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Dec. 14, 2011

LOST! THE GREAT ROPE!

Fort Ontario State Historic Site and Americorps volunteer Ian Mumpton demonstrates the Great Cable Carry of 1814. A crew of cable-carriers brought the rope to Sackets Harbor from Big Sandy Creek to avoid British capture after the Battle of Oswego in 1814. The original ships' cable would have been four times as thick and heavy as the one depicted here.

OSWEGO - The Oswego County War of 1812 Bicentennial Committee is searching for a copy of the script for Dr. Rosemary Nesbitt's award-winning play, "The Great Rope." Written and performed around 1976, the children's play told the story of carrying the huge anchor cable for the U.S.S. Superior from Big Sandy Creek to the U.S. Navy shipyard at Sackets Harbor, New York.

"Many local residents took part in the original performance under Dr. Nesbitt's direction," said Paul Lear, chairman of the Oswego County War of 1812 Bicentennial Committee and manager of the Fort Ontario State Historic Site. "We hope that someone who participated in the production may still have a copy of the play which can be copied and used for a reproduction in the upcoming War of 1812 Bicentennial."

Anyone who has a copy of the script or any supporting materials for the play is asked to contact Paul Lear at 315-343-4711 or mail a copy to the Fort Ontario State Historic Site, 1 East 4th Street, Oswego, N.Y. 13126.

Lake Ontario was the main theater of action during the War of 1812 which put the United States at odds with Great Britain. The traditional Mohawk River to Oneida Lake to Oswego River route was used to transport vital naval stores through Oswego to the strategic U.S. Navy shipyard and port at Sackets Harbor, New York.

On May 5 and 6, 1814, a large British amphibious force attacked and captured Fort Ontario and the city of Oswego, intending to halt that flow of supplies. Lt. Colonel George Mitchell and a small American force arrived in Oswego just in time to remove or hide naval stores from the British army.

Their success at Oswego would have meant the British slowing or stopping new American ship construction at Sackets Harbor and gaining naval superiority on Lake Ontario. With control of Lake Ontario firmly established, the British could have invaded the United States through Oswego in 1815 with overwhelming numbers of troops fresh from victory over Napoleon in Europe.

A few weeks after the Battle of Oswego in May 1814, the American fleet was still blockaded in Sackets Harbor. Lt. Melancthon Woolsey attempted to move the naval supplies saved at Oswego to Sackets Harbor by using small boats traveling along the lakeshore. Woolsey's flotilla was spotted by the British fleet and they were driven up Big Sandy Creek. A team of British forces followed the boats and were ambushed and captured by the waiting American riflemen and Oneida Indians.

Lt. Woolsey resolved to move the naval supplies by land to Sackets Harbor using wagons and ox carts as the rest of the British fleet continued to guard the lakeshore. One 600-foot ship cable (an anchor rope) weighed 9,600 lbs. This "Great Cable" or "Great Rope" was partially loaded onto an ox cart as the remainder of the cable was hoisted onto the shoulders of about 200 to 300 militiamen working in relays of 100 men each.

The serpentine line of cable-carriers passed from village to village during the 20-mile journey where they were met with growing enthusiasm, refreshments, and replacements for those too exhausted or injured to continue. Mats of woven grass were fashioned to protect the shoulders of cable-carriers but all had large bruises. It was said that some carried the callous or mark on their shoulders the rest of their lives.

A crowd of shipyard workers, soldiers, sailors, and civilians cheered the cable-carriers as they came into the village and delivered the great rope. Within a few months, the U.S.S. Superior and other warships were completed and launched, and the U.S. Navy gained the advantage over the British on Lake Ontario in late 1814. Fortunately for all, the War of 1812 ended in January 1815 and peace returned to the North Country. Life returned to normal but the story and legend of "The Great Rope" lives on.

If you know the whereabouts of Dr. Nesbitt's production of "The Great Rope," please contact Fort Ontario State Historic Site Manager Paul Lear at 315-343-4711 or paul.lear@parks.ny.gov.


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