Friday, September 12, 2008

Was a Major British Invasion Planned at Sackets Harbor?

By Richard Palmer
At the end of the War of 1812, there were strong rumors that the British were planning a major invasion of the United States from the north. Interestingly, Commodore Isaac Chauncey had not yet received word that the war was over and the Treaty of Ghent had been signed in January. Following are two letters that Chauncey wrote asking for reinforcements.

U.S. Ship Superior
Sacketts Harbor, 6th Feb. 1815
Honorable B.W. Crowninshield
Secry of the Navy
Washington Sir
From the best information I can collect, the Enemy has on the St. Lawrence between Kingston and Montreal about 8,000 men - he has also engaged all the sleighs in the country to rendezvous at particular points at a short notice so that he can concentrate a large Army in a very short time - he has stopped all intercourse with our side either with flags or otherwise and the general impression of well informed people who live on the St. Lawrence is that the Enemy is preparing an expedition against this place which I think not improbable when we take into view the immense importance the destruction of this fleet would be to the Brigish Government in Canada.
I hope Sir that the Honorable the Secretary at War will find it convenient to strengthen this post by ordering a few more troops here.
I have the honor of including the copy of a letter which I this day wrote to His Excellency Governor Tompkins upon the subject of reinforcements.
I have the honor to be

A View of the British Force stationed at Kingston and the River St. Lawerence from information from two sources -
At Kingston about ......................3,000 men
" Gananoqua & vicinity...............1,000
" Elizabethtown &).....................1,500
Brockville )
" Prescott..................................1,500
" Johnstown &)..........................1,500
" Cornwall & vicinity.................1,000
" Coteau Du Lac 1,500
Total 11,000 men

The same day Chauncey wrote the following letter to Governor Daniel D. Tompkins:

" Mr. Paddock (Sheriff of this County) arrived a few days since from Ogdensburg and reports that the Enemy has a large force on the St. Lawrence extending from Brockville to Cornwall - that he has engaged all the sleighs in the country to rendezvous at certain points on the river at a short notice that he has forbid all intercourse to or from our shore with flags or otherwise and that there is every indication of an expedition being on foot and Sackets Harbor is believed to be his object.
"You know Sir that with sleighs the Enemy may move a large force with great expedition - it is therefore desirable to have all the force that is intended for the defense of this place here as soon as possible. You were so obliging as to say that you would cause from 1,000 to 1,500 regular Troops to be ordered here for the defense of the Post."
An Analysis
This appears to be just another example of Chauncey being influenced by rumors as there is no documentation to substantiate this proposed invasion. Most importantly, the war was over by the time he received this news. At this distance in time, it would appear he was a man with a super-abundance of caution who made the mistake of placing too much confidence in the report or rumor brought to his attention by Sheriff Paddock of Jefferson County.
If it had been too cold in the last week of January, 1815, for men at Sackets Harbor to work in the open air on the vessels then under construction, one would have to assume that the weather also would have been
prohibitively cold for any British troops that might gathered between Kingston and Montreal, despite the fact that the roads may have been frozen solid.

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