Gunpowder bombs in Sackett’s Harbor 203 years ago — New York State Quarter Coin

Today, the New York State Quarter Coin remembers the gunpowder bombs thrown into Sackett’s Harbor on the night of April 25, 1814.

From The American Weekly Messenger, Or, Register of State Papers, History and Politics of June 4, 1814:


Official Documents

From Sackett’s Harbor.

Copy of a letter from commodore Chauncey to the secretary of the navy, dated United States ship General Pike, Sackett’s Harbor, 25th April, 1814.

Sir-The Lady of the Lake, (which I have kept cruising as a look-out vessel between the Gallows and Kingston ever since the ice broke up) having a commanding breeze yesterday, run close into Kingston and showed her colors, which were answered by the enemy’s fleet and batteries.

His old fleet lay moored off the town with all sails bent and top-gallant yards across a number of gun boats also appeared to be ready-one only of the new ships had her lower masts in, the other appeared to be preparing to take masts in.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, sir,

Your most obedient servant, Isaac Chauncey.

Honorable William Jones, Secretary of the navy, Washington.


From the same to the same. United States ship General Pike, Sackett’s Harbor, April 27, 1814.

Sir-The night of the 25th inst two of our guard-boats fell in with three of the enemy’s boats in this bay.

Lieutenant Dudley, (the officer of the guard) hailed, and was answered “guard boats,” this however not being satisfactory, he repeated the hail, but was not answered; finding that the strange boats were attempting to cut him off the shore, he fired upon them; the enemy, laying upon their oars a short time, pulled in towards Bull and Rock Point, without returning the fire.

Lieutenant Dudley returned to the fleet, and got a reinforcement of boats; but nothing more was seen of the enemy that night.

Yesterday morning I directed both shores of Shermont Bay to be examined, to see whether the enemy had not secreted himself in some of the small creeks.

Nothing, however, was discovered, but six barrels of powder, found in the water near the shore, where our gun-boats fired on the enemy.

These barrels were all slung in such a manner, that one man could take two across his shoulders and carry them—each barrel had a hole bored in the head of about an inch diameter, with a wooden plug in it.

These barrels of powder were evidently fitted for the purpose of blowing our large ship up, if the enemy could have got in undiscovered, by placing them under the ship’s bottom and putting a piece of slow match or port fire in the hole in the head, which would burn a sufficient time to allow the parties to escape before the fire would communicate to the powder.

This also accounts for the enemy not returning the fire of our boats, for, having so much powder in, he was apprehensive of accidents, which no doubt induced him to heave it overboard, to be prepared to return the fire if he was pursued.

It would have been impossible for the enemy to have succeeded, even if he had eluded our guard boats (which there are two lines of) for, independent of all the approaches by water being secured by booms, the Madison is moored across the large ship’s stern, within 20 yards, and her guns loaded with canister and bags of musket balls, to rake under the bottom if necessary.

A lieutenant, two midshipmen and ten men, are on watch under the ship’s bottom every night, besides a marine guard outside of her—with all these precautions, I think that it would be impossible for an enemy to land near the ship yard unobserved.

However, after this discovery of the enemy’s intentions, we shall redouble our vigilance and exertions to preserve our fleet to meet the enemy fairly upon the lake.

I have the honor to be, &c.

Isaac Chauncey.


Similarly, A History of Jefferson County in the State of New York, From the Earliest Period to the Present Time by Franklin Benjamin Hough, published in 1854, described the naval resources in the area and the events:


The winter was devoted to the prosecution of ship building, which the large addition made to the British fleet at Kingston, was thought to render necessary.

The crews of the vessels employed themselves in erecting fortifications, under the direction of Captain Crane, who was left in command in the absence of Chauncey.

Circumstances render it probable that the enemy were kept informed of our movements by spies, which led to an advertisement in April, by Chauncey, offering $500 reward for the apprehension of each.

The ingenuity and boldness of some of these informers was remarkable.

The official returns of the department, on the 4th of March, 1814, gave the following as the list of vessels then on this station, with the denomination and number of guns of each, and names of commanders:

Ship General Pike, Isaac Chauncey, Commodore, 24 guns
Ship Madison, William M. Crane, Master, Commandant, 20 guns
Brig Oneida, Thomas Brown, Lieutenant, Commandant, 16 guns
Schooner Sylph, Melancthon T. Woolsey, Master, Commandant, 14 guns
Schooner Governor Tompkins, St. Clair Elliott, Midshipman, Commandant, 6 guns
Schooner Hamilton 8 guns
Schooner Growler, 5 guns
Schooner Pert, Samuel W. Adams, Lieutenant, Commandant, 3 guns
Schooner Conquest, Henry Wells, Lieutenant, Commandant, 2 guns
Schooner Fair American, Wolcott Chauncey, Lieutenant, Commandant, 2 guns
Schooner Ontario, John Stevens, Sailing Master, 2 guns
Schooner Asp, Philander A. Jones, Lieutenant, Commandant, 2 guns
Schooner Julia, 2 guns
Schooner Elizabeth, 1 gun
Schooner Lady of the Lake, Mervin P. Mix, 1 gun
Bomb vessel, Mary.

As soon as the ice broke up, the Lady of the Lake was sent out to cruise, and on the 24th of April run close into Kingston harbor and showed her colors which were answered by the enemy’s fleet and batteries.

Their fleet appeared to be nearly ready for a cruise.

On the night of the 25th, Lieutenant Dudley with two guard boats fell in with three of the enemy’s in the bay, who were hailed, but not being properly answered, were fired upon when the latter fled.

A reinforcement was hastily obtained but nothing was seen or found of the enemy except six barrels of powder, slung in pairs to be carried on the shoulders of men, and doubtless intended to fire our vessels stealthily.

This accounted for their hasty retreat when fired upon, for fear of accidental explosion.

This insidious plan of the enemy could scarcely have succeeded, as, besides two lines of guard boats, all the approaches were secured by booms, and a marine guard boat, and numerous sentinels were posted near.

The guns of the Madison that was close to the stern of the Superior, were kept loaded with canister and bags of musket balls, to rake under if necessary.


The New York State Quarter Coin shows with an artist’s image of Sackett’s Harbor, circa 1815.

Note: Named after land developer and owner Augustus Sackett,  the name’s spelling changed and is now “Sackets Harbor.”

New York State Quarter Coin