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Incidents
Marlborough Destroys an African Trading Station





Massachusetts Privateer Ship Marlborough Destroys a British Trading Station in Africa
20-25 February 1778



The 250-ton Rhode Island Privateer Ship Marlborough (Commander George Waith Babcock) was commissioned on 11 December 1777; was owned by John Brown of Providence, Rhode Island,1 mounted twenty guns2 and had a crew of 125 men.3 After a running fight escaping the British blockade of Narragansett Bay, in late December 1777, Babcock sailed for the coast of Africa.


Modern photograph of the Île de Gorée.

 

Marlborough began sailing down the coast to the south. At 1100 on 9 February 1778 the French fort on the Île de Gorée, Senegal, was sighted. In the mid-day Babcock doubled Cap-Vert and hauled into Gorée Bay, flying Continental Colors. At 1430 Babcock was preparing to go on shore when a boat was seen approaching. The Lieutenant Governor of the fort, Charles-Joseph-Bonaventure Boucher, and a French merchant skipper came aboard. The French merchant reported that he had come from the Gambia River two weeks ago and there were no British there. Boucher told Babcock that two American frigates, Raleigh and Alfred, had been there on 6 February and had already sailed for home. The visitors went ashore honored by a three gun salute.4


The weather was clear on 17 February as Marlborough was sailing southerly off the coast of Guinea. At 1300 she was about thirty miles out to sea, when the masthead lookouts sighted a sail under the land. Babcock gave chase closing the land. At 1800 Marlborough anchored as the tide was now running against the ship. At dark the chase disappeared from sight. At 0600 on the 18th the barge was hoisted out. Another sail was seen, standing to the north. First Lieutenant James Eldred was sent with ten men in chase. Marlborough raised sail and stood in toward the coast. At 1000 the tide drew the ship into a bay where Babcock anchored. 5


The new day was clear and pleasant. Marlboroughs crew awaited the results of Eldreds expedition. At 1300 the sail and the barge were seen, standing down toward the privateer. An hour later the prize and the barge came down under Marlboroughs lee. The barge took Babcock over to the prize. She was the schooner Sally (William Moore), armed with six 1-pound guns. Moore was a fountain of local intelligence. According to Moore there was a snow, owned in London but under French colors, and some other vessels, laying at the Île de Los. One of the islands, known as Factory Island [now Île Kassa, Guinea] contained a rich factory.6 This was the post operated by Andrew, French and Company of London, England.7 There was also a schooner gone up the Cogon River to trade.8


Intrigued by this intelligence, Babcock determined to raid the factory. He offered Moore the chance to co-operate with the Americans: the Captain Made him some fair Offers to pilot us & if he provd true But if the reverse he Shoud fare Bad Whereupon He promisd to Assist us to the Best of his knowledge. Babcock sent his clerk, John Linscom Boss, aboard to inventory the cargo. Boss found eleven Africans aboard, of which three were slaves. There was also assorted trade goods and firearms. These were carried aboard the Marlborough. An officers conference decided to send the barge and Sally up the river, which mounted eight 1-pounder guns. At 1500 six more swivel guns were mounted on the Sally. At 1600 the schooner and barge got underway, with Eldred having received eleven more men to reinforce his crew. Moore went along as pilot.9


Boss wrote in the logbook All night we remaind in Suspence but at 5 AM we Saw flashes of guns & heard the report of several we hoisted a Lanthorn and fird a Signal gun . . . At 0600 Sally appeared with the prize in company. She was the schooner Fort Rose (Richard Roberts) with twelve Africans, three of whom were slaves. She had a cargo of the same type of goods as the Sally. All the prisoners were brought aboard and Prize Master Ichabod Holloway and five men and a boy went aboard as the prize crew. Prize Master John Bissel was sent to the Sally with the same number of men as the prize crew. Both prize masters were ordered to follow the Marlborough. At 1000 the little squadron got under way, standing southeast. Boss commented that . . . Both tenders which will be of great Service to us in the rivers.10


Babcock steered southeast for Factory Island. At 1800 Cap Verga, was sighted twenty-one miles away as the Marlborough sailed down the Guinea coast with all sail set. Babcock shortened sail for the night. At 0500 on 20 February he raised all sail again and, at 0830 the Île de Los were sighted fifteen miles away. At 1000 Babcock heard several guns fired. The two tenders were called in and all the men removed, except for two in each vessel. Marlborough was now running in toward the land.11


At 1300 a sail was sighted to he southeast. The sail turned toward the Marlborough and soon came up with her. Both vessels were near the land. The sail was a small 5-ton sloop with five free Africans aboard. Her cargo was clothing, tobacco and guns. The prisoners were removed and one Cleveland, either a Prize Master or one of the Mates, and one other crewman were sent aboard as the prize crew. At 1500 Marlborough entered the harbor at Factory Island, flying her Continental colors. Babcock saw a French ship (the Seine) and a sloop with French colors, a schooner and several small craft, none of which were showing colors. A barge made its way towards the Marlborough, flying British colors, but soon turned back towards the land, after seeing the American colors. Marlborough fired several guns at her to no effect.12


Babcock moved Marlborough up to within a quarter mile of the village and anchored. He put a spring on Marlboroughs cable. Meanwhile the schooner Fort Rose was running near the shore and was fired on by a cannon and small arms. Prize Master S. Kelly ran alongside a shallop and put two men aboard her, who cut her cable and brought her under Marlboroughs lee. About 1700 the Marlborough came to action, bombarding the village. She fired for about an hour. Babcock then sent Prize Master Holloway with six men and the barge to cut out a schooner anchored nearby and under British fire. Clerk Boss went with him and they took the schooner unopposed. At 1900 the prize schooner, the Betsey, was brought out and anchored under the Marlboroughs lee. Betsey had a cargo of dry goods and was considered a rich prize.13


Modern map of the Îles de Los, Guinea. For a larger image click here.

 

At 2000 Babcock sent fifty well armed men unde Captain of Marines Christopher Brown into two schooners and the barge. The mission was to land and secure the village and factory. They Landed Safe March Up to the Houses, Placing Centinels att Every Advantageous Post the Blacks Sculking & firing. Causd us to keep up a Constant fire from the 2 Schoners & Small arms on Shore. At 0400 on 21 February the Marlborough warped up closer to the shore, within pistol shot. According to Boss: there was Killd on Shore 1 Black & 1 french Boy, By the Centinels and Som wounded which was done in the Dark Whilst they were sculking. About and not Answering the Centinels haild them and so was fird Upon as Foes &c—.”14


At 0700 the plundering began. Boss describes it thus in the log book: All hands making Ready to Receive the Effects on Board. those on Board Stowing things away & those on Shore Sending Cases of Ginn pipes of ginn Powder arms and Dry goods of Various kinds att 11 AM a Black Calld King Tom Came on Board to Settle the Pallavre as they Call it. Offering to Assist us with his men Which the Captain Accepted with. Brought Severall Prissoners from Shore. all hand Employd Different ways . . .15 Again Boss wrote: those on Shore putting goods of all kinds in the Boats & Shallops Others on Board Stowing away the goods as they Came on Board. the Captain went on Shore. Settled the Pallavre with king tom Engaged him with his men to fill water for us the Captain wrote to the factors on Shore that was gone Back to the Negroes town, Informing them if they woud Surrender all English property in their hands he woud treat them with honour. & Leave their Craft, and Buildings Unmolested, but if nothe Shoud Burn. Sink. & Destroy Wherever he was resisted according to his Orders. Agreeable to Which one T. Hereford & Stephen Harmond of Rhode-Island Came on Board both traders. begging to Save their House & Effects (the Captain assurd them he woud.) they went Ashore . . .16


When a small shallop appeared in sight Babcock dispatched the Sally, under Prize Master Kelley, to chase her down. The shallops crew abandoned her and Kelley returned with some ivory, small arms and the shallops sails. Meanwhile Babcock was informed that the factors had crossed to the mainland and would not Acquiece with the Captains Offers, King Tom and his men came aboard to get empty water casks. King Tom also Engagd to keep Back the Blacks that attempted to plunder as they was in Danger of Being Shot from our Centinels.17


On 22 February Babcock set his sailing master, J. Peters, to stowing the goods aboard the Marlborough. Prize Master Holloway was tasked with outfitting the schooner Betsey to voyage to America, as she was intended to carry more goods in her. Boss reported in the log that the holds were filled with Ginn in Pipes Cases rum. Camwood. Ivory, arms in Chests, &c Dry Goods of Several Kinds Stowd in the Store Room &. King Toms men returned with the filled water casks.18 The next day was very similar: men ashore loading goods and men in the ship stowing goods. At 0800 a small craft was seen going to the mainland. The barge pursued her, and fired upon her, but to no particular purpose. An hour later Babcock went ashore and found more goods in a small craft ashore. Babcock then gave Moore the schooner Sally . . . finding that he was true to What he Said and a Man of his Word Also his Grometas [servants].19


By the morning of 24 February the Marlborough was stuffed and the loading operation ceased at 0800. The master of the French ship Seine, Saloman Prevoit, came aboard with Babcock. Babcock tried to purchase a sloop from Prevoit, to load more goods from the shore, but Prevoit would not sell. Some more goods were loaded in a shallop and the schooner Betsey. At sunset the Marlboroughs men cleared her decks, loaded and primed all her guns and unmoored the ship.


At 1600 a sail was seen to leeward, which the lookouts reported as a brig. Babcock was ashore but was hastily recalled by Lieutenant Eldred.  Aboard Marlborough all hands turned out to raise sail. Babcock ordered Holloway in the Betsey and Bissell in the Fort Rose to stay behind and Keep the Blacks from Plundering and to Protect the Craft. which we Leave Behind. Meanwhile Marlboroughs crew discovered the anchor was stuck in a rock. The solution was to waste no time: the cable was cut. But by now it was dark.20


At 0600 Marlborough was underway after the chase. At 1100 a small sloop was sighted under the mainland but ignored. At 1300 the chase was steering north and Babcock was steering west with the wind at the south. Babcock could see that he could overtake the chase. Marlborough now stood after the chase, with all hands going to quarters. At 1600 Marlborough came up with the chase and the Captain haild her and Orderd her to Strike, which they Immediately did Without a Gun being fird on either Side. Babcock sent his First Lieutenant, James Eldred and Second Lieutenant Francis Bradfield with a boarding party. The barge returned with part of the brigs crew and her master. The prize was the brig Pearl, mounting eight guns and four cohorns with a cargo of camwood, ivory, rice, and gum. Her master, Peter Branker, reported she was owned in Liverpool, England and was bound for that port. Pearl also had a Letter-of-Marque commission.21 Pearl was a 130-ton brigantine, built in Liverpool in 1764, repaired and ten guns added in 1776, and owned by Gregson and Co.22


Marlborough bore away for the Île de Los, with the Pearl in company. En route Prize Master Holloway joined with a small shallop which had been captured in a bay. A cable was removed from the shallop. At 1900 Marlborough anchored offshore from the small village on Factory Island. Babcock and Branker went aboard the Pearl to get her papers. After returning an hour later, the prisoners were secured and sentinels set on the privateer.23


The next day at 0700 ten men were sent ashore to cut wood. At 0900 Master J. Peters brought two anchors from the shore. Betsey was sent over provisions and water, to prepare her to be ready to Sail with us. All the dry goods aboard the Betsey were removed to the Marlborough. The wood cutting party returned at 1300. Two hours later the Marlborough received a gift from the French captain Prevoit: casks of water.24


At 0800 on 26 February the prisoners were given provisions and water and loaded into two shallops which were then released. A shallop was given to Richard Roberts, formerly the master of the Fort Rose and he was presumably released. At 0900 Marine Captain Brown went ashore with 15 Men Well Armd in Order to Bring another Load of wood & to Burn the Town Stores &c agreable to the Captains Orders & Instructionsas it was English Property. and As they woud not Capitulate with Us Upon Honourable Terms att 10 AM the Buildings were all in flames . . . A shallop was sighted to leeward, escaping to the mainland. Bissel in the Fort Rose was sent in chase, but without success.25


Marlborough again sent provisions to the Betsey. At 1500 a canoe was seen escaping to the mainland. Lieut. Eldred went with our Barge to Cut her off. they gott within gun Shot & fird on her. Butt the Canoe going the fastest they gave Up Chace on their Return of the Men Snapping a Gun. it Catched a Cartridge which Communicated to Several Cartridge Boxes & Burnt Lieut: Eldred. Legg & Schorchd 1 Man. Babcock made a deal with Prevoit in the evening selling him tobacco and four slaves for dry goods.26


At 0400 on 27 February Babcock fired a gun to signal his fleet to get underway. By 0600 the Marlborough was steering to the south, followed by the prize brig Pearl, the prize schooner Betsey, the prize schooner Fort Rose, and a sloop and a schooner given to the prisoners, and a few other craft. Because of their good conduct, Babcock gave William Moore (formerly master of the Sally) and Richard Roberts (formerly master of the Fort Rose) two schooners. One schooner was sunk ashore, two shallops were given to the traders and two shallops were sold to Prevoit. In his log Boss commented on leaving the Île de Los: Leaving the Isle De Loss, and the factors to Lament their Misconduct. in not Saving the Town by Surrendering the town and all English Property in their hands when the Captain wrote them a very Entreating Letter. The tide forced the two bigger craft to be towed out, and by 1000 all were at sea.27 Captain Branker, formerly captain of the Pearl, estimated that the British loss at the post was £70,000.28



1 NDAR, Journal of H.M. Sloop Kingsfisher, Commander Alexander Graeme, X, 805 and note.  Maclay, History of American Privateers, 116, indicates she was a Massachusetts vessel. Sheffield, An Address Delivered by William P. Sheffield before the Rhode Island Historical Society, 60, gives the date of commission as 30 December 1777.

2 NDAR, Journal of H.M. Sloop Kingsfisher, Commander Alexander Graeme, X, 805 and note; Advertisement for Seamen for the Rhode Island Privateer Ship Marlborough, X, 813 and notes

3 NDAR, Journal of H.M. Sloop Kingsfisher, Commander Alexander Graeme, X, 805 and note

4 NDAR, Log of Rhode Island Privateer Ship Marlborough, Captain George Wait Babcock, Commander, XII, 817-818, and 828 notes 8-9, 829 notes 10-14. These locations are in the modern Senegal.

5 NDAR, Log of Rhode Island Privateer Ship Marlborough, Captain George Wait Babcock, Commander, XII, 818-819 and 829 notes 15-18

6 NDAR, Log of Rhode Island Privateer Ship Marlborough, Captain George Wait Babcock, Commander, XII, 819 and 829 note 19

7 NDAR, From the Jamaica Gazette, XII, 318 and 318 notes 1-3

8 NDAR, Log of Rhode Island Privateer Ship Marlborough, Captain George Wait Babcock, Commander, XII, 819 and 829 note 19

9 NDAR, Log of Rhode Island Privateer Ship Marlborough, Captain George Wait Babcock, Commander, XII, 819

10 NDAR, Log of Rhode Island Privateer Ship Marlborough, Captain George Wait Babcock, Commander, XII, 819, 829 notes 20-22

11 NDAR, Log of Rhode Island Privateer Ship Marlborough, Captain George Wait Babcock, Commander, XII, 819-820, 829 notes 23-26

12 NDAR, Log of Rhode Island Privateer Ship Marlborough, Captain George Wait Babcock, Commander, XII, 820, 829 notes 27-29

13 NDAR, Log of Rhode Island Privateer Ship Marlborough, Captain George Wait Babcock, Commander, XII, 820, 829 note 30

14 NDAR, Log of Rhode Island Privateer Ship Marlborough, Captain George Wait Babcock, Commander, XII, 820, 829 note 31

15 NDAR, Log of Rhode Island Privateer Ship Marlborough, Captain George Wait Babcock, Commander, XII, 820, 829 note 32

16 NDAR, Log of Rhode Island Privateer Ship Marlborough, Captain George Wait Babcock, Commander, XII, 820-821, 829 note 33

17 NDAR, Log of Rhode Island Privateer Ship Marlborough, Captain George Wait Babcock, Commander, XII, 821

18 NDAR, Log of Rhode Island Privateer Ship Marlborough, Captain George Wait Babcock, Commander, XII, 821 and 829 note 35

19 NDAR, Log of Rhode Island Privateer Ship Marlborough, Captain George Wait Babcock, Commander, XII, 821 and 829 note 36-37

20 NDAR, Log of Rhode Island Privateer Ship Marlborough, Captain George Wait Babcock, Commander, XII, 821-822 and  829 note 38-41

21 NDAR, Log of Rhode Island Privateer Ship Marlborough, Captain George Wait Babcock, Commander, XII, 822 and 829 note 42-44

22 NDAR, From the Jamaica Gazette, XII, 318 and note 1-2

23 NDAR, Log of Rhode Island Privateer Ship Marlborough, Captain George Wait Babcock, Commander, XII, 822

24 NDAR, Log of Rhode Island Privateer Ship Marlborough, Captain George Wait Babcock, Commander, XII, 822 and 829 notes 47-48

25 NDAR, Log of Rhode Island Privateer Ship Marlborough, Captain George Wait Babcock, Commander, XII, 822 and 829 notes 47-48

26 NDAR, Log of Rhode Island Privateer Ship Marlborough, Captain George Wait Babcock, Commander, XII, 823 and 829 notes 51-52

27 NDAR, Log of Rhode Island Privateer Ship Marlborough, Captain George Wait Babcock, Commander, XII, 823 and 829 notes 53-57

28 NDAR, From the Jamaica Gazette, XII, 318 and 318 notes 1-3


Posted 10 February 2017 © awiatsea.com