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Massachusetts Privateer Ship Jack




Jack [Saucy Jack]

(1) Commander David Ropes

Sloop-of-War

6 September 1781-28 May 1782

Massachusetts Privateer Ship

(2) First Lieutenant William Gray
28 May 1782-29 May 1782


Commissioned/First Date:

6 September 1781

Out of Service/Cause:

29 May 1782/captured by HM Brig Observer


Owners:

Henry Rust of Salem, Massachusetts


Tonnage:

130, [modern estimate: 195]


Battery:

Date Reported: 6 September 1781

Number/Caliber  Weight        Broadside

14/

Total: 14 cannon/

Broadside: 7 cannon/

Swivels:


Date Reported: 29 May 1782

Number/Caliber  Weight        Broadside

6/9-pounder     54 pounds   27 pounds/

9/6-pounder     54 pounds   24 pounds/

Total: 15 cannon/108 pounds

Broadside: 7 cannon/51 pounds

Swivels:


Crew:

(1) 6 September 1781: 61 [total]
29 May 1782: 63 [total]


Description:

[modern estimate: 73' length on the keel, 85' length on the deck, 24' beam, 10' depth in the hold]


Officers:

(1) First Lieutenant William Gray, 6 September 1781-29 May 1782; (2) Prize Master Nathaniel Trask, -29 May 1782


Cruises:


Prizes:

(1) Ship Aurora (Christopher Blackmore), May 1782, with Massachusetts Privateer Ship Dispatch


Actions:

(1) Action with Observer, 28/29 May 1782


Possible/Probable Flags:      

Comments:

The first Massachusetts Privateer Ship Jack (Commander Nathan Brown) was captured by the British in the St. Lawrence River about the end of August 1780. She was taken in to Quebec, Quebec and taken into the Quebec Provincial Marine (or Provincial Navy) as a patrol and escort vessel, being commanded by Commander R. P. Tonge. In July 1781 the Jack was off Louisbourg, Nova Scotia, assisting a British naval force in escorting a convoy. Two French frigates, Le Hermione (Lieutenant de vaisseaux Louis-René Levassor de Latouche-Treville) and L’Astrée (Capitaine de vaisseaux Jean-François de Galoup, comte de Lapérouse) intercepted the convoy. In the ensuing Naval Battle off Cape Breton, Jack (or the Saucy Jack) was captured by the French.


 

Jack under British colors, from a drawing by Jean Mullon.

 

 

Jack was sent into Boston, Massachusetts, arriving there on 4 August 1781. She was described as the “privateer” Saucy Jack, a few days out of Halifax, and armed with sixteen guns.1 Jack was advertised for sale on 9 August, with the sale to take place on 17 August. Jack was described as “swift-sailing” and as armed with sixteen 6-pounders and 9-pounders. She was captured only five or six days out of port and was to be sold “as she came from the sea.”2

A modern reconstruction of her lines indicates she was 73' in length on the keel, 85' in length on the deck, with a 24' beam, and a 10' depth in the hold. Her estimated tonnage was 195.3 As she was the original Jack, her tonnage still would have been 130 tons.4


Reconstructed lines of the Jack, from Millar, Early American Ships.

 

 

Hull form of the Jack, from Millar, Early American Ships.

 

 

Jack was purchased by an American syndicate which included at least one of the owners (John Norris) of the original Jack. The “new” Jack was commissioned on 6 September 1781 under Commander David Ropes of Salem, Massachusetts. She was listed as being armed with fourteen guns and as having a crew of sixty men. Her $20000 Continental bond was signed by Ropes and by Henry Rust and John Norris, both of Salem.5 William Gray served aboard as First Lieutenant.6

Little is known of Jack’s subsequent activities. Sailing with the Massachusetts Privateer Ship Dispatch (Commander John Felt) in May 1782, she captured7 the 1608 or the 200-ton ship Aurora9 (Christopher Blackmore).10 The prize was sent into Boston, and arrived in port about 20 May.11 She was libeled on 4 July 1782, and tried on 23 July.12


Jack then sailed up the coast of Nova Scotia and was cruising near the entrance to Halifax on the evening of 28 May. In the late afternoon light her lookouts sighted a brig standing in for the land.13 Jack made sail and stood down toward the brig.14


The unknown brig was HM Brig Observer (Lieutenant John Crymes), out on a rescue mission. She had been a Halifax a few days before when part of the crew of HM Frigate Blonde arrived in the city. They told the tale of Blonde’s shipwreck on a desolate island, and how two American privateers had appeared and rescued them. Part of the crew went overland to Halifax, and part, including Captain Thornborough, had taken some small shallops to sail to Halifax. Observer was ordered to sea to search for the shallops and part of Blonde’s men went aboard to aid in the search. Observer successfully found the shallops and took Thornborough and his men aboard. Observer normally had a crew of sixty-three men, but the men from the Blonde swelled the number aboard to 173.15


A View of His Majesty’s Brigg Observer, Commanded by Lieut. John Crymes (to whom this print is inscribed) Engaging the American Privateer Ship Jack, John Ropes (commander), by Night on the 29th of May 1782, Off the Harbour of Hallifax, Nova Scotia”. Aquatint by Robert Dodd, 1784

 


Observer sighted the Jack between 1800 and 1900. Crymes made his position nine miles northeast of Cape Sambro. The stranger was to the east, bearing down on the Observer under a “press of sail.” Between 2000 and 2100 came within hail.16 The Americans soon discovered the brig seemed to be armed with sixteen guns, had a coppered bottom, and was “full of men.”17 Jack immediately “crowded sail and endeavoured to get off.”18 Observer made sail and the chase was on.19


Jack, detail from the Dodd print. The flag can be seen to have the stars in a circle or ellipse.

 

As the Observer closed in on the Jack, Captain Thornborough (of the Blonde) went to one of the guns and stationed himself there as a volunteer.20 After a chase of between one and a half, or two and a half hours, Observer got alongside the Jack and brought her to “close action.”21 The Americans put the time at 2130.22


Lieutenant William Gray of the Jack reported on the ensuing action:


“It was our misfortune to have our worthy commander, Capt. Ropes, mortally wounded by the first broadside. I was slightly wounded, at the same time, in my right hand and head; but not so as to disable me from duty. The action was maintained on both sides, close, severe and without intermission, for upwards of two hours, in which time we had seven killed, several wounded, and many abandoned their quarters. Our rigging was so de­stroyed that not having command of our yards, the Jack fell with her larboard bow foul of the brig’s starboard quarter, when the enemy made an attempt to board us, but they were repulsed by a very small number compared with them. We were engaged in this position about a quarter of an hour, in which time I received a wound by a bayonet fixed on a musket and which was hove with such force as, enter­ing the fore part of my right thigh and passing through close to the bone, entered the carriage of a bow gun, where I was fastened, and it was out of my power to get clear till assisted by one of the prize masters. We then fell round and came with our broadsides to each other, when we renewed the action with powder and balls, but our match rope being all expended, except some which was unfit for use, we bore away, making a running fight.”23


The scene aboard the Observer was not so chaotic. The British were close enough “as to do much execution with their pikes.” Gray’s wound was administered by “one of Observer’s Marines, who hove his musket at him with such force that the bayonet entered his thigh and fastened him to the deck.” This stage of the fight lasted two hours, when Jack made sail and attempted to get off, making a running fight until 0100.24


Lieutenant Gray reported the remainder of the fight:


The brig being far superior in her number of men, was able to get soon repaired and completely ready to renew the action, indeed had constantly kept up a chasing fire, for we had not been out of reach of her musketry. She was now close alongside of us again with 50 men picked out for boarding. I therefore called Mr. Glover and the rest together and found we had but ten upon deck and two of them besides myself wounded. — I had been repeatedly desired to strike, but I mentioned the sufferings of a prison ship and made use of every other argument in my power for continuing the en­gagement. All the foreigners however deserted their quarters every opportunity. — At 2 o’clock P.M. on the 29th I had the inexpressible mortification to deliver up the vessel.”25


The British version substantially agrees with the American version: Observer got alongside again, preparing to renew the action, and Jack struck.26


The American losses were seven killed, including Prize Master Nathaniel Trask, and Ropes, who died of his wounds at 1600 on 29 May, after calmly making out his will. Thirteen were wounded, including Gray. According to Gray the British suffered more than double Jack’s casualties.27 Another American report indicates that the British had ten killed and some wounded.28 The British reported that the Americans had twenty-five men killed or wounded (not so far from Gray’s report). The British losses were reported as three killed and five wounded.29


After manning the prize Observer sailed for Halifax, arriving there on 29 May. Ropes died of his wounds just as the prize entered the harbor. The British reported that  Jack mounted six 9-pounders and nine 6-pounders and had a crew of sixty-three men aboard. Observer mounted twelve 6-pounders and had a crew of sixty men,30 but this totally ignores the presence of over 100 men from the Blonde aboard. Another American report indicates that Observer mounted sixteen 6-pounders and had 130 men aboard. Both sides praised the gallantry of their men and their inferiority to the enemy in strength. Jack, “though a ship,” was greatly inferior in men, which had much effect in an action close enough to throw muskets and use pikes.31


Dispatch arrived at Salem on 11 June 1782, bringing the news of Jack’s capture and the death of Ropes.32



1 The Massachusetts Spy: Or, American Oracle of Liberty [Boston], Thursday, August 16, 1781

2 The Continental Journal [Boston], Thursday, August 9, 1781

3 Millar, Early American Ships, 121

4 Howe, Beverly Privateers of the Revolution, 384

5 NRAR, 354; Allen, Massachusetts Privateers of the Revolution, 189-190

6 Allen, Massachusetts Privateers of the Revolution, 189-190

7 The Salem Gazette, Thursday, May 23, 1782

8 The Independent Chronicle and the Universal Advertiser [Boston], Thursday, July 4, 1782

9 The Salem Gazette, Thursday, May 23, 1782

10 The Independent Chronicle and the Universal Advertiser [Boston], Thursday, July 4, 1782

11 The Salem Gazette, Thursday, May 23, 1782

12 The Independent Chronicle and the Universal Advertiser [Boston], Thursday, July 4, 1782

13 The Massachusetts Spy: Or, American Oracle of Liberty [Worcester], July 25, 1782, abstract of a letter from Lieutenant William Gray, dated Halifax, June 6, 1782

14 The New-York Gazette; and The Weekly Mercury, Monday, July 1, 1782, datelined Halifax, June 4, 1782

15 The Massachusetts Spy: Or, American Oracle of Liberty [Worcester], July 25, 1782, abstract of a letter from Gray, dated Halifax, June 6, 1782; The New-York Gazette; and The Weekly Mercury, Monday, July 1, 1782, datelined Halifax, June 4, 1782

16 The New-York Gazette; and The Weekly Mercury, Monday, July 1, 1782, datelined Halifax, June 4, 1782

17 The Massachusetts Spy: Or, American Oracle of Liberty [Worcester], July 25, 1782, abstract of a letter from Lieutenant William Gray, dated Halifax, June 6, 1782

18 The New-York Gazette; and The Weekly Mercury, Monday, July 1, 1782, datelined Halifax, June 4, 1782

19 The New-York Gazette; and The Weekly Mercury, Monday, July 1, 1782, datelined Halifax, June 4, 1782

20 The New-York Gazette; and The Weekly Mercury, Monday, July 1, 1782, datelined Halifax, June 4, 1782

21 The New-York Gazette; and The Weekly Mercury, Monday, July 1, 1782, datelined Halifax, June 4, 1782

22 The Massachusetts Spy: Or, American Oracle of Liberty [Worcester], July 25, 1782, abstract of a letter from Lieutenant William Gray, dated Halifax, June 6, 1782

23 The Massachusetts Spy: Or, American Oracle of Liberty [Worcester], July 25, 1782, abstract of a letter from Lieutenant William Gray, dated Halifax, June 6, 1782

24 The New-York Gazette; and The Weekly Mercury, Monday, July 1, 1782, datelined Halifax, June 4, 1782

25 The Massachusetts Spy: Or, American Oracle of Liberty [Worcester], July 25, 1782, abstract of a letter from Lieutenant William Gray, dated Halifax, June 6, 1782. Gray’s letter is given, in part, in Allen, Massachusetts Privateers of the Revolution, 189-190.

26 The New-York Gazette; and The Weekly Mercury, Monday, July 1, 1782, datelined Halifax, June 4, 1782

27 The Massachusetts Spy: Or, American Oracle of Liberty [Worcester], July 25, 1782, abstract of a letter from Lieutenant William Gray, dated Halifax, June 6, 1782

28 The Salem Gazsette, Thursday, June 13, 1782. Information obtained from British prisoners captured by the Dispatch.

29 The New-York Gazette; and The Weekly Mercury, Monday, July 1, 1782, datelined Halifax, June 4, 1782

30 The New-York Gazette; and The Weekly Mercury, Monday, July 1, 1782, datelined Halifax, June 4, 1782

31 The Salem Gazette, Thursday, June 13, 1782

32 The Salem Gazette, Thursday, June 13, 1782


Posted 21 September 2014 © awiatsea.com