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Hull wrote from New York, October 29, 1812, that
the merchants fitting out their vessels gave such high wages that it
was difficult to get either seamen or workmen.[16] Where no system of
forced enrolment--conscription or impressment--is permitted,
privateering has always tended to injure the regular naval service.
Though unquestionably capable of being put by owners on a business
basis, as a commercial undertaking, with the individual seaman the
appeal of privateering has always been to the stimulants of chance and
gain, which prove so attractive in the lottery. Stewart, an officer of
great intelligence and experience in his profession, found a further
cause in the heavy ships of the enemy. In the hostilities with France
in 1798-1800, he said, "We had nearly four thousand able seamen in the
navy. We could frequently man a frigate in a week. One reason was
because the enemy we were then contending with had not afloat (with
very few exceptions) vessels superior in rate to frigates. The enemy
we are fighting now have ships of the line, and our sailors know the
great difference between them and frigates, and cannot but feel a
degree of reluctance at entering the service from the disparity of
force."[17] The reason seems to prove too much; pressed to an extreme,
no navy would be able to use light vessels, because the enemy had
heavier which might--or might not--be encountered. Certain it is,
however, that when the government in the following winter, in order to
stop the license trade with the enemy, embargoed all vessels in home
ports, much less difficulty was experienced in getting seamen for the
navy.

Whatever the reasons, the only frigates at sea during the first four
months of 1813 were the "Essex" and the "Chesapeake." The former,
after failing to meet Bainbridge, struck off boldly for the Pacific
Ocean on Porter's own motion; and on March 15, 1813, anchored at
Valparaiso, preparatory to entering on a very successful career of a
year's duration in those seas. The "Chesapeake" had sailed from Boston
December 17, making for the Cape Verde Islands. In their neighborhood
she captured two of a British convoy, which, thinking itself beyond
danger, had dispersed for South American destinations. The frigate
then proceeded to her cruising ground near the equator, between
longitudes 24 and 30 west, where she remained for about a month,
taking only one other merchantman. Leaving this position, she was off
the coast of Surinam from March 2 to 6, when she returned to the
United States; passing sixty miles east of the Caribbean Islands and
thence north of Porto Rico and Santo Domingo, as far west as longitude
75, whence she ran parallel to the American coast, reaching Boston
April 9. Having seen nothing between February 5 and March 19, she then
began to meet sails, speaking eight between the latter date and her
arrival. Most of these were Americans, homeward bound from the Spanish
peninsula; the others neutrals.[18] The conclusion is evident, that
the British were keeping their trade well shepherded in convoys. If a
ship like the "Chesapeake" struck one of them, she would probably have
to fight the escorting vessel, as the "Wasp" did the "Frolic," while
the merchantmen escaped; but the chances were against her seeing
anything. Another evident conclusion, corresponding to the export
returns already quoted, is that the enemy had not yet shut down upon
the access of American merchant ships to their own coast.

This process was gradual, but steady. It is necessary to keep in mind
the distinction between a blockade, in the loose use of the term,
which closes a port only to the ships of the hostile nation, and the
commercial blockade which forbids neutrals as well. The former may be
intermittent, for the mere fact of war authorizes the capture of the
belligerent's shipping, wherever found; hence to intercept them at the
mouths of their own harbors is merely a more effectual method of
carrying out the measure. A blockade against neutrals requires the
permanent presence, before the blockaded port, of a force adequate to
make the attempt to enter or leave dangerous. For this many more ships
are needed. The British ministry, desirous chiefly to compel the
United States to peace, and embarrassed by the gigantic continental
strife in which it was engaged, sought at the outset to inflict such
harassment on the American coast as would cost the least diversion of
strength from the European contest. An ordinary blockade might be
tightened or relaxed as convenience demanded; and, moreover, there
were as yet, in comparison with American vessels, few neutrals to be
restrained. Normally, American shipping was adequate to American
commerce. The first move, therefore, was to gather upon the coast of
the United States all cruisers that could be spared from the Halifax
and West India stations, and to dispose along the approaches to the
principal ports those that were not needed to repress the privateers
in the Bay of Fundy and the waters of Nova Scotia. The action of these
privateers, strictly offensive in character, and the course of
Commodore Rodgers in sailing with a large squadron, before explained,
illustrate exactly how offensive operations promote defensive
security. With numbers scanty for their work, and obliged to
concentrate instead of scattering, the British, prior to Warren's
arrival, had not disposable the cruisers with which greatly to harass
even the hostile shipping, still less to institute a commercial
blockade. The wish to stock the Spanish peninsula and the West Indies
with provisions contributed further to mitigate the pressure.

These restraining considerations gradually disappeared.
Re-enforcements arrived. Rodgers' squadron returned and could be
watched, its position being known. The license trade filled up Lisbon,
Cadiz, and the West Indies. Hopes of a change of mind in the American
Government lessened. Napoleon's disaster in Russia reversed the
outlook in European politics. Step by step the altered conditions were
reflected in the measures of the British ministry and navy. For
months, only the maritime centres of the Middle States were molested.
The senior naval officer at Charleston, South Carolina, wrote on
October 14, four months after war was declared, "Till to-day this
coast has been clear of enemy's cruisers; now Charleston is blockaded
by three brigs, two very large, and they have captured nine sail
within three miles of the bar."[19] The number was increased shortly;
and two months later he expressed surprise that the inland navigation
behind the sea islands had not been destroyed,[20] in consequence of
its defenceless state. In January, 1813, the mouth of the Chesapeake
was watched by a ship of the line, two frigates, and a sloop; the
commercial blockade not having been yet established. The hostile
divisions still remained outside, and American vessels continued to go
out and in with comparative facility, both there and at Charleston. A
lively trade had sprung up with France by letters-of-marque; that is,
by vessels whose primary object is commerce, and which therefore carry
cargoes, but have also guns, and a commission from the Government to
make prizes. Without such authorization capture is piracy. By February
12 conditions grow worse. The blockaders have entered the Chesapeake,
the commercial blockade has been proclaimed, vessels under neutral
flags, Spanish and Swedish, are being turned away, and two fine
letter-of-marque schooners have been captured inside, one of them
after a gallant struggle in which her captain was killed. Nautical
misadventures of that kind became frequent. On April 3 three
letters-of-marque and a privateer, which had entered the Rappahannock,
were attacked at anchor by boats from Warren's fleet. The
letters-of-marque, with smaller crews, offered little resistance to
boarding; but the privateer, having near a hundred men, made a sharp
resistance. The Americans lost six killed and ten wounded; the enemy,
two killed and eleven wounded.[21]

In like manner the lower Delaware was occupied by one or more ships of
the line. Supported thus by a heavy squadron, hostile operations were
pushed to the upper waters of both bays, and in various directions;
the extensive water communications of the region offering great
facilities for depredation. Dismay and incessant disquietude spread
through all quarters of the waterside. Light cruisers make their way
above Reedy Island, fifty miles from the Capes of the Delaware;
coasting vessels are chased into the Severn River, over a hundred
miles above Hampton Roads; and a detachment appears even at the mouth
of the Patapsco, twelve miles from Baltimore. The destruction of bay
craft, and interruption of water traffic, show their effects in the
rise of marketing and fuel to double their usual prices. By May 1, all
intercourse by water was stopped, and Philadelphia was also cut off
from the lower Delaware. Both Philadelphia and Baltimore were now
severed from the sea, and their commerce destroyed, not to revive till
after the peace; while alarms, which the near future was to justify,
were felt for the land road which connected the two cities. As this
crossed the head waters of the Chesapeake, it was open to attack from
ships, which was further invited by deposits of goods in transit at
Elkton and Frenchtown. Fears for the safety of Norfolk were felt by
Captain Stewart, senior naval officer there. "When the means and force
of the enemy are considered, and the state of this place for defence,
it presents but a gloomy prospect for security."[22] Commodore Murray
from Philadelphia reports serious apprehensions, consternation among
the citizens, a situation daily more critical, and inadequate
provision for resistance.[23] There, as everywhere, the impotence of
the General Government has to be supplemented by local subscription
and local energy.

At the same time, both northward and southward of these two great
estuaries, the approach of spring brought ever increasing enemies, big
and little, vexing the coasting trade; upon which, then as now, depended
largely the exchange of products between different sections of the
country.



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