previous next

Old ships and ship-building days of Medford.

Chapter 3:

War of 1812.1

WAR was declared with Great Britain on June 18, 1812. American vessels were allowed to trade with Europe as usual, although not with Great Britain. Many of them carried supplies which were directed to Spanish ports for use by the British armies against our allies, the French. The Ariadne2 is reported as taking a cargo of provisions to Cadiz under British license after obtaining informal permission of the Attorney General3 and the Secretary of the Treasury. Congress permitted this trade until the crops of 1812 had been marketed.4

The ship Medford is reported as follows: ‘Boston Tue. Apr. 30, 1813 ar. ship “Medford,” Capt'n Hall, Cadiz 42 days. Spoke nothing. Sunday at 3 P. M. Cape Cod, was boarded from the privateer brig Sir John Sherbrook detained a few hours and permitted to proceed.’ A number of persons captured in a previous prize were transferred to the Medford.

Many merchant vessels were turned into privateers to prey on British commerce and many more were built. Among them was the letter-of-marque brig Rambler, built in 1813, in thirty-six days by Calvin Turner for [p. 26] Benjamin Rich of Boston. On April 30, 1814, the commander, Nathaniel Snow, and others brought libel for condemnation in the United States court at Boston for one case of goods taken from the ‘Union’ ‘which she did seize, take and capture, mounting ten carriage guns, and about 280 tons burthen with a cargo of cotton, coffee and various other articles of merchandise. The case of goods in question contained lace shawls, dresses and handkerchiefs which brought $1800 at auction.’5

In the last part of 1814 she with two other lettersof-marque was sent by the Boston China Merchants to carry instructions to their fleet which was blockaded at Whampoa. She captured a prize off Lintin on the way out which she sent into Macao with a prize crew.6 A letter from Captain Edes of the Rambler, dated Canton, December 6, says: ‘Our prize (the ship “Arabella” ) arrived at Macao the same day we arrived at Canton and was taken possession of by the Portuguese government and given up to the British Admiral on this station. I have protested against this proceeding, and hope a proper representation will be made to the Portuguese government, who ought in justice to pay us the amount she was insured for (60,000 ruples eighteen days out). I also captured the British brig “Madeira,” took out 75 casks of wine, and gave her up.’7

The three letters-of-marque delivered their orders to the merchant vessels to remain until peace was declared. They then loaded with rich cargoes and dropped down river from Whampoa on a dark night, the 18th of January, 1815. They passed two British men-of-war and about twenty armed East Indiamen, which fired on them by the aid of blue lights. Keeping together on the voyage home, they arrived at Boston after peace was declared, on May 3 and 4, 1815, and sold their cargoes at high prices. [p. 27]

Another privateer, the Reindeer, was built by Calvin Turner for Benjamin Rich and others in 1814. On April 15, 1815, a libel was brought in the United States court at Boston by Nathaniel Snow and others against

sundry goods, wares and merchandise taken from the brig “Daphne,” seized as prize on or about the 7th day of January, and took from her 12 bags of coffee, 16 bags of cloves, 32 leopard skins, a lot of goat skins, one lion skin, 5 boxes of ostrich feathers, 2 boxes of seeds, one box of shells, one bundle of merchandise and two casks of wine.

Also on or about the 20th day of January last seized as prize the ship “Maid of the mill,” Alex Sute, master, and did take from her 7 boxes of raisins, 9 sacks and 1 bag of almonds.

The captain of the Reindeer put a prize crew on board both vessels but both of them were recaptured. It is interesting to learn (Federal Court Records, Boston) that the merchandise brought the following prices:—

Ostrich feathers

Lot No. 1 7 lb. 8 oz. @$27.25 (per lb.)
Lot No. 2 9 lb. 9 oz. @8. 50
Lot No. 3 6, lb. 13 oz. @13.25
Lot No. 4 30 lb. 0 oz. @11.75
Lot No. 5 12 lb. 5 oz. @8.75
24 Leopard skins @$5
1 Lion skin @31
2000 lbs. Coffee @24 cts.
2093 lbs. Cloves @92 cts.
345 lbs. Raisins @16 1/2 cts.
41 1/2 yds. Broadcloth @$6 7/8
17 Gals. wine @$3.05
Total———$4036.89 1/2
Less 6 Bags coffee sold under an interlocutory decree$159. 84
$3877.05 1/2
Less Invalid Fund 2%58.85
Rec'd by Benj. Rich$2883.71

[p. 28]

Benjamin Rich.

In the discourse occasioned by the death of Benjamin Rich, Esq., delivered in the church on Church Green, June 8, 1851, by Alexander Young, D. D., he refers to him as an example of the good parishioner:—
The late Benjamin Rich was born on the 12th of December, 1775, in the town of Truro, near the extremity of Cape Cod. From his earliest years, as is the case with most of the youths who are born on the Cape, he took to the sea, going cabin boy at the age of thirteen; and at the age of nineteen, on his fourth voyage, he had the command of a vessel. His voyages were chiefly to the West Indies, the Mediterranean, and the north of Europe. For twelve long years he pursued this hard and perilous vocation. On one of his voyages, he was attacked, off Algiers, by two French privateers, both of which with his characteristic intrepidity he fought a whole summer's day; and at last when his shot was all expended, and he had charged his cannon fire with whatever he could find on board, he succeeded in beating them off. He thus prepared himself to engage understandingly in navigation and trade.

On retiring from the sea in 1801, at the age of twenty-six, he settled in this city and embarked in commerce, which he pursued until six years ago when he retired.

For nearly fifty years he was one of our most active and enterprising merchants. In 1800 he married.

He took a lively interest in the prosperity of the parish. He hears one of his old companions in business has been reduced to penury; Mr. Rich went round among his friends and raised an annuity of $600.

A young lieutenant in the navy dies on the slope of Mt. Lebanon; his young wife soon follows him, leaving two orphan boys. Mr. Rich collected a fund to provide for their education and fit them for useful stations in life.

The word fear, too, was not to be found in his dictionary. When, in the month of May, 1818, the Canton packet blew up in our harbor, Mr. Rich was the first to leap upon her blazing deck to rescue the crew, utterly heedless of the possibility of another explosion.

For thirty-three years he was a trustee of the Humane Society and for fifteen years its president. He superintended the building and location of eighteen life-boats provided by the Legislature of 1840 and 1841.

The few last weeks that he spent upon earth were among the happiest of his life. It was a privilege to visit him in his sick [p. 29] chamber—to see the power of faith triumphing over bodily pain and the hope of immortality victorious over the fear of death. Cheerful he gave his being up and went to share the holy rest that waits a life well spent.

The other two privateers, the Avon and the Aboellino, were built too late to take an active part in the war.

Meanwhile, on the Pacific ocean, the British cruisers and privateers had driven all the merchant fleet into neutral ports. Among them was the brig Pedlar, which took refuge in the Hawaiian Islands.

The Charon was unfortunate enough to fall into the hands of a British privateer. The frigate Essex was finally sent to the Pacific and played havoc with the British cruisers and privateers for a time, but she was finally captured by two British vessels of war in a desperate naval battle off Valparaiso.

On the Northwest coast Astor had finally succeeded in establishing a trading post, after several previous attempts had been defeated by Indian attacks. His company was called the Pacific Fur Co. He had built Fort Astoria, which the British war vessels so far had not seized. They had cut off most of the supplies for the post, however.

They were now in a precarious position. Cruisers were watching them, ready to pounce upon them and the chances of escape of a richly laden caravan fleeing across the Rocky Mountains from the Walla Walla and Blackfeet Indians were nothing. Even if they escaped after being robbed, their lives were in jeopardy unless supplies could be got to them.

Astor fitted out the brig Lark and sent her to their relief, but she was unfortunately wrecked on the Hawaiian Islands. Hunt, the chief agent, proceeded to Hawaii and authorized one of his assistants, McDougall, to conclude arrangements with the British N. W. Fur Co. as best he might.

McDougall finally sold the Pacific Fur Co. to their British rivals for $80,500, after a canny Scotch game played for their possession with McTavish. ‘The [p. 30] British vessels of war may come or not come, with the chances in favor of their coming, when they would gobble up the fort. If they do not come, the Pacific Co. may keep their posts and their goods. A strict guard is kept in the fort to avoid surprise. At the same time McTavish being short of provisions is supplied by McDougall.’8

Still McTavish fences for time, and it was not until McDougall made ready his boats and threatened to move inland up the Williamette River did McTavish agree to the sale.

Meanwhile Hunt, in the Hawaiian islands, had bought the brig Pedlar for $10,000, hoping to be able to rescue some of the property. He embarked for Fort Astoria, where he arrived only to learn of its transfer to the North West Co. He expressed great dissatisfaction with the sale, and after a short stay directed his course for Sitka. On the way he fell in with two United States vessels hiding from British cruisers. While there the Pedlar was seized by the Russians on a charge of selling powder to the natives but was released for lack of evidence.9

The British cruisers arrived before Fort Astoria with great expectations of booty, and great was their disappointment when they found their prize had slipped through their fingers by transfer to British subjects.

Hunt, in the Pedlar, took on board a few Americans who had not joined the North West Co. and preferred a sea voyage to the overland trip and sailed for New York. He is said to have reached his destination after a tedious voyage. One event of the voyage was the brig's capture at San Luis Obispo by a Spanish vessel. The charge of smuggling could not be substantiated and she was released. The story told at the investigation was that she had entered San Luis because she mistook her captor for a Russian ship to which a part of her [p. 31] cargo was to be delivered. She had both American and Russian passports.

The departure of the Pedlar forever closed the business of Astor on the Pacific.

1 the names of Medford-built ships are italicized.

2 Ariadne. See Chapter II.

3 Bryant and Sturgis, M. S., Vol. 1811, p. 122.

4 Morison. ‘Maritime History of Massachusetts.’

5 Federal Court Records, Boston.

6 Morison. ‘Maritime History of Massachusetts.’

7 Coggeshall. ‘History of American Privateers in the War of 1812.’

8 H. H. Bancroft. ‘History of the Pacific States.’

9 Peter Conly. ‘Early Northern Pacific Voyages.’

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Benjamin Rich (4)
McTavish (4)
McDougall (4)
Pedlar (3)
E. Hunt (3)
Astor (3)
Calvin Turner (2)
Morison (2)
Ariadne (2)
Alexander Young (1)
Boston Tue (1)
Sturgis (1)
Russian (1)
Rambler (1)
Leopard (1)
Blackfeet Indians (1)
Deborah Hall (1)
Green (1)
Hall Gleason (1)
EDES (1)
Daphne (1)
Peter Conly (1)
Coggeshall (1)
Charon (1)
Wallace Bryant (1)
H. H. Bancroft (1)
Arabella (1)
Americans (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: