Name: Charles GORDON
Given Name: Charles
Birth: 14 Nov 1778 in Chestertown, Kent County, Maryland
Death: 6 Sep 1816 in Messina, Sicily, Italy
Burial: 1816 English Cemetery, Messina, Sicily, Italy
1. Date of Commission in U.S. Navy: March, 1813
Change Date: 12 Aug 2008 at 10:40:07
2. On July 21, 1807 the U.S. Frigate Chesapeake pulled out of Norfolk naval yard for duty in the Mediterranean. She was under the command of Gordon, a native of Kent County, Maryland and kin of prominent Eastern shore and Philadelphia families. The Chesapeake flew the flag of Commodore James Barron who acted as senior officer while on board. She sailed for the open sea with guns not rigged and crew untrained. She was trailed by HMS Leopard who carried orders from the British Vice-Admiral Berkley out of Halifax to seize and search American ships for British deserters. It had been reported to Berkley that certain deserters were on board the Chesapeake having dared to parade in Norfolk defying British Naval officers who looked on and recognized them. The Chesapeake, delayed because of inefficiency in the Naval yard, had cast off under Barron's instructions intending to drill the men and rig their guns at sea.
Once out of the Capes the Leopard forced the Chesapeake to halt and demanded the right to search the Chesapeake for the missing seamen. Barron initially denied permission and in the end the British almost destroyed the Chesapeake by their shelling. Nineteen American sailors were killed and the British removed four sailors, three of whom admitted they had fled the British navy. The indignity of the search, the attack on an American ship and the death of the seaman almost precipitated the second war with Britain in 1807. While it would take five more years before open warfare commenced, the Chesapeake and Leopard incident would become a precipitating cause of that war. Not much was heard of poor Capt. Gordon of the Chesapeake in the years immediately following the disaster. Vice Admiral Barron, obviously the ranking commander, was court martialed and so was Gordon.
Six years later Gordon was again in command of a squadron of naval vessels patrolling the Chesapeake Bay. He had at least four schooners and a gunboat under his command. All of the vessels were built as privateers, probably in Baltimore and were purchased or loaned to the Navy in the spring and summer of 1813. The 14 gun schooner Comet was loaned to the Navy from April to September 1813. The Revenge was purchased for Navy use in 1812. It carried a 140 man crew and was commanded by Capt. R. Miller. The small Wasp had only a single gun but its crew under Capt. T. Taylor numbered 50 men. With crew of 100 men and 10 guns, the Patapsco was used by the Navy in the summer of 1813. All of these ships had been or would become successful privateers before and after they left Federal service. Their crews were well paid in booty.
While New England merchants and ships supplied the British army in Canada with food, an order in Council was issued late in December 1812 for the blockade of the Delaware and Chesapeake Bays. An expedition was formed to invade the Bay and "punish" and terrorize the inhabitants. Second in command of this expedition was Admiral Sir George Cockburn. The British came into the Capes in February but were unsuccessful in invading Norfolk. Cockburn, however, raided the civilian inhabitants around Cape Henry and then sailed northward to Elkton where the British pillaged warehouses and stores on the waterfront. In most cases, at this time, the British did not burn private homes. They carefully gave receipts for all property commandeered. Yet they accomplished their goal by frightening the populace. On May 3, the British sailors and marines invaded Havre de Grace. Later they destroyed an ironworks in Cecil County. Under Cockburn's directive they began to burn homes in two villages on the Sassafras River. By June, Cockburn was joined by 8 ships of the line and additional reinforcements. This was the British force with which Gordon's fleet had to contend.
There is no evidence that Capt. Gordon ever came in contact with the British flotilla. The small American squadron could hardly have done much damage to the eight ships of the line, 12 frigates and other boats that made up the British fighting force in the Chesapeake by the end of June 1813. We know Gordon's ships were patrolling the Bay sometimes near Annapolis, signaling their sister ships and the militia on shore. When passing the Maryland capital at night they would "show one light and one rocket." "Any signal made for the shore or the Rose in Bloom will have the American Jack flying with it" reads another signal.
It might interest you to know that Charles Gordon fought a duel with Alexander Contee Hanson in 1809 over the Chesapeake - Leopard affair. Gordon, it is said, fired at the air while Hanson fired directly at Gordon. Parts of Gordon's clothing remained in his wound which, consequently, never healed. In 1815 he commanded a squadron in the Mediterranean as master of the frigate Constellation. He suffered greatly during the last months of his life from the old infection. He died in Sicily in 1816 and is buried at Messina. Gordon never married. His brother was Register of Wills in Kent County where Charles Gordon's inventory was probated in 1822.
For further knowledge of Charles Gordon, read Kent County Orphans Court Proceedings, 1812-1822, which includes his letterbook. Read also the article by M.L. Radoff on "Captain Gordon of the Constellation" in Maryland Historical Magazine, LXVII written after the contents of the court record. For more exciting stuff in the Archives look for future articles on Special Collections.
3. Served as a Lieutenant on the USS CONSTITUTION ("Old Ironsides").
4. In 1813 assigned as Captain of USS CONSTELLATION
Father: Charles GORDON b: 11 Dec 1721 in BinHall, Huntley, Aberdeenshire, Scotland
Mother: Elizabeth NICHOLSON b: ABT 1740 in Chestertown, Kent County, Maryland