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Marker in Burlington Vermont's Battery Park commemorating the bombardment of Burlington.

Murray's Raid
on Lake Champlain

By James P. Millard


July 29-August 4, 1813

 


O
n July 29, 1813 a considerable military force set out up the Richelieu River from the British base at Isle aux Noix. Consisting of the recently captured and refitted sloops Broke and Shannon, three gunboats and some forty-seven bateaux, this large force was a reflection of the British Navy’s newly acquired superiority on the lake.  Aboard were over 1,400 British regulars and marines. Their commander was Lt. Colonel John Murray, temporarily released from his duties as Commandant of the garrison at St. Johns for this incursion into United States territory.

His instructions were clear- "...the destruction of public buildings, military stores, and vessels..." Among the objectives were the stores and facilities at Plattsburgh, New York and Swanton, Vermont. Any commercial vessel encountered along the way was to be destroyed or taken as a prize.1 

At Alburgh, Vermont an individual was noticed observing the expedition from a small boat. The British took into custody Dr. James Wood, an American Customs official, but not before he sent word south to Burlington that the British were moving up the lake. Thus, General Wade Hampton was given some 24 hours notice that an enemy force was moving towards Plattsburgh and Burlington.2 Why he did not send a force to protect Plattsburgh, at the time garrisoned only by a small force of militia, is inexplicable to this day. General Benjamin Mooers, commanding the militia at Plattsburgh, sent an urgent dispatch to Burlington pleading for assistance.  Learning that no help would be forthcoming, Mooers withdrew his few hundred militia to a point some miles out of town, but not before removing some supplies from the state arsenal in the village.

On July 30th while anchored off Chazy Landing, Murray issued a proclamation ordering all inhabitants to remain in their homes, stressing that if they cooperated private property would be respected. Obviously meant to prevent opposition from the populace and possibly local militia groups, this edict had no real value as private property was confiscated, looted and burned within a short period of time. The edict read:

His Majesty's Sloop Brooke
July 30th, 1813.

Whereas a division of the army of Lower Canada is proceeding on an enterprise on Lake Champlain, The Inhabitants of the Shores are hereby warned that if they fire upon or molest the  Expedition, their private property will be destroyed, but if they remain peaceable at home no injury is intended to them and private property of every  description will be respected.

(signed)

To the Civil Magistrates J. Murray
on or near the Shores LCol. Com,g
of Lake Champlain

(Signed)
Tho,s Greesard (sp?) Captain Royal Navy 3

On Saturday, July 31, destruction began in earnest. Entering the Village of Plattsburgh, legitimate military facilities were sacked and burned. Among them were the arsenal, armory, a blockhouse and even the hospital. En route to the military cantonment upriver, however, three private warehouses were sacked and burned to the ground and several private dwellings were looted. Other troops plundered homes on Cumberland Head. The losses to private property were considerable. Before leaving the village a 13-ton sloop, The Burlington Packet, was taken as a prize.

Upon leaving Plattsburgh on the morning of August 1st the force was split into two groups. Murray himself took the bulk of the troops, along with two of the gunboats, and went north. The second group, consisting of the two sloops and a gunboat, turned south towards Burlington. The commander of this expedition was Capt. Thomas Everard, aboard the Broke. Daniel Pring captained the Shannon.

The northern force stopped first at Point au Roche. Here more damage was done to private dwellings, surprising since Murray himself was in charge of this detachment. After another brief stop again at Chazy Landing to burn a store, the force went across the lake to Maquam Bay where a large force marched upon Swanton, Vermont. Walter Hill Crockett, in his 1909 "A History of Lake Champlain," gives us some fascinating details of the little-know attack on Swanton:


"...two of the gunboats and some of the bateaux entered Maquam Bay, on the Swanton shore. About 600 soldiers landed at what was known as the Manzer place, and compelled Mr. Manzer, then an old man, to act as guide to Swanton. A part of this force was ferried over the Missisquoi River, the others remaining at the riverside. Troops had been stationed at Swanton in 1801 and 1811 to aid in enforcing the revenue laws. In 1812, barracks had been erected, built in the form of a crescent, east of the park, or "green", and there was a parade ground northwest of the barracks. From July 12 to Dec. 8, 1812, eight companies of the First Vermont militia under command of Colonel Williams were stationed here, being discharged on the latter date. Soon after, Colonel Fifield's regiment was ordered to Swanton, were they remained five or six weeks, and then left, only to be sent back a little while later to spend the winter of 1812-13 in quarters at this place. Early in the summer of 1813 the troops were ordered away, and when the British approached, the government stores and property were unprotected. The barracks and all government property that could be found were burned, but there was no interference with private property, and after spending a few hours the soldiers departed, the entire British force retiring to Canada..."
4
 

Before returning to Isle aux Noix Murray sent a detachment to Champlain, New York; where barracks, storehouses and two blockhouses were burned.

Meanwhile, the three vessels of the second force continued up the lake toward Burlington. Sometime around noon on the 2nd of August, the British were sighted in the broad lake off Burlington. At anchor under the protection of the guns of the battery on the bluff were the remnants of Macdonough's squadron. The fleet was in no condition to meet the British in battle at this time. The President and the two gunboats were fit for duty, but several armed scows and two new vessels- The Preble, and the Montgomery, were still being refitted, and lacked crews.

Sometime between 1 and 2:30 pm, the British opened fire. It is believed the intent was to provoke Macdonough to come out and engage the vessels, as the three ships never approached closer than about a mile and a half from shore, hardly within range of most of the guns on both sides. For about 20 minutes each side exchanged fire, the balls falling harmlessly short of any intended targets. Supposedly, one 24-pounder did strike a house in the Village, but this has never been verified. 

Failing to entice the Americans into an engagement on the broad lake, Everard turned his attention south towards Shelburne Bay and Charlotte.  Macdonough did emerge from the bay around sundown to scout out the intentions of the British. Venturing only a short distance, however, he soon returned to the safety of Burlington. Within Shelburne Bay, the British were raising more havoc. Several small commercial vessels were taken and one ship of significance, Gideon King's 50-ton sloop, Essex, was captured after the winds on the lake died down and she was becalmed. An attempt was made to tow the large vessel, but was unsuccessful. She was boarded and burned to the waterline. By the morning of August 3, the British had returned to Cumberland Head. After one more stop to loot another merchandiser at Chazy they returned to Isle aux Noix with their two prizes in tow.5

Thus ended Murray's Raid. In the course of five days the British force had spread terror among the populace and left a swath of destruction in their wake. This successful expedition showed all too clearly how vulnerable the northern frontier was to attack. Fortunately, the lesson was not lost upon Thomas Macdonough. He urged his superiors to hasten the delivery of more men, ships and guns. An arms race was to begin on Lake Champlain.

Sources/Notes: 

1 Russell P. Bellico, "SAILS AND STEAM IN THE MOUNTAINS- A Maritime and Military History of Lake George and Lake Champlain" (Purple Mountain Press, Fleischmanns, NY 1992) Revised edition, 2001. 207.

2 Dennis M. Lewis, "BRITISH NAVAL ACTIVITY ON LAKE CHAMPLAIN DURING THE WAR OF 1812"   (Clinton County Historical Association, Plattsburgh, NY and Essex County Historical Society, Elizabethtown, NY 1994) 9.

3 National Archives of Canada: Sax Family Papers. Courtesy of David C. Glenn and Robert and Helen Sax Booth.

4 Walter Hill Crockett, "A HISTORY OF LAKE CHAMPLAIN" (Hobart J. Shanley & Co., Burlington, VT. 1909) 248, 249.

5 Bellico. 210.

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