What Was the Chesapeake Affair of 1807?

The Chesapeake Affair of 1807 refers to a British attack on the American frigate Chesapeake that attempted to capture three Americans and one British deserter. The three Americans had been pressed into involuntary service with the British earlier, and with the British deserter, they discovered an opportunity to escape, which eventually ended with them boarding the Chesapeake.

Despite the independence of the United States from Great Britain, the British had continued to capture Americans and force them into service. William Ware, Daniel Martin and John Strachan were three such sailors who, with a British sailor, Jenkins Ratford, had escaped a British ship guarding two French ships in the United States for repairs. The British and French were fighting each other in the Caribbean at the time. The men were detected on shore by their commanding officers who ordered them to return. The men enlisted for duty on the Chesapeake instead, and the commodore of the Chesapeake refused all demands for their release.

The Chesapeake's commanding officer had no intention of releasing any American citizens to British control, and the British sailor had enlisted under a false name. The British ordered all of their ships in the area to be ready to stop the Chesapeake at sea and arrest the deserters. The HMS Leopard fired on the Chesapeake, and the four deserters were turned over to the British. This incident infuriated the young nation and became one of the catalysts that led to the War of 1812.