According to Dr. Lewis's work, Neptune's Militia, page 89, Commodore Alexander Gillon relinquished command of the frigate to his friend and fellow South Carolinian, Captain John Joyner in late November 1782. Commodore Gillon left detailed instructions for Joyner and "...outlined his concept of the upcoming cruise" (page 90). He instructed Joyner to slip out of the Delaware rather than sailing boldly out in order to avoid potential British warships that might be lurking there. After clearing the Delaware Capes (Cape Henlopen), the frigate South Carolina was to cruise off "...British outposts that normally had little or no naval protection - ports and colonies like Bermuda, Antigua, St. Augustine, and Savannah. The purpose here was to take prizes while avoiding combat" (page 90). The frigate was to spend most of her time in the Caribbean and Gillon recommended several ports there that she could put into and receive a warm welcome and necessary supplies. When her cruise was at an end, the frigate South Carolina was to put into either Beaufort or Charleston, SC, if these port cities had been evacuated by the British forces. "If not, then the ship was to seek a friendly port as close as possible to her namesake state" (page 90). If circumstances were not in favor of the frigate at that time, then Captain Joyner was to take her into the Chesapeake and on to Baltimore. But, under no circumstances, was he to return to Philadelphia, PA.
On December 12, 1782, the frigate South Carolina slipped her moorings in Billingsport, NJ and began to drop down the Delaware River. On December 13, 1782, she passed Chester, PA "...stopping to add crew from the local jail..." (page 90). On December 15, 1782, she passed Marcus Hook, PA where "...a storm delayed further progress down the river for a day" (page 90). On December 17-18, 1782, Joyner anchored the frigate South Carolina just off Reedy Island where the Delaware River begins to widen out into Delaware Bay. Here the frigate South Carolina was joined by three smaller vessels - the brig Constance, the schooner Seagrove, and the ship Hope. These three vessels "...intended to use the South Carolina as an escort while leaving the Delaware..." (page 90). Here, just off Reedy Island, Captain John Joyner had to deal with a mutiny that was "...reminiscent of the one near Texel during the first voyage of the South Carolina" (page 91). Joyner and his supporters (including the armed Hessian marines) spent most of the day dealing with this unsuspected delay.
But, while this was being dealt with, the schooner Seagrove, had hailed a ship entering Delaware Bay. The captain of the Seagrove learned from the captain of this unidentified ship that "...three large sail were patrolling the Cape May Channel to the north, astride the exit that Gillon had recommended" (page 91). Joyner weighed his options and decided "...exit the bay through the main channel to the south. This was precisely the channel that Gillon had warned him to avoid..." (page 92). After clearing "The Overfalls" (at the mouth of Delaware Bay), the frigate South Carolina and her three escorted vessels turned due east for the open Atlantic Ocean. He knew of the suspicious sails to the north of his position and a single solitary sail had been recently sighted to the south of their position. Captain John Joyner thought that his best option was to run for the open ocean. It would be a fateful decision because "between 10:00 and 10:30, nearly five hours clear of Delaware Bay, lookouts aboard the South Carolina, her convoy, and the three British vessels sighted each other" (page 93).
The three British ships were the HMS Diomede, HMS Quebec, and HMS Astrea. The HMS Quebec and the HMS Astrea were both frigates of 38 guns apiece. The HMS Diomede was a ship-of-the-line, a two-decker of 58 guns. "Individually, only the Diomede came close to the firepower of the South Carolina....Together this fleet of three British men-of-war posed an ominous threat...." (page 93).
Upon the mutual sightings all taking place, the frigate South Carolina turned south. The three strange sails also turned south in pursuit. The American convoy scattered at this point. The frigate South Carolina continued southwards. The brig Constance held to her eastern course and surrendered to the two British vessels that lay in that direction. "Evidently, the brig's captain considered the situation hopeless and an attempt at escape not worthwhile" (page 93). The schooner Seagrove turned northward hoping that she might be able to slip away due to her small size. The HMS Diomede did pursue her but, gave up after several hours. The schooner Seagrove would be the only American vessel to escape capture that December 20, 1782. The ship Hope stayed with the frigate South Carolina until about 1:00PM, when she surrendered to the pursuing British men-of-war. That left only the frigate South Carolina, still running southward.
It was at this point that the professionalism of the crews of the British men-of-war and their expert handling of their respective ships paid off. The three pursuing British vessels took up positions that limited the options available to Captain Joyner - "...one windward, one leeward, and the closest right astern. Using tactics common in chase under sail, the windward ship attempted to mask Joyner's wind" (page 94). By 3:00PM, the British men-of-war had closed the distance enough that they could exchange shots with the frigate South Carolina. Due to the inexperience of the frigate's crew members, the gunners could do no appreciable damage to her pursuers. The British gunnery, though, inflicted damage and casualties on the frigate South Carolina. By 5:00PM, the enemy vessels were in a position to do serious damage to the frigate South Carolina, if they so chose. By this time, the frigate South Carolina had sustained six broadsides from the HMS Diomede and one broadside from the HMS Quebec (page 94). "...Joyner ordered his ship to fire her guns, not wishing to surrender with his cannons loaded. At 5:05PM, after a chase of nearly eighteen and a half hours, the frigate struck her flag" (pages 94-95). The treaty acknowledging the independence of the thirteen colonies and the tacit formation of the United States of America was only a few weeks away.
So, what happened next? The excitement of the chase in the open ocean, the numerous broadsides exchanged between the contending warships, the maneuvering of large men-of-war attempting to damage or cripple their opponents, finally, the striking of the American frigate's colors - all that was done now. Three were three British men-of-war on the rolling Atlantic Ocean with their three prize ships, one of them the largest, most heavily gunned ship in the Americas. The task facing the British now was to secure their prizes by sailing them into their strongest Atlantic sea base - New York City.