SACKETS HARBOR — It was the final push for the approximately 100 people carrying a 600-foot rope down County Route 75 toward the village’s battlefield site.
Sweating the final 3.5 miles Sunday, their footsteps mirrored those of the brave troops whose grueling cable carry 200 years earlier allowed for the creation of the massive USS Superior, ensuring America’s stand against the British during the War of 1812.
“Now we had control of Lake Ontario,” said Donald W. Whitney, one of the organizers of the two-day cable carry.
Following the Battle of Big Sandy Creek on May 29 and 30, 1814, the American military needed to move several cannons and cables necessary for its large ship, the USS Superior, being finished about 20 miles away in the village. Moving most of the supplies in the following week, the Americans were left with a massive rope too large and heavy to carry by oxcart alone. With few options and limited time, the American forces decided to carry the rope on their shoulders.
Starting Saturday morning from the state Department of Environmental Conservation parking lot on Route 3, South Landing, the group retraced the troops’ 20-mile route through Ellisburg, Belleville and Smithville, before arriving in Sackets Harbor on Sunday afternoon.
The massive piece of hemp cable in 1814 had a diameter of more than a foot and a half, and weighed from 9,500 to 10,000 pounds, requiring each person to lift as much as 110 pounds for hours on end.
“These men simply hoisted it on their shoulders,” said Patrick A. Wilder of the Sackets Harbor Historical Society. Those doing the lift claimed the imprints of the hemp remained on their skin for years, he said.
This weekend’s rope was much lighter than its wartime counterpart, a point not lost on those with a more manageable weight to carry.
“They were definitely tough,” said Lorraine G. Wiggins, a descendant of Erastus Whitney, who fought in the Sandy Creek battle and aided the cable carry. She and her, husband Mark A., of Henderson, wore period clothes as they walked at the tail end of the rope.
Farther ahead, Boy Scout Robert L. Breeden, 13, said he had heard about the carry in his social studies class.
“It gives me a new respect for what they did,” he said.
The American success at Sandy Creek and the delivery of the supplies to the village, a major American shipbuilding site, slowed the British, who retreated back to their site at Kingston, Ontario.
“This was a big turning point, for the simple reason the Americans were working together,” Mr. Wilder said. “The militia, the Army, the Navy, all knew the importance of what they were doing.”
The timing of the American success was critical, Mr. Wilder said, as the British defeat of Napoleon in Europe gave them the ability to transfer more military personnel across the Atlantic “to deal with what they regarded as the American upstarts.”
Instead of fighting, the two nations engaged in a shipbuilding arms race that continued until the end of the war.
Another difference between the past and present cable carries was in their celebration at its conclusion.
When the cable made its way into the village in 1814, village residents cheered the carry by breaking out kegs of whiskey. Given the age of many of the participants, this weekend’s two-day journey was marked with ice cream.
Video from Sunday’s final leg of the walk can be seen at http://wdt.me/cable-carry.