The Lumberyard
The brig ONEIDA was launched on lake Ontario in 1809.
These are the men responsible in bringing it forth.
Henry Eckford
Henry Eckford
Robert Smith
Robert Smith
Melancthon T. Wollsey
Melancthon T. Wollsey
A brief historical time-line of the brig ONEIDA
  click on the thumbnail for a larger version of each letter

To enforce the trade restrictions, President Jefferson ordered the building of two gunboats on Lake Champlain and a ship of war to be built on Lake Ontario. Secretary of the Navy, Robert Smith, ordered Naval Lieutenant Melancthon Woolsey to supervise the construction. In a letter dated July 19, 1808, Woolsey is working out a contract with Christian Bergh and Henry Eckford. The next letter Woolsey sent to the secretary of the Navy on July 26 1808, included a copy of that contract for the ONEIDA. A short time later, Woolsey writes to Robert Smith informing him that he received $1,900.00 from the Navy for the use of the gunboats on the lakes. Lieutenant Woolsey was now ready to undertake the building of the war ship. In a letter dated August 6,1808 he informed Robert Smith that he will be leaving for Lake Ontario. Henry Eckford and his crew of shipwrights were to follow with materials and supplies. The keel of the ONEIDA was laid down in September of 1808. Materials used for the building of the ship were of the best White Oak. The following three letters to the Secretary of the Navy dated January 22 , 29 and February 26 report on the progress of construction of the ONEIDA. In these Woolsey expressed his concerns for the raised forecastle mounting a 32-pound long gun. The ONEIDA’s hull was finished in January, fitted out in February and launched on March 31, 1809.

When completed the Oneida set sail for the Naval station at Sacketts Harbor. At some point during the year of 1810 Woolsey dismounted the 32-pound long gun from the Oneida and set it on the shore at Sacketts Harbor. His intentions were to mount it on another vessel the Julia. Over time the big black cannon sank into the muddy ooze of the lakeshore until the carriage all but disappeared into the mud. All that could be seen was the black cannon. The people of Sacketts Harbor thought the cannon looked like a big fat pig in the mud so the residents of the town nicked named the cannon "Old Sow".

As the war of 1812 approached, the British blockaded Sacketts Harbor where the ONEIDA lay at anchor. The British sent out a shore party with a note demanding the surrender of the ONEIDA or she would be shot to pieces and the town burned. Woolsey refused to turn over the ONEIDA. He positioned her at the entrance to the harbor with a full broadside of carronades facing the British ships. He then proceeded to remove the other broadside of carronades and placed them in a battery on shore. When these were in place he moved the ONEIDA out of harms way. The shore battery and the British ships exchanged gunfire for hours.The story goes the good people of Sacketts Harbor observing Sunday morning mass prayed for just one shot to end the engagement between the town and the British. Call it divine intervention or just plain luck but the British fired one of their 32-pound cannons. The ball landed within feet of the "Old Sow". One of the men manning the shore battery salvaged the ball and loaded it in the Old Sow. Taking aim he shouted " Lets see now if they can catch back again".In a mighty blast of smoke and fire the Old Sow sent the British ball crashing through the stern of the ROYAL GEORGE raking the deck from stern to stem, killing 14 men and wounding 18. Cheers rang out for the Old Sow as the British squadron turned about and left Sacketts Harbor.

 

 

In a letter dated June 26, 1812 Woolsey write to the secretary of the Navy.

"Sir, I have the honor to inform you I was off Oswego on the 24th when I first heard of war having been proclaimed by the President." Contained in Lieutenant Woolsey reports 1 and 2 were letters to the secretary of the Navy informing him of the situation at Sacketts Harbor.

At the beginning of the war Woolsey is making ready the Oneida. On August 3, 1812 in a letter Woolsey writes to the secretary of the navy …… I should sir feel confident of success had I the officer to which a vessel of the rate of the ONEIDA is entitled. It is sir a fact that I am now about to sail without a single officer that has seen any service in the Navy, not one of my midshipmen have ever been at sea against a greatly superior force. As for the two gun boats built at the same time as the ONEIDA on lake Champlain Governor Daniel Tompkins addresses navy agent John Bullus …… A person was here in Albany about ten days ago from Lake Champlain to get oakum for the two gun boats there. The boats were in Bason Harbor, one of them partly sunk in the water, and the seams of both of them so open as almost to admit the hand; and I understand from Plattsburg that no orders to put them in repair were received until sometime after the war was declared. Sacketts Harbor was a busy place in the month of July. US brig ONEIDA July 21 Mel. T. Woolsey …… We are going on pretty rapidly with the works, one thirty two pounder, nine twenty fours, three sixes, and two nines are already mounted. I am now dismounting the thirty-six pounder from the cavalier in order to mount it on the JULIA together with two six pounders. A P.S. to the letter says Two thirty two pound shot thrown on the shore by the Royal George we have got. Lt. Woolsey also requests from a one Mr. Forman to cast a supply of shot for the thirty-two pounder and shot for three six pounders.

Be as it may Lieutenant Melancthon T. Woolsey went to war with his brig ONEIDA and schooner JULIA. These two vessels were the start of an arms race incurring over the war resulting in the building of a number of heavy armed frigates and collimating in the building of the 100 gun ship of the line ST. LAWRENCE at Kingston and the 100 gun ship of the line NEW ORLEANS at Sacketts Harbor.

War years of the ONEIDA are well documented in Lieutenant Woolsey's letters and reports to the Secretary of the Navy Robert Smith. As well as the National Archives public records, The Naval History Center, Library of congress and various Historical Societies. At Some point after the war the brig ONEIDA was sold out of service and became the merchant ship ADJUTANT CLITZE. She sailed Lake Ontario for 29 years until here bones came to lie at rest on the beach at Clayton New York. Twenty-nine years is a long life span for a wooden sailing ship, a testimony indeed to the well built ship the ONEIDA.

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