“Random encounters with the unusual” is a repository for the oddities that me and Mrs J have encountered on our travels, which we find interesting or amusing in some way. Have a look, maybe you will find something interesting or amusing herein.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

The Shop that Fought in the War of 1812

The village of Wickham in Hampshire is home to a rather unusual building, known as the Chesapeake Mill. The Chesapeake Mill is an old watermill that was built in 1820 and worked as a commercial watermill until 1976. After 1976 the mill was re-purposed for its current occupation, which is serving as an antiques and craft shop. The history of the Chesapeake Mill starts long before its construction in 1820 however.  It really starts on the 2nd December 1799 when the USS Chesapeake was launched from the Gosport Navy Yard in Norfolk, Virginia.

The USS Chesapeake was a United States Navy three-masted heavy frigate of wooden construction, rated at 38-guns. The USS Chesapeake’s military career included service in: the Quasi-War between the United States of America and France (1798 – 1800); the First Barbary War between the United States of America and the Muslim Barbary States of Northwest Africa (1801 – 1805); and ultimately in the War of 1812 between the United States of America and the United Kingdom (1812 - 1815).

In December 1812 the USS Chesapeake commenced her first patrol of the War of 1812.  During this patrol she was responsible for the capture of five British merchant vessels and the re-capture of an American vessel from British Privateers. She completed this patrol by returning to Boston on the 9th April 1813 where she underwent a refit and a change of Commanding Officer. Whilst the USS Chesapeake was refitting in Boston, the British 38-gun frigate HMS Shannon arrived at Boston and commenced a blockade of the port.

By the 1st June 1813, the USS Chesapeake was again ready to put to sea, so she sailed out of Boston to challenge the HMS Shannon’s blockade of the port. The ships were evenly matched, with both vessels being of comparable size and similar armament. The only significant difference between the vessels was the size of their crews, the USS Chesapeake had a compliment of 379 men in comparison to HMS Shannon 's crew of just 330.

The two ships met at around five o’clock in the afternoon 37 km east of Boston lighthouse, with the first exchange of cannon fire occurring when the ships had closed to a range of 35 metres apart. This exchange of cannon fire lasted for around 6 minutes with HMS Shannon scoring the first hit. The two vessels where soon alongside each other and HMS Shannon secured herself to the USS Chesapeake. HMS Shannon now concentrated her fire on USS Chesapeake’s gun crews, killing many of the men. The USS Chesapeake was finally disabled by cannon fire which destroyed her wheel, leaving her unable to manoeuvre. With the USS Chesapeake disabled, she was quickly boarded by the British and her remaining crew subdued in hand-to-hand combat. The entire battle only lasted around 11 minutes, during which HMS Shannon is reported to have had 23 men killed and 56 men wounded, whilst the USS Chesapeake had somewhere around 50 - 60 men killed, with 85 – 99 men wounded (although exact numbers differ depending on the source).

The captured USS Chesapeake was eventually repaired by the Royal Navy and was put back into service as HMS Chesapeake and served until July 1819 when she was put up for sale. HMS Chesapeake was sold to a timber merchant who in turn broke up the vessel and sold her timbers to a local miller, a Mr John Prior. The timbers from the Chesapeake were re-used by John Prior in the construction of the Chesapeake Mill, with the interior of the building designed around the length of the available deck beams.

Some say that the timbers of the mill still bear bloodstains and bullets from that singularly bloody battle. I saw no evidence of this, but you may be more lucky.

The Chesapeake Mill, Wickham, Hampshire.

HMS Shannon and USS Chesapeake at battle
HMS Shannon and USS Chesapeake locked together.
The boarding party fights its way onto the USS Chesapeake.
The USS Chesapeake is taken as a prize.

Pictures: Hampshire (February 2015).

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