Nova Scotia Archives

A Nova Scotian Observer at the Burning of Washington, August 1814

Transcript of Letter

page 1

On Board HM Ship Majestic —            
Patuxent River Chesapeake Bay 5th Septr 1814

Hond Father —

                                    A subject Presenting Itself with A safe Conveyance from Halifax (by HM Brig Espoir) I embrace the first opportunity to address you —

                                    The last letter I wrote you was by Mr Jno Cummings from Halifax and being hurried away at almost A moments warning had not time to write one of A later Date, Nothing of moment Transpired during the Remainder of our stay at Halifax — the Dragon arrived the night Previous to the Intended day of our Sailing which Protracted our Stay five days longer. We saild from Halifax on the 6th Augt and made Boston Bay, which is Blockaded by Two 74s from which place we run down all the American coast, until we Joind the Blockading Squadron off New London Consisting of two seventy fours 2 Frigates 2 Brigs & the — Terror Bomb — our Boats went in with the Brigs & Bomb & Effectually Batter’d down and destroyed A small place call’d Stonington — The Terror had 12 Killed and Wounded we then parted with the Squadron and directed our Course for the Chesapeake when we arrived on the 24th we found the Squadron consisting of Admirals Cochrane, Malcomb, and Coburne, with 5 Sail of the line — 6 Frigates 6 Troopers about A dozen Transports 7 Brigs & Bombs Exclusive of Tenders & Gun Boats all together about 45 Sail about 100 miles up this River which is in some places not more than A mile Wide

page 2

It is Impossible for me to describe the beauty of this place. It took us the whole day to come up the River on the Brink it is Beautifully laid out and Cultivated Apples, Plumb, Pear & Peach Orchards without number the Houses were all deserted by the Inhabitants & Cattle of all descriptions running wild about the Fields – Boats go on shore from the different Ships and shoot oxen sheep Calves &c which they bring off without molestation — In case the owner makes his appearance to claim the admiral has given an Order to the respective Ships to pay the Prices he has stipulated Viz Beef 25/ Per Cwt Sheep 10/ &c &c &c –

Having about 6000 of Lord Wellingtons Troops & our Naval Force being adequate to any thing that might be required we made an attack upon the City of Washington on the night of the 24th the Advance Guard Consisted of the 85th part (of which will some of the wounded we have on Board) A light Brigade of the 44th the 4th & 21st with A Battalion of Marines & Sailors — The American army were drawn up in Admirable Order but after the first round were put in great Confusion & disorder, only about 2000 of ours Engaged an army of 8000 Exclusive of those in ambush which they completely routed, & put great numbers to the Sword the Americans made A bold Stand at first but Seeing the Gallant advancing with chargd Bayonets headed by Major Genr Ross they retreated with great Precipitation and left our Troops (at this time Joind by those in Reserve) in quiet and peace possession of their Capital which they burned to the Ground beginning with the house of Congress War & Intelligence Office Mr. Maddisons house the Dock Yard &c until a General Conflagration ensued.

page 3

Some of our Officers had recourse to Mr. Madison's wardrobe where they Shifted their linnen & Remained in the City until six oclock the next morning, from thence our army proceeded to Nottingham where we lay, about 20 miles from Washington after burning A large frigate on the stocks & destroying about 60 pieces of Cannon — after which they Embarked in the different Ships & we are now all together proceeding down the River, our loss in killed & Wounded does not Exceed 200 & that of the Enemy supposed to be near 10 times that Number — another attack is Meditated, but whether upon New London, Annapolis, Norfolk, or where I cannot say, the Remainder of Lord Hills army / about 14,000 / is hourly Expected —

I have now but little Room left for domestic Concerns My other ½ doz. Shirts &c. had not arrived when we saild, the Prize money we had paid was but A small proportion amounting to £8 after Deduction for Miss Supplies with which he furnished us in Bermuda & some small advances he has. A Considerable sum of Prize money belonging to us yet in hands Exclusive of ¼ of the Frigate which will be paid in England — even this small division was not paid until we were almost down to the light house, as we were the last Class that was paid & then beating out of the harbour, so that it was out of my power to pay Mr. Dennison or Bennet — the latter of which I rec.d A line from, but did not think it necessary to call on him until Prize money was paid which was done too late — I still owe [???] [???] Taylor as many others on Board, about 14 for which he promises to wait until I rec.d it in Prize money — Indeed it is out of his Power to do any thing else. — As you had foretold I was teased by Doct Baxter & to appease him gave him an order on Dougan for £20 — well knowing as I told him that it would not be paid, as Dougan has A particular order from the Captn to pay no Bills or Orders — I recd A letter from you by W. Baxter & French Grammar

page 4

my mess has been very Expensive as we have been in bad places for procuring supplies, and always two or three and sometimes more Supernumerarus [supernumerarius] Passengers or Visitors, Lord Spencer. A son of the Duke of Blandford's has for some time been A mess mate of ours — he is A midshipman of about 19 years of age & A very fine young man, going out to Join the Superb — this will be sufficient to give you A hint of the Expense that must attend us, I have paid all together about 16 or 17 at different times Exclusive of Agents Charge since coming to sea — I wrote to my Brother by H.M. Brig Recruit who carries the Dispatches to England —

Previous to our sailing I had the unpleasant task of appearing as principal Evidence upon A Court Martial where the Prisoner / one of our men / was condemned to be hangd at the yard arm for knocking A man off the fore yard, about two months before, in consequence of which he died the same evening & happening to attend the decease at the time, heard some Expressions In Consequence of which I was calld — the Court Marshall was held on board La Roque — the hono.b Captn Capel Presiding & 6 other Port Captns — the Prisoner was however in consequence of some favourable Circumstances Recommended to the Admiral for mercy & left on Board the Guard Ship —

We are losing men here every day with the Dysentery or Flux as the Water is extremely unwholesome & the Fruit Green the Former of which I never taste without destroying its bad Qualities by Boiling or Otherwise, & the latter I never taste when Green — So that I enjoy / Blessed be God / A most Perfect state of health more so both here and at Bahama than in A Climate like Halifax, Excepting that I am greatly tormented with Prickly heat which is only A Temporary Complaint well known in the West Indies & other hot Climates & may be compared to the Itch only that the Patient feels no Effects of it in A cool shade upon Deck, or in A free air at sea, whether we are now proceeding & in the Course of an hour small be at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay So that I Expect Every minute to see the Signal hoisted for Parting Company with the Espoir I might therefore Seal and look for an opportunity of sending on Board I must therefore Conclude with love to my mother sister & Brothers &c &c &c I remain Your Dutiful Son John Fox

[written down left side] PS have the Goodness to write every opportunity & direct to the Chesapeake which will be our head Quarters

transcribed by Nova Scotia Archives staff 2014



Nova Scotia Archives —

Crown copyright © 2024, Province of Nova Scotia.