Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Accounts of Two Witnesses to Skirmish That Occurred Off the Shores of New Rochelle and Pelham in the War of 1812

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Last June I published to the Historic Pelham Blog a posting about a minor naval skirmish that occurred in the waters off the shores of New Rochelle and Pelham during the War of 1812 in the late summer of 1813. Today's Historic Pelham Blog posting transcribes pages from a history of Pelham published in 1886 that describes what it says are the accounts of two eyewitnesses to a minor naval skirmish off the shores of New Rochelle and Pelham that, according to the account occurred in August, 1814. The transcription appears immediately below.

"There are two persons still living, one in Pelham who witnessed and the other in New Rochelle 1 who [Footnote 1 states on page 705 "The Sound opposite New Rochelle and Pelham is a ticklish place, even" and on page 706 continues "for navigators well acquainted with the obstructions above and below the surface. It is related that some years ago one of the Le Counts, who lived upon the shore in New Rochelle, near the Pelham line, and had been familiar with the navigation of the Sound in that vicinity from his youth, took a party of friends out for a sail. The day was fine, the wind fair, and the passengers were delighted until the boat, under full sail, ran plump upon a large flat rock about a foot under water, near the mouth of Echo Bay. As the tide was falling, it became evident that their sail for the day was over. 'Captain,' was the indignant remonstrance of the party, 'I thought you knew every rock in this Sound.' 'I do,' relied Captain L. C., 'and this here is one of the worst.' [Paragraph within the footnote.] One of the Schuylers a'so, residing at Pelham, is said to have been thus upset while sailing in his boat near City Island. But, more lucky than the Pell who was drowned in the same manner, he was picked up by a passing vessel while calmly floating, seated upon the bottom of his boat, and smoking his pipe, which he had managed in some way to keep lighted. Incredible as this may seem, it is nevertheless a fact, as I have been assured, and old General Schuyler himself never did a cooler thing.] [Page 705 / Page 708] heard the sound of the cannonade between the British men-of-war and the American gun-boats, which took place off New Rochelle and Pelham in the month of August, 1814. After the British had bombarded Stonington (August 9th), two of their vessels, a frigate and a sloop-of war, made their appearance near Mamaroneck. The government, or perhaps the people of New York, had prepared a fleet of thirteen gun-boats, each armed with a thirty-two pounder gun, for the protection of the harbors along the Sound. One sultry morning in August the ships of war moved down the Sound and attacked these gunboats, which had been ordered to rendezvous near Huckleberry Island and along the shores of Long Island. The action continued at long range for about an hour, and was very exciting to the inhabitants in the vicinity. The militia of two or three of the towns had been ordered out, and every height and headland was thronged with spectators. It soon became evident that the gun-boats were no match for the men-of war. Probably all that saved them from being sunk or captured was the superior familiarity of the Americans with the navigation of the Sound. Among so many rocks and reefs, the heavy war-vessels of the British were afraid to venture, and after a sharp but distant cannonade, in which but little damage was inflicted, the gun-boats withdrew in the direction of NewYork, and the ships of war returned to New London. It was in connection with this bloodless naval engagement that the panic broke out among the militia on Davenport's Neck, an account of which is given in the history of New Rochelle. The Rev. Lewis J. Coutant, 1 [Footnote 1 states "Mr. Coutant has died since the above was written."] then a boy of ten or twelve years, distinctly remembered to have heard the echoes of the cannonade upon that sultry August morning, rolling and reverberating among the hills back of the town of New Rochelle. Mr. Peter Roosevelt, of Pelham, now in his ninety-second year, is understood to have witnessed the engagement from some convenient hill near the shore."

Source: Lindsley, Charles E., Pelham [Chapter XVII] in History of Westchester County, New York, Including Morrisania, Kings Bridge, and West Farms, Which Have Been Annexed to New York City, Vol I, pp. 705-06 (Scharf, Thomas, ed., Philadelphia: L.E. Preston & Co. 1886).

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