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Beaumarchais Contract Ship L’Aimable Eugénie





L’Aimable Eugénie

Nicolas Baudin

Armed Transport Ship

[August] 1782-March 1783

Beaumarchais Contract Ship

 

Commerce Committee Ship

 


Commissioned/First Date:

[August] 1782

Out of Service/Cause:

March 1783/wrecked off Porto Playa [San Felipe de Puerto Plata, Santo Domingo]


Owners:

Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais and John Joseph de Monthieu, both of France


Tonnage:

500-600 tonneaux


Battery:

Date Reported: March 1782

Number/Caliber  Weight         Broadside

24/     

Total: 24 cannon/

Broadside: 12 cannon/

Swivels:


Date Reported: 19 October 1782

Number/Caliber  Weight         Broadside

32/    

Total: 32 cannon/

Broadside: 16 cannon/

Swivels:


Date Reported: December 1782

Number/Caliber  Weight         Broadside

8/    

Total: 8 cannon/

Broadside: 4 cannon/

Swivels:


Date Reported: 12 December 1782

Number/Caliber  Weight         Broadside

36/    

Total: 36 cannon/

Broadside: 18 cannon/

Swivels:


Crew:

(1) March 1782: 103-160 [total]
(2) 19 October 1782: 160 [total]
(3) 12 December 1782: 130 [total]


Description:


Officers:


Cruises:

(1) Nantes, France to Bordeaux, France, [August] 1782-[August] 1782

(2) Bordeaux, France to sea, 9 December 1782-March 1783


Prizes:


Actions:

(1) Fight off Cape Ortegal, 12 December 1782


Comments:



L’Aimable Eugénie (or La Eugénie) was purchased1 at Nantes, France, for Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, being acquired about March 1782 by his agent Francy. She was designed to be 600 tons,2 but, according to Beaumarchais, barely made 500 tons.3 She was designed for a crew of between 103 and 160 men and had twenty-eight gun ports cut along her sides.4 She mounted only twenty-four guns, according to another reporter.5 L’Aimable Eugénie cost Beaumarchais 300,000 livres.6 According to later British reports, she mounted thirty-six guns and had a crew of 130 men.7 She was named after Beaumarchais’s young daughter Eugénie.


The captain of L’Aimable Eugénie was one Nicolas Baudin.8 Beaumarchais had this to say about Baudin: “ . . . he is an intractable man, self-willed and careless . . .” and, referring to another of his captains, “Gregory himself is rather hot-headed; he will agree badly with Baudin (another captain), who is still more self-willed and despotic.”9


L’Aimable Eugénie running away from the fight. Detail from the Thomas Luny painting below.

 

About August 1782, L’Aimable Eugénie sailed from Nantes to Bordeaux, France, taking on ballast and cargo at Nantes. Beaumarchais was collecting several of his vessels there to send them, as an armed convoy, to the West Indies and America. Beaumarchais had this to say about L’Aimable Eugénie’s loading and trip: “‘L’aimable Eugénie,’ instead of being 600 tons burden, is hardly 500. Her captain is an intractable man, self-willed and careless. Without telling me anything about it, they have put 32 cannons, 160 men, and all the necessary accompaniments on board; so that on its return, this vessel, whose expenses are 9000 livres a month, and which has cost me at least 300,000 livres, can only involve a loss. They have only taken 1000 barrels of flour, making 125 tons; 105 thousand of poudre au roi, making scarcely 50 tons; my cargo, which does not come to so much; and the vessel is so fully laden that they have left at Nantes the iron bands which I required for ‘La Ménagère,’ and which they have not found sufficient room for.”


“To make this vessel sail, they have 76,000 useless bricks in her as ballast instead of taking coals, which would have sold well at Saint Domingo. Besides this, they have thirty tons of iron in ballast, and their stowage was so badly made that they had to shift twenty-five tons of iron to prevent the vessel being thrown on her beam-ends in rough weather; but I have remedied as much as in my power all these evils by the nature of the instructions I have given to Levaigneur and Father Poligné.”10


By September 1782 L’Aimable Eugénie was in Bordeaux.11


In October 1782 Beaumarchais was in Bordeaux, meeting his captains and supervising the loading of his vessels.12 It might have been about this time that L’Aimable Eugénie’s battery was reduced to eight guns.13 She loaded with a cargo for the “French king” and was bound to Port-au-Prince, Saint Domingue.14


L’Aimable Eugénie sailed from the mouth of the Gironde with the other vessels in an “armed convoy” on 9 December 1782.15 The convoy was composed of:


(1) Beaumarchais Contract Ship L’Alexandre (Commander Stephen Gregory). Gregory had an American privateer commission issued in France16 (a “Congress” commission).17 Gregory had a mixed American and French crew18 for this voyage numbering about 100 men. She had a cargo of stores and provisions and was bound for Port au Prince, Saint Domingue, in the French West Indies,19 but more likely for Cap François20 and then to America.


(2) Beaumarchais Contract Ship L’Aimable Eugénie (or La Eugénie, Nicolas Baudin), said to be bound to Port-au-Prince.


(3) Beaumarchais Contract Ship La Ménagère (Capitaine de Brûlot21 François Jérome Foligné-Deschalonges),22 600 tonneaux, was armed with twenty-two 9-pounders.23 According to the British she was a two decked vessel the length of a 64-gun ship, armed en flûte, with twenty-six 12-pounders on her main deck and four 6-pounders on her forecastle and quarterdeck. La Ménagère had a crew of 212 men and was bound for Port au Prince with gunpowder, naval stores and bale goods.24


(4) the French Transport Ship Dauphin Royal (Antoine Chambert), purchased and armed at Bordeaux for the Marine Royale, 300 tonneaux and sixty men.25 According to the British she had twenty-eight guns and a crew of 120 men.26 She was bound for the East Indies.27


(5) an unknown American privateer brig with fourteen guns and seventy men.28


Meanwhile, HM Frigate Mediator (Captain the Honourable James Luttrell) was patrolling off the port of El Ferrol, Spain on 6 December 1782. On speaking a neutral vessel Luttrell was informed that an American “frigate” was ready to sail from Bordeaux, France.29 Several other vessels were to sail with the American, and the neutral vessel was able to inform Luttrell of their armament, cargo and destination.30 The wind was from the east: perfect for the American vessel to sail. Luttrell turned to the south in hopes of getting into the American’s track.31


At 0700 on 12 December, Mediator discovered five sail on her lee beam and Luttrell immediately turned and gave chase. An hour later the hulls of the five appeared above water. The vessels were “forming in a close Line of Battle, and shortened Sail to their Topsails to wait for us . . .”32 The British were about fifty miles north of Cape Ortegal.33


L’Aimable Eugénie led the line of battle, flying a French pendant and ensign, followed by the unknown American brig, flying American colors. Next was La Ménagère, flying a French pendant and ensign, followed by L’Alexandre, showing a French pendant and American ensign. Finally came the Dauphin Royal, flying French colors and pendant.34


Luttrell describes his thoughts as he approached the rear of the enemy line: “And having determined, without losing a Moment’s Time, to endeavour to throw their Squadron into Confusion, and, if possible, to take Advantage of some of them; and relying on the good Sailing of the Mediator to bring her off, if I could not see a Probability of Success after a few Broadsides; I continued bearing down, with all Sail set, on the Enemy, except such Sails as might be in the Way of quick Manoeuvres . . .”35


As Mediator approached within gunshot range, about 1000, La Ménagère fired a few random shots from her upper deck. Luttrell decided that she had no lower deck guns, although they certainly looked “compleat to the Eye.” The British ship continued to tack, wear ship and generally close down towards the line. Some of the other vessels began a random fire at the Mediator. At 1030 Mediator had closed and was approaching the rear of the line. The line now “broke, the Brig and Dauphin Royal crouding Sail away from the Rest; upon which the Menagere, Eugene, and Alexander wore under an easy Sail.”36


At 1100 Mediator bore down and drove into the enemy, splitting L’Alexandre from the other two ships. Luttrell said he “cut off the Alexander from her Consorts, employed fighting both Sides occasionally; and the first Broadside, when very close to the Alexander, made her strike her American Colours, and let fly her Sheets; the Menagere and Eugene, after firing at us for some Time, crouded all Sail, and went away before the Wind . . .”37


The Chevalier Barrè, serving aboard L’Alexandre as an ensign, records this phase of the action: “The Mediator came up with us on the 12th December 1782 at nine o clock in the morning we being then to leeward of her in company with the Menagere a vessel armed en flute belonging to the King of France on her way to America The Menagere left us after firing the first shot making a signal for safety the Sieur Gregory would not attempt to escape but held out as long as he could however two shots between wind and water and the inequality of force obliged us to strike to avoid being sunk.”38


To the left of the center of the painting, the Mediator is firing from both sides. Left of this, the privateer L’Alexandre is capitulating. To the right the Mediator is also engaging the French ship La Ménagère, flying a commodore’s pendant and visible amidst the swirl of gunsmoke. To her right is another Frenchman L’Amiable Eugénie, which is running before the wind in an attempt to escape. The two ships trying to escape in the distance on the right are the French ship Dauphin Royal and an American brig. It is signed and dated “T Luny 1783.* From the National Maritime Museum (Britain) http://www.nmm.ac.uk/collections/explore/object.cfm?ID=BHC0455.

 

Mediator hove to in order to secure her prize. A prize crew of twenty men quickly boarded L’Alexandre and laid her head towards the fleeing French ships. Mediator quickly removed 100 prisoners from the prize.39 The Chevalier Barrè records that the “ship’s boats came immediately on board and their people treated us exceedingly ill killed two of our men and made us embark without allowing us to take the smallest part of our effects When we arrived on board the ship the captain put us in the boatswain's store room and kept us there until night at midnight we were ordered upon deck and were sent into the gunner’s room . . .”40 At 1230 Luttrell made sail and began to chase after the French, leaving L’Alexandre to follow, or to steer for England if necessary. She was soon hull down from the Mediator.41


Another version of the fight from a contemporary lithograph. L’Alexandre is to the right. The double line of gunports on Mediator can clearly be seen. The inscription reads “A View of His Majesty's Ship Mediator commanded by the Honblt James Luttrell, Attacking Five Sail of the Enemy on the 12th of Decr 1782, & throwing their Line into Confusion where by Two of them was Captured; Viz: the Menagere the size of Sixty Four Gun Ship, arm'd on Flute; and the Alexander of 28 Guns. Robert Dodd, 1783.”

 

In a classic maneuver the French decided to split up. At 1500 L’Aimable Eugénie hauled her wind and parted from La Ménagère. Mediator continued after the bigger ship and eventually captured her. Baudin and his ship escaped.42


L’Aimable Eugénie thus got away from the disaster and pursued her voyage. As L’Aimable Eugénie approached Saint Domingue, in March 1783, she was wrecked on the coastal reef off Porto Playa [San Felipe de Puerto Plata, Santo Domingo].43



1 Morton, Brian M., and Spinelli, Donald C., Beaumarchais and the American Revolution, Lanham, MD, Lexington Books: 2003, 277

2 Dermiliac, Alain, La Marine des Louis XVI: Nomenclature des navires français de 1774 à 1792, Editions Omega, Nice: 1996, 2133

3 Letter, Beaumarchais to Francy, 19 October 1782, in Loménie, Louis de, Beaumarchais and His Times: Sketches of French Society in the Eighteenth Century from Unpublished Documents, New York: Harper and Brothers, 1857, 338-340

4 Dermiliac, 2133

5 “From Mr Hardy to Secretary Thompson,” letter, 13 September 1785, in Sparks, Jared (ed.), The diplomatic correspondence of the United States of America, from the signing of the definitive treaty of peace, 10th September, 1783, to the adoption of the Constitution, March 4, 1789 Being the letters of the presidents of Congress, the secretary for foreign affairs--American ministers at foreign courts, foreign ministers near Congress--reports of committees of Congress, and reports of the secretary for foreign affairs on various letters and communications; together with letters from individuals on public affairs. United States Department of State. Washington: Blair & Rives, 1837, vol I, 431. Hereafter “Hardy Letter.” Online at http://books.google.com/books?id=wmcUAAAAYAAJ&

6 Letter, Beaumarchais to Francy, 19 October 1782

7 “Extract of a Letter from James Luttrell, Esq; Commander of His Majesty’s Ship the Mediator, to Mr. Stephens, dated in Plymouth-Sound, December 19, 1782,” in The London Gazette, Saturday, December 21, to Tuesday, December 24, 1782, hereafter “Luttrell’s Report”

8 Morton, Beaumarchais and the American Revolution, 277

9 Letter, Beaumarchais to Francy, 19 October 1782

10 Letter, Beaumarchais to Francy, 19 October 1782

11 Dermiliac, 2133

12 Letter, Beaumarchais to Francy, 19 October 1782

13 Dermiliac, 2133

14 “Luttrell’s Report”

15 “Luttrell’s Report”

16 Benjamin Franklin Papers Part 11 -- Bonds given to the President of the United Colonies through Benjamin Franklin 1777-1782, at http://www.amphilsoc.org/mole/view?docId=ead/Mss.B.F85inventory11-ead.xml;query=;brand=default, accessed 3 April 2010

17 “Luttrell’s Report”

18 Dermiliac, 2132

19 “Luttrell’s Report”

20 “Hardy Letter”

21 HCA 32/401/13/1-27

22 Dermiliac, 2131

23 This is however, incorrect, as it overstates her strength. She was not en flûte (armed as a transport) but was formerly a flûte (transport).

24 “Luttrell’s Report”

25 Dermiliac, 1910

26 “Luttrell’s Report”

27 Dermiliac, 1910

28 “Luttrell’s Report”

29 “Luttrell’s Report”

30 http://continentalnavy.com/archives/2010/stephen-gregory-lieutenant/ accessed 3 April 2010

31 “Luttrell’s Report”

32 “Luttrell’s Report”

33 http://continentalnavy.com/archives/2010/stephen-gregory-lieutenant/ accessed 3 April 2010

34 “Luttrell’s Report”

35 “Luttrell’s Report”

36 “Luttrell’s Report”

37 “Luttrell’s Report”

38 “Memorial from the Chevalier Barrè to the President of Congress,” in Sparks, Jared (ed.), The diplomatic correspondence of the United States, I, 427-429. Hereafter “Memorial of Barrè”

39 “Luttrell’s Report”

40 “Memorial of Barrè”

41 “Luttrell’s Report”

42 “Luttrell’s Report”

43 Dermiliac, 2133


Revised 6 August 2014 © awiatsea.com