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The day Vidal’s crew fled ship in Sarnia Bay

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Phil Egan

The Vidals, for whom Vidal Street was named, were navy men.

During the War of 1812, Lake Erie was the scene of numerous heated naval battles between British and American warships. One of the vessels involved was the four-gun schooner USS Scorpion. Captured by the British during the war, she was brought into the British navy and rechristened HMS Confiance.

The year after the war ended, on Sept. 3, 1815, HMS Confiance lay at anchor in Sarnia Bay. Her commander was Lt. Alexander Vidal, R.N., who as later to become Admiral Vidal.

That evening, a number of the ship’s crew decided to desert. Before sneaking away in two of the ship’s boats, they plundered the ship’s stores, compounding their crime.

At first light, their desertion was discovered and an angry Lt. Vidal decided to track down the culprits. Taking a party of sailors from Confiance downriver in an armed boat, Vidal discovered one of the ship’s boats pulled ashore on the American side of Lake St. Clair near today’s Grosse Pointe, Michigan.

A small inn stood not far from the shore. Vidal ordered his crew to stand off from shore, and proceeded towards the inn. He was a startling sight: a British officer in naval uniform with cap and sword strolling across American territory only one year after the end of hostilities.

Entering the inn, Lt. Vidal discovered many of his ship’s plundered supplies piled up in a hallway. As the deserters fled, the sight of a British naval officer in full regalia drew a threatening mob around Vidal. Ultimately, the Michigan militia was summoned to the inn and Vidal was arrested by a Captain McCullogh.

Released on bail after one week’s imprisonment, Vidal quickly left U.S. soil for the British base at Amherstburg.

An angry war of letters ensued between the British and American authorities, but Vidal returned to Michigan to stand trial the following month. He was found guilty of ‘riotously and wantonously (sic) assembling an armed party to seek deserters, with searching the home of a citizen and with disturbing the peace of one of the inhabitants.

The fine, exceeding $700, was never paid and, later, in the interests of cross-border harmony, Lt. Vidal received a presidential pardon.

Following Vidal’s retirement from the British navy in 1846, he settled in what is now St. Clair Township. The Admiral’s brother, Richard Emeric Vidal, R.N., had already settled at “The Rapids,” after receiving a land grant for his service.

With George Durand and Malcolm Cameron, Richard Emeric Vidal would enter history as one of the three founding fathers of Sarnia.

 

 

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