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Massachusetts Privateer Ship Rattlesnake




Rattlesnake

Commander Mark Clark [Clarke]

Frigate

12 June 1781-[25] June 1781

Massachusetts Privateer Ship


Commissioned/First Date:

12 June 1781

Out of Service/Cause:

[25] June 1781/captured by HM Frigate Assurance


Owners:

John Andrew et al of Salem, Massachusetts


Tonnage:

198, 199, 200


Battery:

Date Reported: 12 June 1781

Number/Caliber  Weight        Broadside

20/

Total: 20 cannon/

Broadside: 10 cannon/

Swivels:


Crew:

12 June 1781: 86 [total]


Description:

Built at Plymouth in 1780. Appeared as a miniature frigate, with detached quarterdeck and forecastle. Measured 89'3" on the deck, 74'11" on the keel, 22'4" in beam, with a depth in the hold of 8'10".


Officers:

(1) First Lieutenant Isaiah Stetson [Studson], 12 June 1781-[25] June 1781


Cruises:

(1) Plymouth, Massachusetts to sea, [25] June 1781-[25] June 1781


Prizes:


Actions:


Comments:


Massachusetts Privateer Ship Rattlesnake was designed by John Peck of Boston, Massachusetts, and probably built at Plymouth in 1780.1 She was very lightly built and had no wales, and was reputedly very fast. Rattlesnake appeared as a miniature frigate, with detached quarterdeck and forecastle. She may have had gangways and/or gratings extending from the quarterdeck to the forecastle. These would have been removed in action. Rattlesnake measured 89'3" on the deck, 74'11" on the keel, 22'4" in beam, with a depth in the hold of 8'10 1⁄2" and measured 199 tons.2


Lines of the Massachusetts Privateer Ship Rattlesnake, from Chapelle, History of American Sailing Ships, 135. The lines were taken off following Rattlesnake’s capture.


Profile and isometric projection of the Massachusetts Privateer Ship Rattlesnake, from Chapelle, History of American Sailing Ships, 136.


Sail plan of the Massachusetts Privateer Ship Rattlesnake, from Chapelle, History of American Sailing Ships, 137.


Rattlesnake was commissioned on 12 June 1781 under Commander Mark Clark, possibly from Salem, Massachusetts. She was listed as having a battery of twenty guns and a crew of eighty-five men. Rattlesnake's $20,000 bond was executed by Clark, Andrew and Francis Boardman of Salem.3 Clark (also Clarke) listed his age as forty-two, and was 5'4" tall with a dark complexion. Also serving aboard as First Lieutenant was Isaiah Stetson [Studson], who listed his age as thirty, and was 5'6" tall with a dark complexion4


Rattlesnake at sea, from Chapelle, History of American Sailing Ships, 141. Note the size of the men on deck.



Detail of model of the Rattlesnake from The MSB Journal, vol II, No. 5, July 2008, www.modelshipbuilder.com, p. 7 Again note the size of the men on deck. It would be difficult to work the cabin and forecastle guns in an action.


Rattlesnake was on her first cruise and, seemingly, barely at sea when she encountered HM Frigate Assurance, 44 guns (Captain W. Swiney). Rattlesnake was captured and sent into New York, arriving on the evening of 8 July 1781. The British reported her as armed with twenty guns,5 probably 6-pounders.


A modern rendering of Rattlesnake in a hot fight. Although it shows off her lines nicely, she only met one ship with which to fight: the 44-gun Assurance. It seems certain that no such fight ever took place, as the big frigate, up close, would have shot the lightly-built raider to pieces. From the Model Ships Image Gallery, by Richard C. Moore. http://shipmodeling.info/photo/displayimage-607-Rattlesnake.html.


Rattlesnake was purchased into the Royal Navy at New York on 28 July 1781 as HM Sloop Cormorant. She was described as “New” and measured 200 tons. In British service she was armed with eighteen guns and had a crew of 125 men. Other British records indicate she measured 198 tons, and was 98' length by 22' beam.6



1 Chapelle, History of American Sailing Ships, 134-138, 140, 142

2 Chapelle, History of American Sailing Ships, 134-138, 140, 142

3 NRAR, 432; Allen, Massachusetts Privateers of the Revolution, 251

4 MASSAR, 3:597 (Clarke); MASSAR, 14:218; Stetson, Nelson M., Stetson Kindred of America (inc.), Stetson Kindred of America,  Inc, Medford: 1907, 10

5 The Royal Georgia Gazette [Savannah], Tuesday, August 30, 1781, datelined New York, July 4, 1781

6 “A List of Ships Purchased into His Majesty’s Service, Pr order of Thomas Graves Esqr Rear Admiral of the Red &ca &ca &ca North America between the 27th of July 1781, and the 26th of September 1781,”  from UK/PRO, ADM 1/489, f. 480. Transcribed and annotated by Mr. Brooks. Kindly furnished by Mr. Brooks in e-mail 12/17/2006. Also see HCA 32/436/30/1-3.


Revised 3 August 2012 © awiatsea.com