Lake Ontario was strategically vital during the War of 1812. Over water, the British could easily send men and supplies from their Canadian colony into the other Great Lakes or use waterways to strike inland. Likewise, the Americans could use the lake as a route to attack Canada. Sackets Harbor in Upstate New York was an important naval yard and key to American control of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River.
The quickest way to transport vital ship-building supplies from the Brooklyn Naval Yards on Long Island to Sackets Harbor was by river to Albany, from Albany to the Mohawk River, to Wood Creek and Oneida Lake, and finally the Oswego River to Lake Ontario. British destruction of Fort Ontario at the mouth of the Oswego River complicated things, however. The supplies had to be transported at night past patrolling British ships in Lake Ontario.
On the night of May 28, 1814, Major Daniel Appling and Lieutenant Melancthon Taylor Woolsey were transporting supplies north to Sacketts Harbor in 19 boats, along with 150 riflemen. A contingent of 120 Oneida braves accompanied the shipment along the shoreline. A boat somehow floated off course and was captured by the British.