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Incidents
Loss of the Oliver Cromwell





Kingsfisher Destroys A Blockade Runner
27 August 1777



Rhode Island Privateer Ship Oliver Cromwell was commissioned under Commander Samuel Chace, Jr. on 21 November 1776.1 She seems to have been a new ship, of about 160 tons,2 and was fitting out up the Taunton River when the British invaded Rhode Island in December 1776 and occupied Newport.3


Oliver Cromwell was re-commissioned on 4 August 1777, again under Chace (now spelled Chase).4 Oliver Cromwell was a new vessel and “well fitted,” armed with twenty 6-pounders on the gun deck, two 3-pounders on the quarterdeck and carried sixteen swivel guns. Although she was designed to carry between 190 and 200 men as her regular crew, she had only twenty-three men aboard on the night of 26 August.5


The area between Fogland Ferry and Sakonnet Point in Sakonnet Passage. Detail from A topographical chart of the bay of Narraganset in the province of New England, with all the isles contained therein, among which Rhode Island and Connonicut have been particularly surveyed, shewing the true position & bearings of the banks, shoals, rocks &c. as likewise the soundings; To which have been added the several works & batteries raised by the Americans. Taken by order of the principal farmers on Rhode Island. by Charles Blaskowitz, 1777.

 

The Oliver Cromwell and the Continental Navy Brigantine Hampden both attempted to breakout past the British blockade in Narragansett Bay on the morning of 27 August. It was a very dark night, with a heavy fog. The chosen route was out of the Taunton River and down the Sakonnet River, guarded only by HM Sloop Kingsfisher (Commander Alexander Graeme).


At 0400 the British battery at Fogland Ferry discerned a brig passing by. She was almost past the battery before any shots were fired. The gunners managed to fire at her twice before she made off. The gunfire awakened the sleeping Kingsfisher, which discovered a large ship near her, with a full press of sail set. Kingsfisher slipped her anchor and got under way, firing her bow chaser at the Oliver Cromwell. Chace, with no men aboard to fight back, altered course and ran the ship hard ashore to the north of Sakonnet Point. Kingsfisher hustled up and anchored nearby. Kingsfisher then began firing into the ship, which forced the Americans to abandon ship and row ashore in their boats.6


Kingsfisher sent her boats to the Oliver Cromwell. Ashore the American crew rallied and kept up a “continual” but ineffective fire on the British boarding party. The British intended to refloat the ship. However it was ebb tide, she was driven hard ashore and all her sail was set. The boarding party found a light burning in the light room of the magazine. Unable to float their prize, the British set her on fire and she blew up about 0500. Not a single shot had been fired from the Oliver Cromwell.7


The fight with the Oliver Cromwell effectively covered the Hampden, which got away. The British thought that “The want of spirit on the part of the Rebels was very conspicuous. It is probable she had not less than 150 or 200 men on board; and for a vessel of that force to run ashore from a Sloop of War of 14 Guns and about 90 men, without firing a shot, was perfectly scandalous.”8


Summary Table

Vessel

Tons

Guns

Broadside

Men

Killed

%

Wounded

%

Total

%

Oliver Cromwell

160

22

63

24

Kingsfisher

302

14

42

90

Time: 1 hour
No casualties reported.



1 Sheffield, An Address Delivered by William P. Sheffield before the Rhode Island Historical Society, 58

2 Rhode Island History, v. 34-36, Rhode Island Historical Society, Providence: 1975, 105

3 NDAR, “Commodore Esek Hopkins to Governor Nicholas Cooke,” VII, 410 and note

4 Sheffield, An Address Delivered by William P. Sheffield before the Rhode Island Historical Society, 60

5 NDAR, “Diary of Frederick Mackenzie,” IX, 823-825 and 825 notes

6 NDAR, “Diary of Frederick Mackenzie,” IX, 823-825 and 825 notes

7 NDAR, “Diary of Frederick Mackenzie,” IX, 823-825 and 825 notes

8 NDAR, “Diary of Frederick Mackenzie,” IX, 823-825 and 825 notes


Posted 19 December 2019 © awiatsea.com