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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
How were these
What would the Ships
have originally looked like?
Learn about the original
owner of the Lord Nelson, James Crooks
Take a Virtual Tour of
the Hamilton and Scourge
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