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Copy of a Letter from Captain Hull to the Secretary of
the Navy. Sir, United States' Frigate Constitution, August 28, 1812.
The enclosed account of the affair between the President, commodore Rodgers, and the British frigate Belvidera, fell into my hands by accident. It clearly proves that she only escaped the commodore by superior sailing, after having lightened her, and the President being very deep.
As much has been said on this subject; and commodore Rodgers has not arrived to give you his statement of the affair, if it meet your approbation I should be pleased to have this account published, to prevent people from making up their minds hastily, as I find them willing to do.
I am confident could the commodore have got alongside the Belvidera, she would have been his, in less than one hour. I have the honour to be, with great respect, sir, your obedient servant,
ISAAC HULL. The Honourable Paul Hamilton, &c.
An Account of the Proceedings of his Majesty's ship Belvidera,
Richard Byron, Esq. Captain, 23d day of fune, 1812. A. M., 4, 40, Nantucket Shoal bearing S. W. saw several sail, made sail towards them ; at 6, 30, they bore S. W. S. made them out to be three frigates, one sloop, and one brig of war, standing to the S. E. under a press of sail. Observa ed them to make signals, and haul up in chase of us, hauling down their steering sails, in a confused and irregular manner. Tacked ship, and made the private signal, which was not answered; made all sail possible. N. E. by E. at eight, moderate and fine weather, the headmost ship of the chase S. S. W. W. apparently gaining ground on us at times, and leaving her consorts. At i1, 30, hoisted our colours apd pendant, the chase hoisted American colours, two of them hoisted commodores' broad pendants, at noon the commodore and the second headmost ship of the chase S. W. * W. about 2t of a mile, Nantucket Shoal N. 4 00 E. 48 miles, moderate and fine weather, cleared ship for action, commodore of chase gaining, the other ships dropping, observed the chase pointing her guns at us; at 3, 30, the commodore fired three shots, one of which struck the rudder coat, and came into the after gun-room, the other two came into the upper, or captain's cabin, one of which struck the muzzle of the larboard chase gun, the other went through the beam under the skylight, killed William Gould, scaman; VOL. II.
wounded John Hill, armourer, mortally; Joseph Lee, seaman, severely ; George Marlon, ship's corporal, badly; Lieutenant Bruce, James Kelly, and James Larmont, seamen, slightly. At 3, 45, commenced firing with our stern guns, shot away her larboard lower steering-sail, keeping our ship a steady course N. E. by E. At four the chase bore up and fired her larboard broadside, which cut our rigging and sails much, the long bolts, breeching hooks, and breechings of the guns and carronades frequently breaking (by one of which captain Byron was severely wounded in the left thigh), all of which was instantly replaced. Kept up a constant fire, which was returned by our opponent with bow chase guns, and at times by broadsides, which, by her superiority of sailing, she was enabled to do till 6, 45, when we cut away our spare sheet, and small bower anchors, barge, yawl, and jolly-boats, and started fourteen tons of water; we then gained on him, when he bore up and fired three broadsides, part of which fell short of us; at seven our opponent ceased firing, and the second frigate commenced, but finding her shot fall short, ceased again. Employed fishing our cross-jack yard, and main top-mast (both badly wounded), knotting and splicing our rigging, which was much cut and damaged. At eleven altered our course to E. by S. 1S. and lost sight of our opponents.
ESCAPE OF THE CONSTITUTION.
United States' Frigate Constitution, at Sea, Sir,
July, 21, 1812. In pursuance of your orders of the 3d instant, I left Annapolis on the 5th instant, and the capes on the 12th, of which I advised you by the pilot who brought the ship to sea.
For several days after we got out, the wind was light and a-head, which with a strong southerly current prevented our making much way to the northward. On the 17th, at two, P. M., being in 22 fathoms water off Egg Harbour, four sail of ships were discovered from the mast head, to the northward and in shore of us, apparently ships of war. The wind being very light all sail was made in chase of them, to ascertain whether they were the enemy's ships or our squadron having got out of New York, waiting the arrival of the Constitution, the latter of which I had reason to believe was the
At four in the afternoon, a ship was seen from the mast head, bearing about N. E., standing for us under all sail, which she continued to do until sun-down, at which time she was too far off to distinguish signals, and the ships in shore only to be seen from the tops ; they were standing off to the southward and eastward. As we could not ascertain before dark what the ship in the offing was, I determined to stand for her, and get near enough to make the night signal.
At ten in the evening, being within six or eight miles of the strange sail, the private signal was made, and kept up nearly one hour, but finding she could not answer it I concluded she and the ships in shore were enemy.
I immediately hauled off to the southward and eastward, and made all sail, having determined to lie off till day-light to see what they were. The ship that we had been chasing hauled off after us, showing a light and occasionally making signals, supposed to be for the ships in shore.
18th, at day-light, or a little before it was quite light, saw two sail under our lee, which proved to be frigates of the enemy's. One frigate astern within about five or six miles, and a line of battle ship, a frigate, a brig, and schooner, about ten or twelve miles directly astern, all in chase of us, with a fine breeze, and coming up fast, it being nearly calm where we were. Soon after sun-rise the wind entirely left us and the ship would not steer, but fell round off with her head towards the two ships under our lee. The boats were instantly hoisted out and sent ahead to tow the ship’s head round, and to endeavour to get her farther from the enemy, being then within five miles of three heavy frigates. The boats of the enemy were got out and sent ahead to tow, by which, with the light air that remained with them, they came up very fast. Finding the enemy gaining on us, and but little chance of escaping from them, I ordered two of the guns on the gundeck to be run out at the cabin windows for stern guns on the gun-deck, and hoisted one of the 24 pounders off the gundeck, and run that, with the forecastle gun, an 18 pounder, out at the ports on the quarter-deck, and cleared the ship for action, being determined they should not get her without resistance on our part, notwithstanding their force and the situation we were placed in.
At about seven in the morning, the ship nearest us approaching within gun shot, and directly astern, I ordered one of the stern guns fired to see if we could reach her to endeavour to disable her masts; found the shot fell a little short, would not fire any more.
At eight, four of the enemy's ships nearly within gun-shot, some of them having six or eight boats ahead towing, with all their oars and sweeps out to row them up with us, which they were fast doing. It now appeared that we must be taken, and that our escape was impossible--four heavy ships nearly within gun-shot, and coming up fast, and not the least hope of a breeze to give us a chance of getting off by outsailing them.
In this situation, finding ourselves in only twenty-four fathoms water,' by the suggestion of that valuable officer lieutenant Morris, I determined to try and warp the ship ahead, by carrying out anchors and warping her up to them; three or four hundred fathoms of rope was instantly got up, and two anchors got ready and sent ahead, by which means we began to gain ahead of the enemy: they however soon saw our boats carrying out the anchors, and adopted the same plan, under very advantageous circumstances, as all the boats from the ships furthermost off were sent to tow and warp up those nearest to us, by which means they again came up, so that at nine the ship nearest us began to fire her bow guns, which we instantly returned by our stern guns in the cabin and on the quarter-deck. All the shot from the enemy fell short; but we have reason to believe that some of ours went on board her, as we could not see them strike the water. Soon after nine a second frigate passed under our lee and opened her broadside, but finding her shot fall short, discontinued her fire ; but continued, as did all the rest of them, to make every possible exertion to get up with us. From nine to twelve all hands were employed in warping the ship ahead, and in starting some of the water in the main hold to lighten her, which with the help of a light air we rather gained of the enemy, or at least held our own. About two in the afternoon, all the boats from the line of battle-ship and some of the frigates were sent to the frigate nearest to us, to endeavour to tow her up, but a light breeze sprung up, which enabled us to hold way with her, notwithstanding they had eight or ten boats ahead, and all her sails furled to tow her to windward. The wind continued light until eleven at night, and the boats were kept ahead towing and warping to keep out of the reach of the enemy, three of the frigates being very near us; at eleven we got a light breeze from the southward, the boats came alongside and were hoisted up, the ship having too much way to keep them ahead, the enemy still in chase, and very near.
before the wind to separate them. The ship of war making sail to windward, I gave chase to a ship which appeared to be under her convoy ; but when we came up with her, she proved to be a British ship, prize to the Dolphin privateer, of Salem. She had been spoken by the ship of war, but we came up with them before they had time to put men on board and take charge of her. Whilst our boats were boarding this vessel, the ship of war had got nearly hull down from us; and understanding from one of the prisoners that she was a very fast sailer, I found it would not be possible to come up with her before night, or perhaps not then; I therefore gave chase to the brig that run before the wind, determined to destroy all his convoy; we soon found we came fast up with the brig, and that they were making every exertion to get off by throwing overboard all the lumber, water casks, &c.
At 2, P. M., we brought to the chase, and found her to be the American brig Adeline, from Liverpool, loaded with dry goods, &c. took the prize-master and crew out, and put midshipman Madison and crew on board, with orders to get in the nearest port she could make. From the prize-master of this vessel I learnt that the brig burnt by the sloop of war belonged to New-York, and was loaded with hemp, duck, &c. last from Jutland, having gone in there in distress.
Having chased so far to the eastward as to make it impossible to come up with the sloop of war, I determined to change my cruising ground, as I found by some of the prisoners that came from this vessel, that the squadron that chased us off New-York were on the western end of the Grand Bank, not far distant from me. I accordingly stood to the southward, intending to pass near Bermuda, and cruise off our southern coast. Saw nothing till the night of the 18th; at half past 9, P. M., discovered a sail
very near us,
it being dark; made sail and gave chase, and could see that she was a brig. At 11 brought her to, and sent a boat on board, found her to be the American privateer Decatur, belonging to Salem, with a crew of 108 men, and 14 guns, 12 of which she had thrown overboard whilst we were in chase of her. The captain came on board, and informed me that he saw the day before a ship of war standing to the southward, and that she could not be far from us; at 12, P. M., made sail to the southward, intending, if possible, to fall in with her. The privateer stood in for Cape Race, intending to cruise there, and take ships by boarding, as he had lost all his guns but two. The above is a memorandum of what took place