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.

Friday, July 14, 2017

An Important Additional Account of the Naval Skirmish Off Pelham Shores During the War of 1812

Early on Thursday, September 9, 1813, a flotilla of small American gunboats assembled by Commodore Lewis sailed through Hell Gate toward City Island and Hart Island.  They planned to form a line across the Sound off the shores of Pelham to meet armed British Frigates and Sloops threatening shipping in the Sound and threatening to descend upon, and to cannonade, New York City.  The Naval Battle of Pelham was about to begin.

I have written before about Pelham and the War of 1812.  For examples, see

Bell, Blake A., The War of 1812 Reaches Westchester County, The Westchester Historian, Vol. 86, No. 2, pp. 36-47 (Spring 2012). 

Wed., May 24, 2017:  Another Account of Naval Skirmish Off Pelham During the War of 1812.

Mon., Oct. 10, 2016:  More About British and American Naval Activities Off the Coast of Pelham During the War of 1812.

Mon., Mar. 30, 2009:  Orders Issued from Pelham During the War of 1812

Thu., Nov. 09, 2006:  Accounts of Two Witnesses to Skirmish That Occurred Off the Shores of New Rochelle and Pelham in the War of 1812

Fri., Jun. 16, 2006:  Period News Reports Shed Some Light on Pelham During the War of 1812.

Today's Historic Pelham article provides yet another account of British and American naval activities off the coast of Pelham during the War of 1812.  More significantly, this additional account indicates that there was a second skirmish among the American and British vessels the following morning.  

The account was published in the September 16, 1813 issue of the National Intelligencer of Washington, D.C.  The account, based on a report of the naval skirmish from the crew of the pilot boat Unicorn that had arrived from Sandy Hook, is significant and interesting for a number of reasons.

First and most significantly, the report indicates that after the initial naval skirmish off the shores of Pelham on Thursday, September 9, the American flotilla retired to the waters off City Island and Hart Island to wait overnight, then tried a second attack against the British vessels the following morning.

Second, although most reports focus on troublesome tides that prevented the American flotilla from optimizing its cannonade of the British ships during the Thursday skirmish, the National Intelligencer report indicates that "the violence of the wind" also was unfavorable to the American vessels.

Finally, the report indicates that in the very brief second skirmish that occurred early on Friday, September 10, 1813, at least one American cannon ball hit its mark, striking a British vessel "under the chains."

It is clear from the account that the second skirmish off Pelham shores on Friday, September 10 was even more minor and brief than the one the day before.  The account suggests that unlike the first day, winds on the second day were far more favorable for the American flotilla.  

At dawn on that Friday morning, the British vessels still lay at anchor in the Sound.  At first daylight the American flotilla began its approach toward the enemy.  According to the account, the crews of the British vessels immediately realized that the winds had turned favorable to the American flotilla.  Thus, the British Frigate and sloops withdrew and sailed away for Gardiner's Island.  Before the British vessels escaped, however, "one shot took effect from No. 8. -- hit the enemy under the chains."  With that, the Second Naval "Battle" of Pelham ended. . . . . . . . 

British Warship During War of 1812 Like Those that Prowled the
Waters Off Pelham and New Rochelle. NOTE: Click on Image to Enlarge.

*          *          *          *          *

New-York, Sept. 13.

Monday morning, 10 o'clock, A. M.  We learn by the pilot boat Unicorn, just arrived from Sandy-Hook, that yesterday afternoon, the British frigate which has been cruising in our Offing for some days, chased a smack close in with the Light; and, being within the reach of the guns of the fort at that place, several were discharged at her, and it is believed that two shots took effect, as she soon sheered off after discharging  several guns towards the block house on Sandy Hook.  An alarm was excited at Fort Richmond, several guns were fired, and all was a scene of bustle and active exertions in preparing to meet the enemy.  The alarm reached the city, and the necessary preparations were also made here.  At this moment, all is tranquil, and the frigate which occasioned so much bustle, is still cruising off the Hook at a safe distance from our fort at that place.  Gaz.


The flotilla left Sandy-Hook on Thursday 6 o'clock, P. M. [sic; most accounts agree that the flotilla approached the British ships as early as 8:00 a.m. on Thursday] passed through Hurl-gate [i.e., Hell Gate] that night, and arrived in sight of the enemy, two ships, one a frigate, the other a twenty gun ship, accompanied by several armed sloops.  On the following morning, at 6 o'clock, took a position off Hempstead bay; when the enemy approached within gun shot, and began with broadside firing, without effect, although their shot passed far over the Gun Boats.  The fire was returned by two boats, those having guns mounted over the stern, which, when in the act of going round could fire when their sterns were towards the enemy.  The other boats could not bring their guns to bear, owing to the violence of the wind.  After the exchange of several broadsides, the enemy retired, the flotilla took position at Hart Island, with intent to attack again the following morning -- at day light ran down on the enemy, which were then at anchor -- but, seeing that the weather was favorable for gun-boat operations, they made sail for their old station, Gardners [sic] Island -- one shot took effect from No. 8. -- hit the enemy under the chains.     Adv."

Source:  New-York, Sept. 13, National Intelligencer [Washington, D.C.], Sep. 16, 1813, Vol. XIII, No. 2026, p. 2, col. 4.  

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