|BACK||THE AMERICAN WAR OF 1812,
THE ATTACK ON WASHINGTON, D.C.
|pounders apiece. The fleet would grow rapidly, although the Admiralty were disappointed that the colony's complete dependence on its seamen limited the number whoich could be spared for naval service. It was for this reason that impressment-conscription-was not considered ( although, elsewhere, this practice, to which the Navy had frequently turned to meet its manpower requirement, together with its habit of obliging American vessels -not always without bloodshed- to allow their crews to be searched for British deserters, had also helped to provoke the US government to war.)
These locally built and crewed vessels led varied interesting, violent, and often short, lives prior to 1812. Presumably, the survivors served through it. Certainly, the war was to prove to be the swan song of the island's privateers. Before the end of hostilities, they would capture 298 American ships, a significant percentage of the 1,593 captured by all British forces between the Great Lakes and the West Indies.
The war would end on an ironically similar footing to its inauspicious start with the Whiting.
On the 15 Jan., 1815 -after the declaration of peace- HMS Endymion, Pomone and Tenedos, travelling together, chanced upon the USS President, ostensibly the most powerful vessel in the US fleet. Because they had yet to receive word of the war's end, they imediately fell upon the hapless American vessel. After several hours, the American crew were forced to surrender and were taken, with their vessel, to Saint George's. Their brief sojourn there would lead to the founding of the colony's now-oldest surviving newspaper, the royal Gazette. Most of the prize vesels brought to the island were anchored at St. George's at the time, and 60 of them would be wrecked in the harbour as the result of a hurricane.
Historically, the most important chapter involving the colony in the war was the attempt to divert US forces from the Canadian border by launching a raid on the Eastern Seaboard. This punitive expidition, launched directly on the US capital of Washington, D.C., was organized and launched from the new Naval base on Ireland Island. The two Admirals most famous in this connexion being Cockburn and Cochrane- both daring and innovative sailors and tacticians-now reviled in the rare volume of US history that acknowledges their exploits.
| The war of 1812 was largely the result of competition between Britain and the colonies she had conceded independence to in 1783 for the control of certain vital resources, trade , and markets which Britain's global status and the Empire's self-sufficiency had been dependent on, and the new United States wish to assert its own dignity. This control was vital to the economic prosperity and growth, and the geo-political futures of both nations. While the united States, the aggressor in this conflict, failed to defeat its foe, even within the limited region of North America, and Britain maintained all her terretorial possessions, the war did serve to mark-out the less tangible-but ultimately more imperative-terrain over which the countries political, military and economic relationships would take place. This war marked the beginning of the slow ascent of the United States, and began the reduction of British economic, if not political, naval or military power on the global stage, even as Britain turned her Empirial aspirations in other, lucrative, directions.
The Somers Isles had been actively involved in all stages of
with Washington burning behind him.
|-tion of War to reach London, and to filter through to distant territories and vessels, naval and merchant, upon the seas, it was many weeks before some participants knew they were at war.
Shortly after the declaration, a Somers Isles built merchant vessel, the Whiting, of 79 tons and four guns, entered the harbour of Hampton Roads. She was carrying despatches from Portsmouth, and the crew expected nothing more strenuous than a customs inspection, to pay some duties and perhaps wharf fees. As the captain was being rowed ashore, his ship was taken by surprise by an American vessel and forced to surrender while still at anchor. Finding its seizure 'unsporting', the US authorities eventually allowed the vesel and its crew to depart.
This was hardly the most significant part the island would play in that war, though. The Admiralty were already well-advanced, by this time, in their plan to establish a full naval dockyard, and a North America and West Indies Fleet with it, at the colony's western extremity, Ireland Island. As the fleet had neccessarily to be increased to meet this new station's needs, the previous decades had seen the Royal Navy recruit Somers Islanders to sail a fleet comprised of ships built in the colonies shipyards. The first ships ordered from the colony's builders were the sloops-of-war Dasher, Driver and Hunter, lain down in 1795. These were of 200 tons or more, armed with twelve 24
|this re-shuffling of the world order. One of Britain's provocative acts had been an attempt to restrict all access to British (Imperial) markets to certain, designated free-ports. One of these being the Somers Isles. Then, as now, the US|
|reacted with great hostility to any impediment that restricted their ability to exploit potential markets to their full-potential. The colony happily set about preparing to profit from its seemingly-fortuituous nomination. The USA set about preparing for war.
Britain was at this time heavily engaged fighting the USA's earliest ally, France, in the earnestly waged Napoleonic Wars. the US government hoped to exploit that distraction to deliver a defeat in a less vital quarter, as they had done in their quest for independence when they had first forged their alliance with France.
The first militant action of the war involved the Somers Isles in another way. As it took some time for news of the US declara-