War of 1812

The Atlantic Coast

Newfoundland - Nova Scotia - New England

•   The War Of 1812: Eastern Theatre
•   The War Of 1812: Nova Scotia
•   The War Of 1812: Newfoundland
•   The War Of 1812: Prisoners of War
•   The War Of 1812: Canadian Privateers
•   The War Of 1812: American Privateers
•   The War Of 1812: William James

A British View of the Naval War of 1812
by Jeremy Black, Naval History Magazine, v22 n4 August 2008

The War of 1812 was a conflict between two very different naval powers, a pattern that is far more common in naval history than tends to be appreciated. Aside from a fundamental contrast in their strength – Britain had the world's leading navy while the United States lacked a battle fleet – the opposing sides used their navies for very different purposes.  Because no large-scale naval clashes unfolded on the high seas, it is all too easy to underrate the crucial strategic dimensions of naval power and its importance for the character and development of the war... Blockade was seen as the way to deal with American privateering – government-sanctioned attacks on British merchantmen by privately owned vessels – as well as trade.  In March 1813, Warren was ordered to blockade New York City, Charleston, Port Royal, Savannah, and New Orleans... Maintaining the blockade, however, was far from easy...

The Hartford Convention

New England threatens to secede

The Hartford Convention was an event in 1814-1815 in the United States in which New England Federalists met to discuss their grievances concerning the ongoing War of 1812 and the political problems arising from the federal government's increasing power.  There were impassioned pleas for New England secession and a separate peace with Great Britain.  Massachusetts Governor Caleb Strong sent a secret mission to discuss terms with the British for a separate peace.  Within the Madison administration, there were fears that New England would negotiate a separate peace with Great Britain, an action in many ways just as harmful to the United States as actual secession.  In preparing for a worst-case scenario, Madison moved troops from the New York-Canadian border to Albany where they could quickly be sent to Massachusetts or Connecticut if needed to support federal authority.

The widespread discontent in New England intensified in 1812, when James Madison was re-elected president of the United States.  In late 1813 Madison signed a strongly restrictive embargo act prohibiting all trade between American ports (the coastal trade).  By the summer of 1814, the war had turned against the Americans.  After ending their war with Napoleonic France, Great Britain was able to marshal more resources to North America and had effectively blockaded the entire eastern coastline.  Territory in the Maine district of Massachusetts was occupied in July, in August the White House and Capitol were burned, and by September the British were advancing further in Maine and the Lake Champlain area of New York.  A naval assault on Boston was expected in the near future.  Free trade with the rest of the world had virtually ceased, thousands were thrown out of work, and by August banks were suspending specie payment.  The federal government was approaching bankruptcy.

New England governors followed a policy of giving minimal support to the Federal government in waging the war.  With the exception of Governor John Taylor Gilman of New Hampshire, most requisitions for state militia were denied.  New Englanders were reluctant to have their militia, needed to defend their coasts from British attacks, assigned elsewhere or placed under the command of the regular army.  General Winfield Scott, after the war, blamed Madison's policy of ignoring Federalists, who in New England constituted the best educated class, when granting regular army commissions in New England.

The anti-war sentiment in Massachusetts was so strong that even Samuel Dexter, the Republican candidate for governor, opposed the national party's commerce policies.  Federalists dominated the 1814 elections, returning Caleb Strong as governor and electing 360 Federalists against only 156 Republicans to the lower house of the Massachusetts Legislature.  In September Governor Strong refused a request to provide and support 5,000 troops to retake territory in Maine.


War of 1812
The Eastern Theatre
by Peter Landry

Newfoundland - Nova Scotia - New England

Chapter 01 — Introduction
In The War of 1812, the Americans were not all of the same mind.  The New England states were not so much anti-British as they were anti-French, indeed, New Englanders rather favoured the British.  On the other hand, those in the south and west were keen on war with Britain.  These war-hawks saw the war as an opportunity to add to their growing empire, Florida to the south and Canada to the north.  During the War of 1812 there were many exciting engagements in and around the Great Lakes, of which there are numerous accounts.  What is more difficult to find are accounts of the sea-battles off the North American seacoast.  To appreciate the nature of these battles, some of which we shall outline, it is necessary to understand that these were the days of sailing ships.  Men from Nova Scotia knew how to build sailing ships and how to sail them great distances.  Out of Nova Scotia these "iron men" sailed their "wooden boats" down the American east coast and into the West Indies.  Most were in pursuit of trade.  Some in pursuit of booty, especially in times of war.

Chapter 02 — Privateers, Part 1
Privateers were of the smaller variety of sailing vessels.  A privateer was chosen, not for its size, but for its sailing ability.  It was able to tack into the wind and generally able to manoeuver better than larger and more cumbersome vessels.  Also it was of benefit to be able to hug the coast in shallow waters, to get up into the river creeks so to hide themselves.  In Nova Scotia, Liverpool and Halifax had quite a number of privateers operating out of their harbours...

Chapter 03 — Privateers, Part 2
The Liverpool Packet was bought for £420 and during her short career it is thought that she made upwards of a million dollars for her owners.  She was most successful off the New England coast, especially in the spring of 1813.  In one week she captured 11 vessels off Cape Cod.  Privateers put to sea from a number of ports in Nova Scotia.  They were very active in the first year of the War of 1812.  By the close of 1813, Nova Scotia privateers had brought in 106 prizes.  Between 1812 and the end of the hostilities in 1815, they brought in "200 prizes, exclusive of a number of recaptures."

Chapter 04 — The Seafaring Life
British ships were not known to hang back and lob cannon balls hoping for a lucky hit.  A British naval captain sailed through all the enemy fire right up to the sides of the enemy ship, to give her a full broadside at close range, to latch hold of her, and to immediately launch a spirited boarding party with knives, swords, pikes and pistols at the ready.

Chapter 05 — Treaties, Orders And Decrees
The effect of The Jay Treaty was that the British would allow – thank you very much – the Americans to trade goods produced by them for goods produced in the West Indies and in the process they may use smaller American vessels.  The rest of the world, it seems, was out of bounds.  The result was not popular with the Americans.  But Jay did the best he could in the circumstances springing from the fact that, at the time, the infant United States had no clout.  The British had clout; she had her glorious navy.

Chapter 06 — The Years Leading Up To The War Of 1812
Just after Prevost settled into his new post he determined, as a good military man, to obtain the lie of the ground.  At Halifax, he immediately got his engineers and sappers busy to rebuild the fortifications.  Prevost was also very keen in getting the lie of the ground along the coast of the United States.  He determined to send a spy.

Chapter 07 — The Halifax Station
As for naval uniforms: it was during the time of Anson, the father of the British navy, that a standard was laid down, but it was many years before the bulk of them readily conformed to it.  Frocked coats and breeches were the rule with differences in rank shown by the shape and cut of the lapels and cuffs.  It was after the time under review, in 1825, that Jackets and trousers came.

Chapter 08 — The Naval Engagements – The Chesapeake Incident
In the month of June of 1807, the 50-gun Leopard was at anchor in Chesapeake Bay... Over the rails of Leopard's quarterdeck could be seen the occasional flash of a telescope.  The object of attention was the 38-gun frigate U.S.S. Chesapeake, which, as it happened, was not far off from Leopard... When Chesapeake weighed her anchor, Leopard lifted her anchor and preceded Chesapeake to sea by several miles.

Chapter 09 — The Little Belt v. President & The Belvidera v. the American Fleet
It is always a chase down wind when one square rigger is after another.  In such circumstances, even a smaller ship has a good chance of getting away from her pursuer.  President, as fast and as well handled as she apparently was, could not catch up.  What the Americans wanted was to put President close enough, so to turn and level a broad side into the smaller Belvidera.  However, in such a manoeuver, President would lose her speed and Belvidera would go out of range.  The best President could do was to use two chaser-guns, one just either side of her bow.

Chapter 10 — The Guerriére and the Constitution
The course was set and the breeze steady, thus the sails to a degree, could take care of themselves.  Captain Hull might have retired to his cabin as there was the ship's journal to be written up.  He continued to lean on the quarter deck rail and observed his seamen taking their ease.  Some of them were in groups, some off by themselves.  It was quiet.  Then a cry went out from the topman, a cry together with a thrusted arm to the northwest.

Chapter 11 — The Shannon and the Chesapeake, Part 1
Chesapeake let slip her lines and proceeded out of Boston harbour with the intention of putting an end to the effects of Shannon's blockade of Boston.  It was at about thirty minutes past noon, while the men were below at dinner, that Captain Broke was called on deck, and then he went himself to the masthead to see, to his joy, Chesapeake, in a fair wind, making sail while proceeding out of Boston harbour...

Chapter 12 — The Shannon and the Chesapeake, Part 2
One can only imagine the horrors of a close-quarter naval action.  Much of the action was fought in dense smoke and darkness.  If the weapons of the enemy did not directly get them, then the fall of rigging such as yardarms and masts might do the job by crushing them.  During the battle, the air was thick with an infinity of savage wood splinters sent flying by the impact of the cannon balls shot through the wooden bulwarks.  Projectiles of every kind imbedded themselves into human flesh; the slaughter was appalling.

Chapter 13 — Blockade Of Chesapeake Bay
The operations of the British navy in Chesapeake Bay were disappointing to the British administration during the year 1813, especially when it came to comparing it with the results of the following year.  The British navy did however achieve a result which was not immediately observable, at least to the British.  They had effectively frozen the commerce of the young United States up and down the eastern seaboard.

Chapter 14 — The Burning of Washington
On June 2nd, 1814, a detachment of Wellington's army of 2,500 soldiers under Major-General Ross boarded transports at Bordeaux in southwestern France.  These troops disembarked at Bermuda on July 25th.  On August 15th the British troops, which had been augmented at Bermuda to bring the total up to 3,400, were transported into Chesapeake Bay in the company of several ships of war.  The combined fleet rendezvoused off of Tangier Island, in the middle of Chesapeake Bay, leaving the Americans to wonder at what point the first strike would occur.

Chapter 15 — The Penobscot Expedition
On the 31st, the British fleet sailed up Penobscot Bay reaching Castine the following morning.  Thus it was, that on September 1st, 1814, the people of Castine looked out into the bay and saw a large British force.

Chapter 16 — Negotiations and A Lasting Peace
The United States suffered much on account of the War of 1812.  It had a devastating effect on the Americans in respect to their trading activities.  The effect in the United States was to tip the balance to the Hamiltonians, those who wanted a strong central government, versus the Jeffersonians who wanted less government.  Before the war the question was up in the air; but not after the war.


War of 1812
Nova Scotia

Sir John Coape Sherbrooke (1764-1830)
John Coape Sherbrooke was appointed lieutenant governor of Nova Scotia in July 1811.  He arrived at Halifax on 16 October to assume his gubernatorial duties and his responsibilities as commander of the forces in the Atlantic provinces.  The five years of Sherbrooke's administration were dominated by war with the United States, which broke out in June 1812, and matters relating to the colony's defence.  With dilapidated fortifications and limited military resources, the needs of the Canadas being more urgent, he could do little to secure the scattered, vulnerable outports against the threat of invasion or the ravages of American privateers beyond mounting guns at harbour entrances and placing the militia in a state of readiness.  For the rest, he had to rely on naval protection as British ships patrolled the seas and later blockaded the American coast, occasionally clashing with enemy men-of-war as in the celebrated engagement of the Shannon and the Chesapeake in June 1813.  For the dual purposes of security and commerce Sherbrooke issued proclamations declaring a friendly disposition towards the adjacent New England states, where the outbreak of war was highly unpopular, and a willingness to continue trading with them by means of licences, a mutually convenient arrangement extensively supplemented by more clandestine operations throughout the war.  Despite his initial anxieties about the shortage of specie and provisions, the war proved to be profitable for Nova Scotia.  Sherbrooke's calculated commercial policy, which stimulated the free exchange of goods with New England, turned the Atlantic provinces into a thriving entrepôt for international trade.  This lively commercial activity, the opportunities for privateering and smuggling, the increased demand for timber, and the enlarged expenditure of the commissariat all gave an artificial fillip to the Nova Scotian economy which, predictably, did not long outlast the return to peace in 1815.

Sherbrooke Village
named for Sir John Coape Sherbrooke

Halifax and the War of 1812
Embassy of the United States, Ottawa
In late August of 1814 the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia, Sir John Coape Sherbrooke led a military expedition from Halifax to Maine. He captured the coastal area of Maine from the St. Croix River to the Penobscot River, setting up his base in the Port of Castine. By the end of the war on 24 December 1814 Sherbrooke had taken in £10,000 in custom duties, which he had imposed on all imports and exports through the Port of Castine. These funds became known as the Castine Funds. Sherbrooke left Halifax in 1816, without having touched the Castine Funds, to become Governor General of "Canada" in Quebec City. In 1816 George Ramsay, Earl of Dalhousie, became the new Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia. Dalhousie, with the concurrence of Sherbrooke, used £1,000 of the Castine Fund in 1817 to establish the Officers Garrison Library in Halifax. Dalhousie used the remaining £9,000 of the Castine Fund to establish “Dalhousie College,” which later became known as Dalhousie University.

Review: Half-Hearted Enemies: Nova Scotia, New England and the War of 1812, by John Boileau Halifax: Formac Publishing Company, 2005. 176 pages. ISBN 0887806570
The War of 1812 Magazine, Issue 3, June 2006

...In 1812, Nova Scotia was a separate colony within British North America that with Cape Breton, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, formed Atlantic Command, under the command of Lieutenant-General Sir John Coape Sherbrooke.  Halifax was home of the North American Squadron of the Royal Navy. Considered largely a backwater before the war, the North American squadron rapidly grew in strength and prominence and established the blockade of the American coast in 1812.  The British Castine Expedition, which culminated in the occupation of a portion of Maine, was launched from Halifax, while the remains of Major-General Robert Ross, who led British troops into Washington and who was killed in September 1814, rest there.  Nova Scotia was also base for a large privateer fleet that on the one hand, which seriously damaged the American economy, while continuing trade and smuggling with the United States.  Indeed, despite the state of war, the frontier, like that on the Upper St. Lawrence, remained open to social and economic “intercourse” (using the terminology of the time)...

Admiral John Borlase Warren (1753-1822)
Admiral Warren's major North American service came during the War of 1812.  As admiral of the blue he was appointed on 3 August 1812 to the Halifax, Leeward Islands, and Jamaica stations, the Admiralty having unified the three commands to allow him to direct the overall naval strategy of the war.  Warren's strategy of fighting a naval war off the North American coast was to protect trade between Britain and her North American colonies, while keeping up limited blockades of American waters with forces operating from the two main bases of Halifax and Bermuda.  Writing privately in December to Lord Melville, his patron at the Admiralty, Warren argued that a series of raids on the enemy coast, and selective blockades until reinforcements were sent, would keep American military forces tied down and relieve pressure on British North America.  To strengthen inland naval defences, Warren advised the Admiralty to send a force to the Canadian lakes... His conduct of the naval war helped to relieve the military pressure on the Upper and Lower Canada.

Hugh Swayne (c.1760-1836)
Administrator of Cape Breton Island, 1 June 1813 - 6 February 1816
When Hugh Swayne arrived in Sydney on New Year's Day 1813 to take over from Nicholas Nepean, he faced several problems.  The most immediate was how to protect the island, whose defensive works, in the five decades between the capture of the Louisbourg Fortress in 1758 and the outbreak of the War of 1812, suffered the usual effects of benign neglect on the part of a faraway bureaucracy in London, England.  In 1811 the garrison had been increased to 168 men and Nepean had made a few feeble moves to organize a militia.  In the face of hostilities, however, these measures would be totally inadequate.  The greatest danger was from the sea, but only two ships cruised the coasts.  This weakness was revealed immediately after the outbreak of war when American privateers attacked fishing and trading vessels off Arichat, upsetting the commerce of that area and of the Strait of Canso.  Since Swayne could not count on help from Halifax, he took steps to lessen the colony's vulnerability.  To ensure that the island could feed itself if cut off from outside supplies, in April 1813 he stopped the export of selected foodstuffs for six months.  Later that year, as protection for the coal mines, he rebuilt a redoubt and barracks near them and had troops stationed there, to provide at least a show of strength in case of attack.  Swayne also reorganized the militia, dividing the island into 20 districts, each with a captain and two lieutenants.  He tried to choose as leaders men with previous military experience.

John Burton (1760-1838)
During and immediately after the War of 1812, roughly 2,000 black refugees left the southern United States under British protection to settle in Nova Scotia.  Recognizing John Burton's familiarity with the black community, the Nova Scotia government made him one of those in charge of the refugee settlements in Hammonds Plains and Preston, even giving him the power of magistrate to settle legal matters.  Since the dislocated blacks had to contend with the smallpox epidemic of 1815, as well as with all the problems of learning to live in a new land, Burton's commission was a staggering one.  By 1819, because of Burton's work among the refugees and because most of these blacks had been Baptists in the United States, the Halifax church had swelled to a membership of 300 – more than double the size of the next largest congregation in the colonial Baptist association.

Enos Collins (1774-1871)
Before he was 20, Enos Collins was captain of the schooner Adamant, sailing to Bermuda.  During the War of 1812 he was a partner in a firm which bought captured American vessels from the prize courts and sold their cargoes at a profit.  In the decade after the war Collins participated in numerous business enterprises.  He was successful in currency speculation, backed many trading ventures, carried on his mercantile activities, and entered the lumbering and whaling businesses.  He was a founding partner in the Halifax Banking Company, known locally as "Collins' Bank." He was an astute, hard headed, and even progressive businessman.  With an estate estimated at $6 000 000, he was rumoured to be the richest man in British North America.

Thomas Nickleson Jeffery (1782-1847)
In 1815 Jeffery had been made responsible for the care of the blacks sent to Nova Scotia after the War of 1812.  A depot was established on Melville Island and he seems to have carried out his duties with compassion and efficiency.  He settled some of the families on his lands near the Shubenacadie River.  His salary for this duty was about £1,500 and probably helped finance the building of his Georgian summer residence of Lakelands, 30 miles [50km] from Halifax on the Windsor road.  Here he engaged in gentlemanly farming; in 1833 the ornithologist John James Audubon found “his house... large, good looking, and the grounds... in fine order.”  Over the span of forty years Jeffery performed to the general satisfaction of both his fellow Nova Scotians and his superiors.  The respect in which he was held was demonstrated at his funeral, the reporter for the Acadian Recorder commenting that “there was a larger concourse than we ever remember to have seen at any funeral at Halifax.” Even in outports such as Pictou, flags flew at half-mast.

Septimus D. Clarke (1787-1859)
Septimus D. Clarke was one of more than 2,000 former slaves who made their way to Nova Scotia following the War of 1812.  Having escaped from plantations in the United States, they travelled along its eastern seaboard in British naval vessels, and in 1815 the majority of the refugee blacks were settled in Preston Township.  Preston was a township of stones, an infertile land with widely scattered patches of soil and trees and long, damp winters to which the new settlers were not accustomed.  The blacks became subsistence farmers.

Richard Preston (1791?-1861)
A six foot one inch [185cm] mulatto about 25 years old, Richard had been a slave in Virginia before purchasing his manumission.  To Haligonians the literate former slave of manly bearing, who was a gifted orator with a disarming sense of humour, must have been an enigma.  He had made his way north to Nova Scotia in search of his mother, one of about 2,000 refugee blacks who had left the United States during the War of 1812.  Finding his mother must have seemed a hopeless quest to him; yet he persevered in faith, and, after many efforts, as he prepared to cease his search, he found her in the township of Preston.  He adopted the surname Preston.  In the days of slavery, black people rarely had a chance to express their religion in church.  The only time they could congregate was at funerals and other rare situations.


War of 1812

Revisiting the War of 1812
The Weekend Telegram, St. John's, 11 May 2011
The Royal Newfoundland Regiment of Fencible Infantry
fought in most major battles in the war...

John Thomas Duckworth (1748-1817)
In the crisis of 1812, at the outbreak of war with the United States, Sir John Thomas Duckworth displayed real energy and resolve as Governor of the colony of Newfoundland.  He arrived in St. John's on 16 July 1812 to find the townspeople in a state of alarm, anticipating an American raid.  He immediately ordered all his warships to sea to patrol the coasts, and tried to put the capital itself in defensible condition.  With the aid of a citizens' committee of defence, he revived and enlarged the militia force, which was renamed the St. John's Volunteer Rangers, and which came to comprise over 500 well-trained officers and men.  He strengthened the seaward defences of the town and established a signal station on a nearby promontory to warn of the approach of enemy ships.  In outports up and down the coast the residents formed themselves into companies and laboured, under the guidance of officers sent with warships bearing ordnance supplies from St. John's, to erect gun batteries able to beat off privateers.  Although American privateers swarmed in Newfoundland waters, only a few communities were attacked, and the royal ships themselves captured a goodly number of the marauders.

Richard Goodwin Keats (1757-1834)
On 18 March 1813, Richard Goodwin Keats was appointed governor and commander-in-chief of the island of Newfoundland "and the Islands adjacent including the Islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon and all the Coast of Labrador from the River Saint John to Hudson's Streights the Island of Anticosti and all other adjacent Islands the Islands of Madelaine excepted."  He was sworn in at St. John's on 1 June 1813.  He supported a petition by the merchants of St. John's requesting that neither the French nor the Americans be restored to their fishing rights on the return of peace at the end of the War of 1812, and in 1814 he wrote an elaborate plea of his own to keep the Americans out.  These representations were not effective, and soon after the treaties with France in 1814 and 1815, and that with the United States in 1814, the Newfoundland fishery was once more international in character.

Andrew H. Bulger (1789-1858)
Lieutenant Andrew Bulger was born 30 November 1790 in Newfoundland and was only 16 years old when he received his commission with the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.  He was involved in the War of 1812 from the opening shot to its conclusion receiving a medal and clasp in honour of his actions in the fall of Detroit, a clasp for his actions at the Battle of Chrysler's Farm, and the Naval war medal and clasp for his role in capturing the American war schooners Tigress and Scorpion...

Royal Newfoundland Regiment of Fencible Infantry
A group of military re-enactors who specialize
in  the  War  of  1812,  and  represent  the
Royal Newfoundland Regiment of Fencible Infantry
They saw active service in many of the major battles of the war, and acquitted themselves well, particularly in the fall of Detroit where the Newfoundlanders won a special commendation from General Brock, and also in the heroic resupply of the starving garrison at Fort Michilimackinac and the subsequent capture of the United States warships Tigress and Scorpion in 1814.  During the course of the war many suffered, died, were injured, or taken prisoner.  In the naval battle of Lake Erie, 10 September 1813, twenty-eight percent of the total British casualties were Newfoundlanders...


War of 1812
Prisoners of War

Melville Island by Iris Shea
Originally published in the Lake Erie Ledger, October 1998
A publication of the War of 1812 Society in the State of Ohio
...Melville Island Prison became "home" to more than 8000 Americans between 1812 and 1815, 1200 of whom served with the US Army Land Forces. The prison became a place of death for more than 100 American prisoners. A burial ground nearby, now known as Deadman's Island, may contain the remains of those Americans. No longer an island, nor is there evidence it ever was an island, Deadman's Island is actually a peninsula situated on the shores of the North West Arm in Halifax, Nova Scotia, within a stone's throw of Melville Island...

Photographs of Deadman's Island
Deadmans Island is the burial site of some 450 people from
around the world...prisoners of war...quarantine patients...
refugees...brought to Melville Island to be housed by
the Royal Navy...a considerable number died...
Debate, Nova Scotia Legislature, 29 April 2004

American Prisoner of War Policy and Practice

...Like earlier and subsequent American conflicts, Prisoner of War (POW) practice during the war (of 1812) was largely improvised by the federal government and the army.  Participants in the war were too far removed from the Revolution (1775-1783) to personally remember the practices of the earlier war, and the virtual dissolution of the peacetime army in the intervening decades meant that the lessons of the Revolutionary War would have to be relearned in the latter conflict.  One of the most rapid and important changes during the war was the centralizing of POW operations.  Other issues included the employment of prisoner of war labor, the concentration of prisoners, and the refusal to repatriate POWs against their will at the end of the war.  Local American commanders created a strict policy of retaliation for the mistreatment of American prisoners held by enemy forces.  Each of these topics played an important role in shaping American POW policy for the next two centuries.

British practice in the War of 1812 was similar to the American Revolution (1775-1783), and Great Britain, which had been engaged in war on the European continent for much of the preceding decade, was able to incorporate American prisoners into a prison system that already held seventy thousand French prisoners by 1812.  During the war, American policy developed to address many specific issues, including the use of native allies, the role of captured privateers, and the status of slaves taken by the enemy.

Despite the large number of prisoners taken relative to the size of the armies engaged, and the importance of the POW question to the eventual peace treaty, most works discussing the War of 1812 see the POW problem as a minor issue, if it is discussed at all.  Often, prisoner issues are lumped into discussions of the British practice of impressments, despite the fact that impressed seamen were not considered prisoners of war, and captured enemies were never impressed into the Royal Navy.

Many of the standard works on the war completely ignore POW issues.  One significant exception is Donald Hickey's The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict, which devotes nearly a chapter to POW issues, and provides a detailed summary of major events in prisoner negotiations and retaliatory measures, but does not address the overall American policy regarding captured enemies.

One of the problems faced by the United States in the War of 1812 was the sizeable percentage of Americans in 1812 who had been born in Great Britain.  Just as many Americans during the Revolution had maintained loyalty to the British crown, American leaders were faced with the possibility of a large “fifth column” within the United States.  A system was quickly instituted to keep track of the numerous “British subjects,” loosely defined as any recent immigrant to the United States, or any individual who had not renounced British citizenship...

Source:—  (pages 47-49)
American Prisoner of War Policy and Practice from the Revolutionary War to the War on Terror
A Dissertation by Paul Joseph Springer, B.S.,
Submitted to the Office of Graduate Studies of Texas A&M University (May 2006)

Exchange of Prisoners of War between
the United States and Great Britain 1812-1813:
Provisional Agreement for the Exchange of Prisoners

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 be, and he is hereby authorized to make such regulations and arrangements for the safe keeping, support and exchange of prisoners of war as he may deem expedient, until the same shall be otherwise provided for by law; and to carry this act into effect, one hundred thousand dollars be, and the same are hereby appropriated, to be paid out of any monies in the treasury not otherwise appropriated.
Approved, JULY 6, 1812

A Provisional Agreement, for the Exchange of Naval Prisoners of War November 28, 1812

A PROVISIONAL AGREEMENT, for the Exchange of Naval Prisoners of War made and concluded at HALIFAX, in the Province of NOVA SCOTIA, on the 28th day of November, in the Year of Our Lord One Thousand Eight Hundred and Twelve, between the Government of GREAT BRITAIN and the Government of the UNITED STATES of AMERICA...

Although local battlefield exchanges had taken place, the first formal negotiations between the United States and Great Britain for the exchange of prisoners of war began in November 1812. On 28 November 1812, agents of the United States and Great Britain met at Halifax, Nova Scotia, and concluded a provisional agreement for the exchange of naval prisoners. However, the United States objected to certain portions of the agreement, and it did not go into force. Nevertheless, it did serve as the basis for the Washington Cartel of 1813.

Source:—  (page 23)
American Prisoner of War Policy and Practice from the Revolutionary War to the War on Terror
Department of the Army pamphlet No. 20-213:
History of prisoner of war utilization by the United States Army, 1776-1945
by George G. Lewis, Lieutenant Colonel, MPC, United States Army and John Mewha, Captain, Armor, United States Army
June 1955

British-American Diplomacy:
Provisional Agreement for the Exchange of Prisoners
28 November1812

A PROVISIONAL AGREEMENT, for the Exchange of Naval Prisoners of War made and concluded at HALIFAX, in the Province of NOVA SCOTIA, on the 28th day of November, in the Year of Our Lord One Thousand Eight Hundred and Twelve, between the Government of GREAT BRITAIN and the Government of the UNITED STATES of AMERICA.

The Government of the United States of America having sent to Halifax JOHN MITCHELL, Esquire, late Consul of the United States of America at St. Jago de Cuba, to act as Agent on the Part of the United States of America, for the purpose of adjusting with the Admiral Commanding at Halifax and the West-Indies the Exchange of Prisoners taken at sea; And His Excellency the Right Honourable Sir JOHN BORLASE WARREN, a Privy Counsellor in the United Kingdom of Great-Britain and Ireland, Knight of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, Knight of the Crescent, Admiral of the Blue, and Commander in Chief of all His Majesty's Ships of War stationed on the coasts of North America and the West-Indies, having appointed RICHARD JOHN UNIACKE, Esquire, a Member of the Honourable His Majesty's Council, and the Attorney and Advocate General of His Majesty for the Province of Nova-Scotia, and WILLIAM MILLER, Esquire, Lieutenant in the Royal Navy and Agent for Prisoners of War at Halifax, as Agents to treat with the said JOHN MITCHELL on the part of His Majesty's Government for the Exchange of such of His Majesty's Subjects as have been or may hereafter be captured at sea, by the public or private Ships of War belonging to the United States of America, for the American Prisoners which have been or hereafter may be taken at sea by His Majesty's Ships of War and Privateers; and the said Agents having met and discussed the Matters to them referred, have agreed upon the following Articles...

The Wayback Machine has archived copies of this document:
American Prisoners of War that died at the
British Interment Camp at Halifax, Nova Scotia
in the War of 1812

Archived: 2000 December 10

Archived: 2001 October 31

Archived: 2002 August 11

Archived: 2006 July 16

Archived: 2007 October 23

Archived: 2008 May 09


War of 1812
Canadian Privateers

The Canadian Privateering Homepage by Dan Conlin

Privateers were privately owned warships.  Today they are an exotic subject, often lumped in with pirates, but in Canada's past privateers were an accepted and respected way of waging war, and often the only means of defence for isolated Canadian communities from the 1600s to 1815 when privateering ended.

Privateers of the Maritime Provinces of Canada in the War of 1812
Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island

American Vessels captured by the British during the...War of 1812
The Records of the Vice-Admiralty Court at Halifax, Nova Scotia
Captures and recaptures condemned during the War of 1812
This list is for the War of 1812 only.

The Standing Interrogatories
The 32 questions listed here are the Standing Interrogatories which were used in the War of 1812.  They are the questions which were put to the captured crew of a prize vessel and give a good indication of the range of material which can be found in Prize court records.  To be administered on behalf of Our Sovereign Lord George the Third...

To all Commanders, Masters, Officers, mariners, and other Persons found on board any Ships and Vessels, which may have been, or shall be seized or taken as Prize by any of His Majesty's Ships or Vessels, which have or shall have Commissions or Letters of Marque and Reprisals, concerning such captured Ships, Vessels, or any Goods, Wares, and Merchandizes on board the same; examined as Witnesses in preparatory during the present hostilities with the United States of America.

Let each witness be interrogated to every of the following Questions; and their answers to each Interrogatory written down...


War of 1812
American Privateers

Privateering in the War of 1812

American privateering developed naturally from an ancient seafaring tradition pursued in England and other countries.  During the War of 1812, as in the wars during the colonial period (before 1775) and Revolution (1775-1783), 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 June 1812.  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...

The first complete history of the War of 1812
from a British perspective

Book Review by C. George Fry
1812: War with America

A review of John Latimer, 1812: War with America.
Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of
Harvard University Press, 2007, 638 pages, cloth, $35.00,
ISBN: 9780674025844
This text has been advertised as “the first complete history of the War of 1812 from a British perspective.” The author, a Lecturer at the University of Wales, Swansea, Wales, is not only a soldier but also a writer whose previous titles have included Alamein, Deception in War, and Burma: The Forgotten War. Painfully researched, from both primary and secondary sources, some 231 pages of the text are devoted to “Notes,” “Select Bibliography,” and an “Index.” No one can fault John Latimer for not doing his homework.

His interpretation is what will provoke thought in the United States.  Latimer contends that the war was unnecessary, that it was for Britain, but a “sideshow” of the much larger Napoleonic Era's conflict, that it was inspired by “an ill-fated attempt” by the American Republic to annex Canada, that its response North of the Border was to inspire not only fear but a firm resolve on the part of British Americans to remain British, for, to the Canadians, it was a “war of survival.”  Though the United States had some “shining moments,” as the Battle of Lake Erie and Andrew Jackson's triumph at New Orleans, to Latimer the war is essentially “an American failure,” as illustrated in the burning of Washington, the further failure, in the final peace treaty, to secure “rights on the high seas,” and the total inability of the U.S. to annex Canada.  For Latimer, it is a British victory, which resulted in the preservation of Canada, with its goal to be the ultimate Confederation of 1867, and the maintenance of “an alternative America” to the North.  That is his contention and his book is his narration and argumentation for that point of view.

Every coin, of course, has two sides and every argument has two different interpretations.  Members of our Society are well aware of the alternative reading of these events.  For the United States, the war was nothing less than a second and tragically necessary Declaration of Independence, motivated by the impressments of American seamen into the Royal Navy, the infringement of British forces on American territory, the securing of freedom to settle the trans-Appalachian West (due to British encouragement of Native American resistance), the stifling of move by Tecumseh to create a sovereign Indian Nation (under British auspices) in the North American Heartland, and, of course, prevention of New Orleans from becoming a Western Hemisphere “Hong Kong,” a port, attached to an Empire which, at the time, had no interest in American welfare.  It is also important to note that if this war had, in fact, been an American defeat; the newly founded Union would have dissolved, with New England leaving to become a separate state.

One wag has said that the War of 1812, is the one that everyone loves – for ask the British, they'll tell you “we won” and ask the Americans, they'll say the same, and, of course, not to be forgotten, the Canadians join the chorus with “No, we did it, we won.”  With 18 chapters, numerous maps and illustrations, well written narrative and bold interpretations, this is not a dull book by any means and is well worth the critical attention of all interested in the early nineteenth century in America.

Book Review by C. George Fry 1812: War with America
page 22, The Lake Erie Ledger, October 2008

Some important dates
The preparation for and declaration of War
by the United States on Great Britain in 1812
14 Apr 1812 ...an act was passed, laying an embargo on all ships and vessels of the United States, during the space of 90 days...
1 Jun 1812 ....The president's message to congress sounded the preparative for war between the US and Great Britain...
18 Jun 1812 ...an act of congress was passed declaring the "actual existence of war between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and the United States of America..."

RN Vessels Lost during 19th Century
A list of ships and vessels late belonging to the British navy,
captured, destroyed, wrecked, foundered, or accidentally burnt

Index of 19th Century Naval Vessels...
It is perhaps worth remembering that sailing vessels relied on the wind for their propulsion.  There are occasions when passages, that would only take a few days by sea today, may have taken a month or more in the early part of the 19th Century, especially where large numbers of vessels were concerned eg convoys, and you may find a convoy for the West Indies forming up at Portsmouth in say November, sailing in December, being forced into Falmouth (England) due to bad weather, and having to remain there for another month until the wind was right – sailing for Cork to pick up more vessels whilst passing, and maybe having to wait there until more favourable winds arrived.  There are occasions when troop transports, loaded with their regiments at Portsmouth, have had to wait out at Spithead for a couple of months before the wind has changed to an appropriate direction, often with many false starts in between.  One wonders what living in such cramped and crowded conditions must have done to the health and morale of the troops...

Naval History of Great Britain 1793-1827
by William James, published in 6 volumes in 1837


War of 1812
William James

A writer on  naval  history, William James was from 1801 to 1813 enrolled
among the attorneys of the supreme court of Jamaica, and practised as a
proctor in the  vice-admiralty  court.  In 1812 he was in the United States,
and on the  declaration  of war  with England  was detained  as a prisoner.
After several month's captivity he effected his escape, and reached Halifax
towards the end of 1813... In March 1816 he published a pamphlet entitled
"An  Inquiry  into  the  Merits  of  the  Principal  Naval  Actions  between
Great Britain and the United States"... The excitement which the pamphlet
caused both in Nova Scotia and the States was considerable...

Naval History of Great Britain 1793-1827
by William James, published in 6 volumes in 1837

The information below was compiled
by William James
from contemporary accounts

Naval Actions

USS Constitution

HMS Guerriere

19 August 1812

USS Wasp

HMS Frolic

18 September 1812

USS United-States

HMS Macedonian

25 October 1812

USS Constitution

HMS Java

28 December 1812

USS Hornet

HMS Peacock

24 February 1813

USS Chesapeake

HMS Shannon

1 June 1813

USS Argus

HMS Pelican

14 August 1813

USS Enterprise

HMS Boxer

5 September 1813

USS Essex

HMS Phoebe

28 March 1814

USS Frolic

HMS Orpheus

20 April 1814

USS Peacock

HMS Epervier

29 April 1814

USS Wasp

HMS Reindeer

28 June 1814

USS Wasp

HMS Avon

1 September 1814

USS President

HMS Endymion

15 January 1815

USS Constitution

HMS Levant & Cyane

20 February 1815

USS Hornet

HMS Penguin

23 March 1815

USS Peacock

HEICS Nautilus

30 June 1815

HEIC: Honourable East India Company
HMS: His Majesty's Ship
USS: United States Ship


Privateer Actions


HMS Dominica

5 August 1813


HMS St. Lawrence

26 February 1815

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First uploaded to the WWW:   2012 January 22
Latest update:   2012 November 10