Lewis Field was born in Culpepper County, VA on July 4, 1763 or 1765, depending on which pension application copy one is reading. As a matter of fact, his name is given as Lewis Field and Field Lewis, again depending on which account one is referring to. He enlisted during the late summer/ early fall of 1779 in Maj. George Slaughter's Western Battalion (Corps) where he served until he was captured by the Native Americans in April 1780. During his captivity, which was lengthy, he encountered Little Turtle, the famous native Miami leader; Simon Girty, the infamous and much-feared "white" Indian/Tory leader of the frontier; Major DePeyster, commandant of Detroit; and, possibly, Sir Guy Carleton, the British Governor/ commander in Canada.
After a long journey from the Kentucky area to Quebec, Canada, Field found himself and about 4-500 prisoners placed aboard "...a large old line of Battle ship commanded by Capt Yong (Young) out of which the guns had been taken and sailed for Philadelphia." While on this voyage, the ship experienced a severe storm with gale-force winds and was blown "...right out towards the West Indies..." in Field's own words. Once the winds had subsided, the prisoner-ship began its journey back towards Philadelphia. After 40 days of voyaging back, the ship was off the "Capes of Delaware" when they "...heard the report of Cannon ahead." Field reports in his pension application that "...presently (he) saw the topsails of a ship & in a few minutes three other ships..." He states that the first ship turned out to be the South Carolina. He goes on the identify the South Carolina as a 60-gun ship "...said to be a present from Holland to the State of South Carolina loaded with flower (flour)..." Both of these statements/ assumptions on Field's part are incorrect. The South Carolina was a 40-gun frigate and was not carrying flour but, was out on an offensive cruise seeking enemy shipping to take as prizes. Fields also misidentifies the armament of the pursuing British vessels. He states that two of the British vessels were 44-gun ships with the final vessel being a 36-gun ship. In reality, the HMS Astrea and the HMS Quebec were both 32-gun frigates and the HMS Diomede was a 44-gun, two-decker, ship-of-the-line.
Field states that the ships were positioned one on each side of the South Carolina and one astern of her. Field states at this point in the engagement the "...Commander of one of the 44s hailed & commanded the Prison ship to follow him..." Field concludes the account by saying that "...after giving one broadside the South Carolina struck her colours." Fields also points out that as a direct result of this accidental encounter at sea, the ship he was a prisoner on was directed into New York harbor rather than Philadelphia. There he and his fellow captives were taken to Dobb's Ferry where, on the last day of December 1782 he and his companions were "... set at Liberty." Field then gives a brief account of how he returned to Virginia and from there immigrated to Kentucky, then Illinois, and finally, back to Kentucky where he filed his pension application.
The writer of this blog has yet to run across an account by a third party of the actual capture of the South Carolina on December 20, 1782. This writer thinks that it is rather incredible that a young man from the backwoods of Virginia, is captured by native Americans in Kentucky, taken to Detroit and then further to Quebec, and is on a prison ship bound for Philadelphia when he witnesses a sea battle. At the end of his pension application, Field states that he was born on July 4, 1763 and that at the time of his enlistment was "...young and verry illiterate..." Hence, the colorful spellings, incorrect use of capitalization, lack of punctuation marks, misspelled words, and repeated use of ampersands throughout the account. But, regardless of all of this, Lewis Field was in the right place, at the right time, so to say. He witnessed the final battle of the South Carolina.