HMS Nancy & Wasaga under Siege
- Dear Kevin & List,
Thanks for bringing up the article about the history of H.M.S. Nancy and
her crew as well as Wasaga under Siege 2005 taking place July 22nd to the
24th in Wasaga Beach, Ontario, the weekend following the Grand Tactical at
Fort George. As usual the media manipulated some of the facts regarding the
history of the battles and events leading up to the capture of the U.S.S.
Scorpion and Tigress. I have taken the liberty to post a brief but accurate
account of the events surrounding HMS Nancy and her crew. Also, just to let
you know, that the ships bells that were aboard the Tigress and Scorpion
when captured were eventually donated in the mid-1840's to two local
churches in Penetanguishene where one is still in use and the other was
retired just three years ago and now sits on display in St. Ann's Roman
Catholic Church. The other one was donated to the Anglican Church St. James
on the line the first church built in Penetanguishene to serve the garrison
stationed here. Not too many people including locals would ever guess that
captured United States of America prizes of the War of 1812 are part of the
history of Penetanguishene and two local churches of worship. The Tigress
and Scorpion were eventually stationed in ordinary in Penetanguishene in
1817 and renamed the Confiance and Surprise and eventually sunk to the
bottom of the bay due to ill-repair in the early 1830's. I look forward to
seeing everyone at Wasaga under Siege and encourage you to visit our website
at www.wasagaundersiege1812.com for more information on the event and the
history of HMS Nancy. If you have any questions for me please do not
hesitate to ask!!
Thanks again Kevin for promoting Wasaga under Siege 2005 and the history of
This is the story of the Nancy, a Schooner which sailed the
Upper Great Lakes as a private cargo vessel. During the war of 1812, the
Nancy was pressed into service as a British supply ship. While in this
service, the schooner was destroyed in the Nottawasaga River by American
The sunken hull of the Nancy formed an obstruction in the river
and an island was establishes by the resultant deposition of silt. The
remains of the hull now rest in a museum on the island to mark the site of
the Nancy's demise and to commemorate her gallant defence.
The Nancy was built in 1789 at Detroit which was at that time British
soil. The construction of the Schooner was under the supervision of John
Richardson of Forsayth, Richardson and Company of Montreal. There were
probably no plans, but it has been determined that her length was
approximately 80 feet, her width, or beam, 22 feet, and her depth of hold,
eight feet. John Richardson wrote to his partner from Detroit in 1789:
"The schooner will be a perfect masterpiece of workmanship and beauty.
The expense to us will be great, but there will be the satisfaction of her
being strong and very durable. Her floor-timbers, keel, keel-son, stem and
lower futtocks are oak. The transom, stern-post, upper futtocks,
top-timbers, beams and knees are all red cedar. She will carry 350 barrels."
Her figure-head, carved by Skelling of New York, was "a lady
dressed In the present fashion with a hat and feather." The Nancy was
probably named for either the wife or daughter of John Richardson.
The schooner was built for the fur trade which she served by
carrying goods including food, clothing, rum, meat, powder, blankets, tools,
trinkets, weapons and ammunition up the lakes and then returning with furs.
At this time, there were two main ports in the West. Sault Ste. Marie
governed access to Lake Superior and the North. Further west, in the Straits
of Mackinaw, Fort Michilimackinac was a trading post, which commanded Lake
Huron, Lake Michigan and the West. This was the center of activity in the
northerly Great Lakes and the Northwest. It had been maintained by the
French as early as 1687, but the British, in 1761, had been the first to
build proper fortifications.
The launching of the Nancy took place at Detroit on November 24, 1789
and in the following spring, under the command of Captain William Mills, her
maiden voyage took her to Fort Erie. After the launching, John Richardson
"She is spoken of here in such high strain of encomium as to beauty,
stowage and sailing that she almost exceeds my expectations."
In June, 1790, the Nancy took a full cargo to Grand Portage at Sault
Ste. Marie. In 1793, the schooner was sold to George Leith and Company,
merchants and fur traders, who toward the end of the century sold hereto the
North West Fur Company. Captain Mills continued as commander until 1805 when
he was succeeded by Captain Alexander Mackintosh. In the service of the
North West Fur Company, the Nancy's function remained that of a transport
for fur and merchandise on Lake Erie, Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.
When the United States declared war in 1812 against Britain, the
Nancy was lying at Macintosh's wharf at Moy (Windsor) across from Detroit,
which had been handed over to the United States in 1796. The Nancy, for
protection, was immediately moved to Amherstburg and was requisitioned as a
British transport by Lieutenant-Colonel St. George, commander of the
In Colonel Matthews Wlliot's inventory to General Isaac Brock,
the Nancy was described as being capable of mounting six four- pound
carriage guns and six swivel guns.
At this time there were three main routes from Montreal to the
Northwest. One was via the Ottawa and French Rivers and Georgian Bay.
Another was by way of Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, Lake St. Clair and Lake
Huron. A third was an overland route from Lake Ontario at York (Toronto)
north on Yonge Street to Holland Landing and the Holland River. From here,
the route entered Lake Simcoe and led to the head of Kempenfelt Bay (Barrie)
where Nine Mile Portage led to Willow Creek, the Nottawasaga River and Lake
Huron. The latter route became the main supply line during the last year of
The Nancy's first war service took her, on July 30, 1812 to Fort Erie
in convoy with the Provincial Schooner Lady Prevost for military stores and
60 men of the 41st Regiment which participated in Brock's capture of Detroit
from General Hull. During the summer, and early autumn, the Nancy was
employed constantly on Lake Erie between Detroit and Fort Erie in the
transportation of stores and provisions.
On April 23, 1813 the Nancy was included in a small squadron to
transport General Proctor's division from Amherstburg to Miami Bay for the
unsuccessful attack on Fort Meigs. In the autumn, while the Nancy was away
on a trip to Fort Michilimackinac, the British Fleet, on September 9, 1813
was decisively defeated in the Battle of Lake Erie and left Nancy as the
sole surviving British ship on the Upper Lakes.
The Nancy Escapes
Returning in the Nancy to the mouth of the St. Clair River on
October 5, Captain Mackintosh found Detroit and Amherstburg in American
hands, two armed schooners and a gunboat lying in wait for him. At noon, on
the following day, the Nancy was under attack. Despite some damage from the
battering, she survived to escape into Lake Huron. By October 7, Mackintosh
had her under sail to Sault Ste. Marie, where she wintered and was refitted.
After the Battle of Lake Erie, the Americans planned to capture
Fort Michilimackinac, which they had lost on July 17, 1812. The Fort, with
no naval defences, required reinforcements and in February 1814, McDougall's
relief party of 10 officers, 220 infantry and artillerymen, and 20 seamen
left Kingston for the Fort. They arrived, via the Lake Simcoe and
Nottawasaga River route, on May 18. To aid in the defence of Fort
Michilimackinac, it was planned to cut down the Nancy to a gunboat. This
idea was discarded, however, and the British schooner continued as a
transport. During that spring, the Nancy made three round trips from the
Fort to the mouth of the Nottawasaga River for supplies.
While the Nancy was away on the fourth trip to the Nottawasaga supply
base, the American Fleet left Detroit on July 3, 1814 for the attack on Fort
Michilimackinac. At the Nottawasaga base, the Nancy was taken in charge by
Lieutenant Miller Worsley, Royal Navy, and taken two miles up the river.
Here, quietly hidden and protected by a blockhouse, the Nancy waited.
On August 14, three American ships, Niagara, Tigress and Scorpion,
under the command of Captain Sinclair, arrived at the mouth of the
Nottawasaga River to wait for the British schooner which was thought to be
on route from Fort Michilimackinac. It was only when wood gathering parties
from the American ships happened upon the Nancy's hiding place that the
secret was discovered.
The engagement was brief and decisive. Lieutenant Worsley's force
consisted of 22 seamen and 23 Indians under the command of Lieutenant Ramsay
Livingston, and nine French Canadian Voyageurs. Their armament was composed
of two 24-pounder charades and one six-pounded. The American force of three
ships, and 500 men armed with 18 32-pounder carronades, three long
12-pounders, two 24-pounders and one 5.5 inch howitzer provided formidable
odds. Captain Sinclair anchored his ships in the Bay and proceeded to pound
the Nancy and the blockhouse across the narrow neck of land, which separated
the river from the bay.
The situation was hopeless. Lieutenant Worsley decided to destroy the
Nancy rather than allow her to fall into enemy hands. During the
preparations for blowing up the schooner, however, a direct hit on the
blockhouse set the Nancy afire. She burned to the waterline and sank. The
British force escaped into the forest where they were not pursued.
After the action, the Scorpion and Tigress were left to guard the
river to prevent canoes and bateaux from getting supplies to Fort
Michilimackinac. Eventually the river mouth was blocked with felled trees
and the ships proceeded along the north shore in the hope of intercepting
fur-laden canoes on the lake.
The Nancy Avenged
On August 31, Worsley and his men, after paddling and rowing for 360
miles, reached Michilimackinac. En route, they had quietly bypassed the
Tigress and Scorpion. On September 3, Worsley and 92 men in four rowboats
returned to surprise and capture the Tigress at midnight in Detour Passage.
On the following day, the Scorpion was lured into position and also
captured. Both vessels were then taken to Fort Michilimackinac. The Scorpion
was renamed Confiance in honour of the ship which was captured from the
French by Commodore Sir James Lucas Yeo. The Tigress was renamed Surprise
for the manner in which she was captured.
After the war, for the loss of the Nancy, the Admiral awarded the
North West Fur Company 2,200 pounds. In addition, for two roundtrips between
Detroit and Fort Erie in 1812, there was an award of 500 pounds and for
service in 1813 and 1814, 1,243 pounds, 5 shillings.
Gradually, the river currents deposited silt about the sunken
hull and an island was formed. On July 1, 1911, Mr. C.J.H. Snider found the
location of the hull which was just visible beneath the water and it was not
until August 1924 when an American 24-pounder round shot was found in the
riverbank by Dr. F.J. Conboy that interest was renewed. During the summer of
1925 the long-covered hull was found by Dr. Conboy whose interest in the
Nancy had been aroused by Mr. Snider.
The Dominion and Provincial Governments and many individuals
became interested in the historic site, and in 1928 the hull was raised and
placed on the island. On August 14, 1928, 114 years after the gallant
defence of the Nancy, the Nancy Museum was officially opened to commemorate
this episode in the war of 1812.
- Thank you very much, David, for that wonderful history of the Nancy. If I may,
I'd like to add three notes.
First, the "North West Fur Company" which owned the Nancy before the war, is
much better-known as the North West Company (NWC), the primary competition to
the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) for nearly fifty years, and one of the reasons
that Western Canada is *not* the Western U.S. (Something about the work of a few
NWC chaps with sextants and birchbark canoes...)
Second, folks interested in reading Capt. Mackintosh's log of the Nancy, from 24
July 1813 to 30 March 1814 (and provisions lists from 1811 to 1813), can see it
online at the website devoted to the North West Company and the fur trade in
Canada, _In Pursuit of Adventure_:
And thirdly, the Nancy's story made a darn fine Stan Rogers song.
Your humble & obedient servant,