The Queen Charlotte - Background Information
posted Mon Jan 27 2003
Several British warships have borne the name “Queen Charlotte”, all of which were named after the wife of King George III. In 1809, at the Navy yard at Amherstburg, the keel for a new Queen Charlotte was laid out. This vessel would never see the great Oceans of the world. She would live her entire life on the upper great Lakes, assigned to the Provincial Marine fleet in Canada.
The Provincial Marine was a small Naval Force that dates back to the French and Indian War. As the British began to establish Forts along the Great Lakes, the need to supply them became a major obstacle. The creation of a fresh water navy overcame these obstacles. The primary function of this navy was the transportation of troops and stores. In a time of war, it had the ability to become a fighting force. Fort Detroit was the Home port for the Lake Erie Fleet. Following the end of the American Revolution, Fort Detroit would be handed over to the Americans and Amherstburg would become their new base of operations.
William Bell, a Scotsman, was the Master-shipwright at Amherstburg. He was responsible for the construction of all the major ships built there. In 1810 his largest creation thus far was launched. The “Queen Charlotte” was a three masted, square rigged vessel. She was classed as a three masted sloop, with 16 gun ports in her sides.
There are various accounts and listings on the Queen Charlotte. The most detailed is an article entitled “The Provincial Marine at Amherstburg 1796-1813” by Bob Garcia. This can be found at www.warof1812.ca/provmarine.htm. Garcia gives “Shipbuilding at Fort Amherstburg 1796-1813”, by Parks Canada 1978 and “Select Documents of the Canadian War of 1812”, Volumes 1-3,edited by William Wood as references on the Queen Charlotte.
James W. Cheevers, Associate Director and Senior Curator at the U.S. Naval Academy Museum, was another great resource on facts about “Charlotte”. He gave J.J. Colledge’s 1987 book “Ships of the Royal Navy”, “Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships” volume V, the William James 1837 book “Naval History of Great Britain”, E.S. Maclay’s 1900 book “History of the United States Navy”, Dutton’s biography of Oliver Hazard Perry and K. Jack Bauer’s “Register of Ships of the U.S. Navy” as sources for the information that he gave me.
References to the “Queen Charlotte” are also found on the Web site of the “HMCS Queen Charlotte Naval Reserve Unit” in its history section. John R. Elting’s book “Amateurs, To Arms! A Military History of The War Of 1812” and Pierre Berton’s book, “The Battle of Lake Erie” also makes several interesting references to the “Queen Charlotte”. With the help of all these references I have been able to compile the data and opinions that follow.
The “Queen Charlotte” is said to be from 96 to 116 feet in Length and a beam of from 25 to 28 feet in width. She had a depth of 11 to 12 feet and had a displacement of from 300 to 400 tons. She was manned by a crew of 126 men. As earlier mentioned she was built with 16 gun ports, but is believed to have carried between 1 to 2 additional cannon which were probably placed near the bow.
The number and size of cannon is probably the most confusing issue to solve. All sources agree that she was built to carry 16 guns and carried 17 when she was captured. Of these, 10 to 16 are considered to be Carronades with the additional being long guns. The majority of the references lean towards the fact that she carried at least fourteen 24-pound carronades and from 2 to 3 long guns the majority of the time. It seems that she may have carried sixteen 24-pounders in the beginning. But there seems to have been some different variations on the type of long guns that she carried. She seems to have carried two 9-pounders, two 9-pounders with one 12-pounder, to carrying three 12-pounders at different periods in her history.
These constant changes may be attributed to a couple major factors. The first is the fact that after the War of 1812 began, the supply of new cannon dried up. With the creation of new vessels, such as the “Detroit”, this made the sharing of cannons a necessity. Also with the freezing over of parts of Lake Erie, this forced the “Queen Charlotte” to remain in dry-dock. This made her guns and gun crews available for use in other military actions. This could account for the several variations of cannons.
The actual specifications of the “Queen Charlotte” may not be precisely known, but her history is. She was built as a war ship and from her beginning she became the flagship of the upper Great Lakes fleet. Commodore Grant was in command of this fleet until he was replaced by Captain Hall in the spring of 1812. Captain Hall would also be her commander. She would continue on as the flagship until she was replaced in that role by the “Detroit” when she was completed.
The “Queen Charlotte” played a very important role during “The War of 1812”. When General William Hull invaded Canada in July (of 1812), the “Charlotte” positioned herself at the head of the River Canard. She began shelling the American forces as they attempted to cross and prevented their crossing.
In August, General Brock would lead his British forces in an attack on Fort Detroit and General Hull’s American Army. They would begin this siege with the help of the provincial Marine. The “Queen Charlotte” (18 Guns, Elting) and the “General Hunter” (10 Guns, Elting) began shelling the fort. The bombardment would fall off through the night and then continue the next day. Fearing for the safety of his Army and the citizens of Detroit, Hull surrendered.
After the fall of Detroit and the defeat of Hull, the records of the actions of the “Queen Charlotte” fall silent. The duties of the Provincial Marine seem to have gone back to their normal everyday duties. For the Americans the year hadn’t gone well. Forts Dearborn, Mackinac as well as Detroit had fallen to the British or their Indian allies. On September 4th, Fort Harrison (Terre Haute, In.) and on September 6th, Fort Wayne (Fort Wayne, In.) were attacked by Tecumseh and his Indian Army. General Harrison would reach Fort Wayne and break the siege there while the Kentucky Militia would reach Fort Harrison, breaking its siege. In November General Hopkin’s drive up the Wabash would end at the battle of Spurs Defeat along the Wildcat Creek. The year would end on a positive note with Colonel Campbell’s costly success at the Battle of Mississinewa. General Harrison still had control of what is now Northern Indiana.
Knowing that the Detroit River as well as the mouth of Lake Erie and its edges would freeze over, Harrison decided to continue his campaign on into the winter. With the River and the edges of the lake frozen, this would prevent the Provincial Marine fleet from being a threat to his army. He felt that this would make Detroit and Amherstburg very vulnerable.
Colonel William Lewis and Colonel John Allen, with 560 Americans marched to the village of Frenchtown. This British held village was located along the River Raisin. The American force was successful in driving the Canadian militia and their Indian allies out of town on January 18, 1813.
General Proctor, leaving his militia to garrison Detroit and Fort Malden, set out for Frenchtown on January 21st. With him were 6 artillery pieces, accompanied by Lieutenant Frederick Rolette and 27 men of the Provincial Marine. Several of these men are believed to have been from the “Queen Charlotte”. They all were there to service the cannon. The ensuing engagement on the 22nd of January would be costly for them, as they suffered 50 percent casualties when they were caught in the open by the Kentucky riflemen. They had one killed and 16 wounded.
In the spring and July of 1813, the Queen Charlotte would again be in the thick of things again. Proctor would lead his army on two separate, unsuccessful attacks on the Americans at Fort Meigs. The Charlotte would be used in ferrying troops and supplies across Lake Erie. Among these supplies were cannons to be used to bombard the Fort.
Upon their return to Amherstburg and Fort Malden the Provincial marine would undergo a major change. The Royal Navy assumed command of all Provincial marine Forces with the arrival of Sir James Yeo and Robert Barclay. Barclay would replace Hall as Commodore and assume command of the Lake Erie fleet. On September 9, 1813 Barclay and his squadron of 6 ships would depart Amherstburg. On September 10th Barclay would engage Perry’s fleet of 9 vessels.
Barclay’s plan was to concentrate on Perry’s flagship, the “Lawrence”, then go after the rest of the fleet. Shortly after the battle began Barclay suffered a major setback. His second in command, the commander of the “Queen Charlotte”, Captain Finnis of the Royal Navy, was killed by a cannonball. His first officer was also killed with him. A few moments later, the ships second officer was incapacitated by a shell splinter. The command of the “Charlotte” now fell on a young inexperienced Provincial Marine Lieutenant by the name of Robert Irvine.
The battered “Detroit” and “Queen Charlotte” would continue their attack on the “Lawrence”. Perry would eventually be forced to move to the Brig “Niagara”. Soon after, Barclay began to concentrate his attack on the “Niagara, but suddenly the “Detroit” and the “Queen Charlotte” became entangled. Perry seeing his chance closed in on the entangled mass of British ships and began firing broadsides at them both. The “Charlotte’ would have her mizzen mast shot away and the “Detroit” would lose all of her mast. Soon afterwards the British fleet was forced to surrender.
Thus was the end of the “Queen Charlotte’s” career in the Provincial marine. But she didn’t totally disappear. According to Bauer’s book and The Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, she was sunk at her moorings at Erie Pennsylvania in 1815. This is believed to be a way of storing wooden vessels in fresh water. She was eventually sold in July of 1825 to a George Brown of Erie. She was then refitted as a merchant ship.
It is customary with the capture of warships in the time of war, that the ships colors and the flag locker are turned over to the victors. This was the case with Barclay’s fleet. The flags of the “Detroit”, “General Hunter”, “Queen Charlotte” and all the other vessels can be found today in the custody of the United States Naval Academy located at Annapolis, Maryland.
In a phone conversation with James Cheevers, Associate Director and Senior Curator at the Academies Museum, he tells of two flags that belonged to the “Charlotte”. One is an ensign and the other is a pendent. The ensign is a white ensign that measures 16 feet 9 inches by 28 feet 3 inches. The pendent is red with a white rectangle at the large end. The white rectangle has a red cross inside. The pendent measures 6 inches by 16 feet 6 inches long.
Written by Brian Wilson
May 26, 2002