A Sliver of Transatlantic History of a Chip from
A Hampshire boy living in
Canada kept a small piece of wood given to him by
his grandfather who inscribed it as “A Piece of the
American Frigate "Chesapeake"—Captured 1813”.
Stephen Leacock wrote about it in 1946:
“When we were leaving England in
1876 to go to "America" we were taken over to the
Isle of Wight to see my grandfather, who was
naturally delighted—so much so that he gave me from
the drawing-room table at Oak Hill this bit of wood
and said, "That was a piece of the Chesapeake."………
but it has been only of late years, when I have been
concerned with writing Canadian history, that I have
been able to get full details of the fate of the old
ship. I am indebted here very greatly to the library
staff of the Boston Public Library.
I have always had a certain
personal interest in the Chesapeake. I have,
as I say, on my library table a "chunk" of very hard
wood (teak or mahogany, I suppose), about eight
inches by three inches by two and a half inches,
that was originally a piece of the Chesapeake.
I have had it for nearly
seventy years, the kind of thing you never lose if
you pay no attention to it, like the fidelity of an
The amazing thing is that the
Chesapeake was taken over to England and is
still there—all the best timbers of the vessel,
built in solid as they came out of the ship, went
into the making of a mill and are still throbbing
and quivering all day as the mill, one hundred and
twenty-three years old, still hums in an English
village, grinding corn.
She was bought as she stood for
five hundred pounds by a Mr. Holmes. He broke up the
vessel, sold several tons of copper from the
sheeting with all fittings and timber, and doubled
his money. The main timbers were pitch pine, new and
sound, and some of them were sold for house building
in Portsmouth but the best of them were bought by a
Mr. John Prior for two hundred pounds to build a
mill. This he duly erected (1820) in the hamlet of
Wickham. The main timbers of the deck, built into
the structure intact, were (and are) thirty-two feet
long and eighteen inches square. The purloins were
used, just as they were, for joists…. A Hampshire
Gazetteer and Guide of 1901 reports that the
mill at Wickham made of the timbers of the
Chesapeake is still intact and in active
In 1943 he wrote to the Vicar of
Fareham who referred him to Mr. George Orwell. “I
hadn't written sooner because, although I knew the
Chesapeake was in a mill, I was looking for
the mill to be on the Isle of Wight. Mr Orwell wrote
me to say that the mill is still (April 4, 1943)
quite as it was, timbers and all, going strong and
likely to see a long while yet.
What ought to be done about it?
These timbers of the deck of the Chesapeake—rebuilt
into their earlier semblance—should have something
of the sacred memory of the deck of the Victory.
Why not buy them and give them to the United States?
They should be a gift to the Naval Academy at
Annapolis. Those who know that place will recall its
trophies—the proudest part of the establishment.
There swings still afloat the schooner America
that won the cup in 1850 something, never
recaptured; there is the old Constitution and
the Reina Mercedes, and there in the great
hall is Perry's flag with his "Don't give up the
ship," and much else.
The Chesapeake would build
into a fine platform, the old deck reproduced, for
Mr. Churchill to lecture from.”
Oh, what poignant words: the piece of wood is lost
to the museum commemorating Stephen Leacock and a
replacement ‘chip’ from the Chesapeake is sought.
Do you know where one can be found? – Ed. Passages
reproduced by kind permission of Fred Addis,
Curator, Leacock Museum and Doubleday & Co.Inc.,
publisher of The Boy I Left Behind Me by Stephen