The Schooners: Hamilton and Scourge

The Schooners

The Hamilton and Scourge were initially named the Diana and the Lord Nelson respectively, before the War of 1812. The two vessels were merchant schooners; the Lord Nelson was originally a British ship and the Diana was American. The Lord Nelson was built at Niagara, Upper Canada, and was launched on May 1, 1811. The Diana was built in Oswego, New York, and was launched in 1809.

The Hamilton and Scourge were not large specialized war vessels; instead, they were simple merchant ships that were pressed into service for the American Navy just prior to the War of 1812. When pressed into service for the American Navy, the 76-ton Hamilton was armed with eight 18-pound carronades and one 12-pound long gun on a pivot mount, while the 45-ton Scourge was armed with four 6-pound cannons and four 4-pound cannons.

Schooners on Lake Ontario

The most common ship seen on Lake Ontario at the beginning of the 19th century was the schooner. Schooners were fore-and-aft rigged, which meant they could "point up higher" or "work windward" to a greater degree than other vessels. These ships are also much more nimble and can move more easily off a lee shore. The Hamilton and Scourge were both fore-and-aft schooner rigs. The Deputy-Surveyor General Collins believed schooners to be much safer than the common flat-bottomed ships.

The Hamilton under full sail


 

The Scourge under full sail


 

James Crooks: Original Owner of the Lord Nelson

The owner of the Lord Nelson, James Crooks, was upset at the loss of his schooner. He immediately went to Sackets Harbor to reclaim his ship, asserting that she was taken before the official declaration of war, and therefore could not be confiscated. However, in spite of his attempts the Lord Nelson became part of the American fleet.

After the War, Crooks again laid claim for losses to the enemy. On October 24, 1815, he claimed "For a new schooner, burthen about fifty tons, called the Lord Nelson...", and although the U.S. pronounced the seizure illegal on July 11, 1817, Crooks had still not been paid.

Legal pressure continued with Crooks' heirs and it was not until 1927 that the United States government agreed to pay the Canadian government $23,644.38 ($15,546.63 after deduction of legal expenses) to be divided among 25 beneficiaries.

What were the Hamilton & Scourge before the War?

The Hamilton and Scourge were not large specialized war vessels; instead, they were simple merchant ships that were pressed into service for the American Navy just prior to the War of 1812.

These vessels were "people's ships essential to the development of the western world in the long, early days of the industrial revolution, when the production volume of many small factories was small, and distances between these and their widely spaced small markets were great." (See Ghost Ships by Emily Cain).

These are ordinary ships, and perhaps because of this there is little documentation surviving on these and other ships like them - although at the time they were numerous on the lakes and the seas for use by merchants.

History of the Ships before the War

The Hamilton and Scourge were initially named the Diana and the Lord Nelson, respectively, before the War. The two vessels were merchant schooners; the Lord Nelson was originally a Canadian ship and the Diana was American.

Lord Nelson/Scourge
The Lord Nelson was built at Niagara, Upper Canada, for merchant James Crooks, and was launched on May 1, 1811. It was due to the Embargo Act of 1807 that she found herself "enlisted" in the U.S. Navy. The Lord Nelson was shipping goods (including Mrs. McCormick's trunks) from Prescott U.C. to Newark U.C. on June 9, 1812 when she was stopped by United States Navy Lt. Melancthon T. Woolsey aboard the Oneida. Woolsey wrote that "she had no papers on board other than a loose journal and a bill of lading...but no Register, license or clearance." Woolsey suspected she was "hovering along our shore to take on board property for the Canada market in violation of the Embargo Law..." On suspicion of smuggling, Woolsey confiscated the Lord Nelson, and she eventually found her way into Captain Isaac Chauncey's fleet at Sackets Harbor, N.Y.

Diana/Hamilton
The Diana was built at Oswego, N.Y. in 1809 for merchant Matthew McNair. She found her way into the U.S. Navy on October 21, 1812, when she was purchased by Captain Chauncey and added to his squadron at Sackets Harbor. Her name was changed to Hamilton on November 5, 1812, in honour of the Secretary of the American Navy Paul Hamilton.

Hamilton and Scourge become Warships

Once at Sackets Harbor, the Hamilton and Scourge were armed. Ned Myers, a young American sailor, was there and wrote concerning the Lord Nelson that, "This craft was unfit for her duty, but time pressed, and no better offered. The bulwarks had been raised on her, and she mounted eight sixes (guns), in regular broadside."

Problems with converted merchant ships were obvious: the bulwarks often offered only a limited protection for gun crews, and Myers said that the Lord Nelson's "accommodations were bad enough, and she was so tender that we could do little or nothing with her in a blow. It was often prognosticated that she would prove our coffin....We must have had about forty-five souls on board, all told." Ultimately, the 76 ton Hamilton was armed with eight 18-pound carronades and one 24- or 32-pound cannon, while the 45-ton Scourge had four 6-pound cannons and four 4-pound cannons.

 

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