Kaminkow, Marion and Jack. Mariners of the American Revolution, (Magna Carta Book Company, 1967.)
Kellow, Ken. "American War of Independence at Sea", entry for: "Officers - Benjamin Bradhurst", (posted: August 6, 2014.)
Kellow, Ken. "American War of Independence at Sea", entry for: "Pennsylvania Privateer Ship Hope", (posted: September 21, 2014.)
Lewis, James A. Neptune's Militia: The Frigate South Carolina During the American Revolution, (The Kent State University Press, 1999.)
Library of Congress. Naval Records of the American Revolution, 1775-1788, (Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1906.)
Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia - entry for: "Battle of the Delaware Capes", (last modified: February 22, 2016.)
So, one post concerning three British ships-of-war relative to the story of the capture of the frigate South Carolina is followed by another post concerning three patriot ships that convoyed with the frigate South Carolina on that fateful day. But, if one examines the bibliography at the beginning of the post cited below, one finds eleven sources cited, each with considerable information contributed to the subject. The post cited below is lengthy and filled with pertinent information on each of the British men-of-war. In comparison and in contrast, this post contains fewer sources with scant information concerning these three patriot ships-of-war. It is simply a "turn of luck" that there is so much recorded information on the three British Royal Navy men-of-war that captured the frigate South Carolina on December 20, 1782 while there is very little information that has survived concerning the three patriots ships-of-war that accepted protection from the frigate South Carolina and thus sailed into "harm's way" on the fateful date in December 1782. These ships-of-war also had captains, crew members and marines, and their own histories, as well. It will be the focus of this post to try to cut through the "fog of the past" and attempt to give faces once again to the officers, crew members and marines of these long-ago ships-of-war and to illuminate these vessels that were captured along with the frigate South Carolina on that blustery December 20, 1782 just off the Capes of the Delaware.
The movements of the three convoy ships-of-war with the frigate South Carolina on December 20, 1782 are partly covered in the post entitled "'A Fateful Day - December 20, 1782": The Capture of the Frigate South Carolina off Cape Henlopen - " and dated "03/23/2015". Only their most basic maneuvers are addressed in this post, though. But, since this post is to address these three patriot ships-of-war, their movements should be described in greater detail. In this manner, the role each of these ships-of-war played on that fateful day will be clarified a bit more and, as well, a bit more might possibly be added to the history of these ships-of-war concerning which so little is known today. According to Lewis's work, Neptune's Militia, page 90, the narrative begins thus:
"On December 12, 1782, the South Carolina began dropping down the river from Billingsport, where the frigate had anchored for some time. The next day [December 13, 1782] the frigate passed Chester, stopping to add crew from the local jail; on December 15, Marcus Hook was sighted.... On December 17-18 [Captain John] Joyner chose to anchor off Reedy Island in the company of three vessels, the brig Constance, schooner Seagrove, and ship Hope. The Delaware River was here so broad that it became a bay. Joyner's three companions had just come from Philadelphia and intended to use the South Carolina as an escort while leaving the Delaware, an arrangement probably made earlier, upriver."
As with the British Royal Navy men-of-war, we will examine each of these patriot ships-of-war individually and thus construct a sort of brief history concerning each of these patriot vessels. We will begin with the Constance. In Lewis's work, Neptune's Militia, the above passage is the first reference to these three patriot ships-of-war. But, more information is provided in the footnotes section of the same work. In Lewis's work, page 198, note 13 states that the captain of Constance was Captain Jesse Harding. There seems to be some substantial bit of information known of Captain Jesse Harding of the Constance. Kaminkow's work, Mariners of the American Revolution, page 83, states the following concerning this man:
Jesse Harding - he was a prize master or first mate. He served on board the Sturdy Beggar. He was committed to Forton Prison on January 23, 1778. He was pardoned for exchange on May 31, 1779.
(Note: According to the Library of Congress's work, Naval Records, page 465, there are two ships-of-war that were named Sturdy Beggar. Both of them were out of Baltimore, MD. One was a Maryland brigantine and the second was a Maryland brig. Both of them operated in the late summer-winter of 1776. Jesse Harding's name does not appear on the officer's listings of either of these ships-of-war because he was most probably still serving on board the Maryland schooner Harlequin mentioned below.)
According to the Library of Congress's work, Naval Records, pages 237 and 326, Jesse Harding must have been a man well acquainted with seafaring and privateering as well. On page 326 of the above referenced work, Jesse Harding is cited as being "Mate" on board the Maryland schooner Harlequin as of July 6, 1776. The schooner carried six guns and was crewed by twenty-one men. The schooner was bonded for $5000.00 by William Woolsey, William Lux, and Robert Purviance, all residents of Baltimore, MD. The next citation concerning Jesse Harding would be that of his capture and imprisonment cited immediately above. The next citation we have of Jesse Harding is dated June 16, 1781. He is cited as the "Master" on board the Massachusetts brig Betsey. The brig carried six guns and a crew of twenty-five men. The brig was bonded for $20,000.00 by Jesse Harding, John Codman and William Smith, all of Boston, MA.
This is almost assuredly the same man as cited above in Lewis's work, Neptune's Militia, page 198, note 13. A man could easily have moved up from a prize master or first mate to captain of a ship-of-war between May 31, 1779 and mid-December 1782. Interestingly enough, he was committed to the same prison as Jonathan Carpenter about six months prior to Jonathan's imprisonment there and was pardoned for exchange at the same time. Both of these patriots could easily have been on board the same prisoner cartel ship that returned the newly-liberated Americans to France.
(Note: The post concerning Jonathan Carpenter is entitled "'...We are No Longer Our Own Men, But Have a New Master and One of Joseph Bower's Masters I Think...": The Naval Captivity of Jonathan Carpenter and Its Relevancy to the Frigate South Carolina, January 19, 1778 - July 22, 1779 - '" and is dated "03/11/2016".)
Thus, Jesse Harding was an experienced seaman as well as a skilled commanding officer. He crewed vessels hailing from Baltimore, MD as well as Boston, MA. He had experience as an acting mate or officer on board of several privateer ships-of-war during the American Revolution. Also, between his position as prize master or first mate on board the Maryland brig or brigantine Sturdy Beggar and his command of the Massachusetts brig Betsey, he spent about one and one half years as a prisoner-of-war in Forton Prison in Gosport, England near Portsmouth.
(Note: It is interesting to the writer of this blog to document at this point in this post the following information contained in Kaminkow's work, Mariners of the American Revolution, page 220. It is the record of the capture of a patriot privateer ship-of-war and is recorded in textual form here and is as follows:
"At some point after November 1781, the patriot privateer ship-of-war Betsey was captured by HMS Enterprise. The captain of this patriot privateer ship-of-war was Jesse Harding. The records of the High Admiralty Court in the Public Records Office has a file number listing for this patriot ship-of-war - 5/319 - indicating that a roster of the captured crew members does indeed exist.".
If this citation is accurate, then Jesse Harding would have faced a second incarceration in a British prison and would not have been pardoned and released until some point in 1782. There were prisoner cartels that late in the American Revolution but, the released prisoners-of-war would have been brought directly to the colonies and set at liberty there. It is feasible that Jesse Harding did indeed spend a second stint in a British prison but, that Kaminkow's work, Mariners of the American Revolution does not record this fact subsequent to his initial imprisonment cited above.)
When the three convoyed patriot ships-of-war along with the frigate South Carolina emerged from the Capes of the Delaware, they were not immediately sighted by the three patrolling British men-of war. According to Lewis's work, Neptune's Militia, page 93, this sighting came "...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.". The movements of the Constance were straightforward with reason according to the text of Lewis's work, Neptune's Militia, page 93:
"The brig Constance never strayed from its course [eastward bound] but continued due east and surrendered immediately to the other two men-of-war [HMS Quebec and HMS Astraea]. Evidently, the brig's captain [Captain Jesse Harding] considered the situation hopeless and an attempt at escape not worthwhile.".
If indeed the Captain Jesse Harding was the man initially spoken of in Kaminkow's work, Mariners of the American Revolution, page 83, then it is possible that having been a prisoner-of-war with the British in England, he must have known of the favorable impression he would make by immediate surrender rather than possibly antagonizing his pursuers by a lengthy chase that would end in the capture of himself, his crew and his vessel. He may have remembered the earlier capture of the Sturdy Beggar and his long incarceration in Forton Prison. But, whatever he might or might not have recalled at that moment, regardless of these reflections, Captain Jesse Harding chose to surrender to his enemies and thus withdrew himself, his crew and the Constance from any further action on December 20, 1782.
Lewis gives no further information concerning the Constance. Kellow's website, "American War of Independence at Sea", entry for the "Hope", page 2, refers to the Constance as "...the copper-bottomed Pennsylvania Privateer Brig Constance (Commander Jesse Harding)...". According to Wikipedia's article, "Battle of the Delaware", page 2, again the Constance is referred to as a "...privateer brig, under Commander Jesse Harding...". This same article confirms that the Constance surrendered to HMS Quebec and HMS Astraea. Later, in this same article, page 3, the Constance is referred to as having a crew of thirty men. Both the brig Hope and the schooner Seagrove are specifically referred to has being armed with deck cannons. The Constance is not mentioned as being armed at all. The two above references to her being a "...privateer brig..." would indicate that she was indeed armed. But, there is also the distinct possibility that she was a merchant brig and not armed in any manner at all. As with the other patriot ships-of-war, the Constance was taken into New York City harbor and there tried and condemned. According to Wikipedia's article, "Battle of the Delaware", page 3, "...prize money for the captured vessels was awarded in 1784.".
The second ship-of-war of the small convoy of the frigate South Carolina to be examined is the brig Hope. Possibly, more is known of this patriot ship-of-war than any of the other two. According to Lewis's work, Neptune's Militia, page 198, note 13, the brig Hope was commanded by Captain James Prole and carried ten guns and forty-two crewmen. Kellow's website, "American War of Independence at Sea", entry for "Pennsylvania Privateer Ship Hope", page 1, states that the full crew compliment was forty-three crewmen. Neither of these articles indicates the caliber or weight of shot of the guns on board the brig Hope. Most likely, these were 4-pound or 6-pound guns. She was commissioned on December 9, 1782 and "...was bonded by [Captain James] Prole and by James Caldwell, her probable owner.". Her initial cargo consisted of flour and tobacco. Unbeknownst to her captain and crewmen, this would be the only cargo she ever carried for the patriots as the patriot brig Hope was captured off the Capes of the Delaware only eleven days after her initial commissioning.
There is earlier information concerning the captain of the brig Hope, John Prole. According to the Library of Congress's work, Naval Records, page 265, John Prole is cited as being "Master" on board the Pennsylvania ship, Delaware, as of February 20, 1781. The Pennsylvania ship Delaware carried eight guns and had a crew of thirty men. The ship was bonded for $20,000.00 by Samuel Inglis and George Ord, both of Philadelphia, PA. There seems to be an indication in this specific citation that John Prole was a native of Philadelphia, PA itself. There is no further information concerning Captain John Prole of the brig Hope.
The movements of the brig Hope on that fateful day of December 20, 1782 almost mirror the maneuvering of the frigate South Carolina, mostly because she stayed closest to the frigate and thus remained in communication with the much larger, more-heavily armed frigate during the pursuit. According to Lewis's work, Neptune's Militia, page 93, after the sighting of the three British men-of-war, the ships of the patriot convoy scattered:
"That left the South Carolina and the Hope, both scurrying southward before the wind....Neither ship could shake the the British pursuit, and by sunrise the closest Union Jack was about two or two and a half miles behind the South Carolina.
Joyner's ship was faster than the Hope into the wind. Yet when the wind died down, the Hope put boats in the water to tow her and passed the South Carolina at least once, at which point the vessels exchanged information. Joyner felt that the Hope had a chance of escape if she circled them and had her boats tow her directly into the wind, turning the chase into a rowing contest. However, she did not. By 1:00P.M., the pursuers were close enough to fire on the Hope, which turned aside, nearly colliding with one of the British men-of-war before surrendering.".
There is no indication in Lewis's work, Neptune's Militia, page 93, that this hostile British cannon fire had any ill effects on the fleeing patriot brig Hope. The captain of the Hope, Captain James Prole, probably decided that continued flight was useless and would only result in the brig Hope being seriously damaged, resulting in possible injuries or death being sustained by some of his crewmen. Also,the incident of the near-collision with one of the pursuing Royal Navy frigates was most likely due to a determination to demonstrate a desire to surrender rather than a deliberate act of self-destruction by ramming an enemy vessel with one's ship.
In light of the escape of the schooner Seagrove, which will be described below in this same post, the brig Hope may have done well to have heeded Captain John Joyner's advice to have "...her boats tow her directly into the wind, turning the chase into a rowing contest.". For some unknown reason, Captain James Prole of the brig Hope did not see this as a viable option and did not obey this order from the captain of the dominant patriot ship-of-war, the frigate South Carolina. As a direct result, the brig Hope was captured shortly after 1:00P.M. by the pursuing British men-of-war. According to Kellow's article, "American War of Independence at Sea" entry for "Pennsylvania Privateer Ship Hope", page 2, after surrendering to the HMS Quebec and HMS Astraea, "...she [Hope] was immediately manned and sent off the New York, New York, arriving on the same day (20 December). Hope was tried and condemned there.". The capture of the brig Hope would leave only the fleeing frigate South Carolina as the only remaining patriot ship-of-war to be run down.
Of the three ships-of-war that were under convoy with the frigate South Carolina, this leaves only the schooner Seagrove to address. According to Lewis's work, Neptune's Militia, page 93, when the patriot convoy of the frigate South Carolina and her three ships-of-war convoy first spotted the three British men-of-war off the Capes of the Delaware, the patriot convoy all realized that it was best to scatter and attempt to flee rather than fight it out against superior firepower. The above paragraphs have illustrated the subsequent paths taken by the Constance, Hope and the frigate South Carolina. The Seagrove chose a different path - one of flight. According to Lewis's work, Neptune's Militia, page 93:
"The schooner Seagrove, realizing that the South Carolina would draw the main attention for the enemy, turned north, hoping its small size would make it beneath the notice of a fleet hunting much bigger prizes. But the [HMS] Diomede peeled off after the schooner and eventually got close enough to fire some bow-chaser shots. By sending out boats with towlines ahead to row into the wind, however, the Seagrove put some distance between itself and its much heavier pursuer. After several hours, the [HMS] Diomede reversed course and rejoined the pursuit to the south.".
Thus, the schooner Seagrove was the sole patriot ship-of-war to escape that fateful day just off the Capes of the Delaware. Her destination and her ultimate port of refuge is unrecorded in the documents available to the writer of this blog. All that remains to be said of the schooner Seagrove and is included in Lewis's work, Neptune's Militia, page 198, note 13 states that "...the Seagrove (Captain Benjamin Bradhurst) carried six guns and eighteen men...". Once again, as with the Hope, the caliber of the guns or the weight of shot they fired is not given but, was probably similar to the brig Hope and were most likely 4-pound or 6-pound guns. According to Wikipedia's article, "Battle of the Delaware Capes", page 2, all that is recorded of the Seagrove is "...the six-gun schooner Seagrove, under Captain Benjamin Bradhurst...".
There appears to be quite a bit of information concerning the captain of the schooner Seagrove, Captain Benjamin Bradhurst. According to Kellow's website, "American War of independence at Sea", entry for "Officers - Benjamin Bradhurst", page 47, Benjamin Bradhurst was probably a native of Baltimore, MD. He seems to have been acquainted with several different vessels out of different colonies and port cities. According to the Library of Congress's work, Naval Records, page 235, on November 17, 1778, Benjamin Bradhurst is cited as the "Master" of the Maryland brig Betsey, out of either Baltimore or Annapolis, MD, ostensibly. The Maryland brig Betsey carried ten guns and had a crew of twelve men. She was bonded for $5000.00 by Benjamin Bradhurst of Baltimore, MD and John Williams of Annapolis, MD. It is interesting to note that one of her actual co-owners, William Pollard, was a native of Philadelphia, PA while the remainder of her co-owners, not named in the citation, were all of Baltimore, MD. According to the Library of Congress's work, Naval Records, page 241, on March 13, 1780, Benjamin Bradhurst was commissioned as "Master" of the Maryland schooner Blossom, out of Annapolis, MD, most likely. The Maryland schooner Blossom carried four guns and had a crew of nine men. As before with the Maryland brig Betsey, the Maryland schooner Blossom was bonded for $5000.00 by Benjamin Bradhurst of Annapolis, MD and John Davidson, also of Annapolis, MD. Earlier, with the Maryland brig Betsey, Benjamin Bradhurst was cited as being a resident of Baltimore, MD while with the Maryland schooner it would appear that he is cited as being a resident of Annapolis, MD. It is completely possible that Benjamin Bradhurst could have easily moved the location of his residence between these two Maryland coastal cities, especially if he was wealthy enough to bond both of these vessels. According to the Library of Congress's work, Naval Records, page 398, finally, on May 7, 1781, Benjamin Bradhurst is cited as "Mate" on board the Pennsylvania ship Morris. The citation here indicates that Benjamin Bradhurst was a native of Baltimore, MD. The Pennsylvania ship Morris carried eight guns and had a crew of forty men. The Pennsylvania ship Morris was bonded for $20,000.00 by co-owner John Donnaldson and Master Thomas Misnard, both of Philadelphia, PA.
Thus, Benjamin Bradhurst had experience with at least three ships-of-war prior to his being the captain of the schooner Seagrove on December 20, 1782 when she was pursued by HMS Diomede off the Capes of the Delaware. A piece of information that the writer of this blog has not located is the homeports of each of the three patriot privateer ships-of-war that made up the convoy of the frigate South Carolina that fateful day in December 1782. According to Kellow's website, "American War of Independence at Sea", entry for "The Pennsylvania Privateer Ship Hope", page 1, all three of these ships-of-war are cited as being Pennsylvanian in origin. This is the only source that states this piece of information. Of course, this is completely plausible but, both Jesse Harding and Benjamin Bradhurst seem to have been native Marylanders and could have commanded Maryland privateer ships-of-war, the Constance and the Seagrove, respectively, that had simply put into Philadelphia, PA before returning home to Maryland. It may have been their express intentions that after being convoyed and protected by the presence of the heavily-gunned frigate South Carolina into the open Atlantic Ocean, they both could have intended on turning southward for Chesapeake Bay and home - either Baltimore, MD or Annapolis, MD. But, events would dictate otherwise and end in the capture on December 20-21, 1782 of all patriot vessels involved except the schooner Seagrove, captained by Benjamin Bradhurst. He and the crew of the schooner Seagrove alone would escape to bear the tale of the capture of the frigate South Carolina.
So, all of these three patriot ships-of-war being convoyed by the frigate South Carolina were captained by experienced sailors and skilled captains. More than likely, these were all armed vessels-of-war, though much more lightly armed than their escort, the frigate South Carolina. They also were certainly more lightly armed than the Royal Navy men-of-war that lay in wait for them to emerge from the Delaware River into the open Atlantic Ocean. The Constance was almost immediately captured by HMS Quebec and HMS Astraea. The Hope, after fleeing with the protection of the frigate South Carolina, would too turn towards the enemy and submit. This would leave the frigate South Carolina to lead her pursuers on a long chase of almost twenty hours before she surrendered, alone, in the late afternoon of December 21, 1782. Only the schooner Seagrove would escape to bear a tale of woe to their next port of call - possibly Baltimore, MD or Annapolis, MD - the tale of the capture of the most heavily-gunned patriot ship-of-war afloat, the frigate South Carolina.