APRIL 25, 1806

Three British warships parked in U.S. territorial waters around Sandy Hook, New Jersey

outside New York. They searched every vessel entering the harbor for what they determined to be contraband and illegal commerce. The HMS Leander, captained by Henry Whitby, attempted to stop an American vessel. They fired a warning shot, trying to get the ship to stop so they could board it. The cannonball struck and killed seaman John Pierce. The incident was called murder and there was rioting in New York where the goods destined for the British ship were given to the poor instead.



President Thomas Jefferson, due to the lack of a strong U.S. navy, made a proclamation calling for the arrest of Henry Whitby and the immediate withdrawal of the warships from U.S. waters. Whitby was able to evade an American trial and he was acquitted by a British court-martial.



John Pierce was given a huge public funeral and both Republicans and Federalists publicly condemned what had happened. The press took the story and soon every paper in the nation reported the incident as an “atrocious murder” and Pierce was made an object of songs and toasts on the Fourth of July. He became a national hero and a rallying point for the United States against Britain. He was later mentioned in a long poem written by Philip Freneau for Thomas Jefferson’s retirement party.


“The Atlantic Monthly”. 2018. Google Books. Accessed June 12 2018.


“Founders Online: To Thomas Jefferson From Dewitt Clinton, 28 April 1806”. 2018. Founders.Archives.Gov. Accessed June 12 2018.


“Founders Online: Enclosure: Philip Freneau’S Poem On Thomas Jefferson’S Retirem …”. 2018. Founders.Archives.Gov. Accessed June 12 2018.


“Free Trade And Sailors’ Rights In The War Of 1812”. 2018. Google Books. Accessed June 12 2018. Pg. 153.


“The Naval Chronicle: Containing A General And Biographical History Of The Royal Navy Of The United Kingdom With A Variety Of Original Papers On Nautical Subjects.: Free Download, Borrow, And Streaming: Internet Archive”. Internet Archive. Accessed June 12 2018. Pages 72-82.


“Thomas Jefferson: Proclamation—Ordering The Arrest Of British Citizens Henry Whitley, John Nairn, And Slingsby Simpson For The Murder Of John Pierce”. 2018. Accessed June 12 2018.




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