South Carolina Privateer Brig Wasp


(1) Commander Samuel Bulfinch

Armed Brig

[November] 1778-

South Carolina Privateer Brig

(2) [Commander Pablo Ferrer]
-13 June 1780

Commissioned/First Date:

[15 September] 1778

Out of Service/Cause:

13 June 1780/captured by HM Frigates Richmond and Camilla





Date Reported: [15 September] 1778

Number/Caliber  Weight        Broadside

14/4-pounder      56 pounds  28 pounds

Total: 14 cannon/56 pounds

Broadside: 7 cannon/28 pounds

Swivels: twelve

Date Reported: 12 September 1779

Number/Caliber  Weight        Broadside


Total: 14 cannon/

Broadside: 7 cannon/





(1) First Lieutenant William Main, 1779


(1) Charleston, South Carolina to sea, [fall 1778], with South Carolina Privateer Brig General Moultrie

(2) Savannah operations, July-October 1779

(3) At sea, June 1780


(1) Ship Earl of Chester, 8 December 1778, with South Carolina Privateer Brig General Moultrie

(2) Brig [unknown], 8 December 1778, with South Carolina Privateer Brig General Moultrie

(3) British Privateer Schooner Highland Lass, 12 June 1780



South Carolina Privateer Brig Wasp began her career as a British privateer. She was fitted out in Jamaica as British Privateer Brig Wasp, armed with fourteen 4-pounders and twelve swivels. Wasp was fitted out especially to cruise off Charlestown, South Carolina. About mid-September 1778, Wasp encountered South Carolina Privateer Ship General Moultrie (Commander Downham Newton). In a hard fought two hour battle the Wasp was captured, losing ten killed and twenty-five wounded. General Moultrie had five wounded. Wasp was so shot up in her spars and rigging that her foremast and bowsprit and the head of the mainmast fell overboard the morning after the battle. She was hulled repeatedly and her captors had to “bale and pump at both hatchways”1 to get the prize into port.

General Moultrie escorted her prize into Charleston about the end of September. Here, Wasp was purchased by one Atkinson, and refitted as an American privateer. Her commander seems to have been Samuel Bulfinch.2

Detail of a painting of the fight between General Moultrie and the Wasp, showing the Wasp. She would have looked much the same, less damage, in American hands. Modern painting by Mark Myers, in Coker, Charleston’s Maritime Heritage.

In December 1778 Wasp was at sea with the General Moultrie. The two privateers encountered a shipwreck on Cape Florida, the Mary (William Horncastle), bound for London, England from Jamaica, part of a convoy of thirty-seven sail that had sailed from Jamaica in 17 November 1778. Wasp rescued Horncastle, his mate, and nine of the crew. A schooner rescued the remainder of the crew.

With the information obtained from the survivors the two privateers located the convoy, escorted by the armed ship Ruby and two armed West Indies ships. On 8 December a ship and a brig were captured. One prize was the 16-gun Earl of Chester.3 Both prizes were brought into Charlestown on 19 December.4 Earl of Chester became a prison ship in Charleston Harbor.5

Wasp was still in service in July 1779. On 28 July an advertisement appeared for the return of stolen personal items, taken from the brig while it was laying at Hobcaw. A reward of $50 was offered for the items.6

When the French Admiral D’Estaing arrived on the Georgia coast with his fleet to begin the Savannah campaign, one of his requests was for light vessels. On 12 September 1779, J. Plombard, the French consul at Charlestown, wrote to D’Estaing: “M. Atkinson, a businessman of this town and owner of the brigantine Wasp, Captain Bulfinch, leaves this morning to be at the orders of M. le Comte. This brigantine is armed with fourteen cannons and it will help to fulfill the object of M. d'Estaing for some small armed craft.”7 At this time one William Main was aboard the Wasp as the First Lieutenant.8

Wasp supported the Savannah campaign as a transport, and was most likely taken into South Carolina pay. Following the disastrous assault on Savannah, she was at Bonaventure Plantation, loading artillery and wounded. On 15 October 1779, Bulfinch reported to General Lincoln: “I beg leave to acquaint you that agreeable to your orders I took on board nine pieces of the artillery which was the most I possibly could take on. Mo’over, I even was obliged to put some of the carriages on board the Schooner that carry the French wounded. I likewise took on board the Americans that was sent down one of which died this day and I have brought him ashore and buried him. They have put only one lad on board to attend the sick. I should be glad your Excellency would order some others on Board to attend them. Capt. Vlyanland came down this afternoon. There was no place to put him. The Eagle whom he was to have gone on board, went away this morning and left him. I made interest with the French Gentleman who has the directions of putting the wounded on board the other schooners for Charleston and got him on board one of them. . . .”9

This was probably the Wasp aboard which Count Pulaski was taken when he was wounded. He subsequently died and was buried at sea.10

On 28 July 1780 the British privateer schooner Highland Lass put in to Savannah and reported she had been captured, on 12 June, by the brigantine Wasp “formerly of Charlestown, but then in possession of a Spaniard.” The next day HM Frigates Richmond (Captain Charles Hudson) and Camilla (Captain John Collins) captured Wasp and recaptured the Highland Lass.11 The capture of the Wasp by the Richmond is confirmed by an advertisement for the distribution of prize money for the brig to the Richmond’s crew.12 Wasp was sent to New York, New York.

This is also likely to be the Wasp (Pablo Ferrer) that was condemned in the Vice Admiralty Court of New York in 1780. She was described as a Spanish merchant vessel sailing under United States colors, and was said to be formerly British but captured by the Americans.13

1 Coker, Charleston’s Maritime Heritage, 92

2 Letter, J. Plombard to Count d'Estaing, September. 12, 1779, Archives Nationales (France), Marine B4 168, 120. Cited and quoted from Pulaski's Body.

3 Coker, Charleston’s Maritime Heritage, 92

4 The Gazette of the State of South-Carolina, Wednesday, December 30, 1778

5 Coker, Charleston’s Maritime Heritage, 92

6 The Gazette of the State of South-Carolina, Wednesday, July 28, 1779

7 Letter, J. Plombard to Count d'Estaing, September. 12, 1779, Archives Nationales (France), Marine B4 168, 120. Cited and quoted from Pulaski's Body.

8 Pulaski's Body.

9 Benjamin Lincoln Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, Mass, Film 1673, Roll 4, frame 743. From Pulaski's Body.

10 Pulaski's Body.

11 The Providence Gazette and Country Journal, Saturday, September 16, 1780, datelined Charlestown, July 19, 1780.

12 The London Gazette, Tuesday, September 16 to Saturday, September 20, 1783

13 HCA 32/488/15/1-11

Posted 21 September 2014 ©