An Analysis of the Events Surrounding
The Battle of Big Sandy and the Carrying of the Great Rope in 1814 and the Ensuing 185 Years
© Blaine Bettinger, Fall 1998 / Spring 1999
This paper comes after a rewarding semester in Local and Social History at Oswego University, led by Dr. Judith Wellman. Most of the research was done in Jefferson and Oswego Counties over three months in the Fall of 1998. My attempt was to compile the most complete and encompassing information possible surrounding the Battle of Big Sandy in the hopes of fairly portraying the actual events of 1814 and the years since then. In most history books, even those depicting local history, the Battle and the Carry are nothing more than a paragraph. Hopefully I have contributed more knowledge to that minor mention and found another soul interested in the topic.
Throughout my research I encountered many other interested souls who helped me immensely. Individuals I must thank are Eric Anderson, Robert Brennan, Eleanor Maitland, Rosemary Nesbitt, Art Rice, Dr. Judith Wellman, and Fred Wolcott. Also, I am indebted to the many invaluable people and documents at the Flower Memorial Library Genealogy Department in Watertown, NY, the South Jefferson Historical Society in Adams, NY, the Henderson Historical Society in Henderson, NY, and the Ainsworth Memorial Library in Sandy Creek, NY.
I dedicate this paper to the men and women who participated in the Battle and the Cable Carry, the spirit of whom still live on in the memory of the events.
A special dedication goes to my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, Lieutenant Grout Hoisington, who was at the Battle of Big Sandy and, according to fellow participant N.W. Hibbard, helped carry the great rope.
In May of 1814, a twenty-minute skirmish involving only a few hundred soldiers helped assert the United States’ superiority on Lake Ontario in the latter part of the War of 1812. On a small creek on the lake’s eastern shore, a British officer chased American forces into their territory, disobeying a direct order and paying a taxing price. A Great Rope made of hemp and powerful armament, won in this small battle, would end up in the great shipyards in Sackets Harbor, effecting the launch of three new vessels. The story of the Battle of Big Sandy and the Great Cable Carry are tales of pain and triumph, of strength and determination. And today, 185 years later, those tales can still be told and heard.
During the winter of 1813-1814, both the British and the Americans had decided that in order to end the fighting on Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, an enormous shipbuilding enterprise must be initiated. In Kingston and Sackets Harbor new ships with more armament and a larger crew were being constructed in the hopes of gaining an edge over the enemy.
At the American ship yards in Sackets Harbor, two brigs, the Jefferson and the Jones, and a frigate, the Superior, waited for armament and rigging necessary for their launch. They had been rapidly constructed there by the master ship builder Henry Eckford (who died November 12, 1832 in Constantinople as the chief director of the Turkish Empire’s dock yards)(Hough 513). When completed, the Superior would hold 26 forty-two pounders, 30 thirty-two pounders, and 2 twenty-four pounders with a tonnage of 1580 and a complement of 500 officers and men (National Archives Naval Records). The necessary supplies had been transported from the Brooklyn Naval Yards in New York City to Albany, and from Albany up the Mohawk to Wood Creek and the Oneida Lake, finally arriving at the Oswego River (Slosek 14).
The British recognized that in order to prevent the Americans from becoming a superior force on Lake Ontario, the stores would have to be captured. On May 4th, 1814, Sir James Yeo left Kingston Harbor with six vessels bound for Oswego.
Some time earlier, Lieutenant Colonel George E. Mitchell had been sent with a battalion of light artillery to defend the fort at Oswego. His forces, however, would prove to be inadequate in the face of the enemy’s numbers. At sunrise of May 5th, the enemy was sighted advancing toward the shore. Mitchell, knowing an attack was coming, had ordered all the tents available pitched near the town. Rosemary Nesbitt, author of the young adult novel The Great Rope, describes the scene.“Colonel Mitchell, who was in command at Fort Ontario, was a clever soldier and a determined one. He knew he was going to be greatly outnumbered by the British, but he had made up his mind that he was not going to be outsmarted by them. So he had recruited every man and boy in the village and set them to work building a false military encampment in the meadow beside the Cooper house. Jonathan [the novel’s primary character] had helped and he thought it was a great joke on the British.Mitchell’s deception was successful, causing the British to attack the fort instead of the vulnerable village. With a 12-pounder the American forces opened fire on the British vessels, momentarily repulsing the attack (Slosek 15).
“They had collected every piece of canvas, every tarpaulin, every old sail, everything that looked the least bit like tent material. Then they had built a city of tents in the meadow. Of course nobody lived in them. But the British didn’t know that and Colonel Mitchell hoped they wouldn’t get close enough to find out. He hoped they’d be fooled into thinking he had three times the men who were actually on duty at Fort Ontario (Nesbitt 38-9).”
On the morning of the 6th the British forces again attacked Oswego, this time opening a terrible fire upon the Americans. Under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Tischer approximately 1,200 British soldiers landed and successfully pushed back the American forces. The British captured the Growler and the small naval stores at the fort, and then burned the barracks. However, since the Superior’s armament supplies had cleverly been stored at Oswego Falls, the British were not able to seize those.
Upon retreat, Lieut Col Mitchell destroyed the bridges and filled the roads with timber on his way upriver to Oswego Falls (now Fulton, NY) (Hough 509). The British pursued the men as far as the Black Creek bridge, but since Mitchell had already destroyed it, they turned back to Oswego. The British, sure that they could intercept any supplies on their way north to Sackets Harbor, withdrew from Oswego and waited at the Galloo Islands (DeLong 98).
From Sackets Harbor, April 21st 1814, Commodore Isaac Chauncey sent orders to Lieutenant Melancthon T. Woolsey directing him to choose five officers and twenty-five men to proceed in the Lady of the Lake to Oswego.“I request that you will select four or five officers and from twenty to twenty-five men and proceed in the Lady of the Lake to Oswego – you will take your officers and men on shore and proceed to the Falls where you will procure the best accommodations possible for the men having in view the public interest – your business to Oswego is to forward the guns and public property new on the way from Schenectady to this place. My object is that you should induce as many of the boats to run the Falls with the guns and stores as will consent and bring the articles to this place.It would now be Woolsey’s responsibility to deliver the vastly important armament and rigging to the Superior in Sackets Harbor.
“As you are in possession of my views on this subject together with the urgency of the occasion I necessarily leave much to your discretion and shall feel every confidence in your exertion, bearing in mind that the guns for the large ship must be got on at all hazards. You will also recollect that no stores belonging to the Navy Department is to be left below the Falls for more than twenty-four hours.
“As you are well acquainted in that District of Country I shall not attempt to point out to you the particular line of conduct which you are to pursue. I shall trust to your judgment and you known zeal for the Service. I only repeat that the guns must be sent forward to this place. You will keep me informed constantly of all your proceedings (Chauncey Letterbooks).”
To do this, the supplies would have to pass over the Oswego Falls and through Oswego to the lake. In a letter written by Woolsey to Chauncey on June 2, 1814, he describes the events up to and including the battle. This account is undoubtedly the most accurate and detailed description available primarily because they were written almost immediately after the battle by a direct participant. Although it must be considered that Woolsey was indeed detailing his successful actions to a superior officer, it is doubtful that any gross embellishments or additions were made. I will let Woolsey relate the events in his own words:“I have already had the honor to inform you of the affair at Sandy Creek on the 30th ultimo, but for want of time at the juncture, I had it not in my power to give you the particulars, and as most of my communication since measures were adopted for a push from Oswego Falls to Sandy Creek, with the naval stores, have been made in great haste, I avail myself of a leisure moment to make a report in detail of my proceedings since that point. On the 17th [of May 1814] I despatched [sic] Mr. Huginan to Mexico, to hire a number of ox-teams, and to engage a quantity of forage, etc. I also sent orders to Oswego Falls to have an additional number of large wheels made for transporting the guns and cables back across the portage, and caused reports to be circulated in every direction that I had received your orders to send all the naval stores to Oneida Lake, with all possible expedition. On the morning of the 28th, when these reports were well in circulation, and when (as I have since heard from great authority) they had been detailed to Sir James [Yeo], I had the honour to receive per express your communication of the 27th, vesting in me discretionary powers. I immediately despatched Mr. Dixon in the long gig to reconnoiter the coast. I went with my officers to the falls, to run the boats down over the rapids. At sun-set we arrived at Oswego with the boats (19 in number) loaded in all with
21 long thirty-two pounders,
10 twenty-four pounders,
3 forty-two ditto (carronades),
and 10 cables, besides some light articles, and distributed in the batteaux a guard of about 150 riflemen, under command of Major Appling. Mr. Dixon having returned with a report of the coast being clear, we set off at dark and arrived at Big Salmon river about sun-rise on the 29th, with the loss of one boat having on board 2 twenty-four pounders and one cable. I cannot account for her having separated from us, as every possible exertion was made to keep the brigade as close as possible (Brannan).”
The 19 boats slowly and quietly made their way up the coast of the lake in both darkness and dreary rain. During the night, one of those silent batteaux either became lost or intentionally wavered off course. General E.P. Gaines, Commander at Sackets Harbor, wrote to the Secretary of War John Armstrong on May 31, 1814 that “the enemy has captured one of our boats from Oswego, having on board two 32-pounders and a 13-inch cable (Slosek 23),” although Woolsey’s audit of the contents (two 24-pounders and one cable) is probably more accurate.
However, on June 4 Chauncey writes to William Jones, Secretary of the Navy, and has a different description of the missing boat dilemma;“I have the mortification to inform you that the boat that I mentioned to you as being missing with a cable and two 24-pounders had been taken by the Enemy and I have every reason to believe that she was designedly taken to the Enemy’s fleet by Curley, the person who had charge of her – for after separating from the other boats contrary to positive orders – instead of running for Sandy Creek (the place of rendezvous) he steered directly for the enemy’s squadron (Chauncey Letterbooks).”
Captain Stephen Popham, a British officer captured at the Battle of Sandy Creek and writing on June 1 to Sir James Yeo from Sackets Harbor, offers very little to the source of his information; “Having obtained certain information, that the enemy’s boats with their guns and stores, had taken shelter in Sandy Creek, I proceeded to that place” (British Public Record 327).
In a June 8th letter to Bathhurst, Sir George Prevost wrote from Headquarters in Montreal about the results of the battle. In the letter Prevost mentions the missing boat.“A large boat with two long 24-pounders and a 19 ½ inch cable for the enemy’s new ship, having been taken by our squadron then blockading Sacketts Harbor, the information obtained from the prisoners of the sailing from Oswego of fifteen other boats with stores, led to the attempt which has terminated so disastrously (British Public Record 327).”
It is unlikely that the batteaux could have been sighted and captured during the night without being heard. Would a lost boat have immediately headed for shore to avoid detection? Were they captured the next day while trying to find the rendezvous? Or in fact was the pilot of the boat a spy for the British? Unfortunately, those answers remain hidden in history.
Woolsey continues his narrative of the Battle in his June 2nd letter to Commodore Chauncey. The 19th batteaux has come up missing, and the American forces are preparing for the inevitable British attack.“At Big Salmon we met the Oneidas, whom I had despatched the day previous, under the command of Lieutenant Hill, of the rifle regiment. As soon as they had taken up their line of march along the shore of Big Sandy Creek, I started with all the boats and arrived at noon at our place of destination about two miles up the creek. In this laborious and hazardous duty, I feel much indebted to Major Appling, his officers, and men, for their exertions, having assisted my officers and seamen in rowing the boats without a moment’s rest, twelve hours, and about half the time enveloped in darkness and rain; also, to some of the principal inhabitants of Oswego, who volunteered their services as pilots (Brannan).”
The number of Indians at the Battle of Big Sandy is not a readily known fact. One very reliable source lists the number as 120 Oneida Indians (Hitsman 185), while Commodore Chauncey lists the number as 130 Indians in his June 2nd letter to the Secretary of the Navy William Jones (Chauncey Letterbooks). Regardless of their number, the Oneidas had been gathered by Lieutenant Hill at Woolsey’s bequest in order to confer additional protection to the American forces slinking up the coast (Hitsman 185).
Woolsey continues his recount of the battle.“At 2 A.M. on the 30th, I received your letter of the 29th, 6 P.M. per express, and agreeably to the order contained therein, sent lieutenant Pierce to look out as far as Stony Point. About 2 o’clock he returned, having been pursued by a gun-boat and three barges. The best possible disposition was made of the riflemen and Indians, about one-half mile below our boats. About 8 A.M. a cannonading at long shot was commenced by the enemy, and believing, as I did, that no attempt would be made to land with their small force, I ordered lieutenant Pierce to proceed in erecting sheers and making preparations to unload the boats; and, as all the teams had retrograded in consequence of the cannonading, I sent in pursuit of them to return. About 9 o’clock [still A.M.] Captain Harris, with a squadron of dragoons, and Captain Melvin, with a company of light artillery and two six-pounders, arrived (Brannan).”
Upon reaching Sandy Creek and realizing a British attack was probable, Woolsey had sent a runner to Sackets Harbor and neighboring militia regiments to get reinforcements (“Herald,” Rutland, VT). Some sources state that Woolsey sent messengers at dawn of the 30th (Hough 510). At approximately the same time (9 AM), the Adams and Ellisburg militia regiments arrived (Emerson 592).“Captain Harris, the commanding officer, agreed with me that this reinforcement should halt, as the troops best calculated for a bush fight were already on the ground, where they could act to the greatest advantage, and that the enemy, seeing a large reinforcement arrive would probably retreat. About 10, the enemy having landed and pushed up the creek with three gun-boats, three cutters, and one gig; the riflemen, under that excellent officer, Major Appling, rose from their concealment, and after a smart fire of about ten minutes, succeeded in capturing all the boats and their crews, without one having escaped (Brannan).”
One of the most applauded participants of the Battle of Big Sandy is Captain Appling, commander of the riflemen. Daniel Appling was born August 29, 1787 in Georgia to John and Rebecca (Carter) Appling. In 1805, at the age of 18, he enlisted in the United States army and was commissioned lieutenant. He was a recruiting officer for some time, but was then stationed at Fort Hawkins in Georgia and Point Peter on St. Mary’s River (Northern 54). On April 15, 1814 Appling was promoted to Captain. After the Battle of Big Sandy, Captain Appling was promoted to Major “for gallant conduct in capturing a superior force of the enemy at the battle” (Richardson 1987). Major Appling was then stationed at Plattsburg and successfully led his riflemen against General Provost’s attack (Northern 54). For his service there, he was promoted to Brev. Colonel (Richardson 1987).
When the war ended, Appling returned to his home state of Georgia, where he died on or about March 5, 1817. Upon his death a new county in South Georgia was named after him (Northern 55).
Although there were as many as 200 people who directly participated in either the Battle of Big Sandy or the Great Cable Carry, very few recorded their experiences. Eyewitness accounts are essential for an encompassing account of historical events not only because they lend facts, but because they lend humanity and soul as well. History is nothing more than a person or persons’ version of events. Since we are human and not recording machines, we interpret and remember events as we see them. In these interpretations, one sees the true humanity of events.
On July 17, 1873, the Watertown Daily Times published a letter written by Dr. J. M. Sturdevant for the Rome Sentinel. It contained his account of the Battle sixty years earlier.“On Sunday, June 5th, 1814, an alarm was sent through the town, warning every man and boy to hasten to the landing, for the British were coming. Well, we all turned out, some with guns, some with guns without locks, some with locks without any flints, others with pitchforks, &c. A motley throng – backwoodsmen, hunters, trappers and boys, a sorry looking crowd to fight British regulars.
“The British did not appear that day. At evening I went home feeling sad enough; but as I went home I met a troop of cavalry under Captain Harris, of the United States army, a regiment of riflemen under command of Major Appling, a company of artillery with two brass guns, and a company of marines. These were on the way to “the front”, to defend our property. Major Appling stationed his forces as follows: The artillery at the head of the lane near our boats, so as to sweep the bank of the creek for a quarter of a mile; the cavalry in the open field beside the artillery; the riflemen were secreted behind the brush fence at the lower edge of the woods, and the Indians (the Oneidas) were behind the fence further to the right of the riflemen. The militia men were posted on the bank of the stream in the woods and brushes. Thus arranged with admirable military skill, the American forces lay upon their arms all night awaiting an attack the next morning.
“Monday the 6th was a bright, beautiful morning. The air was balmy, and stillness sat upon the stream, marsh, and woods. About sunrise the British expedition entered the creek. A heavy cannonading shook the forest, and the expedition was soon visible. It consisted of about ten or twelve gunboats, heavily armed and manned by some five hundred picked British regulars commanded by Major Popping [Popham]. A halt was ordered, and an inspection was made with a spy glass of the condition of things at the landing. Not a man however was to be seen. Nothing but the American flag proudly floating in the breeze above the tree tops.
“Said Major Popping, “I will show those Yankees a trick,” and ordered another broadside from his fleet, sending shot and shell among the tree tops, which did some damage to timber, and that was all so far. The order of advance was spread and all sail set. The bands of music filled the air with lively strains, and slowly they moved up the creek.
“Their gay uniforms – red coats, gilt buttons and white belts – and the bright guns and bayonets gleaming in the morning sun, gave a splendid appearance as they approached the American lines. Another halt and a survey of the situation. The hard ground reached, the troops were landed, a line of battle formed on the level pasture land, and they advanced toward the woods. The boats moving alongside kept up a continuous fire. When they had approached within eight rods of the brush fence, Major Appling gave the order to fire along the whole line and a thousand rifle and musket balls were let loose and tore through the British ranks. The red coats dropped to the ground like apples shaken from a tree in October. The exchange of a few shots served to put them in utter confusion. At this time our Indians poured in a murderous fire, and rushing from behind the brush set up their war whoops and hideous yells in true savage style.
“The British, routed and confounded, threw down their arms and begged for quarter. Many of them, after flinging away their guns, took to their heels and make for the marsh, hoping to reach the lakeshore. They were pursued, however, by the Indians and slain with the tomahawk. Others plunged into the creek, gained the opposite shore, and ran off into the marsh; these, too, were followed up by the savages and shard the fate of the others. After the fight I saw several soldiers whose heads had been thus cleft by the tomahawk.
“The boats were all captured, and the troops killed or taken prisoner. Not a man escaped to carry the sad tidings to Commander Yeo, on board the British fleet.
“In fifteen minutes the tumult of battle was ended, and the silence was only broken by the groans of the wounded and dying (Sturdevant 3).”
Another account of the Battle came from Captain Israel Adams, an Oswego River and Lake Ontario pilot who traveled with Woolsey from Oswego to Sackets Harbor. As author Anthony Slosek explains in his summary of the battle, Captain Adams had been “hired by the Liverpool, NY, boat builder, J. W. Smith, to take a fleet of boats to Oswego (Slosek 23).” In 1848, Captain Adams published a book called Life, Travels, and Adventure in which he included a description of the battle 34 years earlier. The fact that it is an autobiography must be considered when analyzing the factual value of the narrative.“We here [at Sandy Creek] learned that the enemy were in possession of the coast between this and Sacketts Harbor. We then concluded to ascend the creek as far as possible, which we accordingly did, showing our boats around a bend of the creek, where there was a small copse (a low growing thicket) which sheltered them in part from the sight of the enemy, a few of our masts only could be seen. We formed a determination to defend our boats as long as possible; and early on Monday morning the enemy made their appearance, coming up the creek and firing at us with 68 pound shot, and some smaller calibre from their gun boats.
“We had a small party of riflemen, thirty in number, commanded by Captain Applin [Appling], to whom we gave the command of the defense. We armed ourselves as well as we could, but could only arm 100 men, including the riflemen.
“About a mile from the mouth of the creek, at a bend in the stream, was a copse of woods below which, on either side of the creek, were meadows.. at the mouth of the creek, on each side, were high banks. Here the enemy landed a part of their forces, but finding they could not proceed by land, they again embarked on board of the boats and proceeded up the creek until they reached the meadows, when a party landed on each side of the creek, and kept along with the boats.
“They commenced firing from the boats immediately on entering the creek, from their largest pieces, which carried a ball weighing 68 pounds. There were seven boats, carrying 14 guns in all, and the number of the enemy was four hundred, well armed.
“Captain Applin drew up his party in the copse of the woods. Behind the woods, in the bend of the creek, lay our boats, the masts of which the enemy had discovered. The enemy were now advancing, keeping up a continual fire, which did no other damage than to cut the limbs of the trees. Each of us were ordered to keep behind the stumps or trees until Capt. Applin fired, which was to be signal for all to fire.. then were to load and fire as fast as we could, and not to waste ammunition.
“When the enemy were marching up the meadows, I told Capt. Applin I would climb a tree and ascertain their number. He told me it would be hazardous, but I might act my pleasure. I then ascended a tree about fifteen feet to a crotch, where I stood counting the enemy, when one of those large balls passed though the top of the tree just above my head, cutting off a large limb. I left my standing place and came down quick, to avoid the limb which fell into the place where I had stood, and stationed myself behind the tree I had left.
“The enemy were now within six rods of us. They loaded their bug gun with a bag of musketballs, and as the gunner was taking aim at us, Captain Applin fired, and the rest of us at the same instant.. there were seven balls through the gunner’s body. Every man loaded and fired as fast as he could. The battle was general on both sides.. it lasted not more than twenty minutes before the enemy surrendered prisoners of war, they having 46 killed and 87 wounded. We had none killed, and but one wounded, who died of his wound the third day after the battle (Adams 24-25).”
Another eyewitness account of the battle came from a man named N.W. Hibbard. In 1895 the Jefferson County Historical Society published a pamphlet called “A Participant’s Recollection of the Battle of Big Sandy and Carrying the Cable,” which was a letter from Mr. Hibbard to an A. Hunt from Rural Hill, NY, on February 10, 1859.“Dear Sir: - Having been informed by my son that you wish me to send you some account of the occurrences that took place in the attack of the British on the American flotilla at Sandy Creek, and of the events which transpired immediately before and after the attack, I will do so, as nearly as I can from recollection. I think it was in the month of June, but am unable to say what day of the month, that the American flotilla entered the mouth of Big Sandy Creek. The brigade consisted, if I recollect right, of eighteen boats, under command of Commodore Woolsey, accompanied by eighty-four riflemen under command of Captain Appling – afterwards Colonel Appling. They left Oswego with nineteen boats, one of which fell off from the brigade in a fog, and was captured by the enemy, who, having command of the lake, has been for some time watching the coast for the arrival of the American boats having on boards the armament for the frigate Superior, now ready at Sackets Harbor, the superiority of the Americans on the lake would become a fixed fact; hence their anxiety to prevent the arrival of the boats and to capture the armament. The American boats arrived at their moorings on Sunday afternoon. Commodore Woolsey sent Lieut. Ridgely in a small boat to examine the coast as far up as Big Stony Creek, intending to proceed, if possible, with the flotilla to that place. Some time in the night, Lieut. Ridgely fell in with the detachment of the enemy destined for the capture of the American boats. The Lieutenant immediately put about, and about daylight reported the facts to the Commodore. Capt. Appling had, in the meantime, sent Capt. Harrington express to Col. Mitchell, then commanding at Sackets Harbor, who instantly sent Captain Harris’ company of mounted dragoons and a corps of flying artillery, I believe Major McIntosh’s, to reinforce Appling. They arrived at the boats in time, and were immediately drawn up in line, prepared for battle, near the boats, while Appling proceeded down the creek and secreted his riflemen behind a brush fence among the alders in the margin of the marsh. The British force, under command of Capt. Popham, R.N., entered the mouth of the creek about sunrise, and consisted of five boats, some forty marines, and something more than 200 sailors; they proceeded cautiously up the crooked channel of the creek, often discharging from a carronade six to eight pound shots, which neither scared nor hurt anybody, as no one was near them, and they only fired at such places as might conceal mischief. With their eyes fixed on the American troops at the boats, and knowing nothing of Appling, they landed their marines, who, in platoons, marched up the creek by the side of the boats. When near the edge of the marsh, and within a stone’s throw of Appling, the signal was given, and Appling’s men poured upon them their deadly fire. In ten minutes all was over. I do not know how manny were killed; I helped to lay side by side upon the grass thirteen dead of the rank and file; sixty-four were wounded, and two hundred and thirty-four taken prisoners. Of the officers I cannot give much account, as Col. Clark Allen, then commanding the 55th regiment N.Y. militia infantry, with some 300 men, were soon on the ground, and the rank and file of the prisoners were handed over to them, with orders to proceed with them to Sackets Harbor. After a most fatiguing march, we arrived at Sackets Harbor about sundown, where we lay on our arms till sundown [sic sunrise], when we returned to Sandy Creek. There being no means of getting the armament to Sackets Harbor, except by land, and that doubtful, as the force at Sackets Harbor was light, and the enemy having our coast under blockade, and in force sufficient to cut us all up. If they should try, Col. Allen’s regiment was stationed at the Creek to guard the boats and property (Hibbard 1859).”
On June 1st, 1814, Captain Stephen Popham, leader of the British forces involved in the Battle of Big Sandy, wrote as a prisoner to Sir James Yeo from Sackets Harbor.
Popham had been ordered to pursue the discovered enemy forces with two gunboats and some smaller vessels, but en route gathered a small force commanded by Captain F. B. Spilsbury, giving a total number of three gunboats, four smaller vessels, and nearly 200 men (Hitsman 186).
In the letter Popham gives a very brief but apt description of the events. It is interesting to note, however, that he does not mention the surprise attack by the hidden American forces. It is also apparent he believes that the loss of a cannon during the battle, a 68-pounder, may have deprived him of the opportunity to win.
While reading the letter, one must keep in mind the fact that Popham is writing of his defeat to a superior officer, an exceedingly difficult task.“Having obtained certain information, that the enemy’s boats with their guns and stores, had taken shelter in Sandy Creek, I proceeded to that place (having ordered Captain Spilsbury to accompany me) and reached the entrance of it shortly after daylight yesterday morning. I landed, accompanied by Captain Spilsbury, and some of the officers, and having reconnoitred their position, determined on an immediate attack.
“The masts of their boats (consisting of eighteen) were plainly seen over the marsh and from their situation did not appear to be very near the woods, and their not attempting to interrupt our entry into the Creek, led me to hope they were only protected by militia. This circumstance, added to the very great importance of the lading of their boats, to the equipment of their squadron, was a strong motive for me to risk the attack, not aware that they had brought their Riflemen in their boats, and that a body of Indians had accompanied them along the beach.
“The boats advanced cautiously to within about a quarter of a mile of the enemy’s, when Lieut Cox of the Royal Marines was landed with the principal part of his men, on the left bank – and Captain Spilsbury and Lieut Browne with the Cohorn and small Arm party, accompanied by Lieut McVeagh, with a few Marines, were landed on the right bank. Their respective parties advanced on the flanks of the gun-boats (which had from their fire dispersed a body of Indians) to a turning which opened the enemy’s boats to our view, when unfortunately the 68-pounder carronade, on which much depended, was disabled, seeing us pulling the boat round to bring the 24-pounder to bear – the enemy thought we were commencing a retreat, when they advanced with their whole force, consisting of one hundred and fifty Riflemen, near two hundred Indians, and a numerous body of Militia and Cavalry which soon overpowered the few men I had. Their resistance was such as I could have expected from a brave and well disciplined body, but, opposed to such numbers, unavailing, their officers set them an example honorable to themselves and worthy of a better fate. Captain Spilsbury for a time checked the advance of the enemy, by the fire he kept up with the Cohorn and his party, and I feel much indebted to him for his conduct throughout. Lieutenants Cox and McVeagh who nobly supported the honor of their corps, and I am sorry to say dangerously wounded. Mr. Hoare Masters Mate of the Montreal, whose conduct was conspicuous throughout, is the only officer killed, our loss in killed and wounded (mostly dangerously) is great. I send as correct a return as I can possibly get of them, as well as of the survivors. The winding of the creek which gave the enemy great advantage in advancing to intercept our retreat, rendered any further perseverance unavailing and would have subjected the men to certain death. Lieuts Majoribanks and Rowe in the rear, with the small boats, did everything in their power and Lieut Loveday’s exertions in the Lais Gun Boat was such as I was much pleased with (British Public Records 331-2).”
On June 2nd, 1814, a British officer by the name of Lieutenant-General Gordon Drummond wrote to Lieutenant-General Sir George Prevost from Kingston (Slosek 24). Drummond had come from Kingston to “reconnoitre the Americans’ chief naval base and center of operations (Sackets Harbor) (Berton 286).” Prevost then forwarded that same letter to Sir Henry Bathhurst, British Secretary of War, from Montreal on June 8th, 1814. It devotes a large percentage of its limited space to Popham’s apparent defiance of a command not to chase the enemy inland via a waterway.“It is but justice to Sir James Yeo to say that this enterprise appears to have been undertaken not only without his authority, but in direct opposition to his reported orders of caution to the officers commanding the boats not to go up the Creek, pointing out to him as a warning against the consequences of such a measure our disaster of last year in Goose Creek (British Public Record 328).”
Despite the end of the brief but decisive conflict, most of May 30th still remained. The end of the battle left behind an immediate aftermath full of death and pain that had to be dealt with, particularly for the British casualties. In his May 30th report to Brigadier General Edmund P. Gaines, Major Appling wrote from Sandy Creek to list the casualties.“Sir – presuming that you have already been made acquainted with the results of the affair of this day, I consider it necessary only to furnish you with the return of the killed, wounded and prisoners, on the part of the enemy, which is as follows: 133 prisoners, sailors and marines – wounded 28 ditto – killed 13 ditto, and 1 Midshipman, with two Post-Captains, four Lieutenants of the navy, prisoners; and two Lieutenants of the marines dangerously wounded, and prisoners. The dead will receive all the honors due to unfortunate soldiers – the wounded remain at this place, waiting the arrival of medical aid from the Harbor; the prisoners have been marched into the country, and tomorrow they will proceed for the Harbor. The enemy’s boats also fell into my hands, consisting of two gun-boats and five barges, some of which carried Howitzers. Of 120 men, and a few Indians, my loss does not exceed one man, of the rifle corps, wounded.
“I cannot sufficiently extol the conduct of the officers who served under me – who were Lieutenants McIntosh, Calhoun, Macfarland, Armstrong, and Smith, and Ensign Austin (Fay 191-192)”
General Orders released by Brigadier General Gaines on June 1st, 1814 and published in the Niles Weekly Register June 18th contain a listing of the casualties; “an officer and thirteen men killed, two officers and twenty-eight men wounded (the officer and many of the men dangerously) the residue consisting of ten officers and 133 men taken prisoner (Niles Weekly).” This made a total of 186 British soldiers.
The Register continues with a paragraph of ‘further particulars’;“Captured in Sandy Creek, in the late affair there, three gun-boats, one carrying a long 24-pounder and a 63-pounder carronade; each of the others one or two heavy guns; two cutters and an elegant gig; two post-captains (Popham and Spelsburg), four sea-lieutenants, two midshipmen, two lieutenants of marines, including the wounded. Captain Woolsey had put into Sandy creek with sixteen boats from Oswego, loaded with guns and naval stores. Major Appling was with him, and mustered 150 riflemen and 123 Indians. The enemy, about 200 strong, succeeded in capturing one of our boats in the morning, containing two 24-pounders. One midshipman was killed on their part, besides 20 men and two lieutenants of marines mortally wounded, and between 30 and 40 men badly. But one of our men hurt (slightly). Sir James was informed by a flag, on the 1st of June, that the whole of his detachment was wither captured or destroyed; but still he continued the blockade of Sackett’s Harbor on the 2nd, his fleet being moored in a line about eight miles from the harbor (Niles Weekly).”
Woolsey concluded his June 2nd letter to Commodore Chauncey with a brief summary of the post-Battle events.“About 5 P.M. after having buried with the honours of war, Mr. Hoare, a British midshipman, killed in action, I was relieved by Captain Ridgely, whom you did me the honour to send to Sandy Creek for that purpose. All the prisoners, except the wounded, having been removed, and expecting another attack at night, I remained with Captain Ridgely in that event: but yesterday morning, seeing nothing in the offing, I availed myself of my relief, and returned to this place.(Fay 192).”
Dr. Sturdevant also concluded his letter to the Watertown Daily Times with a brief account of the burial of the British dead and the treatment of the prisoners.“The dead were tenderly handled, carefully washed and laid out on the green grass. Religious services were then held, and they were buried before sunset. The prisoners were kindly treated, well fed, and marched off to Sackets Harbor, and I observed the huge negro could march as well as the best of them. The casualties on our side were but few: One Indian wounded in the thigh, and a rifleman struck by a ball in the pelvis – this I believe proved fatal. (Sturdevant 3)”
Apparently it was common practice to exchange prisoner’s money from the British currency to American currency upon capture, most likely because merchants and jailors would not accept the foreign money. As evidence of this, a letter written by Chauncey on June 4th to Sir James Yeo describes the trading of currencies.“Agreeably to your request I do myself the honor to forward by a flag of truce two thousand and seventy five dollars in Canada Notes collected from the seamen and marines late of your squadron and for which I paid Captain Popham the same amount in Bank Notes of this State – this money was not counted by myself but collected counted and sealed by Captain Popham before he left this place. You can at your convenience return me the same amount.
“I regret that it becomes my painful task to inform you of the death of Lieut Cox of the Royal Marines. He died of his wounds on the evening of the 1st and was buried with the honors of War (Chauncey Letterbooks).”
After the prisoners had been marched by the 55th Regiment of the New York milita to Sackets Harbor (Sandy Creek 739) and eventually to Albany (Niles Weekly 267), the 7 captured vessels and the 18 American batteaux still remained in Sandy Creek. With the British blockade at Sackets, it would be dangerous to move the boats. On June 1st, Chauncey wrote a letter to Captain Ridgely, now in command of the American forces at Sandy Creek, charging him to be alert to an attempt by the British to reclaim the lost boats.
“The enemy may make an effort to recover his boats and take our guns – be therefore on the alert. I understand that the river my be obstructed by falling trees across if so perhaps it would be well to do it and to have the boats ready for sinking. Send the guns on as fast as you can – procure teams to take them- if the enemy does not move from his anchorage tomorrow I will send you a large force to get the guns out. I ordered you a lieutenant and thirty men today. I send Macpherson [Lieutenant Joseph S. Macpherson] this afternoon to assist you – let me know if you require more officers (Chauncey Letterbooks)”.
The enemy vessels lingering around the eastern shore of Lake Ontario soon wavered with the loss suffered at Sandy Creek. As Chauncey explains to Secretary Jones on June 6th, “the enemy left his anchorage yesterday morning…and was joined by the two brigs which had been left to blockade Oswego and…I have no doubt [they] are bound into Kingston for provisions (Chauncey Letterbooks).”
The enemy’s vessels still had to be moved from Sandy Creek to Sackets Harbor. On June 6, 1814, Brigadier General E.P. Gaines wrote to Chauncey relinquishing any claim he might have had on the vessels.“If there is any doubt as to the propriety of my taking charge of the boats captured from the Enemy on the 30th ulto. At Sandy Creek by the troops under Major Appling and the Seamen and Indians under Captain Woolsey I shall with great cheerfulness relinquish any claim – I have therefore directed Capt. Ridgley to deliver the boats in the state in which he found them to Major Appling or the military officer commanding at Sandy Creek (Chauncey Letterbooks).”
That same day Chauncey wrote to Captain Ridgley in Sandy Creek informing him of Gaines’ decision. Undoubtedly, due to tight military budgets many different groups wanted a share of the goods and capital captured at Sandy Creek, including both the Navy and the Army.“As there appears to exist a good deal of jealously and heart burnings lest the Navy should obtain more than they are entitled to altho I have offered to take all the boats captured at Sandy Creek at a valuation yet the Army wish to make reservations. I have thought it best to leave all the captured boats at Sandy Creek. You will therefore deliver every one of the captured boats to Major Appling or the commanding military officer in the same state which you found them. Send all the powder and shot belonging to us to the Harbor by land. Send our two whale boats round to-night if the coast is clear and you can return yourself as soon as the guns are off – the enemy is not in sight and I presume that he has gone to Kingston he was close in with the Ducks at sundown (Chauncey Letterbooks).”
Apparently the ships were turned over to Major Appling, but had already been stripped of their armament. On June 10th, Chauncey again wrote to Brig. Gen. Gaines to express his anger over the seizure of the enemy’s armament.“When I offered to take the boats captured by the enemy at Sandy Creek at valuation I did not expect that they would be stripped of their armament but delivered in the same state in which they were taken – for as mere boats they could be of no use to me but as gun boats they might and I am under the impression that I stated at the time that I wished to employ them as gun boats – gun boats without guns would be like an Army without muskets. We are in no immediate want of these boats my principal object in offering to take them was to benefit the brave men who made the capture, but I certainly could not consent to receive them under the present arrangement (stripped as they are of their armament) even if this opinion should clash with the opinions of the Honorable Secretary of War or the Major General commanding. I must therefore adhere to my first determination of not receiving them unless delivered in the state in which they were captured (Chauncey Letterbooks).”
On June 8th, all the armament for the Superior onboard the 18 batteaux had been transported overland and delivered to Sackets Harbor. Chauncey wrote to Navy Secretary Jones about the accomplishment.“I have much satisfaction in being able to inform you that all my guns (with the exception of those captured by the enemy) have arrived and the Superior will now have her whole armament on board tomorrow and we shall have sufficient guns for all the other vessels – the whole of our rigging, shot powder, and other stores from North Bay, Utica, and Sandy Creek will be in before tomorrow night – all the prize boats together with the Schenectady boats which brought the guns to Sandy Creek arrived here this morning and the troops, Marines and Seamen, which have been detached for the protection of the property at that place have all returned (Chauncey Letterbooks).”
The McKee Hospital
After the battle had ended and the last shot rang through the marsh, the cries of the wounded and dying must have been painfully evident. Since it would not be prudent to move the approximately 39 wounded soldiers very far, a suitable shelter and makeshift hospital would need to be found nearby.
The closest appropriate home was that of Joseph McKee, for whom the stretch of the creek where the battle had occurred had been named McKee’s Landing. Joseph’s daughter, Harriet McKee Ward, remembered the incident, and helped make the McKee Hospital part of the Battle of Big Sandy legend (Emerson 593). According to legend, Harriet’s mother was warned of the danger of staying in the home since British solid shot were approaching them. They retreated to Ellisburgh while the battle raged on. The next day Mrs. McKee and her children, including Harriet, returned to her home to find the children’s toys.“Harriet McKie [sic] Ward gave many interesting stories to her ‘listeners.’ Many of these have been passed onto me by Anna Jones Bartlett. The McKies moved to the old Fuller place to live while the British were recovering from their wounds. In speaking of the British she said, ‘They were the handsomest men I ever saw.’
“One of the officers died after having entrusted a ring to Mrs. McKie to be sent to his wife. Another named a granddaughter of Mrs. McKie’s, ‘Sarah Emily Domonic’ for a relative or sweetheart of his own.
“Mrs. McKie Ward spoke highly of the honesty and good manners of the British, and said that they never took anything that they did not pay for (DeLong 101).”
Another family, the Otis’, was also warned of the danger approaching. Mrs Otis took her infant daughter, Emily, on horseback to Ellis village (Ellisburg) to the home of her brother (DeLong 100).“Mrs. Otis returned the next day to find her house filled with the British dead and wounded. By stepping over the bodies she entered the house to find that all the cloth that was in the house and all the sheets, pillow cases and table linens had been torn into strips and used for bandages (DeLong 100).”
The soldiers were cared for their about two weeks, and Capt Otis presented the government with a bill for $150 to replace damaged or destroyed property (Lossing 800). Finally, in the mid 1850’s, Congress voted to compensate the Otis family. He was paid $1800, put the lobbyist who put the motion through had made an agreement to take half of the payment, leaving Capt Otis with only $900 (DeLong 100).
The Great Cable Carry
After all the guns, small cables, and other supplies bound for the Superior had been unloaded from the batteaux and carted to Sackets Harbor by oxen, only one great rope remained. It was apparently too big and too heavy for a single cart, so as much as would fit was placed on a cart, and the rest was carried by the militiamen. Although there is no official account of the size of the cable, most accounts describe it as being 600 feet long, 6 inches thick, and weighing 9,600 pounds.
The cable was carried from McKee’s Landing on Big Sandy through Ellisburg and Belleville to Robert’s corners, where the carriers rested overnight. Then it was taken through Smithville on the way to Sackets Harbor, where it arrived in the afternoon of the second day. This course, rather than one close to the lake, had to be taken as a necessary precaution. British scouting parties, although unlikely, could not be allowed to seize this all-important cable.
There has also been controversy about the final use of the cable on the Superior. Some believe that it was a hawser, used as the anchor rope for the enormous vessel. Others believe that the rope was meant to be broken down and used for rigging and other purposes. Once again, there is no official account, and neither possibility can be definitively ruled out.
Lastly, there is no official listing of the men who helped carry the cable. There are, however, many reasonable educated guesses and the few eyewitness accounts that were documented and are intact. It is these accounts that contribute life and soul to the story of the great cable. These stories are the reason we remember the Carrying of the Cable almost 200 years later.
Cable Carry Eyewitness Accounts
On Monday, February 9, 1880, almost 66 years after the Battle, an article describing one man’s first-hand account of the Cable Carry appeared in the Watertown Daily Times. Eighty-six year old Silas Lyman of Lorraine, who was about 20 years old in 1814, wished to leave his version of the events.“I have been requested by many to give some account of the cable that was taken up and carried on men’s shoulders from the mouth of Sandy Creek to Sackets Harbor, a distance of about twenty miles. The cable weighed nearly five tons, and eighty-four men took it up and carried it from McKee’s Landing to Ellis Village, where we got a few recruits and went to Belleville, and thence to a place called Four Corners, finding ourselves then pretty well drilled out. The people at the Corners most liberally furnished us with supper and barn lodging and breakfast, all freely given and thankfully received. Then the rope was taken up and on through Smithville and to the Harbor. Some of our men tired out, but others volunteered in their places. One man left his team with his boys, saying we should not do the job alone. He was a stout fellow, and put his shoulder to the work. As we advanced, men kept falling in, and the people along the route cheered us lustily. And as we advanced toward the end of our rope job, there was loud cheering the whole length of the cable, which was about thirty-six rods long and the size of a seven-inch stove pipe.
“As we went into the town, there were as many men as could walk under it, and with good music the big cable was landed in the ship yard in care of the soldiers. A stout man stood on the cable and held a flag, and a boy stood on the man’s shoulders and played the drum. The boy may be living to tell for himself, but on looking around I can find no man living that took part in carrying the cable – not one.
“The men who first took up the cable were Ellisburg and Lorraine men principally, about 120 lbs to each man.
“This was the last of the property driven into Sandy Creek by the British fleet, consisting of guns and rigging for the old ship now on the stocks.
“Of the old ship I will just say, I was at work on a big oak tree about a mile south of the Harbor, when the word came, “No more ship timber.” Peace was declared.
“I resided in Lorraine sixty years, and had quite an extended acquaintance in the south part of Jefferson county with many choice friends and good neighbors who are gone the way of earth. To such as remain, I say farewell – meet me in Heaven. I am in my eighty-sixth year (Lyman).”
On October 17, 1883 Deacon Silas Lyman died in Lorraine, NY at the age of 89. His obituary appeared in the Pulaski Democrat on October 25. He was born in Hartford, Washington County, NY, on July 24th, 1794, and moved to Lorraine at 12 years of age. When the War of 1812 broke out, Lyman enlisted and saw action at Sackets Harbor, Niles Creek, and Sandy Creek. The obituary gives him full credit for the idea to carry the great cable from the battle site to Sackets Harbor.He was at the Battle of Sandy Creek “when the British, who had ascended that stream to capture our stores, where themselves captured and held prisoners of war. It was on his [Silas Lyman’s] suggestion that the celebrated feat was undertaken of carrying a ship’s cable weighing five tons from the mouth of Sandy Creek to Sackets Harbor, a distance of 20 miles, by 84 men. The boats conveying from Oswego the armament and rigging for the ships in process of building at Sackets Harbor, were chased by the British into the mouth of the Sandy Creek. This cable was too large to be put into a wagon. Young Lyman said, ‘Let us carry it.’ ‘Can you do it?’ asked the commanding officer. ‘We can try,’ replied the sturdy lad. They shouldered it and marched on (Pulaski Democrat).
Another eyewitness account comes from research done by John Benson Lossing. In 1860 he interviewed 80 year old Harmon Ehle for his book, Pictorial Field-Book of the War of 1812. Lossing states that Ehle provided him with the facts he portrays in his book, and was one of the carriers of the Great Cable.“The cannon and cables were landed safely from the flotilla, and transported by land sixteen miles to the Harbor. The great cable for the Superior had occupied, in ponderous coils, one of the boats of ten tons burden. The cable was twenty-two inches in circumference, and weighed nine thousand six hundred pounds. No vehicle could be found to convey it over the country to the Harbor; and, after a delay of a week, men belonging to the militia regiment of Colonel Allen Clark [the 55th Regiment of the New York militia], who had hastened to the creek on hearing the din of the battle, volunteered to carry it on their shoulders. About two hundred men were selected for the labor. They left the Big Sandy at noon, and arrived at the Harbor towards the evening of the next day. They carried a mile at a time without resting. Their shoulders were terribly bruised and chafed by the great rope. They were received by loud cheers and marital music. A barrel of whisky was rolled out and tapped for their refreshment, and each man received two dollars extra pay. (Lossing 801).”
The third eyewitness account is a continuation of the letter quoted previously from N.W. Hibbard to an A. Hunt from Rural Hill, NY, on February 10, 1859.
In 1894, Mr. Hubbard’s son Harvey died in Watertown at the age of 92. He was only 12 at the time of the events, and served as a water boy for the men carrying the rope. The article states, “Apparently he [Harvey] did no carrying himself but rode his father’s horse and got drinking water for the men at the frequent stops (Watertown Daily Times).”
In the history of Jefferson County, NY, published in 1898, author Edgar C. Emerson devotes a great deal of time and space to the Battle of Big Sandy and the following incidents. Regarding the Carrying of the Cable, he gets his information from Mr. Hubbard’s letter, which continues thus:“Teams and carriages were hired, and commenced moving the property, and in about two weeks it was accomplished, without anything remarkable, except that a cable of 22 inches circumference, and weighing, according to my best recollection, about five tons, could not be transported safely on any carriage that could be procured. The men were clamorous for their discharge, as their spring’s work was far behind the usual time, but this cable must be strictly guarded, as without it our superiority on the lake could not be acquired. The officers of the regiment held a meeting, and proposed carrying the cable by hand, and in this meeting agreed that no officer should be exempt except the Colonel, and if the men would help carry it to the Harbor, they should be discharged. We took up the cable about noon, and arrived that night at what is now Robert’s Corners; here, during the night, perhaps one-third of our men deserted, leaving a heavy load for the remainder to carry, and every man’s shoulder were bruised till they were black and blue – larger than the palm of a man’s hand; but finding the bottom of an old straw-stack near, we made mattresses from it, and placed them on our shoulders, and thus shouldering the cable, arrived at the Harbor before sundown; perhaps few of the men were able to make use of their arms for a week. When we arrived at the Harbor, we numbered just 100, all told, and received of Commodore Chauncey $2.00 each. I cannot recollect the names of the men that assisted; no officer failed to fulfill his pledge; Clark Allen was our Colonel; did not carry. Major Arnold Earl, Captains Gad Ackley, Brooks Harrington, Daniel Ellis, Oliver Scott, Lieutenants Charles Hollister and Grout Hossington, I recollect, and I also recollect Captain Jacob Wood, of revolutionary memory, carried through (Hibbard 1859).”
Now that the Superior had all her armament and rigging, she was a formidable force on the lake. Commanded by Lieutenant John R. Elton, the Superior was launched in June, 1814, and sailed to Kingston in July to help Commodore Chauncey’s blockade of the city there. In late September she helped with the movement of 3000 troops from Sackets Harbor to Genesee, NY, and temporarily sailed back to Kingston before spending the winter of 1815 back in Sackets Harbor (Keck 1975). Before the arrival of another wartime Spring thaw necessitated the launch of the Superior, peace was declared. She sat in Sackets Harbor until being sold in or before 1825 (Keck 1975, National Archives Naval Records).
As is true of many events of the past, there are many issues surrounding the Battle of Big Sandy told yet today that might only be embellishments amplified by time. Time has the completely innocent ability erode or alter the truth, in part due to fallible human memory. Despite the apparent truth-value of the legends surrounding the Battle of Big Sandy, they are enjoyable and endearing, and perhaps lend a great deal of longevity to the events. Since many of these legends can never be proven, a better label might be ‘possibilities’.
One of these possibilities surrounds a black man fighting for the British forces at Big Sandy. The most interesting account of the incident is found in the Pictorial Field-Book of the War of 1812 by John Benson Lossing in 1868. He states that the black man,“who had been ordered to throw the cannon and small-arms overboard in case of danger, did so when the fight was ended. The Americans called on him to desist or they would shoot him. He paid no attention to them, and, with a sense of duty, had cast overboard one cannon and many muskets, when he fell dead, pierced by twelve bullets (Lossing 800).”
On a later page, Lossing speaks with 75 year old Jehaziel Howard in July 1860. Howard, Lossing asserts, “saw the negro shot on the British gun-boats in the Big Sandy (Lossing 801).”
In an article written by Anna Jones Bartlett in 1926, another brief mention is made of this brave soldier. After all had surrendered,“a colored man on board one of the enemy’s boats attempted to throw over a piece of ordinance and before he accomplished it he was pierced by five musket balls. He did succeed in throwing a small brass cannon overboard, saying as he did so, ‘The damned Yankees shall not have that.’ The people who were then living, and have since lived in the vicinity, have searched and searched in vain to find the cannon (Bartlett 1926).”
Another example of a possibility is the case of Kit Edmunds. According to a number of sources, Mr. Edmunds was trapping at the mouth of the Big Sandy as the British began their advance up the Creek (Emerson 592). Despite an attempt to get information from him, Edmunds refused to speak, but was forced to pilot the enemy up the Creek (Hough 510,DeLong 98). In the article written by Anna Jones Bartlett, mention is made of Mr. Edmunds. As Ms. Bartlett explains, Edmunds “was a large powerfully built man. One of the British soldiers asked him if all the Americans were as large as he was and he replied, “Oh yes, I’m only an underling in comparison with some of them (Bartlett 1926).”
A third possibility is described by Dr. J. M. Sturdevant in his letter to the Watertown Daily Times published July 17, 1873. His fairly accurate account of the Battle (if Woolsey’s account is considered to be the norm) is followed by the story of a wounded soldier. In the aftermath of the battle, Sturdevant“noticed a little incident which I shall never forget: Among the wounded was a huge negro as black as the ace of spades, who was rolling on the ground and groaning at a fearful rate. Being asked if he was wounded, he said, “Yes, I am almost killed.” “Where are you wounded?” was the next question. He replied, “I am hurt so bad that I cannot tell where I am hurt the worst.” His clothing was stripped off and his body examined. It was a muse; he was not hurt at all. A few sharp words from an officer, and a few applications of the toe of his boot, brought the negro to his feet, who dressed himself and took his place in the ranks with the prisoners.(Sturdevant 3)”
The last possibility describes the flight of one man to distant Oswego for help. According to legend, Abiah Jenkins, brother-in-law of Battle participant Captain John Otis, was sent on horseback to the soldiers at Oswego to tell them of the British invasion of Sandy Creek, perhaps to requisition aid. Reportedly, Jenkins had been informed not to spare the horses, and when he reached Oswego his horse dropped dead (Bartlett 1926, Sandy Creek Library 744).
Thanks to the effort of many different people and organizations across the state, four major monuments and a marker have been erected to honor the events of May and June 1814. There is a monument at the Battlefield and a marker just a short distance away at the McKee Hospital site. There are three more monuments along the trail of the cable carry, one outside of Ellisburg, one in Smithville, and a third in Sackets Harbor.
In August 1926, an article in the Jefferson County Journal mentioned plans for the erection and dedication of the boulder at the site of the Battlefield:“Plans are being made by the local chapter of the Daughters of the War of 1812, of which Mrs. M.J. Huggins of Pierrepont Manor is president, to mark the site of the Battle of Sandy Creek with a big boulder, suitably inscribed. There will be special exercises to dedicate this boulder sometime in September. (Jefferson County Journal, August 1926).”
A history of the Northern Frontier Chapter of the United States Daughters of the War of 1812 explains that during a chapter meeting on March 18, 1916, a Mrs. Laird read her paper on the Battle of Big Sandy and carrying of the cable. According to the history, this inspired the Chapter to erect a monument at Big Sandy. On September 16, 1927, the boulder was dedicated.
The Chapter history also relates the rededication of the boulder at the battlefield. On July 27, 1935, the Chapter rededicated the marker because it had been moved from the east side to the west side of the highway because of road work. State Officers were present, and the program was done by Mrs. Frank Williams, Chapter President.
Cable Route Markers
At a July 8, 1930 meeting of the Daughters of the War of 1812 in Ilion, NY, a committee was formed to decide the route and location of three permanent bronze memorials for the Trail of the Great Rope. Elected were W. Pierrepont White of Utica, Peter Nelson from the state historian’s office, and Edward P. Buyck, the designer of the memorials (Watertown Daily Times, July 9, 1930).
Between 1927 and 1928, the Frontier Chapter of the Daughters of 1812 had placed 13 temporary markers along what they believed to be the approximate route (Northern Frontier Chapter History 1998). However, some controversy had arisen regarding the route. For example, a Mrs. M. M. Babcock from Belleville, NY submitted an article to the Watertown Daily Times describing what she felt was the route from Ellis Village (Ellisburg) to Smithville to Sackets Harbor along the “Port Ontario” road. Another subscriber to the Times asked what route the Cable had taken, and much the same answer was given by the newspaper (Watertown Daily Times, June 12,1930).
On September 11, 1930, the committee announced that the memorial dedication ceremonies would be held October 1st. The Charles A. Winslow Trucking Company of Utica would deliver the six ton markers, measuring 6 feet wide and 7.5 feet high, in mid-September (Watertown Daily Times, September 11,1930).
Three sites had been donated to the Daughters of 1812 for placement of the markers. The first, in Ellisburg, was donated by H Edmund and Jennie Machold (Liber 427). The second, in Smithville, was donated by Scott and Clara Carpenter (Liber 427). The third, located in Sackets Harbor, was donated by William J. and Margaret M. Fields (Liber 427).
On September 26, 1930, only a few days before the dedication of the memorials, the chairperson of the Memorial Committee, Harriet B. Fairbanks, reported to a general meeting of the Daughters of 1812:“’This morning,’ said Mrs. Fairbanks, ‘I went over the route and the stones have arrived and they are artistic pieces. People all over the country have evinced interest in the Cable trail and I have received letters from people from many sections of the United States.
“’One letter from a woman in Washington, D.C. stated that she wished she could attend the services as one of her ancestors was at Sackets Harbor. She regretted the fact that she had not heard about the celebration in time to make arrangements to be here on the date of the unveiling of the three memorial markers (Watertown Daily Times September 27, 1930).’”
The dedication service was held in Sackets Harbor on October 2nd, 1930 at two-thirty P.M. (Memorial Dedication Program 1930). The Watertown Daily Times printed a summary of the events of the program on October 1st.“Miss Harriet Bates Fairbanks will be in charge of the dedication ceremony. The assistant chairman will be Major F.E. Uhl, U.S.A.
"Following invocation by Chaplain Charles C. Merrill, a dedicatory address will be delivered by Alexander C. Flick. The monument will then be unveiled by the children, descendents of the men who carried the cable – William C. Mason, William Grenell Huggins, Jr., Helen McUmber, Floyd Overton Kenyon, Pauline Steeld, Ralph Otis, Richard Hughs, Norman Jean Otis, Theodore Rice, and Helen Ann Waite (Watertown Daily Times, October 1, 1930).”
Shortly after the memorial dedication, Mrs. Fairbanks published a thank you statement in the Watertown Daily Times.“The chairman of the cable route wishes to express her appreciation to those who cooperated in making the marking of this historical route possible.
“Thanks are due the state society of the United States Daughters of 1812, and especially the state president, Mrs. Frank D. Callan, together with the state historical society for the money to erect the three markers;
“To William Pierrepont White for contributing his time, knowledge and experience to direct us; to Edward P. Buyck of Albany for his vision and wonderful art to portray the historical event so those who pass will know the whole story;
“To H. Edmund Machold, Scott Carpenter, and William Field who donated the land for placing the tablets; to Arthur Emerson who surveyed the plots; to Attorney William K. Mott, who drew up the deeds and gave his legal services’
“To the Northern New York Utilities, Inc., who did the landscaping and furnished the trees and services; to General William P. Jackson who cooperated in every way to make the event adequate to the historic importance; to Major F. E. Uhl, who presided in such a pleasing way and to whom the success of the occasion is due;
“To Mrs. Gretchen Near Deacon, who sang in such a satisfactory way the national anthem; to the soldiers, naval marine and to the veterans, who added so much to the impressiveness;
“To the speakers who gave all so much inspiration and knowledge; to the Northern Frontier chapter, Daughters of 1812, who have been made custodians of the markers and who will aid in seeing that they are properly looked after; and to everyone who has helped us;
“And to my committee, Mrs. Eli W. Herrick, Mrs. M.J. Huggins of Pierrepont Manor, Mrs. Frank M. Williams, Mrs. Nora W. Cruickshank, Mrs. John N. Carlisle and Mrs. W.E. Murray, who each have done their allotted part perfectly (Watertown Daily Times, October 1930).
Eighteen years later, on September 10, 1948, the Frontier Chapter of the Daughters of 1812 rededicated the monument in Ellisburg. “The marker which will be rededicated has been moved recently by H. Edmund Machold with the consent of the Frontier Chapter, to a new location which is more convenient for Mr. Machold… The old site of the monument was on a knoll and was so far from the road that it could not be clearly seen. At the new site, which is only about 200 feet from the old one, the lettering can be read from an automobile, because the marker is nearer the road. It is on the site of the old Lee district school house, on the road between Ellisburg and Belleville (Watertown Daily Times, September 10, 1948)”
On March 17, 1797 William Constable sold 3,000 acres in southern Jefferson County, NY to Robert Browne and Thomas Eddy. Nine years later, on July 1, 1806, Browne and Eddy sold 216 of those acres to Joseph McKee of Frankfort, Herkimer County, NY (Watertown Daily Times Old House Series). On this site McKee constructed a frame house close to the Sandy creek, and the area soon became known as McKee’s Landing.
As we’ve seen, immediately after the Battle of Sandy Creek Joseph McKee’s home was used as a hospital for the wounded British soldiers and as a burial site for the British dead. The rich history of the locale did not end there.
On April 20, 1820, six years after the home was used as a hospital for wounded British soldiers, the McKees sold the house and six acres to Laura Otis (Watertown Daily Times Old House Series).
John Benson Lossing, author of The Pictorial Field-Book of the War of 1812, visited the hospital site on July 20, 1860 while doing research for his book. The current owner pointed out to Lossing “ a large chestnut-tree in a lot adjoining his garden, where the British dead were buried (Lossing 900)”.
The ownership of the house was extremely inconsistent. Over a period of 100 years, 1846 to 1942, the house changed hands 15 times and was rebuilt. In the middle of this century, the Watertown Daily Times featured a series called “Old Houses of the North Country”. The McKee House appeared as number 249 with an excellent summary of the history of the site (Watertown Daily Times Old House Series).
In 1972 the New York Environmental Conservation Department, citing the very poor condition of the deteriorating house, tore it down and buried it (Keck 1975). All that remained on the site then and now is a historical marker.
In the next few years the South Jefferson Historical Society formulated a plan to build a memorial where the house had stood. A March 12, 1975 article in the Jefferson County Journal described the plans for the memorial. A small parking lot would be constructed, and at the back three flag poles with plaques would be erected. The first plaque would briefly describe the Battle of Big Sandy with the American flag overhead. The second plaque would be a tribute to American-Canadian relations since the War of 1812 with the Canadian flag flown. The third plaque would list the casualties of the Battle with the British flag overhead. The dedication was tentatively set for May 29, 1976, the bicentennial year (Jefferson County Journal, March 12, 1975).
However, according to a document donated to the South Jefferson Historical Society by the monument committee, a different set of plans called for a single 4-sided stone or marble obelisk of six feet to be built on the paved lot. One side would describe the Battle, another would be a tribute to peace, and one side would be a list of casualties (South Jefferson Historical Society).
Despite these plans, neither pavement nor monument was ever established. One can imagine the cost of such a project, and funding would have been very difficult to come by.
Re-enacting or Re-tracing the Cable Carry Trail
During the past 50 years, there have been 5 re-enactments or re-tracings of the cable carry trail, from riding the route in automobiles in 1948 to carrying an actual cable in 1989. These five events are another testimony to the influences of the Battle of Big Sandy and the Great Rope on local society yet today.
On September 10, 1948, the Cable Trail Monument in Ellisburg was rededicated because it had been moved. As part of the dedication ceremony, the Frontier Chapter of the Daughters of 1812 traveled by automobile from Sackets Harbor back along the Cable Trail. An article in the Watertown Daily Times on September 10th described their plans; “A pilgrimage over the trail will be made by the chapter members who will have as their guest, Mrs. Laura Yates Finehout, Fultonville, state president of the United States Daughters of the War of 1812 (Watertown Daily Times, September 10, 1948).”
In 1958 or 1959, “nearly 145 years” after the Cable Carry, a second retracing of the trail was made. The retracing is described in an article in the Watertown Daily Times.“The Jefferson County Historical Society, on June 23, will conduct an expedition over the old War of 1812 ‘cable-trail’ route from the mouth of Big Sandy Creek where the battle of ‘Big Sandy’ was fought May 29, 1814, to Sackets Harbor…
“The route to be followed by the historical society expedition will be that which has been approved by the Northern Frontier chapter, Daughters of 1812, and upon which the three granite markers with imbedded bronze plaques were placed in September, 1930, and dedicated Oct. 2, 1930.
“The tour will start from the historical society museum at 228 Washington Street at 10 a.m. and arrive at the “Big Sandy” battle monument at 11.
“Fifteen minutes later the party will leave there, proceed through Ellisburg, past the H.E. Machold farm to the first trail monument near the Martin homestead where there will be a coffee bread at the residence of Miss Clara Martin. The arrival there is scheduled for 11:45. At 12:45 the trip will be continued through Belleville and Roberts Corners to the second trail marker between Roberts Corners and Smithville. Near Smithville will be passed the house in which Tyler coverlets were woven. Thence the route will swing left past the motel near which the third and last trail marker is located a short distance outside of Sackets Harbor.
“The second marker will be reached at 1p.m., and the third one at 1:45. The route will be past the Sackets Harbor school to the Pickering-Beach Historical Society museum at the edge of the Sackets Harbor battlefield. Arrival there is scheduled at 2 and upon the lawn of the museum there will be a basket picnic.
Sackets Harbor American Legion Post 1757 fife and drum trio and color guard will escort the entourage into Sackets Harbor. During the stay there a speaker will tell of the historical cable-trail march of nearly 145 years ago. From Sackets Harbor those en tour will proceed to their homes. In case enough signify their intention of taking the tour, anyone interested in history is eligible, a bus will be provided from and to the Jefferson County Historical Society at cost-fare rates. Reservations must be made in advance by telephone or in person with J. Reese price, curator of the museum at SU 2-3491. (Watertown Daily Times, “Historical Society Tour”).”
In 1964, the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Big Sandy, a third Cable Carry Re-enactment was completed.
The ‘carriers’ were 9 Boy Scouts from Pulaski, NY, under the leadership of George W. Greene. The Sea Scouts from Explorer Ship 3, sponsored by Robert Edward Post 358, began their march at 2 p.m. Saturday, May 26, 1964 at Big Sandy. Scouts James Wheeler, Robert Murtha, Charles Summerville, James Kundell, Joseph Nash, Burton White, Tom Gregg, Richard Colvin, Robert Knox and Leader Greene marched from the Battle Site past the McKee Hospital (called the “old Durant farmhouse” in the article) into Ellisburg, Belleville, and Roberts Corners, ending their trek in Sackets Harbor on Sunday the 27th. The Scouts also carried a rope, but naturally of a much lesser scale than the original cable (Salmon River News 1964).
The fourth re-enactment of the Great Cable occurred on July 23rd and 24th, 1976, 162 years after the Battle. The Bicentennial Committee of the Jefferson County Pomona Grange sponsored the event as a Bicentennial celebration (Cable Carry Re-enactment Program 1976).
Since Jefferson County was settled after 1776, the organizers of the event were forced to focus on an episode that had occurred since then. The antiquity, historical importance and relative obscurity of the subject appealed to the Committee, and the decision was made to commemorate the Cable.
In the months previous to the re-enactment the 20 member committee, chaired by Roger L. Miller of Adams Center, led a Walk-a-thon to raise the needed funds. Local resident Elmer Simpson donated an ox-cart, and Frank Peters and John Scarlet loaned their oxen. In addition to these participants, the Committee thanked the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department and all the people along the trail.
In 1989, the 175th anniversary of the original carry, the Cable Carry was again re-enacted.
The 1814 Cable Carry Re-enactment Committee was led by Emerson V. Laughland, with co-chairs Catherine Martin (representing the Daughters of 1812), and Elaine Scott and Gary Rhodes representing the Henderson Historical Society (Cable Carry Re-enactment Program 1989).
During the many months of planning, the Committee ran into a number of conflicts. Initially local historians frowned upon the lack of an insurance policy for the event, causing some to stay out of the planning. Others were too busy or had previous plans for the re-enactment weekend (Watertown Daily Times, May 7, 1989).
One of the most serious problems facing the Committee was finding a rope to carry. Initially, plans called for 600 feet of 6-inch plastic sewer pipe to be wrapped in burlap and used as the rope. However, Colonel John C. Russell, the executive officer for Division Support Command at Fort Drum at that time, contacted his brother-in-law at Fort Eustis, Virginia. A 500-foot anchor hawser rope made of 5-inch manila was found in the Army transportation school in Fort Eustis. The rope was then shipped north and presented to the Re-enactment Committee as a gift. In an interview with the Watertown Daily Times the Committee chairman, Emerson V. Laughland, praised Colonel Russel and his assistant, Lt. First Class Gary Hall; “they made this commitment to help us and they produced. It also points out the wonderful relationship the community has with Fort Drum (Watertown Daily Times, April 30,1989).”
To promote the re-enactment, Rosemary E. Nesbitt, a professor at Oswego State University and author of The Big Rope, made two appearances in Jefferson County. The first was at the Union Academy Building in Belleville where she spoke to fourth through sixth graders from Belleville-Henderson Central School. She also made a presentation at the Sackets Harbor Central School to help teachers educate their students about the history of the Cable Carry (Watertown Daily Times 1989).
As part of the re-enactment, a special postal cancellation was available on June 3rd, the Saturday of the activities. The cancellation was only available at the Butterville Monument from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. while re-enactment ceremonies were being held. Henderson Postmaster Fred Wolcott stamped the cancellation. In addition to the special stamp, commemorative envelope and paper sets were printed and sold for $2, with the proceeds used for the re-enactment budget. Committeewoman Elaine Scott designed the stationary (Watertown Daily Times, April 30, 1989). According to Committee Chairman Laughland, 200 to 300 people attended the ceremonies at the Butterville Monument (Watertown Daily Times, June 4, 1989).
At 3 p.m. Sunday the 4th of June, the cable was delivered to Sackets Harbor:“As the church bells chimed ‘America the Beautiful’, approximately 85 volunteer ‘militiamen’ trooped into the center of the village to deposit a 5-ton cable at the village park (Watertown Daily Times, June 5, 1989).”
Poetry of the Battle of Big Sandy
Another interesting memorialization of the Battle of Big Sandy is in the form of poetry. At least two major poems have been written about the Battle, and serve as important reminders of the humanity of the events.
On October 2, 1930, the Watertown Daily Times published a poem about the carrying of the Cable, written by Margaret I. Baker.
‘Twas springtime in eighteen fourteen
When Yeo, patrolling the lake
Besieged us at Sackets Harbor.
He would keep us from bringing by water
The arms and the stores we were needing
To fit out the ships we were building;
The guns, ammunition and cables
That must come up from the seaboard
By way of the Hudson and Mohawk,
Then portaged across to Oneida
Lake and the Oswego river;
Down to Ontario’s shore
And thence brought down to the Harbor.
Yeo thought they had come to Oswego
And landed a party to take them.
Captured and burned the old fort,
But the stores he found there were not vital.
These had been kept up the river
Beyond the falls, and the roadways
Leading o the them were blockaded
Both by the springtime mud
And trees that were felled to obstruct them.
Back to their waiting ships
The landing party retreated,
Leaving a frightened town
And a fortress smoking in ruins.
Took up again the siege,
Lurking about Galloup Island,
Waiting and watching to capture
The boats that they knew would be coming,
Thinking they had us trapped,
Not dreaming that we could outguess them.
Stealthily then our flotilla
Of shallow draft boats, heavy laden,
Manned by brave sturdy crews,
All of them excellent oarsmen,
Crept down the river by night;
Then rested a day at Oswego
Until, when the evening shadows
Deepened again into darkness,
Into the lake they rowed,
With muffled oars and in silence
Turned their prows to the eastward.
Sails, too, were set and the pilots,
We knew each foot of the shoreline,
Kept keen watch for a haven.
On through the night they came,
Alternating hoping and fearing,
Trying for Stony Creek,
The farthest possible landing
That they could hope to make,
A dozen miles from the Harbor
The evening breeze died out
Too soon to allow of their winning
In darkness the haven they hoped,
But dawn showed the mouth of Big Sandy,
While from the north by the islands
The enemy swooped down upon them.
Hastily then they turned
To the refuge that opened before them,
Hoping the enemy’s ships
Would be foiled or led to disaster;
Up Big Sandy they rowed
And hid the stores in the forest.
Only the hindmost boat
With a smaller crew than the others
Was overtaken and forced
By Yeo’s men to surrender.
Swiftly the word was spread,
The stores were unloaded and hidden,
Plans for defence were made,
And farmer, soldiers and sailors
Under the forest shade,
Concealed behind tree trunk and thicket,
Waited to meet the attack
Of the all-too-confident foemen.
Up from the mouth of Big Sandy
In small boats the foemen were coming,
Forcing an unwilling guide
To show them the tortuous channel.
Soon then the soft spring air
Was filled with the battle’s confusion;
Till, vanquished and empty handed,
The baffled raiders retreated,
Leaving the precious stores
Unharmed in the hands of their owners.
An aged woman I heard,
Long since, tell a tale of that battle,
How she, then a tiny baby,
Her mother snatched from her cradle,
Fled from her home in haste
To the safer home of a neighbor,
How when the enemy left
She, back to her fireside returning,
Found a disordered house,
Ransacked, and blood stained and dirty:
All of her choicest linens
Torn to bandage the wounded.
Knew they had left in haste,
For fallen across the cradle
There by the kitchen hearth
Lay the lifeless form of a Briton
Horses and oxen and carts
Were brought when the battle was over,
Gathered from all the farms
To haul the stores to the Harbor.
Hastily one by one
They were loaded and sent on their journey
Over the woodland trails,
Jolting and creaking and rumbling.
But one great cable remained,
A load no one wagon could carry,
And only one wagon was left
Although there were three span of oxen.
Direly that cable was needed,
And after consulting together
Plans were hastily made
To hurry it on toward the Harbor,
Men in plenty were there,
All eager and willing to labor,
So coiling upon the wagon
Half the length of the cable,
All that the oxen could carry,
Behind it they formed in line
And carried the rest on their shoulders,
Following after the cart
Like the uncouth tail of a monster.
Slowly this strange procession
Wended its way through the forest;
Patiently plodded the oxen
Over the rough rutted roadway,
Creaking and groaning, the cart
Bumped over tree root and boulder;
After it, under their burden,
Stumbled and sweated the bearers;
And thus into Ellis village,
At nightfall, they came with the cable;
Rested that night and at daybreak
Again marched forth on their journey.
Boys went ahead with the word
And extra bearers were waiting,
Ready to take their turn
To relieve a man who was weary;
Women and children cheered
And brought them needed refreshments.
And when that day was done
They had reached the hamlet of Smithville.
Thence when the morning broke
They cheerfully took up their burden,
Plodded on through the dust
Of a roadway more heavily traveled,
Finding the way less rough,
But the heat of the June day oppressive.
Lighter the burden grew
As they neared the end of the journey,
For every man who could find
A place in the line lent his shoulder;
The weary oxen were freed
And men took their place at the hauling.
Thus round the last turn they swung
Like some great centipede, and the people
Cheered them as down Main Street
They made their was to the shipyard,
Laying their burden down
Amid a tumult of shouting.
Dust are those willing hands
And many a name is forgotten,
But ever the tale of their deed
Will live in our North Country annals,
Told by the graven stones
Erected along the fair highways,
Marking the trail that they followed
Long ago through the forest’
In 1980, a local poet, Eleanor M. Maitland, wrote a poem called ‘Ballad of Big Sandy.’ According to Mrs. Maitland, the Battle of Big Sandy interested her because she once lived on South Landing Road just a short distance from the battle site. As well, while recovering from an illness in 1976, she needed “something outside of herself” as a focus to combat depression. She found this therapeutic locus in the legends and lore of the Battle of Big Sandy (Maitland 1998).
‘When england wanted to be queen
Of Lake Ontario
Sir James Yeo warned his men
That they must never go
Where northern Patriots gathered
To protect their ships and stores,
Hidden in Big Sandy’s port
Along South Landing’s Shores,
And Selkirk’s Shores Oneidas brave
Heard Liberties request ,
And one unknown young listener
Answered with the rest,
When Popham’s lookout saw the mast
Revealing where the ships lay,
Forgetting Yeo’s warning
One fateful dawn in May –
Ignoring the great danger
Caused by Big Sandy’s wind,
That would trap the hunter helpless
To an escape behind,
He was hidden with his brothers
In the wild willow woods,
Ready to kill the English
To protect another’s goods?
One hundred fifty riflemen, Militia and
And more than a hundred Indians
The English hadn’t seen,
From Ellisburg to Smithville
To Sackets they must take,
Repair parts for the frigates
To free an English Lake,
But little understanding
The many reasons why,
He waited with his brothers
Underneath the morning sky –
Down the winding Creek they came,
Captain Popham in command,
Lieutenant Cox and his Marines
Dispersed on the left hand,
Captain Salisbury and Brown,
Lieutenant, on the right
Advancing flanking the gunboats
And ready for a fight,
Then the English cannon failed to fire,
And the English red was everywhere,
He waited for the ship’s retreat,
Hidden in the willow’s hair,
Disabled in their cannon,
The British tried to run for it,
To live to fight again,
But found the faithful Montreal
Too large to make the turn,
And many the loyal Englishman
That felt the bullet’s burn,
With certain death in store for her,
And trapped to her retreat,
He sensed her helplessness and rose
To seal the foe’s defeat,
More fell, courageous British,
Mr. Masters was the mate –
He still lies at South Landing,
A cold lesson learned too late!
Major Appling called the battle,
Stopped the senseless killing then,
And American and British
Counted losses to their men,
Eighteen British soldiers
Were delivered to their dust,
But General Gaines reported –
Not a man was missing – just
There’s an orchard always England
Underneath a peaceful sky,
And any patriot can tell you
Why the English came to die,
But the brave Oneidas
Took their own, unburied dead,
And forgotten in the victory,
They were not even fed,
And no one today remembers,
Who paid that awful cost,
Who gave his life to free a lake
That he’d already lost,
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