Sackets Harbor Battlefield Alliance
Sackets Harbor 1815

Site Hours

Grounds

  • Open Daily
  • Sunrise - Sunset

Facilities

Monday through Saturday 10am-4:30pm and Sunday 1pm to 4:30pm through Sunday August 23rd.

Aug. 24 through September 6 closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

Open Monday Sept. 7 - Labor Day.

1812 Notebook

1812 Cannon

Firepower

African-American Seaman

African-Americans at Sackets Harbor

The Orleans

Quality Workmanship?

Soldiers Cooking

Profit vs. Patriotism

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Picnic on the Battlefield
Make use of the Battlefield Historic Site for a picnic or ramble the battlegrounds.


Sunset on the Battlefield
Enjoy the grand view westward and linger at the end of the day to watch the sunset.

Quality Workmanship?
by Dr. Gary M. Gibson

When something breaks shortly after you bought it, you might complain that “they built things better in the past.” However, if the past was Sackets Harbor during the War of 1812 and the items were warships, you would be well to prefer today’s models.

Between 1812 and 1815 the United States and Great Britain engaged in a war of ship carpenters. Although there were no major naval battles on Lake Ontario to compare with the actions on Lake Erie in 1813 and Lake Champlain in 1814, the shipbuilding efforts on Ontario far surpassed those on the other lakes. Workmen at the American shipyard at Sackets Harbor and the British shipyard at Kingston, Upper Canada, competed to be the first to build enough warships to gain and maintain control of Lake Ontario.

This competition led to hasty work. On the Atlantic, building a 44-gun frigate could easily take two or three years. At Sackets Harbor that feat was accomplished in two months. Even the first warship built at Sackets Harbor, the 24-gun USS Madison, was ready to launch in only 45 days.

All this construction required skilled ship carpenters, and at Sackets Harbor there were never enough of them. The gap was filled by hiring common house carpenters. Unfortunately, you did not build a wooden warship like you did a barn. The shipwright at Sackets Harbor, Henry Eckford, had to compensate for this by altering the design to make the vessels easier (and faster) to build.

This nearly lead to disaster. In September 1814, the 22-gun brig USS Jefferson encountered a fierce gale on Lake Ontario and the vessel, rolling heavily and “twice on her beam ends” began to come apart. To save the ship, the captain, Charles Ridgely, had to lighten the load on deck by throwing ten of her cannon overboard.

In January 1815 construction began on two huge warships, the 106-gun New Orleans and Chippewa. A year later, with the war now over, a British foreman of shipwrights, John Aldersley, visited Sackets Harbor and inspected the incomplete New Orleans. He saw “the most abominable, neglectful, slovenly work ever performed …the timbers are in many instances thrown in one upon the other, without even the bark of the tree being taken off.” Aldersley noted that the New Orleans’ gun ports were created after the ship’s sides were completed, “the same as the doors and windows are cut out after a log house is framed.”

Built quickly out of green wood, few of these warships survived for long. By the early 1820s most were reported to be “sunk and decayed.” The only exceptions were the incomplete New Orleans and Chippewa, which remained in good condition only because they had expensive shiphouses built over them. As a result, the New Orleans, slovenly construction notwithstanding, was still considered useful as late as the American Civil War, a half century later.