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Capture of the George






A Storm and a Yankee Skipper Capture a British Tender
27 December 1776


When the Continental Army Schooner Warren was captured, she was converted into a tender to HM Frigate Milford (Lieutenant Henry Mowat), and put under the command of Midshipman Richard Willis. In British service she was said to be armed with eight carriage guns and measure 80 tons.1


George sailed from Halifax, Nova Scotia on 8 December 1776, with a cargo of provisions for Milford. For the next twelve days George sailed about, searching for the Milford. On 20 December a sail was sighted to the west. George hoisted out a boat and sent an officer and men after the sail, which soon was found to be a small sloop, bound from Portsmouth, New Hampshire to the Sheepscot River.2 The master was one Pinkham,3 or Pinkum. Pinkham and his two man crew4 were removed to the George.5


Pinkham’s little sloop was a wood vessel, which brought firewood from Maine down to Portsmouth. He had delivered a cargo of wood to the city and sailed from there on 19 December6 with a few provisions.7 The prisoners watched from the George as their old home, the sloop, was stripped and burned the next day.8 About 100£ worth of provisions were burned with the sloop.9


George had now been sailing about for nearly three weeks, with the provisions on board for the Milford, but had failed to contact her. On the afternoon of 26 December 1776, she was near York Ledge, a dangerous underwater rock shelf. There was a heavy gale bowing from the northeast, “thick of Snow,” and night was coming on.10 Willis asked Pinkham to take command of the George, but Pinkham refused. As the storm increased so did the danger.11 Willis and his men now called on Pinkham, who knew the area, to take the helm and run them into “some safe Harbor & there take their Chance of being made Prisoners of War, rather than perish in the Storm.”12


Pinkham did exactly that. He ran south and, on the night of 26 December got the schooner into the Piscataqua River and ran her ashore at a place called Little River.13 At dawn on 27 December she was well grounded very near a fort on the shore. The men in the fort notified their superiors and the New Hampshire troops took over the vessel, well satisfied that they were the captors. Meanwhile, Pinkham appeared in Portsmouth with the officers. Captain Thomas Thompson of the Continental Navy Ship Raleigh learned of the incident by accident in the streets and immediately send down boats and officers to take command and secure the prisoners.14


Detail from a contemporary map of the entrance to the Piscataqua River. Drawn in the late 1770s by an unknown cartographer. For a larger map click here.

 

Colonel Pierse Long was informed of the George’s arrival in the river on the morning of 27 December 1776. He also feared that the British might take control of the George and escape, and ordered soldiers into boats, to proceed down and secure the schooner. Long went down himself and soon discovered that enough men had converged on the George to secure her.15 About this time the Continental Navy men showed up. The “Soldier Officers . . . absolutely refused my Lieut taking the Command & was determined to Oppose at all Events- to prevent dispute, the Lieut joined by mutual consent Assisted to do what was necessary . . .” and got the schooner afloat.16 She was moved up the river as far as the tide would permit. The prisoners were removed and sent up to Portsmouth, forty-three to forty-five of them. The five officers escorted up by Pinkham and lodged in an inn. Captain Thomas Thompson of the Continental Navy Ship Raleigh furnished a guard for these men.17 Thompson reported the officers were four passengers, and the commander. The officers were to be sent off to the General Assembly for examination in the morning. As for the other prisoners, about fifty in number, Thompson asked for further directions.18 The George itself was expected to arrive at Portsmouth in the evening. Long reported that Pinkham had the schooner delivered to him by the British crew, and had already libeled the prize.19 Later accounts give the number of prisoners captured as fifty-one.20


George was at Portsmouth by 28 December. Meanwhile the capture of the George was already generating a fight over the spoils. Writing to his fellow Continental Navy Captain Hector McNeill on 28 December, Thompson outlined the events and noted that Pinkham claimed the schooner, as did the soldiers, and he, Thompson, thought it should belong to the Navy.21


On 1 January the Assembly allowed the officers to be kept on parole at Concord. The “Privates” were allowed to work at any occupation with any person, within fifteen miles of Portsmouth, but within the state, in order to “gain their subsistence.”22 It cost the state of New Hampshire £6.15.0 to board the officers for the next few weeks.23


Among the items found aboard the George was the logbook of the tender. Extracts of the logbook were published in the Portsmouth newspaper on 7 January 1777.24 In the same issue the libel on the George, dated 3 January, was published. Her trial was to be held on 29 January.25


Meanwhile, the authorities in Massachusetts had heard rumours that their Massachusetts Navy Brigantine Independence (Captain Simeon Samson) had been captured by the British. On 27 January they appealed to New Hampshire for the British prisoners captured in the George, to be used to exchange for the men captured in the Independence.26 At the direction of General Washington, twenty-five of the crew of the George, including the officers, were sent to Newport for exchange on 31 January.27


Several of the British prisoners enlisted aboard the Raleigh. One of these, Richard Weaver, proved to be a source of trouble, soon stating that he would only fight for the King and not for the Americans. He threatened the ship and demanded to be sent to prison. Thompson readily complied with his wishes. When Weaver was actually in jail he relented and desired to come aboard again, saying he was willing to take any punishment from Thompson. Thompson, writing to the Committee of Safety om 21 February 1777, thought it best to exchange him back to the British, as an example to the others.28


Meanwhile the trial of the George was held and she was awarded to Pinkham. George sold at auction for about £1000.29



1 NDAR, “The Freeman’s Journal, Tuesday, December 31, 1776,” VII, 636 and note

2 NDAR, “Log of the British Schooner Tender George,” VII, 618-619 and 619 note

3 NDAR, “Captain Thomas Thompson to Captain Hector McNeill,” VII, 617-618

4 NDAR, “The Freeman’s Journal, Tuesday, December 31, 1776,” VII, 636 and note

5 NDAR, “Log of the British Schooner Tender George,” VII, 618-619 and 619 note

6 NDAR, “The Freeman’s Journal, Tuesday, December 31, 1776,” VII, 636 and note

7 NDAR, “Massachusetts Spy, Thursday, January 2, 1777,” VII, 845 and note

8 NDAR, “Log of the British Schooner Tender George,” VII, 618-619 and 619 note

9 NDAR, “The Freeman’s Journal, Tuesday, December 31, 1776,” VII, 636 and note

10 NDAR, “Captain Thomas Thompson to Captain Hector McNeill,” VII, 617-618

11 NDAR, “Massachusetts Spy, Thursday, January 2, 1777,” VII, 845 and note

12 NDAR, “Captain Thomas Thompson to Captain Hector McNeill,” VII, 617-618

13 NDAR, “Captain Thomas Thompson to the New Hampshire General Assembly,” VII, 604 and notes

14 NDAR, “Captain Thomas Thompson to Captain Hector McNeill,” VII, 617-618

15 NDAR, “Colonel Pierse Long to the New Hampshire House of Representatives,” VII, 603 and notes

16 NDAR, “Captain Thomas Thompson to Captain Hector McNeill,” VII, 617-618

17 NDAR, “Colonel Pierse Long to the New Hampshire House of Representatives,” VII, 603 and notes

18 NDAR, “Captain Thomas Thompson to the New Hampshire General Assembly,” VII, 604 and notes

19 NDAR, “Colonel Pierse Long to the New Hampshire House of Representatives,” VII, 603 and notes

20 NDAR, “The Freeman’s Journal, Tuesday, December 31, 1776,” VII, 636 and note

21 NDAR, “Captain Thomas Thompson to Captain Hector McNeill,” VII, 617-618

22 NDAR, “Captain Thomas Thompson to the New Hampshire General Assembly,” VII, 604 and notes

23 NDAR, “Minutes of the New Hampshire Committee of Safety,” VII, 1058

24 NDAR, “Log of the British Schooner Tender George,” VII, 618-619 and 619 note

25 The Freeman’s Journal Or, The New Hampshire Gazette, Tuesday, 7 January 1777

26 NDAR, “Massachusetts Council to Meshech Weare,” VII, 1043 and note

27 NDAR, “A List of British prisoners sent from the State of New Hampshire, lately taken by Sea & land, and brought there; sent at the desire of Gen. Washington under the care of Capt Jno Haven to be delivered to the Commanding officer of the British Army at New Port on Rhode Island, Jany 31st, 1777,” VII, 1066-1067

28 NDAR, “Captain Thomas Thompson to the New Hampshire Committee of Safety,” VII, 1253-1254

29 NDAR, “Accots of Prizes condemned in New Hampshire,” VII, 1273-1274 and 1274 note



Posted 19 March 2011 © awiatsea.com