The Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812

The Race to Build Ships

As the Americans were once again driven back from the West and the Niagara Peninsula, both camps decided, with a view to maintaining naval supremacy on Lake Ontario, to build large warships in record time, each side rivalling the other. Kingston and Sackets Harbor became major shipyards, and the battle for control of Lake Ontario became a race to build large vessels. In May, the HMS Prince Regent and the HMS Princess Charlotte, with 58 and 40 guns respectively, left Kingston, while the Americans had completed the USS Superior, with 62 guns, at Sackets Harbor. The British sent Royal Navy reinforcements to Kingston and spent great amounts of money. In the summer of 1814 an enormous structure took shape in their shipyard: the HMS St. Lawrence, a gigantic ship capable of carrying 110 guns, was launched in September. This sailing ship, the largest ever built in Canada, required a crew of 800 men.

The British, who already had two even larger vessels under construction at the shipyard (with a capacity of 120 guns each), therefore had a clear advantage. The Americans attempted to catch up by building two ships of this capacity at Sackets Harbor. But building large warships has always been an onerous undertaking. With Europe at peace, England could afford to invest immense amounts of money in this operation, employing thousands of men - for this was the way to regain naval superiority on the Great Lakes. In the fall of 1814 work began at the Chippewa shipyard on two gunboats for Lake Erie. Plans were also in the works to build gunboats and a frigate at Penetanguishene on Lake Huron. The British were on the right track to regain control over the Great Lakes and to win the race.