War of 1812 - Table of Contents

Townsend Ships in the War of 1812

By Steve and Barbara Townsend

Jacob Townsend (1769-1850) and his brother, Kneeland, traded and shipped goods to and from the southern states and the West Indies. Their warehouse located on Long Wharf in New Haven, Connecticut was 3,480 feet long. It was the longest wharf in the world at that time.

President Jefferson imposed an embargo in 1807 forbidding all foreign trade. Jefferson wanted to avoid entanglement with the conflict between France and Britain.

Jacob decided to move his commercial interests to Lewiston about 1810. He established trading operations in Black Rock, Oswego, and Lewiston. Jacob established a large profitable farm above the escarpment. It was used as a military post during the War of 1812.

In 1810 Jacob formed a shipping and trading firm known as Townsend, Bronson & Co. He was also involved in shipbuilding. Three of the many ships Jacob built were the Fair American, the Charles & Ann, and the Catherine.

The government purchased these ships for the Great Lakes Navy during the War of 1812 and renamed them.

The Charles & Ann was renamed the Governor Tompkins (see Naval History & Heritage Command, online in September 2014)

The Catherine was renamed the Somers. The Somers took part in the Battle of Lake Erie and was captured by the British at the mouth of Niagara River on night of August 11-12, 1814. Later used in the British Provincial Marine.

After the war of 1812, Jacob and his partners bought the ships back from the government. (See The Lewiston Townsends online in September 2014)

- Reprinted with permission from Historic Lewiston, New York (online September 2014)
December 30,  1812 Letter

This letter is from Jacob Townsend's shipping partner, Sheldon Thompson [mayor of Buffalo in 1840]  to Jacob Townsend, who was senior partner of the shipping firm, which was one of first ones on the Great Lakes, named Townsend, Bronson & Co.

This letter details the selling to Commodore Chauncey of one of their shipping schooners, the Catherine, which was renamed USS Somers for the War of 1812. This ship participated in  Battle of Lake Erie.  The letter also mentions another of their schooners the Charles & Ann (renamed the Governor Tompkins).

Above the scanned letter is a transcription:

Lewiston, Dec 30th 1812
Mr. Townsend Dear Sir
........................... Yours of Dec 10th & 15th are at hand
& likewise one from Mr. Bronson of the 18 inst. [18th instant, in the usage of the time meant the 18th of this month]
which mentions that he will start for this place
In a three or four days -  as it Reflects the purchase
of salt I shall not give an opinion until
Mr. B arrives, it will depend some on the price
that it can be bot [bot=bought] for at the works & the
prospect of forwarding the British it is said
Launch’d a thirty two gun ship at Little
York a few days sienss [sienss=since], your fence is the grate [grate=great]
part Burnt & your wheat something injured
I shall pay attention to it & do all in my power
to have you awarded for the Damage, I
sold your Oxen to Rove for fifty five Dollars
to be apply’d on our Bond, which I thought the
Best for you as I would not winter Cattle for
them, I think Morrison will Make the first payment
on his farm he has given me an order on
on the pay Master for $100 which is good
our Books Stand in favor of I Townsend
about 100 My opinion of business at this
place at this time is verry poor we don’t
sell goods enough to pay our board
& it is imposable to calculate accurately
[bottom of image cut off]
However I do not think goods bad property
They will sell well for cash at Buffalo and high
I think we shall move our goods or a
part of them when Mr. Bronson comes on
as To Smith farm I do not think it could be
Purchased at a fare price I have done Nothing
With him & shant until Mr B. arrives -
Chauncey [Commodore Chauncey of US Navy fofught in War and purchased their ship which was named Governor Tompkins in War 1812] was here on saturday last has gone
To Preskisle [Presque Isle] I went up & got a draft of
$5,500 for the Catharine [Catherine a merchant ship they built and used for their business trading on the Great Lakes and they sold to Us Navy during the War and bought back from Gov't after War] but it come hard,
he says Bronson is a Clever fellow that they
agreed for the C&Ann [Charles and Ann another merchant ship of theirs that they sold to US Navy] at once but I he
says have no conscience I told him a man
To deal with war Gentleman ought not
To have, in price, they got her $500
Less than what I intended she should go for
Mr. Miller Lost his Girl, it is verry sickly
about this River more Setizens have
Died sience you left, than did 4 years
previous they say, there is about 400
Regular troops at fort Niagara we have
14 at this place 14 at Sloosher [Fort Schlosser] 300 Black
Rock & about 12 Hundred out to 11 Mile
Creek, I have Collected Nothing yet
& I am not calculating To get in much
this season
From your Humble servant
.......................... S Thompson [first elected mayor of Buffalo 1840]

Special thanks to Vince Harzewski for some of the transcription

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