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W. H. Macy

Inquirer and Mirror (Nantucket)
Vol. 53, No. 27 (Jan 4, 1873)
p. 1

Miscellaneous Reading.

Historico-Genealogical Society.


      There are many men and women still living, who remember the desperate battle, fought off the South Side of our Island, in 1814, between the privateer brig "Prince of Neufchatel" and a boat expedition from the British frigate "Endymion." I would suggest that there is no circumstantial account of that affair, yet written, and that any information bearing upon the subject would find an appropriate place in your columns, where it would be eagerly road by the younger portion of our population, to whom the facts would be entirely new and novel.

      From some memoranda in manuscript which were made at the time, we learn that the American privateer Prince of Neufchatel of New York, accompanied by a ship, her prize, was at anchor off the South Side, on the 10th of October, 1814. She had taken several prizes during her cruise, and having manned them, she was at this time, very short-handed. Several men from here went on board to assist in getting her into port. She had on board much valuable property, which she had taken out of her various prizes.

      A large ship (supposed at first to be a seventy-four, but proved to be the Endymion frigate,) was in sight off at the South-West, hull down; but the wind was very light at Northward. Towards evening, several boats were seen coming from the ship in the offing. They did not commence the attack upon the Neufchatel until about nine o'clock in the evening; and, having been either seen or suspected before dark, preparations had been made to give them a hot reception. About two hundred muskets had been brought on deck and loaded, and with these, the action was principally fought. It appears to have been a very desperate and bloody one while it lasted, the time being stated at 35 minutes.

      The boats left the Endymion at about 2 P. M., five in number, containing 146 men, commanded by the first lieutenant of the frigate. They attacked the privateer off abreast of Maddequecham Pond, at no great distance from the land, the noise of the firing being plainly audible to our people in town. The result was, that two of the boats were captured; one, the largest, containing the main body of the attacking force, was sunk with all on board; and this account says only 16 men out of 146 escaped to return to the Endymion. 27 prisoners were taken, of whom 17 were wounded. The first-lieutenant of the Endymion, who commanded the expedition, was among the slain, with several subordinate officers. The frigate having lost fully one-third of her fighting force in this disastrous affair, stood westward, and went out of sight.

      On board the Neufchatel, several men were killed, one of whom was Charles J. Hilburn, of this town, who had gone on board as pilot; and many others of her small crew were wounded. She sent the wounded prisoners ashore here, with five men who were not wounded, under parole, to attend upon them. Two of the Englishmen died of their injuries while being brought in the boat, and were interred at South Shore. This seems to have occured on the 11th of October.

      Meanwhile, the prize, which proved to be the British merchant ship "Douglass" from Demarara with sugar, rum and cotton, got aground upon Miacomet Shoal, where she lay until night; she then floated and was seen headed eastward. But she was afterwards run ashore abreast of Squam, and became a wreck. The cargo was mostly landed from her, and many got the benefit of it. There were no wreck-agents in those days; or rather, every one appears to have been a self-constituted agent. It is even said that the "Douglass" was decoyed on shore by false information that another boat expedition was coming to attack her. This induced the prize master to run her ashore, as a choice of evils.

      On the 14th of October, the Neufchatel was still in sight, with light winds; but she afterwards arrived safely at Boston. On the 15th, the mail packet arrived with an officer to superintend the removal of the prisoners, wounded and all. The packet, it seems, had been temporarily impressed for that service. It does not appear that any measures were taken about the prize property of the Douglass, which had been made common plunder.

      An old ship-master, who is still hale and vigorous, with his recollection clear, tells us that he, with other young men, went on board the Neufchatel to carry a pilot, but found she already had one on board (Mr. Hilburn, as before mentioned, whom she had taken out of some vessel.) He says that he and others tried to make a bargain to go to Boston in the privateer, but asked twenty-five dollars for their services, while the captain offered only fifteen. He was informed that the Neufchatel had then only 42 men belonging to her, on board, while there were 40 prisoners to be taken care of. These prisoners were at large, but when the British boats were discovered coming to attack, they were all confined. At the request of the Captain, the boat in which our informant left the privateer, hooked on ahead of the Douglass, and towed her for some time, but afterwards let go and came ashore, shortly before the fight began, and while the British boats were approaching.

      He says that only the surgeon and four men, who were in a small boat by themselves, escaped to return to the Endymion; that all the rest were either killed, wounded, or made prisoners! The first lieutenant, leading the attacking party, climbed up and got a footing on the bow of the privateer, shouting to his men, "Follow me! the prize is ours!" but, at that moment, was wounded, and fell back upon his followers.

      The Captain of the Neufchatel, he says, was a very short man; in fact, dwarfish and uncouth in his appearance. He was a Frenchman, and the name, as he remembers it, was Ordronaux. The first-lieutenant was a Swede, and there were several languages employed among her motley crew. But of whatever nationality they may have been, it is evident that there was plenty of fight in them, and the master spirit who commanded them muet have been a man of indomitable nerve and pluck, though he were a very Caliban to look at.

      Considering the desperate and bloody character of this encounter, and the remarkable circumstances under which this little handful of privateersmen fought and conquered, it is a little remarkable that there is no allusion to it in Cooper's Naval History, and that I have met with no published account of it, except what is given in our own History of Nantucket, the author,of which, with his strong peace proclivities, evidently wished to pass it without mention, as "not coming within the limits of the work, according to the intention of the writer." "We forbear," he says, "to state the particulars of this sanguinary engagement, believing that it would neither please nor edify a large part of our own readers. What we have related is sufficient as a record of the fact, and as an example of the horrors of war." But to the present degenerate race, I believe the many little particulars and incidents connected with the fight, and the after circumstances relating to the prisoners landed here, which might be given us by old people, would possess a keen interest; and I offer such information as I have been able to collect, hoping to induce others to give us more.

      Since writing the above, I have been furnished, through the kind aid of a young friend abroad, with the original account of the privateer's cruise, taken word for word, from the Marine List of the Boston Daily Advertiser of October 17th, 1814.

      "Port of Boston, Saturday, October 15th. Arrived, this morning, privateer brig Prince of Neufchatel, Ordronaux, of New York, of 311 tons, 14 guns, from a cruise, the particulars of which follow: Sailed from Cherbourg, 4th July. * * * * * * Made in all 15 captures, many in British and Irish Channels; burnt and scuttled most of them. Among others, Sept. 6th, captured ship Douglass, of and for Liverpool, from Demarara, cargo rum, sugar, cotton and coffee, 420 tons, in lat. 41 1-2 °, long. 45 °. Kept company with the Douglass; made Nantucket 9th inst., in company. On the 11th, (this we presume is taken from her log, which will explain the apparent discrepancy of dates, as the afternoon of October 10th would be the 11th, sea-account.) Nantucket bearing N. about a quarter mile distant, discovered a frigate off Gay Head, which gave chase and came up with a fresh breeze while we were becalmed. At 3 P. M., we took the breeze and took the Douglass in tow, the frigate then about 4 leagues from us. At sunset it died away calm. At 7 P. M., was obliged to come to anchor; and supposing the frigate would send her boats to attempt to capture us, prepared accordingly, At 8 P. M., signal was made from the prize that the boats were coming; soon after, discovered them, five in number, and in a few minutes, they were alongside. The action commenced and continued for about twenty minutes, when the enemy were repulsed in every attempt to board, and obliged to surrender.

      When the launches and barges left the frigate, they had on board 104 souls, including officers. One launch having on board 48 men, was sunk and only 2 men saved; one which had 36 men on board at the commencement of the action, was taken possession of, – she had 8 men killed, 20 wounded, and 8 unhurt; the other three drifted from alongside the brig, with the current, without a man to be seen in them (supposed they must have been killed or wounded). We had not a boat to go after them, and had only 8 men left, not killed or wounded."(!)

      The barges and launches were from the Endymion frigate. Kept the launch with the prisoners alongside all night, not daring to let them come on board, as we had only 8 men left for duty. In the morning, permitted Mr. F. Ormond, 2d Lieut., 3 Midshipmen and 1 Master's Mate to come on board, and after they had signed a parole, pledging their honor for themselves and the rest of the prisoners (25 seamen and marines) that they would not serve against the U. S. during the war until regularly exchanged, sent them ashore at Nantucket, not knowing the situation of the place with the British. At the commencement of the action, the Prince of Neufchatel had 38 men at quarters, (and had 37 prisoners on board) of which 6 were killed, 15 severely wounded, 6 slightly, and 8 unhurt. The next day sent 17 prisoners on shore and put them in the hands of "the Marshal" (perhaps some of the old folks can tell us who "the Marshal" was) and also sent on shore all our severely wounded men."

      Left Holmes's Hole yesterday, and saw our prize ship Douglass off the East end of Nantucket, apparently ashore – saw the Endymion also at anchor in Tarpaulin Cove. She had sent a boat to Nantucket to inquire what had become of her barges and men."

      "Saw nothing in the Bay."

      "The prince of Neufchatel has brought in 20 prisoners, and a full cargo of goods, consisting of 140 bales, 164 boxes and 156 trunks of dry goods, 23 casks and 174 boxes sweet oil, and a quantity of coffee, rum, and a variety of other articles too numerous to mention.

"E. C. H. B."     

      "Sunday, Oct. 16th. The dead on board, nine in number, were brought ashore and buried."

      "Tuesday, Oct, 18th. By a gentleman who left Nantucket on Friday afternoon, we learn that in the action between the Prince of Neufchatel and the barges of the Endymion frigate, the British lost, as near as could be ascertained, 33 killed, 37 wounded, and 30 prisoners; that the 1st lieut. of the Endymion frigate and one master's mate were killed; that the 3d lieut., two master's mates and one midshipman were wounded; and that Capt. Hope stated that he had lost as many men as if he had been engaged with a frigate of equal force to his own. The gentleman also states that the Douglass was run ashore on the East end of Nantucket, the prize-master having received the incorrect information that a number of barges were coming to take her; that her cargo consisted of 421 hhds. 2 tierces and 1 bbl. Sugar, 190 puncheons Rum, 6 hhds Molasses, 254 bales Cotton, 412 bags Coffee, 3 bags Ginger, and 28 logs of Mahogany; and that about one half of the cargo had been landed and stored."

      Is it true, or not, that the frigate sent her boat here for the men, after she anchored in Tarpaulin Cove? The old shipmaster before referred to thinks not; if so, he has no recollection of it. From the written memoranda which I have seen, it appears, as before stated, that the mail packet brought an officer to see to the removal of the prisoners; but was it an English or a United States officer? Was the packet "impressed" for the service by our Government, or by the Endymion?

      It was talked at the time that the doughty dwarf, Capt. Ordronaux, declared that if he could get men enough, to fully man his brig, he would take the frigate, as she lay in the Cove! We doubt not he had the pluck to have attempted it; but it would seem to have been a rash undertaking, unless a complete surprise could have been managed. The Endymion was a forty-gun frigate, with a broadside of twenty-fours, and, notwithstanding her severe losses, had quite men enough left to work her batteries. The name of her first lieutenant, who commanded the boat expedition and was killed on the bows of the privateer, I have not been able to ascertain.

      This old frigate, the Endymion, well deserves to be classed among the historic ships of the British navy. Three months later, January 15th, 1815, she sustained a desperate fight with the President frigate, Com. Decatur, off Sandy Hook. She got the worst of it, the President being a heavier ship, and probably, would have been obliged to strike her flag, but for the arrival of her consorts, when the President was captured and both ships sent to Bermuda. Before reaching that port, both were dismasted in a gale, and the Endymion came near foundering, being obliged to throw overboard all her upper-deck guns.

      Many of our old people must distinctly remember the circumstances about the prisoners who were brought ashore here, and the disposal of the prize ship "Douglass" and her cargo.

      The wounded, I understand, were landed at Sesacacha, which was then a village of thirty or forty houses; and some of the more severely wounded died there, while those who were able to bear it, were brought to town. Several of them, I hear, were cared for at Dixon's tavern or public house, at the corner of Old North and Cross Wharves.

      The following strange incident of the fight is told as having been related to a then prominent citizen of this town by an officer of the Endymion. He states that he was in commend of a boat containing twenty men; that they attempted to board the brig at the bows over the cable; that he himself got on the bows alone, and the boat having struck adrift, his crew were unable to follow, and he unable to return. That then, finding himself in this awkward position, and the fight raging all round and on both sides of the vessel – for the other boats had grappled with her – he passed in on deck, and made his way aft, through this "valley of death," as it might be termed, and passed the whole gauntlet, unhurt, and even unobserved, though in full British uniform. And that when he arrived at the taffrail of the brig, he saw his own boat drift out by the counter, without a living soul in her! This is a strange story, but by no means an impossible one, or inconsistent with the known facts of the case. It is given as related to me by one, who, though a boy at the time, has a distinct recollection of the battle and the leading circumstances connected with it.

W. H. Macy.     

      Inquirer and Mirror (Nantucket), Jan 4, 1873, Vol. 53, No. 27, p.1.


Author: Macy, William Hussey
Title: The Sea-Fight off "Maddequecam" in 1814.
Publication: Inquirer and Mirror (Nantucket)
Vol/No/Date: Vol. 53, No. 27 (Jan 4, 1873)
Pages: 1