The USS Scourge was a Navy Schooner during the War of 1812. The USS Scourge was built as the HMS Lord Nelson (Canadian ship) and launched from Niagara on the lake on May 1, 1811. This ship was a merchant ship owned by James Crooks until it was taken from him by the US Navy.
The US Continental Navy was established in 1775 during the American Revolutionary War. The US Congress approved the construction of thirteen frigates to help us fight the British ships during the war. Due to our ships being outmatched by the British, all of these ships were either sunk or captured by 1781. The Continental Navy was disbanded after the Revolutionary War. After the Naval Act of 1794 was authorized, the US Navy built six frigates totaling just under $700k . The USS Constitution is one of these original frigates and is still afloat today.
The War of 1812 also called the second war for independence from Great Britain was mostly fought in the upper great lakes region. The major naval battles during the war took place on the great lakes. The most commonly used ships during the War of 1812 were Schooners. Schooners were built differently than other ships. There were two masts on a schooner, one main mast and one foremast. Schooners were considered ”fore-and-aft rigged” meaning that they point up at a higher degree than most other ships. These ships were more maneuverable than many of the other types used during this time [7, 8]
James Crook and the Lord Nelson
Asa Stanard of Niagara built the Lord Nelson for James Crooks. The Lord Nelson moved cargo between Niagara and Prescott on the St. Lawrence River for a little over a year before it was seized. On June 9, 1812 the US Navy boarded and seized the Lord Nelson on suspicions of smuggling. Commodore Isaac Chauncey of the American warship USS Oneida accused the Lord Nelson of violating the 1807 Embargo Act by trading illegal goods between the US and Britain . Chauncey claimed that the Lord Nelson did not bear the necessary papers to be able to trade. When the cargo of the Lord Nelson was searched after the seize, there was no sign of smuggling [2, 3]. The ship and its belongings were auctioned off for $3,000 to Melancthon Taylor Woolsey who focused on purchasing and outfitting war vessels. Once Woolsey realized that much of the cargo from the Lord Nelson were trunks full of the personal effects of a Mrs. McCormick of Britain he tried to get it sent back to her. He wasn’t completely successful in doing this because it was sent to her after the war was over and a large portion of what was originally in the trunks was missing, probably due to people scavenging it over the years . James Crooks tried on multiple occasions to get his ship back because it was illegally seized by the US Navy two weeks before the start of the War of 1812. Crooks’ never got his ship back and was never compensated for its loss. The Crooks family kept trying to get compensated for this after James Crooks had passed and eventually got $24,000 from the United States in 1914 .
The HMS Lord Nelson was taken to Sackets Harbor along with the USS Diana (a US merchant ship purchased by the navy). These ships were both converted into warships by adding eight 18-pound cannons and one 24-pound cannon to the Diana and four 6-pound cannons and four 4-pound cannons to the Lord Nelson. The US Navy then renamed these new US warships the USS Scourge (Lord Nelson) and the USS Hamilton (Diana). There were 50 crew members on both the USS Scourge and the USS Hamilton. The Scourge and Hamilton were sailing with the USS Oneida under the command of Commodore Isaac Chauncey in the Chauncey Squadron [1, 5]. The Scourge had a hand in taking Fort George from the British on 27 May 1813. During the attack, the Scourge mainly provided covering fire at the Fort while troop boats made their way to land. The Scourge was able to take out a two gun battery that was doing damage to their ships. Once the troops made it to land at the Fort they didn’t really have much difficulty pushing the British back and taking the Fort. The ship was barely damaged as a result of this success [1, 4]. The Scourge also took part in the sacking of York (now Toronto) with the rest of Chauncey’s Squadron .
Since these schooners were built to be merchant ships and not battle ships, they were not ideal for this situation. These ships were only built to carry supplies and other cargo to be sold from port to port and not to carry a large crew with heavy cannons. Because the Scourge and Hamilton were outfitted with this armament they were slightly top heavy since their center of gravity has shifted due to the additional weight from the cannons and ammunition. With this shift in the center of gravity, the ship would no longer float or be as stable as it once was built to be. This change would affect how the ship travels and maneuvers and even how it will be in battles. If the ship is not in a stable state to begin with, how will it react when you fire the broadside cannons? The ship will rock more than if it were stable making it more difficult to fire again right away since it is rocking so much. The main problem with the ship being top heavy is that it is more likely to tip over and let water in one of the sides. This was a concern during the time but was overlooked because of the need of ships for battle. The Scourge and Hamilton were sailing with the USS Oneida under the command of Commodore Isaac Chauncey .
The Sinking of the USS Scourge and USS Hamilton
On the night of August 8, 1813 the waters were smooth and the winds were calm, the English were in sight. The captain of the Scourge, Mr. Osgood, told his crew to eat and rest at their gun stations for they may be in battle in little time. A crew member named Ned Myers had awoken during the night due to a rain drop falling on his face. Myers went to the lower deck to grab something and heard a loud rushing wind, at this point he knew they were in the middle of a sudden squall (storm). Myers then rushed to the upper deck to try and secure the main sails but was too late since water was already rushing over the deck. Once realized that the Scourge was not going to right itself, Myers decided to jump ship to try avoiding being pulled down with it. After hitting the water Myers swam as far and as fast as he could away from the sinking Scourge until he felt a large wooden object in his path. Myers ended up running into the small rowboat being pulled by the Scourge and climbed aboard. Luckily, someone aboard the Scourge had cut the rope attached to the boat so it would not get pulled down with the ship. A few survivors were found near the wreckage and were brought aboard the row boat. After a little paddling, a large schooner appeared in front of them and took them aboard. This schooner was the USS Julia, another ship in the Chauncey squadron. The Julia was able to find four more survivors of the wreckage as a result of the squall; however these survivors were from the USS Hamilton. The USS Governor Tompkins was also part of the Chauncey squadron and picked up four Hamilton survivors as well. Out of the 100 or so crew members between the Scourge and the Hamilton only sixteen of them survived, eight from each ship. Ned Myers later told the tale of the Scourge and the life of being on a ship which was later turned into a book named Ned Myers Or, a Life before the Mast .
The wrecks of both the USS Scourge and USS Hamilton were found in 1973 off the shore of Hamilton. The City of Hamilton is trying to preserve the wrecks by claiming it a National Historic Site of Canada. This preservation is under the Ontario Heritage Act because they contain human remains. There is a museum full of pictures and sonar images of these ships at the wreckage site along with portraits and models of how the ships are thought to have looked before sinking. The pictures below are of the Scourge at its wreckage and how the ship was laid out in 1812.
- 1: Cooper, James Fenimore, Ned Myers, and Richard Clay. Ned Myers; Or, A Life before the Mast. London:: Richard Bentley, New Burlington Street., 1843.
- 2: “War of 1812 – U.S. Commodore Chauncey at Burlington Bay by Robert Malcomson (Navy).” War of 1812 – U.S. Commodore Chauncey at Burlington Bay by Robert Malcomson (Navy). N.p., n.d.
- 3: Paine, Lincoln P. Warships of the World to 1900. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.
- 4: “The Capture of Fort George, May 27th, 1813 -Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.” The Capture of Fort George, May 27th, 1813 – Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. N.p., n.d.
- 5: Gibson, Gary M. “The U.S. Brig Oneida A Design & Operational History.” The U.S. Brig Oneida A Design & Operational History 19 (2012): 1-82.
- 6: “Biography – CROOKS, JAMES – Volume VIII (1851-1860) – Dictionary of Canadian Biography.” Home – Dictionary of Canadian Biography. N.p., n.d.
- 7: “The Schooners: Hamilton and Scourge.” Hamilton and Scourge. N.p., n.d.
- 8: “The Hamilton and Scourge before the War of 1812.” The Hamilton and Scourge before the War of 1812. N.p., n.d.
- 9: “Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.” Embargo of 1807. N.p., n.d.
- 10: Toll, Ian W. Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy. New York: W.W. Norton, 2006.
For Further Reading
- 11: Brown, Daniel Mark. “Knocking on Davy Jones’s Locker: A Legal Case Study on War of 1812 Schooners USS Hamilton and USS Scourge.” ResearchGate. N.p., n.d.
- 12: “The Hamilton and Scourge Project: Past, Present and Future.” DIVER Magazine. N.p., n.d.