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The Provincial Marine at Amherstburg 1796-1813
by Bob Garcia

A member of Parks Canada’s staff at Fort Malden National Historic Site, Mr Garcia presented this paper at the Association for Great Lakes Maritime History annual conference, Amherstburg, Ontario, September 16, 2000.

 

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Provincial Marine Lieutenant’s Uniform,1812

Introduction

What was the Provincial Marine?  According to one source:

the Marine was a small Canadian hybrid navy, naval in work but military in  administration.  It came under the command of the governor and commander of the forces in British North America and was superintended by the Quarter-Master General's department of the army.  Provincial Marine vessels were used to transport troops and government stores in peace time, with the capability of being transformed into fighting vessels if necessary.  However, the nature of their peace time work tended to produce small, shallow draft vessels that were not well suited to naval use.  ("The PM & RN on the Upper Great Lakes 1796-1815.", p. 1).

     This definition fits the Provincial Marine establishment at Amherstburg very closely.  Up to the War of 1812 most of the vessels built and operating out of the naval yard were handy, smaller craft that could clear the bar into Lake St. Clair and thus could be used to supply the garrison at St. Joseph's Island on Lake Huron.

    The origin of the Provincial Marine lies in the conflict known as the Seven Years War of 1756-63.  The British required naval forces on the inland waterways in their struggle with the French for North America.  With the conclusion of that conflict the British needed to maintain supply with the numerous posts, in the interior of the continent, it had taken from the French.  As the waterways were the sole means of relatively easy transportation the British Military retained their fresh water fleet.

     The outbreak of hostilities between the American colonies and the mother country in the 1770's saw a renewed requirement for naval forces on the Great Lakes.  The colonial administration called in a professional naval officer, John Schank, to run the Provincial Marine and he in turn molded the organization after the Royal Navy (Douglas, Anatomy, p. 4-5). 

    After the end of the American War of Independence in 1783, the British held on to several major centres on the Great Lakes that should have been turned over to the United States.  Among these locations was Detroit, in Michigan territory.  Here, until 1796, the British maintained a substantial military installation including a fort and an naval dockyard. Only when the Jay Treaty took effect in summer of 1796 did the British surrender Detroit to the young American republic.

    Prior to this time however, British civil and military authorities debated the location of the facilities to replace Detroit.  In 1794 John Graves Simcoe, Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada proposed building a dockyard at Chatham on the Thames River, which empties into Lake St. Claire. After some initial construction at this site focus the British switched to a location near the mouth of the Detroit River opposite the northern end of Bois Blanc Island.  This site had originally been recommended by Gother Mann, of the Royal Engineers to Lord Dorchester, Governor General of the Canadas in 1788 (Lajeunesse, p.209 ).

The King's Naval Yard

     In November 1795 Mann wrote to Simcoe that at the site of the new post, the following buildings should be constructed: two block houses "for the protection of the naval and military stores, etc", a store house for "provisions marine and general", an "ordnance store and small magazine" and a "wharf contiguous to the proposed Naval yard for the King's vessels and boats..."  He also proposed that "the several blockhouses and store houses...should be constructed of good squared log work on stone foundations...  (Lajeunesse, p. 211).  The Lieutenant Governor agreed with The Royal Engineer's proposal and sent orders on to Detroit for the work to proceed.

    In the spring of 1796, with the breaking up of the ice in the river, the British commenced their move from Detroit, down stream to the location of the proposed installations.  Using the vessels of the Marine Service and large rafts assembled of the lumber they planned to take away from Detroit, they quickly established themselves at the new post.  By May 1796 the commander at Detroit, Lt. Colonel Richard England of the 24th Regiment boasted, "I have the satisfaction of reporting that not a foot of timber that could be converted into any use is left here". (Lajeunesse, p. 213).    Over the next three years the naval yard took shape at Amherstburg.  Due to the vital need for vessels for the resupply of the garrisons on the upper Great Lakes, the Marine facility was the first to be completed.  Under the direction of the engineers troops erected the blockhouses, store houses, magazine, wood yard and wharf.  Later, lime and mortar houses were added and a defensive wooden picketing erected around the naval yard.  By mid-decade private contractors had built at least one rope walk near the naval yard.  The rope walks consisted of narrow, roofed sheds with open sides and were about 350 yards long.  Using locally grown hemp fibre they  produced the many yards of rope and cable required by all sailing vessels of the day.

    The British started construction of the fortifications that became Fort Amherstburg in 1799 and did not complete the earthworks and palisades until 1801. 

The complements of the Marine service

     Who were the sailors of the provincial marine?  For the most part they were civilian mariners recruited on contract by the Deputy Quarter Master Department.  A report from 1802 gives a good indiction of the background of the sailors who signed on to the Provincial Marine.  Between April 1794 and October 1801 the service took on 189 seamen. Of these, there were 71 Englishmen, 36 Irish, 19 Scots, 29 foreigners and 34 Canadians.  (RG 8 vol. 725, p. 165.)  At this time "Canadians" usually referred to those of French descent. The English account for almost 40% of the enlistments, followed by the Irish and the Canadians with about 20% each.  Most interesting are the statistics for the number of desertions during the period of the report.  Forty percent of the foreigners (12), forty-two percent of the Scots (8), thirty percent of the English (21) and twenty-five percent of the Irish (9) "jumped ship" prior to the end of their term of service.  In stark contrast no Canadians deserted the Provincial Marine. This might indicate a greater level of dedication to the Service, or that desertion for the Canadian meant exile from home and family. (MacLeod, Sect. D: Manning, p.17).

     There were chronic shortages of trained sailors through the period of the Marine at Amherstburg due to the parsimony of the army.  Two of the major impediments to hiring and retaining personnel were not corrected until the first decade of the 19th century. In 1804, the army finally provided the sailors with free rations and in 1807 it ended the practice of holding pay three months in arrears.  Additionally, pay was increased and larger bounties were granted to foster recruiting and retention.  With these measures the Marine Service attempted to strengthened its numbers. (MacLeod, Sect. D: Manning, p.17).

    The other aspect of the Marine service at Amherstburg was the dockyard.  The Store Keeper's General Department hired the workers at the yard.  Among their ranks were many highly skilled tradesman.  A quarterly pay report from 1801 for Amherstburg lists 16 individuals: 2 foremen, 7 carpenters, a blacksmith and his assistant, 5 sawyers and one labourer.(RG8, I., C series, vol. 1114, p.32.)  In contrast to the sailors, the dockyard workers consisted most of men bearing apparently British names with a sole "Canadian" among their numbers. 

What they wore

     Officers of the Provincial Marine wore uniforms which were very similar to those of the Royal Navy, but not officially sanctioned.  During the 1790's the uniforms of the officers on Lake Ontario were described as "blue and white, with large yellow buttons with the figure of a beaver, over which is inscribed the word, 'Canada'". This apparently remained the same until the War of 1812 when Sir George Prevost officially approved uniforms for the officers.  On February 3, 1813 General Sheaffe was instructed that the "uniform of the officers of the his Majesty's [Provincial] Marine on the Lakes to be the same as the Royal Navy, but no Officer to rate higher than a commander."  (RG8, C1220, p. 145).

     The sailors of the provincial marine had no prescribed uniform, as was the case in the Royal Navy of the day.  However, the issuance of slop clothing gave the men of a particular ship, or in the case of the Provincial Marine particular post, a very similar appearance.  Fortunately, records still exist for the cloth issued at Amherstburg in 1813.  "Broad-cloth - second quality" with "small yellow buttons" was probably used for jackets and trousers.  Scarlet "broad-cloth   second quality" was meant for waistcoats, also with yellow or brass buttons.  Round hats or glazed hats were the standard issue.  Blue striped cotton or flannel was used for shirts.  The Tars at Amherstburg were given red handkerchiefs , strong worsted socks and strong shoes.  Noted on the lists was blue and white thread, tape and twist.  In heavy weather the sailors could take advantage of guernsey frocks and worsted mittens.  (RG 8, c117, p.44). 

The Yard at Amherstburg and the Vessels of William Bell

     Early in the 19th century, British North America became a bit of a magnet for shipbuilders with many Scotsmen amongst them. Numbering among these individuals was William Bell who hailed from hailed from Aberdour in Fifeshire.  By 1799 he had hired on as a shipwright at the naval yard in Amherstburg. This was just the start of  his career with the Provincial Marine.  He soon became the Master-Shipwright and was responsible for the draughting and construction of all the major vessels produced there until the British burned the yard during the War of 1812.

     Bell, who left Amherstburg in September 1813 prior to the arrival of the Americans, continued his work at the dockyard in Kingston culminating his career with the construction of the St. Lawrence, one of the largest wooden fighting ships (112 guns) ever to sail the Great Lakes (Douglas, "Barclay...", p. 39).   In 1815 he was elevated to the post of Assistant to the Master Shipwright in Canada and retired from government service in 1816. For a brief  period he worked with his brother John, also a shipwright, producing at least 4 vessels at Quebec City in the mid-1820s.  He did not stay long in the trade, settling on a farm near the city. (Marcil, p. 75).

    In the 17 years of it's existence (1796-1813) the Amherstburg Navy Yard was the hub of the British Naval presence on the Upper Great Lakes.  In the first few years of operations the yard dealt primarily with repairs of vessels already in service with the Marine.  Through the winter of 1799 and into1800 the skilled hands of the yard carried out extensive repairs and improvement on the Schooner Ottawa [Detroit c. 1778].  Repairs were also planned for the snow Chippewa [Detroit? c.1790], schooner Dunmore [Detroit, 1772] and the sloop Francis [Detroit, 1796].  (Shipbuilding, p.4-5).

    One of the chronic problems faced by Bell and the other Provincial Marine shipwrights during this period was the rapid decay of wood used for construction of vessels.  However undesirable it was the shipwrights felt compelled to use green timber because of the difficulty of curing wood without it first rotting.  As an example of the rapid wear on the vessels by 1811  the Camden, probably built between 1799 and 1804, is noted as unfit to go to sea and the six year old General Hunter as "falling fast into decay". (Wood, Vol. 1, p. 241).

    The yard at Amherstburg also produced smaller craft.   Ship's boats were crafted for the Maria [1790s? Detroit?] and a long boat for the Camden [pre-1804] in 1804 (Shipbuilding p. 5-6). In addition Bell's tradesmen turned out numerous batteaux.  These were large, open, multi-oared boats with usually a single sail that were useful for carrying supplies and troops.

     The first major vessel to be turned out by the yard under the direction of Bell, was the schooner Camden followed by another schooner, General Hope.  The latter vessel came to an untimely end running aground near Fort St. Joseph on Lake Huron in 1805.

In 1803 Bell drew up plans for the General Hunter.  Initially rigged as a schooner, but later as a brig, the Hunter reflected, as did the Camden and General Hope, the dual role of the Marine.  The hold accommodated troops, with partitions so that any cargo carried would be safe from theft.  The railings were to be strong enough to take ringbolts for gun breechings.   Bell's draughts show a relatively shallow draft  vessel, of single deck, which would be capable of  replacing two smaller vessels, the Francis and Maria (RG 8, vol. 726, p. 75-76).  Construction began on the Hunter in 1804 and the vessel was launched the following year. The dimensions of the vessel upon launching were: length of  54 feet, 18 feet at the beam and a displacement of 80 tons.  Armament carried varied, but it was envisioned that she would have eight 18 pounder carronades and four 4 pounder long guns (General Hunter file).

     In the fall of 1809 a new and much larger vessel was authorized for construction at Amherstburg.  The Queen Charlotte was much different from previous craft in that she was planned as a three masted, square rigged ship.  Of 400 tons burthen, the Charlotte was 101 feet along the keel and had a beam of about 28 feet. (Shipbuilding, p.12). She was pierced for sixteen cannon and had full bulwarks instead of the open railings of the General Hunter.  In many respects the Queen Charlotte was built as a warship and not as a transport vessel, although she had the ability to carry out this role too.  When launched in 1810 the ship was the largest in the Upper lakes fleet and would remain so until the completion of the Detroit in 1813.  The Provincial Marine now had a vessel with serious combat potential.

    The naval yard workers turned out another craft in 1810. The Lady Prevost had a schooner rig and displaced either or 96 tons  (Lady Prevost File) or 80 tons (RG8, vol. 729 p. 60).  She was 68 feet in length, along the deck and 18.5 feet in breadth.  The schooner was capable of carrying ten 12 pounder carronades and three 9 pounder long guns, one of which might have been mounted on a pivot or turntable.

    The largest ship constructed under William Bell's supervision was the Detroit.  It was also the last ship built by the naval yard at Amherstburg.  The Detroit was fabricated during the spring and summer of 1813 under very trying circumstances There were shortages of every sort including skilled labour, timber, cordage, ironwork and armament.   The new flag ship of the Lake Erie Squadron was of 400 tons burthen, about 120 feet in length and 28 in breadth.  The shortage of armament meant the ship carried a hodge-podge of cannon: two 24pounders, one 18 pounder, six twelve pounders, eight 9 pounders, a 24 pounder and 18 pounder carronades (Detroit File).   The Detroit never sailed under the auspices of the Provincial Marine.  A Royal Navy contingent, commanded by Robert Heriot Barclay arrived in Amherstburg in the Spring of 1813 and superceded the Marine service.

      In addition to these major vessels William Bell built two gunboats probably at Amherstburg in the Spring of 1813.  The Eliza and General Myers were quickly knocked together to support General Procter's assault on Fort Meigs in April.  They were both burnt to avoid capture by the Americans during the retreat along the Thames in October 1813.

The Role of the PM and the War of 1812

    Through the 1790s the Provincial Marine establishment provided the British military with the support it required on the lakes by providing a reliable means of transporting cargo and troops from post to post.  But by the 1810's authorities at York and in Quebec City were taking a much harder look at the Marine service and especially at the man in charge at Amherstburg, Commodore Alexander Grant. 

Alexander Grant

     Of the various individuals associated with the Provincial Marine at Amherstburg, perhaps the most interesting was Grant.  A Scotsman born in 1734, he first came to North America during the global conflict known as the 7 Years War / the French and Indian Wars.  At the time he was probably as an ensign in the 77th Regiment of Foot.  One source notes that he may have served as a midshipman in the Royal Navy  before coming to the new world and this naval experience might explain his 1759 command of a vessel on Lake Champlain.(Whitfield in DCB, vol. V, p. 363) 

      After the war he maintained his connection with the Marine Department taking charge of the dockyard first at Navy Island and then from 1771 at Detroit.  South East Michigan must have made quite and impression on Grant for he built his home, Castle Grant, in Grosse Pointe and remained there even after the hand over of Michigan territory by the British to the Americans in 1796.  In this respect he anticipated, by about 200 years, thousands of modern day Detroit River area cross border commuters by travelling on a regular basis between his home in one country to his job in another.  More interestingly he might have been the only commander of a military force to live, while on active duty in the land of his potential opponent.

      Through the 1770s Grant expanded his commercial activities while continuing as naval superintendent.  Opportunities for this abounded as there was little or no private British shipping on the upper Great Lakes and it was common practice to allow commercial cargo aboard government vessels.  Grant held great power by determining which merchant's  cargo could be shipped and when.

      The naval establishment grew again during the American Revolutionary War and by it's end Grant commanded 77 personnel and 11 civilians.  Grant's involvement in private shipping waned and the post war period saw his stature in provincial politics grow.  He was appointed a Justice of the Peace in 1786.  In 1792 he became a member of the Executive Council of Upper Canada, a rather prestigious appointment.  With the untimely death of Lieutenant-Governor Peter Hunter in 1805 Grant for a time became the Administrator of the Province. 

     But all through this period Grant's first job was as the commander of the Provincial Marine at Amherstburg.  Aside from the distractions of politics and government administration he has been criticized for lacking professional initiative as Commodore of the upper lakes squadron (Whitfield, p. 365).  And as war once again approached there began to be more criticism of his administration of the Marine Service.  In February 1812 Captain Andrew Gray of the Quartermaster-General's department wrote in a report on the Provincial Marine:

The first object it may be necessary to suggest is the removal of Commodores Grant and Steele...Capt. Grant although still less capable than Captain Steele of discharging his duty (being now in his 87th year) has not solicited permission to retire, it is however not the less expedient that he should be removed as he cannot be of any service; but may possibly do harm by standing in the way of others. (Wood, Vol. 1,  p.254)

Grant was actually 78 years old at the time of the report, but the assessment was not inaccurate. It may not be unreasonable to think that after 54 years of service to the Provincial Marine he may have been past his prime.  Under mounting pressure Grant retired in March of 1812 and was replaced by Captain George B. Hall, his second in command.

       A Contemporary observer of Grant described him as "a large, stout man, not very polished, but very good tempered, (who) had a great many daughters, all very good looking, all very lively, all very fond of dancing and all very willing to get married as soon as possible."  In fact Grant had 11daughters and a son with Therese Barthe, his wife of 36 years.  Grant did not long enjoy his retirement dying on May 8, 1813 at his beloved Castle Grant. He was buried in Sandwich. (Whitfield,  p. 364.)

      With Grant out of the way the British assessed the forces available to them at Amherstburg and who would be in command.   Captain Gray, in the report that recommended the retirement of Commodore Grant, lists the vessels, were or could ready for service in 1812: Queen Charlotte (ten 24 pounder carronades, 6 long guns), Lady Prevost (ten 12 pounder carronades) and General Hunter (six 6 pounder carronades).  In the same report he urged that Captain Hall command the Queen Charlotte, Lieutenant. Barwis command the Lady Prevost and Lieutenant Rolette command the General Hunter. (Wood, Vol. 1, p. 253-258). 

      Despite making some changes to the Marine the total authorized establishment at Amherstburg for 1812 was only 5 officers, 2 petty officers, 40 seamen and two naval yard personnel. (Wood, Vol. 1,  p. 246-247).  These numbers were clearly insufficient to man the three vessels as warships, but indicate that they were still thought of as transports.  To supplement the crews of the Marine Major-General Isaac Brock, Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada proposed that an additional 100 seamen be added to the lakes establishment and that two companies of troops from the Royal Newfoundland Regiment be used as Marines and seaman(Wood, Vol. 1, p. 289).  Perhaps it was reasoned that any man from Newfoundland must be a natural seaman from birth!  Never the less the addition of a company of the Newfoundlanders helped to make the three vessels a more potent naval force.

      Personnel shortages aside, the Provincial Marine's Amherstburg establishment gave a good accounting of itself in 1812.  At first the Americans had no vessels of consequence on Lake Erie and control of the waterways remained a British preserve.  In fact one of the first intelligence coups of the war occurred at Fort Amherstburg in July 1812 because of the actions of Provincial Marine Lieutenant Frederic Rolette.

Frederic Rolette

     In stark contrast to the flaws of Grant stands Rolette.  Born at Quebec in 1783 Rolette as a youth entered the Royal Navy.  He served at the Battles of the Nile in 1799, where he was wounded several times, and at Trafalgar in 1805.  In October 1807 he took a commission as a second lieutenant in the Provincial Marine and was promoted to 1st Lieutenant in April 1812.  He had command of the Brig General Hunter until the arrival of  the Royal Navy in 1813.

     His exploits during the War of 1812 were daring and quite often brought him to within an inch of his life.  On July 3, 1812 Rolette in a long boat with six tars from the Hunter seized the American packet, Cuyahoga as it passed the naval yard in Amherstburg.  Heading upstream to Detroit, the crew and passengers of the Cuyahoga were unaware of the start of the war.  By firing his pistol in the air to get the vessel to heave-to Rolette may have taken the first shot of the war (Beale p. 8).  The capture of the Cuyahoga was a boon for the British.  In the packet's cargo were the personal papers of General William Hull commander of the American forces intent on attacking southwestern Upper Canada.  With these papers the British immediately knew his intentions and the strength of his Northwestern Army. 

     In addition to the Cuyahoga Rolette was also responsible for the capture of over a dozen other prizes during the war, including boats and batteaux (Wood, vol.1, p. 558).

      Rolette played an active role during the defence of the River Canard in July and at the capture of Detroit in August of 1812. The coming of winter did not curb Rolette's activities.  He commanded a Marine contingent during the Battle of Frenchtown in January 1813. He was once again badly wounded.  Having recovered sufficiently to take part in the Battle of Lake Erie he took over command of the Lady Prevost when the Royal Navy commander Lieutenant Edward Buchan was incapacitated.  Here too Rolette was severely wounded.  He spent the rest of the war in an American prisoner of war camp. 

    After the War he was presented a 50 guinea sword of honour by the citizens of Quebec in recognition of his services.  Rolette passed away in 1831 at the age of 48 never having completely recovered from his many wounds.  ("R" Geneaology File, Cruickshank, p. 57-59).

   Later in July 1812 the Queen Charlotte provided vital fire support to the British position at the River Canard.  The guns of the ship prevented an easy American passage over the one natural obstacle between Hull's invading army and the British fortifications at Amherstburg.

   In August the Marine Service ferried General Brock's invading force over to Detroit.  The Queen Charlotte and the General Hunter supported the crossing by shelling the city.   Fortunately, for the British, and their Native allies, Hull surrendered the city without bloodshed.

    In January 1813 the Marine contributed to the defence of the Detroit River frontier by participating at the Battle of Frenchtown.  A detachment of the Marine, acting as artillerymen, numbering 28 all ranks took an active part in the action and suffered over 50 percent casualties with one killed and 16 wounded including three of the four officers (Wood, vol. 2, p.10).

    In the spring 1813 the Provincial Marine once again showed it's worth as an effective transport service.  It ferried General Henry Procter's force of Regulars and militia  across Lake Erie to besiege the American base of Fort Meigs in northern Ohio. Over 500 regulars embarked on the Queen Charlotte, General Hunter, Chippawa, Mary, Nancy and Miamis.   462 Essex Militia were loaded on numerous batteaux. (Wood, vol. 2, p. 38).   The Marine also shipped large quantities of stores and large calibre cannons for the bombardment of the fort.    While the operation against Meigs was ultimately unsuccessful the efforts of the officers and men of the Provincial Marine could not be faulted.  In his report on the action Procter commended them:      

"The laborious (sic) duties which the Marine under the command of Commodore Hall have performed, have been most chee[r]fully met, and the most essential service rendered". (Wood, vol. 2 p. 36).

The Marine service was to repeat this transport function in July 1813 when Procter once again unsuccessfully attacked Fort Meigs and Fort Stephenson, another American post in northern Ohio.

     Yet, the yeoman-like service given by the Provincial Marine did nothing to curb the construction of Oliver Hazard Perry's fleet at Presqu'ile, Pennsylvania.  Nor did it quell the feeling from higher command that the service was inadequate to meet this new threat.  As early as October 1812 Governor General Sir George Prevost asked Lord Bathurst, Colonial Secretary for drafts of Royal Navy officers and men to provide a core of naval professionals to man the vessels on the lakes (LAC Q series vol.118, p. 275 as quoted in Malcomson p.18).  This call for reinforcements was very timely for by December 1812 Captain Andrew Gray, Acting Deputy Quarter Master General, in a memo to Prevost, assessed the American construction programme as such a threat to British control of the Great Lakes that "nothing can save our navy from destruction..." (Rg8, vol.728, pp.135-136).

    Finally waking to the expanding American naval forces the British sent two Royal Naval contingents to the Great Lakes in the Spring of 1813.  The larger group under the command of Sir James Yeo numbered some 446 officers and men came directly from England.  A much smaller complement of nine officers and gunners came from the Atlantic command of Sir John Borlase Warden (Wood, vol. 2, p. 298).  Robert Heriot Barclay lead this smaller group.  He reached Kingston in April and took command of the Provincial Marine forces there.  Barclay passed on command to Yeo upon his arrival in May 1813.

     Only a small portion of the Royal Navy officers and seamen were ever sent on to the naval establishment at Amherstburg.  Yeo ordered Barclay there to assume command from Commodore Hall.  With Barclay came three officers, a surgeon, a purser, a masters mate and 19 ratings.  Barclay later complained that 12 of the men were Canadians and the others "were the most worthless characters" cast off by Yeo (Wood, vol. 2 p. 298).  The unfortunate slur against the Canadians aside, Barclay had to make do with only the smallest cadre of naval professionals.  The majority of the seamen, and a number of the officers, under his command, were not Royal Navy sailors.  A return for July 1813 notes 108 Canadians, 54 RNR, and 106 41st regiment soldiers as serving aboard the vessels at Amherstburg (Wood, vol 2,  p. 252).

     Despite Barclay's plea for an additional 250-300 professional seamen he received fewer than 50 reinforcements prior to the climatic battle on Lake Erie. 

     The Summer of 1813 saw the frantic efforts of Barclay, Bell and General Procter to prepare the Detroit and the rest of the Amherstburg fleet for action. On September 9, 1813 Barclay's squadron of six Provincial Marine built vessels sailed from Amherstburg.  The dearth of trained seamen and supplies were to be critical factors when he faced Perry's flotilla the next day. 

     The loss of the Battle of Lake Erie meant only one thing for the British at Amherstburg: evacuation.  With the Americans blocking the supply line across Lake Erie to the east and with no fleet to prevent an invasion by William Henry Harrison's North Western Army, General Procter had no choice but to give up Amherstburg.  On September 23, 1813 Procter ordered the torching of all government buildings in Amherstburg.  The end had come for the naval yard.

     After the war the Royal Navy decided on a new naval establishment at Penetanguishene on Georgian Bay, safely away from the American border.  While Amherstburg would retain a reduced military presence the town would no longer be a the British naval base on the upper Great Lakes. 

Conclusion

      The verdict of history has not been overly kind to the Provincial Marine.  The various reports of the army just prior to the War of 1812 lambasted the organization for incompetence and haphazard administration.  Noted Canadian naval historian W.A.B. Douglas in his article The anatomy of Naval Incompetence stated that the PM had "too many losers in its ranks" and that the coming of the Royal Navy in 1813 brought a merciful end to the service. (Douglas, Anatomy, p.22).    While this assessment is accurate in many regards it can also be seen as very harsh.  One of the kinder appraisals, and I think more balanced looks at the Provincial Marine is offered by Carole MacLeod: 

Through it's existence the service was criticized....because it could not instantly respond to crisis.  The masters of transport vessels did not make suitable naval officers. That they did not stemmed from the perceptions of the lakes force held by commanders-in-chief in North America, their defensive strategies and particular circumstances...it was expensive to maintain a force fully competent at all times do defend North America's extensive waterways.  Instead commanders established a permanent transport force that served communication needs, trying to maintain the flexibility to meet defensive needs if necessary.... When there was no military threat the cost of keeping the force in a state of preparedness could not be justified.  The marine service could and did provide a basic framework that could be and was successfully expanded with reinforcements from Britain in time of need. (MacLeod part 2: Organization, p. 22.) 

At Amherstburg the efforts of individuals such as Master Shipwright William Bell and officers such as Frederic Rolette ensured that the Provincial Marine did provide "a basic framework" for the Royal Navy professionals who finally arrived in 1813.  The sailors of the Marine service at Amherstburg acquitted themselves admirably through 1812 and 1813 on the lakes and on land. 

Bibliography

Beall, William K.  William Kennedy Beall Journal, 1812.  Transcript of manuscript.  Filson Club, no date. 

Carter-Edwards, Dennis.  Fort Malden: a Structural Narrative History 1796-1976.  Parks Canada Manuscript Report 401.  1980.

Drake, Frederick C.  "The Canadian Provincial Marine and the Royal Navy at Amherstburg: an invited talk given at Fort Malden on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the formation  of Fort Malden National Park, August 26th 1989," in Navy - Provincial Marine File.  Fort Malden National Historic Site Resource Centre. 

Douglas, W.A.B. "The Honor of the Flag had not Suffered, Robert Heriot Barclay and the Battle of Lake Erie," in War on the Great Lakes: Essays Commemorating the 175th Anniversary of the Battle of Lake Erie. Eds. William Jeffery Walsh & David Curtis Skaggs. Kent,    Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1991. 

Douglas, W.A.B. "The Anatomy of Naval Incompetence: The Provincial Marine in Defence of Upper Canada before 1813," Ontario History, 71, no. 1(March 1979): 3-25. 

Fort Malden National Historic Site Resource Centre Files.

Detroit File.
General Hunter File.
Lady Prevost File.
Navy - Provincial Marine File.
"R" Genealogy File.

 Lajeunesse, Ernest J., ed.   The Windsor Region: Canada's Southern most Frontier: a Collection of Documents.  Toronto: Champlain Society, 1960. 

Library and Archives of Canada.  'C' Series, Record Group 8.  Volumes 111, 725, 728, 729, 1114, 1220. 

MacLeod, Carol.  The Tap of the Garrison Drum: the Marine Service in British North America 1755-1813.  Manuscript, no date. 

Macpherson, K.R. comp.  "List of vessels employed on British Naval Service on the Great Lakes, 1755-1875," Ontario History 55, no. 3 (September 1963): 173-179. 

Malcomson, Robert & Malcomson, Thomas.  MS Detroit: The Battle for Lake Erie.  St. Catharines, Ontario: Vanwell Publishing, 1990. 

Marcil, Eileen.  The Charlie Man: a History of Wooden Shipbuilding at Quebec, 1765-1893.     Kingston: Quarry Press, 1995. 

"The Provincial Marine and Royal Navy on the Upper Great Lakes 1796-1815."  In Navy - Provincial Marine File.  Fort Malden National Historic Site Resource Centre. 

Shipbuilding at Fort Amherstburg 1796-1813.  Parks Canada, 1978. 

Whitfield, Carol. "Alexander Grant", in The Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Volume 5. ed: Frances G. Halpenny.    Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1983 , pp 363-367. 

Wood, William, ed.  Select Documents of the Canadian War of 1812. 3 volumes.  New York: Greenwood Press, 1968.

Copyright Bob Garcia 2001

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