From the Otsego Herald
for Saturday, April 3, 1813
Compiled, with comments
by HUGH C. MacDOUGALL
US Sloop HORNET Sinks HM Brig PEACOCK
Bristol Gazette, March 20, 1813. On the 19th inst. arrived at Holmes’ Hole, the United States sloop of war HORNET, of 16 guns, Captain [James] Lawrence, from a cruise. Off Surinam fell in with His Britannic Majesty’s brig PEACOCK, Captain [William] Peake, of 19 guns, which he sunk after 15 minutes close action. The following from the log-book, was handed us, which diffused a general joy amongst the friends of “FREE TRADE & SAILORS RIGHTS.”
“Thursday, Feb. 13, 1813. At half past three P.M. discovered a strange sail bearing down for us.
“-- at 4.20, she hoisted English colors.
“-- at 4.30, beat to quarters and cleared ship for action, and hauled close by the wind in order to get the weather gage of her.
“-- at 5.10, hoisted American colors, tacked and stood for the enemy.
“-- at 5.25, in passing each other exchanged broadsides within pistol shot. The enemy then wore and gave us their starboard broadside. Bore up close on her starboard quarter, and kept up such a heavy and well directed fire, that in less than 15 minutes she made the signal of submission, being cut to pieces. In 5 minutes after, her mast went by the board.
“Sent our first lieutenant on board. Returned with her first lieutenant, who reported her to be His Britannic Majesty’s brig peacock, mounting 19 guns, and 134 men, that her commander, Capt. Peake was killed in the action, a great number of her men were killed & wounded, and that she was sinking fast.
“Dispatched the boats immediately to take out the wounded & the rest of the prisoners, & brought both vessels to anchor, but notwithstanding every exertion was made to save the crew, she unfortunately sunk, carrying down 19 of her crew, and three of our brave fellows.
“Lt. [David] Conner, Midshipman [Benjamin] Cooper [NOT the author], and the remainder of our crew employed in getting out the prisoners, with difficulty saved themselves by jumping into one of her boats stowed on the booms. Four men were taken from the foretop by our boats.
“We had one man killed, & two slightly wounded. The enemy had eight killed, and twenty-seven wounded.”
COMMENT: Heavily crowded with the prisoners, the Hornet came home from the northern coast of South America, reaching the island of Holmes Hole (renamed Martha’s Vineyard in 1871) on March 19. The victory of the American in single combat over the British warship, one of a number during the War of 1812, helped to boost American morale in a largely unsuccessful war, especially as the British warship was technically more powerful. In fact the Hornet was considerably larger (450 to 386 tons), had a larger crew (162 to 110), and fired a heavier broadside (297 to 192 pounds) than her adversary.
James Lawrence was promoted to Captain, and given command of the US Frigate Chesapeake, only to die when that ship was defeated and captured by HM Frigate Shannon on June 1, 1813 – he remained famous for his ringing, but as it turned out futile, declaration of “Don’t Give Up the Ship.”
DIED – On the 24th ult. [March] in the prime of life Miss Martha Dewey, daughter of Eliphalet Dewey, Esq. of the town of Hartwick, after a short and severe attack of the prevailing disease, which she bore with a fortitude characteristic of a virtuous mind. She was a dutiful daughter, and affectionate sister, and an agreeable friend. Her loss is deeply deplored by all who had the happiness of her acquaintance.
COMMENT: Eliphalet Dewey (1762-1836) had been a farmer in Lebanon, Conn., but shortly after his second marriage in 1793 to Rachel Ann Hyde (1761-1847), he moved to Hartwick, NY, and became a staunch supporter of Hartwick Seminary where his sons were educated. He also served as Justice of the Peace. In 1835 he moved to Cadiz, Ohio to live with his son Chauncey. Martha was born in Cooperstown in 1794. The “prevailing disease” from which she died was undoubtedly Cerebro-Spinal Fever, then known as “Spotted Fever,” which afflicted New York and New England during the War of 1812. Ironically, the same issue of the Otsego Herald which carried her obituary also listed her name among those for whom there was mail waiting at the post office. Eliphalet’s brother Joshua Dewey (1767-1864) taught school in Cooperstown, where young James Fenimore Cooper was one of his pupils.
Please Pay Up
NOTICE: The subscribers earnestly request all persons who are indebted to them and whose Accounts and Notes have become due – to make payment by the first day of May next; at which time they intend going to New-York.
GOODSELL & COOK. Cooperstown, April 2, 1813
COMMENT: Peter Goodsell (1771-1851) had joined with Cook in 1811 in taking over a general store in the “new brick store” at the corner of Main and Pioneer Streets. The partnership was sold to Silas and Russell Williams in 1813, which explains why they wanted to collect their debts before moving to New York City. Most retail business at this time was still conducted on credit.
A British Threat
To the First Magistrate of Lewistown [Lewes, Delaware], His Britannic Majesty’s ship Poictiers, Mouth of the Delaware, March 16, 1813:
“Sir – As soon as you receive this, I must request you will send twenty live bullocks, with a proportionate quantity of vegetables and hay, to the Poictiers, for the use of his Britannic majesty’s squadron now at anchorage, which shall be immediately paid for at Philadelphia prices. If you refuse to comply with this request, I shall be under the necessity of destroying your town. J.P. BERESFORD, Commodore.
COMMENT: The demand was rejected, and American troops sent to defend the village. Nevertheless it was ineffectually bombarded by British ships on April 9.