- Site Description
- Chronological History
- Selection of Historical Articles.
- Brockville (Ontario, Canada) Recorder June 24, 1836
- Brockville Recorder Thursday, April 27, 1837
- Brockville Recorder Thursday, May 11, 1837
- Buffalo Commercial Advertiser Friday, June 1, 1838
- Proclamation -- Upper Canada.
- Buffalo Commercial Advertiser Saturday, June 2, 1838 Arrest of the Pirates
- Buffalo Commercial Advertiser Saturday, June 2, 1838
- Cleveland Daily Herald & Gazette Saturday, June 2, 1838; 2:3
- Correspondence of the Buffalo Coin. Advertiser. Kingston, U.C., May 30
- Cleveland Daily Herald & Gazette Monday, June 4, 1838; 2:2
- Cleveland Daily Herald & Gazette Wednesday, June 6, 1838; 2:3
- Buffalo Commercial Advertiser Monday, June 4, 1838
- Buffalo Commercial Advertiser Thursday, June 5, 1838
- Cleveland Daily Herald & Gazette Wednesday, June 6, 1838; 2:3
- Cleveland Daily Herald & Gazette Thursday, June 7, 1838 2:1,2
- Cleveland Daily Herald & Gazette Thursday, June 7, 1838; 2:5
- Rick Neilson, Jan. 13, 1985 for the S. O. S. Newsletter
- Pirate Bill Johnson
Site Description #
- 50 – 150ffw
- 160ft length
- Wellesley Island, NY
St. Lawrence River
- N44 18 040 W75 59 176
Chronological History #
- 1837 Launched
- 1838 Engine Fire by Racing Steamer GREAT BRITAN
- 1838 Captured, Robbed & Burned by noted freebooter Bill Johnston, ” the Pirate of St. Lawrence”; wreck found near Thousand Island Bridge
- 1958 Wreck found near Thousand Island Bridge. Paddlewheels were recovered and used as display at the Robert Peel Motel, Alexandria Bay NY.
Built by William Parkins, Brockville, and launched May 5, 1837. Engine cylinders 32″ bore, 10 ” stroke built by Ward Bros., Montreal. Designed for shooting rapids: “remarkable length and narrow in the beam” (Cobourg “Star”), drew only 4 feet of water. 75 berths with 68 ‘ dining cabin.
Built for Prescott-Coteau when the canal opened, but not used there; ran as opposition boat Prescott-Oswego-Cobourg-Toronto. Caught fire by racing with “Great Britain” May 16, 1838, near Oswego, damage not serious. Destroyed by fire when burnt by rebels May 29, 1838, Wellsley Island near French Creek, (Clayton) New York.
The wreck lies in 125 feet of water and its boilers lie in 70 feet of water. The wreck, over 171 years old is one of the oldest identifiable shipwrecks in the Thousand Islands. Only the wood below the water line remains. The site is deep and the currents are strong and it is located under the shipping channel.
Selection of Historical Articles. #
Brockville (Ontario, Canada) Recorder June 24, 1836 #
Launch. – We understand that the splendid new steamboat which has been some time in construction at this place, by Jonas Jones, Esq. and others will be launched on Friday the 5th of May next, at 12 o’clock, noon. This Boat, we understand, is to bear the name of the distinguished Tory Baronet, Sir Robert Peel.
Brockville Recorder Thursday, April 27, 1837 #
A letter to the editor: A man was fired who would not swear that he would vote for Jonas Jones in the upcoming election. “I have been employed by Mr. Jones on a steamboat building by him.” signed Frances Hackett.
Brockville Recorder Thursday, May 11, 1837 #
The Steam Boat Sir Robert
Kingston, U. C. May 30. Gent: I arrived in this place yesterday, in the steamboat ONEIDA. The news of the loss of the British steamboat SIR ROBERT PEEL has just reached here by the ONEIDA, which took the passengers of the SIR ROBERT PEEL, from Wells Island, in the St. Lawrence, near French Creek.
The boat, I understand from the passengers with whom I have conversed, was bound from Prescott, up the river, with a valuable freight and a number of passengers. While wooding was attacked by a party of about 40 men, the passengers and crew driven on shore, the boat set fire to, and totally destroyed, together with everything on board, except a small portion of. English gentleman lost L5,000 in money, and that a large amount of specie was on board for the Toronto banks. The ladies were driven on shore in their nightclothes. The mate is badly burned and narrowly escaped losing his life. I will not undertake to describe the excitement that exists here at this moment.
In haste, yours truly,
Pierre A. Barker
[Wells’ Island is one of the largest of the cluster called “the Thousand Islands.” It forms part of Alexandria, the most northern town in Jefferson county.]
Buffalo Commercial Advertiser Friday, June 1, 1838 #
Burning of Sir Robert Peel
After yesterday’s paper had gone to press and was nearly worked off, we received a copy of the following proclamation of Sir George Arthur, in relation to the burning of Sir Robert Peel. This document is temperate in its language and contrasts favorably in that respect with the letters, messages, and proclamations, written by Sir Francis Head.
His Excellency seems to assume, although he does not venture to assert it as a fact, that the perpetrators of the outrage were Americans: and he also takes it for granted that our government is bound to make redress. In both these particulars, he will probably find himself at fault. Indeed, as to the first, it is altogether likely that those engaged in the affair were Canadians, who knew that the boat had money on board and that she usually stopped at the island to wood, took advantage of the circumstance to plunder her, hoping to throw the odium of the deed on the Americans: or, it might have been the act of some refugees, who and at the same time embroil the two countries. Until all the circumstances are known it is certainly impolitic in Gov. Arthur to indulge in covert insinuations.
The burning of the Peel naturally brings to mind the destruction of the Caroline, to which, however, it has very little resemblance. The Caroline was attacked at a time when the civil war was raging in the Canadas, and under the supposition that she was engaged in rendering assistance to the people on Navy Island. These circumstances furnish some slight ground perhaps for her destruction, and so far the act was less atrocious than the one which has recently occurred. But when we remember that the Caroline was lying within our own waters, that our soil was invaded by an armed force from another country, that the government of that country has voluntarily assumed the responsibility of the act, and the murders with which it was accompanied, rewarding those engaged in it, the affair in addition to inherent atrocity, becomes a matter of great national Importance: whereas the destruction of the Peel, deeply as it is to be regretted, possesses nothing of this national character.
It was the mad act of lawless men piracy in fact and the perpetrators deserve hanging from the
That our government will do this – that, in the words of Gov. Arthur, “it will feel deeply the insult which this act of savage and cowardly violence, committed in the dead of night, has inflicted upon the nation” — and that it will vindicate the national honor” in the amplest manner, we cannot entertain a doubt. In the meantime, we forbear farther comment, but before concluding we cannot refrain from remarking, with how much greater force the words of Gov. Arthur, which we have quoted would apply to the destruction of the Caroline, than to the burning of Sir Robert Peel.
Proclamation — Upper Canada. #
By His Excellency Sir George Arthur, Knight Commander of the Royal Hanoverian Guelphic Order, Lieutenant Governor of the Province of Upper Canada, Major General Commanding Her Majesty’s Forces therein, &c. Whereas information has this day been received, that on the thirtieth day of May inst, the British Steamboat Sir Robert Peel, while lying peaceably at an American Island, was treacherously attacked by a body of armed ruffians from the American shore, set fire to and burned; the passengers, among whom were defenseless females, wantonly and brutally insulted: and a large amount of money, and other property on board the said boat was either plundered or destroyed: And whereas, the said robbery and outrage cannot fail to excite feelings of the utmost indignation in the minds of her Majesty’s Subjects, who may be induced thereby to resort without properly considering, that it belongs to the Government of Her Majesty to claim that redress, and to the Government of the United States to see that it by promptly rendered.
The Steamboat Sir Robert Peel, with the persons and property on board, lay at a wharf on the shore of a friendly power, in the confidence of that security which every civilized Nation extends over the subjects and property of foreigners, within its territory in times of peace, and free commercial Intercourse.
The Government of the United States, it may be confidently expected, will vindicate the national honor; and feel deeply the insult which this act of savage and cowardly violence, committed in the dead of night, has inflicted upon their Nation. They will not and cannot, with any regard to National character, delay to bring the criminals to punishment, or to render to the injured subjects of Her Majesty, redress — though it be too late, in this instance, to offer them protection.
The demeanor and conduct of the population of this Province, has been that of a people resting securely upon the sanctity of law, and the regular exercises of the power of the Great Empire of which they form a part, and accordingly, even during rebellion, and foreign invasion, this Country has not been disgraced by and scenes of individual violence or revenge, on the part of its loyal inhabitants. The character which has thus been gained to this Province, has commanded the admiration of the British people — demonstrated the proud superiority of British Institutions — and is too valuable to be sacrificed in its smallest part, for the sudden gratification of indigent feelings, however justly they may have been aroused.
I therefore express to Her Majesty’s faithful and loyal subjects, my entire confidence in their dignified forbearance, and that the British Flag, which has been so nobly defended by them, will not now be stained by having outrage of insult offered to the persons of property, of foreigners within its territory, and under its protection It need not be said to men who understand the character and Institutions of England — that injury offered to one British subject, is felt by all — and that the mutual ties of duty and affection, which bind a free and loyal people and their sovereign together, give the strength of the whole Empire to an injured individual. This consideration is all that is necessary to restrain a loyal community within becoming bounds, and to insure their leaving to their Government that claim for redress which this unprovoked outrage imperatively demands. Until the American Government shall have taken such measures as will ensure the lives and property of British subjects within the territory of the United States from spoliation and violence, the utmost guard and caution is required on the part of Masters of Steamboats, and other vessels, in entering American harbors: as it is but too plain, that at present the subjects of Her Majesty may be sometimes placed in the power of a law. Less banditti, when they imagine themselves with the protection and authority of a friendly Government.
Given under my Hand and Seal at Arms, at Toronto this thirty first day of May, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirty eight, and of Her Majesty’s Reign the first. By Command of His Excellency. CA. Hagerman. Attorney General, D. Cameron. Secretary.
Buffalo Commercial Advertiser Saturday, June 2, 1838 Arrest of the Pirates #
We learn by a gentleman direct from Oswego, that eight persons engaged in the burning of Sir Robert Peel, have been arrested on Wells Island, and are happy to be assured that only one of them was an American, all the rest were Canadians. When the Oneida which took the passengers of the Peel touched at Kingston, the custom-house officers advised the Captain to be off as soon as possible, the excitement among the inhabitants being so great that it was feared they could not be restrained from acts of violence. The Transit which arrived at Lewiston last evening from Toronto had one piece of cannon on her deck, and about 20 armed men on board as a guard. She refuses we understand to take any Yankee passengers. This is the sum of the information that we deem entitled to a credit, which we have received up to 2 o’clock this afternoon. Additional intelligence will probably be brought by the cars from the Falls.
Buffalo Commercial Advertiser Saturday, June 2, 1838 #
DESTRUCTION OF A BRITISH STEAMBOAT ON LAKE ONTARIO, IN AN AMERICAN PORT, BY A MOB!
By Canadian gentlemen direct from Toronto, who came passengers in the MILWAUKIE this morning, we learn that the British steam-boat SIR ROBERT PEEL, plying between Kingston and Toronto, touching at the American ports on Lake Ontario, was attacked early in the present week while stopping at French Creek in Jefferson Co., N.Y., by a party of some fifty persons, blackened and otherwise disguised, who took possession of the boat, robbed her of $100,000 dollars in specie, and set her on fire. The outrage is attributed to the Canadian refugees in the vicinity of French Creek, in retaliation for the wrongs and oppression of the Provincial Government, which has driven them from their homes, and confiscated their possessions. The respectable character of the gentlemen bringing the intelligence, leaves no room to doubt that the ROBERT PEEL has been wantonly burned, though some of the details may be incorrect.
Cleveland Daily Herald & Gazette Saturday, June 2, 1838; 2:3 #
Burning of the SIR ROBERT PEEL Confirmed. — By the kind attention of the Editors of the Buffalo Commercial, we received their paper of Friday evening per Steamboat on Saturday night, containing the following letter from the late Collector of Buffalo. The Buffalonian of Saturday is also before us, which states that Gov. Arthur has issued his Proclamation, calling on Her Majesty’s loyal subjects to forbear making any effort to avenge the insult, and expressing his confidence that our Government makes reparation. Who were the authors of the outrage, the Commercial does not know? The Buffalonian states, though on what authority is not named, that the assailants came across the river in boats, and returned in them. A report current in this city, that 9 persons, 8 of the Canadians, have been arrested for the offense. We do not vouch for its correctness.
Correspondence of the Buffalo Coin. Advertiser. Kingston, U.C., May 30 #
Gent: I arrived in this place yesterday, in the steamboat ONEIDA. The news of the loss of the British steamboat SIR ROBERT
The boat, I understand from the passengers with whom I have conversed, was bound from Prescott, up the river, with a valuable freight and a number of passengers. While wooding at Well’s Island, about 2 o’clock, A.M., she was attacked by a party of about 40 men, the passengers
The ladies were driven on shore in their nightclothes. The mate is badly burnt, and narrowly escaped with his life. I will not undertake to describe the excitement that exists here at this moment.
In haste, yours truly, PIERRE A. BARKER
(We1l’s Island is one of the largest of the cluster called
Cleveland Daily Herald & Gazette Monday, June 4, 1838; 2:2 #
The Rochester Democrat of the 2nd, states that eight persons engaged in burning the ROBERT PEEL have been taken to Watertown in irons, and six others were under examination at French Creek when the steamboat OSWEGO left on Thursday. All but two of them were Canadian refugees. The excitement is so great at Kingston, that the OSWEGO did not touch at that place, for fear of consequences. American boats will not touch at any of the Canadian ports on Ontario for the present. Loud threats of retaliation have been uttered by the Canadians.
Cleveland Daily Herald & Gazette Wednesday, June 6, 1838; 2:3 #
The Sir Robert Peel -We copy the following particulars respecting the destruction of this boat, from the Rochester Democrat of Saturday They were obtained from the Captain and Clerk of the Oswego.
The Sir Robert Peel arrived at Well’s Island about 1 o’clock on Wednesday morning. for the purpose of taking in wood Immediately upon her arrival. the individual who supplied her with wood, informed the captain, that a party of men had been at the landing-place two or three times during the day, and from their appearance and conduct had excited his suspicion that they meditated violence upon the Sir Robert, when she came in. Upon receiving this information, the captain, for a short time, kept a lookout; but at length believing the report to be idle, he retired, leaving the crew to complete the taking in of the wood.
By this time, it was near 3 o’clock, and all the passengers and officers of the boat were in bed. A few minutes after 3, when the boat was about starting, a number of small boats were observed coming down the river, which immediately dropped ashore a few rods above and not far from 50 men leaped from them to the shore. A few of the party remained with boats, the residue proceeded to the Sir Robert Peel. which they quietly, boarded, placed sentries at the cabin and engine room doors, upon the bow stern and gangways, and then ordered the crew and passengers to leave the boat forthwith.
The assailants were painted black, and otherwise disguised, and carried swords, bayonets, &c., and their order was promptly complied with, without resistance. They allowed those who left the boat to take their baggage with them; although it is said by some that the captain at first left the boat in his nightclothes only, but he was permitted to return and dress.
After the boat was supposed to be cleared of all the passengers and crew, she was loosed from the
The small boats of the party then came
After they had ransacked the boat, they set fire to her in four different places. The flames spread rapidly, and the marauders jumped on board of their small boats, pushed down the stream. and under cover of the darkness, effected their retreat. After the flames had almost enveloped the boat, the second mate, who had been asleep in his room on deck, was awakened by the smoke and heat, rushed out and leaped into the river. In doing so, his face and hands were quite badly burned, but he got upon shore safely. It is not supposed that lives were lost.
These facts were elicited upon the examination of the crew of the Sir Robert Peel, before a council of magistrates from Ogdensburgh and Brockville on board the Oswego.
The diligent search was
It is confidently expected that the entire gang will be arrested. A number of those who it is supposed composed it, were noticed hanging about French Creek for a week previous The Oswego did not touch at Kingston, apprehensive of the consequences; nor will any of the American boats touch at any of the Canada ports for the present. Threats have been profusely made that if they do, they will meet the fate of the Sir Robert Peel By a slip from the Office of the Oswego Palladium, we have the following deposition. sworn to before J. H. Lord, Esq.
Buffalo Commercial Advertiser Monday, June 4, 1838 #
Another Steamboat Outrage -We regret to learn that the rumor, which was in circulation yesterday, that the Steamboat Telegraph, had been fired into at Brockville. is true The Rochester Democrat of yesterday gives the following particulars of the affair, as obtained from the Captain of the Telegraph. The Telegraph left Oswego at 6 o’clock on Saturday evening – touched at Prescott as usual, and reached Brockville about 9. Here she landed at the lower dock took on board and left a number of passengers received the visits and insults of an unarmed mob, who ransacked the cabins, and otherwise evinced a turbulent disposition – and was moving past the upper wharf, when she was
After a few words had passed, the captain peremptorily refused to land, set the engine in motion, and moved off. Immediately upon this, and while the boat was within a few feet of the wharf, about twenty muskets were fired, and FOUR OF THE BALLS ENTERED THE LADIES’ CABIN! One passed within a few inches of the chambermaid, and two struck very near the captain. The Democrat says it is reported that the men who fired the guns were the guard called out by the public authorities. This we cannot credit for a moment. The act, allowing it to have been done by a mob, is bad enough, and, as the Democrat well observes, “the fact that the boat was fired into, the lives of those on board endangered, and an insult offered to the American Flag, is enough to alarm every one for the consequences. Something efficient must be done to prevent a repetition of these outrages, or ( and it is folly to disguise it) war will ensue”
We trust that something efficient will be done on both sides. It is intolerable that the whole frontier should be kept in a state of perpetual agitation, and the friendly relations subsisting between two great nations seriously threatened by outrages committed by a few miserable vagabonds on each side of the line.
Buffalo Commercial Advertiser Thursday, June 5, 1838 #
The Buffalo Commercial of Saturday evening confirms the report of the arrest of 8 of the persons who destroyed the PEEL at Well’s Island, only one of the Americans. The excitement on the Canada side is intense, and the TRANSIT from Toronto to Lewiston is armed with one piece of cannon on
Cleveland Daily Herald & Gazette Wednesday, June 6, 1838; 2:3 #
From the Rochester Democrat
THE STEAMBOAT OUTRAGE The destruction of the Steamboat SIR ROBERT PEEL is confirmed; and we gather from the Captain and the clerk of the steamboat OSWEGO, which came in yesterday, the following additional particulars of that unfortunate and glaring outrage.
The SIR ROBERT PEEL arrived at Well’s Island about 1 o’clock on Wednesday morning, for the purpose of taking in wood. Immediately upon her arrival, the individual who supplied her with wood informed the captain, that a party of men had been at the landing-place two or three times during the day, and from their appearance and conduct had excited his suspicion that they meditated violence upon the SIR ROBERT when she came in. Upon receiving this information, the captain, for a short time, kept a lookout; but at length, believing the report to be idle, he retired, leaving the crew to complete the taking in of the wood. By this time, it was near 3 o’clock, and all the passengers and officers of the boat were in bed. A few minutes after three, when the boat was about starting, a number of small boats were observed coming down the river, which immediately dropped ashore a few rods above, and not far from 50 men leaped from them to the shore. A few of the party remained with the boats, the residue proceeded to the SIR ROBERT PEEL, which they quietly boarded, placed sentries at the cabin and engine room doors,
The assailants were painted black, and otherwise disguised, and carried swords, bayonets, &c., and their order was promptly complied with, without resistance. They allowed those who left the boat to take their baggage with them; although it is said by some that the captain at first left the boat in his
After they had ransacked the boat, they set fire to her in four different places. The flames spread rapidly, and the marauders jumped on board of their small boats, pushed down the stream, and under cover of darkness, effected their retreat. After the flames had almost enveloped the boat, the second mate, who had been asleep in his room on deck, was awakened by the smoke and heat, rushed out and leaped into the river. In doing so his face and hands were quite badly burned, but he got
These facts were elicited upon the examination of the crew of the SIR ROBERT PEEL, before a council of Magistrates from Ogdensburgh, and Brockville, on board of the OSWEGO. Diligent search was, of course, immediately commenced for the perpetrators of this daring outrage, and on Wednesday eight of those who were supposed to have been engaged in
The Canadians are particularly incensed; but from the increasing efforts made by the Officers and citizens on this side, it can hardly be supposed that they will resort to any retaliatory measures – particularly as they themselves were the first aggressors. It is confidently expected that the entire gang will be arrested. A number of those who it is supposed composed it, were noticed hanging about French Creek for a week previous.
The OSWEGO did not touch at Kingston, apprehensive of the consequences; nor will any of the American boats touch at any of the Canadian ports for the present. Threats have been profusely made that if they do, they will meet the fate of the SIR ROBERT PEEL. But this is the height of folly. Such a course is not calculated to secure the results desired. Forbearance alone can aid justice in reaching her ends. We know that our authorities will do everything in their power to ferret out, and punish the aggressors in this instance; and if the British do the same when their citizens are the aggressors, all will yet be well. But we confess that this outrage has raised a cloud over the horizon of peace. The waves of excitement, which had begun to slumber upon the frontier, will again be lashed into fury; and with a standing army of 12 or 15,000 in Canada, with indiscreet councilors to direct them, we fear that something may be done that both nations will have cause to regret. We must, however, await the issue; hoping, however, that the public authorities on each side of the line, may act as the peculiar exigencies of the times require.
Cleveland Daily Herald & Gazette Thursday, June 7, 1838 2:1,2 #
THE OUTRAGE ON THE TELEGRAPH.
From the Rochester Democrat of the 4th, we have only time to give a few items in relation to Canadian affairs. The outrage on the American steamboat TELEGRAPH was committed at Brockville on the 28th ult. The Captain suspicious of foul play refused to come up to the dock when ordered to by the Canadians, and on moving off while near the landing, some twenty muskets were discharged into her, four of the balls entering the Ladies’ cabin. One passed near the chambermaid, and two struck very close to the Captain. It is said that the shots were given by the guard, called out by the public authorities. The burning of the PEEL has produced an intense excitement at Toronto, and other ports on the Lake, large patrols are stationed on the wharves, & other public places. A letter received in Rochester from Toronto, states that rumor was rife of an immediate attack upon that place, by a large body of patriots.
The rumor is doubted. The Cobourg Star, however, alluding to the said rumor says -“Great preparations are making accordingly. A large guard is on the wharf, and Col. Chewitt has been instructed to arm 100 men of his regiment.” Four regiments of infantry and three companies of city guards were under arms in Toronto. Some 200 militia have also been armed, and a regiment of blacks is organizing on the Niagara frontier. Armed schooners to protect the Lake trade are talked of. So says a letter from Toronto dated June 1st. Gov. Marcy has repaired to Watertown, and the citizens of French Creek have called for a force to protect that place from being burned.
The SIR ROBERT PEEL – We gleaned some additional items, in relation to this melancholy affair: The Toronto Patriot says, the cries of murder were heard after the boat was cut loose, and that three or four persons are missing. This is doubtful. A Mr. Holditch says he lost L500 in notes of the Bank of England, and between 80 and $100 in the U.S. Bills. The Patriot says: “Those in command of the gang were above the common, and had delicate slender fingers more used to picking and stealing than to honest labor.
The men were armed with United States muskets. Some pretend to have recognized the voices of Wells, Hugh Scanlan, and Bill Johnson. Some of the passengers were known to the
Cleveland Daily Herald & Gazette Thursday, June 7, 1838; 2:5 #
“CAPTURE AND BURNING OF THE SIR ROBERT PEEL BY YANKEE PIRATES” read the headlines of an article in the Kingston Chronicle of May 30, 1838. The PEEL, Capt. Armstrong was on her way from Prescott to Toronto with approximately eighty passengers and twenty crew. She arrived at McDonald’s wharf on the south side of Well’s Island (now Wellesley Island) near midnight to take on wood. Most of the passengers were asleep in their cabins. Suddenly a large group of men, armed with muskets and bayonets, and their faces blackened, rushed on board the vessel and ordered every soul to go on shore immediately. Amidst the confusion and panic Capt. Armstrong told the second mate Maurice Fitzgibbon to cut the boat adrift, but the pirates prevented him from carrying out his orders.
After everyone was ashore, the boat was cut adrift and anchored in the river. A short time later, the PEEL was seen to be burning. The pirates left for the American shore in several small boats; the passengers and crew were picked up about 6:30 A. M. by the American steamboat ONEIDA, Capt. Smith, and taken to Kingston. The pirates were actually ” Patriots,” supporters of the rebels led by William Lyon MacKenzie in the Canadian Rebellion of the previous year.
They were led by Bill Johnston, a fanatical enemy of Canada who lived in Kingston until the start of the war of 1812, when he acted as a spy for the Americans. Johnson’s pirates may have been looking for a vessel with which to transport troops and supplies to Patriot bands. Perhaps they only wished to avenge the CAROLINE, which had been sent blazing over Niagara Falls the previous December because it was bringing supplies to the Patriot band on Navy Island. At any rate, a reward of £100 was offered by Lord Dunham to anyone who could bring to conviction those involved. A few came to trial but no one was convicted.
Thus the PEEL ender her short career. She had been launched at Brockville on the 5th of May, 1837 and was named after the distinguished Tory Baronet, Sir Robert Peel. The steamers WILLIAM 1V and BROCKVILLE were laying off the shipyard, fully loaded with passengers eager to see the spectacle. She was 160 feet long, 30 feet beam, and cost between $44,000 and 15,000. Her owners were Joseph Jones of Brockville, David Ogden Ford of Brockville, and William Bacon of Ogdensburg, each with one-quarter share, and the remaining one quarter owned by Henry Jones; George Sherwood and Davis Ford, all of Brockville, acting as trustees for the creditors of Horace Billings and Co.
The boat was finished in the last of June, but after several trips
Rick Neilson, Jan. 13, 1985 for the S. O. S. Newsletter #
In the fall of 1983 several P. O. W. (Protect Our Wrecks) members were looking for new shore dive sites to explore after the boats were taken out of the water. The PEEL was one of these sites. With information from a veteran American diver and several local people on Wellesley Island, we decided that we had the location narrowed down enough to start actual diving.
The dive site is a bit unusual. Because it is the main channel of the St. Lawrence Seaway and very narrow, freighters are apt to be going over your head at any time and there is a lot of pleasure craft traffic. The current is also very strong in the spring and summer but drops noticeably in the fall. The late fall is thus the best time to dive when the current is weaker, boat traffic is almost non-existent and the visibility is much better.
The bottom drops off at about a 60-degree angle until it starts to level out at 120 feet. A little further out it plunges to 250 feet. Two trips were made in the fall of 1983 during which we found some machinery and burnt timbers. This fall (1984) we found the remains of what we believe is the PEEL, a long wooden hull, definitely burnt, with the sides sticking up 8 feet in places. The decks are completely gone, inside the hull are broken dishes, large diameter pipes, and an area of bricks which is presumably the bed for the boilers. The bow is sitting in about 135 feet of water and is burnt down to the hawse pipe fittings, there is also a remnant of bowsprit left.
The P. O. W, divers involved to date are Peter Blood; Toni Towle; Phil Ibbatson; Paul Conley; Ralph Volkert, and Rick Neilson. In the future we hope to get more information on the condition of the wreck when it was first found, possible track down some of the artifacts (removed years ago) for the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes at Kingston and to take still photos and videotape of the hull for the Marine Museum.
Pirate Bill Johnson #
Pirate Bill Johnston was a grocer in Kingston but during the war of 1812 he was courting an American girl. The British accused him of spying so he became a U.S. sympathizer and guided their ships through the islands. During the Patriot War, he burned the Sir Robert Peel, a boat from Brockville and plundered the valuables. He withdrew to his stronghold on Fort Wallace Island. In 1838 at the bloody battle of the Windmill, east of Prescott, Bill Johnson escaped but later was tried by the Americans who didn’t want to be seen to be involved with the ‘patriots’. He gave himself up rather than starve on an island in winter. He spent a year in Albany jail then he served his sentence in an unlocked cell in Clayton, a folk hero in his own time. Later he was lighthouse keeper on Rock Island off the south shore of Wellesley Island, New York.