On the lake front at Chicago during the World's Fair, close by the
entrance to the long walk that led out to the marvellously constructed
imitation battle-ship, the Illinois, rested an old iron muzzle-loader.
It was a clumsy-looking piece of ordnance compared to the shining,
complicated bits of machinery that compose the batteries of a modern
war-ship. It looked very out of date and harmless, and people who did
not know its history passed it by with hardly a second glance. But yet
this old gun had taken more white men's lives in battle than all the
great modern breech-loaders on the fleets of Europe combined to-day.
It was but nine or ten feet long and threw a solid ball twenty-four
pounds in weight. A small inscription on a metal plate told the
inquisitive that the gun was the "Long Tom," from the privateer
General Armstrong, that had been sunk in the harbor of Fayal, in
September of the year 1814; that it had subsequently been raised and
presented by the Portuguese government to the United States. There
were some who knew the story, for it had been told many times, and
long years ago the country rang with it. Every one then knew the main
facts of the incident, and because of a long controversy in the courts
owing to claims that arose from the action for indemnity against the
Portuguese government, the matter was kept alive up to a very recent
date. But an unfamiliar story in connection with a well-known fact may
not be amiss, and this is a tale of the harbor of Fayal that perhaps
few have heard before.
But to get to the telling of it, it is necessary to recount a good deal
of what is recorded history.
The General Armstrong was a privateer brig outfitted at New York. She
was owned in part by a New York merchant, a Mr. Havens, and in part by
her commander, Samuel C. Reid, and a better sailor never stood in
sea-boots. She was not a big ship; but her armament had been skilfully
chosen. Her crew of picked men had been drilled man-of-war fashion. She
mounted eight long nine-pounders, four on a side, and amidships she
carried the big twenty-four-pounder before referred to. Her First
Lieutenant was a Mr. Alexander O. Williams, a very young man, but a
thorough and practical seaman; her Second was named Worth; her Third
Lieutenant's name was Johnson; her crew, all Americans, numbered ninety
souls all told. Among them was an active, handsome fellow, named
William Copeland. He was down on the privateer's books as able seaman;
but before the General Armstrong had been two weeks at sea, Copeland
was promoted for meritorious conduct in an action with a British armed
schooner, that was sent home as a prize, to be quarter gunner. It was
Reid and himself that squinted along the black barrel of the old Long
Tom, when she fought in the harbor of Fayal.
It was the 26th day of September that the General Armstrong cast
anchor there. The weather had been very fine, and Captain Reid, very
proud of his vessel, had done everything to make her look smart and
tidy. Her rigging was all tuned up to concert pitch; her decks were as
white as sand and holystone could make them, and the men, contrary to
the habit of most privateers, were dressed in suits of white duck and
blue. The American Consul, John D. Dabney, felt a thrill of pride as he
saw the man-of-war fashion with which the General Armstrong came to
anchor. As the long white gig came rolling up to the pier, and the men
boated their oars, Mr. Dabney recognized that the officer sitting in
the stern sheets was an old friend of his.
"Ah, Captain Reid," he exclaimed. "Glad to see you. My compliments to
you on the appearance of your vessel. I thought at first that she must
be one of the regular navy; in fact, I took her for the Enterprise."
"Well, I flatter myself that she is quite as shipshape," returned
Captain Reid. "And I have to work my crew pretty hard to keep from
showing how well satisfied I am with them. I tell you, Dabney, it isn't
every man that has had such a fine lot of fellows under him. As to my
success so far, it has been fair enough; but I'd really like to measure
distances and exchange a few shots with some of His Majesty's little
"You have come to a good place to look for them," Dabney returned. "It
is seldom that a week passes without having one or more of them drop
anchor in the roads."
Chatting together in this friendly fashion, the two gentlemen went up
into the town. It was late in the evening before Reid came to the
water-front to signal for his boat. Dabney was still with him. They
walked down to the end of the pier, and Reid suddenly pointed:--
"By Jupiter!" he exclaimed, "here we come," and following his finger
Dabney saw three big vessels lazily moving along before the slight
wind, toward the harbor entrance. Their earlier approach had been
hidden by the headlands.
The harbor of Fayal is surrounded by hills, on the slopes of which the
town is built, and the bay extends in a semicircle with two
wide-reaching arms. The water runs deep into the shore. The sun was
setting in the calm evening sky, and there was scarce enough movement
on the surface of the bay to catch the red reflections. Dabney turned
to Captain Reid after the first long look.
"English, or else I'm much mistaken," he said quietly.
"Not the least doubt of it in my mind," Reid returned, "and if there
was more of a wind, by Jove, I'd try to get out of this.... Do you
think it is safe to stay?"
"It is a neutral port," Dabney returned, "and Portugal and England have
been such friends, that I do not think John Bull would take advantage
of his position here. In my opinion they will respect the neutrality."
"Well, they won't catch me napping," Reid returned, as he stepped into
the gig; and after requesting the Consul's presence at dinner on the
following evening, he gave the order to shove off, and pulled away for
Mr. Williams, the First Lieutenant, met him at the gangway. "You have
observed our friends yonder?" he asked, pitching his thumb over his
shoulder. "I wish we were out of here."
"So do I," Reid returned, "but we must make the best of it."
It was a beautiful sight to see the great square-rigged ships come to
anchor. Forward and aft all hands were on deck watching the English
men-of-war perform the manoeuvre.
"Well done!" exclaimed William Copeland, the quarter gunner, turning to
a group of his messmates. "It takes an Englishman or a Yankee to make a
vessel behave as if she were alive. By Davy's locker!" he exclaimed
suddenly, "I know that nearest ship; it's the Plantagenet, I'll bet
my prize money. Good cause have I to remember her; she picked me up in
the North Sea and I served three years in her confounded carcass. Three
wicked, sweating years, my lads."
"Where did you leave her, Bill?" asked one of the seamen standing near
"At Cape Town, during the war against the Dutch. I'll spin the yarn to
you some day. My brother and I were took at the same time. The last I
seed of him was when we lowered ourselves out of the sick bay into the
water to swim a good three miles to the whaler--that was three years
"Do you reckon he was drownded, Bill?"
"Reckon so. Leastways I haven't heard from him, poor lad!"
Further talk was interrupted by an order from the quarter-deck calling
away the first cutter to carry a stream anchor in towards shore in
order to warp the brig close under the walls of the "castle" a little
battery of four or five guns that commanded the inner harbor. Captain
Reid's suspicions had been awakened by seeing a boat put off from the
shore, and noticing that one of the frigates was getting up her anchor
preparatory to drawing in nearer. In less than half an hour he was
moored stem and stern so close under the walls of the little fort that
he could have hurled a marline-spike against the walls from his own
quarter-deck. As it grew darker he could see from the flashing of
lights that the English vessels were holding communication with one
another, and occasionally across the water would come the sound of
creaking blocks or the lilt of a pipe. He knew well enough that such
goings on were not without some object, and calling all of his officers
aft they held a short consultation. It was exactly eight o'clock in the
evening. From shore there came a sound of fiddles and singing. Although
Captain Reid had promised the men liberty that evening, owing to the
position of affairs the order had been rescinded, but nevertheless
there was some grumbling in the forecastle; for if a sailor doesn't
grumble when he gets a chance, he is not a sailor.
"I'll be shot if I can see why the old man won't let us ashore,"
growled a sturdy young topman. "D'ye hear them fiddles, Jack? Can't you
see the senoritas adancin'? My heels itch for the touch of a springy
floor and my arm has a crook to it that would just fit a neat young
waist. Do you remember--"
"Stow your jaw, Dummer," broke in a heavy voice half angrily. "And you
too, Merrick, clap a stopper on it," turning to another of the
malcontents. "Hush now, listen all hands.... Oars! can't ye hear 'em?
And muffled too, by the Piper! Pass the word below; all hands!" With
that William Copeland ran aft to the quarter-deck. Captain Reid met him
at the mast.
"Their boats are coming, sir," Copeland whispered excitedly; "five or
six of 'em, I should judge."
"Are the broadside guns ready?"
"Aye, aye, sir, and double-shotted; two of them with grape and
"How's the Long Tom?"
"Ready to speak for himself, sir," Copeland replied with a touch of
pride, for the big gun was his especial pet.
The three lieutenants had now grouped close together. "See that the
magazine is opened, Mr. Worth, and Mr. Williams call the men to their
stations quietly. They will try to come in on the port hand most
probably. Gentlemen, to your stations. No firing until you get the word
from the quarter-deck, and stop all talking on the ship."
Even the sentry, patrolling his beat on the castle walls, did not hear
or notice anything extraordinary on board the privateer, so silently
were the orders followed out. The moon was struggling to pierce through
the thin, filmy clouds that obscured her light. It was one of those
nights when objects appear suddenly out of the invisible and take shape
with distinctness close to hand. But every one could hear the sounds
"Thrum, thrum, thrum," the swing of oars; despite that the rhythm was
muffled and subdued.
Reid was leaning over the rail with a night glass aimed in the
direction of the frigate. A figure hurried to his side. It was
Lieutenant Williams. "We can see them from for'ard, sir," he said
breathlessly. "Everything is ready, and there's surely some mischief
"Yes, I can see them now; four of them, chock a block with men," Reid
returned, closing the glass with a snap. "Now stand by, all hands, for
orders." Then raising his voice, he shot the following question out
into the semi-darkness: "On board the boats, there! There is no landing
here. Keep away from our side."
The rowing ceased; but it was only an instant and then it began again.
"I warn you to come no nearer!" shouted Reid. "You do so at your
Four dark shapes were now visible without the aid of any glass. The
plash of the oars could be heard as they caught the water. Reid just
noticed the figure of William Copeland bending over the breech of the
Long Tom, whose muzzle extended across the bulwarks.
"Keep off or I shall fire!" he warned for the third time. There came an
answer to this clear enough to be heard by every man standing at the
"Give way, lads, together."
"Fire!" roared Reid, in a voice that must have been heard distinctly
along the shore. The reply was a scarlet burst of flame and a crash
that sent the echoes up the hills. It stopped the fiddles in the
dance-house; it set the drums and bugles rolling and tooting in the
fortress, and the American Consul, sitting over his coffee on the
public square, jumped to his feet, and ran, followed by a clamoring
crowd, to the pier-head.
From the direction of the boats came a confusion of orders following
the broadside. Groans and shrieks for help arose from the darkness.
Some spurts of flame came quickly and several musket-balls whistled
over the Armstrong's deck. Then the loud report of a heavy boat gun,
and a groan and cry followed immediately from the brig's forecastle.
All was silent now except for the sound of plashing in the water and
some groans and muffled cries. Reid was about to hail when he saw three
men hurrying aft with a heavy burden in their arms.
"It's Mr. Williams, sir; he's shot in the head, and Dummer, of the
forward division, sir, is killed," one of them said gruffly. Poor
Dummer! He would dance no more with the senoritas--there were to be no
more liberty parties for him.
Reid's intention of lowering away a boat faded from his mind. There
would be more of the same sort of work before long; that he knew well.
One of the boats had been sunk, for the wreck came drifting in close to
the brig's side. The other three could be heard making off to the
ships, their rowing growing fainter every minute. Lieutenants Worth and
Johnson came aft to report.
"We are in for it, gentlemen," said Reid; "but they won't cut this
vessel out without more discussion on the subject. The idea of such
treachery in a friendly harbor! They received their just deserts." His
anger got the better of him for an instant, and he could say no more.
"Poor Williams!" he murmured at last. "Is he badly hurt?"
"He is mortally wounded, sir, I am afraid," Mr. Johnson returned.
"A good friend and a fine officer gone," put in Lieutenant Worth. "So
much for this night's work."
"Do not fear; there'll be more of it, and we'll have our hands full,"
Reid continued. "Mr. Johnson, you will see that the boarding-nettings
are spread, and load the midship gun with lagrange and a star shot.
Have pikes and cutlasses ready."
"Are you going ashore, sir, to see the commander of the fort? He surely
should protect us?" asked Mr. Worth.
"We need count no longer on him," was Reid's rejoinder. "We will have
to do our own protecting. See that every musket and pistol is loaded
and laid handy and, stay," he added, "cut away the bulwarks just abaft
the gangway and bring two of those starboard guns across the deck. We
will need them all, to my way of thinking."
The crowds gathered on the shore could hear the sounds of preparation.
From the English squadron also came a babble of orders and movement.
The lights were doubled in number. Every port shone brightly. The moon
had now risen until objects could be seen quite plainly.
"They are preparing for an attack in force," Reid said, handing the
glass to Mr. Johnson, who had already seen that the boarding-nettings
had been spread above the railing. The men forward were busy setting
some spare spars to act as booms to keep the boats from gaining the
vessel's bows. Time passed swiftly. At twelve o'clock the oars began
again. But they were not muffled now! "Click, clock," they came onward
with a rush. Voices could be heard urging the rowers to more exertion,
as if they were racing crews out for a practice spin. Reid was
levelling the glass.
"Ten, twelve, thirteen, fourteen--fourteen boats loaded to the guards,"
he said. "God's love, there must be four hundred men: they mean to take
us if they can." He looked down at his own little deck. He had less
than ninety now; but they were ninety stout, good fellows who would not
flinch. In the rays of the battle lanterns and the pale light of the
moon, Captain Reid saw that they were ready to fight their last fight
It was no time to make a speech; but the men could hear every word he
said without gathering nearer. "Lads," he said, "reserve your fire
until you get the word from me. Don't waste a single shot, and remember
this: aim low.... Copeland!"
"Aye, aye, sir!"
"Cover that leading boat."
"Aye, aye, sir!"
A big pinnace or barge, holding perhaps eighty men, was heading the
flotilla by almost a hundred feet. The grinding of a handspike on the
deck broke the silence, as the Long Tom was slewed about to bear upon
"Handsomely now, men," cajoled Copeland. "Handsomely; that's well."
The great boat was rowing in directly on that gun as if towed by a
line. She was heading on to death and destruction!
Consul Dabney, standing with the anxious crowd on the shore, held his
Was Reid going to submit to be taken without striking another blow? Not
much. With a long flare of flame that leaped from the Armstrong's
side, arose a great shout from the spectators.
The bow of the pinnace was stove in, and she pitched forward into the
water like an angry bull brought to his knees by a rifle shot. Men
absolutely boiled out of her. The moonlit water was dotted with black
objects; some threshing with their arms, others silent and motionless.
There came a rattling reply of small-arms from the boats, and the long
nines answered them. The action was on in earnest. No one can gainsay
the courage that was displayed by the attacking force. They were
Englishmen; it is not necessary to say more. The firing became
incessant. The men on the Armstrong had scarce time to reload their
guns. They would snatch up a pistol here and a musket there and fire
out at the water that was crisscrossed with the red flashes of the
answering shots. More than once a boat had reached the side. On two
occasions men had sprung to the bulwarks, and clung to the
boarding-nettings until shot away. Every now and then the Long Tom
would let go a half-bucketful of grape and scrap iron, hurling death
into the boats. Every one of the privateer's crew seemed gifted with
four arms. From one point of attack to another they chased about the
deck. It seemed as if she numbered three times her complement. Bill
Copeland was fighting like a demon. Twice had he run along the top of
the bulwarks, exposed to every aim. Suddenly he saw that one of the
boats had worked around to the starboard side. Giving the alarm, and
followed by a half-score of the after-guard, he ran across to meet this
unexpected danger. One of the men who followed him caught up a
twenty-four-pound solid shot in his arms as he ran. Another followed
his example. Both shot crashed through the bottom of the boat, and a
volley was poured down into them. But three or four of the men had
already reached the chains.
Copeland sprang to the bulwarks with his cutlass in his hand. There was
a figure crawling up below him. Leaning forward, he made a quick stroke
that would have severed the man's throat had he not leaned back
suddenly and avoided it. Again he drew back his sharpened cutlass for
the death blow, and then he saw that the fellow was unarmed. Something
stayed his hand; he bent still further forward, and just as the
Englishman was about to fall back into the water, he grasped him by the
"My God, Jed!" he cried, and exerting all his strength he dragged his
prisoner over the rail on to the deck. Those who had time to witness
it, saw a curious sight. There was Bill Copeland holding fast to
another man, their arms on each other's shoulders.
"Jed, don't ye know me?" Bill was crying; "but, Lord love ye lad,
you're wounded." A shudder went through him as he realized how close he
had been to sending home that fatal thrust. The man with a pigtail down
his back leaned forward weakly.
"I'm hurted bad, Bill," he said. "But go on and fight; leave me alone;
egad, you've whipped 'em." Sure enough, the firing had now slackened.
Four or five of the boats had retreated beyond gun shot. They were
all that could do so unaided.
"Cease firing!" ordered Captain Reid, hastening about the deck. "Cease
firing here! They have given up. Where is Mr. Johnson?" he roared,
pushing his way into a group of men who were about to reload one of the
nine-pounders. He had to cuff his way amongst them to make them desist.
"Where is Mr. Johnson?" he repeated.
"He's wounded, sir."
"And Mr. Worth is wounded too, sir," put in another man. "I helped him
As suddenly as the action had begun it had ended. By the light of a
lantern Captain Reid glanced at his watch. It was forty minutes since
the first gun had been fired. He looked about his decks. Although they
were littered with loose running-gear, handspikes, cutlasses, and
muskets, at the sight his heart gave a great bound of joy. There were
no mangled figures or pools of slippery blood. It seemed hardly
But from the wreckage in the water came groans and cries. He looked
over the side. There lay, rocking, two broken boats filled with huddled
figures, some moving weakly.
"Here!" he shouted to some of the men. "Bear a hand; save all we can."
It was a sudden transition, this, from taking life to saving it; but
the men turned to with a will. In one of the boats twelve dead bodies
were found, and but seventeen of her crew had escaped with their lives,
and they were all badly wounded. Of the four hundred men who had
commenced that bold attack, only one-half returned to the ships unhurt.
Reid hurried down into the cockpit. It seemed past believing. But two
of his men, including the brave Williams, had been killed, and but
seven wounded! This is history.
But a sight he saw attracted the Captain's attention. It was Bill
Copeland sitting on the deck, with his arms about a pale figure whose
head lay in Copeland's lap. The resemblance between the men was
"What have we here?" asked Captain Reid.
"My brother, sir," Copeland returned.
"Aye, sir; from the Plantaganet. He was the only one who got on board
The man spoke with an accent of pride, and the wounded one opened his
"Bill, here, he hauled me on board," he said.
When the surgeon found time to attend to Copeland's wounds, he
pronounced them not to be of a dangerous character, and the man was
soon made comfortable.
All night long, the Armstrong's people slept beside their guns, but
there was no evidence of any further intention to attack on the part
of the British. The Carnation, which was the nearest of the vessels
to the privateer, had her boats out at daybreak. All day long they
kept carrying their dead on shore. From the Rota there were seventy
funerals! But the Armstrong was not left unmolested. At eight
o'clock the Carnation began firing at close range. For a few
minutes, Captain Reid replied with some effect. But resistance was
useless, and at nine he ordered all hands into the boats, and made for
the shore, every one arriving there in safety. He had bored a large
hole in the Armstrong's bottom, but before she sank, two boats from
the Carnation rowed out to her, and the English set her on fire....
The inhabitants of the town, all of whose sympathies were with the
Americans, did everything in their power to assist the wounded, and
many were the indignant protests against the action of Captain Lloyd,
the English senior officer.
It now came to light that Mr. Dabney had complained to the commander of
the Castle as soon as the firing had begun the previous night, and that
the Portuguese commander had written a letter to Lloyd, but the
latter's reply had been only a menacing insult. So angry were the
English at the fearful drubbing they had received, that they insisted
upon the government officials delivering the crew of the Armstrong up
to them, upon the ground that there were deserters among them. There
existed, between Portugal and England, a treaty that demanded the
return of prisoners accused of high treason, and Captain Lloyd, by
claiming that deserters were guilty of this crime, had a technical
right for examination of the American refugees.... But hearing the
danger they were in, Captain Reid and his men, after securing some
arms, barricaded themselves in a small stone church, back in the
country, where they dared the Englishmen to come and take them. It was
a difficult position for them to maintain. If Captain Lloyd's statement
was correct, then the Portuguese government was bound to hand them over
as deserters, or place themselves in a bad position with England. After
a long deliberation, Reid consented to have his men submit to an
examination. They were all arrested, and brought to town, and not a
single deserter was found among them!
But what of Copeland, the wounded prisoner? He lay hidden in one of the
houses of a friendly Portuguese, and his name was probably reported on
the Plantagenet's books as "missing." On the 28th of the month, two
British sloops of war, the Thais and Clypso, came into port, and
were immediately sent back to England with the British wounded. The two
Copeland brothers returned to the United States, with the rest of the
Armstrong's crew, and both served in the navy for the rest of the
The owners of the Armstrong attempted for many years to obtain
redress for the loss of their ship. Again and again were they put off
and denied. But in this year, 1897, some money was received, and
strange to say, was paid to the widow of the owner, Mr. Havens. She
died but a short time ago, at the age of ninety-eight, at Stamford,