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Maclay, E.S. A history of American privateers New York 1899
The Prince De Neufchatel
One of the most remarkable actions of this war in which an American privateer was engaged was that between the British 40-gun frigate Endymion, Captain Henry Hope, and the armed ship Prince de Neufchatel, of New York. The extraordinary feature of this affair lies in the fact that a vessel fitted out at private expense actually frustrated the utmost endeavors of an English frigate, of vastly superior of force in guns and men, to capture the privateer. As the commander of the Endymion said, he lost as many men in his efforts to seize the Prince de Neufchatel as he would have done had his ship engaged a regular man-or-war of equal force, and he generously acknowledged that the people in the privateer conducted their defence in the most heroic and skilful manner.
That this declaration of Captain Hope was singularly prophetic will be seen in the fact that this same Endymion, only three months after her disastrous attack on the Prince de Neufchatel, had a running fight of two and a half hours' duration with the United States 44-gun frigatePresident, a sister ship of the famous Constitution, and a vessel "of equal force" to the Endymion. In the latter affair the Endymionhad eleven men killed and fourteen wounded, a total of twenty-five out of a complement of three hundred and fifty. In her attack on the privateer the Endymion had forty-nine killed, thirty-seven wounded, and thirty of her crew were made prisoners, a total of one hundred and sixteen as against the total of twenty-five in her encounter with the President. From these statements it will be seen that the privateer had quite as severe a fight as the President, and on this occasion contributed fully as much to the glory of American maritime prowess.
This notable action occurred off Nantucket on the night of October 11, 1814. The Prince de Neufchatel commanded by Captain J. Ordronaux, was considered a "splendid vessel" in her day. She was hermaphrodite-rigged craft of three hundred and ten tons-the Endymion measuring about one thousand four hundred tons-and mounted seventeen guns as against the Englishman's fifty guns to say nothing of the latter's immensely larger calibre. Her complement when she left New York on her most eventful cruise was about eighty men and boys, which number had been reduced by drafts for prize crews to thirty-seven. The Prince de Neufchatel belonged to the-- estate of Mrs Charrten, of New York, who had recently died. This privateer was one of the many " lucky vessels " of the war, and made several profitable cruises, in the course of which she was chased by seventeen different men-of-war, but always managed to escape through superior seamanship and her great speed. The goods captured by her from the enemy and brought safely into port sold for nearly three millions of dollars, besides which a large amount of specie was secured.
This vessel did not begin her. career as a war craft until the spring of 1814, at which time she was in Cherbourg, France. Here she was armed and fitted out as a privateer, and early in March she in the plunged into the thickest of British commerce in the English Channel, and in one brief cruise made nine valuable prizes, most of which arrived safely in French ports, while those of little value were burned.
In June the Prince de Neufchatel made another dash against the enemy's shipping, sending six prizes into Havre between the 4th and 10th of that month, which were sold. In August this commerce destroyer was in the English Channel, where she came across a brig that refused to surrender, whereupon a broadside was poured into the stubborn merchant craft and she sank. In September the Prince de Neufchatel destroyed the brigs Steady, James, Triton (of two guns, laden with coffee and wine) , Apollo, Sibron, Albion, Charlotte and Mary Ann besides the sloops Jane and George and the cutter General Doyle. She also captured and destroyed the transport Aaron, of four guns, from Gibraltar for Lisbon, and converted the following prizes into cartels in order to get rid of her constantly accumulating prisoners-the brigs Berwick Packet, from Cork for Bristol, which had fifty passengers aboard, and Nymph. She also captured the ship Harmony , of four guns, and an English privateer; but the latter was allowed to escape, as, just at the moment of taking possession, a suspicious sail hove in sight which proved to be a large war vessel, and the Prince de Neufchatel was compelled to make sail in flight. A prize crew had been placed in the Harmony, with orders to make for the United States, but a few days later that ship was recaptured. Instead of returning to a French port after her last cruise, as had been her custom, the Prince de Neufchatel made directly for Boston, where she refitted and put to sea again early in October.
Captain Ordronaux, of the Prince de Neufchatel, was a seaman of unusual ability. At the outbreak of hostilities between the United States and Great Britain he commanded the French privateer Marengo. It was this vessel that Captain Richard Byron, of the British 36-gun frigate Belvidera was so earnestly watching, on June 23, 1812, off these same -Nantucket Shoals, when Captain John Rodgers' squadron, having the President as a flagship, came along and chased the Englishman away. At that time the Marengo was in New London, quite as earnestly watching for a chance to pounce upon the English brig Lady Sherlock expected daily from Halifax bound for Jamaica with an exceedingly valuable cargo. It proved to be very much like a cat watching a mouse to prevent it from getting a morsel of cheese when the bulldog Rodgers came tumbling along, chased the cat, Belvidera, into Halifax, when the mouse, Marengo, pounced upon the unsuspecting Lady Sherlock as she was passing by and carried her safely into New York, August 10, 1812.
It was on the very scene of this cat-dog-mouse and-cheese comedy, enacted in 1812, that the Prince de Neufchatel, on the night of October 11, 1814, made one of the most heroic defences in maritime history. At this time the British squadron blockading the port of New York consisted of the 56-gun frigate Magestic, Captain John Hayes; the 40-gun frigate Endymion, Captain Henry Hope; and the 38-gun frigate Pomone, Captain John Richard Lumley. The Endymionhad been sent to Halifax for repairs, and it was while she was returning from that port to her station off New York that she fell in with the Prince de Neufchatel.
At noon, October llth -October 9th according to English accounts-while the Prince de Neufchatel, then only a few days out of Boston, was about half a mile to the south of Nantucket Shoals, Captain Ordronaux discovered a sail off Gay Head, and as it promptly gave chase he was satisfied that it was a ship of force, and made his preparations accordingly. Knowing that few, if any, of the American frigates were on the high seas at that time, owing to the rigor of the British blockade, Captain Ordronaux made every effort to escape, being satisfied that the stranger was a British frigate. Unfortunately for the privateer, she was so situated as to be becalmed at the moment, while the stranger was holding a fresh breeze and coming up very fast. The Prince de Neufchatel had in tow the prize she recently captured, the English merchant ship Douglas, which the Americans were anxious to get safely into port.
At three o'clock in the afternoon the privateer caught the breeze, and, as the Englishman was still some twelve miles distant, hopes were entertained of effecting a timely retreat. By seven o'clock in the evening it was calm at which time the three vessels were in sight of one another. Finding that the current was sweeping him shoreward, Captain Ordronaux cast off his tow, and the two vessels came to anchor about a quarter of a mile apart.
An hour and a half later, when it was quite dark, the people in the prize signalled, as previously agreed upon, that several boats were approaching from the frigate, apparently with the intention of attacking the privateer under cover of night. Observing the signal, Captain Ordronaux called all hands, and made every preparation for giving the British a warm reception. As soon as the English boats, which were under the command of Lieutenant Abel Hawkins, the first lieutenant of the Endymion, could be distinguished in the night, the privateer began a rapid discharge of her great guns and small arms. Paying no attention whatever to this the English gallantly dashed ahead, and in a few moments were alongside the Prince de Neufchateland endeavouring to clamber up her sides. The enemy had planned the attack with considerable skill, for almost at the same moment it was reported to Captain Ordronaux that an English boat was on each side, one on each bow and one under the stern-five craft in all, completely surrounding the privateer, and compelling her crew to face five different points of attack at once.
This was the beginning of a desperate and bloody, struggle, in which men fought like wild beasts and grappled with each other in deadly embrace. Knives, pistols, cutlasses, marline spikes, belaying pins-anything that could deal an effective blow were in requisition, while even bare fists, finger nails, and teeth came into play. Captain Ordronaux himself tired some eighty shots at the enemy. Springing up the sides of the vessel the British would endeavour-or to gain her deck, but every attempt was met with deadly blows b-v the sturdy defenders of the craft. A few of the British succeeded in gaining the decks and took the Americans in the rear, but the latter promptly turned on the enemy and dispatched them. It was well understood by the crew of the privateer that Captain Ordronaux had avowed his determination of never being taken alive by the British, and that lie would blow up his ship, with all hands, before striking his colours. At one period of the fight, when the British had gained the deck, and were gradually driven- the Americans back, Ordronaux seized a lighted match, ran to the companion way, directly over the magazine, and called out to his men that he would blow the-ship up if they retreated further. The threat had the desired effect, the Americans rallied for a final struggle, overpowered the enemy, and drove the few survivors into their boats.
Such a sanguinary fight could not be of long duration, and at the end of twenty minutes the English cried out for quarter, upon which the Americans ceased firing. It was found that of the five barges one had been sunk, three had drifted off from alongside apparently without a living person in them, and the fifth boat was taken possession of by the Americans. There were forty-three men in the barge that was sunk, of whom only two were rescued; the remainder, it is supposed, were caught by the swift current, carried beyond the reach of help, and drowned. The boat seized by the Americans contained thirty-six men at the beginning of the action, of whom eight were killed and twenty were wounded, leaving only eight unhurt. The entire number of men in the five barges was one hundred and twenty, including the officers, marines, and boys. The entire number of men in the privateer fit for duty at the beginning of the action was thirty-seven, of those seven were killed and twenty-four wounded. Among the killed was Charles Hilburn, a Nantucket Pilot, who had been taken out of a fishing vessel. Among the British killed were First Lieutenant Hawkins and a master's mate, while the second lieutenant, two master's mates, and two midshipmen were wounded.
"So determined amid effective a resistance," says an English naval historian, did great credit to the American captain and his crew. On the 31st the Endymion fell in with the 56-gun ship Saturn, Captain James Nash, bound for Halifax, and, sending on board, with her surgeon and his servant, twenty eight wounded officers and men, received from the Saturn, to replace the severe loss she had sustained, one lieutenant, four midshipmen, and thirty-three seamen and marines."
Captain Ordronaux now found himself in possession of so many prisoners that they outnumbered his own able-bodied men, there remaining only eight seamen unhurt in the privateer, while there were thirty prisoners to take care of. As a matter of precaution, Captain Ordronaux allowed only the second lieutenant of the Endymion three midshipmen-two of them desperately wounded-and one wounded master's mate to come aboard; while the other prisoners, after having all their arms, oars, etc., taken from them, were kept in the launch under the stern of the Prince de Neufchatel, where there would be less danger of attempting to overpower the few surviving Americans, capture the ship, and release their officers.
Anxious to be rid of his dangerous prisoners Captain Ordronaux, on the following morning, signed an agreement with the lieutenant, midshipmen, and master's mates, in behalf of themselves and the British seamen and marines, not to serve against the United States again in this war unless duly exchanged. Under this agreement the prisoners were placed on shore at -Nantucket by the privateer's launch, and were taken charge of by the United States marshal. Most of the American and English wounded also were sent ashore, where they could secure better attention.
Additional information on this action appears in the 1861 edition.
The Prince de Neufchatel, as soon as the wind served, got under way, and easily evading the Endymion, ran into Boston Harbour, October 15th. On gaining port Captain Ordronaux retired from the command of this lucky privateer and became a part owner.
Her first officer in the fight with the Endymion succeeded to the command after promising "never to surrender the craft." He is described by one of the crew as "a Jew by persuasion, a Frenchman by birth, an American for convenience, and so diminutive in stature as to make it appear ridiculous, in the eyes., of others, even for him to enforce authority among a hardy, weather-beaten crew should they do aught against his will." Her first officer is described as a man who never uttered an angry or harsh word, made no use of profane language, but was terrible, even in his mildness, when faults occurred through carelessness or neglect. He knew what each man's duty was and his capacity for fulfilling it, never putting more to the men's tasks than they were able to get through with; but every jot and tittle must be performed, and that to the very letter, without flinching, or the task would be doubled. While manoeuvring the men he would go through with the various duties without oaths, bluster, or even loud words, and do more in less time than all the other officers on board, with their harsh threatenings, profane swearings, or loud bawlings through their speaking trumpets. The men honored and obeyed him, and would have fought with any odds at his bidding." The second officer was put down as a " mere nobody."
The third officer had been a warrant officer in the Constitution during her engagements with the Guerriere and Java, but was discharged for " un-officer-like conduct, and had shipped in the Prince de Neufchatel. He proved to be an indifferent officer, and his negligence was the cause of the capture of the privateer on her next cruise.
On the night of December 21st the Prince de Neufchatel, in spite of the vigilance of the British blockading force off Boston, got to sea. On the fifth day out she encountered a terrific storm which lasted several days, and came near ending the career of this formidable craft. " The morning of December 28th," records one of the American crew, 'I broke with no prospect of the gale ceasing, and the brig looked more like a wreck than the stanch and proud craft of the week previous. She was stripped to her stumps, all her yards, except her fore and fore-topsail, were on deck, her rigging in disorder, and the decks lumbered and in confusion from the effects of the sea which had so often broken over them during the past night.
Much of this confusion was attributable to the third officer, who had the watch from 4 A. M. to 8A. M. When he was relieved by the first officer, at 8 A. M., the latter severely reprimanded the third officer, and, among other things, asked if a sharp lookout had been maintained, and replied that the last man sent to the masthead had left his post without being relieved, and without the third officer knowing that the brig had, been without a lookout all that time. . . . I saw the fire-or what was its equal, anger-flash from the first lieutenant's eves at this remissness of duty , and he instantly gave an order for the best man on board to go to the masthead, there to remain till ordered down."
This man had not been at his post ten minutes when he reported a large sail bearing down on the Prince de Neufchatel, and shortly afterward two others, apparently heavy men-of-war, making every effort to close on the privateer. These strangers were, in fact, the British frigates Leander, Newcastle, and Acasta, composing Sir George Collier's squadron, which had been off Boston, but was now hastening across the Atlantic in search of the Constitution had eluded them off Boston and was now at sea.
As soon as the strangers were discovered the Prince de Neufchatel was put on her best point of sailing, but in spite of every effort-the massive frigates having a great advantage over her in the heavy seas and wind-she was soon surrounded and captured. Only a few minutes after the surrender one of the frigates lost her jib boom, fore and main topgallant roasts and broke her mizzen topsail yard in the slings, while another frigate carried away her mizzen topsail, main topgallant yard, and strained her fore-topsail yard so as to endanger it by carrying sail. Had the approach of the enemy been discovered when they made out the privateer the Prince de Neufchatel would have escaped.
"At the time of our capture," said one of the privateer's crew, " there were on board five or six French and Portuguese seamen who had belonged to the brig during her former cruisings, and who appeared to be on good terms with the captain but had no intercourse with the crew. They messed by themselves and had as little to say to the Americans as the Americans manifested disposition to associate with them.. These men were overheard to say, more than once during the chase, that the brig, never would be taken by the frigates, assigning reason why only, I She shall never be under a British flag.' One of the men had been a prisoner of war ten times, and declared he would sooner go to the bottom of the ocean than again to prison. To this no one objected, provided he went without company; for he was a Frenchman by birth, a Calmuc in appearance, a savage in disposition, a cut-throat at heart, and a devil incarnate. Our first lieutenant kept a strict eye upon this coterie during the whole day that the chase continued, the idea strengthening, as the captain held on his course long after any hope remained of the chance of getting clear of the frigates, that all was not right. In the hurry of the moment [the surrender] at our rounding to, Jose, one of the men above spoken of, seized a brand from the caboose, proceeded toward the magazine, would have carried his diabolical intentions into effect only for the vigilance of our ever-watchful lieutenant, who checked him ere too late, brought him on deck, nor quit his hold till the brand was cast overboard and the dastard thrown thrice his length by an indignant thrust of the lieutenant's powerful arm."
With much difficulty a small boarding party from the Leander- took possession of the privateer, but as the sea and wind remained heavy it was found to be impossible to send a second detachment aboard. Realising their advantage, the American officers, about half an hour before midnight, rallied their men, with a view of recapturing the brig, but on gaining the deck they observed that the condition of her spars and sails was such as to render such a move hopeless and the attempt was given up.
On the following day the prisoners were taken aboard-the Leander, where the Americans noticed a large placard nailed to her mainmast, on which were written these words: " Reward of £100 to the man who shall first descry the American frigate Constitution provided she can be brought to, and a smaller reward should they not be enabled to come up with her." The Leander had been fitted out expressly to capture Old Ironside's, and had a picked crew of more than five hundred men. Every one [in the Leander]," continues the record, was eager in his inquiries about this far-fancied frigate, and most of the men appeared anxious to fall in with her, she being a constant theme of conversation, speculation, and curiosity. There were, however, two seamen and a marine-one of whom had had his shin sadly shattered from one of her [the Constitution's] grapeshot-who were in the frigate Java when she was captured. These I have often heard say, in return to their shipmates' boasting: If you had seen as much of the Constitution as we have, you would give her a wide berth, for she throws her shot almighty careless, tires quick, aims low, and is altogether an ugly customer."'
The thoroughly American spirit of the Prince de Neufchatel's crew is well brought out in the account of one of her men. After being taken aboard the Leander. the prisoners were stowed away in the cable tier-a miserable hole at the bottom of the ship, where the anchor cables were stored. Here the Americans were compelled to remain from 4 P. m. to 8 A. m. every twenty-four hours.
To while away the time they resorted to singing. " One night," says one of the men, " it was understood that some of our naval-victory songs were not well relished by the officers on deck, which only brought out others with a louder chorus than before and an extra I hurrah for the Yankee thunders.' At this half a dozen of the best English songsters were picked, with some dozen to join in their choruses. These assembled around the hatch above us for the purpose of silencing us, singing us down, or to rival us in noisy melody and patriotic verse. They were allowed to finish their songs unmolested by us, but the moment they were through we struck up with ours, each one striving to outdo his shipmate, especially in the choruses.
Knowing that the character of our country was at stake and that it depended much upon our zeal and good management whether it should be upheld in the face of our enemies, we strove accordingly to do our best as its representatives. . . . The contest was kept up for some time, evidently to our advantage, not only as to the quality of the singing-for in this our opponents could not hold their own a moment-but to the number and subject of the songs, they having run out with their victories over the Yankees before our party was fairly warm with the contest. That they should not flag at the game, they took up with the First of June, the Battle of the Nile, besides many others, and we told them, in plain English, that they :were dodging the contest. This they cared far less for than they did for a home-thrust victory over them from the Yankees to each one of theirs over the French. At last our fire became so warm that they were compelled to back out, chopfallen , and they had the satisfaction of having their defeat announced to all on board by three-times-three cheers from the victors, accompanied with the clapping of hands and such other noises as each and all could invent in our zeal to outdo one another and uphold the honour of the country we hailed from, whose emblem is the Stars and Stripes.
Word came from the deck that such noises could not be tolerated and that we must be quiet. This only aroused the prisoners to greater exertions. In a few minutes the officer of the deck came down with blustering threats. If the most savage tribe of Indians had at once broken loose with a terrific war whoop it could not have been louder nor more grating to the ear than the screaming that followed the termination of the watch officer's speech, who, when he could get a hearing, tried to reason as to the absurdity of the prisoners persisting, saying, " The order of the ship must and shall be maintained; if by no other means, I will order the marines to fire into the hold.' This threat also was responded to by jeers, and soon afterward a line of marines drew up at the hatchway and prepared to shoot. This menace was met with louder jeers than before.
"Crackaway, my Johnny! You can make killing no murder, but you can't easily mend the shot holes in your best bower cable!' 'Hurrah for Old Ironsides! 'Three cheers for the gallant Perry!' 'Down here, you Johnny Bull, and learn manners from your betters!' were a few of the shouts that saluted the ears of the marines. The officer, not daring to fire on the prisoners, now withdrew his marines, and was followed by the derisive shouts of the prisoners. . . . The noises were kept up till morning broke, not allowing the wardroom officers a moments rest, as they were situated on the deck immediately above us." The next night the prisoners began their pandemonium again, but the officers arranged a number of 42-pound shot on the deck, just over the prisoners heads, and started them rolling. " As they passed from one side to the other, at each roll of the ship, with a low, harsh, thunder-like rumbling, as deafening as dreadful and more horrible than the booming of ten thousand Chinese gongs, intermingling with as many bell clappers, set in motion by one who is sworn to drown all else by his own noisy clatter, they made a noise little less than a discharge of artillery." This proved to be too much for our gallant tars, and they gradually gave up the contest.
Arriving at Fayal, Sir George transferred his prisoners to the sloop of war Pheasant, in which they were taken to England.....