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Incidents
Oliver Cromwell Eludes a Frigate





Massachusetts Privateer Brig Oliver Cromwell Escapes A Frigate
16 October 1777



Massachusetts Privateer Brigantine Oliver Cromwell (Commander William Coles) had sailed across the Atlantic on a successful cruise in the summer of 1777, and put into Bilao, Spain to replenish. After replenishing, Oliver Cromwell fell down the river on 25 September 1777. She sailed with two merchant vessels, snow Neptune (Swasey) and brig Wolf (Worth), presumably escorting them to a good start on their voyage. On 30 September, in chasing a neutral Swedish vessel, the fore topmast was carried away in a gale.1


Oliver Cromwell steered down the Portuguese coast, heading for the Canary Islands to begin cruising off that heavily trafficked area.2


On 16 October 1777 Oliver Cromwell’s lookouts, peering through thick weather at 0100, spotted a large ship astern. As dawn neared at 0500 she was seen again, close under the brig’s stern. Although Coles raised sail the ship came up fast. She was soon identified as a frigate and shortly thereafter began firing at the Oliver Cromwell. Most shots went astray but some began to hit the brig’s hull and sails. Coles got the crew busy heaving the guns overboard; several casks of water followed. Thus lightened the brig began to draw away.3 Dawn on the 17th revealed the frigate still hard by, but Coles got out his sweeps and rowed, keeping well away.4 Another dawn revealed an empty sea. The frigate was not to be seen.5



1 McManemin, Captains of the Privateers, 152

2 NDAR, “Extract of a Letter from a Passenger on board the Fly Sloop, William Burden, Commander, dated Teneriffe, Dec. 26,” X, 1152-1153 and 1153 note

3 NDAR, “Journal of a Cruise in Massachusetts Privateer Brigantine Oliver Cromwell, Captain William Coles,” X, 918. Evidently only some guns were thrown overboard.

4 NDAR, “Journal of a Cruise in Massachusetts Privateer Brigantine Oliver Cromwell, Captain William Coles,” X, 920

5 NDAR, “Journal of a Cruise in Massachusetts Privateer Brigantine Oliver Cromwell, Captain William Coles,” X, 922


Posted 7 January 2011 © awiatsea.com