David Montagu Erskine was born in England in 1776 and died in England on March 19, 1855. His father was Thomas Erskine, the Lord High Chancellor of England. He was educated at Eton and Cambridge. In 1799 he married Frances Cadwalader, the daughter of General John Cadwalader, commander of the Pennsylvania troops during the American Revolution. In 1802 he became a barrister at law and returned to parliament for Portsmouth on February 24, 1806.
In July 1806 Foreign Secretary of Great Britain George Canning made him the plenipotentiary to the United States and Erskine stayed in that position until 1809. A plenipotentiary is a person given full power to act on behalf of their government (Webster’s Dictionary). Over the next three to four years he was in constant communication with Thomas Jefferson’s Secretary of State James Monroe, who was adamant in addressing British ships taking U.S. ships and sailors for their own use.
The correspondence between David Montague Erskine and James Madison was extensive.
On June 27, 1807 the HMS Leopard attacked the U.S. frigate Chesapeake, causing a major international incident. The Embargo Act was passed in December 1807 which banned American ships from exporting to or carrying goods for other nations. This prevented both Britain and France, who were at war with each other at the time, from getting supplies. It was supposed to be a form of economic coercion, as well as a way to keep U.S. ships from harm. On January 23, 1809 Erskine was informed by Foreign Secretary Canning that the Orders in Council would be lifted if the U.S. lifted its embargo. However, there were three conditions to Britain lifting the Orders:
Erskine knew the U.S. government would not agree to these and keeping in what he viewed as the “true spirit” of his instructions, removed the conditions. President Madison and Congress accepted his offer, but no one knew Foreign Secretary Canning would refuse to ratify Erskin’s arrangement. In April of 1809, the British government issued a new Orders in Council, which removed the one of 1807 and reestablished the blockade of Holland, France, and Italy. Since Canning had acted without hearing back from Erskine, the U.S. government wondered if he had any authority to open the ports of Holland to the U.S. as he promised. Erskine worked feverishly to reassure the U.S. government the new blockade would not affect the recent negotiations.
But Foreign Secretary Canning rejected Erskine’s negotiations and replaced him with Francis James Jackson who took a hard line with the U.S. and reasserted the original three conditions. He also accused Erskine of fraud and trickery by leaving out the conditions. Erskine was proved right for the conditions were rejected by the U.S. Any control Foreign Secretary Canning had in U.S. negotiations was gone for Jackson spoke in what President Madison considered extremely disrespectful and he would accept no more communications from Jackson. Jackson, in turn, tried to get the American people on his side by publishing what he deemed to be charges against the U.S. government. Only some radical Federalists repeated his words while every patriotic American was outraged.
“1809 James Madison – Erskine’s Arrangement “. 2018. Stateoftheunionhistory.Com. Accessed June 18 2018.
America, History. 2008. “History Of The United States Of America: Henry Adams : Free Download, Borrow, And Streaming : Internet Archive”. Internet Archive. Accessed June 22 2018. Pgs. 66-132, 154-157. https://archive.org/details/historyunitedst39adamgoog
“Documents Upon The Continental System 1806”. 2018. Napoleon-Series.Org. Accessed June 18 2018.
“ERSKINE, Hon. David Montagu (1776-1855), Of Butler’s Green, Suss. | History Of Parliament Online”. 2018. Historyofparliamentonline.Org. Accessed June 12 2018. http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1790-1820/member/erskine-hon-david-montagu-1776-1855.
“Founders Online: Search”. 2018. Founders.Archives.Gov. Accessed June 12 2018.
“Founders Online: To James Madison From Thomas Jefferson, 19 April 1809”. 2018. Founders.Archives.Gov. Accessed June 12 2018. https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/03-01-02-0143
“Founders Online: From James Madison To William Pinkney, 23 October 1809”. 2018. Founders.Archives.Gov. Accessed June 12 2018. https://founders.archives.gov/?q=Francis%20James%20Jackson%20Author%3A%22Madison%2C%20James%22&s=1111311111&r=10
“Founders Online: Annual Message To Congress, 29 November 1809”. 2018. Founders.Archives.Gov. Accessed June 12 2018.
“Founders Online: Search”. 2018. Founders.Archives.Gov. Accessed June 12 2018. https://founders.archives.gov/?q=Francis%20%20Jackson%20Author%3A%22Madison%2C%20James%22%20Period%3A%22Madison%20Presidency%22&s=1111211111&sa=&r=1&sr=
“James Madison”. 2018. The White House. Accessed June 12 2018. https://www.whitehouse.gov/about-the-white-house/presidents/james-madison/
The incident between the USN Chesapeake and the HMS Leopard was set in play by the desertion of four men. William Ware, Daniel Martin, and John Strachan, three Americans who had been pressed into service by the British Navy, and Jenkin Ratford, a British sailor, deserted from the HMS Halifax and HMS Melampus as they patrolled off the coast of Norfolk, Virginia. The ships were looking for the French ships Sybelle and Patriot who had sought safe harbor after being damaged in a hurricane in 1806. The men stole a boat and rowed ashore where Ratford boasted that he had escaped to “the land of liberty”.
Desertion was common. Vice Admiral George Cranfield Berkeley, commander in chief of the British ships stationed on the St. Lawrence River, along the coast of Nova Scotia, the Island of St Johns and Cape Breton, the Bay of Funday, and around Bermuda and Somers Islands, heard about these desertions. He ordered all captains to look for deserters from the Belleisle, Bellona, Triumph, Chichester, Halifax, and Zenobia the moment they found United States ships at sea to board them and seize any deserters. They were also to allow the commander of the Chesapeake to search the British ships for their own deserters.
The four men joined the crew of the USN Chesapeake, flagship of Commodore James Baron; Ratford had joined under a different name. The Chesapeake was a 36-gun frigate weighing around 1244 tons. It had been built at the Gosport Navy Yard in Portsmouth, Virginia. On June 22, 1807, the Chesapeake sailed from Norfolk to the Mediterranean. With its decks littered with cargo and its guns stowed, it was the perfect target when the
HMS Leopard intercepted it off the coast of Norfolk. Captain Salusbury Humphreys, commander of the Leander, requested permission to board to look for deserters. Commodore Baron investigated his men and found the suspected men were Americans. He did not know Ratford was a British deserter due to the false name and he refused to muster his crew for inspection. The Leopard opened fire with a barrage of broadsides, killing three American sailors and wounding eighteen. The British then boarded and took two African Americans, one white American, and Jenkin Ratford.
The American public was infuriated and war fever thundered along the coast of the United States. Thomas Jefferson claimed the event had left the country more exasperated than any other time since the Battle of Lexington Green, which started the Revolutionary War, and “even that did not produce such unanimity”. Both Republicans and Federalists clamored for a response and war seemed likely. But there was nothing the ill prepared United States could do since its small navy was in the Mediterranean fighting Barbary pirates and the army had been reduced by Republicans wanting to reduce government spending. President Thomas Jefferson passed the Embargo Act and made a proclamation that all armed British ships were to leave U.S. waters.
Commodore Barron was court martialed and found guilty of “neglecting on the probability of an engagement, to clear his ship for action”. He was suspended from the navy without pay for five years.
On August 31, 1807 Jenkins Ratford was tried by court martial for mutiny, desertion, and contempt toward a British naval officer. He was sentenced to death and was hung from the fore yardarm of the HMS Halifax, his former ship.
The Naval Chronicle for 1807 contains documents relating to the Chesapeake incident, an extract of a letter from a man who was on the HMS Leopard, resolutions passed in a meeting in New York on July 2, 1807 with De Witt Clinton as the chair, Thomas Jefferson’s proclamation, letters between the mayor of Norfolk and Captain Douglas of the HMS Bellona, and William Cobbett’s perspective of the U.S. response to the attack on the Chesapeake on pages 116-130.
“Embargo Of 1807”. 2018. Monticello.Org. Accessed June 18 2018. https://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/embargo-1807#Embargo_of_1807
“Founders Online: Search “Thomas Jefferson and Chesapeake From June 22, 1807 On”. 2018. Founders.Archives.Gov. Accessed June 18 2018.
“Founders Online: Proclamation Re British Armed Vessels, 2 July 1807”. 2018. Founders.Archives.Gov. Accessed June 18 2018. https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/99-01-02-5863
“Founders Online: To James Madison From David Montague Erskine, 13 July 1807”. 2018. Founders.Archives.Gov. Accessed June 18 2018.
“Founders Online: To James Madison From David Montague Erskine, 1 September 1807”. 2018. Founders.Archives.Gov. Accessed June 18 2018.
“Founders Online: From James Madison To David Montague Erskine, 13 September 1807”. 2018. Founders.Archives.Gov. Accessed June 18 2018. https://founders.archives.gov//documents/Madison/99-01-02-2129
“Founders Online: To James Madison From David Montague Erskine, 14 September 1807”. 2018. Founders.Archives.Gov. Accessed June 18 2018.
Petch, Alison. 2018. “HMS Leopard 1884.54.44”. Web.Prm.Ox.Ac.Uk. Accessed June 12 2018.
“Summer 1807: The British Attack The USS Chesapeake And Remove American Sailors (U.S. National Park Service)”. 2018. Nps.Gov. Accessed June 12 2018. https://www.nps.gov/articles/chesapeake-leopard-affair.htm
“The Atlantic Monthly”. 2018. Google Books. Accessed June 18 2018. https://books.google.com/books?id=qfg3AQAAMAAJ&pg=PA592&dq=Captain+Lewis++and+Captain+Whitby+of+the+Leander&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjhw6jr5c7bAhXB2lMKHXnODHQQ6AEIJzAA#v=onepage&q=Captain%20Lewis%20%20and%20Captain%20Whitby%20of%20the%20Leander&f=false
“The Mariners’ Museum: Birth Of The U.S. Navy”. 2018. Marinersmuseum.Org. Accessed June 12 2018.
“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 116-130.
“William Cobbett | British Journalist”. 2018. Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed June 18 2018.
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.
The War of 1812. This event is often overlooked completely or given a cursory glance by the public and in the educational setting. Yet it was a pivotal moment in United States history that effected the entire country. But what was the war all about? What led up to it and how did the people of Darlington County, South Carolina respond to the declaration of war? In this series of blogs, we will lay some of the framework because all history is a tapestry of events leading up to the main event and the events following after. Nothing happens in a vacuum. Everything is being affected by everything else. We will end this series with the transcription of resolutions drafted by the Darlington Citizens Committee in response to the declaration of war in June 1812.
While the fledgling United States was striving to grow as a nation, all was not well in Europe. The French Revolution through the Napoleonic Wars (1789-1814) had created a state of constant war, especially between France and Britain. The British Navy had
succeeded in destroying the French Navy at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and had turned its attention to decimating France’s economy. They attacked French ships and blockaded French sympathetic ports. Britain put restrictions on trade so that France would not be able to receive foreign goods. Anyone wishing to trade with Europe had to follow these restrictions or their ports were blockaded, their ships attacked and boarded, and their goods and sailors taken by the British. France retaliated with restrictions of their own, attacking and refusing access to ports of any ships friendly to Britain. The two went back and forth, issuing one decree after another and making life miserable for any nation wanting to trade in Europe.
To make matters worse, the British Navy was in need of sailors and they sent out press gangs, taking experienced seamen off the streets and forcing them to work in the navy. They went a step further and attacked all types of vessels and pressed sailors into service. Needless to say, this did not sit well with the United States, who was experiencing its own naval problems with Barbary Pirates in the Mediterranean.
These pirates were attacking US ships, taking their crews, and then forcing the U.S. to pay exorbitant ransoms to get them back. At first the United States did its best to pay the ransoms. But with trade being limited, the government did not have the funds to continue paying ransoms. So they sent their tiny navy into the Mediterranean to combat the pirate threat. Pressures escalated on all sides and with rising pressures, these, and a host of other events, led to the events on the following posts.
“Barbary Pirate”. 2018. Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed July 12 2018. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Barbary-pirate
” Barbary Pirates, Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1911 “. 2018. Penelope.Uchicago.Edu. Accessed July 12 2018. http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Gazetteer/Topics/history/American_and_Military/Barbary_Pirates/Britannica_1911*.html
Benner, Dave, Brion McClanahan, Michael Arnheim, and Joe Wolverton. 2016. “Jefferson And The Barbary Pirates | Abbeville Institute”. Abbevilleinstitute.Org. Accessed July 12 2018. https://www.abbevilleinstitute.org/review/jefferson-and-the-barbary-pirates/
“The Mariners’ Museum : Birth Of The U.S. Navy”. 2018. Marinersmuseum.Org. Accessed July 12 2018.
The Historical Commission is pleased to announce that Brian Gandy, Director of the Commission and County Historian has been elected to serve on the University South Caroliniana Society’s Executive Council! Brian is excited to represent the Darlington County Historical Commission through this new opportunity. The South Caroliniana Library and Archive is a valuable resource in South Carolina and the Society Board is a wonderful opportunity to network Darlington County with the State at large. “I believe that I have a lot to offer the Society and that my role at the Commission will be strengthened by this opportunity.”