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War of 1812 Blockades

Footnotes to Long Island History

War of 1812 Blockades

by
Thomas R. Bayles

Navy

 


The War of 1812 demoralized maritime enterprise on Long Island.  A close blockade was established and maintained at Gardiner's Bay and the eastern end of Long Island Sound. There were several clashes between the Americans and the British, and such vessels as could be readily hidden away were taken up the Connecticut Carman's River, or hidden in enclosed harbors and creeks o n Long Island. One of these ships, the Argonaut, was built at Sag Harbor just before hostilities were declared and operated during the war. There seems to be no mention made of her after resumption of maritime activities in 1815 after the war.
Daniel Winters of Westhampton was a veteran of the War of 1812, and in early life went on the water. While in New York he shipped on the privateer "Governor Tompkins," with Capt. Smith as master. They captured a number of of British ships and when on their way back to New York fell in with an English brig of war. A severe fight took place which lasted until after dark. In the morning the English ship had disappeared and was not seen again. The Governor was severely damaged and five men killed and wounded. A 32 pound shot had carried away the bowsprit.
New York was then blockaded at Sandy Hook, and the Tompkins tried to make New London, but that port was also blockaded so it was decided to run the gauntlet. Just as the Tompkins arrived in sight of the British fleet off New London, a northeast wind sprang up and, but for Daniel Winters, they would have been captured. He knew the way through Plum Gut, at that time a narrow rocky strait connecting Long Island Sound with Gardiner's Bay. Plum Island lay to the east and Oysterponds (Orient Point) to the west. With Mr. Winter's help, the Tompkin's was able to escape the British fleet, which after a f e w volleys of shot gave up the chase.
During the war the beach opposite Brookhaven Town was strewn with the wreckage of a vessel, which came from the British sloop of war Sylph 22 guns and carrying a crew of 12 officers and 121 men. The Sylph had been employed as a blocade runner in Long Island Sound. The records show that the Sylph was cruising off the south shore of Long Island shortly after peace was declared lost her bearings and went ashore off Shinnecock Point January 16, 1815. Early in the morning of January 17, Nathan White of Wickapogue discovered her and gave the alarm. Soon, volunteer rescuers were gathered on the beach, but it was snowing furiously, with the wind blowing a gals and surf running very high, and seemed impossible to get a boat through the breakers. By afternoon it was evident that the Sylph was going to pieces, so a life boat was launched and finally succeeded in recahing the vessel, which had capsized and had only one officer and five men still clinging to it, the rest having perished.
In the files of the Suffolk County Historical Society is a letter from the British Admirality saying that of a crew of 121 at least 115 were lost., including the captain. About 21 bodies floated ashore and were buried near the Sugar Loaf at Shinnecock Hills. The wreck was commemorated by a tablet in St. Andrew's Dune church at Southampton, the border of the tablet and the wheel above it made of red cedar from the vessel.

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