Massachusetts Privateer Ship Aurora


Commander David Porter


2 October 1780-18 July 1781

Massachusetts Privateer Ship

Commissioned/First Date:

2 October 1780

Out of Service/Cause:

18 July 1781/captured by HMS Royal Oak


Mungo Mackay, John Cushing et al of Boston, Massachusetts




Date Reported: 2 October 1780

Number/Caliber  Weight           Broadside


Total: 10 cannon/

Broadside: 5 cannon/


Date Reported: [October] 1780

Number/Caliber  Weight           Broadside


Total: 16 cannon/

Broadside: 8 cannon/


Date Reported: 20 August 1781

Number/Caliber  Weight           Broadside


Total: 24 cannon/

Broadside: 12 cannon/



2 October 1780: 21 [total]


Newly built vessel



(1) [Boston, Massachusetts] to Port-au-Prince, Saint Domingue, [October 1780]-[November 1780]

(2) Port-au-Prince, Saint Domingue to L’Orient, France, [January 1781]-[February 1781]

(3) L’Orient, France to Boston, Massachusetts, 24 April 1781-20 May 1781

(4) Boston, Massachusetts to sea, with Massachusetts Privateer Ship Belisarius, -18 July 1781




Massachusetts Privateer Ship Aurora (Commander David Porter of Boston) was commissioned on 2 October 1780. She was listed with a battery of ten guns and a crew of twenty men. Her $20000 bond was executed by Porter, and owner Mungo Mackay, and Thomas Dennie, all of Boston.1 Another contemporary account gives her battery as sixteen guns.2

Aurora sailed from Massachusetts to Port-au-Prince, Saint Domingue, where she safely arrived.3 In the course of the voyage Aurora encountered the wreck of HMS Stirling Castle and rescued four survivors from the ship.4 Here her cargo was unloaded. A cargo of sugar destined for France was in the process of being loaded when a squall struck the ship, overturning and sinking her. Several men were drowned. Within two weeks the Aurora was raised, took in her cargo, and sailed for France.5 Aurora left L’Orient on 24 April 1781 and returned to Boston on 20 May 1781.6

Aurora was in Boston on 16 June 1781. Her master and owners (John Cushing and Mungo Mackay) signed a £2000 Massachusetts bond, not to enlist any man in New England outside Massachusetts.7 This was a standard requirement at the time  concerning recruiting of privateer crews.

In July 1781 Aurora was at sea, sailing, a part of the cruise, with Massachusetts Privateer Ship Belisarius (Commander James Munro).8 The pair evidently soon parted. On 18 July 1781 Aurora fell in with HMS Royal Oak (Captain John Plumer Ardesoif) and was captured.9  She was sent into New York and had arrived there by 20 August. Part of her stores were advertised for sale on that day. The British reported her battery as twenty-four guns.10 The Americans had the news rather quickly, in a garbled form: on 27 August 1781 the Boston Gazette reported that the Aurora had been captured by a ship of twenty guns and two brigs of sixteen guns each and taken into New York.11

Aurora was tried and condemned at New York.12 She was purchased into the Royal Navy at New York on 11 September 1781, as HM Sloop Mentor. She was listed as measuring 230 tons, and as having a battery of eighteen guns and a crew of 125 men. Admiral Graves added the comment that she was a “New” vessel.13

1 NRAR, 231. Also listed in Allen, Massachusetts Privateers of the Revolution, 76

2 Greenwood, John, The Revolutionary Services of John Greenwood of Boston and New York 1775-1783, New York: De Vinne Press, 1922, p. 72. Hereafter, “Greenwood.” Onlinee.

3 Greenwood, 72

4 The American Journal and General Advertiser [Providence], December 16, 1780, datelined Boston, December 14

5 Greenwood, 72-73

6 Greenwood, 73n2

7 Allen, Massachusetts Privateers of the Revolution, 77

8 Allen, Massachusetts Privateers of the Revolution, 77

9 The London Gazette, Tuesday, August 29, 1786 to Saturday, September 2, 1786

10 The New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, Monday, August 20, 1781

11 Allen, Massachusetts Privateers of the Revolution, 77

12 HCA 32/275/2/1-5

13 “A List of Ships Purchased into His Majesty’s Service, Pr order of Thomas Graves Esqr Rear Admiral of the Red &ca &ca &ca North America between the 27th of July 1781, and the 26th of September 1781,”  from UK/PRO, ADM 1/489, f. 480. Transcribed and annotated by Robert Carver Brooks. Kindly furnished by Mr. Brooks in e-mail 12/17/2006.

Posted 21 September 2014 ©