The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Sophia (Schooner), aground, 1818

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In the spring of 1809 I purchased a large boat to run upon the river, and soon after purchased another boat, and commenced the forwarding business. Our boats run from Salina to Oswego and from Cayuga Lake to Schenectady portage. Our course was down the Seneca River to its junction with Oneida River, up the river to Oneida Lake, through that Lake and then up Wood Creek to near Rome, and thence through a short canal into the Mohawk River, thence down that river to Schenectady. I also run a schooner on Lake Ontario, which I took charge of myself, and this compelled me to employ hands to take charge of my boats.

My large boat got stove on Oswego River, the cargo which consisted of salt, was a total loss to me, and I had to pay for 70 barrels. We contrived to raise the boat, and while repairing it my other boat was wrecked and became a total loss to me of boat and cargo. This was a great damage to my business.

[After some other sea adventures he took to regain his health, Adams eventually returned home to Liverpool, N.Y., only to soon find himself involved in the War of 1812.]

I had not been home one hour before I was pressed as pilot to run boats down the Oswego River. There were rising of three hundred boats, which were fitting in the Cayuga, Seneca, Onondaga and Oneida Lakes, for Wilkinson's expedition down the St. Lawrence, which was then contemplated by the authorities. After getting these boats safe into Lake Ontario, I was appointed to the command of a slip-keel schooner, to run on Lake Ontario and the river St. Lawrence. After the fleet of boats had arrived at Sackets Harbor, the army embarked in them for Grenadier Island, Basin Harbor, where they awaited the arrive of the 2d division from Niagara.

While they were waiting this arrival, I cruised up and down the lake, taking several small prizes. At length the 2d division arrived, and the whole fleet descended the St. Lawrence. the 1st division on arriving at French Creek, were engaged by three British cruisers from Kingston; but they were soon compelled to retreat. On the arrival of the 2d division, we all proceeded down the river, and thinking it best to avoid an action with the fort at Prescott, U.C., we did so by passing in darkness. They fired upon us all night but did little damage, only one boat receiving a shot by which we lost two men.

The whole army landed about three miles below Ogdensburg, on the American shore, where we remained three days, when the 1st division moved down the river and landed at Williamsburgh, on the Canada side. Early the next day we were engaged by the British army, who were compelled to retreat - we pursued them a short distance and then returned to our former ground. The enemy were now reinforced and renewed the

attack, but were again compelled to retreat, and we followed them six miles into the interior; but it beginning to grow dark, we gave up the pursuit and returned to the encampment. Here we remained four days and buried the dead - the loss was considerable on both sides.

We then proceeded down the river, a part of the army marching on the Canadian shore. They were engaged nearly every day by the enemy - and the boats were also fired upon from straggling parties of the enemy. One day while standing at the helm, the boats being close in to the Canadian shore, and there being a small copse of wood near the shore where the enemy had secreted three pieces of light artillery, they fired at us with canister shot. One of the shot passed through the lapels of my coat as it was buttoned around me, two more balls went through the back part of my coat just close to my body, and two more struck the tiller which I had hold of.

My gunners immediately gave them a 32 pound shot, which dismounted their gun from the carriage, and killed three of their men. In the meantime, the two other gunboats engaged the two other cannon, and we soon landed and took the three guns, with fourteen prisoners, who were wounded. One of the enemy while carrying off on his back a wounded companion, received a 32 pound shot, which passed through both of them.

Major Forsyth, who headed a corps of Virginia riflemen on shore, captured Fort Cornwall the next day. We passed down to St. Regis, it now being the latter part of November, and being at the head of Lake St. Francis, the conquest of Montreal was abandoned, and it was too late in the season. The army now passed up Salmon river to a place called French Mills, in the State of New York, where we laid up our boats for winter quarters. I then obtained my discharge and my wages for this year's services, and left the army Dec. 20, 1812, in company with three young men belonging to my boat, and residents of Liverpool. We took our route through the Shattigee (sic - Chateaugay) wilderness, and traveled thirty miles without seeing a house. The snow was nearly two feet deep the whole distance, and it took us four days to get to the long Falls of Black River - here we rested for one day. We again pursued our journey, and arrived home in good health and spirits, being much congratulated for the service we had done our country.

At this time a man by the name of J.W. Smith, of Liverpool, who was engaged in building four boats and two schooners on his account, employed me in making the sale for the whole of them, which occupied me through the winter. In the spring of 1813 (Ed: 1814), another fleet of boats were taken down the river to Oswego, and I was again employed to pilot them, which I did to the satisfaction of all concerned. These boats were employed to transport guns and rigging to fit out three new vessels for service, then building at Sackets Harbor, and as the enemy then had command of the Lake, it was unsafe for us to be seen in the day time.

We therefore sailed out of Oswego in the evening, expecting to reach Sandy Creek before daybreak, the distance being thirty miles, but the wind not being so strong as we expected, it was 9 o'clock before we reached Sandy Creek. We here learned that the enemy were in possession of the coast between this and Sackets Harbor. We then concluded to ascend the creek as far as possible, which we accordingly did, shoving our boats around the bend of the creek, where there was a small copse of woods which sheltered them in part from the sight of the enemy, a few of our masts only could be seen.

This day being Sunday, we were not molested. We formed a determination to defend our boats as long as possible; and early on Monday morning the enemy made their appearance, coming up the creek firing at us with 68 pound shot, and some smaller calibre from their gun boats. We had a small party of riflemen, thirty in number, commanded by Captain Appling, to whom we gave the command of the defense. We armed ourselves as well as we could, but could only arm 100 men, including riflemen.

About a mile from the mouth of the creek, on each side, were high banks. Here the enemy landed a part of their forces, but finding they could not proceed by land, they again embarked on board of the boats and proceeded up the creek until they reached the meadows, when a party landed on each side of the creek, and kept along with the boats. They commenced firing from the boats immediately on entering the creek, from their largest peace, which carried a ball weighing 68 pounds. There were seven boats, carrying 14 guns in all, and the number of the enemy was four hundred, well armed.

Captain Appling drew up his party in the copse of woods. Behind the woods, in the bend of the creek, lay our boats, the masts of which the enemy had discovered. The enemy were now advancing, keeping up a continual fire, which did no other damage than cut the limbs from the trees. Each of us were ordered to keep behind stumps or trees until Captain Appling fired, which was to be the signal for all to fire - then we were to load and fire as fast as we could, and not waste ammunition.

While the enemy were marching up the meadows, I told Captain Appling I would climb a tree and ascertain their number. He told me it would be hazardous, but I might act my pleasure. I then ascended a tree about fifteen feet to a crotch, where I stood counting the enemy, when one of those large balls passed through the top of the tree just above my head, cutting off a large limb. I now left my standing place and came down quick, to avoid the limb which fell into the place where I had stood, and stationed myself behind the tree I had left. The enemy were now within six rods of us. They had loaded their big gun with a bag of musket balls, and as the gunner was taking aim at us, Captain Appling fired, and the rest of us at the same instant - there were seven balls through the gunner's body. Every man loaded and fired as fast as he could.

The battle was general on both sides - it lasted no more than twenty minutes before the enemy surrendered prisoners of war, they have 46 killed and 87 wounded. We had none killed, and but one wounded, who dies of his wound the third day after the battle. The captains of the two heaviest ships on the Lake were on board the boats, and were made prisoners of war. The enemy's fleet then lying at Stony Island, between us and Sackets Harbor, hearing of this recontre, immediately left our coast and went to Kingston, and we got out boats to Sackets Harbor in safety. The new vessels were now quickly rigged for service, and immediately put into the Lake, where they sailed in triumph, not meeting any obstacles through the season, except small craft which were cruising among the Thousand Islands and other lurking places.

One day when cruising in my slip-keel schooner among the Islands, I espied the fleet of transport boats of the enemy bound from Montreal to Little York, I.C. I watched them closely, unperceived, until I saw them go into Kingston Harbor, where they remained but a short time and again put out and passed up the Lake a few miles and put into a small cove in the upper gap of the Bay of Quoentia (sic), where I was sure they would remain

over night, there being no harbor for twenty miles west of them. I then laid my course for Sackets Harbor, and reached that place as soon as possible. I immediately informed Capt. Woolsey and Capt. Vaughan what I had discovered, and that with some assistance I could easily take them. Accordingly Capt. Vaughan, with a number of men from his ship, embarked on board of my schooner, and we set sail for the Bay of Quoentia, where we arrived about two o'clock in the morning. We landed on the outside of the cove where the boats lay, and proceeded very still to the boats, and it being quite dark they did not discover us. The boat which had the commanding officer on board was white, the other boats not being painted, we easily found that one.

We then advanced to the commander's boat, and seeing a sentinel close by it I walked behind him very still, and seized his fire-lock, telling him if he made any noise, I would blow him through. We then seized the other sentinel, who was on the boat, in the same manner, and asked him where the commanding officer was.

He replied that he was under the deck. We then ordered him to come out and surrender the boats, or death was his portion. He asked by what authority we demanded the surrender. I told him by the authority of the United States of America, and said I, surrender at once, or death and hell is your portion. He looked around him, very wildly, and seeing a number of men on shore, he thought it best to comply without further delay. We now placed a man on each boat, being thirty-six in number, and ordered the crews of them to row for Sackets Harbor. Their men consisted mostly of Canadians, and being unarmed made no opposition to rowing their boats, and we all arrived at Sackets Harbor in safety about 4 o'clock P.M.

The prisoners numbered rising of two hundred - the boats were loaded with stores for their troops at Little York. After a few days the prisoners were paroled and allowed to return home. I was lauded highly for this adventure. I also took by stratagem the British brig TOTONTO of 14 guns, and took her into Sackets Harbor, and I continued cruising in the Lake until winter set in. The British government offered a reward of £100 for me dead or alive.

I then returned home to Liverpool, where I spent the winter very agreeably, having a few sails to make and doing little or no work. The next spring peace was declared - and I was called on to rig some vessels in Oswego, which had been built the previous winter, one of which I was requested to take charge of, bound for Little York, loaded with provisions, having heard that place was in a state of starvation, which was the case. I was solicited by friends not to go so soon to Canada - they told me I should be taken notwithstanding peace was declared; but I told them I would risk it, and if they troubled me they would hear from it again.

Accordingly I proceeded with a cargo of Pork Flour, and Salt, and entered the Bay of Toronto and anchored in front of their batteries, being the first American flag in their harbor after the declaration of peace. We were welcomed by the authorities of the town and commanding officers of the city. The owner of the cargo being with me, he disposed of it himself, and received $40 per barrel for his pork, $20 for his flour, and $12 for his salt. After settling our business there, we returned again to Oswego. I then was called on to assist in getting some vessels down the Oswego river to the Lake. One of these vessels I sailed on the Lake, between Oswego, Sackets Harbor, and other ports. This business I continued until winter, and then returned to Liverpool and

commenced the manufacture of salt, and continued it through the winter. In the spring I rigged out a boat for Montreal, L.C., in which I went as captain. I ran this boat through the season between Montreal and Ogdensburg, and returned home in the fall and continued the salt business until the spring of 1817.

Being now out of health, I concluded to make another voyage to sea; I repaired to New York and took charge of the Brig ANN bound to Liverpool, England. We set sail immediately and arrived in Liverpool in due time all well; from thence I went to Dublin and took in a cargo; thence I went to Cork and took a few passengers; thence to Londonderry, here I took in more passengers and then sailed for Quebec L.C., we had a tedious, cold voyage, and arrived at Quebec, October 1, 1817. We then left this place for the Atlantic, and returned to New York, December 10, having been absent since the 25th of April.

I then returned to Liverpool, N.Y., and found my family well, and was then determined to stay at home, but in the spring was urged to take charge of one of Smith & Co.'s boats and run between Montreal and Quebec, which occupied my time through that season. Smith & Co. were doing a very extensive business, having nine partners in the firm. Being in Montreal with four belonging to the company, and the company having purchased $30,000 worth of goods which we then shipped on board the boats. We then began to ascend the St. Lawrence - the weather being very cold we made slow progress, but continued on until we reached Brockville twelve miles above Prescott; the weather now being cold, our boats froze in, and we had to leave them with the goods except what we could get on board of the schooner from Ogdensburg.

We then discharged our hands and sent them home by land. My brother and myself went on board the schooner HENRIETTA, Capt. Otis, who said if we could go with him he would cross the lake. Accordingly we set sail for Oswego, and on arriving at Grenadier island we found the schooner SOPHIA, Capt. Coleman, who had but one hand on board, and that a boy, and being very anxious to get into port, offered to take a part of our cargo if I could go on board with him, as we were heavily loaded and I concluded to do so. We accordingly put off and sailed for Oswego, but the HENRIETTA being the fastest sailer we soon lost sight of her - and the lake being very rough and the snow falling fast, it was impossible to see the man before the mast, but I kept my point of compass, knowing which was to steer and how far we had got to run, and no one being competent to steer but myself, I was obliged to lash myself at the helm to keep from being washed off.

At 20 o'clock, P.M., knowing that I had run far enough to enter the port, I requested Captain Coleman to throw the lead which he did and found fourteen fathom of water. I then told him to heave about and stand off as we could not see the harbor, and he stepped forward to handle the jib sheets but could not move them, being frozen stiff, and every sail was covered with ice to the masthead, and we then tried to ease off the main sheet but we could not, and we again hove the lead and found seven fathoms of water. I then told him we must depend upon our anchor, and it was immediately got out, and paying out the cable a proper distance the anchor struck, and our vessel was washed over with water, - she rode to this a short time when our anchor jumped and struck again, and our vessel struck her keel on the bottom.

She raised and pitched a short time, when the anchor broke and the vessel drifted and her stern struck the shore and when she swung around with her side to the shore, and the sea drove her over some rocks high on the beach, and we expected every moment she would go to pieces, but being a new vessel she stood it well, and it being dark we could not tell where we were until daylight, when we found ourselves at Rice's Landing, three miles from Oswego.

Fortunately for us we struck as we did, for three rods either way from this place was perpendicular rocks, and we found ourselves close into the bank partly on our beams end, the wind having shifted, turning the surf the other way, we were almost high and dry on the beach, and I could step from her quarter rail on to the main land, and the snow had fallen three feet deep during the storm. I now went in quest of Mr. Rice, and met him coming to see us, and he invited us to his house to take some refreshments, knowing we hard a hard siege; he then let me have his horse to ride to Oswego, and when I arrived at Oswego I found the people all anxious and manning out boats to hunt for us, supposing we were wrecked somewhere near the port, but on seeing me they were struck with surprise and gladness. I then informed them of the situation of the vessel and crew; the owner, Mr. Bristol, being present himself, was very glad it was no worse. We then returned to the vessel and took out her cargo, blocked her up and let her lie there until spring; I then repaired her and fitted her up for business.

Media Type:
Item Type:
Reason: aground
Lives: nil
Remarks: Got off

These writings pertaining to early sailing days as well as some incidents regarding the War of 1812 on Lake Ontario are excerpted from: A Narrative of the Life, Travels, & Adventures of Capt. Israel Adams: Who Lived at Liverpool, Onondaga Co., N.Y. Utica, N.Y., D. Bennett, 1848 (Pages 20-28)
[This is a very episodic little monograph of 36 pages. The story pertinent to Adams' experiences as a sailor starts late in 1808 while residing in Liverpool, N.Y. where he commenced the manufacture of salt near Onondaga Lake, having purchased a block of kettles and having opened a tavern and grocery store.]
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  • New York, United States
    Latitude: 43.45535 Longitude: -76.5105
William R. McNeil
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Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Sophia (Schooner), aground, 1818