AN EXTREMELY RARE AMERICAN SWORD PRESENTED TO MIDSHIPMAN CHARLES T. PLATT FOR THE BATTLE OF LAKE CHAMPLAIN, 11TH SEPTEMBER 1814, BY RESOLUTION OF CONGRESS 20TH OCTOBER 1814
with flat blade formed with parallel edges and tapering at the point, etched over two-thirds of its length on each side, comprising entwined oak foliage, the presentation inscription (largely obscured by areas of pitting), trophies-of-arms, a panel of trellis filled with flowers, all divided by bands of key ornament on one side and a similar arrangement of foliage, the Latin inscription 'Altius Ibunt Qui Ad Summa Nituntur' (he who aims highest rises highest), a trophy-of-arms and trellis on the other (areas of pitting), signed by the etcher 'Meer' at the forte and the tang stamped by the bladesmith 'Rose', gilt-brass hilt (loose) comprising down-curved shell-guard cast on the outside with crossed anchors and flags behind a Federal eagle upon a cannon and on the inside with a wreath dividing the letters 'US', solid inner guard cast with laurel foliage on the top and eighteen stars beneath, pierced knuckle-guard decorated with a central profile medallion (the top now detached at a later repair), pommel formed as a warrior head cast in the round, solid rectangular grip cast with a mermaid up ending an urn above her head, and retaining much original gilding throughout
82.5cm; 32 1/2in blade
The Battle of Lake Champlain, also known as the Battle of Plattsburgh - off which port it was fought, represented the culmination of British attempts to take control of the lake during the War of 1812. Since Lake Champlain represented a major north-south artery from Canada into the United States, control of the lake was a prerequisite both for the defence of the United States and for a successful assault into the USA's north-eastern states and, ultimately, upon the city of New York. The border between Canada and the USA runs just north of the lake and so the lake was an area of tension between Britain and the USA both before and during the War of 1812. Recognising the lake's strategic position, the US Navy had gradually increased its presence there from the beginning of the war, by converting merchantmen into warships and by actively building ships at Vergennes in Vermont, at the southern end of the lake; in Canada, the Royal Navy had carried out much the same increase in its forces and so, by the spring of 1814, the two navies were prepared for a trial of strength on the lake. In May 1814, a British naval bombardment of Vergennes was beaten off and the Royal Naval force returned to Canada to await an increase in its strength through the building of a frigate, HMS CONFIANCE; hearing of this increase in British strength, the Americans promptly commissioned a brig, named USS EAGLE, which was ready early in August. A land invasion of the USA began late in August and Plattsburgh was under siege by British forces by 6th September. The US Navy squadron, consisting of four small ships (USSs EAGLE, SARATOGA, TICONDEROGA and PREBLE) and ten gunboats, was anchored off Plattsburgh and able to provide fire support for the forts defending the town against a land assault: in order that Plattsburgh be captured - and thus that the British should acquire a port on Lake Champlain - it was necessary that the US Navy squadron be neutralised. On 11th September 1814, a Royal Navy squadron, consisting of four small ships (HMSs CHUBB, LINNET, CONFIANCE and FINCH) and thirteen gunboats, entered Plattsburgh Bay. The two forces were fairly equally matched in terms of strength - the Americans' 86 guns and carronades being opposed by 92 guns and carronades in the British ships - but, as so often in the naval War of 1812, American resolve and gunnery proved more than a match for the Royal Navy, whose Lake Champlain squadron suffered from inexperienced and divided leadership and poor gunnery training. The British tactic in attacking the American anchored line of warships was to emulate Nelson's tactic at the Battle of the Nile, 1st August 1798: that each ship should approach, anchor alongside and engage a specific target. The superiority of American gunnery soon told, however, and all four British ships were eventually forced to surrender - having suffered a dreadful pounding - while most of the British gunboats fled from the action. The failure of the naval assault led to the cancellation of the siege of Plattsburgh and British land forces withdrew, leaving Lake Champlain in the triumphant hands of the Americans. British casualties for the battle were 54 killed and 116 wounded, whereas the Americans suffered 52 killed and 58 wounded. See R. Malcolmson 1998, pp. 124-126.
Following the Battles of Lake Erie (10th September 1813) and Lake Champlain (11th September 1814) Congress resolved that 52 swords be presented. Of these 32 were to Sailing Masters and Midshipmen involved in the Battle of Lake Champlain and the whereabouts of seven are known. It has been suggested that, as a number of posthumous awards were postponed in favour of providing swords for the survivors, substantially fewer swords were actually made. As the original Navy muster rolls prior to 1818 were destroyed in a fire of 1833, it is difficult to be more specific. The distribution of prize money for this action records that: of the total $266,711.17 paid, Platt and other midshipmen received $1,427.13, with Lieutenants receiving $2,012.75 and Seamen and Privates $120.42.
William and Joseph Rose were swordsmiths in Philadelphia circa 1754-1819. John Meer was born in Birmingham, England and exhibited at the Columbian exhibition on 1795 in Philadelphia, where he naturalized in 1798. Meer etched a number of the Roses' sword blades, including those with silver hilts by Thomas Fletcher for the State of Maryland. See John D. Hamilton 1985, pp. 30-37; R. H. Bezdek 1994, pp. 160, 188-189; Ohio 1988.