Pride of Baltimore SAILS AGAIN

By Taylor, Blaine | Sea Classics, August 2011 | Go to article overview

Pride of Baltimore SAILS AGAIN


Taylor, Blaine, Sea Classics


The beautiful recreation of a veteran warship of the War of 1812 prepares for a busy sesquicentennial celebration next year

The year 2012 will not only signal the next United States Presidential election, but also the Bicentennial of the War of 1812, known as America's Second War of Independence against her ally since 1917, Great Britain. (As late as 1931, however, the US War Department maintained a "what if?" scenario in case there was yet a third British-American conflict.)

During the War of 1812, President James Madison tried to overcome the small size of the American Navy in regard to that of England's mighty Royal Navy by issuing what were known as Letters of Marque and Reprisal to private shipowners. This legal document allowed the owners of these private vessels to arm them to act as privateers, or, essentially, as legal pirates, representing the young American Republic at sea.

So-called privateers were thus permitted to prey upon the rich merchant fleet of Great Britain, taking cargo and vessels as legal prizes. Many of these ships sailed out of maritime Maryland's Chesapeake Bay in the famed Baltimore Clippers built at the city's Fells Point shipbuilding area. They captured or sank up to 1700 British merchant ships during the War of 1812 that lasted from June 1812 to March 1815.

In addition, other Baltimore Clippers sailed as cargo ships to bring in needed munitions and other wartime armaments through the British Naval blockade that the powerful Royal Navy imposed on the US Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coastlines, including the Chesapeake Bay.

ENTER THE CHASSEUR

The original "Pride of Baltimore" was the Chasseur, captained by one of the most famous of the American privateers, Thomas Boyle. His sleek ship was launched from Fells Point in 1812 out of Thomas Kemp's shipyard. In his first voyage as her captain, Boyle sailed Chasseur east as a raider to England in 1814, where she harassed the British merchant fleet.

Boldly, Capt. Boyle sent a message to Britain's King George Hl via a merchant vessel that he'd just taken, commanding that a notice be posted on the front door of Lloyd's of London, the famous shipping insurance underwriters. In his daring proclamation, Boyle declared the entire British Isles were under Naval blockade by the Chasseur alone!

The panic of the British merchant shipping community led the Admiralty to recall its own warships home from the sea war with America to guard English ships now traveling in convoys. In total, the raider Chasseur captured or sank 17 ships before returning home to American waters. On the occasion of her triumphal return to Baltimore on 25 March 1815, the local newspaper The Niles Weekly Register gave the title "Pride of Baltimore" to the ship, captain, and crew together for their daring and successful sea exploits.

THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK

During the War of 1812, the British retaliated against the pesky American privateers by launching raids against both the Chesapeake Bay and the Virginia Tidewater region in the three succeeding summers of 1812-1814, with the final one being the full-scale Chesapeake Campaign designed to "clean out the nest of pirates" at Baltimore. The overall goal was to shut down the Fells Point shipyards, and thus halt the very production of the deadly Baltimore Clippers at their source.

Seeking to burn Baltimore to the ground by a joint combined landand-seaborne operation, the British landed troops near Baltimore on 12 September 1814, and bombarded nearby Ft. McHenry during the night of 13-14 September 1814, but both attempts failed.

Rebuffed at Baltimore, the same British forces - after resting in winter quarters in Caribbean waters - deployed again, off New Orleans, where they were defeated by the Americans at the climactic Battle of New Orleans on 8 January 1815. An armistice came into effect in March 1815, and this also signaled the end of the era dominated by the notorious Baltimore Clippers. …

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