Cooper’s Ark


I was looking for evidence of service in the War of 1812 by Erastus Cleaveland (1771-1858) and turned up this history of Oswego County, New York, at the much-loved Internet Archive. The mention of Col. Cleaveland was brief, but the chapter had this illuminating story:

“The only other event of 1813 which need be narrated at any length partook somewhat of the ludicrous order. William Cooper, a brother of Fenimore Cooper, was a rather eccentric genius, who then made his home about Oswego. He undertook to build a floating battery, which was to be taken to Sackett’s Harbor, and used to defend that post from the British. Full of faith, Cooper went to work at his own expense, the government agreeing to pay him sixteen thousand dollars for the battery when it should be completed and had proved actually capable of of being floated to Sackett’s Harbor. It was nearly square, about sixty feet across, and rose some four or five feet out of the water. It was made of large logs hewed partially square, and Mr. E. W. Clarke describes it as looking like a big, low, half-submerged log house.

“Whatever name the inventor might have given it, nobody else called it anything but “Cooper’s Ark.” There was a mast in the middle, and when the things was done Cooper placed it in charge of a Captain Gould, who boldly spread a large sail, and with a few men started for Sackett’s Harbor. The guns were to be put on board at the latter place. The ark had gone but a short distance (being somewhere off New Haven, as near as we can learn) when the wind rose slightly; the log craft became unmanageable, and soon went to pieces. Fortunately, all the men escaped to shore without serious injury. Cooper had used up his means on this curious contrivance, and his loss, together with the ridicule to which he had subjected himself, soon caused him to leave this part of the country.”