Ned Myers' Account
Ned Myers volunteered to accompany Captain Isaac Chauncey (among many other seamen) from the New York navy-yard to Oswego. Of the 72 aboard both ships, 53 would perish, and Ned Myers would be one of the handful of survivors from the Hamilton and Scourge disaster. Thirty years later, Myers related his adventures, including the capsizing of the Hamilton and Scourge, to James Fenimore Cooper.
Ned Myers' Account of the Sinking of the Hamilton and Scourge
Taken from James Fenimore Cooper's A Life Before the Mast.
The British and American Fleets Pause for the Night
It was a lovely evening, not a cloud visible, and the lake being as smooth as a looking-glass. The English fleet was but a short distance to the northward of us; so near, indeed, that we could almost count their ports. They were becalmed, like ourselves, and a little scattered.
Towards evening, all light craft were doing the same, to close with the Commodore. Our object was to get together, lest the enemy should cut off some of our small vessels during the night ...
The Crew make Final Preparations before Supper and Rest
A little before sunset, Mr. Osgood [the captain] ordered us to pull in our sweeps ... we took [them] in as ordered, laying them athwart the deck, in readiness to be used when wanted. The vessels ahead and stern of us were, generally, within speaking distance. Just as the sun went below the horizon, George Tumblatt, a Swede, who was our gunner, came to me, and said he thought we ought to secure our guns, for we had been cleared for action all day, and the crew at quarters. We were still at quarters, in name, but the petty officers were allowed to move about, and as much license was given to the people as was wanted. I answered that I would gladly secure mine if he would get an order for it; but as we were still at quarters, and there lay John Bull, we might get a slap at him in the night. On this the gunner said he would go aft and speak to Mr. Osgood on the subject. He did so, but met the captain (as we always called Mr. Osgood) at the break of the quarter-deck. When George had told his errand, the captain looked at the heavens, and remarked that the night was so calm there could be no great use in securing the guns, and the English were so near we should certainly engage, if there came a breeze; that the men would sleep at their quarters, of course, and would be ready to take care of their guns, but that he might catch a turn with the side-tackle-falls around the pommelions of the guns, which would be sufficient. He then ordered the boatswain to call all hands aft, to the break of the quarter-deck.
As soon as the people had collected, Mr. Osgood said: "You must be pretty well fagged out, men; I think we may have a hard night's work yet, and I wish you to get your suppers, and then catch as much sleep as you can, at your guns." He then ordered the purser's steward to splice the main-brace. These were the last words I ever heard from Mr. Osgood. As soon as he gave the order he went below ...
The schooner, at this time, was under her mainsail, jib and fore-topsail. The foresail was brailed, and the foot stopped, and the flying-jib was stowed. None of the halyards were racked, nor sheets stoppered. This was a precaution we always took, on account of the craft's being so tender.
We first spliced the main-brace, and then got our suppers, eating between the guns, where we generally messed, indeed. One of my messmates, Tom Goldsmith, was captain of the gun next to me, and as we sat there finishing our suppers, I says to him, "Tom, bring that rug that you pinned at Little York, and that will do for both of us to stow ourselves away under." Tom went down and got the rug, which was an article for the camp that he had laid hand on, and it made us a capital bed-quilt. As all hands were pretty well tired, we lay down, with our heads on shot-boxes, and soon went to sleep.
The State of the Scourge prior to Sinking
Side tackles fastenedIn speaking of the canvas that was set, I ought to have said something of the state of our decks. The guns had the side-tackles fastened as I have mentioned. There was a box of canister, and another of grape, at each gun, besides extra stands of both, under the shot-racks. There was also one grummet of round-shot at every gun, besides the racks being filled. Each gun's crew slept at the gun and its opposite, thus dividing the people pretty equally, on both sides of the deck. Those who were stationed below, slept below. I think it probable that, as the night grew cool, as it always does on fresh waters, some of the men stole below to get warmer berths. This was easily done in that craft, as we had but two regular officers on board, the acting boatswain and gunner being little more than two of ourselves.
A Sudden Squall Hits
I was soon asleep, as sound as if lying in the bed of a king. How long my nap lasted, or what took place in the interval, I cannot say. I awoke, however, in consequence of large drops of rain falling on my face. Tom Goldsmith awoke at the same moment. When I opened my eyes, it was so dark I could not see the length of the deck. I arose and spoke to Tom, telling him it was about to rain, and that I meant to go down and get a nip, out of a little stuff we kept in our mess-chest, and I would bring up the bottle if he wanted a taste. Tom answered, "This is nothing; we're neither pepper nor salt." One of the black men spoke, and asked me to bring up the bottle, and give him a nip too. All this took half a minute, perhaps. I now remember to have heard a strange rushing noise to windward as I went towards the forward hatch, though it made no impression on me at the time. We had been lying between the starboard guns, which was the weather side of the vessel, if there were any weather side to it, there not being a breath of air, and no motion to the water, and I passed round to the larboard side in order to find the ladder which led up in that direction. The hatch was so small that two men could not pass at a time and I felt my way to it, in no haste. One hand was on the bitts, and a foot was on the ladder, when a flash of lightning almost blinded me. The thunder came at the next instant, and with it a rushing of winds that fairly smothered the clap.
The Ship Takes on Water
The instant I was aware there was a squall, I sprang for the jibsheet. Being captain of the forecastle, I knew where to find it, and threw it loose at a jerk. In doing this, I jumped on a man named Leonard Lewis, and called on him to lend me a hand. I next let fly the larboard, or lee top-sail-sheet, got hold of the clew-line, and. assisted by Lewis, got the clew half up. All this time I kept shouting to the man at the wheel to put his helm "hard down." The water was now up to my breast, and I knew the schooner must go over. Lewis had not said a word, but I called out to him to shift for himself, and belaying the clew-line, in hauling myself forward of the foremast, I received a blow from the jib-sheet that came near to breaking my arm ...
All this occupied less than a minute. The flashes of lightning were incessant, and nearly blinded me. Our decks seemed on fire, and yet I could see nothing. I heard no hail, no order, no call; but the schooner was filled with the shrieks and cries of the men to leeward, who were lying jammed under the guns, shot-boxes, shot and other heavy things that had gone down as the vessel fell over. The starboard second gun, from forward, had capsized, and come down directly over the hatch, and I caught a glimpse of a man struggling to get past it. Apprehension of this gun had induced me to drag myself forward of the mast where I received the blow mentioned.
I succeeded in hauling myself up to windward, and in getting into the schooner's fore-channels. Here I met William Deer, the boatswain, and a black boy of the name of Philips, who was the powder-boy of our gun. "Deer, she's gone!" I said. The boatswain made no answer, but walked out on the forerigging, towards the head-mast. He probably had some vague notion that the schooner's masts would be out of the water if she went down and took this course as the safest. The boy was in the chains the last I saw of him.
I now crawled aft, on the upper side of the bulwarks, amid a most awful and infernal din of thunder, and shrieks, and dazzling flashes of lightning; the wind blowing all the while like a tornado. When I reached the port of my own gun, I put a foot in, thinking to step on the muzzle of the piece; but it had gone to leeward with all the rest, and I fell through the port, until I brought up my arms. I struggled up again, and continued working my way aft. As I got abreast of the main-mast, I saw someone had let run the halyards. I soon reached the beckets of the sweeps, and found four in them. I could not swim a stroke, and it crossed my mind to get one of the sweeps to keep me afloat. In striving to jerk the becket clear, it parted, and the foreward ends of the four sweeps rolled down the schooner's side into the water. This caused the other ends to slide, and all the sweeps got away from me. I then crawled quite aft, as far as the fashion-piece. The water was pouring down the cabin companion-way like a sluice, and as I stood for an instant on the fashion-piece, I saw Mr. Osgood, with his head and part of his shoulders through one of the cabin windows, struggling to get out. He must have been within six feet of me. I saw him but a moment, by means of a flash of lightning, and I think he must have seen me. At the same time, there was a man visible at the end of the main-boom, holding on to the clew of the sail. I do not know who it was. The man probably saw me, and that I was about to spring, for he called out, "Don't jump overboard! - don't jump overboard! The schooner is righting."
Ned Myers Jumps Ship but Fortune Finds him Another
I was not in a state of mind to reflect much on anything. I do not think more than three or four minutes, if as many, had passed since the squall struck us, and there I was standing on the vessel's quarter, led by Providence more than by any discretion of my own. It now came across me that if the schooner should right she was filled, and must go down, and that she might carry me with her in the suction. I made a spring, therefore, and fell into the water several feet from the place where I had stood. It is my opinion the schooner sank as I left her.
I went down some distance myself, and when I came up to the surface, I began to swim vigorously for the first time in my life. I think I swam several yards, but of course will not pretend to be certain of such a thing, at such a moment, until I felt my hand hit something hard. I made another stroke and felt my hand pass down the side of an object that I knew at once to be a clincher-built boat. I belonged to this boat, and now I recollected that she had been towing astern. Until that instant I had not thought of her, but thus was I led in the dark to the best possible means of saving my life. I made a grab at the gunwale, and caught in the stern-sheets. Had I swum another yard, I should have passed the boat, and missed her altogether! I got in without any difficulty, being all alive and much excited.
Myers Rescues the First Survivors
My first look was for the schooner. She had disappeared, and I supposed she was just settling under water. It rained as if the floodgates of heaven were opened, and it lighteninged awfully. It did not seem to me that there was a breath of air, and the water was unruffled, the effects of the rain excepted. All this I saw, as it might be, at a glance. But my chief concern was to preserve my own life. I was coxswain of this very boat, and had made it fast to the taffrail that same afternoon, with a round turn and two half-hitches, by its best painter. Of course I expected the vessel would drag the boat down with her, for I had no knife to cut the painter. There was a gang-board in the boat, however, which lay fore and aft, and I thought this might keep me afloat until some of the fleet should pick me up. To clear this gang-board, then, and get into the water, was my first object. I ran forward to throw off the lazy-painter that was coiled on its end, and in doing this, I caught the boat's painter in my hand by accident. A pull satisfied me that it was all clear! Someone on board must have cast off this painter, and then lost the chance of getting into the boat by accident. At all events I was safe, and I now dared to look about me.
My only chance of seeing was during the flashes, and these left me almost blind. I had thrown the gang-board into the water, and I now called out to encourage the men, telling them I was in the boat. I could hear many around me, and occasionally I saw the heads of men struggling in the lake. There being no proper place to scull in, I got an oar in the after rowlock and made out to scull a little in that fashion. I now saw a man quite near the boat, and, hauling in the oar, made a spring amidships, catching this poor fellow by the collar. He was very near gone, and I had a great deal of difficulty in getting him in over the gunwale. Our joint weight brought the boat down so low that she shipped a good deal of water. This turned out to be Leonard Lewis, the young man who had helped me to clew up the fore-topsail. He could not stand, and spoke with difficulty. I asked him to crawl aft, out of the water, which he did, lying down in the stern-sheets.
I now looked about me and heard another; leaning over the gunwale, I got a glimpse of a man, struggling, quite near the boat, I caught him by the collar too, and had to drag him in very much in the way I had done with Lewis. This proved to be Lemuel Bryant, the man who had been wounded by a hot shot, at York, while the commodore was on board us. His wound had not yet healed, but he was less exhausted than Lewis. He could not help me, however, lying down in the bottom of the boat, the instant he was able.
For a few moments I now heard no more in the water, and I began to scull again. By my calculation I moved a few yards, and must have got over the spot where the schooner went down. Here in the flashes, I saw many heads, the men swimming in confusion and at random. By this time little was said, the whole scene being one of fearful struggle and frightful silence. It still rained, but the flashes were less frequent and less fierce. They told me, afterwards in the squadron, that it thundered awfully, but I cannot say I heard a clap after I struck the water. The next man caught the boat himself. It was a mulatto, from Martinique, who was Mr. Osgood's steward, and I helped him in. He was much exhausted, though an excellent swimmer, but alarm nearly deprived him of his strength. He kept saying, "Oh! Masser Ned - Oh! Masser Ned!" and lay down in the bottom of the boat like the two others, I taking care to shove him over to the larboard side, so as to trim our small craft.
I kept calling out to encourage the swimmers, and presently I heard a voice saying, "Ned, I'm here, close by you." This was Tom Goldsmith, a messmate, and the very man under whose rug I had been sleeping at quarters. He did not want much help, getting in, pretty much, by himself. I asked him if he were able to help me. "Yes, Ned," he answered, "I'd stand by you to the last; what shall I do?" I told him to take his tarpaulin and to bail the boat, which by this time, was a third full of water. This he did, while I sculled a little ahead. "Ned," says Tom, "she's gone down with her colours flying, for her pennant came near getting a round turn around my body, and carrying me down with her. Davy has made a good haul, and he gave us a close shave, but he didn't get you and me." In this manner did this thoughtless sailor express himself, as soon as rescued from the grasp of death! Seeing something on the water, I asked Tom to take my oar, while I sprang to the gunwale and caught Mr. Bogardus, the master's mate, who was clinging to one of the sweeps. I hauled him in, and he told me he thought someone had hold of the other end of the sweep. It was so dark, however, we could not see even that distance. I hauled the sweep along until I found Ebenezer Duffy, a mulatto, and the ship's cook. He could not swim a stroke, and was nearly gone. I got him in alone, Tom bailing, lest the boat, which was quite small, should swamp with us.
As the boat drifted along, she reached another man, whom I caught also by the collar. I was afraid to haul this person in amid ships, the boat being now so deep, and so small, and so I drew him ahead, and hauled him in over the bows. This man was the pilot, whose name I never knew. He was a lake-man and had been aboard with us the whole summer. The poor fellow was almost gone, and like all the rest, with the exception of Tom, he lay down and said not a word.
We had now as many in the boat as it would carry, and Tom and myself thought it would not do to take in any more. It is true we saw no more, everything around us appearing still as death, the pattering of the rain excepted. Tom began to bail again, and I commenced hallooing. I sculled about several minutes thinking of giving others a tow, or of even hauling in one or two more, after we got the water out of the boat; but we found no one else. I think it probable I sculled away from the spot, as there was nothing to guide me. I suppose, however, that by this time all the Scourges had gone down, for no more were ever heard from.
The Boat-load of Survivors is Rescued by the Julia
Tom Goldsmith and myself now put our heads together as to what best to be done. We were both afraid of falling into the enemy's hands, for they might have bore up in the squall and run down near us. On the whole, however, we thought the distance between the two squadrons was too great for this; at all events, something must be done at once. So we began to row, in what direction even we did not know. It still rained as hard as it could pour, though there was not a breath of wind. The lightning came now at considerable intervals, and the gust was evidently passing away towards the broader parts of the lake.
While we were rowing and talking about our chance of falling in with the enemy, Tom cried out to me to "avast pulling." He had seen a vessel by a flash, and he thought she was English, from her size. As he said she was a schooner, however, I thought it must be one of our own craft, and got her direction from him. At the next flash, I saw her, and felt satisfied she belonged to us. Before we began to pull, however, we were hailed. "Boat ahoy!" I answered. "If you pull another stroke, I'll fire into you," came back. "What boat's that? Lay on your oars or I'll fire into you." It was clear we were mistaken ourselves for an enemy, and I called out to know what schooner it was. No answer was given, though the threat to fire was repeated, if we pulled another stroke. I now turned to Tom and said, "I know that voice - that is old Trant." Tom thought we were "in the wrong shop." I now sang out. "This is the Scourge's boat; our schooner is gone down, and we want to come alongside." A voice now called from the schooner - "Is that you, Ned?" This I knew was my old shipmate and schoolfellow, Jack Mallet, who was acting as boatswain on the Julia, the schooner commanded by Sailing-Master James Trant, one of the oddities of the service, and a man with whom the blow often came as soon as the word. I had known Mr. Trant's voice, and felt more afraid he would fire into us than I had done of anything which had occurred that fearful night. Mr. Trant himself now called out, "Oh-ho; give way, boys, and come alongside." This we did, and a very few strokes took us up to the Julia, where we were received with the utmost kindness. The men were passed out of the boat, while I gave Mr. Trant an account of all that had happened. This took but a minute or two.
Mr. Trant now enquired in what direction the Scourge had gone down, and as soon as I told him, in the best manner I could, he called out to Jack Mallet: "Oh-ho, Mallet - take four hands, and go in the boat and see what you can do - take a lantern, and I will show a light on the water's edge, so you may know me." Mallet did as ordered, and was off in less than three minutes after we got alongside ...
Mr. Trant now called the Scourges aft, and asked more of the particulars. He then gave us a glass of grog all round, and made his own crew splice the main-brace. The Julias now offered us dry clothes. I got a change from Jack Reilly, who had been an old messmate, and with whom I had always been on good terms. It knocked off raining, but we shifted ourselves at the galley fire below. I then went on deck and presently we hear the boat pulling back. It soon came alongside, bringing in it four more men that had been found floating about on sweeps and gratings. On inquiry, it turned out that these men belonged to the Hamilton, [commanded by] Lieutenant Winter - a schooner that had gone down in the same squall that carried us over. These men were very much exhausted, too, and we all went below and were told to turn in.
I had been so much excited during the scenes through which I had just passed, and had been so much stimulated by grog that, as yet, I had not felt much of the depression natural to such events. I even slept soundly that night, nor did I turn out until six the next morning.
The Following Day
When I got on deck, there was a fine breeze; it was a lovely day and the lake was perfectly smooth. Our fleet was in a good line, in pretty close order, with the exception of the Governor Tompkins [commanded by] Lieutenant Tom Brown, which was a little to leeward, but carrying a press of sail to close with the commodore. Mr. Trant, perceiving that the Tompkins wished to speak to us in passing, brailed his foresail and let her luff up close under our lee. "Two of the schooners, the Hamilton and the Scourge, have gone down in the night," called out Mr. Brown, "for I have picked up four of the Hamilton's." "Oh-ho!" answered Mr. Trant, "that's no news at all, for I have picked up twelve; eight of the Scourge's and four of the Hamilton's - aft fore-sheet."
These were all that were ever saved from the two schooners, which must have had near a hundred souls on board them. The two commanders, Lieutenant Winter and Mr. Osgood, were both lost, and with Mr. Winter went down, I believe, one or two young gentlemen. The squadron could not have moved much between the time when the accidents happened and that when I came on deck or we must have come round and gone over the same ground again for we now passed many relics of the scene, floating about in the water. I saw sponges, gratings, sweeps, hats, etc., scattered about and in passing ahead we saw one of the last that we tried to catch; Mr. Trant ordering it done, as he said it must have been Lieutenant Winter's. We did not succeed, however, nor was any article taken on board. A good look-out was kept for men from aloft, but none were seen from any of the vessels. The lake had swallowed up the rest of the two crews, and the Scourge, as had been often predicted, had literally become a coffin to a large portion of her people.
The story of shipwreck survivor Ned Myers was published by James Fenimore Cooper in 1843.
The tale of the ships was also told by C.H.J. Snider in a book entitled In the Wake of the Eighteen -Twelvers first published in 1913. This was a popular history book written one hundred years after the ships went down.
Other Accounts of the Sinking
Account of Sinking in the Buffalo Gazette on August 17, 1813.
"It is with deep regret that we record the following facts: about 2 o'clock on Sunday morning last, a most dreadful accident happened in Commodore Chauncey's squadron off Forty Mile Creek on Lake Ontario; the schooners General Hamilton, Lieut. Winter, and Scourge, Sailing Master Osgood, were upset and lost...
The gale lasted but a few minutes and did not affect the ships but injured some of the schooners' sails. Boats were put out from two of the schooners, which succeeded in rescuing about a dozen of the crews. The Hamilton having nine guns, the Scourge, ten. In a moment 100 of our brave fellows were plunged into the wave, and two of our best schooners lost to the service."
Chauncey's Account of the Sinking (he assumes Capt. Yeo knows of the Loss)
(The morning following the disaster:)
"This accident giving to the enemy decidedly the superiority, I thought he would take the advantage of it, particularly as by a change of wind he was again brought dead to the windward of me …."
Largest Loss of Life in War of 1812
The sinking of the Hamilton and Scourge was the greatest single loss of life on the Great Lakes during the War of 1812, according to Emily Cain in Ghost Ships.
Captain Yeo's Account of the Sinking
The British did not at first seem aware of the capsizing of the Hamilton and Scourge; the log book for the Wolfe the morning after the disaster mentions nothing of it. Even the following morning, there is still no mention of the missing ships in Yeo's reports. On the third day after the accident, the British captured two American schooners (the Julia and the Growler), and it is likely from these captured U.S. seamen that the British were first made aware of the disaster aboard the Hamilton and Scourge.
Yeo finally mentions the accident on the day after the capture of the Julia and Growler, writing that "I am also happy to acquaint you that two of his largest schooners, the Hamilton, of nine guns, and the Scourge, of ten guns, upset the night before last in carrying sail to keep from us, and all on board perished, in number about one hundred. This has reduced his squadron to ten..."