Random Adventures

The newspapers published during the War of 1812, granted even that they

were vastly prejudiced of course, contained so much of thrilling

interest, and so much that is now forgotten, that a complete file, for

instance, of "Niles's Register" is a mine of wealth to a student of the

times. Every week a stirring chapter was added to the records of Yankee

ships and Yankee sailors. Fabulous sums were paid in prize money,

fortunes were made often in a single venture.

One of the luckiest cruises of the war, so far as rich returns are

concerned, was made by a little squadron of four vessels that sailed

from Boston on October 8th under the command of Commodore Rogers. It

consisted of the President, the United States, and the Congress

frigates, and the Argus sloop of war. Five days after sailing the

United States and the Argus became separated from the others in a

gale of wind, and afterwards cruised on their own account. On the 15th,

the President captured the British packet Swallow, having on board

two hundred thousand dollars in specie--a rich haul, indeed. On the

31st of the month, the Congress captured a South Sea ship loaded with

oil that was being convoyed by an English frigate, the Galatea; the

latter made off and left her consort to her fate. The President, on

the 25th of October, captured the fine English frigate Macedonian,

and sent her safely into New London harbor. After taking one or two

smaller prizes, the President and Congress sailed into Boston the

last of December, having covered over eight thousand miles. The landing

of the money taken from the Swallow and the other prizes was made

quite a function. It was loaded into several large drays, and escorted

from the Navy Yard to the bank by the crews of the frigates and a

detachment of marines, "drums beating and colors flying," as an

old-time account has it. The gold dust and specie amounted to the value

of three hundred thousand dollars, besides the value of the vessels


But the little Argus, under the command of Captain Sinclair, had

some adventures worth the telling, before she returned to port laden

with the fruits of war. After parting company with the squadron, she

laid her course for the coast of Brazil, then one of the most

profitable cruising grounds, although the waters swarmed with British

war vessels. From Cape St. Roque to Surinam she sailed and there made

two prizes; thence she cruised through the West Indies and hovered in

the vicinity of the Bermudas; afterwards she went as far north as

Halifax along the coast before she turned her head towards home.

The Argus must have been a nimble vessel, for, according to her

logbook, she had escaped imminent capture a score of times, owing to

her speed and capacity for sailing close on the wind. Once she had

fallen in with a British squadron of six sail, two of them being ships

of the line. For three days and nights they pursued her closely. One of

the big fellows, proving to be a very fast sailer, outstripped the

others, and twice was almost within gunshot. On the fourth day the

Argus came up with a large English merchant ship about sunset. The

wind had shifted so as to give her the windward gage of the pursuing

battle-ship. In full sight of her, and of the others that were distant

some ten or twelve miles, the Argus captured the merchantman; and,

under cover of the dark, stormy night that shut down, she made her

escape with her prize. After a cruise of ninety-six days, she put into

the harbor of New York. The actual value of the prizes she had captured

amounted to upwards of two hundred thousand dollars--more than enough

to pay for her original cost three times over.

But to leave the deeds of the regular navy and take up those of a few

of the private armed vessels: less is known of their doings, of course;

they should be given a separate volume to themselves in writing the

history of our wars with England--and the volume is yet unwritten, but

some day it may be. Bravely they fought, often against odds, and more

than once they contributed to the defence of our coast in cooperation

with the regular navy and the land forces. Take operations of the

English blockading squadron under Admiral Warren that was sent to

close up the waters of the Chesapeake. Many were the times that the

privateers eluded his watch-dogs and sailed in and out through his

fleet, and more than once did he have a chance to test their metal. The

schooner Lottery, of Baltimore, mounting six guns and having a crew

numbering but thirty-five, in February, 1813, was attacked by nine

large British boats containing over two hundred and forty armed men.

For an hour and a half the privateer stood them off, and before she was

finally captured, she had killed more of the enemy than her own crew

numbered! The privateer Dolphin, also hailing from Baltimore, was

taken after the same heroic defence, and Admiral Warren must have found

such work to be rather uncomfortable experience. The United States

schooner Asp, three guns and twenty-one men, was pursued up a shallow

creek by a detachment of boats from the English fleet; and, after

beating off her pursuers for some time, she was taken by superior

numbers and upon her capture was set on fire. But the Americans, who

had retreated to shore, returned and succeeded in extinguishing the

flames and saving their vessel. A remarkable thing in connection with

the presence of the English fleet in the Chesapeake was the attempt to

blow up the flagship Plantagenet with a torpedo. The news that

Americans were working upon such a line of invention had filled the

English with dread and horror, they declared that any one captured

while engaged in such a work would be hanged at once without a trial,

for they denounced such methods of warfare as "crimes against

humanity." But this did not deter an adventurous projector by the name

of Mix from trying to rid the bay of its unwelcome visitors. For a long

time he had been at work perfecting a "new explosive engine of great

destructive powers," and on the 18th of July, at midnight, he dropped

down with the tide alone in a small rowboat, and, when within forty

fathoms of the Plantagenet, he put his torpedo into the water with

the intention of having it drift with the tide athwart the flagship's

bows. But an alert sentry on one of the guard boats discovered him and

hailed; Mix drew his infernal machine into his boat and escaped. Every

night for a week the inventor tried his luck, but was spied before he

could complete his preparations, and was forced to draw off. But once

he so frightened the English officers that they made sail and shifted

their anchorage, and upon another occasion the flagship let go a

pell-mell broadside, and threw up rockets and blue lights to ascertain

the whereabouts of the lone adventurer.

On the night of the 24th Mix came very near to accomplishing his

purpose, and a contemporary printed account gives such a vivid

description of it that it is well worth quoting: "When within one

hundred yards the machine was dropped into the water, and at the same

moment the sentinel cried, 'All's well,' the tide swept it towards the

vessel, but it exploded a few seconds too soon. A column of water full

fifty feet in circumference was thrown up thirty or forty feet. Its

appearance was a vivid red tinged with purple at the sides. The summit

of the column burst with a tremendous explosion, and fell on the deck

of the Plantagenet in torrents, while she rolled into the yawning

chasm below and nearly upset." Then the account shortly remarks, "She,

however, received but little injury." But this early attempt at waging

submarine warfare made the British exceedingly weary of anchoring in

our ports, which was to our advantage.

But to leave this digression and return to the privateers again:

justice has not been done them, as we have said. But to take the names

of a few and tell of their experiences is perhaps a good idea. Well

known were they to the public eighty odd years ago. For instance, the

schooner Atlas, of nineteen guns, that sailed from Philadelphia soon

after war was declared with England--she was famous! Her captain's name

was David Moffat, and he was a fearless commander and a "right good

seaman." The Chronicle and the Naval Temple, published in 1816,

give each a short account of one of his encounters with the enemy; to

quote from the latter:--

"On the third of August at eight A.M., the Atlas discovered two sail,

for which she bore away. At eleven o'clock the action was commenced

with a broadside and musketry. She continued engaged with both ships

till noon, when the smaller one struck her colors. The Atlas then

directed the whole of her fire against the large ship, when the small

one, although her colors were down, renewed her fire on the Atlas,

which had to recommence firing on her; in a few minutes every man was

driven from her decks. Twenty minutes past twelve the large ship

struck. Possession was immediately taken of both of them. One proved to

be the ship Pursuit, Captain Chivers, of four hundred and fifty tons,

sixteen guns, and thirty-five men. The other was the ship Planter,

Captain Frith, of two hundred and eighty tons, twelve guns, and fifteen

men." They proved to be richly laden, and with both of them in her wake

the Atlas started for home; she had lost but two men killed and five

wounded. The Pursuit arrived safe in port on the same day as the

privateer, but the Planter was recaptured off the cape of the


The privateer Decatur under command of Captain Divon, after a long

and severe fight, captured a schooner of the English service that

mounted fifteen guns--over twice as many as the Decatur carried. The

Saratoga of New York, Captain Aderton, took the Morgania, a British

packet of eighteen guns, off Surinam, and in the action both vessels

were nearly dismantled. The Comet, of Baltimore, had a running fight

with three English merchant-men and a Portuguese sloop of war; she beat

off the latter, who officiously interfered, and compelled all three of

the Englishmen to strike their colors. The Young Eagle took two

British ships at once--one quite as large and as powerful as she was.

The Montgomery, Captain Upton of Boston, mounting twelve guns, fought

yard arm to yard arm with a fine sloop of war belonging to the English

navy, mounting twenty guns. The Surinam, for that was her name, gave

up the fight, and, much crippled, put in at Barbadoes. They were rare

good fighters--these privateers.

But perhaps one of the strangest adventures was that of the Young

Teazer--what a saucy, impudent name for a vessel; but, according to

account, it suited her to a nicety. Captain Dobson of New York was part

owner and commander, and while cruising off Halifax he was chased by a

large armed ship, the Sir John Sherbroke. As she kept gaining

steadily, Dobson headed his own vessel straight for Halifax harbor; he

passed the lighthouse, and as he did so hoisted up English colors over

the American in order to lead his pursuer to suppose he was an English

prize. As if in disgust at having wasted so much time, the Sir John

Sherbroke hove about and put to sea, and as soon as she was at a

safe distance, Dobson hauled down his misleading colors and did

likewise, successfully escaping.

The journals of the time are crowded with adventures such as these, and

the few here referred to have been selected merely at random. But they

give an idea of the adventurous spirit and daring enterprise of the

Yankee tars and captains.

Preservation Of Nine Men In A Small Boat Surrounded By Islands Of Ice Reuben James Able Seaman facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail