War of 1812Events and Locationsfrench

The Invasion of Sackett's Harbour

“Sir George gave the Americans all that day and the next night, ample time for a fair fight.”
British Lieutenant John Le Couteur

Ann Prevost, daughter of Canada's Governor General

Further Reading

The Overland Trek to Kingston

Shipbuilding on Lake Ontario

The Invasion on Sackett's Harbour

During the winter of 1812-13, American Secretary of War John Armstrong asked Commodore Chauncey and Major General Dearborn to prepare for an attack on Kingston, the British stronghold on Lake Ontario. The British got wind of the American plan and sent a regiment on an epic thousand-mile snowshoe journey from Fredericton, New Brunswick to Kingston in order to reinforce its garrison. When Chauncey and Dearborn found out, they thought it wiser to attack the lightly-defended York and Fort George instead.

Knowing Chauncey was busy attacking Fort George at the opposite end of Lake Ontario, British commander-in-chief, Sir George Prevost and his Lake Ontario naval commander, Sir James Yeo, decided it was a perfect opportunity to attack Chauncey’s own Sacket’s Harbour base. The new American frigate, the General Pike, was nearing completion and they hoped to destroy it before it ever got launched.

About midday on May 28, the British fleet anchored six miles off Sacket’s Harbour. Lacking a pilot familiar with local water depths, Yeo wouldn’t sail any closer. The soldiers climbed into the ships’ boats and started rowing towards the American base, but they didn’t get very far before Prevost, who had spotted boats in the distance and feared they were Chauncey’s, lost his nerve and called them back. Even though the boats’ occupants proved to be only a few dozen American soldiers, the majority of whom the British promptly captured, Prevost dithered till the next morning before finally ordering the attack to resume.

For General Jacob Brown, who headed Sacket’s defense, this unaccountable delay was nothing short of providential. It gave him time to call out the militia. All afternoon and throughout the night, volunteers poured in to defend Sacket’s Harbour.

In the morning, the British landed and quickly routed the American’s first line of defense. The remaining defenders however, proved more stubborn, and it took nearly an hour and a half for the British to push them all the way back into their redoubt. From behind its thick walls, the Americans fired heavily at the British. Since Yeo still wouldn’t bring his ships to within range of his guns, the British had no way of breaching the redoubt’s walls. Prevost had little choice but to order a retreat.

The Americans themselves had already set the General Pike on fire, together with their shipyards, and all the naval stores at the base. Unfortunately for the British, the General Pike, being made of green timber, failed to burn completely and the Americans were later able to salvage it. The Americans celebrated the British failure to breach the redoubt as a major victory, but their shipbuilding program had in fact suffered a major setback.