The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Chronicle & Gazette (Kingston, ON), June 9, 1838

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p.2 The following account of the burning of the Sir Robert Peel will be read with deep and absorbing interest. It is from the pen of a young lady who was prevailed upon to draw it up, in consequence of the repeated request of her friends. We have seen several accounts of the destruction of the Peel, and of the various circumstances connected with it, but this is by far the most satisfactory that has come under our notice. The simplicity and naivete with which the narrative is told, entitle it to the highest credit. The fortitude which the young lady appears to have exhibited during the trials of that dreadful night bears ample evidence to the truth, that woman in the hour of peril rises superior to fear, and that the greater the danger to which she is exposed the greater does her calmness and self possession become.

For the Chronicle & Gazette.

On the night of Tuesday, May 30th, between twelve and one o'clock, one of the inmates of the Ladies' Cabin on board the Sir R. Peel, upon suddenly awaking was alarmed by the death like stilness which seemed to pervade the boat; and demanding of the maid where we were, was told "at Well's Island taking in wood." This, owing to the total absence of all necessary noise appeared impossible, therefore after a few minutes had elapsed, unable any longer to control her uneasiness she arose, and lifting one of the curtains at the side window of the door, beheld a number of disguised and armed men rushing on the boat, and immediately followed the screams of some French Canadians who were sleeping on the lower deck. At once perceiving the actual state of the case, but fearing should she tell the truth, she might over-alarm, and for the moment deprive us of our senses, she merely said to us, she believed the boat was on fire; upon which we all jumped up and endeavoured to dress ourselves. Thanks to her coolness, we were sufficiently collected to make the attempt, except one young lady, who from terror for her father and brother who were also on board, seemed through the whole affair paralysed and deprived of all fear or power of exertion for herself; but none of us had time to do much, for hardly had we begun to dress, when there was a loud knocking at our door, accompanied by violent threats, in consequence of some unavoidable delay in obtaining the key and unlocking it. When it was opened one person who appeared throughout as possessing authority entered. His progress was arrested by the same lady, who courageously seizing his arm, and telling him her name (which was one well known) asked what they wanted. The only answer was "come with me and I shall save you, the nations are at war;" she then said, "but surely you will allow us to dress ourselves, and save our luggage." to which he replied, "yes," and left us; but before we had time to put on our clothes, the windows were shattered by pikes, and amid the most terrible menaces and imprecations, and cries of "remember the Caroline," the lady already mentioned and myself were seized by our hands by the same pirate and hurried away. When we had gone half across the deck, we stopped and conjured him by the feelings of a man, to tell us what was to be our fate; his only reply was "I will defend you so long as you are with me," and in this state of horrible uncertainty we were pushed roughly on the wharf. He then I believe returned for the others, who soon followed us. During this whole transaction we saw no human being save these robbers; and our fears suggested that the gentlemen had either been tied or murdered. We afterwards ascertained that they had been detained in their cabin by force. In truth we were for some time in an awful state of suspense and agony; but God gives strength in need; and although some were alarmed not only for themselves, but for parents, brothers or sons, yet all subdued their feelings, and none added to our misery even by a scream. We, five in number, were soon joined by one of the deck passengers, who through mud and wet, and over sharp stones, some of us without shoes, and one lady with a baby in her arms, led us to the summit of the Island, where we sat in perfect darkness, endeavouring to prepare ourselves for the worst, not daring to open our lips, being quite uncertain whether we were not surrounded by our enemies. We were after some time much relieved by the gentlemen joining us. They advised us to go to a log hut near us, the lights of which we had before seen, but had feared to enter it, knowing we were on an American Island. We now followed their advice, and had not been there very long before there was a cry of "they are setting the boat on fire," and we all went out to look. Instantly a brilliant flame ascended, the red light of which disclosed to us everything around us; the Sir Robert had been taken to a rather distant point and our beautiful boat was burning, but we had no power to save her. We saw the cowardly band when they had finished their fiend-like deed, row quietly away through the calm water as if they had done nought to trouble us or them. Suddenly our thoughts were turned from ourselves and the pirates, for there arose from the midst of the flames most piercing shrieks of "My God! My God! can nobody save me?" Fortunately there was a skiff moored at the wharf, which was quickly put off, but before it had reached the burning boat, the sufferer, who proved to be the mate, had thrown himself into the river; he was picked up and brought to the hut most dreadfully burned. The woman of the house who was Scotch, was very kind and attentive, but had little or nothing which could give relief; when again we thought of the Pirates they had disappeared. All tried to do something for the unfortunate mate, but his groans during the whole night added much to our unhappiness. We had all this time remained with our feet wet or bare, none of us were quite dressed, but all had succeeded in putting on their cloaks, and most of us were perfectly aware that the little we had on was the extent of our wardrobes; for we literally had saved nothing except our dressing cases which they had allowed us to carry in our hands. But this loss seemed very trifling, we had so much to be thankful for. Right glad we were to see the Oneida, which arrived at about six o'clock. I am sure we shall ever remember with gratitude the kindness of Captain Smith and the promptitude with which he altered his course to bring us to Kingston. The woman on the Island also deserves our praise for her kindness in assisting us. Besides the crew and passengers of both Cabins, there were all those of the steerage, men, women, and wretched children crowded into her hut. I positively think, had we shewn the slightest resistance, the ruffians would either have burned the boat with us in it, or have murdered us. Silence and obedience to their orders to "turn out instantly," were in this case the best proofs of valor.

I believe this so far as I can remember, to be true statement of our own proceedings. Of those of the gentlemen I know little, save what I have read in the newspapers.


in the Ladies' Cabin, on board the Sir R. Peel.

Kingston, June 8th, 1838.

Burning of the Sir Robert Peel - account by Adiel Sherwood, Sheriff of the Johnston District, refers to capture of several pirates.

Lord Durham's Proclamation - £1,000 Reward for capture of pirates involved in burning of Peel.

p.3 Proclamation - by Governor of New York State, reward for William Johnson and others responsible for burning of Sir Robert Peel.

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June 9, 1838
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Rick Neilson
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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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Chronicle & Gazette (Kingston, ON), June 9, 1838