanker & mizzen half worn
Two mizzen stay sails & one top mast staysail, half worn One jib & flying Jib, half worn One fore staysail, half worn
One gaft top sail, half worn One main, main top mast & middle staysail, half worn One main top gallt staysail, half worn
Three top mas studg sails, half worn Two top galt, studg sails, half worn One fore, main & mizzen top sail, indifferent
Two top galt sails, indift. Two stay sails, indift. One awning, very good
One 14 ½ in cable, best bower very good One 13 in cable, small bower, very good One 9 ½ in cable, stream, very good
One hawser, indifferent Two bower anchors One stream anchor
One kedge anchor Running rigging complete, very good Standing rigging complete, much cut, but being good will answer spliced
Lower masts very good but pierced wt. small shot. Top masts & top gallant masts, slightly cut The rest of the spars in good order
Eight 9wt carronades, with sponges, rammers worms Shot, round, grape, cannister Fourteen boarding pikes
Six cutlasses Powder horns Cartridge boxes
Three kegs gunpowder One bundle unfill’d cartridges 26 fine water casks
One box signal lights Two binnacle compasses 70 tons pig iron, ballast
Long boat & cutter Cabouse 3 signal lanters
Citizens of Savannah to Lieutenant Charles F. Grandison
To Charles F. Grandison Esquire
Lieut: Commanding the U.S. Naval forces on the Sunbury Station
The Memorial of the undersigned Citizens of Savannah
That the port and harbour of the City of Savannah is evidently destitute of every kind of Naval protection, at a period when we have every reason to apprehend the enemy to visit our Sea board, and particularly the entrance of the River leading to the metropolis of this State.
That understanding a ship called the Princess Amelia is for sale and would not only answer the purpose of a Guard Ship, but is well calculated for sailing and would answer the purpose of going over the Bar occasionally , and defending the neighbouring seacoast from privateers and picaroons – That your Mem. Relying on your judgement and discretion, would beg leave to request the favour of you Sir, to examine the said ship called the Princess Amelia, or any other in the Port, and should you be of the opinion that she, or any other will answer the purpose for which she is wanted, you would exercise all the discretionary power you possess from the Government to purchase her, or any other, from the owners, for and on acct of your Government, -
W. Stephens Hampdin McIntosh
A.S. Bulloch Alexr. Telfair
Matt: McAllister Thomas F. Williams
[T] Bourke J. Bond Read
Jno Bolton Jno Cumming
Nicholas Long Richd. M. stiles
Chas. Harris Thos Mendenhall
Lieutenant Charles F. Grandison to
Secretary of the Navy Hamilton
Savannah 19th November 1812
The enclosed is a memorial which is this day handed to me by a delegation from a meeting which was held in this City by the principal proprietors of Estates on the Sea Islands between Savannah River and the South end of Skidaway Island, feel themselves greatly alarmed at their exposure to Privateers, Picaroons and marauding parties of the Enemy.
Your Memorialists would venture to affirm, that there are not two points on the Sea, - Board of the State of more real importance to be guarded & protected than the entrance of Warsaw river, which passes between Wilmington & Skidaway Islands and leads directly up to Thunderbolt & from thence four miles to Savannah; & that other point which passes by the south end of Skidaway up Vernon River to Montgomery, ten miles from Savannah. These two important passes being left altogether unprotected by Government, furnishes the Enemy with an easy & ready passage for vessels of almost any burthen, in a single tide to pass up and land either at Thunderbolt or Montgomery and be in Savannah in two or three hours. Besides Sir, the Enemy by landing either at Wilmington or Skidaway would have under their control in the course of a few hours upwards of One Thousand slaves and a vast quantity of provisions & other property.
Your Memorialists would further beg leave to state, that they understand, the Gun Boats and Barges when ordered to cruise, seldom come as far as Warsaw River, in consequence of the Intricacy of the route through, Rumney Marsh, their passage requiring high tides and fair winds.
A Gun Boat stationed at the South end of Wilmington and a barge at the South end of Skidaway would afford great protection, to all the Islands between Savannah & Great Ogeechee. A Barge would with any tide that would allow an enemy to run up to Montgomery through Rumney Marsh be able to pass through Rumney Marsh and give notice to the Gun-boat in Warsaw River. Warsaw Bar is but a few miles below Wilmington & Skidaway Islands and which can be passed by vessels drawing sixteen feet water. These Islands were visited during the last war and all are in hourly apprehension of being visited by the same enemy again.
Your Menorialists, therefore do most earnestly request that you will exercise all the discretionary powers you posses, to let us have a Barge & Gun-boat as early as possible; The former to be stationed at the south end of Skidaway, & the Gunboat in Warsaw River which will furnish not only security to the Islands but which is of still greater importance, additional security to the City of Savannah
Proprietors of Estates on the
Islands within mentioned
We recommend an early
Attention to the prayer of the memorialists
W.B. Bulloch, Math. McAllister, J: Lawson, Charles Harris, John Bolton, Geo. Jones, W. Stephens, W. Jones, [T] Bourke, Robert S. Gibson, A.S. Bulloch, Lewis Turner, H.M. Intosh, Richd Turner, Barack Gibbons, Warren Perciva, Jno Cumming, Mat. W. Stewart, John W. Barnard, Timoy Barnard jnr., John Barnard, Edmd Jarvis, S. Shad, George Herb, Ebn Jackson, N. Turnbull.