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They Burned the White House?: What was the War of 1812 all about?
Primary Sources

Theme: The United States and the World: American Foreign Relations
Topic:
They Burned the White House?: What was the War of 1812 all about?
Date:
March 2005

Primary Sources from Partner Collections
Primary Sources from Local Archives and Collections
Additional Primary Sources Used in Content and Follow-up Sessions

Selections and annotations by SALEM in History staff.


Primary Sources from Partner Collections

 

 

Thomas Russell and Mr. Odell
Model of the 1797 Ship Friendship, ca. 1804

Wood, cordage, bronze
Gift of William Story
Peabody Essex Museum

"It is common for sailors to commemorate a voyage by building a model of the vessel they served on. This early model was actually built on board the Friendship by the vessel's second mate and carpenter during a voyage from Salem to Canton and Sumatra in 1802-1804. Captain Story, the master of the Friendship, donated the model to the East India Marine Society prior to 1806." Quoted from ARTscape, online at the Peabody Essex Museum website: http://www.pem.org

The Friendship was built in 1796-97 in Salem by shipbuilder Enos Briggs for Jerathmiel Peirce and Aaron Waite as a merchant ship in trade with the Far East. The ship voyaged to such destinations as China, Sumatra, Russia, India, and Italy. On its fifteenth voyage, the Friendship traveled to Archangel, Russia, and was captured by the British on the return. The captain and crew were taken as prisoners of war, and the ship was sold at public auction in London.

This model was one of the sources used to recreate the full-scale vessel located at the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, National Park Service. The site offers educational visits on the Friendship and their website provides additional information.

 

Robert Fulton
Plan of an Experimental Harbor Defense Vessel
(Detail)
Ink and wash
ca. 1813
Peabody Essex Museum

"During the War of 1812, Fulton proposed this vessel to protect American ports from the British Navy. The imaginative design combined Fulton’s expertise in early steam propulsion and his experiments with firing cannon underwater. Fulton’s early training as an artist contributed to the plan’s careful rendering." Quoted from gallery object label, Peabody Essex Museum. Study photo by Abaigeal Duda

 


Thomas Birch (1779-1851)
USS Wasp and HMS Frolic, ca. 1815
Oil on Canvas
Peabody Essex Museum MB486

"Thomas Birch was famous for his representations of the naval engagements during the War of 1812. Not only did he create a dynamic relationship between the two warships, he also included distinct human figures on the decks, enhancing the impression of the battle's drama. Naval victories were important symbols of national pride, and Birch's depictions of the triumphant young U.S. Navy received wide acclaim." Quoted from ARTscape, online at the Peabody Essex Museum website: http://www.pem.org

 

Attributed to Pierre Louis Dagoty (1771-1840)
Pair of Vases, USS Constsitution vs. HMS Guerriere,
USS Demologos, ca. 1817
Paris
Porcelain, marble, enamel
Museum Purchase, 1998
Peabody Essex Museum M27413.1-2

"Decorative art objects featuring maritime scenes were popular in 19th-century America. Although these high-style vases match a service commissioned by President Madison for the White House, they are thought to have been made for an American diplomat. The War of 1812 inspired both scenes: one the famous battle between the USS Constitution and H.M.S. Guerriere, the other an experimental steam frigate designed by Robert Fulton." Quoted from ARTscape, online at the Peabody Essex Museum website: http://www.pem.org

 

 

"Friendship Log Entry: "On The Value of Water": Master Israel Williams. Voyage to Europe, 4 November 1797. Salem Maritime National Historic Site, National Park Service.

Because long voyages to the Far East were only possible after the conclusion of the Revoluationary War, there was little prior experience among captains and crew regarding the hardships they might face. One of concerns addressed by Master Israel Williams was whether they would have enough food and water for the crew in the event of unexpected delays in the voyage. As an experiment, he created a distillery to produce fresh water from brackish sea water. He was satisfied that in a crisis, his crew would have enough water to survive. Original Source: Master Israel Williams. Voyage to Europe, 4 November 1797. Philips Library, Peabody Essex Museum.

 

 

"Friendship Log Entry: Close Encounters on the First Two Voyages." Salem Maritime National Historic Site, National Park Service.

These selected documents are available on microfilm in the Philips Library, Peabody Essex Museum. Ship's log entries suggest that sailing in 1800 demanded great caution when encountering other vessels. Hostile encounters and plundering by privateers were common.

 

 

"Letters from the Last American master of the Friendship, She Was Captured by the English in the War of 1812." Salem Maritime National Historic Site, National Park Service.

Captain Edward Stanly recounts some details about the capture of his ship by the Rosamond and his conditions as a prisoner of war.

Original Sources:
Edward Stanly, Plymouth, England, to Captain Joseph Waters. 1812. Philips Library, Peabody Essex Museum.

Edward Stanly, London, England, to Captain Joseph Waters. 9 December 1812. Philips Library, Peabody Essex Museum.

   

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Primary Sources from Local Archives and Collections

  --none listed at this time--
   

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Additional Primary Sources Used in Content and Follow-up Sessions

   

 

 

USS Frigate Constitution Captain Isaac Hull, off Boston Light, to Secretary of the Navy Paul Hamilton.  28 August 1812.  Department of the Navy - Naval Historical Center, Washington, D.C. Online at: http://www.history.navy.mil/docs/war1812/const5.htm [17 March 2005]

In an engagement in August of 1812, the US Frigate Constitution proved victorious against the British HMS Guerriere. In 1812, the British were still regarded as the preeminant naval power in the world, and this first victory by the Americans in ship to ship combat must have been a blow to British pride.

The Constitution, currently docked in Charlestown, MA, was built in 1797 and was one of the original six frigates in the U.S. Navy. The sturdy oak sides of the ship that seemed to repell bullets earned the Constitution the nickname, "Old Ironsides."

On July 5, 1812, the Constitution set sail from Maryland toward New York. On the 17th, a squadron of British ships including the HMS Guerriere pursued the Constitution. Captain Isaac Hull was able to out-sail the British, and he continued on to Boston. In August, the Constitution headed toward Nova Scotia and learned of the presence of a British vessel in the vicinity of Halifax. The Constitution located the Guerriere, then alone, and engaged and defeated the ship. Hull wrote this letter to inform the Navy of his victory. In it, he details the events of the battle and the subsequent taking of prisoners.

In a second letter on this page the captain of the HMS Guerriere offers his official version of the battle with the U.S. Frigate Constitution. (HMS Guerriere Captain James R. Dacres, Royal Navy, Boston, to Vice Admiral Herbert Sawyer, Royal Navy. 7 September 1812.)

For more information on the US Frigate Constitution, see the official navy website http://www.ussconstitution.navy.mil/ or the Constitution Museum website: http://www.ussconstitutionmuseum.org/

 

 

Officers of the Wasp in action with the Frolic, 18 October 1812. Department of the Navy - Naval Historical Center, Washington, D.C. Online at: http://www.history.navy.mil/wars/war1812/1812-4.htm

Original Source: A General Register of the Navy and Marine Corps of the United States, "Officers of the Navy, to whom thanks, medals and swords have been voted by Congress." Washington, D.C.: Alexander, Publisher, 1848.

Jacob Jones gained his successful reputation in this battle. The Wasp was already damaged to to bad weather when Master Commandant Jones gave the command to attack a British convoy.

The Frolic was also in poor condition from the storm that had separated ships in the convoy. Her Captain, Thomas Whinyates, believed one of the ships in the convoy was sighted, but it was soon recognized as a stranger.

The two ships, both carrying eighteen guns, were well matched and the fight was intense. Both ships were severely damaged and the Wasp was captured soon after. Still, the battle with the Frolic won Jones great admiration, and he received a gold medal from Congress, the title of Commander, and control of the frigate Macedonian.

There are additional objects related to captain Jones and the Wasp at this site at the Online Library of Selected Images.

 

 

Jacob Jones Medal, Engraving by Spencer. Department of the Navy - Naval Historical Center, Washington, D.C. Online at: http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/pers-us/uspers-j/ja-jones.htm [March 17, 2005]

This gold medal was commissioned by the U.S. Congress and presesented to Captain Jacob Jones in recognition of his achievement in defeating the Frolic on October 18, 1812.

 

   

 

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