Barney’s Defense Proposal, 4 July 1813
came to the Chesapeake Bay slowly, but when it
did, it came with a vengeance. When the U.S. declared
war in June 1812, the Admiralty, preoccupied
with the war in Europe, decided to combine five
stations (Newfoundland, Halifax, Bermuda, Leeward
Islands and Jamaica) into the North American Station
and place Admiral Sir John B. Warren in command.
Hampered by a lack of ships, an extensive coast
to blockade, and his own lethargy, Warren accomplished
little early in the war. Responding to his pleas
for more resources, the Admiralty sent Rear Admiral
George Cockburn to rejuvenate the station. His
arrival in the Chesapeake Bay in March 1813 sparked
a six-month rampage by the Royal Navy, from Norfolk
to Havre de Grace, that went unchallenged, except
for an engagement at Craney Island, Virginia,
Navy Department lacked sufficient ships to engage
the enemy in blue-water battles and to defend
the coast, because of a shortsighted naval policy,
originating in Jefferson’s administration, which
relied on gunboats instead of larger vessels.
During the spring of 1813, Secretary of the Navy
William Jones relied on “a cheap prompt and efficient
temporary force”1 composed of
a gunboat and four leased schooners. This small
force proved ineffective against the British fleet.
Barney2 had experienced
the same type of coastal depredations by the British
during the American Revolution as the Chesapeake
Bay residents were experiencing in 1813. In that
earlier conflict, Barney, as a Continental Navy
officer, challenged the enemy’s privateers who
were preying on merchant ships along the Delaware/Pennsylvania
coast. Barney recognized, however, that in this
latest war with the British, the American government
lacked the resources to defend its coastline.
citizen-sailor proposed a plan in July 1813 to
employ twenty barges or row-galleys as a “flying
Squadron” against the next anticipated round of
British incursions in 1814. This mosquito fleet
would be swift for quick maneuvers and escapes,
cheap to establish compared to outfitting larger
vessels, and menacing. Secretary Jones eagerly
embraced Barney’s plan and appointed him to superintend
the outfitting of the flotilla.
for images: John B. Warren, George Cockburn,
William Jones. Naval Historical Center.]
1William Jones to James Madison, 17 Apr. 1813, DLC,
James Madison Papers, Ser. I, Vol. 51, No. 97.
2For background on Barney’s earlier career and his
successful cruise on the privateer Rossie,
see William S. Dudley, The Naval War of 1812:
A Documentary History. Vol. 1 (Washington,
D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1985), 248–60.