The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Some Canadian History: A Battle on Lake Ontario in 1814
New York Times, July 7, 1889

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Ottawa, July 5. - Canadian historians are loth to admit the contention of American writers that the United States, in the war of 1812, maintained the sovereignty of the great inland lakes. The naval engagements on Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, as state documents show, proved the best contested of all of the engagements arising from Great Britain's alleged attempt to interfere with American commerce on the high seas during her long and bloody war with Napoleon. If victory perched upon the American ensign in Lake Champlain and at the storming of Little York, (Toronto) there is abundant evidence in the archives at the Canadian capital to show that the British flotilla, commanded by seamen from the Royal Navy, won laurels on more than one occasion. For many years past the Dominion Government, imbued with a patriotic sentiment, has devoted a large staff to the task of copying, both here and in England, valuable manuscripts relating to the achievements of Canadians in the war of 1812.

Canadian documents at all hazards tend to confirm the manner in which the Americans in one instance redeemed their reputation the day following the successful attack of Gen. Sir George Prevost, on Sackett's Harbor, N.Y. The following correspondence, taken from the original manuscript, explains the affair of Sandy Creek:

Sackett's Harbor, June 1, 1814

Sir: Having obtained certain information that the enemy's boats, with their guns and stores, had taken shelter in Sandy Creek, I proceeded to that place (having ordered Capt. Spilsbury to accompany me) and reached the entrance of it shortly after day-light yesterday morning. I landed, accompanied by Capt. Spilsbury and some of the officers, and, having reconnoitered their position, determined on an immediate attack.

The masts of their boats (consisting of eighteen) wee plainly seen over the marsh, and from their situation did not appear to be very near the woods, and their not attempting to interrupt our entry into the creek led me to hope that they were only protected by militia. This circumstance, added to the very great importance of the lading of their boats, to the equipment of their squadron, was a strong motive for me to risk the attack, not aware that they had brought their riflemen in their boats and that a body of Indians had accompanied them along the beach.

The boats advanced cautiously to within a quarter of a mile of the enemy's, when Lieut. Cox of the Royal Marines was landed with the principal part of his men on the left bank, and Capt. Spilsbury and Lieut. Brown, with the small army party, accompanied by Lieut. McVeagh, with a few marines, were landed on the right bank. Their respective parties advances on the planks of the gunboats (which had from their fire dispersed a body of Indians) to a turning which opened the enemy's boats to our view, when unfortunately the sixty-eight-pounder carronade, on which much depended, was disable. Seeing us pulling the boat round to bring the twenty-four-pounder to bear, the enemy thought we were commencing a retreat, when they advanced with their whole force, consisting of one hundred and fifty riflemen, near two hundred Indians, and a numerous body of militia and cavalry, which soon overpowered the few men I had. Their resistance was such as I could have expected from a brave and well-disciplined body, but opposed to such numbers unavailing. Their officers set them an example honorable to themselves and worthy of a better fate. Capt. Spilsbury for a time checked the advance of the enemy by the fire he kept up with the Coharn (a field gun) and his party, and I feel much indebted to him for his conduct throughout. Lieuts. Cox and McVeagh, who nobly supported the honor of their corps, are, I am sorry to say, dangerously wounded. Our loss in killed and wounded (mostly dangerous) is great.

The winding of the creek, which gave the enemy great advantage in advancing to intercept our retreat, rendered any further perseverance unavailing, and would have subjected the men to certain death. The exertions of the American officers of the rifle corps, commanded by Major Appling, in saving the lives of many of the officers and men whom their own men and the Indians were devoting to death, were conspicuous and claim our warmest gratitude. I have the honor to be, Sir,


Commander Sir James Yeo.

Kingston, July 2, 1814.

Sir: It is with extreme regret that I have to report to your Excellency the unfortunate result of our enterprise by the boats of our squadron under the Royal Navy, with nearly two hundred men, against a flotilla of the enemy's craft, laden with naval stores from Oswego to Sackett's Harbor, at Sandy Creek, from whence the stores were to have been conveyed by land to that place.

On Sunday morning, the 29th ult., a large boat, with two twenty-four pounders, and a nine-and-a-half-inch cable for the enemy's new ship, were captured by our squadron, having sailed from Oswego the evening before with fifteen others, having on board eight or ten riflemen each. Capt. Popham was immediately sent in pursuit of the others with two gunboats and some smaller craft to cut them off from the creeks, and at night Capt. Spilsbury, with a reserve of boats, was sent in that direction also.

The enemy's flotilla having been discovered in Sandy Creek, parties were landed on each side of the river. But as the enemy was in considerable force, in riflemen and Indians as well as well as militia, I am distressed to say that not a man escaped from our brave little force, one master's mate and eighteen men having been killed and two officers of marines (dangerously) and fifty men wounded.

To replace the casualties arising from which I trust your Excellency will see the necessity of hastening up the reinforcements of seamen and artificers lately arrived at Quebec in His Majesty's ship Dover, until which time Commodore Sir Yeo intends taking out the crews of the Magnet and Hetley, except about eight hands, for the purpose of carrying supplies to the head of the lake.

Sir James Yeo intended to have changed the point of blockade to Oswego, but I have written to recommend his continuance of Sackett's Harbor, (detaching one or two of his smaller vessels to the former place) as the confidence with which the enemy must be already possessed from their success at Sandy Creek would be considerably increased in the idea that, by the loss we sustained on the occasion, we had been driven to the necessity of raising the blockade of that all-important station, Sackett's Harbor; and besides our communication with the head of the lake, from hence, must be considered very insecure.

My latest communications from Major. Gen. Riall are of the 27th ult. All is quiet on the Niagara frontier. The enemy at Buffalo still computed to be about 1,200. A Canadian, who returned to his farm a short time since, at Four Mile Creek, reports them, however, to be at 1,500.

I have the honor to be, Sir, your Excellency's most obedient humble servant,


Lieutenant General.

Sir George Prevost, Commander of the forces.

Canada, though apparently a pygmy beside her mighty neighbor, has profited by the experiences of that three years' campaign. The exigencies of the hour led to the establishment of a militia force out of which has arisen the present militia system. Canada to-day has nearly two thousand "regulars" and thirty-seven thousand well-trained men. On the basis of the last census, she could put in the field over one million men.

The possibility of war with the United States in the future is regarded as very remote, as each succeeding year brings with it a better feeling and better understanding between the peoples, if not between the Governments, of both countries.

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July 7, 1889
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  • New York, United States
    Latitude: 43.638642691966 Longitude: -76.1908835917711
Richard Palmer
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Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Some Canadian History: A Battle on Lake Ontario in 1814