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Coffins of the Brave

Lake Shipwrecks of the War of 1812

Kevin J. Crisman

Publication Year: 2014

In Coffins of the Brave: Lake Shipwrecks of the War of 1812, archaeologist Kevin J. Crisman and his fellow contributors examine sixteen different examples of 1812-era naval and commercial shipbuilding. They range from four small prewar vessels to four 16- or 20-gun brigs, three warships of much greater size, a steamboat hull converted into an armed schooner, two gunboats, and two postwar schooners. Despite their differing degrees of preservation and archaeological study, each vessel reveals something about how its creators sought the best balance of strength, durability, capacity, stability, speed, weatherliness, and seaworthiness for the anticipated naval struggle on the lakes along the US-Canadian border.

The underwater archaeology reported here has guided a new approach to understanding the events of 1812–15, one that blends the evidence in contemporary documents and images with a wealth of details derived from objects lost, discarded, and otherwise left behind.

This heavily illustrated volume balances scholarly findings with lively writing, interjecting the adventure of working on shipwrecks and archaeological finds into the investigation and interpretation of a war that continues to attract interest two centuries after it was fought.

Published by: Texas A&M University Press

Series: Ed Rachal Foundation Nautical Archaeology Series

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-xiii

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pp. ix-x

Any project that has been in the works as long as this book and that involves archaeological research on so many different shipwrecks is going to accumulate a long list of people and institutions that deserve acknowledgment for their contributions of time, money...

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Kevin J. Crisman

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pp. 1-8

On a brisk, sunny autumn afternoon in 1819, Yale College professor Benjamin Silliman embarked on the steamboat Congress at Whitehall, New York, beginning the final leg of a journey to Quebec. The cold weather perfectly matched the professor’s internal state, for...

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Part I: The Naval War of 1812 on the Upper Lakes

Kevin J. Crisman

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pp. 9-18

On June 18, 1812, the Congress of the United States declared war upon Great Britain. After years of unresolved friction over freedom of trade, impressments, and western expansion, the US government gave up on diplomatic protests and embargoes and instead unleashed its army and navy. A country declaring...

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1. “We Have Met the Enemy and They Are Ours”: The US Navy Brig Niagara

Walter Rybka

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pp. 19-50

The surrender of Fort Mackinac, the capitulation of Detroit, and other defeats suffered by the US Army on the northwestern frontier in 1812 drove home the lesson that military success in this region depended upon naval control of Lakes Erie and Huron. Belatedly...

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2. “Cast Away on the Canadian Shore”: The British Brig General Hunter

Kenneth Cassavoy

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pp. 51-70

As soon as I stepped onto the beach I could see the dark shapes a couple of hundred yards away, a dozen blackened timbers poking up through the sands of the Southampton shoreline. As I came closer, it was clear they were set at regular intervals in a slightly curving...

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3. “A Perfect Masterpiece of Workmanship”: His Majesty’s Hired Transport Schooner Nancy

Christopher R. Sabick

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pp. 71-85

The story of His Majesty’s Schooner Nancy begins where the vessel’s career ended: at the south end of Lake Huron’s Georgian Bay, in the little town of Wasaga Beach. The town is renowned for its beautiful sandy shoreline, a feature that attracts thousands of tourists each summer. Not far from the beach is a small...

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4. Echoes of a Naval Race: The Royal Navy Schooners Tecumseth and Newash

Leeanne Gordon, Sara Hoskins, and Erich Heinold

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pp. 86-108

In August 1953, the tangled, skeletal remains of a ship were raised from the harbor in the Lake Huron town of Penetanguishene, Ontario. Excavations at the nearby War of 1812–era naval base inspired town leaders to raise a contemporary wreck for exhibition. It was only after the salvaging that historians identified the hull as...

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Part II: The Naval War of 1812 on Lake Ontario

Kevin J. Crisman

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pp. 109-122

If any single location could have been called the epicenter of the War of 1812, it was Lake Ontario (fig. II.1). Geography, not size, conferred strategic significance: Ontario is the easternmost Great Lake, and the navy that held supremacy here controlled the principal supply routes for all military forces operating along the...

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5. Fore-and-Afters at Fifty Fathoms: The Wrecks of Hamilton and Scourge

Jonathan Moore

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pp. 123-152

In a period characterized by flourishing trade on Lake Ontario, ineffective American efforts to curb smuggling, and heightened political tension between Britain and the United States, two new schooners, Diana and Lord Nelson, joined the lake’s commercial fleet. Diana was launched at Oswego, New York, in 1809 and Lord...

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6. “Anticipated Laurels”: The US Brig Jefferson

Kevin J. Crisman

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pp. 153-186

Joseph Delafield found Sackets Harbor, New York, a sad, sodden refuge in the gray dawn of September 16, 1818. A member of the Anglo-American commission charged with establishing the boundary between the United States and Canada, he had spent the summer surveying the islands of the upper St. Lawrence River...

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7. Frontier Frigates and a Three-Decker: Wrecks of the Royal Navy’s Lake Ontario Squadron

Jonathan Moore

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pp. 187-218

On April 10, 1815, the US Navy schooner Lady of the Lake sailed into Kingston harbor, the Royal Navy’s base on Lake Ontario. On board were Comm. Isaac Chauncey, Maj. Gen. Jacob Brown, and other US officers. A line of warships lay anchored adjacent to the King’s Yard, but rather than resisting the American incursion, they...

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8. “Smaller Vessels Are of No Less Consequence": The Browns Bay Vessel

Christopher Amer

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pp. 219-236

The War of 1812 saw the construction of different vessel types for service on the high seas, in coastal regions, and on the inland lakes. The rapid escalation of the naval war on the lakes created a need for greater numbers of ships, and as the freshwater campaigns wore on, both the Royal and US Navies built increasingly larger and more heavily armed ships. There were exceptions...

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Part III: The Naval War of 1812 on Lake Champlain

Kevin J. Crisman

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pp. 237-246

The first two years of the War of 1812 saw little naval activity on Lake Champlain, a curious fact in light of the American government’s stated intentions when it declared war (fig. III.1). This region was the obvious starting gate for any serious US effort to invade Canada. The lake’s northern terminus at the Richelieu River...

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9. “Lt. Cassin Says There Is a New Boat Near Vergennes”: The US Schooner Ticonderoga

Kevin J. Crisman

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pp. 247-270

In 1958 the town of Whitehall, New York, celebrated the bicentennial year of its founding by raising the remains of an old wooden ship from the nearby Poultney River and placing them on display outside the new Skenesborough Museum in downtown Whitehall (fig. 9.1). Among the artifacts recovered from the wreck...

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10. “A Perfect Willingness to See the Enemy on Fair Terms”: The US Navy Row Galley Allen

Eric Emery

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pp. 271-293

Sailing Master William M. Robbins surveyed his battered passengers through the pouring rain on the morning of September 16, 1814. Almost a week had passed since the Battle of Plattsburgh Bay, and still its aftershocks consumed his daily activities. Standing on the deck of the US Navy row galley Allen, he counted...

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11. “A Remarkably Fine Looking Vessel”: The Royal Navy Brig Linnet

Erika Washburn

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pp. 294-311

In the fall of 1949, Ray Stevens stood on the muddy river bank that bordered his New York farm and studied the mysterious shipwreck before him. Protruding from the brownish water just a few feet away were water-worn timbers, the remains of a vessel about 80 feet (24.4 m) in length, whose origins and history were as murky as...

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12. “It Has Again Become Necessary to Add to Our Force on Lake Champlain”: The US Navy Brig Eagle

Kevin j. Crisman

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pp. 312-335

This story starts with my first dive on a large, unidentified wreck sunk in the Poultney River near Whitehall, New York, in the summer of 1981. Seen from up close in the brownish murk—and up close was the only way to see anything—the mysterious hull was a confusing obstacle course of eroded frames, jutting plank ends, and rusty spike points. Beavers living in a nearby lodge...

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13. “I Never See Anything In This World Like It!”: The Archaeological Legacy of a Naval Battle

Arthur B. Cohn and Kevin J. Crisman

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pp. 336-353

Most naval battles of the War of 1812 were private affairs, fought in open waters far from the sight of land and experienced only by the participants. Plattsburgh Bay was different. The British attack had been anticipated for many weeks, and the slow progress of the Royal Navy squadron up Lake Champlain was closely...

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14. Conclusions: “Coffins of the Brave”—Two Hundred Years Later

Kevin J. Crisman

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pp. 354-370

Two hundred years have passed since the War of 1812 roiled the landscape of North America and the oceans of the world (fig. 14.1). As wars go, this one was brief and did not change the boundary maps. This is hardly surprising: neither the United States nor Great Britain ever committed the forces necessary to conquer and hold large swaths of territory. After two and a half...

Appendix A: Principal Dimensions, Armament, and Broadside Weight of the Ships Built at Kingston in 1814

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pp. 371-372

Appendix B: Prince Regent (Kingston) Sailing Qualities Report, 1815

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pp. 373-374

Appendix C: Principal Timber Scantlings (in Inches) and Wood Species of the Ships Built at Kingston in 1814

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pp. 375-376


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pp. 377-384

Bibliography and Sources

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pp. 385-396

General Index

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pp. 397-408

Index of Ships

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pp. 409-415

Color Images

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Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781623490768
E-ISBN-10: 1623490766
Print-ISBN-13: 9781623490324

Page Count: 440
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: Ed Rachal Foundation Nautical Archaeology Series