Guide to A Sketch of the Cruise of the U.S. Ship Ontario, 1833-1836
A collection in the
Special Collections & Archives Department,
United States Naval Academy
589 McNair Road
Annapolis, MD 21402-5029
Prepared by: David D'Onofrio
Special Collections & Archives Department
United States Naval Academy
The U.S.S. Ontario (sloop-of-war), the second U.S. Ship to bear the name, was built in Baltimore, Maryland in 1813. After serving out the remainder of the War of 1812 on blockade duty in the Chesapeake Bay, Ontario was deployed to the Mediterranean in May 1815.
For nearly two years, Ontario sailed with a squadron commanded by Commodore Stephen Decatur in efforts to curtail acts of piracy being perpetrated by Tripoli and Algiers. Retuning to New York in early 1817, she was then deployed to the Pacific under the command of Captain James Biddle. Arriving in Valparaiso, Chile in Spring 1818, Captain Biddle succeeded in negotiating the release of several American vessels that had been seized in the course of the Chilean War of Independence. After continuing on to Monterey, California, Ontario reversed course, returning to the Chesapeake on April 23, 1819.
Ontario set sail for the Mediterranean from New York in January 1821. Interrupted only by a six-month refit in 1824, Ontario sailed in Mediterranean waters until 1832. In 1833, she joined the Brazil Station, typically sailing the South American coast between Rio de Janeiro and Montevideo, with brief forays to hunt pirates and slavers ranging from St. Thomas to the west coast of Africa. In 1837, Ontario's duty of protecting U.S. commerce took her north in Caribbean waters, where she stayed until 1840.
After a final deployment into the Gulf of Mexico in early 1842, Ontario's career came full circle, returning to Baltimore, Maryland, where she served as a receiving ship until 1856. In July of that year, Ontario was sold at public auction.
Scope and Content Note
A Sketch of the Cruise of the U.S. Ship Ontario spans from 1833 to 1836. The volume, consisting of 79 sequentially numbered pages, and 66 unnumbered pages, is a private journal kept by an unnamed member of the Ontario's crew. It offers details of the ship's various ports of call, interactions with foreign vessels, and aspects of shipboard life, including discipline and recreation.
Much of the journal is devoted to descriptions of ports of call and local culture. The author offers descriptions of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (pages 6-10), Buenos Aires, Argentina (page 25), Pernambuco, Brazil (pages 33-36 and 76-77), the Falkland Islands (pages 50-53), St. Thomas (pages 68-71), and the mouth of the Santo River (unnumbered pages 80-81). Among his discussions on local culture, the author derides the Church's practice of selling indulgences and absolution in Brazil, especially in the case of murder (unnumbered pages 82-84). Regarding the Ontario's duties, the author describes the ship's and her commander's efforts in hunting pirates (pages 59-61 and 71), and makes frequent mention of the slave trade, often lamenting Ontario's inability to pursue non-American slave ships (pages 78-79 and unnumbered 97-100). The author also discusses some aspects of life aboard the Ontario, including: insufficiency of water rations and crew, drills and exercises (pages 85-87), an outbreak of smallpox (pages 64-67), and an incident in which the crew's recreational swimming was broken up by sharks (pages 37-40). The author also makes occasional mention of relations with foreign navies, noting visits by foreign officers and salutes offered to foreign men-of-war, including one salute to the French resulting in an explosion aboard Ontario (pages 30-31). He also recounts the story of a Brazilian guard-ship firing on a British vessel, and the Ontario's threat to level any such ship that should attempt the same on the American vessel (pages 26-27).
Towards the end of the journal are sixteen pages devoted to one of the Ontario's officers, nicknamed the Sword Officer (unnumbered pages 114-130). The author relates the story of a failed attempt by the crew to purchase a sword for said officer, and the subsequent retribution sought by the officer in the form of excessive drill and punishments, including the lashing of eleven men for poor drilling, and of a ship's boy for hanging his clothing on a Jacob's ladder (unnumbered pages 119-122). The journal is concluded by a three-page abstract of the Ontario's ports of call (unnumbered pages 134-136), and a poem entitled "The Deserted Village" (unnumbered pages 137-146).