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THE NANCY

This is the story of the Nancy, a schooner which sailed the Upper Great Lakes as a private cargo vessel for the North West Company operating out of the small Port of Moy (now Windsor). During the war of 1812, the Nancy was pressed into service as a British supply ship and operated from Fort Erie to Fort Michilimacquinac. While in this service, the schooner was destroyed at her supply base in the Nottawasaga River by American Forces.

The sunken hull of the Nancy formed an obstruction in the river and an island was established by the resultant deposition of silt. The remains of the hull now rest inside the museum on the island to mark the site of the Nancy's demise and to commemorate her gallant defense of Upper Canada. Her cannons were later taken to Moy Hall in Scotland.

IN THE BEGINNING

The Nancy was built in 1789 at Detroit which was then British. The construction of the schooner was under the supervision of John Richardson of Forsyth, Richardson and Company of Montreal based on designs from New York. There were probably no plans, but it has been determined that her length was approximately 87 feet, her width, or beam, 24 feet, and her depth of hold, nine feet. John Richardson wrote to his partner from Detroit in 1789:

"The schooner will he a perfect masterpiece of workmanship and beauty. The expense to us will be great, but there will he the satisfaction of her being strong and very durable. Her floor-timbers, keel, keelson, stern and lower futtocks are oak. The transom, sternpost, upper futtocks, top-timbers, beams and knees are all red cedar. She will carry 350 barrels."

Her figure-head, carved by Skelling of New York, (same company that did the carvings for the US Navy including USS CONSTITUTION) was a "lady dressed in the present fashion with a hat and feather." The Nancy was probably named for either the wife or daughter of John Richardson.

The schooner was built for the fur trade (owned and operated by Clan Mackintosh of Moy Scotland for the North West Co) which she served by carrying goods including food, clothing, rum, meat, powder, blankets, tools, trinkets, weapons and ammunition up the lakes and returning with furs. At this time, there were two main ports in the West. Sault Ste. Marie governed access to Lake Superior and the North. Further west, in the Straits of Mackinaw, Fort Michilimacquinac was a trading post which commanded Lake Huron, Lake Michigan and the West. This was the centre of activity in the northerly Great Lakes and the North West. It had been maintained by the French as early as 1687, but the British, in 1761, had been the first to build proper fortifications.

The launching of the Nancy took place at Detroit on November 24, 1789 and in the following spring, under the command of Captain William Mills, her maiden voyage took her to Fort Erie. After the launching, John Richardson wrote:

"She is spoken of here in such high strain of encomium as to beauty, stowage and sailing that she almost exceeds my expectations."  And she was built for speed.

In June, 1790, the Nancy took a full cargo to Grand Portage at Sault Ste. Marie. In 1793, the schooner was sold to George Smith and Company, merchants and fur traders, who toward the end of the century, sold her to the XY Company of Montreal, the financing arm of the North West Fur Company. Captain Mills continued as commander until 1805 when he was succeeded by Captain Alexander Mackintosh, the 2nd son of Moy. In the service of the North West Fur Company, the Nancy's function remained that of  the main transport vessel for fur and merchandise on Lake Erie, Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.

 

THE WAR

When the United States (under President Madison) declared war in 1812 against Britain, the Nancy was lying at Mackintosh's wharf at Moy (Windsor) across from Detroit which had been handed over to the United States in 1796. The Nancy, for protection, was immediately moved to Amherstburg and was requisitioned as a British transport by Lieutenant- Colonel St. George, commander of the garrison. In Colonel Matthews Elliot's inventory to General Isaac Brock, (Tecumseh and Brock met on board the NANCY) the Nancy was described as being capable of mounting six long four-pounder carriage guns and six swivel guns.

At this time there were three main routes from Montreal to the North West. One was via the Ottawa and French Rivers and Georgian Bay. Another was by way of Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, Lake St. Clair and Lake Huron. A third was an overland route from Lake Ontario at York (Toronto) north on Yonge Street to Holland Landing and the Holland River. From here, the route entered Lake Simcoe and led to the head of Kempenfelt Bay (Barric) where Nine Mile Portage led to Willow Creek, the Nottawasaga River and Lake Huron. The latter route became the main supply line during the last year of the war and was originally financed by the North West Company of Montreal.

The Nancy's first war service took her, on July 30,1812 to Fort Erie in convoy with the Provincial Schooner Lady Prevost (similar in design) for military stores and 60 men of the  41 st Regiment which participated in Brock's capture of Detroit from General Hull. During that summer, and early autumn, the Nancy was employed constantly on Lake Erie between Detroit and Fort Erie in the transportation of stores and provisions.

On April 23, 1813 the Nancy was included in a small squadron to transport General Proctor's division from Amherstburg to Miami Bay for the unsuccessful attack on Fort Meigs. In the autumn, while the Nancy was “away” on a trip to Fort Michilimacquinac, the British Fleet, on September 9, 1813 was narrowly defeated in the Battle of Lake Erie. This action closed the supply route for the British on Lake Erie and left the Nancy as the sole surviving armed British ship on the Upper Lakes.

THE NANCY ESCAPES

Returning in the Nancy to the mouth of the St. Clair River on October 5, Lt Com Worsley and Captain-owner Alexander Mackintosh found both Detroit and Amherstburg in American hands, where two armed schooners and two gunboats lying in wait for him. At noon, on the following day, the Nancy was under attack, but although damaged and set afire, she survived to escape through the St Clair raipds and into Lake Huron which she entered at 8:00 A.M. on October 7. Her destination was Sault Ste. Marie where she wintered and was refitted.

After the Battle of Lake Erie, the Americans planned to capture Fort Michilimacquinac which they had lost on July 17, 1812. The Fort, with no naval defences,   required reinforcements and in February, 1814, McDouall's relief party of 10 officers, 220 infantry and artillerymen, and 20 seamen left Kingston for the Fort. They arrived, via the Lake Simcoe and Nottawasaga River route, on May 18. To aid in the defence of Fort Michilimacquinac, it was planned to cut down the Nancy to a gunboat. This idea was quickly discarded however, and the British schooner continued as an armed  transport.

During the spring of 1814, the Nancy made three round trips from the island Fort to the Naval Base at the mouth of the Nottawasaga River for supplies.

While the Nancy was away on the fourth trip to the Nottawasaga supply base, the American Fleet left Detroit on July 3, 1814 for the attack on Fort Michilimacquinac. At the Nottawasaga base, the Nancy was taken in charge by Lieutenant Miller Worsley, Royal Navy, and taken a mile up the river. Here, quietly hidden behind the trees and the sand bank and protected by a blockhouse, the Nancy waited.

 

DISCOVERY

On August 13, three American ships, USS Niagara and two armed schooners, the Tigress and the Scorpion, under the command of Captain Sinclair, arrived at the mouth of the Nottawasaga River to wait for the British schooner which was thought to be enroute from Fort Michilimacquinac. It was only when the wood-gathering parties from the American ships happened upon the Nancy's hiding place, that the secret was discovered.

The engagement was brief and decisive. Lieutenant Worsley's force consisted of 22 seamen, 23 Indians (Ottawa and Ojibwa) under the command of Lieutenant Ramsay Livingston, and nine French Canadian Voyageurs. Their armament of the blockhouse was composed of two 24-pounder carronades and one six-pounder from the Nancy. The American force of three ships, and 500 men armed with 18, 32-pounder carronades, three long 12-pounders, two 24- pounders and one 5 inch howitzer provided formidable odds. Captain Sinclair anchored his ships in the Bay and proceeded to pound the Nancy and the blockhouse across the narrow neck of land  which separated the river from Georgian Bay.

The situation was hopeless. Lieutenant Worsley decided to destroy the Nancy rather than allow her to fall into enemy hands. During the preparations for blowing up the schooner, however, a direct hit on the blockhouse set the Nancy afire. She burned to the waterline and sank. The British force escaped into the forest where they were not pursued.

After the action, the Scorpion and Tigress were left  to guard the river to prevent canoes and bateaux from getting supplies to Fort Michilimacquinac. Eventually the river mouth was blocked with felled trees, and the ships proceeded along the north shore in the hope of intercepting fur-laden canoes on the lake.

 

THE NANCY AVENGED

Two weeks later, having built new bateaux, on August 31, Worsley and Mackintosh with their men, after paddling and rowing for 360 miles, reached Michilimacquinac. Enroute, they had quietly bypassed the Tigress and Scorpion. On September 3, Worsley and 92 men, including 26 Ottawa and Ojibwa in four bateaux returned to surprise and capture the Tigress at midnight in Detour Passage. On September 6, the Scorpion was lured into position and also captured. Both vessels were then taken to Fort Michilimacquinac. The Scorpion was renamed Confiance in honour of the ship which was captured from the French by Commodore Sir James Lucas Yeo, Commander of the Great Lake Squadrons. The Tigress was renamed Surprise for the manner in which she was captured.

After the war, for the loss of the Nancy, the Admiralty awarded the North West Fur Company and Clan Mackintosh 2,200 pounds. In addition, for two round trips between Detroit and Fort Erie in 1812, there was an award of 500 pounds, and for service in 1813 and 1814, 1,243 pounds, 5 shillings. The Nancy’s guns were shipped back to Scotland.

 The End

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