Isaac Chauncey papers  1801-1818
full text File Size: 44 K bytes


Isaac Chauncey (1772-1840), American naval commander, was born in Black Rock, Connecticut, to Wolcott Chauncey and Ann Brown, both of established Connecticut families. After only a modest formal education, Chauncey entered the shipping trade around age 12 under the merchant marine Captain Brewster. At age 19, he was put in command of the Jenny for a shipping company out of New York, and by 1799 was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Navy. Around this time he supervised the outfitting of the President and served under Thomas Truxtun in the Franco-American War (also known as the Quasi-War). Chauncey was appointed to the frigate New York in 1802, and served in the Mediterranean during the First Barbary War, after which he was given command of the John Adams (1804). He was officially made a captain on April 24, 1806.

In 1806 Chauncey requested a furlough from the navy to command the private trading ship the Beaver for John Jacob Astor. The Beaver voyaged to China and at Whampoa, China, was boarded twice by the British Navy searching for deserters or undocumented Americans who could be impressed into service. Upon the second boarding, by the HMS Lion , Chauncey defended his crew and refused to allow them to be searched or interrogated. He held his ground against the British and was eventually released unharmed and was able to return the ship safely to America, with the loss of only one man to impressments. After his return, Chauncey was appointed to command the Navy Yard in Brooklyn, where he remained until the outbreak of the War of 1812.

Lake Ontario and Lake Erie were deemed crucial by the United States and in August 1812, Chauncey was appointed commanding officer of all naval forces on both lakes, and operated out of a frontier base at Sackets Harbor, New York. Chauncey initiated an intense shipbuilding effort to establish an American navy in the Great Lakes, and by the end of 1812, the United States had full control of Lake Ontario and Chauncey was named commodore. In 1813, Chauncey's naval forces assisted General Henry Dearborn's army in facing the British army under Sir James Yeo. Chauncey delivered a number of victories including an amphibious attack capturing York [Toronto] on April 27, 1813, and an attack on Fort George, Upper Canada, on May 27. Chauncey continued his aggressive naval construction program but could not contend with the competing British war ships and, before the end of the war, was forced to surrender control of the lake to Yeo.

In June 1816, Chauncey replaced Stephen Decatur as commander of the Mediterranean Squadron and assisted with peace negotiations with the Dey of Algiers to end the Second Barbary War. Chauncey returned to New York to command the navy yards in 1818, and from 1821-1824, he served as navy commissioner in Washington D.C. After another term at the New York Navy Yard from 1825-1832, he was appointed as president of the Board of Navy Commissioners from 1937 until his death in 1840. He and his wife Catherine Sickles married c.1794; they had three children: Naval Lieutenant Charles W. Chauncey, sailor John S. Chauncey, and Reverend Peter S. Chauncey of St. James's Church in New York.