About 20 years ago,
a cousin of mine who had been collecting family histories
and doing genealogy, turned over to me hundreds of pages,
copies of her work, family trees and genealogy forms and
interviews, that she felt I might be able to computerize.
It was five or six years before I worked up the courage
to even begin looking through this formidable pile. Browsing
through it all, spotting familiar names and some unfamiliar
ones, I was surprised to find one piece of paper. This had
events on it I had never heard of, history I was completely
unfamiliar with and characters whose only connection was
an ancestral last name.
Because part of my family is Irish, I telephoned the
elderly aunt who had written this page in 1943, an interview
she had had with a great-uncle, to ask if this might be
Blarney. No. This was the Scottish side of the family. Not
into spinning tales. Nor was my aunt. Definitely lace-curtain
on the Irish side and she assured me,
#1: the uncle was never a story-teller and
#2 she had written down exactly what he had said:
Two brothers, conscripted
off Isle of Skye, Scotland, on English man
of War to America.
Both brothers helped
build privatier (sic) Gen. Armstrong War
They stayed with the
ship until wrecked.
What could this mean? Privatier? Pirates?
Like Jean Lafitte or Burt Lancaster in The
Crimson Pirate? My ancestors?
On the other hand, to me, like so many
Americans, The War of 1812 was one of those
minor conflicts, ambiguous in outcome. Not
WWII or The Civil War. Perhaps best described
as a war between wars: between The
American Revolution and The Mexican-American
War or certainly The Civil War.
Only when I became involved with NYMAS
and weekly heard a parade of lauded historians,
authors of dozens of books, authoritative
experts and the probing of primary sources
and the re-spinning of the past, did I begin
to take this seriously.
I'll confess to having started my
research, not on computer, but from
some of the dustiest books in the New York
Public Library's Research Branch. But there
it was: General Armstrong parenthesis (ship)
published as early as 1833.
And within the text, I found almost a
lifetime of research, at least for an inventive
Here are two references
I found within those dusty volumes. The
first records ex-President Teddy Roosevelt
talking to the book's author from the railing
of a ship anchoring in the harbor of a port
on an island in the mid-Atlantic:
the privateer that stood off twenty
times her strength in British men and
thereby saved Louisiana from invasion."
"In there," said
the ex-President, pointing eagerly as
our anchors rumbled down, "was waged
one of the most desperate sea-fights
ever fought, and one of the least known;
in there lies
My second initial find
was a letter by a British eyewitness on
shore during the sea-fight in 1814:
"After burning the privateer, (Captain)
Lloyd made a demand of the governor
to deliver up the Americans as his prisoners,
which the governor refused. He threatened
to send five hundred men on shore and
take them by force. The Americans immediately
retired, with their arms, to an old
Gothic convent; knocked away the adjoining
drawbridge, and determined to defend
themselves to the last. (Lloyd), however,
thought better than to send his men.
He then demanded
who, he said, deserted from his vessel
when in America."
Ultimately, I consulted a hundred books
plus original documents in the Admiralty
and Foreign Office files at the Public Record
Office in the UK, the National Archives
and the Manuscript Division of the Library
of Congress, and did online interviews with
descendents of both the American captain
and the British captain. (Incidentally,
over all, the event with the General Armstrong
seems to be mentioned in perhaps a quarter
of the War of 1812 literature.)
The facts seem to be these:
The ship The General Armstrong
after the Secretary of War, was built in 1812 in a very
busy shipyard on New York's East River by the brothers Adam
and Noah Brown. The shipyard was at the end of Houston Street
and the money was put up by Renssalear Havens and other
New York investors who would, after clearance by a prize
court, share the proceeds from their captures with the captain,
crew, American Marines and other stockholders.
Samuel Chester Reid
was the second captain of the Armstrong, born in Norwich,
Connecticut, in 1783, son of a British Naval officer. The
senior Reid was taken prisoner in a night boat expedition
at New London, Connecticut, and afterward resigned his commission
to become an American citizen. At the age of eleven the
son went to sea, was captured by a French privateer and
confined for six months at Basseterre, Guadeloupe.
The actual event:
September 26, 1814. Sundown. In the North Atlantic, in
the Azores. about 1/3 of the way between Portugal and the
United States in the neutral Portuguese port of Fayal (Faial).
The American privateer, the GENERAL ARMSTRONG, is taking
on water and supplies. Three British men-of-war unexpectedly
appear, sailing into the mouth of the harbor. The British
commander, Robert Lloyd, irrationally seems to delay his
mission which was to join the flotilla assembling
in the Caribbean for the Battle of New Orleans;
Crews from His Majesty's Ships Plantagenet, Rota and
Carnation make two attempts to board the American ship.
In the first attempt, the British squadron sent
boats in to reconnoiter but they were driven off
by American gunfire. Then, at 8PM, four boats (were
launched) from PLANTAGENET and three from ROTA,
containing 180 seamen and marines, (and) about midnight
began a major attack, attempting to board the schooner
over the bow and the starboard quarter. The Americans
opened fire with long 9-pounders and a swivel gun
and the boats replied with their carronades. The
British failed to cut through the netting on the
quarter as pistols and muskets were fired at them
at point blank range and long pikes were thrust
in their faces and they retired to their boats.
The attack over the bow nearly succeeded but Capt.
Reid led the aft guard forward and turned the tide.
The next day British Captain Lloyd ordered HMS
CARNATION to close with the schooner but was kept
out of range by the American's single long 42-pounder
At this point, however, Captain Reid realized that the
long term position was hopeless so he scuttled his ship;
he apparently took the 42-pound swivel gun, pointed it down
the hatchway, and blew a hole in the bottom of the Armstrong.
Two Americans had been killed in the battle and all the
rest of the men escaped safely to the Island's shore.
But the British squadron was seriously depleted
in manpower by (depending on the source) from 75 to 300
sailors and marines and -- was therefore said to be late
in arriving at New Orleans and this might have had an effect
on subsequent history.
A Famous event:
When the Armstrong's crew returned to the United States,
they were feted with banquets and speeches, up the East
Coast from Charleston to Boston.
And the story of the American privateer General Armstrong
in the Azores became a widely known subject of illustration,
poetry and song in the USA of the 1800s and thereafter.
A hand-colored Nathaniel Currier print
(before he joined with Ives, circa 1830s,
from his shop in downtown NYC on Nassau
Street. Color done by immigrant girls, often
German with some art education, each one
applying a different color in an assembly-line
[Sheet music from 1843, "The Yankee Boy"]
The fourth from the last stanza reads,
In all of those troubles I had to be there
Imprest and in prison in Battles to share
In the Brig General Armstrong I was in Fayal
Where by scores British seamen had to fall.
A Senate Report published in 1880 concluded:
It is therefore evident that the heroic
actions of Captain Reid and his brave officers
and crew saved New Orleans from conquest
by England; for had the British forces arrived
even one week before General Jackson, they
would have captured the city, which was
then utterly defenseless….
And in 1886, the Cincinnati Inquirer, published
It is therefore incontrovertible that
the heroic action of the Armstrong saved
New Orleans from conquest by England; for
had the British forces arrived even one
week before General Jackson, they would
have captured the city, which was at that
time was utterly defenseless. (Cincinnati
Inquirer, Jan, 1886)
Who else says so?
German painter Emanuel Leutze (who also
painted "Washington Crossing the Delaware")
did this rendition of the battle.
Historian John Van Duyn Southworth in The Age Of Sails:
war at sea, says
General Andrew Jackson later told Capt. Reid
that "If there had been no Battle of Fayal, there
would have been no Battle of New Orleans." Reid
had delayed the British expedition against New Orleans
for ten days allowing Jackson to arrive there earlier.
Thus, Louisiana and the Northwest Territory might
now be British if Reid had not engaged them in what
has been called one of the world's most decisive
When a young Teddy Roosevelt wrote his dissertation at
Harvard on the Naval War of 1812, he said:
The British squadron was bound for New Orleans,
and, on account of the delay and loss that it suffered,
it was late in arriving, so that this action may
be said to have helped in saving the Crescent City.
Few regular commanders could have done as well as
But was this merely an incident, now
Just so it is clear that this continues down into recent
times, if you look up
in Compton's Encyclopedia Online v3.0 © 1998
The Learning Company, Inc.
Reid, Samuel Chester
(1783-1861), U.S. Navy officer, born
Norwich, Conn.; commanded
privateer General Armstrong in War of
1812; in repulsing a British
attack at Fayal, 1814,
he detained British ships
on their way to New Orleans,
La., thereby enabling Gen. Andrew Jackson
to make adequate preparations to save
And this, from the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings
1967 93(11): 157-160:
Abstract of an article
Describes the defense the U.S. privateer
made against a superior British squadron
in Fayal Roads,
Azores, in September and October 1814. The
finally had to scuttle their battered ship,
but the action
delayed the British squadron 10 days
in arriving at Jamaica,
where they were to join the British expedition
to attack New
Orleans. Thus the British arrived late
at New Orleans, giving
General Andrew Jackson time to set up an
defense of the city. Undocumented, 2
(bold face by this author)
And ultimately, this idea
was carved in stone:
"If there had been no Battle of Fayal, there would have
been no Battle of New Orleans."
[Photos of Reid monument, Greenwood Cemetery,
So I laid out the three lines from my aunt
and all this accumulated information I had found and it
started to make sense. "If there had been no Battle of Fayal,
there would have been no Battle of New Orleans."
Well, with that kind of logic and a hefty
admixture of speculation and imagination, I began to imagine
a sweeping drama. A friend suggested my ancestor could be
played by Mel Gibson with Charlie Sheehan as his brother.
As for British commander Lloyd, what a great, villainous
role for Charles Laughton if he were still alive, or today
perhaps an even better role for Anthony Hopkins at his Hannibal
This drama would perhaps begin at a moment
in time when a dirty look by an impressed Scotsman named
Mackie, my ancestor, evolves into a string of circumstances
ending with the collapse of British hopes for empire in
the Western Hemisphere and with the rise of the American
Without the details and spun from my aunt's
brief notes, I began to imagine, obviously more as fiction
than as history, a scenario where
Click on the map for a much larger image
The brothers, while fishing off
the coast of Scotland, are taken and impressed into
the British Navy
They end up on Captain Lloyd's ship,
(possibly the Guerriere which was defeated
by the USS Constitution very early in the War)
They are either among the prisoners
in Boston or they jump ship, possibly off the coast
of Virginia or in Long Island Sound
Make there way to NYC, get jobs
as ship fitters building the General Armstrong with
Noah and Adam Brown at the end of Houston Street
on the East River
Sail with the General Armstrong
on its many voyages
When British Captain Lloyd sails
into the harbor in the Azores and sees the General
Armstrong, he spies the Mackies aboard. In
a brief moment, as the Plantagenet glides past the
Armstrong, Lloyd loses his mind, swears to avenge
their desertion and to retake his former crewmembers
no matter what…
I imagined entitling all this "Twist of
Was it true? So while my curiosity about
my ancestors, typical of genealogical pursuits, was egotistical,
self-centered and vanity-driven, the subsequent questions
this led to are perhaps of historical interest:
Why did British Captain
Robert Lloyd attack the Armstrong when he had other
orders and despite being in a neutral port?
Did the attack really
delay the assembly of the British expedition against
Did the delay, as
so many historians have asserted, really cause the
British to lose the Battle of New Orleans?
If the British HAD
WON at New Orleans, would they have ignored the
Peace Treaty of 1814 and ruled the middle of America?
And if my ancestors, the
General Armstrong, Reid, or Lloyd didn't delay the British
from starting the Battle of New Orleans, WHAT DID?
I will not be able to answer all these questions.
Besides, 'what-if' is not history. But examining them, I've
found, reveals a rich history of the Making of America and
some examples of what research into primary sources can
reveal. I'd like to share some of this examination with
First, let me give you some background on
the history and causes of the War of 1812 and give some
detail on Privateers and on Impressment:
A Short History
of the War of 1812
The United States declared war on England
in June of 1812. President James Madison and the US Congress,
especially southern and western representatives, felt it
had been treated with contempt by England and the cry was
"Free Trade and Sailors' Rights"
It was Free Trade versus
Great Britain's Orders In Council which required
US ships to stop at a British port and get a license
to trade on the French-dominated Continent - a measure
the British had taken as part of the long and ongoing
It was Sailors Rights against
Britain's impressment of American seaman into the
Though not a stated war aim, the conquest
of Canada was a big factor. Westerners and Southerners
backed it. There were 5 attempts to do it. And none of them
worked out. Even tho Thomas Jefferson had said that the
annexation of Canada to the US "was merely a matter of marching."
There were plenty of disappointments.
It's not easy to characterize the War of
1812. Let's say that if the transatlantic cable had been
operational 44 years earlier, this war might not have begun
at all, and it certainly wouldn't have ended as it did.
It was a war of disconnects, and of surprises.
A key cause, the squelching of free trade by
the British - The Orders In Council, were suspended
in London just 3 days before the US Congress
declared war. We just didn't know it.
This is a war in which the Royal Navy outnumbers
the US almost 100 to 1. And yet London shipowners
are begging for protection from American ships-in
the Irish Sea and waters around the UK!
And that, of course, is where American privateers
will come in.
This is a war in which an army gets to take
and burn the other side's capital city, Washington,
DC. But it doesn't make much difference.
Militarily, four of Britain's best, most experienced
generals, are killed on the field of battle
on American soil.
The most glorious land battle, at least to the
Americans, was fought over two weeks after a
treaty of peace was signed: that is, the Battle
of New Orleans.
And after the Battle of New Orleans, the British
go on to take a key U.S. installation, the installation
in Mobile Harbor which, if taken on their first
attempt two months earlier, probably would have
led to a British victory at New Orleans.
Before the year 1812, the United States could
have as easily have gone to war with France.
Pickering claims that in 1795 alone the French
captured 316 American ships.
(cited in The
Quasi-War: The Politics and Diplomacy of the
Undeclared War with France 1797-1801)
I'll shortly get to the very important issue
of impressment, but after extensive examination,
I'd say that perhaps behind every war is national attitude
and nothing could be more true of the War of 1812:
"First, it should be said that the entirety
of the War of 1812 was very small change in British minds;
in London the real problem was Napoleon, not a gaggle of
far-off and half-baked ex-colonials with an attitude."
After the war of 1812, an American was upbraiding
an Englishman for his ignorance of events: The American
asked "Did you know that the British burned Washington?"
"No." said the Englishman, "But I know we burned Joan of
Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane, British
commander-in-chief during the attacks on Washington and
Baltimore and naval commander of the expedition to New Orleans,
wrote of the Americans, "They are a whining, canting race
much like the spaniel -- and require the same treatment--(they)
must be drubbed into good manners." (Christopher
T. George) Quoted in Walter Lord, The Dawn's Early Light.
New York: W. W. Norton, 1972, 35.
Possibly his hatred of Americans had a personal
origin: his elder brother, on October 17, 1781, had
been standing next to Cornwallis at Yorktown, when his head
was shot off by an American cannonball. (Christopher
T. George) We'll hear more about Admiral Cochrane
as he leads the naval expedition to New Orleans, which Lloyd
is to join.
Perhaps the most stunning event was the
burning of Washington; but this event has perhaps more
to do with the needs of American patriotic feeling than
strategic necessity. Now, the British usually pass
it off as payback for American burning of York in Ontario.
(York, it should be noted, is now Toronto.) However,
the US soldiers had run amok at York and that burning was
against orders. But Washington was burned according to
orders and the London Statesman said, "The (KAH-sacks)
Cossacks spared Paris but we spared not the capitol
of America." and were joined by some Members of Parliament.
(Hickey). But when the news of the burning of Washington
reached London, there were celebrations and bonfires in
Now, in military history in general, if
you capture your enemy's capital city, you win the war;
does that mean the capture of Washington D. C. meant the
British won the War?
Except for a few big, government buildings,
Washington was a small town, parts still swamp. Simply,
it wasn't Moscow, Paris or London. The Government had only
been there for 14 years and congressmen called it "wilderness
city," or "Capital of Miserable Huts". There had even been
talk of moving the Capitol.
But the burning became important in the
American mind. Perhaps even more important was:
For America and American pride, perhaps
the biggest single cause of the War of 1812 was impressment.
The Royal Navy, just between the years of 1803 and 1810,
had taken at least forty-five hundred American sailors from
US ships; students of the Jeffersonian administration will
know of the USS Chesapeake incident in 1807 where the Royal
Navy forcibly took four sailors off a US Navy vessel and
ended up hanging at least one of them.
Now, in all this, my ancestors would
not have been among the more than 6,000 Americans
wrongly impressed into Royal Navy floating hells. As
British subjects, they would have been rightly and legally
impressed into Royal Navy floating hells.
During the peacetime that preceded the Napoleonic
Wars, the Royal Navy had about 10,000 men; by the War of
1812, the number had risen to 140,000. The overwhelming
majority of these men came from The Press. To maintain
the navy's strength, the press gangs were constantly at
work. Not only did they have to replace men who were killed
or died in service, but they also had to replace the countless
vacancies created by desertion. Lord Nelson estimated that
between 1793 and 1801 perhaps as many as 40,000 men deserted
The British also boarded hundreds of American
ships on the high seas, hauling off droves of their own
sailors who had deserted to the growing American merchant
fleet, which offered better pay and conditions. During
a six-year period through 1810, the more than 4,500 sailors
the British snatched off American vessels, included 1,361
native-born Americans, who were later freed with few apologies.
Madison's report to Congress, recommending
Under the pretext of impressing
British seamen, our fellow-citizens are seized in
British ports, on the high seas, and in every other
quarter to which the British power extends, are
taken on board British men-of-war and compelled
to serve there as British subjects. In this mode
our citizens are wantonly snatched from their country
and their families, deprived of their liberty, and
doomed to an ignominious and slavish bondage, compelled
to fight the battles of a foreign country, and often
to perish in them.
Any English-speaking sailor was in danger
of being impressed. Especially with a Scottish, Irish or
English brogue. But it was all problematic because 25 years
before, all Americans were English citizens. Until
1850, England did not recognize the right of a man to renounce
A case is reported where a Royal Navy captain
listened to the protests of a newly impressed sailor who
claimed he was an American. The Captain looked down his
nose, "Why, you're nothing but a Scotsman!" (Durand)
During the War, 23 American prisoners of
war claimed by Britain as its subjects, some of whom had
been naturalized in America, were sent to England for trial
as traitors, leading to threats of retaliation. The issue
was resolved by stipulation in the agreement of 16 July
1814 on the exchange of prisoners.
The US Government instituted Seamen's Protection
Certificates beginning in 1806 but the English said you
could buy papers in any American port for a dollar.
And with the war against Napoleon, the Royal
Navy was hungry for seamen.
Let me quote here the tail-end of the story
of the General Armstrong in the Battle in the Azores; this
is from a recounting done by the American consul-general
on the island:
"Since this affair, the commander, Lloyd,
threatened to send on shore an armed force, and arrest
the privateer's crew, saying there were many Englishmen
among them. …... At length, Captain Lloyd, fearful of
losing more men, if he put his threats in execution,
adopted this stratagem:
He addressed an official letter to the
Governor, stating that in the American crew were two
men who deserted from his squadron in America, and as
they were guilty of high treason, he required them to
be found and given up." (Cogg / JOHN B. DABNEY)
This was at a time when commanders of British
warships patrolled the Atlantic, short of seamen in their
own ships, pressed American merchant seamen into service.
When boarding a U.S. ship for inspection, British officers
frequently demanded a muster of the ship’s crew in order
to search for deserters.
This could have happened to my ancestors….
My ancestors and their crewmates might have
been under just such a threat. I've speculated that they
may have changed their names for this reason and therefore
I could never pinpoint them in documents. But at least --
it's the instigation for this pursuit in history
In Scotland, during the Napoleonic Wars,
impressment was taken with anguish but inevitably for granted.
The Royal Navy press gangs ashore might do their "recruiting"
in daylight or at midnight at the local pub. But my ancestors
as fishermen would have definitely been 1-A in the regulations
called "Who the Gang might Press". In Scotland in this era,
some towns tried to mitigate the randomness of the pressgang
by having town elders confer and then offer up young men
without family obligations so the town wouldn't have to
support the families of pressed men. Here, of course, are
the beginnings of The Draft Board.
According to Jerome Garitee's great book
on privateering from Baltimore, The Republic's Private
Navy, American citizenship was required to join the
crew of an American privateer. All carried Seamen's Protection
Certificates - if one were found falsely issued, it would
confirm the British presumption and imperil the POW status
of the entire crew.
My surmise is that my ancestors were "hot
potatoes" as un-naturalized Scotsmen on the General Armstrong.
If captured they may have been identified by a British officer
who would then use his discovery as a pretext for grabbing
many more sailors. For the Scotsmen, the penalty was not
just re-impressment but hanging for desertion and high-treason.
If they had papers, legitimate or otherwise, they may have
flung them overboard. Or they may have taken assumed names
from the beginning.
Let me quote here A British/Canadian Perspective
Sea power was Britain's pride and
glory, and it was imperative to its defense. In
the early 1800s, Britain was engaged in a life-and-death
struggle with the Napoleonic Empire, and the Royal
Navy was the only thing that prevented Napoleon
from crossing the Channel and conquering Britain.
Despite the navy's acute need for
sailing crews, thousands of British seamen chose
to jump ship in favour of a more comfortable and
profitable position with the American merchant marine.
Wartime necessity justified the
recapture of "deserters" from any ship. Even deserters
who had adopted the American nationality were not
immune from seizure as the Royal Navy adhered to
a principle of inalienable British citizenship.
Besides, American citizenship certificates were
frequently assumed to be forged.
An American Perspective
The British Royal Navy was a notorious
floating hell. The pay was low, when it was paid
at all, shipboard conditions were miserable, and
there was the ever-present risk of death or injury
in battle. Small wonder then, that so many British
sailors chose to abandon the Royal Navy for the
rapidly expanding American merchant marine, which
offered better pay and better conditions. ….and
once the War of 1812 began, if a deserter could
get on the crew of a fast American privateer and
share in it's prizes, why that would be going from
Hell to Heaven.
When British commanders began to
board American ships in search of Royal Navy deserters,
the Americans were highly offended. First of all,
searching an American ship was an insult to national
sovereignty. Secondly, legitimate Americans were
sometimes "impressed" into British service on the
pretext that they were British deserters. As there
were no obvious differences in physical appearance,
language or clothing, the British Navy was able
to abduct as many as 6,000 Americans in the early
Again, the cry in the US was "Sailors' Rights
and Free Trade" with the human emphasis on Sailors' Rights
- that is, freedom from the threat of impressment.
Now, as to the Heaven an impressed sailor
could escape to …………
were they in military history?
At the beginning of the War of 1812, the
American Navy consisted of about 16 major vessels, having
in all 442 guns.
By contrast, the Royal Navy, tho focused
mostly on Napoleon, consisted of over 1,500 vessels of war.
It was a Navy with 30 continuous years of conflict behind
But during the fall and winter of 1812-13,
American privateers, swarming the Atlantic, captured 500
Many people use the words pirate and privateer
interchangeably but they are not the same thing.
Was the government's seaborne force
Had government authorization - a
Destroyed, and sometimes captured
Captured declared-enemy's ships
Captured targets of opportunity
Took & shared prizes too but not
Split with the government
Kept it all
In war or peace
Only in war
In war or peace
Fought under its true flag
Never fired a gun under false colors,
tho might approach with one.
Usually fired a gun under false
A pirate was an individual who acted
on his own, rather than in the interests of a particular
nation, and attacked almost any vessel on the seas
for his own gain, while a privateer usually acted
for a specific country when that country was at
odds with another.
The privateer was used as a tool
to economically and militarily hurt another country.
They were granted Letters of Marque, a license to
attack enemy ships without retaliation from the
Simply, a privateer is a privately
financed, owned, outfitted, crewed, and operated
armed vessel -- a private warship -- allowed forth
under government license to attack the vessels of
a declared national enemy, for profit. Thus, unlike
pirates, who are simply criminal, privateers are
quite legitimate. Also, their activity must cease
with peace; anything further indeed is piracy, and
so recognized internationally.
Because the United States began
the War of 1812 with 16 Navy ships, the enlistment
of 1,400 additional fighting ships - privateers-
by War's end was important. There were complaints
that the appeal and potential profit of privateer
service made it more difficult for the US to enlist
crew in the regular Navy but under some circumstances,
the US Navy also took and shared prizes too.
In New York City, what the dot.com business
was to 1999, privateering was to 1812
It was Patriotism AND profit - sometimes
big profits. A number of investors could put up perhaps
$40,000 (1813) dollars to build and arm a sloop (figure
$1.5 million today). The average prize proceeds were $116,712
per privateer (although the privateer America took $700,000
= perhaps a hundred million today)
Here was a thoroughly incentive-based system.
After the US took a portion, officers and crew generally
received one-half of all the proceeds generated by the sale
of captured ships and their cargoes, the other half was
distributed to the investors.
[Armstrong stock certificate]
Since most crewmen earned from two to four
shares, this meant that in the typical privateer cruise
of three months, a man might earn the equivalent of eighteen
months' wages, and sometimes even more (Garitee 1977, 193-94).
On the other hand, some privateers captured
little or nothing or were captured or destroyed themselves.
There's a wonderful paper by a Texas economics
professor, Larry J. Sechrest, on the web called
Naval Warfare for Private Profit. In it, he says,
Privateering was not a worthless
anachronism. It was a powerful method by which maritime
nations could discourage aggressors without indulging
in the massive public expenditures needed to maintain
a large public navy. Indeed, it was, on occasion,
publicly acknowledged to be more effective than
In addition, since the British blockade
and war in general had reduced US imports to 10% of their
pre-war total, the captured English merchant ships that
the American privateers sent into NY, Baltimore, Charleston,
etc., brought scarce supplies to the American economy.
The war lasted about 31 months, a bit short
of three years; in that time, American privateers took some
1,800 British merchantmen, an average of about two per day,
60 per month, and at times brought vital British sea trade
to a virtual halt. There was a time when British soldiers
in the Peninsula Campaign in Spain were not paid because
of American privateers.
To show that everyone wanted to get into
the business, I found at the National Archives what looked
like a Letter of Marque for a large rowboat. Sure enough,
I later found a record of an English merchantman with $20,000
worth of goods on board, which was captured off George's
River, by a row-boat privateer, and sent into a neighboring
Privateering goes back a log way. "by mid
1700s [privateering] was carefully regulated, respectable
and as law abiding as the navy," according to Daniel Conlin,
Curator of Marine History at the Maritime Museum of the
Atlantic in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
The British had privateers. So did the French
and the Canadians. One Canadian privateer waited off Cape
Cod to snatch American merchantmen coming from Boston.
It was not enough to build and outfit a
vessel for privateering activity, one also had to
post a bond in order to guarantee compliance with international
laws of the sea. The intent was to make sure that privateers
did not degenerate into pirates. Such "letters-of-Marque"
or "surety" bonds were usually in the amount of either $5,000
Again, what distinguished a privateer from
a pirate was its license, its Letter of Marque.
to subdue, seize
and take any armed or unarmed British vessel, public
or private, which shall be found within the jurisdictional
limits of the United States or elsewhere on the high
seas, or within the waters of the British dominions,
and such captured vessel, with her apparel, guns and
appurtenances, and the goods and effects which shall
be found on board the same, together with the British
persons and others who shall be acting on board, to
bring within some port of the United States;
[Letter of Marque] authorizing James
M. Mortimer Captain, and William Ross Lieutenant of
the said schooner Patapsco and the other officers and
I should also add, since we will later focus
of those events leading up to the Battle of New Orleans,
regarding Pirate vs Privateer:
The famous Jean Lafitte and Dominique You
were indeed pirates, that is, high-seas criminals, who,
by fiat of Andrew Jackson, became, at least for a time,
not privateers but allies of the United Sates at New Orleans,
primarily for their artillery skills and their stocks of
munitions. Lafitte, however, was back to his old tricks
in the Gulf of Mexico before long, as a pirate. (rr)
It should be noted that privateering is
not necessarily a dead concept. It still stands in the US
Constitution, in the very same breath as the right to declare
Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution
"The Congress shall have power ... to declare war,
grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules
concerning captures on land and water;
Let's talk about how they did that ……
and armament in 1812
"Profit-minded Americans had created a type of vessel
especially well suited to commerce raiding. It was a sort
of schooner with ship or brig rigging. It had speed and
ability to seemingly sail up wind. When heavier British
vessels were closing in on it, they were often astounded
to see it virtually head into the wind and outrun them.
It carried 16 to 18 guns and 90 to 150 sailors. It did not
fight warships unless cornered, but outran them. On the
other hand, it could outmaneuver and outfight armed merchantmen.
Royal Navy men of war depended on largely sailing down wind.
The power that made all this happen, of course, was
the wind. And it was American perfection of a sailing
ship that could make the most of the wind that made
her so surprisingly formidable.
These small, lightly armored
schooners, built in Boston and Charleston and especially
in New York and Baltimore, were continuously perfected in
design with two objectives:
to get in fast, even
into the middle of a British convoy, threaten and
then board an English merchantman and
to get away fast,
outrunning the Royal Navy's strongest men-of-war
and the range of their longest guns.
In order to be fast, they
had lots of sail, especially in relation to their weight
and size. If you look at a Royal Navy square-rigger, you
could see that only wind from the rear or a rear angle could
propel her forward. This wind factor also had a lot to do
with maneuverability. The Royal Navy was thinking of gigantic
gun-platforms, the kind that would win for Nelson at Trafalgar.
The shape and arrangement
of sails on an American privateer schooner, brig
or brigantine, are quickly movable to much more radical
angles. English seamen have written that they saw privateers
escaping "sailing directly into the wind."
The armament of these private
armed vessels reflect their tactics. Unlike the RN's gun-platforms,
a privateer needed only enough armament to intimidate a
lightly-armed merchantman. The intent was never to face
a ship of the British Navy and win a gun battle. So the
privateer would have 6 to 20 cannon on each side and one
or two "Long Toms". Because she was more maneuverable, sailing
so that the guns pointed in the right direction was something
she could do better than a man-of-war. (rr)
Of course, all this took
place at speeds 2 to 20 miles per hour; it would have seemed
like magical slow motion if we had been there. (rr)
"General Armstrong', one
of the most famous American privateers, carried 8 long 9-pounders,
1 long 42, and 90 men. She had taken $1 million in English
property when cornered in September 1814 in the Portuguese
port of Fayal by 'Rota' and 'Plantagenet.'
This is not to say that American
privateers were on an uninterrupted course of triumph: human
error and miscalculations intervened. Britain did an early
Q-ship, disguising a well-armed brig as a merchant ship
and waited for an American privateer to try to pounce. But,
there are celebrated cases of the privateer coming out on
top, even in these circumstances.
In this age of sail, it took
some guts to engage in these showdowns. The munitions were
daunting and naval science of the day often measured the
effectiveness of a vessel of war in the weight of objects
like these a ship could throw at an enemy:
The devices at the bottom
were intended to bring down whole masts while the
nasty looking spider device in the middle was meant
to tear sail, all depriving the privateer's prey of its
I also tried to determine
how bloodthirsty and ruthless these non-pirate privateers
were. George Coggeshall who wrote A History of the American
privateers and was himself a privateer captain, goes
to great pains to describe the gentlemanly-behavior of these
These are instructions issued
along with the Letter of Marque:
…2. …rights of neutral powers…You are particularly
to avoid even the appearance of using force or seduction
…3. Toward enemy vessels and their crews,
you are to proceed in exercising the rights of war,
with all the justice
and humanity which characterize the nation of which you
EXTRACT FROM THE
LOG-BOOK OF THE SCHOONER HIGHFLYER, OF BALTIMORE.
The Dolphin has taken six prizes without receiving
the smallest injury. She was repeatedly chased by
the English, and at one time for twenty-four hours,
but finally escaped.
She has treated her prisoners with the greatest
kindness. In rowing away from men-of-war, she found
great aid from their voluntary assistance. The prisoners
said they had much rather go to America than return
on board a British man-of-war."
For America, for privateers, for the Royal
Navy, and for New Orleans, perhaps
The fateful year was: 1814
August may have been the peak month of the
And a month in which many forces were at
If you were there then, you probably would
never have guessed that the War would be over in
six months or that the US wouldn't have completely lost
it and maybe its independence. Here's what I mean:
In August, British Navy ships - from
all over - began their voyage to the rendezvous point in
the Caribbean. Capt. Robert Lloyd would have set sail from
of New Orleans
New Orleans might be thought of as the southern
prong of a 3-pronged attack decided on by the British in
the Spring of 1814, just as Peace negotiations were getting
under way. What we'd call today, "Combined Operations"
To bring the American nation to heel, the
British cabinet worked out a grand plan of conquest. The
goal was "to destroy and lay waste the principal towns and
commercial cities assailable either by their land or naval
forces." The strategy consisted of a three-pronged invasion
from three widely separated areas of the continent: an amphibian
thrust into the Chesapeake Bay area aimed at Washington,
Baltimore, and other coastal cities; another from Montreal
into New York State via Lake Champlain; and a third from
the Gulf of Mexico into Louisiana with the purpose of seizing
New Orleans and detaching the Mississippi Valley from the
But the biggest,
best prize was to be New Orleans. Admiral
Cochrane's fifty-ship armada initially carrying
fifteen hundred marines and 5,498 veteran
troops sailed from Negril Bay, Jamaica.
Other units joined them near New Orleans.
Morale was high.
So high that at Cochrane Hqs at Jamaica, the New
Orleans target was discussed in front of outsiders
with US connections and Cochrane's log records that
it seemed the whole Island knew.
The New Orleans
objective, in some ways, was no secret from the
start. In London, thruout the war, many allusions
were made to this city as a valuable prize.
There was an image
in the British mind of the French, Spanish, and
Creole citizens of New Orleans being alienated from
their new American rulers. The Louisiana Purchase
was only 15 years before. Statehood took place just
45 days before the outbreak of the War.
My main concern here was not with the
land Battle of New Orleans but rather the expedition.
How it was planned, how it assembled. What actually happened
as it progressed. Did the fight with the General Armstrong
really delay the assembly of the British expedition against
Now I was in a position to deal with some
of the questions which initially arose.
Why did British Captain
Robert Lloyd attack the Armstrong when he had orders
to join the New Orleans expedition and despite being
in a neutral port?
In addition to all my fascination with the
prospect that my ancestors were on the General Armstrong,
I also became deeply intrigued with Robert Lloyd, the British
captain who commanded the squadron that sailed into the
harbor in the Azores that September evening.
He was under orders. Important ones. For
the big strike at the American underbelly.
But here was possibly a Captain on-the-edge.
Perhaps he had been viewed like numerous British captains
who had risen thru the ranks: one Naval observer complained
about the "means of bringing persons of obscure birth into
undue distinction," -- many sailors made their fortunes
and ranks through the capture of enemy ships.
HMS Plantagenet in three months captured
25 small American ships along the NE coast.
I found four other intriguing events
which have been recorded as having occurred while Lloyd
commanded the Plantagenet:
1. The London Statesman, in
1813 published an article which seemed to imply that
Lloyd had failed to pursue an American warship off the
coast of Maryland.
2. During most of the war, the
USS Constitution was bottled up in the Chesapeake. In
an attempt to clear the blockading British ships, Edward
Mix of the US Navy attempted to target the Plantagenet
with the world's first use of "fish torpedoes" - that
is, a submarine. The explosion took place within view
of Lloyd's ship. (Forester)
Really intriguing but without a full
explanation was a recorded incident where
3. During a hit-and-run attack
from British blockaders along the Connecticut coast
where HMS Plantagenet stood "on the American station",
five Englishmen were captured by local militia. They
gave their "parole", that is, their word they were out
of action for the duration or until exchanged. They
were discovered back in action shortly thereafter. One
of the - apparently ordinary seamen, marines or junior
officers - had given his name to the militia as: Robert
Lloyd. (History of Stonington).
4. When Lloyd arrived at Jamaica,
he sent a letter to Admiral Cochrane, asking for a court-martial.
I made great effort to follow this up and failed. Did
he want to clear his name over the Battle of Fayal and
the loss of so many men?
Were this drama, we could build a wonderful
Herodotus, known for his double roles
as an historian and a spinner of yarns is supposed
to have said - referring to events in history - "Very few
things happen at the right time and the rest do not happen
at all. The conscientious historian will correct these defects."
Now, as I looked over these materials, doubts
began to creep into my speculations.
Before, I showed a hand-colored Nathaniel
But this illustration
betrays a number of inaccuracies:
In spite of the sky, all accounts agree
that the battle was fought after dark and the multiple
boat attack after midnight.
The legend inscribed below has the date
in October - wrong by a month.
Also, The General Armstrong was not
a square-rigged vessel.
And remember the 1886 Cincinnati
Inquirer piece I quoted?:
It is therefore incontrovertible
that the heroic action of the Armstrong
saved New Orleans from ….
Fine, except that this article had the
British arriving at New Orleans direct from Waterloo,
though that actually happened 5 months later,
and it talks about Lord Castlereagh
as British Prime minister, when he was actually Foreign
So despite all the 19th century
hype and the readiness with which a number of sources have
credited The General Armstrong with having delayed the invasion
and assured American victory, I have hopefully cast a skeptical
eye on this.
Did Lloyd's attack on
the General Armstrong really delay the assembly of the
British expedition against New Orleans?
As I thought about it, it occurred to me:
Why should it? Lloyd had only 3 ships out of 50 in the expedition?
Now, it is true that it could take 8 or
10 weeks to get from Plymouth to Jamaica.
Westerly voyages took longer, the Gulf Stream
was against you…sailors called it "sailing uphill". He might
have run into autumn storms and hurricanes
It's worth noting that British
morale was high in Jamaica before they left for New Orleans.
Higher officers wives accompanied them. The New Orleans
objective was referred to as "Booty
and Beauty". The Beauty
for the doe-eyed Creole girls and
the Booty for the New Orleans warehouses
full of cotton and perhaps $15 million worth of goods. The
British Treasury and economy were broke. A threatened renewal
of the property tax had awful political implications. (Perhaps
another theory and another paper, or perhaps just a contributing
General Packenham, the Army commander, didn't
arrive until the fleet was at New Orleans meaning they started
from Jamaica without him.
This told me a lot about cross-Atlantic
movement: British General Edward Packenham was appointed
to command the land forces and work with Admiral Cochrane,
who was in Jamaica. He was to replace General Ross who was
killed by American riflemen outside Baltimore after the
burning of Washington. Word of this needed-change didn't
reach London until mid-October and Packenham was appointed
on October 24th and departed Plymouth on October
28th with General Gibbs, to be his second in
command. (They were both to die, like Ross, shot by American
On their voyage to join the New
Orleans force, the elderly Captain of HMS Statira
(STAH-tir-ah) shortened sail every night. The passengers
urged him to make all possible speed. But the captain
is the captain. (Brown)
They were 7 weeks to get to Jamaica. Cochrane's
fleet had left. Packenham and Gibbs arrived at New Orleans
on Christmas Day, after the first actions with the Americans.
So Packenham was late. And that, truly,
may have effected the outcome of the Battle of New Orleans.
Did a delay, as so many
historians have asserted, really cause the British to
lose the Battle of New Orleans?
The evidence clearly suggests that if the
British had arrived at New Orleans earlier and moved more
quickly, the city would have been theirs. Here the answer
is probably yes.
One interesting speculation relates to a
letter written by Wellington after the war, charging that
British Naval Commander Cochrane advocated the project against
New Orleans for the purpose of plunder (that estimated $15
million in cotton and goods in New Orleans' warehouses)
and then led the army through Lake Borgne into a trap. Combine
this idea with several recorded complaints that the British
expedition had numerous transports heavy with ballast which
traveled slowly to the rendezvous in Jamaica: Ships loaded
with ballast in the expectation the ballast would be replaced
with the booty of New Orleans. Wellington was saying that
the Royal Navy, in its quest for its own prizes, for greed,
got his brother-in-law killed.
We've also heard from John Buchanan about
Jackson and Horseshoe Bend - -
Had the Creek
civil war been delayed and synchronized with the landing
of the British troops, the combined forces might well have
overcome Jackson's army and gone on to capture New Orleans
and the lower Mississippi Valley.
But my research brought me back to a more
basic, simple question -
When did the British Navy
plan to rendezvous to attack New Orleans?
This was a big operation. More ships than
My great discovery was the
original War Plan - written in London in the Spring - and
dated 20 June 1814:
meet at the said rendezvous
not later than the 20th of November."
So as far
back as June, the planned rendezvous date was set to November
20th This date was never changed; subsequent
documents emphasized that these instructions were firm .
The advantage Jackson had, in addition to good
intelligence, was simply that the long-before planned date
was set so late.
The British, in fact, did complete the rendezvous by November
20th and departed Jamaica for New Orleans on
November 26th, including Lloyd and the ships
that had fought the General Armstrong in Jamaica two months
But the final blow to the
contention of so many historians, and of Andrew Jackson,
Teddy Roosevelt and the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings,
(not to mention my
fantasies about the impact of my ancestors)
came when I finally saw the log of Royal
Navy Captain Robert Lloyd's ship, the Plantagenet.
In fact, it shows him leaving the Azores
on October 5th, eight days after the battle.
But even more importantly, it shows him
arriving at Port Royal, just outside Kingston, Jamaica just
one month later, on November 4th,
In plenty of time for the Battle of New
in complete contradiction
of the American legend.
words, LLOYD WASN'T LATE! In fact, he was early!
If the British HAD WON
at New Orleans, would they have ignored the Peace Treaty
and ruled the middle of America?
There is SOME evidence to suggest this,
more than I think is usually acknowledged.
I found that it was less than an elaborate
and systematic plan of action. And that British opinion,
public, military, political were all split in that Autumn
In mid-Autumn, American negotiators
John Quincy Adams and John C. Calhoun at the peace talks
at Ghent in Belgium were somewhat mystified when, out
of the blue, the British negotiators began to allude
to a previously unmentioned document:
Treaty of San Ildefonso.
The Treaty of San Ildefonso ------ denied
the right of the now-deposed Napoleon to dispose of
Louisiana to any state other than Spain. As historian
Edward Channing said, the US was "the purchaser of stolen
goods from a known highwayman." (Brown) Strict international
law would have upheld that the US had not legally purchased
the Louisiana Purchase.
Department of History at the University of Georgia
Wrote on H-Net:
This is true, but that's not to say that the
battle had no effect on the peace, for it in large
part determined how the Treaty of Ghent would be
interpreted by the British. Under the terms of the
treaty, the British would have been within their
rights in withholding recognition of the Louisiana
Purchase, or of American claims to the Gulf Coast.
Had the British won at New Orleans, Britain would
almost surely have turned the city back over to
Spain. Monroe realized this, and said as much to
Madison. The net effect of Jackson's victory, then,
was nothing less than the international legitimization
of the Louisiana Purchase in the eyes of the Great
The logic of the propaganda - - that the
General Armstrong saved New Orleans and the Middle of America
from British rule - is consistent with how military information
was dealt with by the Public and Press - most especially
naval information of the time. For example, in the first
two months of the War, we can witness the case of US Army
General William Hull and his nephew US Navy Captain Isaac
Hull - the uncle tries to invade Canada and loses everything
- the nephew sails out with Old Ironsides, destroys a smaller
The American public, faced with concluding
they had either just declared a foolhardy war, based on
a failed invasion of Canada,
or a war where they were certainly going
to tweak the British bully's nose, based on this victory
of the USS Constitution vs HMS Guierriere, the American
public and press, of course, opts for the latter,
and a triumphant posture.
What happened to:
OUTCOME - what happened to them all?
Now that I've told you the story, I have to tell what happened
to all these people:
General Andrew Jackson’s stunning victory
over crack British troops at Chalmette on January 8, 1815,
was the greatest American land victory of the War of 1812.—
the last battle of the last war ever fought
between England and the United States—it preserved America’s
claim to the Louisiana Purchase, prompted a wave of migration
and settlement along the Mississippi River, and restored
American pride and unity. It also made Jackson a national
Thomas Fleming - one of our favorite
"He was able to parlay his popularity into a political base of power that
propelled him to the presidency in 1828. As Jackson
was leaving the White House at the end of his second
term in 1837, a congressman (perhaps a wise guy,
trying to needle him?) asked him ----- had there
been any point to the Battle of New Orleans? After all,
it had been fought after the peace treaty was signed.
The old warrior gave him one of his patented steely
glares and said: "If General Pakenham and his ten thousand
matchless veterans could have annihilated my little
army...he would have captured New Orleans and sentried
all the contiguous territory, though technically the
war was over....Great Britain would have immediately
abrogated the Treaty of Ghent and would have ignored
Jefferson's transaction with Napoleon."
Was he right? We will never know for
certain. Old Hickory settled the argument in advance
by winning the battle." again from Thomas Fleming's
article on Jackson on the web - see my bibliography.
posseditis', is the Latin phrase that means "you keep what
you conquered" as opposed to "status quo ante bellum" -
"the way it was before the war". In the negotiations
at Ghent, America had successfully opposed Britain's attempt
to sign a treaty where they'd hold onto conquered US territory.
Did they know about the massive fleet assembling for New
Orleans? And yet, Britain gave way and agreed, in
essence, to the evacuation of US Territory - without any
news from New Orleans. Why?
In the Spring of 1814, the Duke of Wellington
had urged a settlement. Faced with the depletion of the
British treasury due in part to the heavy costs of the Napoleonic
Wars, and privateers in British waters, the negotiators
for Great Britain accepted the Treaty of Ghent on December
24, 1814. It provided for the cessation of hostilities,
the restoration of conquests and a commission to settle
…so, the Peace Treaty was signed on Christmas
Eve, 1814. Good thing, too. The War was ruining the economies
of both the UK and the US. In New York City in early February,
on a dark winter night, a ship with an American and a British
diplomat brought the news. From the downtown docks,
after dark, the word began to spread thru the icy city;
candles in celebration began to appear in the windows up
and down lower Broadway.
The United States had ended hostilities
without losing any territory and asserted its status
as an independent nation that would no longer stand
for the violation of its neutral rights or the humiliation
of impressment. Perhaps the best measure of the
impact of the war is how Americans learned from
the experiences and mistakes of the war and applied
those lessons to postwar America. After the war
the United States reorganized the Army, Navy, and
War Department to correct the defects revealed during
the War of 1812. In his message to Congress in December
1815 President Madison acknowledged the financial
difficulties caused by the lack of a national bank
and the supply problems caused by the poor conditions
of American roads, and he recognized the value of
American domestic manufacturing, stimulated by the
trade disruptions of the war. Madison's recommendations
that Congress approve a national bank, federal support
for transportation and internal improvements, and
protective tariffs were all enacted in the years
immediately following the War of 1812. Americans
also emerged from the war with a message to the
world that their experiment in republicanism had
been proven successful.
Only the Indians, that the Treaty made some
effort to consider, lost land.
Three of our great icons -- the Star Spangled
Banner, "Old Ironsides," and Uncle Sam -- date from this
With the final defeat and removal of Napoleon,
as an Admiralty system was not needed and largely ceased
Though the U.S. gained none of
its avowed aims, popular legend soon converted defeat
into the illusion of victory. Several circumstances
contributed to this process: the series of military
successes in the war's closing months created a
sense of victory The war also marked a decline of
U.S. dependence on Europe and stimulated a sense
of nationality. EB article
It demonstrated enough resilience
to force the British to look at
States as something other than a renegade colony,
and perhaps helped to lay the groundwork for the
rapprochement later in the century. It may also
have played a part in the British willingness to
compromise on the issue of the North West territories
in the 1840's possibly averting another war.
In a sense, the War of 1812 might have ended the
last external threat to the survival and growth
of the United States [the issue of slavery being
an internal threat] until the development of Soviet
nuclear capabilities in the Cold War.
British Naval Commander Admiral
While awaiting a replacement for Ross, Cochrane
had commenced the attack against New Orleans. On December
14, his forces captured the American gunboats on Lake Borgne.
The British subsequently advanced through Bayou Bienvenu
to within seven miles of the city by December 23. But the
British attack on General Andrew Jackson's army ultimately
failed and Cochrane's Navy withdrew with the rest of the
He got most of the British brigades back
in time for the Battle of Waterloo.
Cochrane died in Paris on January 26, 1832.
British Army Commander Sir
Edward Packenham -
On January 8, 1815, on the field of Chalmette,
a few miles before New Orleans, "whole platoons were mown
down as with a scythe; but the gallant army continued to
press forward until officer after officer was killed, and
Pakenham himself fell, bleeding and dying…." (MOA)
He was shot by a Tennessee marksman from
behind bales of cotton. Like General Ross from Baltimore,
some say, he is shipped home to England in a keg of Jamaican
rum (a variety of stories, and jokes, have spun out of this
method of preservation.) So like General Ross at Baltimore,
he was shot by an American sharpshooter and he died attended
by the same staff aide as Ross, Captain Duncan MacDougall
British man-of-war Captain
- who started the fight in the Azores. He was given the
honor of bringing back to England from the Battle of New
Orleans, the body of General Sir Edward Packenham. Before
the Napoleonic and 1812 Wars, Lloyd had earlier been, and
after became again, a sheriff in Wales on the island of
At one point, I found a distant cousin of
my villain on a Welch genealogy forum. In hopes of
getting more, I posted a request for information.
Hoping to appear both honest and scholarly, I added in my
request for more information:
"I must now caution
you that some of this research focusing on Robert
Lloyd tends to characterize him as a villain and,
perhaps, as a man who lost his temper and thus changed
the course of world history. You can see more at
my website. (
But I would hope you find it interesting as a far-reaching
tale of turbulent times and as an unearthing of
a most significant son of Anglesey. I will apologize
in advance for any residue of American jingoism
in this material from the period."
Well, it did me no good,
I got no replies, and you get the feeling the Welch are
happy to leave their confrontational Royal Navy Captain
Privateering in General
Today, there are known cases of piracy in the South China
Sea but as for privateering -
Members of NYMAS will, of course, know about
… Imperial Germany in WWI (especially the
famous SEEADLER, an armed sailing barque skippered by the
humorous Kapitan and Graf Felix Von Luckner) --
and especially the Plan of Nazi Germany
in WWII, in arming and sending out numerous disguised merchantmen
as naval raiders worldwide to attack Allied merchantmen.
The United States is not a party to any
instrument which explicitly renounces privateering. The
U.S. is a party to some of the Hague Conventions of 1907
which, by implicit incorporation of the 1856 Paris Declaration,
have been construed to reaffirm the principle that "privateering
is, and remains, abolished." (H-DIPLO)
The General Armstrong
As far as I know, The General Armstrong
still lies in the harbor in the Azores, altho the Long Tom
pivot gun was rescued; the massive iron 42-pounder gun --
a monster weapon for its day -- eventually was acquired
by the Navy Museum at Washington Navy Yard.
What didn't go away for a very long time
was a series of lawsuits and claims, both nationally and
internationally. In 1852, the French Emperor Napoleon ruled
against the US simply because the crew of The General Armstrong
had fired first on that evening in September in 1814.
Captain Samuel Chester Reid,
Captain of The General Armstrong -
Whatever doubts I've cast on the mythology
of the General Armstrong, Captain Reid and his crew were
very brave men and tho cornered, stood up to an attack others
would have withered under.
The hype, and I don't know what else to
call it, that the General Armstrong changed the outcome
of the Battle of New Orleans, perhaps tells us more about
the psychological needs of America.
An underpopulated, new nation, fighting
a contemptuous former ruling country and King, needed to
feel it had sway over wide ranging events.
Reid became harbormaster
of the Port of New York in 1843. (LC) and passed away in
obscurity in Brooklyn on the eve of the Civil War in 1861.
In 1956, his unmarked grave
was found at Greenwood Cemetery - the Stonemasons erected
an imposing monument, lauding Reid as designer of the 1818
flag and esp. as Captain of the Armstrong- and on the base
of it, carved in stone, is -
had been no Battle of Fayal, there would
have been no Battle of New Orleans." --
We've all heard that "the first casualty
of war is truth." Perhaps, in this case, it was the last
As for my ancestors, the
Frankly, I loved the idea that my great-great-grandfather
might have changed the course of world history…and the idea
of informing my cousin in California that if it weren't
for our ancestor, on his next trip east, he might be flying
over British Middle America.
But now I must tell you that on my last
day of researching American privateer Captain Reid's family
papers at the Library of Congress, I finally found the crew
list for the fateful voyage -- and there were no Mackies
But the search launched this, to me, wonderful
expedition you've heard about tonight.
Don't know what happened to the other brother,
but the first, John Hewitt Mackie, settled initially in
New London, CT, then across the Sound in Greenport, LI.
He married an Irish girl, as would his grandson. He and
his son worked as ship riggers, then the son struck out
on his own, (possibly with Congressional bounty money from
the father that Reid had pressed for), and acquired a clipper
ship plying trade to China and then within China. Alas,
sail was overtaken by steam and there were possibly complications
relating to the opium trade, so that by the end of the 1800s,
the family was in Bridgeport, CT and growing children were
taking jobs in factories.
It was in this era that these Scotsmen met
the Irish branch of the family. Our Irish matriarch didn't
like the Scottish branch when she met them and held that
they were "adventurers and dreamers". In fact, she stood
in the way of the marriage and my grandfather and grandmother
eloped. But turn-of-the-century convention reigned, they
had five children, this Mackie became a florist and they
never, ever mentioned privateering; it took John Hewitt
Mackie's grandson's brother to reveal to the young niece,
my aunt, the details you heard about at the beginning of
Two brothers, conscripted
off Isle of Skye, Scotland, on English man of
War to America.
Both brothers helped build
privatier Gen. Armstrong War 1812.
They stayed with the ship
Me? I learned that history, like Roshomon,
has many points of view.
And just as Andrew Jackson, Teddy Roosevelt
and the Naval Proceedings got to spin their myth,
so did I.
As for the historical legend of The General
Armstrong and its effect on the Battle of New Orleans, I
am reminded of Shaw's The Devil's Disciple.
I remember well the 1959 movie version with Lawrence Olivier
as Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne who, when told he'll have to
surrender to the Americans, because of a bureaucratic error
in London, is asked by his aide:
"Sir, what will history say?"
Burgoyne replies with great
"History, Sir, will tell lies, as
Sir George Bernard Shaw,
The Devil's Disciple (1901), Act 3
ResourcesA short Bibliography
for American Privateers in the War of 1812
On the Web
My own site with
The War of 1812
Casebook site is not to be missed, especially the "British
Views of the War of 1812 in the Chesapeake" by Christopher
splendid and detailed history on the War of 1812, causes,
battles and personalities is at Galafilm
made a four-part TV documentary on the subject; part
of what can only be described as a Canadian renaissance
of interest in the War of 1812.)
is their War
of 1812 Website. Lots of detail about uniforms, ordinance,
and battles in the north - conspicuously from a Canadian
point of view.
Tom Fleming article on Jackson is at the Military History
Quarterly website at Old Hickory's Finest Hour - Cover
Page: Winter '01 MHQ ...
Best single, small
book on the War: Coles, Harry Lewis, 1918- The
War of 1812, Chicago, University of Chicago
for most readable, but good on scholarship, is Lord,
Walter, 1917- The dawn's early light /:
Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994. 384 p. : ill.,
maps ; 22 cm.
I think, by far,
the best book on the Battle of New Orleans is: Carter,
Samuel, 1904- Blaze of glory; the fight for New
Orleans, 1814-1815. New York, St. Martin's Press
[1971. The only trouble is Blaze of Glory
may be hard to find.
Also excellent is: :Brown, Wilburt S., 1900-1968.
The amphibious campaign for West Florida and Louisiana,
1814-1815; a critical review of strategy and tactics
at New Orleans. University, Ala., University of Alabama
Press  xii, 233 p. maps. 26 cm.
Hickey, Donald R., 1944-, The War of 1812 : a
forgotten conflict / Donald R. Hickey. Urbana :
University of Illinois Press, c1989. xiii, 457 p. :
ill. ; 24 cm.
Recent and more popular is Remini, Robert Vincent,
1921-, The Battle of New Orleans / Robert V.
Remini. New York, N.Y. : Viking, 1999.
Valuable for its
details is Mahan, A. T. (Alfred Thayer), 1840-1914.
Sea power in its relations to the War of 1812.
New York, Haskell House, 1969. 2 v. illus., maps, ports.
covered by a contemporary who actually captained a privateer
himself: Coggeshall, George, 1784-1861. History of
the American privateers, and letters-of-marque, during
our war with England in the years 1812, '13, and '14.
Interspersed with several naval battles between American
and British ships-of-war. By George Coggeshall ...
3d ed., rev., cor. and enl. New York, The Author, 1861.
lv, 482 p. front. (port.) plates. 22 cm. Reprints available
and you can read it or download it from the splendid
Making of America site at the University of Michigan
Prof. Larry J.
Sechrest apt paper Privateering and National Defense:
Naval Warfare for Private Profit is at
aa a pdf file.
Cockburn = CO-burn
Cochrane = COCK-run
Packenham = pack-EN-am
official Historian of the United States Coast Guard.
of NYMAS and National Historian of the USCGA
who took time from her schedule to help with myriad
Goodman's for his invaluable assistance and guidance.
for his Naploeonic expertise on the British and
of the South Street Seaport Museum Library helped
pinpoint detail of the era.
Friedman has dozens of books on naval history to
his credit, he was kind enough to give this amateur
history buff direction.
who lives in Kew, London, outside the gates of the
Public Record Office, and is a top professional
Joseph C. Abdo whose paper from the I Congresso
Internacional de Estudos Anglo-Portugueses 6-8 Maio
de 2001 Lisboa on the US Consul Dabney's family
was an important resource.
And to Alice
Galassi, great-granddaughter of the General Armstrong's
valiant Captain Samuel Chester Reid.
And last but
not least, to Christine Enright Snyder, the cousin
who supplied the three lines from her mother, without
whom this paper would not have been written.
Topics for Discussion
+ Misc. outtakes
I did a lot of research - learning how a
real historian might do it - but was able to get almost
50% from the web.
Dates, times and places don't agree in primary
I have some evidence that in the 1812 Battle
between the Constitution and Guerrière, Lloyd was a subordinate
officer on the Guerrière which might have created a situation
where the British officers would have hated capture by the
Americans but the crew, especially impressed crewmembers,
would have loved it. And would willing sailors been allowed
to escape becoming POWs and perhaps join the US Navy…or
In August 1814 the 93rd sailed to Plymouth,
England thinking of home. Instead on 17 September they embarked
on three ships as part of a three-pronged offensive designed
to chastise the United States and end the war dragging on
there since 1812 when the U.S. declared war and invaded
Canada. Napoleon had been sent into his first exile. Tens
of thousands of veteran British soldiers were now free to
be used in America. One prong of this strategy would attack
through the Great Lakes region, the second front would smash
into the eastern seaboard ultimately to burn the capital
of Washington in retaliation for U.S. forces burning York
(Toronto), Canada. The third - with the 93rd aboard - would
attack through the Gulf of Mexico. Their final destination:
The 93rd Sutherland Highland Regiment of
Foot 1800 - 1881
(was John Lambert with Capt. Lloyd at Fayal?)
In short, I was never able to find
proof, beyond my aunt's notations from her great
uncle, that my ancestors had actually been on the
General Armstrong. They would have had reason to
adopt assumed names or be given aliases by their
Captain and crew, but for evidence, that's like
proving a negative. In any case, it launched for
a me a time travel over Europe, the Atlantic, the
very-young United States to the bayous around New
Orleans. I went to college in New Orleans and Lafitte's
Blacksmith Shop and the Napoleon House were very
regular hangouts…yet I knew almost nothing of their
history…as I knew almost nothing of this neglected
period in US history.
Washington appointed Pierre
L'Enfant to plan the new city and three
commissioners to be in charge. The commissioners
dubbed the city Washington. In 1793 the
president laid the cornerstone for the Capitol.
In October 1800 the government moved from
Philadelphia. The district was still largely
remote. Many called it "Wilderness City."
Not until British troops forced them to
defend it from burning in 1814 did Americans
develop a proud attachment for their capital.
Washington Encyclopedia Britannica Article
Aaron Burr wrote an unsolicited letter to
a NY newspaper in 1817. (LC)
Mackies, change name, Chesapeake incident
even before war, one hung, while Goya was drawing the horrors
of Napoleonic warfare in Spain.
British undertake a three-part invasion
of the United States at Chesapeake Bay, Lake Champlain
and the mouth of the Mississippi River. British troops
are repulsed at Baltimore harbor after capturing Washington
and burning the Capitol buildings.
January 22 - Battle of Emuckfau.
January 24 - Battle of Enotachopco Creek.
March - British-French war ends with
British victory. Britain can now concentrate on the
war with the United States.
March 27-28 - The Creek Indians are
defeated by Andrew Jackson at the Battle of Horseshoe
April 11 - Napoleon abdicates the throne
April 14 - Embargo and Non Importation
Law repealed by United States.
April 25 - British blockade extended
to New England.
July-September - Eastern Maine occupied
by British forces.
July 3 - Americans capture Fort Erie.
July 5 - Battle of Chippewa.
July 25 - Battle of Lundy's Lane.
August - American public credit collapses.
Banks suspend specie payments.
August 8 - Peace negotiations begin
in Ghent with the British outlining initial peace terms.
August 9 - The United States and Creek
Indians sign the Treaty of Fort Jackson.
August 14 - British forces occupy Pensacola.
August 15 - Battle of Fort Erie.
August 24 - Battle of Bladensburg.
August 24-25 - Washington, DC burned
by British forces.
August 28 - Nantucket declares neutrality.
September 11 - Battle of Lake Champlain.
American victory over a larger British force at the
Battle of Plattsburgh secures the U.S. northern border.
September 12 - Battle of Mobile Bay.
Battle of North Point.
September 13-14 - Battle of Baltimore.
The Star Spangled Banner is written by Francis
September 17 - American forces sortie
from Fort Erie.
September 26 - General Armstrong captured
October 21 - Peace on basis of uti
November 5 - Fort Erie evacuated by
November 7 - American forces occupy
November 27 - The British drop the
December 14 - Battle of Lake Borgne.
December 15-Januray 5 - A group of federalists
meet at the Hartford Convention to discuss secession
and propose seven amendments to protect the influence
of the northeastern states.
December 15-February 27 - Additional
internal taxes enacted by the United States.
December 23-January 1 - Preliminary
battles at New Orleans.
December 24 - British and American diplomats
sign the Treaty of Ghent agreeing on status quo ante
December 28 - Conscription proposal
rejected in United States.
January 8 - Andrew Jackson defeats the
British at the Battle of New Orleans. Seven hundred
British are killed and fourteen hundred wounded as opposed
to eight Americans killed and thirteen wounded, all
after the war was officially over.
February 4 - Second Enemy Trade Law
enacted by the United States.
February 11 - Treaty of Ghent reached
the United States.
February 16 - Treaty of Ghent is approved
by the U.S. Senate and President Madison.
February 17 - War of 1812 ends as the United States
and Britain exchange ratifications.
The United States is not a party to any
instrument which explicitly renounces privateering. The
U.S. is a party to some of the Hague Conventions of 1907
which, by implicit incorporation of the 1856 Paris Declaration,
have been construed to reaffirm the principle that "privateering
is, and remains, abolished."
The United States formally renounced its
right to issues letter of marque and reprise to privateers
in the Spanish-American War of 1898. This was accomplished
via an Executive Order which was published in the Statutes
at Large. No such announcement was made in World Wars I
and II. None was probably needed: no prize case was even
adjudicated in U.S. courts in the Great War, and just a
handful were litigated in WW2.
Some have speculated that the United States
may not, by treaty, renounce a power given to Congress in
the Constitution (in this case the right to authorize privateers,
under article I, section 8, clause 11). I think this view
is spurious. The treaty power is broad enough to encompass
a renunciation of privaterring. Besides, under the "last-in-time"
rule, Congress can always pass a statute reinstating its
right to issue letters of marque and reprise, even though
such would violate international law. The real reason that
the United States did not sign the 1856 Paris Declaration
is that it wanted further limits placed on the right of
maritime prize, limits that the other great Powers were
unwilling to concede. (H-Net)
David J. Bederman Voice (404) 727-6822 Associate
Professor of Law Fax (404) 727-6820 Emory University School
of Law Internet email@example.com Atlanta, Georgia
On the American side, Jackson had got together
about four thousand raw levies, and under a thousand regulars;
the British brought into action ten thousand of the best
of Wellington's Peninsular veterans, men who had never known
defeat, commanded by some of his ablest generals. The British
had a fleet of fifty ships; Jackson had two, one of which
was destroyed early in the proceedings. Upon arriving; the
British army got ashore on low land west of Lake Borgne
and east of the river; the American lines were between them
and the town of New Orleans on the east bank of the river;
a series of three intrenchments one in the rear of the other.
There was also a redoubt on the west bank of the river;
and the two American vessels, the Carolina and the Louisiana,
were so disposed as to be able to fire on the British advance.
Jackson had begun to fight long before the
enemy arrived: he had dominated the town, and enlisted all
its able citizens in preparing the defense. His fortifications
were as strong as they could be made with the means at hand;
and the men caught the contagion of his courage and confidence.
Both armies received reenforcements before the battle began;
General Pakenham getting three thousand troops, and Jackson
eight hundred, which he placed under Morgan as a garrison
for the fort on the west shore of the river. Pakenham's
plan was to attack on both sides of the river at once, his
main advance being of course against Jackson. But before,
he had left his camp on the shore of Lake Borgne, Jackson
attacked him, and the guns of the Carolina galled his men
7. The route from Lake Borgne through the
narrow straits known as the Rigolets, across
Lake Pontchartrain, and up Bayou St. John.
A well-known route of commerce, this
course would take a landing party within
two miles of New Orleans.
The seventh choice constituted the one the
British originally intended to pursue,
but a shortage of
light vessels and Cochrane's belief that the Americans
defended this route forced him to abandon
this plan. Instead, the British selected option
number six, sailing into Lake Borgne and
landing below New Orleans via Bayou
Keep in mind:
The English navy time and again during
the preceding twenty years had humbled the navies of
France, Spain, Denmark, Turkey, Algeria, Russia and
Holland. In the twenty years preceding 1812 the ships
of his majesty's navy had fought in over 200 single
ship to ship engagements and lost in but five battles.
The last time an English ship had lost a ship to ship
action had been seven years earlier when in 1805 the
French Milan had bested the HMS Cleopatra.
Steve McQuillan's excellent
SUPER FRIGATES - AMERICA'S HIGH TECH WEAPONS OF THE
One story tells of the agility of two
The GOVERNOR TOMPKINS sailed right into
a protected convoy, and took three prizes.
The KEMP sighted an escorted convoy
of seven East Indiamen, snookered the protecting frigate
into a fruitless chase into dark rain squalls, circled
back, and took five Indiamen before departing with her
One contemporary observer said that
privateers "go where they please; they chase and come
up with everything they see, and run away at pleasure"
(Garitee 1977, 117)
Then operative verbs for privateers
"cut her out" (head off a merchantman
and take her with little or no damage)
"sent in" (as in "we sent her into
Baltimore" where 20-30 of the privateers would board
the surrendering merchantman and sail her as a "prize"
into Baltimore harbor.)
By 1814 there were three more "large"
US Navy frigates and one ship-of-the-line being
built in U.S. ports.
The problem for the British Navy was that they needed
to keep US Navy warships bottled up in eastern harbors
- if one got loose, it might do extensive damage,
it would take many ships to chase it thereby weakening
the blockade. In other words, you had to maintain
a tight grip. If you didn't you could be on a downhill
slide. The US had at least 5 of their fast and powerful
Navy ships building which had to be contained.
In the meantime, small and fast
privateers leaked out continuously.
I can't conclude this narrative without
pointing out that the most crucial battle of the war may
not have been in the Azores, Washington, Baltimore or New
Orleans but on the New York / Vermont border on September
11, 1814, two weeks before the General Armstrong, when other
US ships built by Noah and Adam Brown defeated the first
of the 3-part invasion; When Thomas Macdonough destroyed
the British on Lake Champlain, Sir George Prevost backed
off 10,000 troops which could have descended on the Hudson
Valley, cut off and perhaps even allied with vacillating
New England and taken Albany and New York City. (rr)
The author is delighted
to get questions, contributions, comments or concerns about this paper
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