As this blog attests to, many men walked the decks of the frigate South Carolina or, in some other more indirect manner, had dealings with her while she sailed the ocean. Many of these men have been dealt with in some detail in several of the posts contained within this blog. But, there are other "entities" that also played a part in the story of this great frigate. But, instead of being animate entities, like the numerous people who frequently populated her decks, these are inanimate "entities". Like the frigate South Carolina, these, too, are ships. One of those ships was the Cicero.
There would be several other ships that would cross paths with the frigate South Carolina in her voyages and time at sea. Some of these ships would be American in origin. Others would be vessels of allied nations. Some of them would be British merchant vessels that the frigate would attempt to capture and bring into a friendly port for indemnification and sale. Others, more ominously, would be those ships-of-war that were vessels of the Royal Navy and detailed to search for the frigate South Carolina and capture or sink her. The Cicero was different from all of these others, though, mainly due to the story that surrounds her that took place before any of the personnel of the frigate South Carolina even saw her in the Spanish port city of Corunna.
After the frigate South Carolina had departed from the Texel, Holland on August 4, 1781, she cruised directly northward along the eastern coast of England. Then she rounded the northern coast of Scotland and came down the western coast of Ireland. Evidently, she chased after many prizes but, only two of these are recorded in history as being captured by the frigate. Unfortunately, the first of these, run down by the frigate South Carolina just off Berwick on the English eastern coast, has remained unnamed. Evidently, she was in such bad repair that Commodore Gillon chose to burn her rather than take her into a friendly port in France or Spain.
The second prize was sighted on September 6, 1781 and chase was given to her by the frigate South Carolina. After two days of chase, she fleeing ships was run down and surrendered. "She turned out to be the Alexander, a large privateer from Liverpool with sixty men and sixteen cannons aboard. After stripping her over a week's time of weapons, powder, sails, and eight of her crew, Gillon placed twenty-six marines on her deck and sent her to France under the supervision of a prizemaster, Midshipman James Pile" (Lewis, Neptune's Militia, page 39). Within hours of having parted company with the frigate South Carolina, the prize ship Alexander was recaptured by the Royal Navy man-of-war, HMS Hearts of Oak.
(Note: Midshipman James Pile would have been captured along with the remainder of his prize crew on September 8, 1781. Being that the recapture of the Alexander took place so geographically close to Ireland, Midshipman Pile and his entire prize crew would have been taken to either Ireland or England for incarceration. Yet, the additional citations for James Pile below in the post dated "04/14/2015" cite him as follows:
James Pile - He served aboard the frigate South Carolina and was on the Havana cruise. A.A.5953; O604. (Moss, Roster of South Carolina Patriots in the American Revolution, page 774.) He is cited as "Midshipman, volunteer" in Lewis, Neptune's Militia, "Appendix: Crew and Marines of the South Carolina", page 161. According to Revill, Original Index Book, page 385, James Pile received 166p/2s/0d on February 12, 1785.
Yet, in reference to his initial citation in Moss above, since he and his prize crew was captured on September 8, 1781, he would have been in British custody during the "Havana cruise" which was between January 12, 1782 and May 14, 1782. It is possible that he had been exchanged by that time but, the possibility of regaining the decks of the frigate South Carolina before those early months of 1782 in order to participate in the "Havana cruise" would have been very remote. So, the question is: Did Midshipman James Pile falsify his claim of military service during the American Revolution, made against the state of South Carolina, in order to make his claim more convincing and thus, more likely to be paid to him?)
The relevance of all of this drama to the story of the frigate South Carolina and the Cicero is that almost immediately after the departure of the prize-ship Alexander for a French port, "...the purser brought Gillon some bad news, hardly unexpected insomuch as the frigate had been at sea for six weeks. Food and water supplies were dangerously low..." (Lewis, Neptune's Militia, page 40). Commodore Alexander Gillon decided to make for the northern port of Corunna in Spain for resupply and re-watering.
Among the "passengers" on board the frigate South Carolina were two military figures who had been on official business in support of the patriot efforts in Europe. These two officers were Colonel James Searle and Major William Jackson. They were already discontented with Commodore Alexander Gillon for taking so long to get the frigate South Carolina to sea from the Texel in Holland. Now, they were facing an even longer postponement to their plans to return to the colonies and to their military duties. They were upset with Commodore Gillon and had drawn two other passengers into their discontentment - John Trumbull (the future famous American artist) and Joshua Barney (future naval hero of the Revolution and the War of 1812). Under the charge of Major William Jackson was Charles Adams, the young son of John Adams, delegate from Massachusetts to the Second Continental Congress, meeting then in Philadelphia, PA. The men of this small, discontented party were determined to leave the frigate South Carolina at the first possible opportunity. Once in Corunna, Spain, the Cicero provided that opportunity.
"Jackson and Searle insisted on leaving the ship at Corunna, taking their baggage plus some cargo that Searle had shipped. Moreover, they demanded that Charles Adams, youngest son of John Adams and entrusted to the care of Jackson, accompany them. They were joined by a few other passengers but, not the majority. John Trumbull and Joshua Barney left; they were soul mates of Jackson and Searle and had long since lost confidence in Gillon. Jackson, Adams, Trumbull, and Barney booked passage on the Cicero, a Massachusetts privateer" (Lewis, Neptune's Militia, page 43).
Once in Corunna, Spain, the malcontents began to search the harbor for a ship bound for the Americas. Soon, they found "... the ship Cicero, Captain Hill, a fine armed Letter of Marque of 20 guns and 120 men belonging to the Cabots of Beverly, Massachusetts. The Cicero was to sail immediately for Bilboa, there to take on board a cargo which awaited her, and then to sail for America" (Middlebrook, The Frigate South Carolina, page 8). So, the Cicero privateer was then in Corunna, Spain but, was bound for Bilboa, Spain to pick up a cargo before sailing for Beverly, Massachusetts and arriving there in January 1782. Another source, Founders Online, National Archives: "To Benjamin Franklin from Alexander Gillon, 14 October 1781" identifies the ship as "...the Cicero, 16, was commanded by Hugh Hill". Thus, we gain the full name of the captain of the Cicero but, an identified armament of 16 guns rather than 20 as previously cited by Middlebrook above. Middlebrook also identifies the ship further by describing her as "...a fine British, Lisbon packet..." (Middlebrook, The Frigate South Carolina, page 8).
In danger of oversimplifying the facts here, privateers were privately-owned vessels-of-war that had received a "letter of marque" from their governments allowing them to prey upon the shipping of an enemy nation, in this case upon the vessels of Great Britain. Interested individuals would invest their funds in a cruise and would decide where the privateer was to search for and waylay enemy shipping. Some of these privateers were money-making adventures for all involved, both crew members and owners. Others, were thinly veiled pirates or corsairs. In the case of the Cicero, a family known as "the Cabots" owned her and probably had a great amount of say as to where and how she would operate. Thus, privateers could be found in any friendly port wherever the war may be prosecuted to advantage. So, it was very likely that since the ports of Spain were friendly to American shipping and privateers, a likely vessel bound for America could be found there. It turned out to be the Cicero out of Beverly, Massachusetts.
There is one last bit of information regarding the Massachusetts privateer Cicero. It appears from some of the previously cited information that the discontented individuals who left the frigate South Carolina did so due to their disgust with the amount of time it had taken to get as far as they had. They sought out what they identified as a much quicker manner to reach home rather than to stay on board the frigate. Thus, it is ironical that "the Cicero had her own difficulties in returning home, and the South Carolina actually reached the New World before her" (Lewis, Neptune's Militia, page 185, n.6). A bit more clarifying information is expressed in Middlebrook, page 8 when he states that the Cicero arrived in Beverly, Massachusetts in January 1782 but, it is known that the frigate South Carolina sailed into British-held Charleston harbor on December 31, 1781 and, realizing the situation on hand, sailed right back out and bore away for Cuba (Lewis, Neptune's Militia, page 49). Thus, the frigate South Carolina beat the Massachusetts privateer Cicero by probably a few days or weeks but, arrived here ahead of the Yankee ship, nonetheless.