Archive for the 'War of 1812' Tag

 

Headstone of Commo. Arthur Sinclair, captured by his descendant Lt.j.g. Lloyd "Link" Mustin.

Navy Lieutenant Junior Grade (LTJG) Lloyd “Link” Mustin grew up hearing many tales of his family’s long history of service in the U.S. Navy. As the seventh successive generation to serve, Lieutenant Mustin can trace his lineage directly back to the first in his family to serve – his fifth great-grandfather Commo. Arthur Sinclair. Family lore abounded about Commodore Sinclair, but no one in the family knew where he was buried.

Stationed in Norfolk, Virginia, aboard USS Stout (DDG-55) as the Fire Control Officer, Lieutenant Mustin’s naval career has been inspired by his family’s long dedication to service in the U.S. Navy and, as his grandfather, Vice Adm. Henry “Hank” Mustin, says, he “has taken on the mantle of family history.” So, over the Christmas holidays 2011, with a bit of vacation time on his hands, Lieutenant Mustin began his quest to find the Sinclair burial plot.

Commodore Sinclair’s legendary feats in the Great Lakes campaign of the War of 1812 are well documented, but his career spanned many early American conflicts. He began his apprenticeship at the age of 12 under the tutelage of Commo. Thomas Truxtun aboard the USS Constellation during the quasi-war with France. It was during that time that he was involved in an engagement with the French frigate Insurgent. He also served under Capt. William Bainbridge and participated in the war with Tripoli. While in command of his second ship, USS Argus, in October 1812, he captured several British “prize” ships and crews, earning him a legendary reputation for his battle acumen against the British.

But he solidified his place in history through his actions against the British in the Great Lakes. As Lieutenant Mustin’s great grandfather, Vice Adm. Lloyd Mustin, recounted in a 1972 Naval Institute oral history, “He succeeded rather dramatically in his assignment up there, which was to rid the Great Lakes north and west of Detroit of the British naval presence. He destroyed their navy completely in some fairly stirring actions and left them with nothing but canoes and rowboats and the like.” After the war, Congress presented Commodore Sinclair a silver plate with an inscription that cited his victories. Lieutenant Mustin’s great uncle Tom Mustin, who also served as a naval officer, has the tray in his home.

The family knew that Commodore Sinclair finished his career as the commander of the Norfolk Naval Yard – which was called Gosport during that time, and that he established a nautical school there that was the predecessor to the Naval Academy. The family also knew that Sinclair had established a family home in the city and died there in 1831. Lieutenant Mustin surmised that Sinclair must be buried somewhere in Norfolk. So he followed his hunch.

“It’s amazing what you can find on Google,” Mustin said. “I started searching for ‘Arthur Sinclair’ and ‘Norfolk’ and found many interesting results. As I combed through them for awhile, I came across the Cedar Grove Cemetery web site and contacted them. I was pleased to find that they did in fact have a Commodore Arthur Sinclair buried there.” And it was five minutes from his apartment!

Lieutenant Mustin grabbed his fiancé and jumped in his car. Following the map emailed to him by the cemetery, he quickly found the family plot and headstone. The Commodore is surrounded by his contemporaries, including Commos. William Jamesson, Samuel Barron, and William Skinner, and Capts. Benjamin Bissell and Lewis Warrington. “It was obvious the Sinclair plot was very old and many of the graves had settled.” Indeed, Sinclair’s headstone was cracked in the middle, but the etched names of the Sinclair family members buried with Commodore Sinclair were still legible.

Lieutenant Mustin was astonished at his find. “I was overwhelmed to be standing over the grave of Commodore Arthur Sinclair,” he said.

Later, he went back to the cemetery by himself just to view once more the grave site of this “near-mythical man about whom I had heard stories my entire life.” He revealed that learning more about his ancestors and their accomplishments has given him a context for how to understand the world and his place in it. “It filled me with a tremendous sense of purpose!”

There are several resources to research your family’s 1812 ancestors, including the Naval History & Heritage Command; the Society of the War of 1812; and Fold3, a company that is digitizing all War of 1812 pension files stored in the National Archives. 

For more information on the events planned to commemorate the Bicentennial of the War of 1812, go to www.ourflagwasstillthere.org

 



Most naval history fans have heard of Oliver Hazard Perry, Thomas Macdonough and James Lawrence (“Don’t give up the ship!”) and the big battles waged against the British on the Great Lakes in the War of 1812. But who has heard of Capt. Joshua Barney, who led the Chesapeake Flotilla during the War of 1812? A seasoned Navy veteran of the American Revolution, Captain Barney was responsible for identifying the weaknesses in the Royal Navy’s armada that was terrorizing Maryland and Virginia at the time.

In Flotilla: The Patuxent Naval Campaign in the War of 1812, author and marine archaeologist Donald G. Shomette describes the Chesapeake Bay as a collection of estuaries and vast array of navigable waters that allowed the British to stretch deep into the U.S. homeland – en route to Washington, D.C. (and the eventual burning of the nation’s capital). In a lecture at the Navy Memorial this week, Shomette recounted how the Brits’ deep-draft ships hindered their mobility in the shallow Chesapeake and they had to rely on barges to reach the more shallow creeks and ponds and to ferry their troops ashore and to reach the shallow rivers and creeks.

To combat this threat, Captain Barney successfully convinced the secretary of the Navy at the time to build a heavily-armed, shallow-draft fleet of row galleys (or barges) that could nimbly out-maneuver the British in these shallow waters. It was a desperate move, as the Royal Navy’s assets far outnumbered the Americans’. (Estimates were that the mighty Royal Navy had more than 1,000 ships of war and the Americans had approximately 16 at the onset of the War of 1812.)

The flotilla that Captain Barney built was comprised of 26 ships and approximately 500 sailors. They valiantly tried to defend the massive coastline and harbors leading farther inland. He was successful in eliciting a singular victory at St. Leonard’s Creek and he made a heroic effort at Bladensburg in August 1814. But, without ancillary support and a choreography between land and sea forces, Captain Barney’s flotilla was doomed.

The Chesapeake campaign was a diversionary one, as the stakes were much higher in the Great Lakes. But, it served a purpose, hindering the British forces’ advance to Washington. And author Shomette highlights the lesson that Captain Barney’s service and sacrifice illuminated: defending a coastline with a brown-water maritime force is not sufficient. A blue-water force is necessary to defend against commensurate enemy forces determined to invade our shores.

To learn more about this book, go to www.navymemorial.org.



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