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Beaver Captures Oliver Cromwell





HM Sloop Beaver Captures Pennsylvania Privateer Ship Oliver Cromwell
19 May 1777



Pennsylvania Privateer Ship Oliver Cromwell was commissioned on 7 February 1777 under Commander Harman Courter. She was stated to be a ship of twenty-four guns, with a crew of 150 men.1 Oliver Cromwell sailed from the Delaware River on 17 February, bound for the West Indies.2 The Oliver Cromwell made several prizes in the West Indies and became infamous to the British.


On 19 May Oliver Cromwell was off St. Lucia, in the French West Indies, when she was sighted at 0600 by HM Sloop Beaver (Commander James Jones).3 Beaver was a more or less standard sloop-of-war, mounting fourteen 6-pounders, measuring 286 tons, and with a nominal crew of 125 men.4


A modern impression of the opening of the Oliver Cromwell-Beaver fight. From Hahn.

 

The American was to windward, northwest of the island. When Beaver fired a shot to bring her to, Courter turned Oliver Cromwell and bore directly down toward Beaver. When within range Courter hoisted American colors and fired a broadside into the British. The two vessels then ranged side by side, running down toward St. Lucia, and waged a hot but short fight, using great guns and musketry.5 Jones had a narrow escape, taking a musket ball through his coat which grazed the skin.6 After forty-five minutes the Oliver Cromwell struck, only two miles off St. Lucia. Her marksmanship had been terrible, and that of the British had been superb: Beaver had three men wounded; Oliver Cromwell had thirteen7 or fifteen8 killed and twenty wounded,9 out of a crew of 125.10 Courter later stated he lost thirty-one killed and more than twenty wounded.11 By noon the British had sent over a prize crew, put a lieutenant and a mate aboard, received the American officers aboard the Beaver, repaired the damage to Oliver Cromwell’s rigging, and made sail.12 Courter’s sickly crew and the action of the men from the prizes was blamed for the loss. The men from the prizes had reportedly urged Courter to fight, then ran below when the Beaver got alongside.13


The northern part of St. Lucia, from a map by Thomas Jeffreys published in 1775. The action was fought to the northwest of the two hills under “Le Cap” and “le Petit Cap,” known as the “Sugar Loaf.”

 

A modern terrain map of the north part of St. Lucia gives a much more defined look at why the hills were called the “Sugar Loaf” in the 1770s-1780s. From Acme Mapper.

 

A reporter in the West Indies amplified the behavior of the Oliver Cromwell’s crew in a letter dated 13 June 1777: “No doubt you will have heard of the Oliver Cromwell being taken by the Beaver sloop of war of fourteen guns, intirely owing to the dastardly behaviour of the crew, who were principally Europeans, and at whose request the Captain carried the Oliver along side, contrary to his own opinion. After the first broadside was exchanged, they never made a regular fire, but ran from their quarters, and several times jumped upon the quarter-deck, attempting to strike the colours, which the Captain, notwithstanding his First Lieutenant and pilot were killed, bravely prevented, by cutting several of them down. He was alongside the Beaver three quarters of an hour, making a shew of fighting, and endeavouring all in his power to encourage his men, though to little purpose, till common humanity moved him to strike. . . .”14


After the surrender Courter was well treated by the British. The letter from the West Indies notes that “. . . Captain Jones, of the Beaver, and his officers, treated Captain Courter with the utmost politeness, and even caressed him, and acknowledge to every body that he behaved on the occasion like a brave and good officer. - This information we have from a gentleman, who was on board the ship after she was carried into Grenada, and may be depended upon. The people, who would not enter into the Kings service, were confined in goal. But the Captain had his quarters in the fort, the pleasantest situation in Grenada.”15


Her captor described Oliver Cromwell as a very handsome ship, well found, with ports for all her guns and able to fight her crew under cover. Her battery was noted as twelve (or fourteen) 9-pounders, six 6-pounders, and six 4-pounders. She had sailed with 150 men aboard, but only had 125 aboard at the time of her capture.16 In a report to the Admiralty on 20 June 1778, Vice Admiral Young listed her as a 220-ton ship, armed with twenty-four guns and with a crew of 135 at her capture.17


By 25 May the prize had been brought into Grenada, where the prisoners were landed.18 Jones was highly praised for capturing a vessel so much stronger than his own. On 12 June 1777 Vice Admiral James Young suggested to the Admiralty that the Oliver Cromwell be taken into the Royal Navy as a 6th rate and giving the command to Jones. He also reported that the prisoners were being sent to England on HM Frigate Hind.19 On 14 June Oliver Cromwell was escorted into English Harbor, Antigua by HM Sloop Cygnet.20 Four days later she was tried and condemned, in the Vice Admiralty court at Grenada.21 On 23 July 1777 Young proposed to the Admiralty that she be made into a 16-gun sloop-of-war, noting that he would have to send her to England to be armed.22 On 19 August 1777 Young had her surveyed: she was valued at £2000 and was taken into the Royal Navy as HM Sloop Beaver’s Prize.23 Meanwhile the Admiralty had ordered, on 27 August, that she be bought as a 24-gun 6th rate, to be named the Convert,24 and ordered Young to appoint Jones to command her, he being promoted to post captain.25 By 10 October 1777 the Admiralty had changed its mind: she was not to be a 6th rate, but her purchase was approved.26


Courter was sent to England and committed to Forton Prison on 13 October 1777.27 Courter was in prison on 1 December 1777, when he signed a petition seeking better conditions.28 A list of prisoners at Forton Prison on 29 Dcecember 1777 lists ten members of Oliver Cromwell’s crew.29 By 13 February 1778 Courter had escaped to France, with a companion, where he met Silas Deane. Deane referred to him as a man of “approved Fidelity & Courage” in giving him a mission as a courier to America.30


Summary Table

Vessel

Tons

Guns

Broadside

Men

Killed

%

Wounded

%

Total

%

Oliver Cromwell

248

24

84

125

13

10%

20

16%

33

26%

Beaver

286

14

42

125

0

0%

3

2%

3

2%

Time: 45 minutes



1 Hahn, Harold M., Ships of the American Revolution and their Models, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis: 1988,  75, 78

2 Hahn, Ships of the American Revolution and their Models, 75

3 NDAR, “Journal of His Majesty’s Sloop Beaver, Captain James Jones,” VIII, 999

4 Winfield, British Warships in the Age of Sail 1714-1792, 278

5 NDAR, “Journal of His Majesty’s Sloop Beaver, Captain James Jones,” VIII, 999

6 NDAR, “London Chronicle, Thursday, July 31, to Saturday, August 2, 1777,” IX, 545

7 NDAR, “Captain James Jones, R.N., to Vice Admiral James Young,” VIII, 1029

8 NDAR, “Journal of His Majesty’s Sloop Beaver, Captain James Jones,” VIII, 999

9 NDAR, “Captain James Jones, R.N., to Vice Admiral James Young,” VIII, 1029

10 NDAR, “Captain James Jones, R.N., to Vice Admiral James Young,” VIII, 1029

11 NDAR, “Silas Deane to Conrad Alexandre Gérard,” XI, 1001 and note

12 NDAR, “Journal of His Majesty’s Sloop Beaver, Captain James Jones,” VIII, 999

13 NDAR, “Gazette of the State of South Carolina, Monday, June 30, 1777,” IX, 192-195

14 “Extract of a letter from the West Indies, dated June 13,” in The Pennsylvania Gazette [Philadelphia], July 23, 1777

15 “Extract of a letter from the West Indies, dated June 13,” in The Pennsylvania Gazette [Philadelphia], July 23, 1777

16 NDAR, “Journal of His Majesty’s Sloop Beaver, Captain James Jones,” VIII, 999; “Captain James Jones, R.N., to Vice Admiral James Young,” VIII, 1029

17  Jamieson, Alan G., “American Privateers in the Leeward Islands, 1776-1778,” in The American Neptune, [volume unknown], reprinting a list of Admiral Young’s in ADM 1/310.

18 NDAR, “Captain James Jones, R.N., to Vice Admiral James Young,” VIII, 1029

19 NDAR, “Vice Admiral James Young to Philip Stephens,” IX, 102-103

20 NDAR, “Vice Admiral James Young to Philip Stephens,” IX, 121-122

21 NDAR, “A List of all Captures which have been Condemned in the Vice Admiralty Court of Grenada since the Commencement of the Present Rebellion in North America,” XI, 612-613 and 612 note

22 NDAR, “Vice Admiral James Young to Philip Stephens,” IX, 322-324

23 NDAR, “Survey and Valuation of Captured Pennsylvania Privateer Ship Oliver Cromwell,” IX, 768-770

24 NDAR, “Lords Commissioners, Admiralty, to Vice Admiral James Young,” IX, 604

25 NDAR, “Philip Stephens to Vice Admiral James Young,” IX, 608-609

26 NDAR, “Vice Admiral James Young to Philip Stephens,” IX, 322-324

27 Kaminkow, 45

28 NDAR, “Almon’s Remembrancer,” XI, 891-893 and 893 note 2

29 NDAR, “List of American Prisoners confined in Forton Prison Decr: 29th: 1777,” XI, 888-891 and 891 note 7

30 NDAR, “Silas Deane to Conrad Alexandre Gérard,” XI, 1001 and note


Posted 7 January 2011 © awiatsea.com