Three stunning frigate victories over the seemingly invincible Royal Navy in the first six months of the War of 1812 had catapulted America’s fledgling naval force to giddy heights by January 1813. In September 1812, Boston fêted the officers of USS Constitution after that ship returned from its win over HMS Guerriere. Not to be outdone, New York hosted a celebration in December 1812 for the officers of USS United States, after that frigate escorted its 25 October prize, HMS Macedonian, to that city. On 7 January, the city fathers honored the 400 sailors and marines of United States with dinner and a theatrical show after the crew had paraded through the city streets. The triumphant frigate’s officers, led by their captain, Stephen Decatur, ate separately from their men, joining them briefly for accolades, before leaving them to wile away the night with liquor, song, and toasts. A sampling of the latter included: “All the pretty girls who like Yankee Tars” and “Success to the Frigate United States and plenty of prize money.”
One striking facet of the second war for independence was the transparency between friend and foe. The British fourteen-year-old Samuel Leech was serving as a “powder monkey” on Macedonian when United States captured it. Leech, along with many of his fellow seamen, escaped when the American prize crew sailed the captured British vessel to the port of New York. Some American tars invited Leech to join them in attending the city’s festivities. After a cartel ship left America with the exchanged Macedonians, Leech had the audacity to return to his former ship to retrieve his clothes. He covered his Royal Navy anchor buttons with cloth to disguise his identity. Leech never regretted leaving the harsh wooden world of a British man-of-war for service in the American navy.