Oh don’t you remember sweet Betsy from Pike, or In 1814 we took a little trip

First of all, there wasn’t a drone show in Trenton Friday evening, no matter what the seemingly nice couple on Latitude Adjustment promised us.  Maybe the weather thwarted the event or maybe the seemingly nice couple was punking us—bummer either way—but we had Thai Sushi for lunch so everything worked out fine.

Saturday was catch-up day.  When you put off boat washing for two weeks because you’re having so much fun with your guests, you have to pay the fiddler, as the old saying goes.  To paraphrase the great Cal Smith, Saturday was the day the first installment was due.   Some washing and other chores later, we made ready to take off, eh.

6:00.  A.M.  Not a great time for anything other than sleeping, but those ten hours across Lake Ontario weren’t gonna start themselves.  So eastward we went, burning our retinas by looking directly into the morning sun.

We’re always saddened to leave Canada, and this was our shortest season north of the border yet.  A few last things, however, before dipping over to New York.  For reasons only they understand, Canadian sailors also were up early, artfully posing in silhouette right smack where we needed to go.

Hey Look!  Some festive Canadians already have inflated their traditional Halloween unicorn!

Yup, we’re suckers for unicorns.  And red barns and colorful sails.

Then out to where we couldn’t see land.  The dude narrating the video we watched about the military history of Sackets Harbor quoted a British Admiral who supposedly said “The waters of Lake Ontario are more fierce than any sea in the world.”  Obviously that guy didn’t pick his weather windows like we do.  Beautiful all day.  And no flies this time either.

A Big Orange sunrise wasn’t the only thing the early departure delivered.  The Gypsy Swing Band at Sackets Harbor Battlefield was serenading us from afar as we landed, so we popped up to check them out.

Apparently some French guy with deformed fingers created their musical genre—which the leader carried on about at some length—in the 1930s.  Which may or may not explain why we were the youngest people there, but certainly explains why we didn’t stay very long.  Also, can you even say “gypsy” these days?  Regardless, we had a reservation at Tin Pan Galley, an iconic Sackets Harbor eating establishment.  Very cute place from the outside.

Public Service Announcement: DON’T EAT AT TIN PAN GALLEY.  A local at the marina warned us in no uncertain terms that while the place used to be awesome, the new owner is running it into the ground.  We yelled at him later for not being even more insistent.  Because that place is horrible.  Horrible service.  Horrible food.  The replacement food they reluctantly bring out after you send back the horrible food they messed up the first go round?  Equally horrible.  Our man Phil—with whom we bonded during the two-hour ordeal—was the only redeeming thing about the joint, but you’d be better off just paying him to come play at your house.

Unfortunately for us, the weather outlook sucked until at least Thursday.  Up to eleven-foot waves between here and Oswego.  Yeah, we ain’t going out in that.  The point, of course, isn’t that by staying in the protective bosom of Sackets Harbor we’re necessarily smarter than that British guy who was terrified of Lake Ontario back in 1809; it’s quite possible that he didn’t have multiple weather apps on his iPad.  The point instead is that this post leans heavily into Sackets Harbor stuff because we’ve been here a while.  It’s okay though, because it’s a neat little historic town.

Here’s the old Union Hotel, built in 1817.  Solid.

The scary part is the stained-glass window with the square and the compass and the enigmatic G.  Just a few short days ago we watched The Man Who Would Be King, starring Sean Connery and Michael Caine and loaded with with Masonic-themed plot lines.  This can’t be mere coincidence.  We thus must allow for the possibility that the window was left for us by 13th century bricklayers as some sort of coded message about the Widow’s Son, although if so it’s lost on us because the one Freemason we know well enough to ask refused to tell us any of the secrets.  If the message instead was “Go get ice cream at the cute place down the street,” however, message received.

Our initial thought was that the guy who commissioned this stump art must be a very proud American.  Cool.  Then we looked closer and decided that, like us, he also must be a sucker for red barns.  Super cool.  Then we looked even closer and that’s where he lost us.

Sackets Harbor dates to 1801, when NYC businessman Augustus Sackets happened by and decided the well-protected harbor would be a good place to name after himself.  Good move by ol’ Augie.  It’s still a well-protected harbor, which we enjoyed while the fierce waters roiled just outside.

A few years later, the newly formed United States decided Sackets Harbor would be an excellent place to station troops and boats, so as to prevent the smuggling of goods like flour into British-controlled Canada in violation of the U.S. Embargo Act of 1807.  The theory may have been that tea without biscuits—which in an early act of rebellion our fledgling country had renamed “cookies,”—would drive the Brits too off-kilter to be a serious threat.  It obviously didn’t work, however, since the War of 1812 happened.

As war raged, Sackets Harbor became the epicenter of action.  Warshipbuilding took off as the leading industry, and thousands of soldiers moved into the area, making it one of the most heavily fortified towns in America.  Many of the soldiers were stationed at Madison Barracks in Fort Pike—named for Brigadier General Zebulon Pike*—which later were repurposed as an apartment complex.

In June of 1812, a fleet of Canadian Provincial Marines launched the first attempted raid on Sackets Harbor.  Given the unyielding politeness of the attackers, of course, the Americans repelled them easily with the brig USS Oneida’s sixteen cannons and a single cannon on shore.  Easy peasy.

The following April, General Pike used Sackets Harbor as a launchpad for an attack that captured Toronto, which history would regard as a resounding success except (1) Pike was killed, and (2) the Treaty of Ghent ultimately gave the city back so that Canadians could have at least one MLB team to root for after the Expos folded.  Pike is buried at the local cemetery, but it was drizzling and we both had made the questionable decision to keep our umbrellas and raincoats nice and dry on the boat, so we didn’t go look for him.

When we ducked out of the rain and into Fargo’s Deli and Market, the nice lady at the counter told us that the entire Fort Pike area is haunted by the ghosts of soldiers who are scattered about in unmarked graves.  We’re dubious about the ghost thing, but did find confirmation about the unmarked grave thing.  What’s left of some two hundred mouldering dudes is under this field.  RIP and thanks for your service.

Back to the war, where the British were peeved about losing Toronto.  On May 29, 1813–150 years to the day before Doug was born—they waded over from Horse Island and came ashore at the spot where we took a photo this morning.  It’s not that far across, but soaking wet has to be a bad way to start a battle.

Britain’s primary goal was to capture or destroy the Navy shipyards at Sackets Harbor, although they also may have had designs on the red barn the Americans creatively placed on the battlefield.  Or maybe that came later.

Anyway, the combatants fought with guns and bayonets in the field where the Gypsy Swing Band was playing a few paragraphs ago.  Lots of people died.

At one point the American forces foolishly burned up all their own stuff because they anticipated losing but then they pulled the upset.  True story.  As near as we can tell, however, the War of 1812 basically played to a draw, which is why King Charles III has a house in Quebec City instead of, say, Albany.

Today we not only scootered to the view of Horse Island, but also to the Old Stone Bridge.  Under other circumstances we’d note its historical significance but since everything we know comes from that green sign, we won’t.  Cool old stone bridge though.

Tonight, docktails with Liberty and Slàinte Mhath.  Good times.

When we decided to stop at Sackets Harbor rather than go straight to Oswego and down the canal, we had plenty of time to get to Baltimore before our September 15 deadline.  Fools.  All the storms deposited water and debris into the system to the point the Oswego Canal is closed.  Grrrr.  And more rain is on the way.  Grrrrrrrrr.   As evidenced by this wordy post, we’ve already been too long in Sackets Harbor.  So tomorrow we’re backtracking to waste a few days in Clayton.


*One of the museums noted that before the war (i.e., while he was alive), Zebulon Pike “discovered Pikes Peak.”  We certainly can buy that Pike explored a mountain in Colorado that subsequently was named for him, but it seems unlikely indeed that it already was called Pikes Peak when he found it.  Also, the little snack bar at the top of Pikes Peak supposedly sells “doughnuts . . . which collapse or go mushy if transported to lower altitudes.”

6 thoughts on “Oh don’t you remember sweet Betsy from Pike, or In 1814 we took a little trip”

  1. There ought to be a story about that green sign describing President James Monroe given a 19-gun salute. Protocol requires that a head of state be given a 21-gun salute, with 19 guns being given to lesser officials like a prime minister. It suggests that these shell-shocked veterans could no longer count, were short of gun powder, or were closet loyalists that thought the US needed a king.

    1. What a most-excellent observation! Sitting in the rain in Clayton, NY, we’ve had time for some research. We’ll address it further in our next post.

  2. Regarding gypsy swing band…Django Reinhardt is the guy they were stammering on about, jazz guitarist and composer. Dude only had 3 good fingers on his fretting hand and could play circles around anyone with who had all of their fingers. Truly a remarkable player. I suspect that band, despite their sincerity and good intentions, did Django no justice at all😂. Then again, I couldn’t either and all my fingers are present and accounted for.

    1. Thanks! It indeed was Django music they were playing. We really liked him in Django Unchained, although he didn’t play music. Mostly just killed people.

      1. Y’all crack me up, comedy genius! This is Greg Denton down in The Great State of Tennessee, by the way. Yep, still eagerly following your adventures, and drilling on the teeth of the dentally challenged.

        1. We fear that the only way you’ll give up your drill is when they pry it from your cold, dead, fingers.

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