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Leopard-Chesapeake Incident: 22 June 1807

In early June, a British squadron commanded by Vice-Admiral George Berkely anchored off the coast of Massachusetts. Aboard the HMS Melampus, four sailors seized a longboat and rowed ashore. All four were American merchant seamen who had been pressed into the Royal Navy when their ship was intercepted off the coast of France. They made their way to Hampton Roads, Virginia, and immediately signed up as crew members on the American frigate USS Chesapeake. Within hours, the Chesapeake set sail for the Mediterranean.

As the American ship sailed eastward, Vice-Admiral Berkely gave chase in his flagship, the HMS Leopard. He was determined to stop the Chesapeake and arrest the deserters. Captain Barron of the Chesapeake refused to allow the British to board his ship and arrest the four men. The Leopard fired a warning shot across the bow of the Chesapeake. When Captain Barron still refused to comply with British demands, the Leopard opened fire. Within minutes, the American warship was a battered hulk. Three American sailors were dead and eighteen more wounded. The Leopard pulled alongside the Chesapeake and a British boarding party quickly apprehended the four deserters.

The incident shocked the American government, and the American public demanded vengeance. Hostility intensified when the British hanged one of the deserters in Halifax. The Chesapeake-Leopard affair did much to increase American resentment of the British.

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