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
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:
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
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
Monday, June 22, 1807
Location of the
Chesapeake-Leopard Incident: International Waters at
Nine Miles (14 km) off Hampton Roads / Cape Henry, Virginia
Click map to enlarge
In 1807, the American frigate
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
J. Wertenbaker noted:
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.
People - A History by Thomas Jefferson
The British Royal
Captain Salusbury Pryce Humphreys in command of the H.M.S. Leopard
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,
Berkeley's order read as
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'
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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:
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.
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,
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
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.
then rejoined the British squadron at Lynnhaven
A badly damaged
Chesapeake went back to Hampton Roads.
The Four Alleged
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 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
And this is a
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Leopard, right, firing on Chesapeake to enforce a demand
that she submit to a search of her crew for British Navy
Our Navy - Its Growth and
Achievements, Fred S. Cozzens
U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command
The Aftermath in
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
The Aftermath in
In world history, wars
declared over much lesser amounts of ruffled feathers. But
in this case, U.S. President
decided against it. Instead, he recalled the American fleet
from the Mediterranean, and opted for a diplomatic response:
an Embargo Act.
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,
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.
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
The Aftermath — A Timeline
June 23, 1807
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
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:
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
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.
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
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,
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,
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
captain of the Chesapeake. He boards the ship and hoists the
July 2, 1807
bans all British
ships from American ports and waters, with an exception for
emergencies and the mail man.
Here is an excerpt of his
. . . 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
Jefferson's entire Proclamation of
July 2, 1807.
July 3, 1807
Strong words from the Brits, all things
considered, not afraid mentioning war:
Ship Bellona, Hampton Roads
J.E. Douglass to Richard E. Lee, Esq. mayor of Norfolk,
. . . 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 . . .
therefore rests with the inhabitants of Norfolk, either to
engage in a war or remain on terms of peace.
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
Yesterday afternoon the four British ships came in and
anchored in Hampton roads.
= a French ship that was in port for repairs
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
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
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"
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
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.
and 9, 1807
Meanwhile in Europe, the
Treaties of Tilsit are
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
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.
Letter from Lord James Townshend,
captain of the British ship Halifax, to Vice-Admiral Berkeley, commander-in-chief at Halifax,
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
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
Ratford put to
death by hanging from the neck at the foreyard-arm of the
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:
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
unfounded information must have been conveyed to the
Government of the United States respecting the deserters in
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
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.
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
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
Barron was suspended from the Navy for five
continue: Russia declares war on Britain.
Five long months
after the Chesapeake-Leopard incident, Jefferson introduced the
Embargo Act, which
prohibited American trade with any other nation.
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
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
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
March 1, 1809
Embargo Act is replaced by the
American trade was again legal with all nations, except
Britain and France.
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
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,
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
. . . 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.
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.
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
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
Here is more on
Here is more on what impressment
led to: the
War of 1812
Here is more on the
And here is the year
1807 in the Timeline of the Napoleonic
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.
Jefferson to James Maury, April 25, 1812