Perouse's Report [II]:
Battle off Spanish River

B O S T O N,  Aug  27. [1781] 1

From the following, our readers may form a clear idea of the fresh services rendered the united states, and to these coasts in particular, by those active and gallant  commanders, M. de la Perouse, of the Astrea,2 in company with M. de la Touche, of the Hermione,3 and by the brave officers and men under their orders.

Extract of a letter from M. de la Perouse, to M. de Barras,4 dated July 23, 1781.

“     On the 21st, at ten o’clock in the morning, we saw a fleet 5 leagues to windward : I made the signal for the Hermione to chase, and we crouded [sic] sail to come up with it.  Soon after we perceived two frigates bearing down upon us, and clued up our courses to wait for them—They then hauled close upon the wind, and made some signals of which we took no notice.  We saw a third vessel join the frigates of the enemy which appeared to be only a sloop of war.  Notwithstanding this junction, the enemy still keeping close to the wind, I again set my courses, and gave them chase in my turn, standing directly for their fleet, which was four leagues distance from me:—still to the windward, and unhappily too near the harbour to render it possible for me to prevent their gaining it.

But as the enemy’s frigates in bearing down upon us in the morning had fallen to leeward of the harbour, I had hopes of coming up with them, and determined to attend to nothing but attacking the vessels of war, which had been joined by three others from their fleet, upon a signal given by the frigate of their Commodore, all of which waited in a line to receive me.  Having not a moment to lose, I stood for the enemy with all sails set ; but not withstanding the extreme desire I had to begin the engagement as soon as possible, it was seven o’clock in the evening before the first gun was discharged.  I ordered M. de la Touche to follow me within the distance of half a musket shot, and we both advanced along the line of the enemy to leeward, in order to cut them off from all hope of escaping by fleeing before the wind.  As we advanced the small squadron of the enemy fell into disorder.—the Vulture crowed sail to get off from us after a  combat of about ten minutes :—Soon after the Jack struck her colours; at a quarter after 8 the Charlestown, having lost her main-top mast followed the example of the Jack, and I gave orders to cease firing upon her.  the other vessels which had been very roughly handled, fled from us with all the sail they could spread.—The night came on, and had every appearance of being an extremely dark one ; I tho’t proper to put about, in order to take care of the vessels that had struck which were a little astern of me ; for which purpose I hoisted out my boat, and scarcely done this before I tho’t I saw the Charlestown with her fore-sail set, and making an effort to escape.  It was now quite dark ; I hailed M. de lat Touche, to tack again for the Charlestown, and endeavour to keep sight of her, by the help of his night glasses : I added that I had just sent my boat on board the Jack, and would not wait for its return ; that I might act with him in pursuit of the enemy, M. de la Touche obeyed my orders with his usual zeal ; persuaded as well as myself, that the Captain of the Charlestown had acted contrary to the laws of war, a little resentment might perhaps accompany the desire we both had of compleating the victory, by the taking of the Commodore’s frigate ; but the skies opposed our views : The darkness increased and it was soon impossible  to see anything around us, at the distance of half a musket shot.  I continued to chase ’till eleven o’clock at night, and then lost all hopes of coming up with the enemy, whose course I was ignorant of, and who had taken particular care to conceal their lights.  I layed by to take care of our prize, which still having her crew on board, would have given me much uneasiness, had I not been assured of the firmness of M. Ducandas, an auxiliary officer, to whom I had give the command of her.—He came up with us at two o’clock in the morning ; and we lay too until day-light.

At sunrise nothing was to be seen : soon after there came on a very thick fog, which continued al day, and greatly facilitated the escape of the enemy.

We were informed by our prisoners, that the fleet which we saw in the evening enter Spanish Bay, was composed of empty ships, which were going to load with coal in the harbor, where the English maintain, during the summer season only, a garrison of 400 men.

Our loss was not very considerable.  The Hermione had three men killed, and fourteen wounded—The Astrea, three men killed and 13 wounded.—The two frigates have suffered considerably in their rigging.  I dare affirm, that had we been favoured with two hours more day-light; or a clear night, we should have taken the six vessels ; preservation, not to their courage, nor their manouevres [sic], but entirely to the impossibility, in which we found ourselves of keeping them in sight.

I have learnt since, by our prisoners, that almost all the transport ships of that fleet, were empty, and were going to load sea-coals in Spanish Bay, where the English have a fort, with a garrison of four hundred men.  There were but four ships destined for Quebec, with salt and four [flour?].—The Jack of 14 ninepounders which I have taken, was to escort them up the river—She was commanded by Mr. Tonge,16 both owner and commander.  Mr. Onslow, Paymaster-General of the province of Canada, was passenger on board that ship, and is of the number of my prisoners.

The undaunted intrepidity of my crew, both the zeal, and the ardor of my officers, are above all description.  I join here to any letter, the list of dead and wounded.  Among the first are three marines, 15 sailors, or boys are amongst the last ; the frigate has suffered considerable in her masts and rigging ;  the loss of the Hermoine has been about the same—I have been so bravely seconded by M. de la Touche [sic], and both our frigates have always been so nigh one another, that it was impossible, that the events of the battle might have not been the same for  both ships.

A List of Ships which fought with the Astrea and Hermione.



28 Guns

Allegiance of

24  do.


24  do.


20  do.


14  do.  taken.




The Boston Gazette, and the Country Journal, 27 Aug 1781, p. 3, reprinted in Philadelphia in the Pennsylvania Evening Post, and Public Advertiser, 10 Sep 1781, and the Pennsylvania Packet, or the General Advertiser, 11 Sep 1781.



La Astrée, M. Jean-François de Galoup, Comte de La Pérouse (1741-c1788), commanding, launched 1780 at Brest, 32 guns (26 x 12-pounders + 6 x 6-pounders), sister ship to La Nymphe (141ft 5½in, 120ft 4½in x 38ft 3¼in x 11ft 9in, 93772/94 tons. [Demerliac]



La Hermione, M. Louis-René Levassor, Comte de Latouche Tréville (1745-1804), commanding, launched 1779 at Rochefort, 32 guns (26 x 12-pounders + 6 x 6-pounders), sister ship to la Concorde (142ft 11in, 118ft 11in x 37ft 6in x 11ft 7 in, 88882/94 tons). [Demerliac]



Admiral Jaques-Melchior Saint-Laurent, Comte de Barras, commanding the French Squadron at Newport, Rhode Island.

Transcribed and annotated by R. Brooks. Posted 3 September 2010

Revised 6 August 2014 ©