A Dozen Facts You Should Know About The War Of 1812

19th-century-american-maritimeThe loss of its colonies frustrated Britain. After-all, those 13 American colonies had been a major source of income for the mother country. Now, the United States wanted to trade and make money (and complete) with Britain, and that wasn’t a preferred situation for the English merchants. The Napoleonic Wars in Europe further complicated maritime interests for America.

Irritations grew on both sides and eventually erupted into the War of 1812. This conflict – primarily rooted in maritime interests – allowed the new U.S. Navy to test its strength and the outcome would establish America as a rising world power, setting the stage for the continued rise of maritime trade and strength.

Since the War of 1812 is incredibly important to understanding the success of American Maritime during the 19th Century, we thought we’d share the top 12 things you should know about the conflict. Continue reading

The Top 10 Things You Should Know About The Barbary Wars

19th-century-american-maritimeSo, America built six frigates, but those weren’t the only warships in the fledging navy. The Barbary Wars tend to be forgotten conflicts in overview studies of U.S. History, but they are incredibly important for understanding diplomacy and America’s earliest national interactions with Islamic countries.

They are particularly interesting to our study of 19th Century maritime for two reasons. 1) They take place at the very beginning of the 19th Century 2) They are fought to protect American maritime commerce in the Mediterranean.

Here are the top 10 things you should know about the First & Second Barbary Wars:

(And just to be clear, here are the conflict dates. First – 1801 to 1805. Second – 1815 to 1816.) Continue reading

The First Six Frigates


The Naval Act of 1794 permitted the construction of six frigates during time of conflict. The captains and ship yards got started, but the potential conflict on the horizon disappeared and according to the agreement, construction was supposed to stop too. Learning that he had to have force to ensure his country’s neutrality, President Washington convinced Congress to pass a bill in 1796 allowing the first three frigates to be finished. In 1798, in the midst of troubles with France, Congress finally approved the funds for three more frigates.

Today’s blog post introduces the first six ships built specifically for the United States Navy and some of their famous moments in history. Designed by Joshua Humphreys, these ships were constructed to last and to be the best-built and fastest for their size. Although small than British ships-of-the-line, the maneuverability, speed, and armament of the American frigates would give the new navy a significant advantage in forthcoming combats. Continue reading

Their First Vote

In U.S. history, who was the first African American to vote? Who was the first woman? What year? (Yes, I said “year”, not “years.”) No, that first vote wasn’t in a presidential election. It wasn’t even in a state election.

The first recorded time in U.S. history when an African American and a woman voted was in 1805 at a location on the Pacific Northwest Coast. The election was held by the Corps of Discovery to determine the location of the winter fort.

York – William Clark’s slave – voted. Sacagawea – a Native America woman and one of the expedition’s guides – was also allowed to vote.

Continue reading

New Stuff To Take West

When Meriweather Lewis and William Clark mustered their group of soldiers and river-men to begin the trek west into the Louisiana Purchase territory, they took some new inventions with them. President Jefferson liked new stuff and even made quite a few inventions himself – however, it wasn’t Jefferson’s calendar clock or multi-letter writer that made it in the expedition’s supply bags.

Instead, there were very practical things (at least in 19th Century standards) that went along – some of them were specially designed or commissioned by Lewis.

Today we’ll explore some of the “new stuff” that went west, the purposes, and success or failure of the items.


A replica of the expedition's keelboat (photo from http://lewisandclarktrail.com/keelboat.htm)

A replica of the expedition’s keelboat (photo from http://lewisandclarktrail.com/keelboat.htm)

To get up the Missouri River, Meriweather Lewis commissioned and helped design a special boat. Constructed around a shallow keel, the 55 foot long vessel was fairly flat-bottomed, allowing it to glide along the river and hopefully not get stuck on sandbanks. The keelboat did have a sail, but its wooden decks were designed to allow poling.

Overall, the keelboat was successful. It did get stuck a couple times, but it served its purpose as a “headquarters” boat for getting up the Missouri River. After the winter at Fort Mandan, Lewis and Clark sent the keelboat back down the Missouri River since the river was getting too narrow for its passage.

Air Rifle

A recent invention intrigued Meriweather Lewis, and he had to buy one for the expedition. Using compressed air, this new rifle didn’t take a normal charge of gunpowder to fire a bullet. It seemed like a good idea, but was a little tricky to make it work properly; thus most men on the expedition carried a regular rifle or musket. The air rifle was used mostly to impress the natives, and not for hunting or defense.

Unfortunately, before the expedition officially departed Missouri, Lewis was demonstrating his weapon to a crowd of onlookers when the gun misfired and accidentally wounded a woman in the crowd.

Dr. Benjamin Rush

Dr. Benjamin Rush

Dr. Rush’s Pills

Though skilled in frontier “first aid” and herbal medicine, Lewis took a crash course on 19th Century medicine so he could be the “doctor” on the expedition. (The men probably wished he had skipped the formal instruction). Dr. Benjamin Rush of Philadelphia helped Lewis improve his knowledge of bleeding, blistering, and purging which were the standard practices of the medical profession at the time.

Dr. Rush had invented a really awful concoction of drugs and prepared it as pills. They were supposed to be a sort of “cure-all” for any ailment. The pills were effective, basically emptying the digestive system and supposedly purging all illness from the body. Lewis took a large bottle of this pills in his medicine chest and prescribed them for various illnesses. (I’m still wondering if he ever took one or just prescribed.)

Peace Medals 

The Casts for the Jefferson Peace Medals

The Casts for the Jefferson Peace Medals

It wasn’t really an invention, but it was brand-new item. President Jefferson had peace medals crafted and instructed Lewis and Clark to give them to the native chiefs as a gift from the “American chief.” The medals were supposed to be a symbol of goodwill and alliance.

When meeting native tribes, Lewis and Clark usually had the soldiers perform a dress parade and fire their guns. Then the commanders would make speeches about the power of the United States and the president’s desire for friendship and peace. And then it was time for presents! Peace medals, beads, tobacco, and other items.


Meriweather Lewis was in charge of most of the “packing lists” for the expedition. With a personal interest in science (and mentored by Jefferson), Lewis searched for innovative items which might be useful. Some were successful. Others were cool, but not extremely effective. Some it might have been better to just leave at home. Others were beautiful with symbolic significance.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah