Great Lakes Naval Campaigns of 1812

views updated


GREAT LAKES NAVAL CAMPAIGNS OF 1812. After the fall of New France in 1760, the British navy ruled the Great Lakes. Its undisputed authority of the northern waters proved valuable during Pontiac's War (1763–1764) and the American Revolution (1775–1783). Following the advent of American authority on the lakes (1796), both governments supported armed vessels as necessary to maintain their authority.

A potent challenge to British naval supremacy came during the War of 1812. After losing two schooners to the British at Sackets Harbor in the early months of the War of 1812, the Americans realized the need to establish adequate naval protection on the northern waters. When Commodore Isaac Chauncey arrived at Sackets Harbor on 6 October 1812 to assume command of American naval operations, he ordered Lt. Jesse D. Elliott to purchase vessels for a new fleet. On 8 October two British ships cast anchor across the Niagara off Fort Erie. Seeing an opportunity, Elliott's force boarded the ships early the following morning; the Caledonia was captured, and the Detroit grounded and was burned.

One month later, Chauncey's reconstructed squadron of ten vessels left Sackets Harbor to intercept the British fleet returning southward from Fort George. The flagship Royal George was pursued into Kingston harbor, at the eastern end of Lake Ontario, but there, with the aid of the shore batteries, it drove off the American fleet. On 11 October the British schooner Simcoe was destroyed, and before the campaign closed, three merchant ships were captured by the Americans. In September 1813 Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry's American fleet won the Battle of Lake Erie, thus securing American control of Lake Erie and making an invasion into Canada possible.

With the return of peace, both nations faced the necessity of building new fleets on the lakes to safeguard their

respective interests. This prospect was averted through an agreement initiated by President James Monroe in 1815 and made formal two years later with the Great Lakes Disarmament Agreement.


Coles, Henry L. The War of 1812. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965.

Morison, Samuel Eliot. "Old Bruin": Commodore Matthew C. Perry, 1794–1858. Boston: Little, Brown, 1967.

Pratt, Fletcher. Preble's Boys: Commodore Preble and the Birth of American Sea Power. New York: Sloane, 1950.

Robert W.Bingham/a. r.

See alsoCanadian-American Waterways ; Great Lakes ; Lake Erie, Battle of ; Navy, United States ; Niagara Campaigns ; Ships of the Line ; War of 1812 .