In August 1812, the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty appointed Admiral John Borlase Warren (1753-1822) Admiral of the Blue, to command the West Indies and North American Stations, thereby relieving Vice-Admiral Henry Sawyer (1783-1833) on September 17, 1812. The change of command was the result of the sudden “swarms of privateers’ heading out of the seaboard ports scouring the British Atlantic trades and recent US naval victories.
Olive Branch for Peace – In a letter dated September 30, 1812 to US Secretary of State James Monroe, Warren enclosed an Order-In-Council dated June 23, 1812 declaring the Orders-In-Council of January 7, 1807 and April 26, 1809 had “ceased to exist nearly at the same time the United States declared war against his Majesty.” These orders had been one of the foremost maritime grievances against Britain. However, upon the receipt in London of the US declaration of war a responding order-in-council was issued July 23, 1812 “for the embargo and detention of all American ships.” The olive branch of peace towards the US had been misplaced by only five days. Two more weeks of sail may have avoided war. By then it was too late, America had committed herself to war.
To War – In a letter dated October 5, 1812 to Secretary of the Admiralty John W. Croker, Warren stated that “this station is in a very induced state. The demand of Ships for Convoys and the protection of the Commerce, the State of War which seems to assume a new as well as more active and inveterate aspect than before…” Within three months after the US declaration upon England the US State Department had issued twenty letters of marque and reprisal in Baltimore alone and were the first to have privateers put out to sea. By end of 1812 a total of forty privateers had put to sea.
On December 29th five days after issuing a naval blockade of the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays, Warren again wrote to Croker; “The Swarms of Privateers and Letters of Marque, their numbers now amounting to 600, and the crews of several having landed at points of the coast of Nova Scotia and in the Leeward Islands, and cut out of the Harbours some vessels, render it necessary immediately to send out a strong addition of ships…or the Trade must inevitably suffer, If not be, utterly ruined and destroyed…”
The situation at sea was not good news for the Royal Navy with three naval defeats with the Americans (19 August, HMS Guerriere vs. USS Constitution; 12 October, HMS Macedonian vs. USS United States, 29 December, HMS Java vs. USS Constitution. With these unprecedented naval victories along the with cruises of American privateers, the evitable solution was a large naval force blockading the ports of Boston, New York and the Chesapeake.
In January 1813, Secretary Croker, noting that the blockade forces currently were inadequate to enforce, informing Warren additional ships were to be sent. To enforce these points Warren divided his fleet into three squadrons, each having ships-of-the-line, frigates and brigs. On February 5, 1813, Admiral Warren arrived in the bay onboard his flagship San Domingo (80) with HMS Dragon (74), HM frigate Maidstone (38), HM frigate Junon (36), Statira (38), Belvidera (36) and Laurestinus (24). Three days later Captain George Burdett having taken the licensed Spanish ship San Francisco out of Baltimore bound for Havannah the following was inscribed on her register:
“I do hereby certify that the Bay of the Chesapeake and ports therein are under strict and rigorous Blockade, and you must return to Baltimore, and upon no account whatever attempt quitting or going out of any of the said ports. Given under my hand, on board H.M. Ship Maidstone, the 8th day of February 1813, Geo. Burdett, Senior Officer.”
On March 3rd Rear-Admiral George Cockburn arrived with two battalions (640 men each) of Royal Marines giving Warren a command of 11 ships-of-the-line, 34 frigates, two en-futes (transports), 38 sloops and 12 smaller rates – a total of 97 ships. The war of the Chesapeake had begun and would end on April 19, 1815 when the last British ship, HM frigate Menelaus, left the Chesapeake. On June 4, 1814 Warren was promoted to Admiral of the White.
Resources: Admiral John Warren to John W. Croker, October 5, 1812, Adm. 1.5435 National Archives, London. Printed in The Naval History of the War of 1812: A Documentary History, vol. 1 (Naval Historical Center, 1985), 507-508; Norfolk Gazette (Va.), December 7, 1812; Daily National Intelligencer, February 16, 1813.
Now Arriving in the Chesapeake – Admiral John Borlase Warren, 1812: “the character of the war is about to be changed.”
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