Tag Archives: War of 1812

Master Commandant Robert T. Spence and the USS Ontario: “Had I my compliment of men, I could be ready for sea in three weeks.”

Baltimore Jany. 9th 1815 [1814]

In reporting to you the advancement of my ship I have the honor to state, that we got our topmasts on end to day—that our lower rigging is rattled down, and catharping’d in.
The Hold is nearly stowed.— and I intend our yards shall be across next week. I shall stand in need of my sails from Washington.
Had I my compliment of men, I could be ready for sea in three weeks.—
My residing within a hundred yards of my ship since appointed to her, and giving personal attention to every little thing will account to you for my rapid progress.— The “Erie” has more men, but in other respects the “Ontario” is equally advanced. Indeed we have little the start! With great respect your very Obt. Servant

R. T. Spence

From a January 9, 1814, letter by Master Commandant Robert T. Spence to Secretary of the Navy William Jones. The Naval War of 1812: A Documentary History, Volume III, p.19

On March 3, 1813, the United States Congress authorized the construction of six sloops-of-war. Naval architect William Doughty designed three of the six ships and directly supervised the construction of the USS Argus at the Washington, DC shipyards. In Baltimore, Thomas Kemp took Doughty’s designs and began work on the remaining two, the USS Ontario and USS Erie, at his Fell’s Point shipyard.

The Erie launched from the shipyard on November 3, 1813 and The Ontario followed on November 28, 1813. Master Commandant Robert T. Spence, commander of the USS Ontario, spent the winter months of 1814 struggling to recruit enough men to set sail—a delay that ultimately kept the Ontario stuck in Baltimore behind the British blockade of the Chesapeake through the end of the war.

USS Erie, American sloop-of-war
USS Erie, American sloop-of-war. Image courtesy the National Archives and Records Administration, 512994.

“Jan 1st. A remarkably fine day with clear Frost, but not violent – went to Town & din’d at Mr. Wirgmans. A British Schooner has arriv’d at Annapolis bear a Flag of Truce, believ’d relating to Prisoners & brings acct of the complete defeat of Buonaparte by the Allied Army –Walked to Mr. Peters this evg. and Beckey return’d with me.”

From the journal of Captain Henry Thompson, January 1, 1814. Courtesy the Friends of Clifton.

On February 5, 1813,  Captain George Burdett,  on board the HMS San Domingo near Norfolk, issued a public notice announcing the British blockade of the Chesapeake Bay:

“I do hereby certify to all of whom it may concern, that the ports and harbors of the Bay of the Chesapeake are this day put in a state of strict and rigorous blockade. Given under my hand, on board the San Domingo, in Lynnhaven Bay in the Chesapeake, this 5th day of February, 1813, Captain George Burdett, R.N.”

The Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty had directed the British Navy to blockade the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays on December 26, 1812. Learn more about the British blockade of the Chesapeake from Maryland in the War of 1812 by Scott Sheads.