USS General Pike (1813)

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Name: USS General Pike
Namesake: Zebulon Pike (1779-1813), an American soldier and explorer
Builder: Henry Eckford
Laid down: 9 April 1813
Launched: 12 June 1813
Fate: Sold, 1825
General characteristics
Type: Corvette
Displacement: 875 long tons (889 t)
Length: 145 ft (44 m)
Beam: 37 ft (11 m)
Depth: 15 ft (4.6 m)
Propulsion: Sail
Complement: 300 officers and enlisted
Armament: • 28 × 24-pounder guns

USS General Pike was a corvette in the United States Navy, which took part in the Engagements on Lake Ontario during the Anglo-American War of 1812. She was named for Brigadier General Zebulon Pike, who was killed by an exploding enemy magazine at the Battle of York on 26 April 1813.

The ship was laid down on 9 April 1813 at Sackets Harbor, New York by Henry Eckford, a New York City shipbuilder who supervised the construction of warships on Lake Ontario. The ship was roughly the same dimensions as the frigate USS Essex[1], and the largest yet built on any of the Great Lakes. From the outset, Commodore Isaac Chauncey, the American naval commander on the lakes, wanted the new ship to be armed with a broadside of long guns with longer range than the carronades mounted on most of the vessels of the opposing British squadron. The Pike was therefore fitted with 26 of the Pattern 1794 24-pounder long guns originally fitted to the USS Constitution, but since replaced.[1][2] Two of these guns were mounted on circles on the topgallant forecastle (a platform above the forward gun deck) and the poop deck, and could fire on either broadside.

On 29 May, the British under Lieutenant General Sir George Prevost and Commodore Sir James Lucas Yeo attacked Sackets Harbor, intending to destroy the General Pike before it could be launched. During the resulting Battle of Sackett's Harbor, the Americans feared that the town was about to be captured and prematurely set fire to the General Pike and vast quantities of stores. The British called off the attack at this point, and the ship was saved (although $500,000 worth of materials was destroyed).

Service history

The General Pike was launched on 12 June. Master Commandant Arthur Sinclair was appointed to command. The fitting out and setting up of rigging was delayed by the loss of the stores during the earlier battle but the ship was made ready to sail by July and joined Chauncey's squadron on 21 July. From then until the end of the year, the General Pike usually served as Chauncey's flagship. It sailed to the head of Lake Ontario, arriving off Niagara on 24 July. While cruising the lake, the General Pike engaged British ships under Commodore Yeo in an indecisive battle on 10–11 August.

General Pike returned to Sackets Harbor on 13 August and provisioned before returning to the head of the lake to search out British ships. After almost a month of manoeuvering and stalking to gain an advantage over the British, the ship was engaged in a brief encounter against the British off the mouth of the Genesee River on 11 September. On 28 September the two forces again met at York Bay, and engaged in a fierce, but though ultimately still indecisive, battle. As Chauncey had hoped and Yeo had feared, the heavy broadside of the General Pike partly dismasted Yeo's flagship, the sloop of war Wolfe. The British squadron immediately fled downwind into Burlington Bay. They could not be overtaken, as many of the fastest American vessels were towing the slowest schooners to prevent them being left behind. The General Pike was towing the schooner Asp, and Chauncey refused to cast loose the tow during the chase. Chauncey called off the chase when the British anchored in Burlington Bay, and the rising wind threatened to drive both squadrons onto the lee shore, which was British territory.

The General Pike had inflicted heavy damage, but because the British fire had been concentrated on it, had also suffered severely. The mizzen topmast had been brought down by the Wolfe, and during the pursuit, the main topgallant mast had also fallen and the rigging of the foremast and bowsprit had been damaged. There were several hits below the waterline forward, and a cannon had exploded, killing or wounding twenty men and damaging the topgallant forecastle. Four other guns also were badly cracked and threatened to burst.[3]

After returning to Sackett's Harbor for repairs early in October, the General Pike supported troop movements against the British at the lower end of Lake Ontario until mid-November when it returned to the Niagara Peninsula to cover the transfer of American troops from Fort Niagara to Sackett's Harbor. It remained at Sackett's Harbor during the winter months. Sinclair had received promotion to Captain during the year and asked for an independent command. He was later appointed to command on Lake Erie. His replacement in command of the General Pike was Master Commandant William Crane.[4]

Throughout the remainder of the War of 1812, General Pike continued to operate with Chauncey's squadron, although no longer as flagship once Chauncey had commissioned two larger frigates. After the British withdrew blockading ships from Sackett's Harbor early in June 1814, the Pike joined other American ships in a counter-blockade of the British squadron at Kingston. The American force kept Yeo's ships confined to Kingston harbor, and General Pike cruised Lake Ontario freely from the head of the St. Lawrence River to Sackett's Harbor until October, when the American squadron withdrew into base.

Following the end of the war, the Pike was laid up at Sackett's Harbor and was sold in 1825.



  1. 1.0 1.1 Malcolmson, p.90
  2. Description of Constitution's armament
  3. Malcolmson, pp.202-206
  4. Malcolmson, p.290