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HMS Shannon defeats and captures USS Chesapeake

For the week of Monday May 28, 2012

On June 1, 1813, the British scored a decisive victory when the HMS (His Majesty’s Ship) Shannon defeated and captured the USS (United States Ship) Chesapeake.

The British lost six of the eight naval battles they fought against the Americans between June 18, 1812 and February 24, 1813 because they had under-estimated the American navy. In his determination to avenge this series of earlier defeats, Captain Philip Broke, commander of the Shannon, constantly drilled his crew of about 330 men. His orders were to intercept any ship that tried to enter or leave the Port of Boston. When the Chesapeake raised anchor with some 380 men on board, the confrontation was imminent.

Boarding and taking the American ship Chesapeake by the officers and crew of HMS Shannon, commanded by Captain Broke
© Matthew Dubourg and William Heath / Library and Archives Canada / 1937-31-1, 1816
The British opened fire around 6 p.m. on June 1, 1813. Although both ships were damaged by the initial broadsides, the Shannon had the upper hand in this battle because Captain Broke's crew set a high standard of naval gunnery. After a few minutes of fierce fighting, the Shannon crew sought to board the Chesapeake. Although the American sailors desperately sought to defend their ship, they were disorganized and unable to mount effective resistance. Fifteen minutes after the initial exchange of fire, the Americans surrendered and the fighting ended. The short duration of the battle confirmed the leadership of Captain Broke and the superiority of his crew. The battle casualties comprised 60 killed and 85 injured on the USS Chesapeake, and some 33 killed and 50 injured on the HMS Shannon.

HMS Shannon escorting the captured American frigate on June 6, 1813
© J.G. Schetly/ Nova Scotia archives/ 1979-147 142.4/ 1913
Second Lieutenant Provo William Parry Wallis assumed command of the HMS Shannon after this battle, because Captain Philip Broke had suffered severe head injuries and the first lieutenant had been killed. Under Wallis' command, the Shannon escorted the captured American ship and its crew into Halifax harbour. On June 6, 1813, the British ship and the American frigate were welcomed by a crowd rejoicing over the British victory.

Lieutenant Provo Wallis later returned to England with Captain Broke, who had survived his injuries. The latter was made a baronet in 1813, in honour of his victory against the USS Chesapeake. Philip Broke never served at sea again, but Provo Wallis enjoyed a long and prosperous career in the navy and was knighted in 1860.

The battle between the Shannon and the Chesapeake was designated a national historic event in 1925 and is commemorated in Halifax. In light of his contribution in this battle, Sir Provo William Parry Wallis was designated a person of national historic significance in 1945.

This year marks the bicentennial of the War of 1812! For more information on the War of 1812, read the articles: The British Lose GroundVictory at Fort Detroit!, and Repelling the Last American Invasion of Lower Canada: The Battle of Lacolle in the archives of This Week in History. For more information on the War of 1812, please visit Commemorating the War of 1812.

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