American Warship General Pike
By James Donahue
When we consider the naval history of the United States, it may be hard to believe that a time existed
when we built an armada of large fighting gunships that spent their years fighting the British on Lake Ontario.
Such a ship was the USS General Pike, a 145-foot-long corvette that took part in several important
battles during the War of 1812.
From the day in 1813 that the Pike’s keel was laid down and construction began, the war came
to this ship. New York shipbuilder Henry Eckford was on hand at Sackets Harbor to supervise the new warship. In its day this
was a large warship that would be almost as large as the frigate USS Essex, then the largest gunship yet constructed on the
Of course this was of concern to the British. Before it was launched British forces under Lt. General
Sir George Prevost and Commodore Sir James Lucas Yeo attacked Sacket’s Harbor with the destruction of the General Pike
as their objective. The ship was set on fire but was not destroyed during the battle.
The corvette was launched on June 12, 1813 (it took just two months to build) and fitted out for action
by July 21. She was under the command of Master Commandant Arthur Sinclair and became the flagship of Commodore Isaac Chauncey.
General Pike cruised the head of Lake Ontario, just off Niagara, where she engaged in a skirmish with
British ships under Commodore Yeo in August. The battle was declared indecisive.
Another month passed before the two squadrons met up again for another brief encounter on Sept. 11
at the mouth of the Genesee River. Another more severe battle followed at York Bay on Sept. 28. In this fight the General
Pike’s big guns partly de-masted Yeo’s flagship, the sloop Wolfe and the vessel took a hit below the waterline
that left 20 men dead or wounded. The British fire, however, was concentrated on the General Pike so the ship took heavy damage
as well. The British squadron then fled the scene and that battle was over. But the two naval groups were beginning to get
bolder in their attacks.
This was the General Pike’s only major battle of the war. She returned to Sackett’s Harbor
for repairs then supported troop movements against the British at the lower end of Lake Ontario, then covered the transfer
of American forces from Fort Niagara to Sackett’s Harbor.
That winter the ship was placed under the command of Master Commandant William Crane and it was no
longer Chauncey’s flagship. By then larger frigates were on the lake and Chauncey set up command there.
As the British slowly withdrew from the area and moved into Canada, the General Pike joined other
American vessels in a blockade of the British squadron at Kingston, Ontario.
After the war the General Pike no longer had a cause. She was anchored at Sackett’s Harbor until
sold to private owners in 1825.