Early Forebodings of War: the Leopard vs. the Chesapeake
Early Forebodings of War: the Leopard vs. the Chesapeake


Chesapeake-Leopard Affair 1807

On their path to the War of 1812, Great Britain and the United States briefly locked horns in the Chesapeake-Leopard incident.

In a nutshell, a ship of the British Royal Navy fired upon an unprepared American vessel while in international waters. Although Britain was at war with France at the time, no state of war existed between Britain and the United States.

Seventeen Americans were wounded in the attack, three were killed, a fourth later died from his injuries. After the bombardment, the British boarded the American ship and captured four members of its crew, three of them U.S. citizens.

In more detail:

Image Above

View of battle between the USS Chesapeake and HMS Leopard off Cape Henry on June 21, 1807.

Port side view of both vessels exchanging fire, mostly from the Leopard.

Courtesy of The Mariners' Museum, Newport News, VA

At the time of this event, Great Britain and France fought each other in the
Napoleonic Wars, and both nations tried to make American neutrality as impossible as possible.

And because the British Royal Navy needed more sailors than they had volunteers, British "press gangs" randomly abducted men, foreign and domestic, who then were "pressed" into public service, aka impressment.


The Date
Monday, June 22, 1807


The Location

Location of the Chesapeake-Leopard Incident: International Waters at About Nine Miles (14 km) off Hampton Roads / Cape Henry, Virginia
Location of the Chesapeake-Leopard Incident: International Waters at
About Nine Miles (14 km) off Hampton Roads / Cape Henry, Virginia
Click map to enlarge


The Chesapeake
In 1807, the American frigate USS Chesapeake (38 guns and of Tripoli fame*), under the command of Captain Charles Gordon, was on its way from Norfolk, Virginia, to the Mediterranean where it would join the American fleet. Also onboard was Gordon's superior officer, Commodore James Barron, who was looking forward to sinking some Barbary pirates.

* see Tripolitan War, which was fought from May 14, 1801 until June 4, 1805. Tripoli was then part of the Ottoman Empire, today's Libya.

Princeton's Thomas J. Wertenbaker noted:

On June 22,1807, at 7.15 A. M., the United States frigate Chesapeake left her anchorage outside Hampton Roads, and, spreading sail to catch a fair breeze, moved out to sea. To those who watched from shore as she passed Cape Henry, she seemed in good condition for her voyage to the Mediterranean. But on deck there was much confusion. The gun-deck was littered with odds and ends of rigging; the cables were not stored away; the guns, though loaded, were not all fitted to their carriages; the crew was short-handed and untrained. Commodore James Barron, in command of the vessel, counted upon putting her into trim during the voyage.

The American People - A History by Thomas Jefferson Wertenbaker, 1926


The Leopard
The British Royal Navy put Captain Salusbury Pryce Humphreys in command of the H.M.S. Leopard (50 guns).


The Incident
The Chesapeake went to sea from Norfolk, and sailed by Cape Henry, when at around 3.30 PM the HMS Leopard approached and hailed that she had dispatches for their Commodore Barron.

Barron replied: "We will heave to and you can send your boat on board of us." An officer from the Leopard, Lieutenant John Meade, boarded the Chesapeake.

He presented two documents: an order from British Vice Admiral Berkeley, and a message from Humphreys, his captain.

Berkeley's order read as follows:

By the Honorable George Cranfield Berkeley, Vice Admiral of the White, and commander in chief of his majesty's ships and vessels, employed in the river St. Lawrence, along the coast of Nova Scotia, the Island of St. Johns and Cape Breton, the Bay of Fundy, and at, and about the Island of Bermuda, or Somers' Island.

Whereas many seamen, subjects of his Britannick Majesty, and in his majesty's ship and vessels, as per margin, ( Bellisle, Belona, Triumph, Chichester, Halifax, Zenobia, cutter) while at anchor in the Chesapeake, deserted and entered on board the United States frigate Chesapeake, and openly paraded in the streets of Norfolk, in sight of their officers, under the American flag, protected by the magistrates of the town, and the recruiting officer belonging to the above mentioned American frigate, which magistrates and naval officer refusing to give them up, although demanded by his Britannick Majesty's Consul, as well as the captains of the ships from which the said men deserted.

The captains and commanders of his majesty's ships and vessels under my command, are, therefore, hereby required and directed, in case of meeting with the American frigate Chesapeake, at sea, and without the limits of the United States, to show to the captain of her, this order, and to require to search this ship for the deserters from the before-mentioned ships, and to proceed and search for the same; and if a similar demand shall be made by the American, he is to be permitted to search for any deserters from their service, according to the customs and usage of civilized nations, on terms of peace and amity with each other.

Given under my hand at Halifax, Nova-Scotia, the 1st of June, 1807.

G. C. Berkeley

To the respective captains and commanders of his majesty's ships and vessels, on the North American Station.


And Humphreys' message read as follows:

The captain of his Britannick Majesty's ship Leopard, has the honour to enclose to the captain of the United States' frigate Chesapeake, an order from the hon. vice-admiral Berkeley, commander in chief of his majesty's ships on the North American station, respecting some deserters from ships under his command, and supposed now to be serving as part of the crew of the Chesapeake.

The captain of the Leopard will not presume to say anything in addition to what the commander in chief has stated, more than to express a hope that every circumstance respecting them may be adjusted in such a manner, that the harmony subsisting between the two countries, may remain undisturbed.

H.M. Ship Leopard

John Meade, the British officer, was approx. 35 to 45 minutes onboard the Chesapeake. Later inquiries pointed out that during this time Commander Barron failed to order his crew to clear the cargo littered gun deck to prepare the ship for action.

Barron sent back the following message:

I know of no such men as you describe; the officers that were on the recruiting service for this ship, were particularly instructed by the Government, through me, not to enter any Deserters from his Britannick Majesty's ships; nor do I know of any being here.

I am also instructed, never to permit the crew of any ship that I command, to be mustered by any other but their own officers; it is my disposition to preserve harmony; and I hope this answer to your dispatch will prove satisfactory.


After Meade had left with Barron's response, Barron ordered to clear the gun deck and called the crew to quarters.

Meanwhile on the Leopard, Humphreys read Barron's reply and called out, "You must be aware of the necessity I am under of complying with the orders of my commander-in-chief."

Barron called back what might have been, "I do not understand what you say" or "You may do as you please."

Humphreys fired a warning shot across the Chesapeake's bow. He then called out again and Barron again replied something along the lines of his first response. All the while the Chesapeake visibly prepared for action.

A moment after this exchange, the Leopard opened fire. The U.S. Navy explains:

Shortly after the parlay, Leopard fired on Chesapeake. Barron beat to quarters but the warship was caught completely off-guard, with powder horns unfilled, matches unlit and cannons fouled. Humphrey's continued to fire for ten minutes before Barron struck colors, but not before he ordered at least one cannon fired as a symbolic gesture. The unprepared Chesapeake lost 3 killed and 18 wounded including the Captain.

One of the wounded later succumbed to his injuries.

Although the entire engagement between the two ships lasted only 15 to 20 minutes, the Chesapeake was severely damaged.

Barron sent a boat to Humphreys with his note of surrender:

Sir, I consider the Frigate Chesapeake as your prize, and am ready to deliver her to an Officer authorized to receive her--by the return of the boat I shall expect your answer; and have the honor to be

Sir, your most obedient,

Humble servant,


But Humphreys was not interested. His reply to Barron:

Sir, Having to the utmost of my power, fulfilled the instructions of my Commander in Chief, I have nothing more to desire; and must, in consequence, proceed to join the remainder of the Squadron; repeating that I am ready to give you every assistance in my power, and do most sincerely deplore, that any lives should have been lost in the execution of a service, which might have been adjusted more amicably, not only with respect to ourselves, but to the Nations to which we respectively belong.

I have the honour to remain sir,

Your obedient humble servant,

S. P. Humphreys


Several officers from the Leopard came to deliver Humphreys' message, and then to muster Barron's crew and search his ship for deserters. The British took four men: Wilson, Ware, Strachan, and Martin.

The Leopard then rejoined the British squadron at Lynnhaven Bay.

A badly damaged Chesapeake went back to Hampton Roads.


The Four Alleged Deserters

The British were right: all four men that they had taken from the Chesapeake were in fact deserters from British ships. One from the Halifax, and three from the Melampus. But the three who deserted from the Melampus were American citizens who had been impressed by the British in the first place.

In more detail:

:: John Wilson
John Wilson was actually Jenkin Ratford (not Radford), a British citizen.

In March 1807, he and four other British citizens deserted from the British Halifax. They stole a boat and escaped to Norfolk. Ratford then signed on with the American Chesapeake under the name Wilson.

Ratford was court-martialed by the British, and on August 26, 1807, sentenced to death. On August 31, 1807, he was hanged from the fore yardarm of that very Halifax.

And this is a yardarm:

Sailors Working on the Yard-Arm of the Eagle
Sailors Working on the Yard-Arm of the Eagle
From On the fore, on the main, on the mizzen! Sailing aboard Coast Guard tall ship Eagle
by Lynda Clancy. Here is the entire article.

The three Americans — Ware, Strachan, and Martin — were "deserters" from the British frigate Melampus, onboard of which they had ended up after the British Royal Navy had impressed them illegally.

:: William Ware
Ware was a Native American, a U.S. citizen from Maryland. He served on the brig Neptune, in the bay of Biscay, when the Royal Navy impressed him and took him onto the Melampus. After his escape, he served 18 months on board the Chesapeake. Ware had a letter of protection proving his American citizenship.

:: John Strachan
Strachan was a white man, a U.S. citizen also from Maryland. He was pressed into service on the Melampus while serving on a British ship off Cape Finisterre. Strachan had a letter of protection proving his American citizenship.

:: Daniel Martin
Martin was an African American, a U.S. citizen from Massachusetts. He was impressed from the Neptune, together with Ware. According to Martin, he had lost his letter of protection.

These three men, together with John Little, a fourth American, made a dramatic escape from the Melampus in the captain's boat while being fired upon by its crew. John Little did not go on to serve on the Chesapeake.

All four alleged deserters were tried in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on August 26, 1807. Only Ratford was sentenced to death. The three Americans were kept imprisoned for five more years, before they were brought back to the States, by which time one of them had died.


Action between USS Chesapeake and HMS Leopard, 22 June 1807
Action between USS Chesapeake and HMS Leopard, 22 June 1807
Leopard, right, firing on Chesapeake to enforce a demand
that she submit to a search of her crew for British Navy deserters.
Our Navy - Its Growth and Achievements, Fred S. Cozzens
 U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command


The Aftermath in a Nutshell

"Reparations were refused and the situation remained unaltered until 1812."

 War and Peace in an Age of Upheaval, The New Cambridge Modern History

To be exact, on
November 1, 1811, the British apologized and offered to pay reparations to the wounded, their families, and the families of the men they had killed. They also offered to return the abducted men. In June 1812, war broke out. In July 1812, the two surviving men were finally returned, in spite of the war. But it was too late for any payments.


The Aftermath in More Detail

:: United States
In world history, wars have been declared over much lesser amounts of ruffled feathers. But in this case, U.S. President Thomas Jefferson decided against it. Instead, he recalled the American fleet from the Mediterranean, and opted for a diplomatic response: an Embargo Act.

Nevertheless, American outrage was massive. Meetings were held, committees formed, resolutions passed. A British invasion was thought imminent, and protection was requested from the young commander of the naval force at Norfolk, Stephen Decatur.

After repairs, the command of the Chesapeake was given to Decatur as well.

And again it was Decatur who served as one of the judges who court-martialed his former mentor, Commodore James Barron, which resulted in Barron's suspension from duty for five years. When Barron later applied to be reinstated, Decatur worked against it. The two ended up in a duel, in which Decatur was killed.

:: Great Britain

The British government, led by Prime Minister Portland, recalled Vice-Admiral George Cranfield Berkeley. But Berkeley's friends in high places strategically allowed him to delay his return, and to enjoy himself in Bermuda for as long as he saw fit. By the time he returned to Britain, in 1808, the political debate had shifted to other topics. Berkeley was out of the limelight and his political career survived.


The Aftermath — A Timeline

June 23, 1807
J.G. Hunt, the surgeon to the Chesapeake, reports:

Killed: John Lawrence, James Arnold, John Shukly

Badly wounded: John Haden, Cotton Brown, John Parker, George Percival, Peter Simmons, Robert McDonald, Francis Cownoven, James Eppes

Slightly wounded: Commodore James Barron, midshipman James Broom, Peter Allison, William Hendricks, Thomas Short, William Moody, David Creighton, John Master, Emanuel Fernandes, John Wilson

Also June 23, 1807
Officers of the Chesapeake write a letter to the Secretary of the Navy, Robert Smith,

to request that an order may be issued for the arrest of commodore James Barron, . . . for neglecting to clear his ship for action . . . for not doing his utmost to take or destroy a vessel which we conceive it his duty to have done.

. . . feeling deeply sensible of the disgrace which must be attached to the late (in their opinion) premature surrender of the United States' ship Chesapeake . . . without their previous knowledge or consent.

This letter was signed by:
Benjamin Smith, 1st lieut.
William Crane, 2nd lieut.
W.H. Allen, 3rd lieut.
S.O. Creighton, 4th lieut.
Sidney Smith, 5th lieut.
Samuel Brooks, sailing master

June 24, 1807
Town hall meeting of the citizens of Portsmouth and Norfolk, Virginia. It is decided to boycott all British ships in port.

. . . when we behold our fellow citizens impressed, and forced by a tyrannical and arbitrary power to fight against their own country, and basely and insidiously murdered on our coasts, it becomes necessary, at this awful crisis, to be . . . in readiness to take up arms in defense.

Resolved unanimously that all communication with the British ship of war . . . and with their agents among us be discontinued . . . prevent all such intercourse.

Resolved no assistance to the British ships of war by supplying them with provisions or necessaries of any kind whatever.

Resolved . . . that this meeting approves and deems the conduct of our fellow-citizens of Hampton, in destroying the water casks belonging to the British frigate Melampus, highly laudable and praise-worthy.

June 26, 1807

Meeting at the Eagle tavern, where a committee decides,

that any British officer coming to this place shall be considered as a prisoner, until the decision of the government be known.

June 27, 1807
Town hall announcement of the death of Robert McDonald, one of the wounded.
His funeral will be tomorrow at 11, his body interred in the old church yard.

June 28, 1807
A committee of Norfolk sends a message to Decatur, asking him in the name of their citizens, "to co-operate with the people in their defense."

Also June 28, 1807
Decatur replies to the Norfolk committee:

I received your letter of this day, ... calling on me, as the commander of the naval force at this place, to equip and resist, with the gun boats under my command, a threatened invasion of the territory of the United States, by the British now lying in the waters of the Chesapeake. I will repair to Hampton with all possible expedition.

June 29, 1807
Barron forwards a copy of the Chesapeake's log book to the Secretary of the Navy, Robert Smith.

Also June 29, 1807
Decatur in a letter to Robert Smith, signaling that he's ready to fight the British:

. . . the committee of the people of Norfolk, calling on me for aid with the gun boats under my command, to prevent an invasion which has been threatened by the commanding officer of the British squadron lying in the vicinity of this place . . .

July 1, 1807
Decatur made captain of the Chesapeake. He boards the ship and hoists the American flag.

July 2, 1807
President Jefferson bans all British ships from American ports and waters, with an exception for emergencies and the mail man.

Here is an excerpt of his proclamation:

. . . hereby requiring all armed Vessels bearing commissions under the government of Great Britain, now within the Harbours or waters of the U.S. immediately & without any delay to depart from the same, & interdicting the entrance of all the said Harbours & waters to the said Armed Vessels, and to all others bearing commissions under the Authority of the British Government.

Here you can read Jefferson's entire Proclamation of July 2, 1807.

July 3, 1807
Strong words from the Brits, all things considered, not afraid mentioning war:

His Majesty's Ship Bellona, Hampton Roads
J.E. Douglass to Richard E. Lee, Esq. mayor of Norfolk, Virginia

. . . I beg leave to represent to you, that having observed in the newspapers a resolution made by a Committee on the 29th ult. prohibiting any communication between his Britannic Majesty's Consul at Norfolk, and his ships lying at anchor in Lynhaven Bay . . .

I am therefore determined if this infringement is not immediately annulled, to prohibit every vessel bound either in or out of Norfolk to proceed to their destination, . . .

You must be perfectly aware that the British flag never has, nor never will be insulted with impunity. You must also be aware that it has been, and is still in my power to obstruct the whole trade of the Chesapeake . . .

It therefore rests with the inhabitants of Norfolk, either to engage in a war or remain on terms of peace.


July 4th, 1807
Extract from a letter from Decatur to the Secretary of the Navy:

The Chesapeake, when I took command of her, had been brought up into the bite of Crany Island, in consequence of the threats of the British; their movements, sir, are extremely suspicious. Since the affair of the Leopard and Chesapeake, they have been at anchor inside the capes, and have brought to, by firing at, every vessel that has passed in or out the capes. They have sent many insolent and menacing messages to Norfolk, such as, if the people did not supply them with articles they might want, they would come up and re-take the Chesapeake, and cut out the French frigate Cybelle*. Yesterday afternoon the four British ships came in and anchored in Hampton roads.

* Cybele = a French ship that was in port for repairs

Also July 4, 1807
L.W. Tazewell, a local lawyer and politician, is charged with the delivery of Norfolk mayor Richard E. Lee's response to British commodore Douglass, in which Lee let's Douglass know:

We do not seek hostility, nor shall we avoid it. We are prepared for the worst you may attempt.

July 5, 1807
Today, Tazewell reports back to Lee:

Yesterday, Douglass read Lee's reply, and back-pedaled hard: His letter must have been misapprehended, and contained no expression of menace which he recollected. Tazewell pointed him to the particular expressions in the letter which he considered as the language of threat, e.g. "immediately annulled" underscored.

Douglass said that this underscoring must have been done by his clerk without his direction and had escaped his observation, and that it was not intended to be so understood.

July 5, 1807
To enforce his decree from July 2nd, 1807, President Jefferson calls for a militia.

July 6, 1807
Douglas to Norfolk mayor Lee, with a huge change of tone:

. . . as far as I am individually concerned, every exertion shall be used that can, consistent with the honour and dignity of the British flag, tend to an amicable termination.


July 7 and 9, 1807
Meanwhile in Europe, the
Treaties of Tilsit are signed in which Russia and France bury the hatchet. Great Britain now stands alone against Napoleon. And it will get much harder when Russia declares war on Britain in October.

July 14, 1807
Word of the Chesapeake-Leopard affair continued to spread. Outrage continued to grow. President Thomas Jefferson noted how united the people were in a letter to Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours (father of E.I. du Pont, founder of the DuPont company):

. . . never, since the battle of Lexington, have I seen this country in such a state of exasperation as at present. And even that did not produce such unanimity. The federalists themselves coalesce with us as to the object, tho’ they will return to their trade of censuring every measure taken to obtain it. "Reparation for the past and security for the future" is our motto. But whether the English will be yield it freely, or will require resort to non-intercourse, or to war, is yet to be seen. We prepare for the last.

And this is from Jefferson to Lafayette, also July 14, 1807, much the same wording:

. . . I inclose you a Proclamation which will shew you the critical footing on which we stand at present with England. Never, since the battle of Lexington, have I seen this country in such a state of exasperation as at present. And even that did not produce such unanimity. The federalists themselves coalesce with us as to the object, altho’ they will return to their old trade of condemning every step we take towards obtaining it. ‘Reparation for the past, and security for the future’ is our motto. whether these will be yielded freely, or will require resort to non-intercourse, or to war, is yet to be seen. We have actually near 2000 men in the field, covering the exposed parts of the coast, and cutting off supplies from the British vessels.

August 15, 1807
Letter from Lord James Townshend, captain of the British ship Halifax, to Vice-Admiral Berkeley, commander-in-chief at Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Sir, I beg leave to represent to you, that the five men named in the margin [Richard Hubert, Henry Saunders, Jenkin Radford, George North, and William Hill] belonging to H.M. sloop Halifax, under my command; when sent with a petty officer in the jolly-boat, in Hampton roads, on the 7th March last, to weigh a kedge-anchor, . . . succeeded in deserting . . .

The whole of the above-mentioned deserters, I have since been informed, entered on board the U.S. frigate Chesapeake, and were seen by me and several of my officers parading the streets of Norfolk in triumph, under the American flag.

A few days after their desertion, I accosted one of these men, Henry Saunders, asking the reason of his deserting, and received for answer, that he did not intend any thing of the kind, but was compelled by the rest to assist, and would embrace the first opportunity of returning. At that moment Jenkin Radford, one of the said deserters, coming up, took the arm of the said Henry Saunders, declaring with an oath, that neither he, nor any of the rest of the deserters, should return to this ship.

And with a contemptuous gesture told me that he was in the land of liberty, and instantly dragged the said Henry Saunders away . . .

I instantly repaired to the house of Colonel Hamilton, the British Consul there, and related every circumstance which occurred, and applied to him, as also to Lieutenant Sinclair, of the rendezvous for the United States' service, to recover the said deserters, but without effect.

Being since informed that Jenkin Radford has been recovered in action on board the U.S. frigate Chesapeake, with H.B.M. ship Leopard, and is now a prisoner on board H.M.S. Bellona, I have to request that you will be pleased to direct a court-martial may be assembled for the purpose of trying the said Jenkin Radford, for the within-mentioned charges of mutiny, desertion, and contempt.

I have the honor to be etc J. Townshend

August 31, 1807
Ratford put to death by hanging from the neck at the foreyard-arm of the Halifax.

September 14, 1807
Letter from the British minister to the United States, David Montague Erskine (later known for the Erskine Agreement) to U.S. secretary of state James Madison:

Sir, I have the honor to inform you, that I have received a letter, dated Halifax September 1st from Vice Admiral Berkeley, Commander in Chief of His Majesty’s Ships on the Halifax Station, in which he has communicated to me the result of a court martial, which has been lately held on Thomas Wilson, alias Jenkin Ratford, one of the deserters from His Majesty’s Ships, who were taken out of the United States Frigate Chesapeake, by Captain Humphreys in His Majesty’s Ship Leopard.

Upon a solemn investigation, it was clearly proved (as the Admiral informs me) that the above mentioned seaman, is a British born subject, that he had entered His Majesty’s Service voluntarily, that he had deserted from His Majesty’s said ship, the Halifax, for which offence, clearly established, he had been convicted and had received the sentence of death.

The Vice-Admiral further informs me, that it was proved by that trial, that out of five mutineers and deserters from His Majesty’s sloop Halifax, four were born in His Majesty’s European Dominions and one in Philadelphia; but who was a volunteer, that Lieutenant Sinclair of the United States Navy not only knew and received them as deserters, but advised Jenkin Ratford to change his name; that Commander Barron also was acquainted with these facts, and that a most ample confession has been since made by the prisoners, of conversations between them and Commodore Barron upon that subject in the Navy Yard at Washington.

I have thought it proper to have the honor to communicate to you these circumstances, as they tend to confirm the opinion, which I have expressed in a former letter, that unfounded information must have been conveyed to the Government of the United States respecting the deserters in question.

October 16, 1807

In his Proclamation for recalling and prohibiting British seamen from serving foreign Princes and States, British King George III orders to ramp up
impressment, and to disregard all letters and certificates of citizenship.

October 5 - November 4, 1807
In the harbor of Norfolk, a court of inquiry assembled on board the Chesapeake. It found that,

the movements of the Leopard on that day were so suspicious that it should have alarmed Barron, and prompted him to order to get ready to get cleared for action.

Barron manifested great indecision, and a disposition to negotiate, rather than a determination bravely to defend his ship.

The court is therefore of opinion, that the Chesapeake was prematurely surrendered.

However, Barron

did not manifest, either by his orders or actions, any personal fear or want of courage.

Other than that, the

conduct of all the other officers and of the crew generally, was proper, commendable and honorable.

Barron was suspended from the Navy for five years.

October 31, 1807
Meanwhile, the
Napoleonic Wars continue: Russia declares war on Britain.

December 22, 1807
Five long months after the Chesapeake-Leopard incident, Jefferson introduced the Embargo Act, which prohibited American trade with any other nation.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that an embargo be, and hereby is laid on all ships and vessels in the ports and places within the limits and jurisdiction of the United States, cleared or not cleared, bound to any foreign port or place . . .

Here is the entire act and more: Acts of the Tenth Congress, page 451

The logic behind this embargo was:

1. U.S. military is not strong enough to face Great Britain, but something has to be done in reply to the persistent provocations.

2. American ships can't be harmed if they are not out at sea in the first place.

3. Britain's and France's economy will suffer from a discontinuation of American trade, which will prompt their governments to adapt an amicable policy towards the States.

Once applied, however, the embargo put an enormous pressure on American economy, while Europe seemed to be just fine without American imports.

In 1809, the embargo was repealed.

Was Jefferson Weak or Naive Trying to Avoid War?

In response to this crisis Jefferson, recognizing the relative weakness of the United States, resisted a popular clamor for war and instead proposed an American trade embargo. ...

The embargo ultimately failed, but Jefferson's response to the Chesapeake-Leopard crisis reveals his pragmatic recognition of the realities of great-power relations. His response was not, as often portrayed, an idealist's attempt to seek peaceful redress of grievances. Rather, it was grounded in a recognition of the military power of Britain. ...

... [Jefferson] was neither idealistic nor naive when it came to means by which he sought to defend the United States.

The Oxford Encyclopedia of American Military and Diplomatic History


March 1, 1809
Jefferson's Embargo Act is replaced by the Non-Intercourse-Act. American trade was again legal with all nations, except Britain and France.

November 1, 1811
Official apology by the British government for the Chesapeake-Leopard incident. Writes Mr. Foster to Mr. Monroe:

SIR, In pursuance of the orders which I have received from his royal highness the prince regent, in the name and on the behalf of his majesty, for the purpose of proceeding to a final adjustment of the differences which have arisen between Great Britain and the United States, in the affair of the Chesapeake frigate, I have the honor to acquaint you:

First, that I am instructed to repeat to the American government the prompt disavowal made by his majesty, (and recited in Mr. Erskine's note of April 17, 1809, to Mr. Smith,) on being apprised of the unauthorized act of the officer in command of his naval forces on the coast of America, whose recall from a highly important and honorable command, immediately ensued, as a mark of his majesty's disapprobation.

Secondly, that I am authorized to offer, in addition to that disavowal, on the part of his royal highness, the immediate restoration, as far as circumstances will admit, of the men who in consequence of admiral Berkley's orders, were forcibly taken out of the Chesapeake, to the vessel from which they were taken; or it that ship should be no longer in commission, to such seaport of the United States as the American government may name for the purpose.

Thirdly, that I am also authorized to offer to the American government a suitable pecuniary provision for the sufferers in consequence of the attack on the Chesapeake, including the families of those seamen who unfortunately fell in action, and of the wounded survivors.

These honorable propositions, I can assure you, sir, are made with the sincere desire that they may prove satisfactory to the government of the United States, and I trust they will meet with that amicable reception which their conciliatory nature entitles them to. I need scarcely add how cordially I join with you in the wish that they might prove introductory to a removal of all the differences depending between our two countries.

I have the honor to be, with the greatest consideration and respect, sir, your most obedient humble servant,

Augustus J. Foster

November 12, 1811
U.S. response to the British apology. This is an excerpt of a letter from Monroe to Foster:

. . . It is much to be regretted that the reparation due for such an aggression as that committed on the United States Frigate the Chesapeake, should have been so long delayed; nor could the translation of the offending officer from one command to another, be regarded as constitution a part of a reparation otherwise satisfactory;

. . . The officer commanding the Chesapeake, now lying in the harbor of Boston, will be instructed to receive the men who are to be restored to that ship . . .

November 13, 1811
Mr. Foster to Rear-Admiral Sawyer:

. . . In Mr. Monroe's answer to me, it is stated to be the wish of the American government, that the men should be conveyed to the Chesapeake frigate, now lying at Boston.

I have, therefore, the honour to request that you will take what measures may to you seem most fitting, for speedily fulfilling the engagement entered into, in this respect, on the part of His Royal Highness . . .

November 18, 1811
Mr. Foster to Mr Monroe:

. . . it appears that only two of the four individuals named in it, were known, at its date, to be in existence.

Mr Foster has, therefore, written to Rear-Admiral Sawyer, who commands His Majesty's naval forces on the Halifax Station, to request that he will take measures for the speedy delivery of those two individuals, to the officer commanding the United States frigate, Chesapeake, at Boston . . .


June 18, 1812
U.S. President James Madison signed the declaration of war against Great Britain, commencing the
War of 1812.

July 11, 1812

The British schooner Brim, under the command of Lieutenant John Simpson, departed from Halifax and, under a flag of truce, arrived at Boston, where John Strachan and Daniel Martin are returned to the Chesapeake.

July 20, 1812
Having returned the surviving sailors, the British still had to pay compensations, as they had agreed they would. Here is a letter from Mr. Baker to Mr. Monroe:

Sir, I have the honour to acquaint you, that the surviving seamen who were taken out of the Chesapeake frigate, were on the 11th instant, in pursuance of the stipulation made by Mr. Foster, restored to that vessel in the harbour of Boston, as appears from one of the certificates given on this occasion by Lieutenant Wilkinson, of the United States' navy, which has been transmitted to me.

In communicating to you the honourable completion of this essential part of the terms of reparation, which were offered and accepted for the adjustment of this affair, I beg leave to inform you, that I shall be ready, at any time you may think proper to appoint, to take the necessary steps, by virtue of authority which has been given to me by Mr. Foster from that purpose, respecting the pecuniary provision to be furnished to the sufferers, in consequence of the attack on the Chesapeake, as mentioned in the third proposition contained in Mr. Foster's letter to you of November 1st, 1811.

I have the honour to be, etc
Anthony St. J. Baker

June 1, 1813
The United States lost the USS Chesapeake to the British in what the U.S. Navy calls "the bloodiest naval battle of the war" of 1812: HMS Shannon vs. USS Chesapeake.

Check this event in the timeline of the War of 1812.

February 17, 1815

War of 1812 ends.

March 22, 1820
Stephen Decatur dies after a duel with James Barron at Bladensburg, Maryland.


Leopard Trivia
The H.M.S. Leopard of the British Royal Navy had 50 guns on two gun decks, and a crew of 345 men. It was one of the few fourth rate ships that were still in action, the fourth rate being the largest of the medium ships.

The Leopard was under the command of Captain Salusbury Pryce Humphreys, later Humphreys-Davenport, who was temporarily retired after this, later reinstated rear-admiral, and finally even knighted. Humphreys lived 1778-1845.

By the way, between 1800 and 1802, Jane Austen's brother Sir Francis William Austen served as flag-captain to Admiral Gambier aboard the Leopard.


Here is more on

Here is more on what impressment led to: the War of 1812

Here is more on the Napoleonic Wars

And here is the year 1807 in the Timeline of the Napoleonic Wars


And Finally
Thomas Jefferson's own spin on events:

The English newspapers suppose me the personal enemy of their nation. I am not so.... Had I been personally hostile to England and biased in favor of either the character or views of her great antagonist, the affair of the Chesapeake put war in my hand. I had only to open it and let havoc loose.

But if ever I was gratified with the possession of power, and of the confidence of those who had entrusted me with it, it was on that occasion when I was enabled to use both for the prevention of war towards which the torrent of passion here was directed almost irresistibly, and when not another person in the United States, less supported by authority and favor, could have resisted it.

Thomas Jefferson to James Maury, April 25, 1812




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