June 26, 2013

A perfect masterpiece of workmanship and beauty – The HMS Nancy

The War of 1812 had many impressive warships that dominated the oceans and Great Lakes. The HMS Nancy was not one of them, but this British supply ship played a crucial role during the war.

The HMS Nancy was built in Detroit in 1789 as a merchant vessel employed in the fur trade of North America. John Richardson, who was one of the partners involved in the building of the ship, wrote, “The schooner will be a perfect masterpiece of workmanship and beauty. The expense to us will be great, but there will be the satisfaction of her being strong and very durable.” The ship, named after Richardson’s daughter, served for many years as a fur-trading vessel before the outbreak of the War of 1812.

With the outbreak of war, the Nancy was pressed into service by the British military as a supply ship that could be capable of carrying up to six 4-pound guns and six swivel guns. The Nancy primarily sailed between the Michigan area and Fort Erie transporting supplies and soldiers. In September 1813, the Americans won control of Lake Erie and captured several British vessels on the lake. The Nancy escaped capture since it was transporting supplies to British positions on Lake Huron

In August 1814, the Americans sent a naval force to the Nottawasaga Bay region in the upper Great Lakes. An American scouting party discovered the Nancy’s position and began attacking the vessel. Captain Worsley prepared to scuttle the Nancy when an American shot set the ship alight, sinking the vessel. Worsley’s crew managed to escape into the woods.
HMS Nancy
On August 31, 1814, Captain Worsley and his men reached Mackinac after paddling 360 miles. On September 3, Worsley with 92 men and four rowboats avenged the sinking of the Nancy by capturing the American vessel Tigress in the middle of the night. On September 6, Worsley and his men approached the American vessel Scorpion in the capture Tigress while flying an American flag. As the two vessels came closer, the Tigress unleashed a volley of muskets into the Scorpion followed by Worsley’s men quickly boarding and capturing the ship. The Scorpion was renamed the Confiance and the Tigress was renamed the Surprise.    

Over the years, an island grew over the remains of the Nancy, as silt was deposited by the river around the sunken vessel. The vessel was discovered in July 1911 but it was not until 1924 that money was raised in order to recover the vessel. In 1925, a salvage crew recovered an assortment of cannon shot, ship’s cutlery and a number of personal artifacts. In 1928, The Nancy Museum was opened to recognize the ship and its contributions during the War of 1812 and it even has a replica of the Nancy’s figurehead.

This Saturday and Sunday you can head to Port Dalhousie Harbour for the Tall Ships visit. Three replica War of 1812 ships will be at the harbour for visitors to tour. Click here to learn more about the Niagara Signature Event.


  1. They never recovered the figurehead. Please revise this piece for historical inaccuracies.