Coffins of the Brave: Lake Shipwrecks of the War of 1812 ed. by Kevin J. Crisman (review)
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Reviewed by
Kevin J. Crisman, ed., Coffins of the Brave: Lake Shipwrecks of the War of 1812. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2014. 415pp. $60.00.

One often forgets that the Midwest is not only the birthplace of many a deepwater sailor who served in the US Navy, but is also the scene of naval battles in American naval history. Kevin Crisman’s large-formatted and well-illustrated collection of fourteen essays is a major contribution to the naval history of the Midwest with a scholarly examination of the physical remains of sixteen British and American warships from the War of 1812 in the Great Lakes—and also in Lake Champlain.

Crisman, associate professor in the Nautical Archeology Graduate Program of the Anthropology Department at Texas A&M University (where he is also director of the Center for Maritime Archeology and Conservation), has firmly directed this excellent volume. He has provided an overall introduction and a general conclusion as well as provided introductions to each of the three thematic parts of the book and contributed three of the volume’s fourteen chapters that are written by people who have personally carried out the field research and data analysis.

Crisman’s introduction provides the broad context for the very important portion of the War of 1812 that was concentrated on the maritime frontier [End Page 150] between Canada and the United States. Part One concentrates on the midwestern theater of the naval war on the Upper Great Lakes, Lake Huron and Lake Erie, touching the costs of Michigan, Ohio, western Pennsylvania and western New York. Part Two is devoted to the naval war on Lake Ontario and coastal New York, while Part Three is devoted to Lake Champlain in upstate New York.

Readers of the Middle West Review will be most interested in Part One. Walter Rybka, the sometime director of the Erie Maritime Museum and captain of the replica brig Niagara, opens the volume with a summary of his numerous studies of the original Niagara and the battle of Lake Erie in September 1813 that benefits from the practical insights gained from sailing the replica and applies them to a deep knowledge of the three conjectural reconstructions of the vessel and the surviving artifacts. This chapter, in particular, provides the practical understanding that is relevant to the entire book.

The three following chapters in Part One focus on vessels from the opposing British force: the British brig General Hunter, the British hired transport schooner Nancy, and the Royal Navy schooners Tecumseh and Newash. These vessels are particularly important archeological finds that explain the often overlooked aspects of the war on Lake Huron.

The General Hunter had been built at Fort Malden on the Detroit River in 1806 and was later present at the battle of Lake Erie. Following her capture there by Oliver Hazard Perry, she served on the lakes as U.S. Army transport ship and was wrecked on the Canadian shore of Lake Huron at Southampton Beach, Ontario, in the 1820s.

The Nancy is the oldest vessel that has yet been found. She was built in 1789–90 as a relatively large merchant ship for the lakes by a fur trading firm on the River Rouge, south of Detroit. In her career as a merchant vessel she carried cargoes between Fort Erie, at the entrance to the Niagara River, to Michilimackinac, at the convergence of upper and lower Michigan. In 1794, she was pressed into temporary service as a troop transport for British and Provincial forces, but remained mainly in merchant activities until 1812, when she was armed for the war. In 1814, she was burned at the mouth of the Nottawasaga River in Lake Huron’s Georgian Bay, where she encountered the U.S. warships Niagara, Tigress, and Scorpion that were involved in the American attempt to retake Michilimackinac.

The Royal Navy’s 150-ton schooners Tecumseh and Newash were built in the spring of 1815 in the very last days of the War of 1812 at Streets Creek, a tributary of the upper Niagara River. They were designed to serve as transports [End Page 151] and gunboats on Lake Erie and...


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