New Hampshire Privateer Ship Hampden


Commander Thomas Pickering


[August] 1778-8 March 1779

New Hampshire Privateer Ship

(2) Lieutenant Samuel Pickering
8 March 1779-[19] April 1779

Commissioned/First Date:

[May] 1778

Out of Service/Cause:

30 June 1779/transferred to the New Hampshire Navy


Woodbury Langdon et al of Portsmouth, New Hampshire




Date Reported: 1 June 1778

Number/Caliber   Weight         Broadside

22/6-pounder and 9-pounder

Total: 22 cannon/

Broadside: 11 cannon/


Date Reported: 27 April 1779

Number/Caliber   Weight         Broadside

 6/9-pounder       54 pounds   27 pounds

14/6-pounder       84 pounds   42 pounds

 2/4-pounder        8 pounds    4 pounds

Total: 22 cannon/146 pounds

Broadside: 11 cannon/73 pounds



(1) 1778: 151 [total]
(2) 28 January 1779: 120 [total]


Frigate built ship, fast sailer.


(1) Lieutenant Samuel Pickering, 1778-; (2) [First] Mate John Tanner, 1778-19 April 1779; (3) Captain of Marines George Waldron, 1778-


(1) Portsmouth, New Hampshire to Brest, France, [August] 1778-6 October 1778

(2) Brest, France to Brest, France, 1 December 1778-19 December 1778

(3) Brest, France to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, February 1779-[19] April 1779


(1) Brig Harmony

(2) [unknown] Linderust, [September] 1778

(3) Ship La Constance, 2 October 1778

(4) Brig [unknown]

(5) Brigantine [unknown], December 1778

(6) Dutch vessel, December 1778


(1) Action with East India Company ship Bridgewater, 8 March 1779


New Hampshire Privateer Ship Hampden was commissioned about mid 1778 under Commander Thomas Pickering of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Hampden was a ship of 400 tons, armed with twenty-two guns, and is said to have had a crew of 150 men.1

The Hampden, as shown in the Holman painting. See below for details.

A recruiting advertisement appeared in the New Hampshire newspaper on 9 June 1778. According to the advertisement Hampden, spelled Hamden “mounts twenty-two Guns, nine and six Pounders. The Accommodations on Board are elegant, and suited for Convenience of all concern’d. The said Hampden, without any Complement, mental Reservation, or Equivocation, is suppos’d to be as fast a sailing Vessel as any yet that has been fix’d out in the Thirteen States, therefore can take or leave.” The advertisement was for Marines, to be commanded by George Waldron. Another officer listed was Lieutenant Samuel Pickering.2

Hampden got to sea and sailed for European waters. Four prizes were captured and sent into France.3 One of these was the brig Harmony, with a cargo of great value.4 Another prize was the French vessel La Constance. She had been taken by a Guernsey privateer on 29 September 1778 and recaptured by Pickering and the Hampden on 2 October 1778. A third prize was a Danish flagged vessel, the Linderust.

Hampden arrived at Brest on 6 October 1778. In a later letter to the American Commissioners in France, Pickering related his cruise, and the particular circumstances of La Constance:

”This will Inform you that I arriv’d here on the 6th Octor. last from a Cruize from the Port of Pisscataqua in the State of New hamshire N. America. that in the Course of my Cruize I fell in with a French Ship called the L’Constant from St. Domingo bound to Bourdeaux. Which sd. Ship, had been taken four days before by a Guernsey Privateer. The Ship I retook again & sent in here. That when I came in I apply’d to Monsr. Peter Riou Kings Lingester. who Immediately told me the Ship was a Lawful Prize to the Ship Hampden, as wel as several other Gentlemn here which told me the same.

Some few days after several Gent. apply’d to me to Purchase Ship & Cargoe. as being a Lawful Prize, (as they declar’d She Certainly was according to the Laws &c. of France) On this I agreed with sd. Gentl. & sold Ship & Cargoe for the sum of £12,600 Sterlg. On Condition that they should indemnify me from all Damages and Incumbrances whatsoever that should attend the Sale thereof; (if any should Arise,) and they to abide by the Consquence.—

Also in regard of the Cargoe of the Ship, as she was Leaky when I retook her, in this also I was to be Clear & free from all Damages therein.—”5

A letter of Pickering and Peter Riou to the American Commissioners in France relates what happened when La Constance made port:

“Thomas Pickerin, captain of the Hampden, recaptured La Constance, took it into Brest, and, in accordance with the marine ordinance of 1681, addressed himself to Rïou within twenty-four hours. Captain Moodey of the prize ship was in attendance, and two Frenchmen from on board the ship were also questioned by admiralty judges. The legitimacy of the capture was established by these formalities, and Pickerin and Rïou considered their legal obligations fulfilled. They believed they were following the precedent set by Captain Jones, who had been allowed to sell his prize. Pickerin therefore gave Rïou power of attorney to sell the ship and all its goods. The buyers, Lestume and Coquillon, took possession on October 16 and proceeded to unload and sell the cargo right under the eyes of the admiralty. Pickerin, receiving payment in cash and negotiable effects on October 18, shared the proceeds with his crew and set out on another cruise. All was peaceful until Rïou was notified on October 22 that the admiralty’s September 27 ruling on the procedures for selling ships and cargo applied to Pickerin. After calming down the angry buyers by assuring them that all parties had been acting in good faith and that they could continue to sell off the goods, Rïou had written to the commissioners for aid, but received no answer. . . ”6 And there the matter stood when Hampden sailed again.

Trouble over the prize was not the only trouble Pickering found in France. Captain John Paul Jones was in Brest preparing the Continental Navy Ship Bonhomme Richard for sea. Jones was collecting all the American deserters he could find. Pickering evidently had some deserters caught by Jones, who, it would seem, refused to return them. Pickering protested to Franklin: “I Assume the Liberty of Writing you per this Post, advising you that Capt. Jones has impos’d on himself the dignity of a Continental Officer, and thereby securing all Desserters from American Vessels. to the great Prejudice of the United States. As I humbly Conceive it a matter of great Consequence to suffer such Unnatrual & Illegal Proceedings, must humbly request of you to put a stop to his further proceedings—therein”7

On 1 December 1778 Hampden sailed from Brest, in company with seven French frigates. Pickering later wrote of this cruise that “I apply’d to the Commodore for their Signals at Sea, but he would not grant me— I sail’d from this Place the 1st: Inst: in Company as above, with an intended Cruize for 4 Months and then To proceed to North America; but meeting with bad Weather and Contrary Winds on the Coast, I soon Lost Compy. of the French Ships, however I stil continued my Cruize, and on the 8th. Inst. was Chased by two Frigates in the Channell which I took to be English Cruizers, but they proved to be French Frigates, and in Order to avoid being Taken I Crowded such Sail on my Ship She sprung a Leak, Carried away the Fore Top Mast, and sprung the Bowspritt, and was Oblig’d to put away for this Port.”8 Hampden arrived back at Brest about 19 December, after an eighteen day cruise.9

Pickering gave another version of this cruise later: “Since this I have been here and Repair’d my Ship; and sail\’d on a Homeward bound Cruize to America; the 9th. Decemr: Last, but meeting with strong Gales of Wind and Excessive bad Weather on the Coast, and also being Chac’d by two Ships in the Channel, which I took by their Signals to be English Cruizers, but afterwards prov’d to be two French Frigates.

And in Order to prevent being taken, I Crowded so much Sail on my Ship that I carried away my Fore Top Mast & sprung my Bowspritt and a Leak, that I was Oblig’d to put in here to repair my Ship again.—”10

Even so, Pickering managed to capture two prizes on this short cruise. He reported these to Franklin on 22 December:

“I have taken two Prizes—the one a Brigantine from Newfoundland Loaden with dry Codd Fish—The other a Dutch Dogger from Barcalona Loaden with Nutts—bound for London. Notwithstanding the Dutch Captain first Possitive Declaration when I took him on Board the Ship Hampden that the Cargoe belong’d & was Consign’d To some Merchants in London, he now has made a nother Declaration, since he came in here, which says he is not Certain whether the Cargoe is a Spanish Property or English upon the whole (by the request of Monsieur Peter Riou a Gentleman who is Kings Lingester here and has heretofore Transacted my Bussiness for the Captors &c: with the greatest Integrity & faithfulness) the Court of Admiralty, has taken the Vessel & Cargoe under their Immediate Care & Inspection and have Seal>’d the Vessels Hatches down, until such Times as they can inform themselves better of the Property &—”11

Pickering later wrote that “On my Passage Inwards I retook a Brigg from Newfd.Land. Loaden with Fish, which had been taken before by an English Frigate.— I also took and brought in here a Dutch Dogger from Barcelona Loaden with Nutts bound to Londo. and by the Captains Declaration to me when I took him, was an English Property.—12

When Hampden returned to Brest after the short cruise of eighteen days,13 Pickering discovered the owners of La Constance had entered a claim against the vessel. On 23 December 1778 Pickering wrote to Benjamin Franklin, one of the American Commissioners in France, concerning the matter, asking for his help. Pickering said “before I atempted the saile of the Ship and Cargo I made my Self acquainted with the laws and Customs of France which was if any Prises or Prisses that was taken by the Enemy being in there hands more then Twenty four Hours then Retaken was a total prise to the Ratakers.” Pickering was afraid that the Hampden would be detained in port when she was ready for sea because of the claim.14

This was indeed the case. The La Constance was sold. The letter of Pickering and Riou to the American Commissioners tells the story: “. . .  The admiralty officials on December 5 sequestered the prize ship and its contents, and even forced the buyers to show them where the resold goods had been taken. The buyers turned to the Council of Prizes for help, but so did Arnaud de Lavau of Bordeaux, a representative of the original owners who sought to recover La Constance for themselves. Since the ship had been taken by the English, how could it any longer be the property of the original owners, and how could they hope to recover it? If the Hampden had been French, the retaking of it would certainly have been valid. Pickerin, who is back with two new prizes, fears Lestume and Coquillon may take them away from him. Will the commissioners please sustain the interests of their countrymen and use their power for those people depending on them?”15

The buyers of the La Constance, fearing they would lose their money and goods, had the proceeds of the sale of the Newfoundland brig impounded. Pickering says:

“You will please to Observe further that since I have been here I have repair’d my Ship and am now ready for Sea. The Brigg & Cargoe are now sold at Vendue; and the Dutch Vessel remains as She was.—

“Notwithstanding all this the Gentlemen which Bought the Prize L’Constante have stop’d the Mony in the Gentleman hand which purchas’d the Fish & Brigg; and also stop’d the Ship Hampden, so that I cannot proceed to Sea, neither do any thing concerning this Case, before your answer whether the Ship is a Lawful Prize or not.—

My Ship Lays here with 120 Men on Board at a vast Expence.

Must Humbly request you to send your Ansr. Immediately whether She is a Prize or not.”16

About 28 January 1779 Riou wrote to the American Commissioners, asking for their help in freeing the funds, and getting the Hampden back out to sea.17

Ambassador Franklin and the American Commissioners were trying to help. On 7 January 1779 they sent a note to the French Minister of Marine, Sartine, asking his assistance. They pointed out that no provision in the treaty regulated such re-captures, and that the French law should prevail. They also pointed out that the sale had occurred before the new regulations went into effect.18

Meanwhile, Pickering received no warm reception from the port officials:

“Since I have been here I have apply’d to the Commodant for Permission to come into the Harbour to Repair & fit my Ship, but he has Absolutely refus’d it, my Ship is so Leaky, that I am Oblig\’d to keep the Pumps Continualy going to prevent her from sinking— I have perus’d the Treaty between the United States of America & France which not only says they shall Assist and Succour all Armed Vessels belonging to the States of America, but even Merchant Ships.”19

“Their treatment of me in this Case at present (if I may be allow’d the Expression) is in my Opinion realy breaking such a Treaty— I am now stil lying in the Road, with my Ship in Distress with One hundred & twenty Men on Board and at a great Expence— . . . He is forcing me to go 4 or 5 Miles distant from this place where there was never a ship of this Burden before, and am Inform’d by Gentlemen in this place is very hazourdous so that I am in danger of loosing the Ship finally—” Pickering now appealed again to Franklin for help.20

Hampden finally sailed on her homebound cruise about the beginning of February 1779. The cruise was uneventful until 7 March 1779. On that day Hampden was at 47° 13'N,  28° 30'W, sailing in company with a schooner under one Smith, armed with twelve 4-pounders. At 1000 a sail was sighted, to the southwest, about six miles distant, and Pickering promptly began chasing her. He signaled to Smith to follow him, which the smaller privateer did. At 1700 the stranger raised an English blue ensign, which Pickering answered with an English red ensign, and fired a gun, hoping to bring the chase down to him. At 2100 the stranger disappeared in the gathering darkness. Pickering hoisted three lanterns at the stern as a signal for Smith to follow him, and to indicate that he intended to follow the stranger. Smith “ neither answer’d our signal nor follow’d us.”

During the night Hampden prepared for action. At dawn the stranger was about three miles ahead of the Hampden, with Smith’s schooner nowhere in sight. Pickering began chasing again. A letter from an officer aboard the Hampden describes the following action:

“At 7 A.M. came under her lee quarter within hail, hoisted continental colours and gave her a broadside. She kept all her guns hous'd till just before we fired, altho' we could tell her ports thirteen of a side, a very great distance apart; she return'd the broadside without any damage, with twenty-four nine pounders and eight four pounders and had the advantage of a spar deck to cover her men. Being a beautiful large ship with two tier of cabin windows we knew her to be an East Indianian and of much superior force, but supposing they were badly mann'd, were determined to fight her as long as we could. The engagement continued till half past Ten, close alongside, when finding our three masts and bowsprit very badly wounded, our starboard main shrouds totally gone, our rigging and sails cut to pieces, our double headed shott expended, and near twenty of our men killed and wounded, were obliged to our grief to leave her a mere wreck, her masts, yards, sails and rigging cut to pieces. Having ourselves only the foresail which we could set to get off with, the sheets being cut away, were obliged to use our tacks. During the action our brave and worthy commander, Capt. Pickering, was killed. Mr. Peltier a Frenchman kill’d. Samuel Shortridge so badly wounded he died in two hours after. John Bunting, both legs shot away but liv’d nine days after. John Tanner, master’s mate, left arm shot off. Micajah Blasdel, left hand shot off. Peter Derrick, his mouth shot to pieces, and twelve others wounded, but none dangerous. We gave them three different cheers during the action, and our men fought with the greatest Bravery and coolness possible. The Ship was about Eight Hundred Tons, and a Tier of Air Ports under her Gun Ports.” Hampden arrived at Portsmouth about 19 April 1779.21

The East India Company's ship Bridgewater sucessfully defending her cargo from an attack by the American privateer Hampden on her way from St. Helena , 1779. Francis Holman. Find a larger view here.

This vessel was the British East India Company’s 840-ton ship Bridgewater, built in London in 1769 and skippered by William Parker.22 Bridgewater carried only 26 guns, four more than Hampden, but she was poorly manned with only 84 men,23 many of whom were sickly, and in such a poor state that Parker had been forced to refit for a month at anchor off St Helena. 24

Parker misread the name of his opponent as Campden, and thought she was an American frigate of 28 guns, and 300 men, with a sloop in company. The frigate hoisted American colours, and the fight started at 0800 and lasted three hours until the frigate sheered off with the loss of her captain and 19 seamen killed, and 25 wounded, while the sloop or schooner ‘it blowing fresh…could not get into action.’ Parker held his fire until Hampden had ranged up alongside, and the fight ended when Bridgewater put her helm over and raked Hampden, causing havoc in Hampden and killing Pickering.25

Bridgewater was not badly hurt in the action and reached England safely on 16 March 1779. 26 When the Court of Directors of the East India Company met on 10 June 1779 they resolved “

“That for such a masterly defence of his ship, and against such a very unequal force … and in consideration of the gallant defence made by the Officers and Seamen of the ship Bridgewater, against an American Ship of War of superior force, which after an engagement of some hours was obliged to sheer off, a gratuity of Two thousand pounds, be paid to the said Officers and Seamen, in such proportion as shall be settled by the Committee of Shipping. That Captain Parker do receive the Thanks of this Court for his gallant conduct, and that he be presented with a Piece of Plate of One hundred guineas value, with the Company's Arms engraved thereon.”27


Detail of the Stars and Stripes. The Stars appear to be in a rectangular pattern, but could be circular. From the Holman painting.

Parker chose to commemorate his victory over Hampden by commissioning a painting by Francis Holman (1729-1784) who was well-acquainted with the sea. Holman’s painting of Bridgewater’s fight shows much of the detail which he surely learned from William Parker, showing the Bridgewater raking the Hampden. Hampden is depicted flying the 13-star Stars and Stripes, perhaps the first depiction of that flag at sea.

The next issue of the Portsmouth paper, 27 April, carried an advertisement for the sale of the Hampden. She was described as a remarkably fast sailing vessel, frigate built and measuring 400 tons, and armed with six 9-pounders, fourteen 6-pounders and two 4-pounders. All her stores, including one ton of gunpowder, were to be sold. The sale was to take place on 7 May 1779.28 The ship was not however, sold at the auction.

About 7 May an armed brigantine arrived from France at Portsmouth, with the effects of some of the prizes taken by the Hampden and sent into France.29 On 29 June an advertisement appeared in the newspaper calling on anyone who had an interest in a prize brig captured by the Hampden to collect their money.30

About May 1779 the British established a post on the Penobscot River in Maine. The Massachusetts government readied an expedition to drive out the British expedition and called on New Hampshire for assistance. John Langdon, on 30 June 1779, offered the Hampden to New Hampshire, if she would appraise the ship and insure her against loss. The New Hampshire Committee of Safety agreed immediately.31 The rest of Hampdens story belongs to the New Hampshire Navy Ship Hampden (q.v.).

1 Maclay, History of American Privateers, 135. However, Maclay lists her commander as Salter, who later commanded the same ship in the Penobscot Expedition.

2 The Freemans Journal, or, The New-Hampshire Gazette [Portsmouth], Tuesday, June 9, 1778

3 Allen, ii

4 Report of the Adjutant General of the State of New Hampshire for the Year Ending June 1, 1866, Concord: George G. Jenks, 1866, II, 369. Online here.]

5 Letter, Pickering to the American Commissioners in France, 28 January 1779, in Franklin Papers []

6 Letter, Peter Riou and Thomas Pickering to the American Commissioners, 23 December 1778, in Franklin Papers, []

7 Letter, Pickering to Franklin, 23 November 1778, in Franklin Papers []

8 Letter, Pickering to Franklin, 30 December 1778, in Franklin Papers []

9 Letter, Pickering to Franklin, 30 December 1778, in Franklin Papers []

10 Letter, Pickering to the American Commissioners in France, 28 January 1779, in Franklin Papers []

11 Letter, Pickering to Franklin, 22 December 1778, in Franklin Papers []

12 Letter, Pickering to the American Commissioners in France, 28 January 1779, in Franklin Papers []

13 Letter, Pickering to Franklin, 30 December 1778, in Franklin Papers []

14 Letter, Pickering to Franklin, 23 December 1778, in Franklin Papers []

15 Letter, Peter Riou and Thomas Pickering to the American Commissioners, 23 December 1778, in Franklin Papers, []

16 Letter, Pickering to the American Commissioners in France, 28 January 1779, in Franklin Papers []

17 Letter, Peter Riou to the American Commissioners, about 28 January 1779, at Franklin Papers []

18 Letter, American Commissioners to Sartine, 7 January 1779, in Franklin Papers []

19 Letter, Pickering to Franklin, 30 December 1778, in Franklin Papers []

20 Letter, Pickering to Franklin, 30 December 1778, in Franklin Papers []

21 The New Hampshire Gazette, or State Journal, and General Advertiser [Portsmouth], Tuesday, April 20, 1779


23 Carlisle, Nicholas, Topographical Dictionary Of Ireland, William Miller, London: 1810. This work is not paged.

24  Email from Peter Hore, 6/24/16, who brought to my attention the name of the ship that Hampden fought, as well as the Holman painting.. Thank you Peter.

25 Carlisle, Nicholas, Topographical Dictionary Of Ireland, William Miller, London: 1810

26 New-Lloyds List, [London] Tuesday, March 30, 1779

27  Carlisle, Nicholas, Topographical Dictionary Of Ireland, William Miller, London: 1810

28 The New Hampshire Gazette, or State Journal, and General Advertiser [Portsmouth], Tuesday, April 27, 1779

29 The New Hampshire Gazette, or State Journal, and General Advertiser [Portsmouth], Tuesday, May 11, 1779

30 The New Hampshire Gazette, or State Journal, and General Advertiser [Portsmouth], Tuesday, June 29, 1779

31 Winslow, Wealth and Honour, 46

Posted 26 June 2016 ©