Coffins of the Brave: Lake Shipwrecks of the War of 1812

Coffins of the Brave: Lake Shipwrecks of the War of 1812

Coffins of the Brave: Lake Shipwrecks of the War of 1812

Coffins of the Brave: Lake Shipwrecks of the War of 1812


In Coffins of the Brave: Lake Shipwrecks of the War of 1812, archaeologist Kevin J. Crisman and his fellow contributors examine sixteen different examples of 1812-era naval and commercial shipbuilding. They range from four small prewar vessels to four 16- or 20-gun brigs, three warships of much greater size, a steamboat hull converted into an armed schooner, two gunboats, and two postwar schooners. Despite their differing degrees of preservation and archaeological study, each vessel reveals something about how its creators sought the best balance of strength, durability, capacity, stability, speed, weatherliness, and seaworthiness for the anticipated naval struggle on the lakes along the US-Canadian border.

The underwater archaeology reported here has guided a new approach to understanding the events of 1812- 15, one that blends the evidence in contemporary documents and images with a wealth of details derived from objects lost, discarded, and otherwise left behind.

This heavily illustrated volume balances scholarly findings with lively writing, interjecting the adventure of working on shipwrecks and archaeological finds into the investigation and interpretation of a war that continues to attract interest two centuries after it was fought.


Walter Rybka

The Lake Erie Campaign of 1813

The surrender of Fort Mackinac, the capitulation of Detroit, and other defeats suffered by the us Army on the northwestern frontier in 1812 drove home the lesson that military success in this region depended upon naval control of Lakes Erie and Huron. Belatedly, the us Navy began building a squadron of warships at Erie, Pennsylvania. Four small gunboats were begun in November under the direction of a local shipmaster, Daniel Dobbins. On the last day of 1812, the commander of all us naval forces on the Great Lakes, Comm. Isaac Chauncey, inspected Dobbins’ work and notified the Navy Department of his intent to augment the gunboats with a brig of “about 300 tons.” Secretary of the Navy William Jones approved this vessel, and to assure ascendancy on the Upper Lakes, he also authorized the building of a second brig of the same size. the work did not begin until early March, when Noah Brown, an experienced New York shipbuilder, arrived at Erie to take charge of the building. He was accompanied by a handful of experienced carpenters from New York.

Records of the time are typically vague about the navy’s two brigs, and plans for them have never been found. Chauncey’s orders to Brown stipulated that the brigs were to have a burthen of 360 tons, were to mount twenty guns (eighteen 32-pounder carronades and two long 12 pounders), and were to draw no more than 6½ to 7 feet (1.93 to 2.13 m) of water to allow them to pass over the sand bar at the entrance to the bay at Erie. Chauncey also requested that they be fastsailing vessels, which, in combination with their shallow draft, was entirely at odds with his desire that the brigs “bear their guns with ease.” the commodore instructed Noah Brown, “their frame &c. will be left to yourself,” indicating that Brown was given a good deal of latitude in the design, materials, and assembly of . . .

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