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"A Voice From the Main Deck" by Samuel Leech: A book for USS Syren builders

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The full title is "A Voice From the Main Deck: Being a record of the Thirty Years Adventures of Samuel Leech". This little book is a gem. It has been in reprint almost continuously since its initial publication in 1843, and is currently part of Naval Institute Press's "The Classics of Naval Literature" Series.  It runs about 211 pages.


Leech was a colorful English fellow with an eye for detail, and he had the good fortune (for us) to be present at one of the bloodiest battles of the War of 1812: the fight between the Frigates United States and the Macedonian. He had joined the latter ship in 1810. If you've read anything about this battle, then you would have read excerpts from this first hand narrative. Leech's description of the battle alone are worth the price of the book. "My station was at the fifth gun on the main deck", he writes, "it was my duty to supply my gun with powder." Here is a typical account of the battle:


"I was eyewitness to a sight equally revolting. A man named Aldrich had one of his hand cut off by a shot, and almost at the same moment, he received another shot, which tore open his bowels in a terrible manner, as he fell, two or three men caught him in their arms, and as he could not live, tossed him overboard."


Leech, survived the battle undamaged, and he sailed back to the United States as a prisoner of war. While the Macedonian was repairing in Rhode Island, Leech even started a profitable side tourist business, showing the local citizens shot for shot how the great battle played out.


Leech eventually joined up with the US Navy, and landed a berth on board the 16-gun Sloop of War USS Syren in Boston. Leech writes about the Syren's final, ill-fated cruise in 1814, and as he was captured with her by the 74-gun HMS Medway, it must have been a frightening experience for a former British sailor. His account of Syren's cruise is very interesting, and it runs from pages 117 to 133. If you are one of the many modelers here who is building, or has built,  the Model Shipways Syren Kit, then you will definitely want to read this book, and see the cruise from Leech's eyes.


This is the only known narrative of the Syren's last cruise, unless you have the official letters microfilm series from the national archives, then you could read the transcripts of the court of enquiry for her loss. The Siren was one of four unlucky sloops of war that sailed from greater Boston in 1814; the others being the Rattlesnake and Frolick - both captured, and the Wasp II which vanished at sea after winning unparalleled glory.  The Siren's Captain Parker died of an illness at sea not long after leaving Boston - not an inauspicious start.


In 1812, the Syren had run around in the Balize River and her crew had to toss all her guns overboard, into deep mud, to get free. But they were unable to recover them, accept two. I remember coming across a letter in the microfilm stacks while researching the Wasp II stating that there were not enough replacement carronades for the Siren in Boston in 1814, and so she was reportedly supposed  to put to sea with eight long nine-pounders, six 24-pounder carronades and two huge 42-pounder carronades. I never did find out if she sailed with that mixed battery.


This is one of the better examples of the genre, and no War of 812 library would be complete without it.

Edited by uss frolick
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