Sackets Harbor (earlier spelled Sacketts Harbor) is a village in Jefferson County, New York, United States. The population was 1,450 at the 2010 census. The village was named after land developer and owner Augustus Sackett, who founded it in the early 19th century.
The Village of Sackets Harbor is within the western part of the Town of Hounsfield and is west of Watertown. The heart of the village, with a Main Street and well-preserved 19th c. buildings, has been recognized as the Sackets Harbor Village Historic District and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.
Because of its strategic protected harbor on Lake Ontario and the military installations built there, the village had national importance through the 19th century. To support the War of 1812, the US Navy built a major shipyard and its headquarters for the Great Lakes at the village. Within a short period, more than 3,000 men worked at the shipyard. The Army constructed earthworks, forts, barracks and supporting infrastructure to defend the village and navy shipyard, and its troops also camped in town, which was overwhelmed by the number of military. Soon after the war, the Army strengthened its defenses on the northern frontier by constructing Madison Barracks. Sackets Harbor Battlefield State Historic Site commemorates a battle and the contribution of the area to the United States defense during the War of 1812.
The village had a commercial shipyard and many business connections to communities around the Great Lakes. Its businessmen were also connected to bases in the major markets of Louisville, Kentucky and New Orleans. In 1817 a consortium of local businessmen supported construction of the 240-ton Ontario, the first US steamboat on the Great Lakes. In July 1834, the commercial schooner Illinois from Sackets Harbor was the first to enter the harbor of the new settlement of Chicago.
Prior to the American Revolutionary War, this area had been inhabited for thousands of years by differing cultures of indigenous peoples. The historic tribes were the Iroquoian-speaking Onondaga, part of the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois Confederacy. Long trading with the French and English, most of the Six Nations allied with the British during the Revolution, hoping to dislodge the American colonists. Following the war, they were forced to make major cessions of most of their land in New York to the United States. Most of the Iroquois went to Canada and settled on land granted by Great Britain.
In the large-scale sales of of public lands in the postwar period, Sackets Harbor was founded in 1801 by Augustus Sackett, a land speculator from New York City. He and others had high hopes for trade across Lake Ontario with Kingston and other parts of Canada. Sackets Harbor was the most significant community in the area until the founding of the City of Watertown. The area attracted migrants from New England, as well as immigrants from Great Britain and France. The latter were fleeing the turmoil of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. They cleared heavy forest and gradually constructed houses for a village center. Edmund Luff, a young English immigrant, constructed a non-denominational meetinghouse, where all Christians met until they built their own churches in later decades. By the 1810 census, there were 943 qualified voters in the village. After the War of 1812, Sackets Harbor incorporated as a village in 1814.
The American Revolution did not resolve all issues with Great Britain. Border issues and increasing tensions led the US to impose the Embargo Act of 1807 prohibiting trade with Great Britain, which effectively included Canada. People on both sides of the border, Canadian (many of them native Americans, including Loyalists who had fled there after the Revolution) and American, quickly built up a vigorous smuggling trade across the waters and through the nearby Thousand Islands area along the St. Lawrence River.
The US government first stationed forces in the area to try to reduce smuggling.
War of 1812
As tensions increased with Great Britain, the US began to build up its military forces at Sackets Harbor, including creating a major shipyard at what became Navy Point. The scale of buildup was such that the citizens were outnumbered on a scale of about 8:1 by thousands of sailors and soldiers, camp followers and traders. Limited sanitary facilities and medical knowledge made dense troop encampments breeding grounds for infectious diseases, such as typhus, which quickly spread to villagers, too.
The village was the site of two battles during the War of 1812. In the first battle in 1812, the brig USS Oneida and shore batteries repulsed an attacking force of five British ships. The village became a major base of operations for both the Navy (including US Marine Corps) and Army for the duration of the war. The Army built defensive earthworks around much of the village, and Fort Tompkins with barracks near Navy Point. Local militia built Fort Volunteer north of the village main streets. Thousands of troops gathered to defend the shipyard and village, and to attack Canada.
The numbers of troops so exceeded what could be built to shelter them that in 1813 troops were housed with residents, in stores, in barns and in tents. Village women counted themselves lucky if they were only cooking for officers. By the spring of 1813 the Army had gathered approximately 5200 men in the village.
Most importantly, by 1813 the village became the US Naval Headquarters on the Great Lakes. Working at the Navy Point shipyard were 3,000 highly skilled men, including hundreds of shipbuilders and carpenters brought from New York City because of a lack of locally skilled craftsmen. It was constructed and supervised during the war by New York City naval architect and shipbuilder Henry Eckford. They rapidly built eleven warships to establish control over the Great Lakes. Control of the Great Lakes ultimately ended up in the hands of both the peoples of Canada and the United States (with the exception of Lake Michigan, which is located entirely within the United States) and has been managed since 1909 by the International Joint Commission.
In the second Battle of Sackett's Harbor in May 1813, British forces landed and attacked the village, but they were again driven off. Most of the American garrison and ships were at the opposite end of the lake at the time. The American defense was marred by officers' mistaken orders at Navy Point to destroy stores and a partially constructed ship, to prevent capture by the British.
Until the federal government established the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, it had several schools for the training of midshipmen. Commodore Isaac Chauncey, writing to the Secretary of the Navy on November 30, 1814, described a school established at Sacket’s Harbor on Lake Ontario in that year:
"Sir. I have the pleasure to inform you that I have established a Mathematical School under the direction of my Chaplain the Revd. Mr. Felch who is fully competent to the duties of such a School. More than One hundred Officers attend this School, as they can be spared from duty and about Sixty Lieutenants and Midshipmen attend daily who make great progress in the various branches of Mathematics Navigation. etc."
The end of the war came in 1815 before the Navy completed construction of the last warship, the USS New Orleans. She was put into storage and never completed. She was scrapped in 1883.
19th through 20th centuries
The military recognized the continued importance of Sackets Harbor's strategic location. The Navy Shipyard operated until 1874, building ships such as USRC Active (1843). In 1848 a new Sackets Harbor Naval Station was constructed. After 1884, it was used mostly for training.
The Army took over privately owned land just north of the village to build Madison Barracks (c.1814–1819). Well into the late 19th c., this was a substantial military installation; the Army added new construction including housing, a school, a hospital, stables for horses, and supporting infrastructure. During World War I, the base was used primarily as a hospital post, and in World War II as a training post.
Madison Barracks has been designated an Historic District and listed on the NRHP. The New York State Museum of Military History calls it "a living museum of military architecture".  Comprising the northeastern quarter of the village, the Madison Barracks is being slowly redeveloped as a planned commercial/residential area . The New York City consortium Fort Pike Associates holds title to unsold land in the complex.
Sackets Harbor was an important lake port through most of the 19th century. Commercial shipyards adjoined Navy Point. In 1817 a local consortium of military officers and businessmen: General Jacob Brown, Commodore Melancthon Taylor Woolsey, Charles Smyth, Eric Lusher, Elisha Camp, Samuel F. Hooker and Hunter Crane, financed the construction of the 240-ton Ontario. It was the first US steamboat to be built west of the Hudson River and operated on the Great Lakes. This was the beginning of extensive steamboat traffic on the Great Lakes, including passenger boats that stopped at towns around the lakes.
On July 12, 1834, the schooner Illinois from Sackets Harbor was the first commercial ship to enter Chicago harbor, a sign of what was soon to be greatly increased Great Lakes trade with that area. Samuel F. Hooker and his sons had shipping interests in Sackets Harbor with national networks; their firm had steamboats based in Louisville, Kentucky, which were part of the Mississippi River trade to New Orleans, a major port before the American Civil War. This meant that he and similar upstate New York businessmen gained some of their wealth from the slave trade, as Louisville was a major shipping point for slaves sold to New Orleans markets and the Deep South.
As cities industrialized and major economic development moved West, from 1870–1930 the village became a popular destination for summer vacations. It attracted visitors from Chicago and other major cities around the Great Lakes, many of whom had family who had lived in Sackets Harbor before the mid-19th century westward migration.
Today heritage tourism and summer recreation are renewed sources of growth for the village. Navy Point is a marina providing moorings and facilities for private boats. Developments of new houses are in planning and village review.