Saturday, August 18, 2018

"She Means to Fight Us" - The Newburyport Privateer "Thorn"

The HMS Thorn was built in Mistley, England and launched on February 17, 1779. She weighed over 305 tons, had eighteen guns, was coppered under the waterline and pierced for eighteen guns. Unfortunately, service in the Royal Navy was short lived as the ship and crew were captured by two American naval frigates on August 25, 1779. She was towed back to Boston and sold as a prize to local merchant Isiah Doane.

The vessel was quickly outfitted and re-launched as the Privateer Thorn on November 11, 1779.

On Christmas Eve, 1779, the Thorn spotted two British privateers off the Massachusetts coast, the Sir William Erksine and Governor Tryon. The Thorn’s captain, Daniel Waters, ordered his crew to turn away from the two vessels to lure them into a pursuit. According to Waters, “the men [were] at their quarters, and in high spirits for engaging.”

By Christmas morning, the British vessels were still in pursuit and closing fast. However, when a wind came up from the southwest, the Thorn reversed course and steered down on its pursuers. An hour later, the American privateer pulled up alongside the Governor Tryon, “as she was the heaviest.”

The British officers on board the Governor Tryon were understandably confused. From their point of view, a Royal Navy warship that was flying an American flag was bearing down on them. As a result, when the American privateer pulled alongside the Governor Tryon, its captain hailed the Thorn and demanded to know “what right he had to wear the 13 stars in his pendant.” Captain Waters quickly answered “I’ll let you know presently” and fired a full broadside “within pistol shot range”.

The Governor Tryon returned fire as the Sir William Erskine pulled up to join the fight. A heated exchange between the three ships continued for about an hour. During the engagement Captain Waters was wounded in the knee.

At the height of the battle, the Governor Tryon’s crew attempted but failed to board the Thorn. According to one account, the boarders received “such a warm and well directed fire from our marines” that they could not cross over to the enemy ship.  After the failed attempt, the three vessels renewed the action “with surprising spirit.” Following a series of broadsides from the Thorn, the Governor Tryon struck her colors. According to the February 24, 1780 edition of The Continental Journal “blood [was] running out the [Governor Tryon’s] scuppers.” 

Following the Governor Tryon’s surrender, the Sir William Erskine attempted to flee. Rather than remain with his prize, Captain Waters ordered his crew to pursue. After the Sir William Erskine was struck several times with bow chasers from the Thorn, she also struck her colors and surrendered.

Unfortunately for the Thorn, in the confusion of the pursuit of the Sir William Erskine, the Governor Tryon escaped. The next day, as the Thorn escorted its prize into port, it came across a debris field of oars, masts, spars and sails. It was presumed by Waters that the Governor Tryon sank and its crew was lost at sea.

On January 13, 1780, the Thorn encountered the 250-ton British privateer ship Sparling, which was en route from Liverpool, England to New York City to deliver coal and military provisions. Following a short engagement, the Sparling surrendered.

On April 5, 1780, Newburyport’s Nathaniel Tracey purchased the Thorn and appointed Richard Cowell as its captain. Over the next several months Cowell only captured two British supply vessels, the Dragon and the Aurora. The following year Tracey replaced Cowell with Captain Samuel Tucker of Marblehead. Under Tucker’s command the Thorn successfully captured no less than six British vessels over a nine month period.

One such vessel was the Lord Hyde. In early March, 1781 the Thorn sighted the ship which was en route to London from Jamaica. The Lord Hyde was clearly armed and not running away from the American privateer. Tucker called his men on deck and declared “She means to fight us and if we go alongside like men she is ours in thirty minutes; but if we can’t go as men, we have no business here!” The crew immediately rushed to battle stations.

The ships circled each other as both captains demanded surrender. When the Thorn finally swung towards the Lord Hyde, the British fired off a harmless broadside. In response, the American privateer opened fire with both cannon and muskets, sweeping the enemy deck. After pounding each other for over an hour, the British captain finally called for “Quarter. For God’s sake! Our ship is sinking! Our men are dying of their wounds!” Captain Tucker refused because the British ensign was still flying. One period account suggests Tucker shouted “How can you expect quarter while that flag is flying . . . cut away your ensign staff or ye’ll all be dead men!” The flag quickly came down.

On May 27, 1781, Tucker received word of a large British supply convoy carrying sugar, coffee, rum and cotton from the West Indies to Halifax. According to intelligence reports, the supply group was being escorted by three small warships, the largest being the HMS Elizabeth.

Days later, the Thorn found the convoy. The crew hoisted up an English ensign and quickly sailed up alongside the Elizabeth. Captain Tucker hailed the vessel and asked if she was the same Elizabeth bound for Halifax. When he received an affirmative answer from a Captain Pine, Tucker announced he was the commander of the “sloop-of-war Thorn, recently taken back from the Americans”.

As the conversation progressed, the Thorn, edged closer to the Elizabeth. Captain Pine protested “You keep too close to me!” Tucker turned and ordered his men to raise the American colors. With Captain Tucker in the lead, boarders quickly crossed over onto the Elizabeth and drove its crew below deck. (To add to the humiliation, Tucker broke his sword over Pine’s head.) During the action the Thorn’s first lieutenant and five sailors were killed.

The other ships saw what had happened and quickly tried to scramble and flee. However, Tucker and his privateers managed to capture two more vessels before the remainder of the convoy escaped.

In June 1781, the Thorn was unexpectedly captured near the mouth of the Saint Lawrence River. The officers and crew were taken ashore and imprisoned in Nova Scotia. Days later, as the vessel was being brought into Halifax, it was recaptured by the French warships L’Hermione and L’Astre√®. The French then towed the vessel to Boston and sold it back to Nathaniel Tracey.

Because Captain Tucker was a prisoner, Tracey rehired Captain Cowell to command the vessel. Over the next three months Cowell successfully captured three additional British ships, bringing the total number of prizes captured in 1781 by the Thorn to nine.

In August of 1782, the Thorn encountered a small British troop convoy escorted by HMS Renown and HM Frigate Arethusa. The Arethusa, under the command of Captain Richard Pearson, quickly gave chase and captured the Thorn. The officers and crew were removed to the Arethusa, where they were well-treated by Pearson. Captain Cowell later testified that “The commander, with the officers, look upon themselves under the greatest obligation to Sir Richard Pearson and his officers for the kind, humane, and public treatment received from them during their stay on board the frigate and for Sir Richard’s particular attention in effecting their paroles.”

The Thorn was taken into Halifax where the officers were quickly paroled.

After its capture, the Thorn remained in the service of the Royal Navy until 1816. Afterwards, the ship was sold to the Marine Society of London to serve as a training vessel.

In 1797, British artist George Owen created a series of watercolors of warships engaged in combat, including one of the Thorn, for a naval publication. Unfortunately, the images were rejected and never used. Although this watercolor was created a decade after the American Revolution, it is the only known drawing of a Newburyport privateer from the American Revolution.

This image (above), as well as three companion drawings, were sold at auction to a private collector on January 26, 2017.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

"Threatened to Destroy the Carriadge" - When Loyalists Arrived in Newburyport

William Jackson was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1731. By 1758, he partnered with his widowed mother, Mary Jackson, and opened a shop that sold groceries and general merchandise to the general public.

In 1763 Jackson broke out on his own and started to sell a wide range of fine goods imported from England. According to one period advertisement, he offered such goods as "buff, blue, and scarlet Broadcloth … German serges, stuffs for gowns, Linnen, Cambricks, and Lawns of all Prices, neat silk and black Russel Shoes, brass Kettles, London Pewter, frying and warming pans, Buckles, Buttons, Knives, Rasors, with a full Assortment of all kinds [of] London, Birmingham, and Sheffield Hard Wares, too many to enumerate . . . blue & white Tea-Cups, Saucers, Milk Jugs, English Loaf Sugars . . . Fresh Hyson, Souchong, Singlo, and Bohea Teas . . . Lisbon lemmons . . . Glocester cheese."

During the Stamp Act Crisis, one of the most effective methods to pressure the government into repealing the unpopular law was the boycott of imported British goods. Unfortunately for Jackson, he consistently defied the American non-importation efforts. 

When the English government passed the Townshend Acts in 1767, Jackson once again ignored the non importation agreements his fellow merchants were actively promoting.

His actions quickly drew the the attention of the Sons of Liberty, who urged Bostonians to boycott his shop. 

In 1770, anonymous broadsides declared “WILLIAM JACKSON, an IMPORTER; at the BRAZEN HEAD,North Side of the TOWN-HOUSE,and Opposite the Town-Pump, [in] Corn-hill, BOSTON It is desired that the SONS and DAUGHTERS of LIBERTY, would not buy any one thing of him, for in so doing they will bring disgrace upon themselves, and their Posterity, for ever and ever, AMEN.” 

The same year, a newspaper advertisement listed Jackson as among “the Names of those who audaciously continue to counteract the united Sentiments of the Body of Merchants throughout NORTH AMERICA, by importing British goods contrary to the agreement.”

At the outbreak of the American Revolution, William Jackson professed his loyalty to the British crown and remained inside Boston during the siege. When the British evacuated Boston in March, 1776, he escaped on board the brig Elizabeth. While off the coast of New Hampshire, three Continental Navy vessels, including the Newburyport built USS Hancock, captured the vessel. The Elizabeth was escorted into Portsmouth, New Hampshire and sold as a prize.

Jackson recounts the events following his capture on board the Elizabeth in a July 6, 1776 letter. According to the loyalist, “Upon my landing . . . [a] Mr Wentworth Inform'd me he must Examine my Baggage as also what Money and Paper's I had, from the former he has detain'd about £35 . . . and from the latter five setts of Bills of Exchange amounting to £100-stirlg payeable to myself. Only, after he Examined my Baggage [I] had his leave to carry it with me but haveing no Acquaintance in the Town accepted his Offer of his store.”

The next day, Jackson and other Loyalists secured passes from New Hampshire authorities to travel to Boston to petition for protection and the return of their confiscated property.

After travelling twenty miles south by carriage, the party arrived in Newburyport. Upon entering the Wolfe Tavern, word quickly spread about the presence of a Loyalist party in town. An angry mob quickly gathered and descended upon the tavern. According to Jackson, “We set of for head Quarter's, but upon our reaching Newbury Port about 20 miles whare we stopt to refresh ourselves the popular Assembled and swore we should not ride and threatened to destroy the Carriadge.”

Horrified, Jackson and the other Loyalists quickly sought the protection of Newburyport’s Committee of Safety. “We sent for the Committe of safety to Appease them, but all to no purpose, finding ourselves in such a situation we comply'd, the Committe not thinking it safe they Appointed a Guard of five Men and Obliged us to pay the Expence the rest of the Journey.”

Unfortunately, the bodyguards did little to protect them. As Jackson recalled “as soon as we came out of the Inn we received Blow's, mud, stones, Eggs, and every other abuse.” The small band of refugees fled Newburyport and “proceeded to Boston being 40 miles on foot.”

Upon arrival in Boston, Jackson and the others were quickly arrested and imprisoned. The following year, jackson was tried for the crime of attempting to profit from the distress caused by the American Revolution. He was convicted and ceremonially banished from Boston. Shortly thereafter, Jackson fled to England. He was formally banished by the Massachusetts legislature in 1778.

He died in England in 1810.