jun 22, 1807 - Chesapeake and Leopard Affair
The Chesapeake and Leopard Affair of 1807 is a military action between the American ship "U.S.S Chesapeake" and the British ship "H.M.S. Leopard", which sparked national outrage against the British and a united call for war. The incident does not lead to war immediately, but it does fuel the fire that later combusts into the War of 1812.
In 1807, during the Napoleonic Wars tensions between Britain and France escalate to the point where British ships blockade the Maryland-Virginian estuary of Chesapeake Bay from French ships. Due to the longevity of the Napoleonic Wars, many British naval officers desert their posts often fleeing to and finding sanctuary in American ships and/or maritime resulting in a deficiency of officers in the British navy. To counter this deficiency the British navy began enforcing their policy of impressment on American ships.
During this time, the Barbary states begin attacking American ships once again. To answer this renewed attack by the Barbary states, T.J. orders the United States Navy to the Mediterranean Sea. The U.S.S. Chesapeake is one of those commissioned to the Mediterranean and she begins recruiting a crew while docked at Norfolk, Virginia. In answer to her call several British nationals join the crew including three British-impressed American seamen and a notorious rabble rouser and Royal Navy deserter by the name of Jenkin Ratford.
On June 22nd, the U.S.S. Chesapeake commanded by Commodore James Barron sets sail for her destination, but soon after leaving the port is hailed down by Captain Salusbury Pryce Humphreys of the H.M.S. Leopard. Humphreys boards the Chesapeake and demands Barron to muster his crew for inspection which Barron refuses. Humphreys then returns to the Leopard and first orders his crew to fire at the bow, then a round of broadsides into the woefully unprepared U.S.S Chesapeake. Three crewmen of the U.S.S. Chesapeake are killed in the firing and several more are injured including Commodore Barron. Being unprepared to fight Commodore Barron surrenders allowing British officers to board the ship and carryout their inspection. In the process, they arrest four British navy deserters, which includes the three British-impressed American seamen and Jenkin Ratford. Afterwards, the H.M.S. Leopard sails back to Hailfax to try the four men, while the crippled U.S.S. Chesapeake returns to port. Upon its return Commodore James Barron is court-martialed and relieved of his command.
In the wake of this affair Americans are outraged with Britain's blatant disrespect towards American honor and calls for war are heard from both the Federalist and Democratic-Republican parties. In reality, however, there is little that could be done militarily at the time; the relatively small United States navy is already deployed elsewhere and due to budget cuts along with T.J.'s distrust of a large standing army the relatively small United States army is unprepared for another war with one of the world's greatest powers. Despite these facts, T.J. decides to turn up the pressure on the British by threatening military action in an attempt to resolve the matter diplomatically, but soon after withdraws his threats when the British show no remorse for the actions of Captain Humphreys and the H.M.S. Leopard. After threats of military action prove fruitless Congress attempts to resolve the matter economically and to coerce Britain into respecting American honor and cease the impressment of American seamen by passing the Embargo Act of 1807. However, the embargo proves to be even less fruitful and actually further hurts the American economy, so Congress ends up repealing the act and replacing it with the Non-Intercourse Act on March 1st, 1809, which also proves to be ineffective. The primary things these acts accomplish is to widen American-British relations and to add more fuel to the fire which will later explode into the War of 1812.
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