Mulcaster, William Howe

William Howe Mulcaster, Royal Navy officer, military figure in the War of 1812 (b 1785; d at Dover, Kent, England, 2 Mar 1837). William Mulcaster joined the Royal Navy as a midshipman when he was 10 years old and immediately saw action against the French. He was promoted to lieutenant in 1800, and by 1809 he was serving as a first lieutenant on Captain Sir James Lucas Yeo’s Confiance. Mulcaster participated in Yeo’s campaign that captured the French colony of Cayenne. In four days, the combined Anglo-Portuguese force took two forts, put a 1000-man army to flight and orchestrated the surrender of French Guiana.

Service in the War of 1812

Mulcaster’s conduct in Yeo’s campaign resulted in his promotion to the rank of commander and won him the command of HM Sloop Emulous at Halifax. He went on to capture the two-gun French letter-of-marque L’Adele on 25 July 1811 and the 14-gun American privateer Gossamer off Cape Sable on 30 June 1812. Emulous was wrecked on Sable Island one month later, and in accordance with Royal Navy practice, Mulcaster was court martialed for losing his vessel; he was eventually acquitted.

In 1813, Mulcaster was sent to Upper Canada with Commodore Yeo’s 450-man naval detachment. At Kingston, Mulcaster received command of the 21-gun sloop Royal George. He took part in all of the naval actions on Lake Ontario during that year. His most memorable engagement occurred on 28 September 1813 during the Burlington Races, an encounter between the British and American squadrons 20 kilometres south of York. At a pivotal moment in the battle, Mulcaster maneuvered his sloop between Yeo’s badly damaged flagship Wolfe and the American flagship General Pike, saving Yeo’s command from being boarded by the enemy. An intense cannonade followed, and Yeo was able to restore order on Wolfe. The British squadron broke away and sought refuge in Burlington Bay, still pursued by the Americans. Hostile gales and the threat of British guns forced the Americans to call off the chase, and Mulcaster was promoted to a post captain in recognition of his service.

Later that year, Mulcaster commanded a flotilla of two sloops, two schooners and four gunboats that bombarded the American camp at French Creek. Beginning on 6 November, Mulcaster’s “mosquito fleet” joined Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Morrison in pursuit of American Major General James Wilkinson, who was heading for Montréal. The aggressive Mulcaster used his vessels to transport Morrison’s men and harass American boats, while his gunboats provided support during the Battle of Crysler’s Farm.

The End of Mulcaster’s Career

Mulcaster continued to be Yeo’s closest confidant and supporter, and in April 1814 he received command of the new 40-gun frigate Princess Charlotte. On 5-6 May, Mulcaster suffered a devestasting injury during the British raid on Oswego. A musket ball sliced through one of his legs as he led a naval party armed with cutlasses and pikes in a charge against the Americans. Mulcaster survived, but he was sent home as an invalid.

He never again held a command. He received an annual pension of £300 and married a Canadian woman. In 1836, he became a naval aide-de-camp to King William IV; he died the following year.

Author: John R. Grodzinski

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