Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Ned Myers and the Sinking of the Scourge

     Ned Myers was born in Quebec in c.1793, the son of a British soldier. He had no recollections of his mother and little memory of his father. When the father was sent to serve in Halifax, Ned and his sister went along. There they were abandoned. Myers did not know what became of his father except that he was re-assigned to another location and left without taking his children with him. It was assumed he had died in a battle somewhere, leaving the two children alone and without any family to care for them. They had been left with a clergyman, who continued to care for them after it seemed the father was not going to return. At the age of eleven, Myers got the urge to go to sea and ran away, without telling anyone, to join an American merchant vessel.
     James Fenimore Cooper met Myers in 1806 when Cooper had just graduated from Yale and went to sea on the same ship. It was in the middle of the Napoleonic wars, about a year after the famous Battle of Trafalgar. Ned described how ship was searched by the British looking for deserters from their navy and, when war broke out between the U.S. and Britain, Ned fought on the side of the U.S.. He joined Chauncey's fleet on Lake Ontario and gives a fascinating perspective of life on the other side. He took part in the attack on York in April 1813 and witnessed the explosion that took the life of  General Pike and the subsequent looting of the town.
      In May that same year, Ned took part in the successful attack on Fort George and in August was still in the Niagara area when Sir James Yeo showed up with the British fleet. Myers was on the ill fated U.S.S. Scourge which went down in a storm on August 8 along with the U.S.S. Hamilton. He was picked up by the crew of the Julia but there were few other survivors from his ship. In a case of 'out of the frying pan and into the fire', the Julia and the Growler were captured by the British. As the British were boarding the vessel, the enlisted men found two barrels of whiskey and were sampling the contents. The sailors from the Julia joined in the orgy of drinking that ended only when the British officers stepped below and kicked the barrels over. Myers was taken on board the Royal George and sent to York. From there, he was interrogated and sent to Halifax, from where he managed to escape and return to the U.S. His story shows how uncertain the loyalties of the ordinary citizens were at the time and why General Brock didn't and couldn't trust the local militias.
        After the war, Myers remained a sailor and looked up his old friend Fenimore Cooper, who decided to publish Ned's memoirs in 1843. Going by memory, Ned probably errs in many of the facts but one rarely gets the opportunity to see the life of the unlettered, poor sailors in these conflicts and it is a valuable account nevertheless for anyone interested in the War of 1812 history.

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