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USS Chesapeake-HMS Leopard Affair
Part of the events leading to the War of 1812
HMS Leopard vs USS Chakespeake 5835.JPG
Date June 22, 1807
Location off Norfolk, Virginia
Result British victory
United Kingdom Salisbury Pryce Humphreys United States Commodore James Barron.
1 4th rate 1 frigate
Casualties and losses
none 1 frigate damaged
18 WIA
4 arrested

In the Chesapeake-Leopard Affair, also referred to as the Chesapeake Affair, which occurred on June 22, 1807, the British fourth-rate warship Leopard attacked and boarded the American frigate Chesapeake.


The attack

Origins of
The War of 1812
Chesapeake-Leopard Affair
Orders in Council (1807)
Embargo Act of 1807
Non-Intercourse Act
Macon's Bill Number 2
Tecumseh's War
Henry letters
War Hawks
Rule of 1756
Monroe-Pinkney Treaty
Little Belt Affair

The Chesapeake lay off the coast of Norfolk, Virginia, and was under the command of Commodore James Barron. The Leopard, under the command of Salisbury Pryce Humphreys, hailed and requested to search the Chesapeake for suspected deserters from the Royal Navy; when the Chesapeake refused, the Leopard began to fire broadsides, killing three aboard the Chesapeake and injuring another 18 including Barron. The Chesapeake, her decks cluttered with stores in preparation for a long cruise, managed to fire only a single gun in reply to the Leopard, and Barron quickly struck his colors and surrendered his ship; however, Humphreys refused the surrender, and simply sent a boarding party to search for the deserters.

HMS Leopard (right) fires upon the USS Chesapeake

The boarding party found four Royal Navy deserters among the Chesapeake crew: David Martin, John Strachan, and William Ware, run from HMS Melampus; and Jenkin Ratford, run from HMS Halifax. Of the four, only Ratford was British-born: Strachan was a white man born in the United States (though later serving in the Royal Navy), and Martin and Ware were black. Leopard carried the men to the Halifax for trial. The British citizen, Ratford, was sentenced to death and hanged from the yardarm of HMS Halifax on August 31, 1807.[1] The three Americans were sentenced to 500 lashes each, but the sentence was later commuted, and the British government eventually offered to return them to the U.S. and pay reparations for damaging the Chesapeake.


The American public was outraged with the incident, as President Thomas Jefferson noted: "Never since the battle of Lexington have I seen this country in such a state of exasperation." The President closed U.S. territorial waters to British warships, demanded payment for damages, and requested an end to British efforts to search United States ships for deserters.

This event served to raise tensions between the two countries and, while not a direct cause, can be seen as one of the events leading up to the War of 1812. Indeed, many Americans demanded war following the incident, but President Thomas Jefferson initially turned to diplomacy and economic pressure in the form of the ill-fated Embargo Act of 1807.

The incident had significant repercussions for the U.S. Navy. The public was shocked that Chesapeake had put up little resistance and surrendered so quickly (even if the surrender was declined), calling into question the ability of its navy to defend the U.S. from a possible British invasion, despite its expensive and controversial frigate-building program. A court martial placed the blame on Barron, and suspended him from service for five years as punishment.

On 1 June 1813, during the War of 1812, the Chesapeake — then under the command of Captain James Lawrence — was defeated and captured by the British frigate HMS Shannon in a ship-to-ship action near Boston, and taken into service in the British Navy. She was sold out of the service in 1820.

See also


  1. ^ Gwyn, Julian, Frigates and Foremasts: The North American Squadron in Nova Scotia Waters, 1745-1815 Vancouver, BC: UBC Press (2004) ISBN 9780774809115. OCLC 144078613, p. 178

External links

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