of "Crab Island, containing about 42 acres"
was one of Plattsburgh's pioneer lawyers. His only son was mentally incompetent, so all his property
eventually went to children of his brother. Nichols cleared part of the island and erected some sort of
a shelter. This is
inferred from a bill he made out against the U. S. Government
"for rent to and damage done to Crab Island by Commodore
Macdonough's fleet before Oct. 20, 1814." One line of his
bill stands out: "Burying 150 men on the Island ... $150."
On the same date, August 27, 1814, that General Izard
began his troops' departure from the northern frontier, lawyer
Nichols rushed to the courthouse and officially recorded his four
year-old deed to Crab Island!
Within a week the island had been commandeered as a
temporary hospital site for the 700 soldiers sick with dysentery
and typhus who had been gathered in Plattsburgh.
In 1816 Dr. James Mann, who had been in charge
Plattsburgh hospital in 1814, published his medical experiences
during the War of 1812: "Plattsburgh, Sept. 3, 1814: The sick
and convalescents have been ordered to Burlington, but for want of
transportation, are removing to Crab Island. More than 500
have already arrived ... a barren, uninhabited spot." Then,
"Crab Island, Sept. 10, 1814: We have received the wounded of
the army, about 40." Mann is referring to casualties of the
skirmishes at Culver Hill and Halsey's Corners, apparently.
"400, with the assistance of Commodore Macdonough, have been
sent to Burlington hospital from this place." On the morning
of the naval battle, the last of the sick were removed from Crab
Island to Burlington. But Dr. Mann and the hospital tents
remained on the island, where they would shortly do grisly service. The
most numerous descriptions of the battle of Plattsburgh occur in
Dr. David Kellogg's journals. Kellogg was a Plattsburgh
physician who, beginning in 1886, interviewed old residents who
had witnessed the events of 1814. Eighty-nine-year-old
Simeon Doty of Ingraham told Kellogg he had gone to the island the
day after the battle to help bury the dead. The hospital
tents were south of the landing, which was at the north end of the
island. "Inside the tents the scene was terrible.
Shrieks from wounded soldiers undergoing operations at the
2 < Back
of the surgeon rent the air. Men
were constantly carrying out the dead on rude biers made of poles to
the burial ground south of the tents.
These were trenches, ranging north to south into which the
bodies, Americans and British together, were placed, some rolled in
blankets, others only in their ordinary clothing, their heads placed
to the west and their faces downward."
Macdonough's reports we know the names of the Americans who were
killed in the naval battle or who died shortly after in the hospital
tents. The total was
52, including graves in Plattsburgh's Riverside Cemetery.
In 1843 the Clinton County Military Association, with public
donations, erected markers over the officers' graves for a September
11 anniversary observance. The burial trenches on Crab Island were never marked with
headstones, for some reason. But
those island burials were never doubted, until the present
1857, just a few days after writing his will, Caleb Nichols died at
age 89. By 1867 William P. Mooers had located all six
scattered heirs and bought their shares of Nichols' Plattsburgh
properties, including Crab Island. On Aug. 24, 1891 Mooers and
his law partner, Smith Weed, sold Crab Island to the U. S. A. for
$500, a token compared to
Mooers' $9000 outlay twenty-four years
earlier. There is no record of any military use ever being
made of Crab Island after its federal purchase.
fact, nothing was being done out there, complained the Aug. 31,
Heroes of the Battle of Plattsburgh, Sept. I 7, 1814. Brigadier General Alexander
and Lieutenant Thomas
commanded the military and
naval forces in a
conflict with the British.