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93. Next morning, however, their course was altered by the appearance of the British frigate Belvidera, to which they immediately gave chase. The pursuit continued from six in the morning until past four in the afternoon, when the commodore's ship, the President, having got within gun-shot, commenced a fire with the bow chase guns, at the spars and rigging of the Belvidera, in hopes of crippling the one or the other so far as to enable them to get along side. The Belvidera returned the fire of the President with her stern guns, and the firing was kept up without intermission for about ten minutes, when one of the President's chase guns burst, by which unfortunate accident sixteen men were killed and wounded ; among the wounded was commodore Rodgers, who had his leg fractured. By the bursting of the gun, and the explosion of the passing box, from which it was served with powder, both the main and forecastle decks were so much shattered as to prevent the use of a chase gun on that side for some time. Orders were therefore given to veer the ship, and a broadside was fired, in the hope of disabling the spars of the enemy. This, however, did not succeed; but considerable damage was done to the rigging and the stern. The utmost exertion was now used on board the President, by wetting the sails, &c. to gain ground of her opponent, but without success. A constant firing was kept up on both sides, the President at times giving broadsides, until about seven o'clock, when the Belvidera, having cut away her anchors, started a number of water casks, and thrown overboard her boats and every thing that could be spared, began to gain ground, and to get out of the reach of the President's shot. The chase, however, was continued with all the sail our squadron could set, until about half past eleven, when it was given up as hopeless. Considerable injury was done to both vessels in this action. One of the first shots fired by the President killed one man and wounded six; the captain was severely wounded in the thigh by the breaking of the breeching of a carronade. On board the President there were three killed and nineteen wounded, the greater part by the bursting of the gun.
The squadron now resumed their course in pursuit of the convoy from Jamaica, but did not receive further intelligence of it until the 29th of June, when an American schooner was spoken on the western edge of the banks of Newfoundland, that had passed them two days before. On the 1st of July they fell in with quantities of cocoa-nut shells, orange peels, &c. which indicated that the convoy were not far distant. On the 9th they captured the British privateer Dolphin, which had passed the convoy the preceding evening. The pursuit was continued, but without success, until the 13th, the squadron being then within eighteen or twenty hours sail of the British channel.
From this they steered for the island of Madeira, and thence passing the Azores stood for Newfoundland, and from the latter place by the way of Cape Sable to Boston, where they arrived' on the 31st of August.
During a great part of this cruize the weather was such as to obscure every distant object: for several days the fog was so thick as to prevent the vessels of the squadron from seeing each other, even at cable's length asunder; in consequence of which, although they chased every vessel they saw, and brought to every thing they chased, with the exception of four vessels, they made only seven captures and one recapture.
The cruize, however, was not barren of benefit to the country, as the knowledge of the squadron's being at sea obliged the enemy to concentrate a considerable portion of his most active force, and thereby prevented his capturing a large amount of American property that would otherwise have fallen a sacrifice. The vessels that escaped were, the Belvidera, another British frigate, by night, and two American privateers.
§ 4. The Constitution frigate, under the command of captain Hull, had received orders to join the squadron, and for that purpose sailed from Annapolis on the 5th of July. On the 17th, off Egg Harbour, four ships, apparently of war, were discovered from the mast-head to the northward, and in shore of the Constitution, and, in the belief that it was the American squadron waiting her arrival, all sail was made in chase of them. At four in the afternoon another ship was seen from the mast-head, to the north-east, standing for the Constitution with all sail set, the wind at this time being very light, which course she continued till sun-set, but was still too far off to distinguish signaps. At ten in the evening, being then within six or eight miles of the strange sail, the private signal was made by the Constitution, and kept up nearly an hour; it not being answered, it was concluded that she and the ships in shore were enemy's vessels. Captain Hull immediately laid his vessel in the same course with the others, having determined to lie off till day-light to see what they were.
Next morning, about day-light, two frigates were seen from the Constitution, under her lee, one frigate four or five miles, and a line of battle ship, a frigate, a brig, and a schooner ten or twelve miles directly astern, all in chase, and coming up fast, they having a fine breeze, and it being nearly calm where the Constitution was. After sunrise, finding there was but little chance for escape, being then within five miles of three heavy
frigates, the Constitution was cleared for action, and two guns were run out at the cabin windows, and two at the ports on the quarter deck. At eight, four of the ships were nearly within gun-shot, some of them having six or eight boats ahead towing, with all their oars and sweeps out.
In this perilous situation, a new expedient was determined on, which was the happy means of saving the vessel. Being in only twenty-four fathoms water, boats were sent out ahead with anchors, and the ship warped up to them, by which they soon began to get ahead of the enemy. They, however, adopted the same plan, and all the boats from the furthermost ships were sent to assist those nearest. For two days and nights were they chased by the squadron, sometimes with light winds, at others warping and towing in a calm, seldom much beyond gun-shot distance. On the morning of the 20th only three of the squadron could be seen from the mast-head, the nearest about 12 miles distant, directly astern. Having now a light breeze, all hands were employed in wetting the sails from the royals down, and the enemy was soon left far behind.
The Constitution, not being able to find the United States squadron, now bore away for Boston, where she shortly after arrived.
05. On the 2d of September the Constitution again put to sea, and on the 19th a vessel was discovered and chased, which at half-pást 3, P. M. was made out to be a frigate. The ship was immediately cleared for action, and the chase, which proved to be the Guerriere, backed her main top-sail, waiting for her to come down. As soon as the Constitution was ready she bore down, with the intention of immediately coming to close action; but, on approaching within gun-shot, the Guerriere gave a broadside, and filled away and wore, giving a broadside on the other tack, but without effect, her shot falling short. Both vessels continued to maneuvre for three quarters of an hour, the Guerriere for the purpose of gaining a raking position, the Constitution for the purpose of closing and avoiding being raked. At last they closed and kept up a heavy fire for sixteen minutes, when the mizen-mast of the Guerriere fell overboard, and brought the ship up in the wind, which enabled the Constitution to take a raking position, and to sweep her enemy's deck by her grape-shot and musquetry. The fire was kept up with equal warmth for fifteen minutes longer, when, by the falling of the Guerriere's main and fore-mast, she became an unmanageable wreck. On seeing this the Constitution ceased firing, but shortly after, perceiving the colours still flying, she took a raking position within pistol shot, when they were immediately hauled down. VOL. II.
Early next morning a sail was discovered, and all was got ready for action, but she shortly after stood off again. At daylight the lieutenant on board the prize hailed the Constitution, and informed that she was in a sinking condition, and had four feet water in her hold. Accordingly the prisoners were removed, and at 3 P. M. she was set on fire, and shortly after blew up.
Captain Hull in his official letter states, that all his crew fought with the utmost bravery; from the smallest boy in the ship to the oldest seaman, not a look of fear was seen. They all went into action giving three cheers, and requesting to be laid close along-side of the enemy. Their humanity was equal to their bravery. Captain Dacres, in his official letter, confesses their conduct to have been “ that of a brave enemy; the greatest care being taken to prevent the men losing the slightest article, and the greatest attention being paid to the wounded.”
On board the Constitution there were seven killed and seven wounded ; on board the Guerriere, fifteen were killed, and sixty-three wounded, and twenty-four missing; the latter were stated by one of the officers to be away in prizes.
The Constitution rated 44 guns and carried 56 ; her complement of men is 450. The Guerriere rated 38 guns and carried 49, the odd gun shifting, which makes it equal to two; she had on board about 300 men.
06. Meantime the other vessels of our little navy were not idle. The Essex sailed from New York on the 3d of July, and shortly after fell in with a fleet of transports, under convoy of a frigate and two bomb ketches, from Jamaica for Halifax, with troops. The Essex kept at a distance until night, when she cut off a brig with 150 soldiers on board, which was ransomed for a bill of exchange on London for 14,000 dollars. The men were disarmed, an exchange receipt taken for them, and they severally took an oath not to serve till exchanged. Captain Porter, in his letter to the secretary of the navy, lamented that he had not with him a sloop of war, that the ships of the convoy might have been kept in play while he engaged the frigate. " Had this been the case," says he, " instead of taking only 200 prisoners, I have not a doubt that we should have made prisoners of the whole of the troops, as well as the frigate's and transports' crews, which would have exceeded 2000 men.”
The following day the Essex captured the brig Lamprey from Jamaica. Intelligence was received from her that the Thetis frigate, with specie and a large convoy for England, was to have sailed about the 26th of June, and that several running
ships were on the departure. Every exertion was therefore made to get off St. Augustine in time to fall in with them, but without effect, as fresh gales prevailed from the south-west, which increased until the 19th of July, when, by the violence of the tempest, they were compelled to run before the wind.
On the 13th of August, the Essex captured the Alert sloop of war, after an action of eight minutes. The Alert, which was said to have been sent out for the purpose of taking the Hornet, ran down on the weather quarter of the Essex, and gave three cheers, at the commencement of the action. When she struck her colours she had only three men wounded, but she had seven feet water in her hold, and was much cut to pieces. The Essex received not the slightest injury.
Being much embarrassed with his prisoners, who amounted, including those of the Alert, to 500, captain Porter concluded an arrangement with the captain of the Alert, for despatching that vessel as a cartel to carry the prisoners to a British port. Her guns were accordingly thrown overboard, and she was entrusted to the command of a lieutenant of the Essex, with orders to proceed to St. John's, Newfoundland. The commander of the British naval forces at that place, in a letter to the American secretary of the navy, strongly protests against this practice of immediately despatching captured vessels as cartels ; “nevertheless, as a proof of respect for the liberality with which the captain of the Essex has acted, in more than one instance, towards the British subjects who have fallen into his hands," and through a desire to fulfil the engagements entered into by a British officer, he consented to the proposed exchange. The Alert is now in the American service.
On the afternoon of the 30th of August, a British frigate was perceived standing for the Essex under a press of sail. Porter was instantly prepared for action, and stood towards the frigate, and at the approach of night a light was hoisted for the purpose of preventing a separation. At nine a signal was made by the enemy, consisting of two flashes and one blue light, apparently about four miles distant. The Essex continued to stand for the point where the signal was seen until midnight, when, not getting sight of the enemy, she was hove to until daylight, on the presumption that the other had done the same, or at least would keep in the neighbourhood; but to the surprise and mortification of all on board, in the morning the coast was clear.
On the 4th of September, off the tail of St. George's bank, two ships of war were discovered to the southward, and a brig to the northward, the latter in chase of an American merchant