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British Return Captured US Chip
June 2000

Read about the USS Chesapeake

Brittish Return USS Chesapeake

Proud as punch after a well-attended ceremony and reception in John Paul Jones' garden, three military re-enactors pose for a photo. Militia groups from Ireland, England and Massachusetts symbolically returned a piece of wood from the frigate US Chesapeake. Among the first of six frigates commissioned by the US Navy, Chesapeake was twice captured by the British and a key excuse for the War of 1812 with England.

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USS Chesapeake Fragment Donated

USS Chesapeake After nearly 200 years, the British are coming again, this time to return part of a captured American sailing ship. A framed piece of wood from the historic U.S. frigate Chesapeake was presented to the Portsmouth Historical Society by militia leaders from Portsmouth, England at 7 PM June 10, 2000.

The formal procession started at Strawbery Banke and proceeded down Court Street to the John Paul Jones House, drawing dozens of spectators on the eve of Market Square Day. Ralph Morang, Vice President of the Portsmouth Historical Society received the presentation from Captain Derek Gleed and David K. Quinton, both officers of the Fort Cumberland Guard of Portsmouth, England. The procession was accompanied by the Marine Regiment 1812, Old Ironsides Landing Party, 1st Foot Guards and the Royal Irish Artillery. A brief reception will follow the lowering of the flag at the house.

Re-enactment The story connected with this captured artifact is itself a fascinating chunk of history. Launched in 1800 at Gosport, Virginia, Chesapeake was among the first ships built for the new US Navy. Chesapeake was a sister ship to the US Congress, built at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, which celebrates its 200th anniversary the same day, June 10. "Old Ironsides", which resided here in Portsmouth, NH, was also among the original six navy frigates.

Once commanded by Captain Stephen Decatur, Jr., the Chesapeake was twice attacked by the British. The first attack by HM Leopard in 1807 helped incite the War of 1812. In June 1813 the Chesapeake was captured by the Royal Navy frigate Shannon outside Boston Harbor. In that famous battle, mortally wounded, Captain James Lawrence reportedly cried, "Tell the men to fire faster and not to give up the ship!" They did give up the ship, however, after a fierce 15-minute battle with great loss of life.

Re-enactment But the story doesn't end there. After a stint in the Royal Navy, ironically at Gosport, England, the Chesapeake was sold and broken up in 1819. The gun decks were used to build an early English factory at Hampshire called Chesapeake Mill. This "boring" of wood comes from that mill which, today, is being transformed into an education center for the study of ecology and local maritime history.

As an added history background, the Chesapeake artifact is mounted on a wooden plaque made from the remains of HMS Victory. The most infamous of all British fighting ships, the 100-gun Victory was the flagship of Admiral Lord Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Once home to 800 crew and officers, the HMS Victory is today the oldest commissioned warship in the world. Now undergoing restoration work at Portsmouth, England, Victory is expected to be shipshape for the Trafalgar bicentennial in 2005. --- JDR

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