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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 19

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The American Privateers

Donald Barr Chidsey

published by
Dodd, Mead & Company
New York

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
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Chapter 21

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Though they favored captured and converted American privateering vessels, as in the case of the Atlas‑St. Lawrence, the British did not depend upon them exclusively as dispatch boats. They had some fast craft of their own.

These dispatch boats, or packets, could be brigs, sloops, or schooners; they were never square-rigged ships. They were small, of shallow draft. They rode high, for they were not used as transports and did not carry ordinary, heavy cargo.

What they did carry, mostly, were mail and specie. This  p126 made them objects of great interest to the American privateers.

Communications between the admiralty in London and the various naval bases involved in the war with America — Halifax, Bermuda, Jamaica — were slow in the best of circumstances. The interception of official dispatches had a tremendous, if incalculable, effect upon the outcome of the conflict.

But it was not the mail that the privateers were interested in. It was the payroll.

Mail could be and often was thrown overboard at the last minute before capture. Gold bullion, being so much heavier, could not be treated in this fashion.

A dispatch boat generally sailed alone or, at best, with another dispatch boat. It was never in a convoy and never had a war vessel for escort. But though it was expected to show a clean pair of heels to any American war vessel, it was not without defenses of its own. After all, it was an integral part of the British Navy. It was supposed to avoid a fight when possible, yet it had guns and when cornered it was expected to make good use of them.

Thomas Boyle learned this when he took on Atlas‑St. Lawrence. Captain Richard Moon of Baltimore, in the privateering schooner Globe, learned it when he chased two brigs out of Funchal.

Moon looked into that Madeira Islands roadstead the morning of November 1, 1813, and saw the brigs, Montague and Pelham, "backing and filling." That is, they had upped anchors but they were not making for the open sea, only standing on and off. Moon believed that they were dispatch boats that had been about to sail until  p127 warned by a lookout of the schooner from Baltimore. They didn't want to go out until he went away. Of course he could not go in and get them, for the roadstead was Portuguese territorial waters.

Wily, Moon sailed off, on a southerly course; but as soon as he had dropped the islands from sight astern he made about and sailed back.

It was just as he had expected. The two brigs, believing him gone for good, had sneaked out of Funchal. They were headed west, toward America, and it was too late, now, for them to turn back.

They were fast, were Pelham and Montague, but not as fast as Globe, a prodigy of speed. Before Moon could overtake them, however, darkness and a rain squall intervened, and he lost them.

Convinced by their speed that they were indeed dispatch boats, he believed that they would keep the same course, due west. So he did, too.

With the dawn, sure enough, there they were. Moon ran up the Stars and Stripes and went right for them.

It was 10:15 in the morning before the shooting started. Montague, the larger of the two brigs, and the rearmost, opened up with her stern guns, Moon promptly replied with his long tom, mounted amid­ships. Globe also carried eight 9‑pounder carronades, four on each side. If the brigs worked together, as they gave every sign of meaning to do, Globe would be seriously outgunned. But Moon did not mean to depend upon his guns. He had a large crew, and he planned to board the brigs and take them separately.

Globe was badly battered when at last she came alongside  p128 Montague. The gunnels squealed together. Led by mates John Harrison and John Smith, the boarders, yelling and holding their weapons high, started to leap from one vessel to the other.

Three only had followed the mates to the deck of the Montague — they were James Thelis, Joshua Brown, and Richard Blair — when the two vessels began to drift apart.

Nobody knows exactly why, but it was instantly apparent that Globe could not close the gap. The schooner no longer had any way on. She had barely been able to reach Montague's side in the first place, for her sails had been cut to ribbons by chain shot. Moreover, at just this time Pelham crossed the privateer's bow, raking her terribly, so that she became unmanageable.

The two officers and three seamen thus stranded on an enemy deck did not throw down their weapons and cry for mercy. They fought, and they kept fighting until the last one of them went down under a rain of cutlass blows.

Globe could no longer move, but her guns still worked. Pelham had taken up a position on her other side, the starboard side, and was pounding her from there, but Globe concentrated on the men who had just killed Brown and Blair, Thelis and Harrison and Smith. Relentlessly, savagely, she kept up the bombardment at that short distance.

Montague's flag came down. Montague's guns fell silent. Her skipper was dead. Her musketeers dropped their guns and began to throw sacks of mail into the sea.

Desperately wounded, Captain Moon turned his attention to the starboard side, and in a few minutes he had  p129 Pelham helpless, her skipper almost dead, but she wouldn't strike and kept shooting.

Now, however, Montague began to fire again, and she ran her flag back up on the stump of her shattered foremast. That flag had not been lowered, but shot down. She had not struck, as Moon believed.

This could not be kept up. All three vessels were in a sinking condition. Captain Moon had sense enough to break off the engagement. Globe had been hulled no less than nineteen times "between wind and water," and her gunners — those who were left — had to man the pumps. Her hands rigged jury sails on what remained of masts and booms. And she limped away, making with the trades for Grand Canary. Pelham and Montague, glad to find themselves still afloat, sailed for Teneriffe, another port in the Canary Islands.

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Page updated: 20 May 13