On April 29, 1814, Joshua Barney wrote to William Jones with the news of his departure from Baltimore:
At Anchor, at Mouth of Patapsco 29th April 1814
Yesterday I left Baltimore, with the Scorpion, two gun boats, and twelve Barges, to proceed down the Bay, with a view of “Convoying” the Asp from Potomac. The wind from SSE has detained us. On Monday last I sent down the Look-out boat with the Galley. The Galley has just returned and informs me, that there are two Ships and several smaller vessels of the Enemy in the Potomac; I shall proceed down with a change of wind and be guided by circumstances.
I cannot remain long as we are unable to carry more than twelve days of provisions, The Asp not being with me, nor the lookout boat, and it is impossible to put provisions, other than Salt, onboard the gunboats. They have no hold or place to put Bread, which is very bulky, nor dare I trust Liquors, or small stores among the Crews of Any, but I will do the best I can.
The lookout boat remains below to watch the movements of the Enemy.
I have left Mr. Rutter to superintend the Service in Baltimore, and have Mr. Frazier with me. I am with respect
Your Obedient Servant
On April 18, 1814, Acting Master Commandant Joshua Barney with the Chesapeake Flotilla wrote to the Secretary of the Navy Williams Jones:
Off Annapolis. April 18th 1814
Yesterday I left Baltimore with ten Barges, Scorpion, Galley & Gunboat 138. We had fresh Winds, I find the 2d class does not answer well; they shipped much water and are dangerous in anything of a Sea.
The Enemy (by information from a Craft this morning) was off Piankitank two days ago, having gone down the Bay, unless some of them were up Potomac, which he could not see.
I shall return to Baltimore in the Morning, as three of the Barges, has Twisted off the head of their Rudders, they will require Rudders of more depth— I hope very shortly to be in a situation to resume my Station.
The remainder of my Barges are fitting at Baltimore under Mr. Rutter. We still continue to pick up
men. I hope to man two more boats in a few days—
I am respectfully your Obt. Servt.
Thanks again to the Blog of 1812 for sharing these transcripts of Joshua Barney’s correspondence and helping us highlight the story of the Chesapeake Flotilla.
On April 15, 1814, Commodore Joshua Barney again wrote to Secretary of the Navy William Jones describing Captain Robert T. Spence’s resistance to transferring his men to the Chesapeake Flotilla. Barney was even more upset when the men finally arrived but were so drunk he had to “[put] the most of them in Irons” and send seventeen others to the hospital.
Writing for the U.S.S. Constitution Museum in Feeding a Frigate, Commander Tyrone G. Martin describes how the United States Navy inherited the tradition of a twice daily “spirit ration” from the British Navy. Since the 1740s, British sailors had enjoyed a serving of rum mixed with an equal share of water. By mixing alcohol and water, Rear Admiral Edward “Old Grog” Vernon (credited with inventing the unusual cocktail) hoped to discourage binge drinking since the water made the rum unpalatable in a short time so sailors could not save up rations for later.
Around 1801, Secretary of the Navy Robert Smith experimented with substituting American sour mash bourbon for the traditional West Indies rum. Around the War of 1812, a Navy sailor would typically receive half their ration at noon and the remainder in the late afternoon after a meal. Sailors who passed on their ration for the day were credited with four cents on their account. Evidently, the sailors recruited by Captain Spence in Fell’s Point the exercised no such restraint.
On February 18, 1814, the USS Scorpion arrived in Baltimore to join Commodore Joshua Barney’s Chesapeake Flotilla. Built at a Norfolk, Virginia shipyard in 1812, the Scorpion measured around 48 feet long and could hold a crew of 25 sailors.
Learn more about the history of the USS Scorpion and the Chesapeake Flotilla from the Search for the USS Scorpion project blog published by the Maryland State Highway Administration, the US Navy, and Maryland Historical Trust during a 2010-2011 archaeological survey of a War of 1812 shipwreck on the Patuxent River.