faced little naval opposition in the bay during 1813 and
early 1814, the British recognized, after the 1 June battle
off Cedar Point, that Joshua Barney’s
newly organized flotilla was a potential threat to their
operations. Rear Admiral George Cockburn decided, temporarily,
to divert some of his forces engaged in blockading the
mouth of the Chesapeake and harassing coastal towns, to
destroying the fledgling American squadron. He ordered
the frigate Loire,
Captain Thomas Brown, and the brig sloop Jaseur,
Commander George E. Watts, to join Captain Robert Barrie’s
force in the Patuxent. Barrie required the smaller vessels
to pursue the Americans aggressively.
British reinforcements converged on the Patuxent, Barney
recognized that the larger British vessels would hold
the advantage in that river’s open waters. In a move of
questionable wisdom, Barney withdrew his small barges
to St. Leonard’s Creek where he hoped they would outmaneuver
the British vessels. A collision was inevitable. A series
of skirmishes, all ending in stalemate, preceded the first
Battle of St. Leonard’s Creek. On 10 June 1814, Barney
drew the following two sketches of the British and American
positions on St. Leonard's Creek.
Barrie’s barges sailed up the creek on the morning of
10 June to entice Barney into a fight or to lure him to
the mouth of the creek where the larger Royal Navy ships
would surely destroy him. (See map, left frame.) But Barney
took the offensive upon first sighting the British with
such a deadly barrage that the enemy scurried back to
the safety of its warships at the creek’s entrance. (See
map, center frame.) The larger British vessels were unprepared
initially for Barney’s onslaught, and the American flotilla
temporarily held the offensive, grounding the schooner
After regaining their composure, the British soon sent
the Americans scurrying back to the head of the creek.
(See map, right frame.) While the engagement was inconclusive,
it did cause the British to rethink their strategy toward
Barney. Captain Barrie chose to blockade Barney rather
than engage him, and the Royal Navy redirected its efforts
to plundering the tobacco ports along the Patuxent to
the horror of its residents.
[Credits for images: Battle
of St. Leonard's Creek, 10 June 1814, by Tom Freeman.
Owned by Christine F. Hughes; Barney's sketches of St.
Leonard's Creek, 10 June 1814. National Archives, RG45,
MLR, 1814, Vol. 5, between No. 1 and 2 (M124, Roll No.