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L. W. Tazewell and the Chesapeake-Leopard Affair

C. W. TAZEWELL, Editor


Portion of Governor Tazewell Scrapbook



C O N T E N T S Preface................................... 150 Introduction.............................. 151 Chesapeake-Leopard Affair................. 153 Perspective............................... 173 Pueblo Affair............................. 187 References & Bibliography................. 190 P R E F A C E
This is a portion of the "Governor Tazewell Scrapbook" as pertains to the Chesapeake-Leopard Affair of 1807. It is the kind of dramatic action that could well be made into a movie. In view of the expected interest in these episodes, this Scrapbook is distributed separately from (and in addition to) the complete "Governor Tazewell Scrapbook." The Scrapbook is one of a series covering members of my family, including the Littletons, Bradfords, Goodes, Parks, Walkes, and Jacksons, and others. Tazewell is variously referred to as captain and major in his material (presumably the same person) within the period of a few days. Further research is expected to clarify this point. Calvert Walke Tazewell Virginia Beach, Virginia November 1983.
. . . In June, 1807, the people of Norfolk were thrown into a passion of humiliation and anger by the attack of the British frigate _Leopard_ upon the _Chesapeake_, ten miles off Cape Henry. The American cruiser was leaving for the Mediterranean, with a crew shorthanded and untrained, her decks littered, her powder flasks and loggerhgeads stored. When the _Leopard_ drew up beside her and Captain Humphrey announced that he intended to come on board to search for British deserters, she was in no condition to resist. Commodore Barron, who was in command, made desperate efforts to clear the decks, but before this could be accomplished the British frigate poured in her whole broadside. The Americans held out for fifteen minutes, and only after three had been killed, eighteen wounded, and the vessel riddled, did they lower their colors. The British then came on board, picked out four alleged deserters, three of them Americans, and then left the luckless _Chesapeake_ to limp back to Hampton Roads. As news of this outrage filtered into Norfolk, the people, dumfounded and incredulous, swarmed out in rowboats to every vessel which came in from the Capes, to question the crews or passengers. When, at last, they saw approaching a boat conveying eleven wounded men, all doubts were dispelled, as Norfolk gave itself up to thoughts of revenge. "Greatly as we have always deprecated war," wrote the editor of the _Gazette_, "conscious as we are that our country will experience infinite distress, we look upon it as degrading beneath contempt if we are to submit it to such an insult." At a meeting in Town Hall the crowd found it impossible to jam into the building and so adjourned to the "large church." Resolutions were passed expressing indignation and horror at the attack upon the _Chesapeake_, and promising support to the government in securing satisfaction. They were determined to refuse all intercourse with the British ships of war, either by providing them with pilots or by selling them supplies or water. A subscription was opened for the wounded and for the families of the killed. . . . For a few days it seemed that hostilities might start at once. Commodore John E. Douglas, commander of the British fleet in Hampton Roads, because of the refusal of the citizens to have intercourse with his ships, thought that an attempt would be made to prevent communication between him and the British consul in Norfolk. On July 3 he sent a menancing letter to Mayor Richard E. Lee. "I am determined," he wrote, "if this infringement is not immediately annulled, to prohibit every vessel bound either in or out of Norfolk, to proceed to their destination, until I know the pleasure of my government. . . . You must be perfectly aware that the British flag never has, nor will be insulted with impunity." Mayor Lee's reply, written on July 4, was both spirited and biting. "The day on which this answer is written, ought of itself to prove to the subjects of your sovereign, that the American people are not to be intimidated by menace. . . . _Norfolk: Historic Southern Port_. Thomas Jefferson Wertenbaker. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1931. Second Edition, edited by Marvin W. Schlegel, 1962, pp. 100-1. THE CHESAPEAKE-LEOPARD AFFAIR THE PUBLICK LEDGER Monday Evening, July 6, 1807. The agitation which our town was thrown into by the recent occurrence had in some degree began to subside, and out citizens, waiting in calm expectation for the measures which our government might adopt, when on Friday, a movement of the British ships again excited it. On the afternoon of that day, the _Bellona_, _Triumph_, _Leopard_, and _Melampus_, came up from Lynhaven Bay, and anchored in Hampton Roads, in such manner, as evidently proved that they designed something serious. On Saturday a pilot-boat came up to town, the master of which reported that he had been brought to by the Bellona (the commodore's ship) and charged with the following letter from commodore Douglas to the Mayor of this place. His Majesty's Ship Bellona, Hampton Roads, July 3, 1807. SIR, I beg leave to represent to you that having observed in the Newspapers a resolution made by a committee on the 29th ult. prohibiting any communication between His Britannick Majesty's Consul at Norfolk, and his ships lying at anchor in Lynhaven Bay; and this being a measure extremely hostile, not only in depriving the British Consul from discharging the duties of his office, but at the same time preventing me from obtaining that information so absolutely necessary for his majesty's service. I am, therefore, determined, if this infringement is not _immediately annulled_, to prohibit every vessel bound either in or out of Norfolk, to proceed to their destination, until I know the pleasure of my government, or the commander in chief on this station. You must be perfectly aware that the British flag has, nor will be insulted with impunity. You must also be aware that it has been, and is still in my power to obstruct the whole trade of the Chesapeake, since the late circumstance which I desisted from, trusting that general unanimity would be restored. Respecting the circumstance of the deserters, lately apprehended from the United States frigate Chesapeake, in my opinion, must be decided between the two governments _alone_. It therefore rests with the inhabitants of Norfolk, either to engage in a war or remain on terms of peace. Agreeable to my intentions, I have proceeded to Hampton Roads with the squadron under my command, to await your answer, which I trust you will favour me with, without delay. I have the honour to be, Sir, Your obedient humble servant, J. E. DOUGLAS. P.S. I enclose you two letters, directed to the British Consul at Norfolk, which you will be pleased to forward him. J. E. D. To RICHARD E. LEE, Esq. Mayor of Norfolk, Virginia.
The Mayor convened the Recorder and Aldermen, when the following answer was dictated by L. W. Tazewell and agreed on, and ordered to be sent. A N S W E R Norfolk, July 4, 1807. SIR, I have received your menancing letter of yesterday. The day on which this answer is written, ought of itself to prove to the subjects of your sovereign, that the American people are not to be intimidated by menance, or induced to adopt any measures, except by a sense of their perfect propriety. Seduced by the false shew of security, they may be sometimes surprised and slaughtered, while unprepared to resist a supposed friend; that delusive security is now however passed for ever. The late occurrence has taught us to confide our safety no longer to anything but own own force. We do not seek hostility, nor shall we avoid it. We are prepared for the worst you may attempt, and will do whatever shall be judged proper to repel force, whensoever your efforts shall render any act of ours necessary. Thus much for the threats of your letter, which can be considered in no other light than as addressed to the supposed fears of our citizens. In answer to that part of it, which is particularly addressed to me, as the first Judicial officer of this borough, I have but to say, that you must be aware, that the judiciary of no country possess any other powers than those conferred upon it by the law. The same channel through which you have derived the intelligence stated by yourself, must have also announced to you, that the act of which you complain, is an act of individuals, and not of the government. If this act be wrong and illegal the judiciary of this country whenever the case is properly brought before it will take care to do its duty. At present it hath no judicial information of any outrage on the laws and therefore will not act. If you, sir, please to consider this act of individuals as a measure "extremely hostile," and shall commence hostility without waiting the decision of our two govenrments, although you yourself acknowledge that it properly belongs to them alone to decide, the inhabitants of Norfolk will conform to your example and protect themselves against any lawless aggression which may be made upon their persons or property; the therefore leave it with you "either to engage in war, or to remain on terms of peace" until the pleasure of our respective governments shall be known. Your letters directed to the British Consul at this place, have been forwarded to him. I have the honour to be, Sir, Your most obedient servant, RICHARD E. LEE, Mayor. To _John E. Douglas_, Esq. commanding his Britannick majesty's ships in Hampton Roads. _THE COMMODORE RECEIVES A LETTER_ L. W. Tazewell reports on the delivery of the Mayor's _Letter to the British Naval Commander_. Norfolk, July 5, 1807 Sir, In pursuance of your request, I this day went down to the British squadron, lying in Hampton Roads, for the purpose of delivering the letter with which I was charged to capt. Douglas; on arriving alongside his ship, the Bellona, I was invited on board, received by capt. Douglas himself on the gangway, and conducted to his cabin, where I found assembled all the captains of the squadron. I immediately informed him that you had yesterday received a letter from him, the answer to which I had been requested to deliver, and placed it in his hands. He read the letter very attentively, and then handed it to capt. Hardy, from whom it was passed to the other captains in succession. When they had all perused it, capt. Douglas observed to me, "I presume, sir, you are acquainted with the contents of this letter;" I told him perfectly so. He then stated that his letter must have been misapprehended, that it contained no expression of menance which he recollected, and it certainly was not his intention to use language which could be construed to convey such ideas; he referred to capt. Hardy, saying, that he had shown him the letter previous to it being sent, and had requested his opinion as to its sentiments; capt. Hardy concurred with capt. Douglas in the opinion and objects of the communication. I then remarked to them the particular expressions in the letter, which I considered as language of threat, and adverted to the circumstances of the words "immediately annulled," being underscored. He said that this underscoring must have been done by his clerk, without his direction, and had escaped his observation, but again assured me, upon his honour, that if any expression in the letter wore the appearance of a threat, it was not intended to be so understood. Captain Douglas then adverted to the conclusion of the letter, in which the alternative of peace or war is left to himself - He said upon this subject, that he had no orders to committ any act of hostility, and that there was no man from whom whose intention or wishes such an object was more remote. That he was anxious to preserve the relations of amity, which had existed bewteen the two governments, and that no act of his should tend to interupt their harmony, unless he was ordered by his superiors to perform such acts, in which case, as an officer, he must do his duty. He repeated, however, that he had at present no such orders, nor did he expect to receive such. He stated that had it in charge generally, to guard his flag, and those under its protection from insult or assault of any kind, and that this in all situations he must unquestionably do. But that any further meaure he was not at present authorized, nor was his intention to take. I here stated to him the many insulting menances, which have been communicated to Norfolk, as coming from him. He positively denied having uttered any such - declaring that if they had been used by any of his officers, they were unauthorized, and disapproved of by him, remarking at the same time, that he hoped all who knew him, would do him the justice believe, that he was not in the habit of using the language of threat - He here, too, again referred to all the officers to say, if they had ever heard him at any time, even when speaking confidentially to them, utter such expressions, and they united in declaring that they had not. A desultary conversation then took place between captain Douglas, the other captains and myself, which continued nearly an hour, in the course of which many remarks were made, which had no reference to the subject of your letter, or were in any was connected with it: these, sir, I have already communicated to yourself, and to my fellow-citizens, with whom I have conversed upon this subject; but as they were not connected with the subject of your letter, I presume it would be unnecessary again to detail them here. In the course of this conversation I described to them as well as I was able the sentiments which universally prevailed throughout the country at this time, the cause from whence it proceeded, and the effects it would produce, provided any effort on their part should be made to oppose the public resolves, as to intercourse or supplies. I explicitly declaared that we had as yet received no authority from our government to proceed to acts of aggression, but that we were authorized, and were prepared for defense, and for the protection of ourselves and our property, to prove which I placed in the hands of capt. Douglas, an extract from the letter of governor Cabell, to brigidier general Mathews, which I had made for that purpose: I concluded by warning him again not to send any of his officers or people on shore, for that if he did, the arm of civil authority, I did not believe, would be able to protect them from the vengence of the enraged people; that this might lead to consequences which might possibly be yet averted, and if he were sincere in the sentiments he had expressed, he would be anxious to prevent such results. Captain Douglas, and all the captains, declared that they were aware of the present state of the publick feelings, and deplored the circumstances which had excited it; that they did not intend to expose any of their people to the resentment of ours, which they could conceive was highly inflamed; that as to supplies they did not want any at present, but when they did, they should not attempt to procure them in any way which would excite the opposition of the citizens of this country. Upon the subject of intercourse, he did not expect to hold any with the people of this country nor was there any occasion for it. He only wished to be permitted freely to communicate with the accredited officers of his government here, who had been formally received and recognized by our executive, and whose functions he presumed none but the government has the right to put down. As to the particular manner in which this communication might be carried on, it was a matter quite indifferent to him. He had no objection to that being regulated by ourselves, in any was which is judged proper, and he would certainly pursue the mode which might be suggested as most agreeable to us, provided the channel of communicatiuon was kept free and open. To this I stated, that I had no authority from any person to enter into any agreement with him, but that as an individual I would state, that the letters he had forwarded under cover to you had been safely delivered, and that therefore, I presumed any other despatches of a like kind would be treated in the same way - But upon this subject I could only refer him to you and your associates for information. He then stated that he would to-day write an answer to your letter, which he would forward as before, and I left his ship, capt. Douglas again repeating the substance of what I have already stated. From the moment I approached the Bellona to that in which I left, my treatment from Capt. Douglas and all his officers, was marked by as much attention, politeness, and respect, as any gentleman ever received from others. My particular friend Mr. James Taylor, jun. accompanied me to the British ships, for reasons that will at once suggest themselves to you, when you remember the delicate and embarrassing situation in which I might be placed. He remained on board the whole time with me, and was a witness to everything which passed. I have red him this communication, Sir, in order to ascertain if my recollection was correct, and he accords with me in every statement here made. I have forwarded a copy of this letter to the Governour of Virginia, and to the Federal Executive, believing that at this time it is the duty of every citizen to keep his government well informed of every thing which may be useful. I am respectfully, Sir, Your most obedient servant, L. W. TAZEWELL To Richard E. Lee, Esq. Mayor of the Borough, of Norfolk + His Majesty's ship Bellona Hampton Roads, 6th July, 1807 Sir, I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 4th inst. in answer to mine of the preceding day, requesting that the British Consul might be restored to his powers. As every circumstance relative to the above communication was so fully discussed in presence of the gentleman deputed by the magistracy of Norfolk, as bearer of your despatch, I have only in addition top remark, that as far as I am individually concerned, every exertion shall be used that can, consiostent with the honour and dignity of the British flag, tend to an amicable termination. I have the honour to be, Sir, Your obedient humble servant, J. E. Douglas Richard Lee, Esq. Mayor of the Borough of Norfolk + _LEDGER_: _The Fourth of July_. - The return of that auspicious day, did not fail to inspire the citizens of this place with those sentiments, which it excites in the breast of every real American, tho' it was observed in a very different manner from what it had been for some time past. Military parades and martial exercises took the place of mirth and convival parties of pleasure. + _DECATUR TO SECRETARY SMITH_ The menancing letter written by commodore Douglas to the Mayor of Norfolk, he has since stated verbally, contained no menance, and he further said, he has no hostile intention against Norfolk, however, sir, you will see by the enclosed affadavit, that his actions do not comport with his words, he has lightened his ship since the pacific message he sent to the Mayor, and the day before yesterday he fired many shots at an Eastern Shore man. If he makes an attempt to come up with the force they speak of, I think I am not over sanguine when I say I believe, they will not all go down again. [July 8] + The British squadron lying in Hampton Roads bring to every vessel passing to this place, but have not detained any. The Bellona and Leopard continue in their former station in the roads; the Triumph and Melampus have weighed, and are at anchor in Lynhaven Bay. [July 12] + _LEDGER_ _July 6_ - We do not know how to reconcile the friendly declarations of commodore Douglas, with a fact of which we are now assured. A boat from the commodore's ship was employed a considerable time on Saturday in sounding the channel of Elizabeth River almost up top Craney Island, about four miles below this place. + Capt. Davis of the barque Petersburg, arrived yesterday from Madeira, was boarded from commodore Douglas's squadron in Hampton Roads, and treated very politely. The brig Ruby, Capt. Chapman, from Guadaloupe, was also boarded, treated rudely, but permitted to pass. If the British commander is disposed for peace, he should cease to stop vessels in the waters of the United States. + A letter from Richmond was received by the last mail which says, that the governor has received advices from the President of the United States. The tenour of those advices were, it is said, more pacifick than had been expected, when measured with extent of the outrage. The next mail will probably inform us of the contents of those despatches, as far as can with propriety be communicated. + July 13, _Ledger_ On Friday last brigade orders were issued calling into _actual_ service the following force, viz. from the 54th regiment. . . These and the troops from Richmond and Petersburg, make a force of about 1,600 men, the whole under the command of brigidier-general Mathews. It has not been judged expedient to order more men into _actual_ service at present. The remainder of the 7th regiment, with the regiments of Princess Anne and Nansemond are held to march at a moment's warning. + Persons who have subscribed labour towards the repairs of Fort Norfolk, are respectfully requested to send their Negroes without delay. In order to ascertain the expense of repairing this fortification, an accurate account has been kept of the hands employed, in which the labour of _two boys_ is rated equal to _one man_. + July 15 _Ledger_ - Those who have associated for the purpose of forming a Volunteer Company, under the command of Captain Tazewell, are informed that the commissions of the officers have been received. Immediately after parade this evening, the members of the company are desired to report to Town Hall, to take into consideration measures for the immediate organization of the company. The most punctual attendance is expected. + Head Quarters, Norfolk, 15 July 1807. Captain Shepard, of the Cavalry Sir: With the detachment of Cavalry under your command, you will proceed without delay to Lynhaven Inlet... The subject of your excursion has in view the restrictions enjoined by the President of the United States, of intercourse, as well as supplies, with the British ships in our waters. Let the President's Proclamation be your guide. It is my wish fully to carry this Proclamation into effect; you will therefore use your best endeavors to prevent the British ships receiving supplies of any kind. In executing this object, I rely on your prudence and discretion in not being the aggressor, but at the same time I rely on your not permitting them contrary to the letter and spirit of the Proclamation to infringe . . . [Virginia State Papers] + _THE CHESAPEAKE RESTORED_ July 27 _Ledger_ - Yesterday fortnight, the Chesapeake frigate was towed up into our harbour, little better than a hulk, without a mast or shroud standing; today we have the satisfaction to perceive her completely ready for sea. Great credit is due to Commodore Decatur and his officers for the activity which he and they have used, in preparing this ship for sea in so short a time, and under very unfavourable circumstances. Scarcely a day has passed without rain, and some days it has never ceased to rain; we are confident that with a common share of fair weather, she would hve been ready for sea four days since. Without wishing to revive at this time the subject of dispute, we cannot forbear remarking, that this circumstance ought to prove to the navy department the superior advantages of this place over Washington, for naval equipment. Had the Chesapeake have been sent to Washington to refit, we do not believe she would have been ready for sea under six weeks or two months from this date. + We have nothing to inform our distant readers respecting the operations of the British ships in the bay; a part of them occasionally go out and return every day. They have not made any attempt to land, or taken any steps respecting the five persons detained. Commodore Sir Thomas Hardy, who now commands, behaves as far as we can learn, with great politeness to the vessels going out or coming in, giving them no interuption . . . + Aug. 3 - On Saturday last, Major Tazewell, aid to General Mathews, went down with two officers and three seamen belonging to the Triumph, taken some time since by the militia of Princess Anne, anmd delivered them to Sir Thomas Hardy, pursuant to orders from the general government. + His Majesty's ship Triumph Chesapeake Channel, Aug. 3 Sir, I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 1st inst. deliverd to me by Major Tazewell. The Midshipman and three men that improvidently quitted His Majesty's Dispatch schooner Hamilton for the amusement of fishing, at the same time returned to the ship; and may I request you, Sir, to return my sincere thanks to Captain Robert Taylor, for his very kind attention to these young men whilst they remained under his care. THOMAS HARDY To Brigidier gen'l Mathews, Commander in Chief, &c. &c. [Virginia State Papers] + Aug. 5 _Ledger_ - . . . It is but justice in us to state, that all the gentlemen who have gone down on business with Sir Thomas Hardy, speak in terms of highest respect for his character, and of the polite attention when he manifests to them. + Aug. 26 - The executive of the State has detailed the cavalry, artillery grenadier, light infantry and volunteer corps in such manner, that when called into service, they will go by companies under their own officers . . . The companies of captains Maurice and Mallory, are to take the first routine of duty. The former had previously volunteered under the act of 1807. Captain L. W. Tazewell's company is to take the fourth routine, captain P. Nestle's artillery the fifth; captain Jones' infantry the sixth; captain Pollard's artillery the seventh; and captain Taylor's cavalry the tenth routine. The companies who have, or may hereafter volunteer, will be received notwithstanding this arrangement, for the term for which they have offered. + _ACCUSATION_ Late U. S. ship Chesapeake To the Secretary of the Navy Hampton Roads June 23, 1807 Sir, The undersigned officers of the late U. S. Ship Chesapeake, feeling deeply sensible of the disgrace which must be attached to the late (_in their opinion_) premature surrender of the U.S. Ship Chesapeake of 40 guns to the English Ship of War Leopard of 50 guns, without their previous Knowledge or consent, and desirous of proving to their country and to the World, that it was the wish of all of the undersigned, to have rendered themselves worthy of the Flag under which they had the honour to serve, by a determined resistance, to an unjust demand, do request the Hon'ble secreatry of the Navy to order a Court of Enquiry into their conduct. At the same time they are compelled by imperious duty, by the honour of their Flag, by the honour of their Countrymen, and by all that is dear to themselves, to request that an order be issued for the arrest of Commodore James Barron, on the charges herewith exhibited, which the undersigned pledge themselves to prove true, Viz: 1st. On the probability of an Engagement, for Neglecting to clear his ship for action. 2nd. For not doing his utmost to take or destroy a Vessel which we conceive it his duty to have done- With the highest respect, We subscribe ourselves, Your most obedient servants, Ben. Smith, 1st Lt. William Crane, 2d Lt. W. H. Allen, 3d Lt. John Orde Creighton, 4th Lt. Sidney Smith, 5th Lt. Samuel Brooke, S.M. Hon. Robt. Smith, Secretary of the Navy Washington. + To Capt. James Barron, U. S. Navy, Hampton, Va., from the Secretary of the Navy. 26th June 1807 I have ordered Captain Decatur to take command of the Frigate Chesapeake. You will deliver to him all the letters you have received from this Department since you have had the command of the Chesapeake, and remain at Hampton until you shall hear from me. + 27th June 1807 I have ordered Com. Preble, Capt. Hull and Capt. Chauncey to repair to Hampton. When they shall arrive at Hampton, they will be constituted a Court of Enquiry, with others, to declare their opinions upon the late circumstances between the Chesapeake and the Leopard. The Court will be held on board the Chesapeake. [Note: Commodore Preble died before the Court convened, and Captain Alexander Murray was appointed in his stead.] + Aug. 5 - To the Editor of the Publick Ledger Sir, I have observed several publications in the Herald, and other prints, calculated to injure my character, and have deemed it only necessary to say that I have seen them, without considering it my duty to reply, as a court of enquiry will shortly convene for the purpose of investigating the affair of the Chesapeake and Leopard, and through that channel the publick may expect a correct knowledge of facts; therefore any publication on my part would be useless and improper. Something more substantial than the mere declaration of the parties concerned, will be required. JAMES BARRON Near Hampton, Aug. 3, 1807 + Oct. 5 _Ledger_ This day the court appointed by the government, to enquire into the conduct of Commodore Barron, met on board the Chesapeake. Present: Captains Murray, Chauncey, Hull. The court adjourned without doing any business until tomorrow. Littleton W. Tazewell, Esq., has been appointed Judge Advocate. Commodore Barron is, we understand, very much indisposed, and Mr. Tazewell is in Richmond, a witness in the case of Col Burr . . . Richard Rush, Esq., was appointed judge advocate pro tempore . . . + Oct. 14 - . . . It will not be in our power to furnish our readers with any of the proceedings [of the Court] it being contrary to usage to make public any part of them until the enquiry is terminated. + Oct. 14 - Died - this morning, on board the United States frigate Chesapeake, Lieutenant Benjamin Smith, first lieutenant of that Frigate.