L. W. Tazewell and the Chesapeake-Leopard Affair
C. W. TAZEWELL, Editor
Portion of Governor Tazewell Scrapbook
GOV. TAZEWELL SCRAPBOOK
C O N T E N T S
Chesapeake-Leopard Affair................. 153
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,
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
GOV. TAZEWELL SCRAPBOOK CHESAPEAKE AFFAIR
. . . 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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
_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
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,
His Majesty's ship Bellona
Hampton Roads, 6th July, 1807
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
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
I have the honour to be, Sir,
Your obedient humble servant,
J. E. Douglas
Richard Lee, Esq.
Mayor of the Borough of Norfolk
_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
_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]
_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
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
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
_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
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
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.
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.
Late U. S. ship Chesapeake
To the Secretary of the Navy Hampton Roads
June 23, 1807
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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