Rupert George's Letter:
Battle off Spanish River

From Mr. Hoew’s Halifax Journal, dated Oct. 5. [1781] 1


S I R,

MONSIEUR DE LA PEROUSE, has thought proper to publish an account of an action that happened lately between the Astrea2 and Hermione3 French frigates, and several British ships, which appears to me evidently written for the purpose of establishing his consequences with his new allies:  But as such a representation of facts may also have other effects, I shall not treat it with the silent contempt it so well merits, and therefore desire you will please to insert in your paper, the following observations upon that gentleman’s letter.

I would first inform him, that the two frigates that chaced him in the morning of the 21st of July, were his Majesty’s ship Charlestown of twenty-eight guns, and the Vulture sloop of fourteen guns; the third vessel was the armed ship Jack of fourteen guns; and those two which joined afterwards by signal were the Allegiance sloop of eighteen guns, and the Vernon, a light transport mounting fourteen guns; the other ship, the Thompson, which appears so respectable in  the line of battle he has annexed, was a Quebec victualler deeply laden, of six guns and twelve men, whose commander, to satisfy his curiosity stood a small distance from the rest of the convoy to have a view of the engagement.

From the extreme heavy sailing of the Allegiance, that ship and the Vernon had scarcely joined the others to as to form into any regular line when the French frigates came up and the action began ; to avoid being raked the Charlestown and Vulture had occasion for a few minutes to edge away, this consequently left the other ships a small distance to windward ; at that time the Hermione passed a head, under the lea of the Astrea to lay upon the Charlestown’s lee bow, who was then exposed to the fire of both the enemy’s ships, until the Vulture by hoisting her jibb, forced a-head of the Charlestown to relieve her from so unequal a contest, by taking the fire of the Hermione ; and if Mons. de la Touche  will have the candor to acknowledge that after he had fired no more into the Charlestown, but continued engaged with the Vulture until both the French frigates bore away at half past eight o’clock : I flatter myself it will no where appear but in Mons. la Perouse’s imagination, that the Vulture crowded sail to get off.

The letter next asserts, that the Charlestown followed the example of the Jack in striking her colours.  If the writer had been at that time in a state of Mind to have enabled him to make observations coolly he would have perceived when her ensign came down with the gaff upon the derrick’s being shot away, and the pendant when the main-top mast fell, that a British flag was immediately displayed, which had been kept ready in the mizen shrouds for such an event.  Upon this single circumstance, without being accompanied with any other mark of surrender whatever, this gentleman has chosen to assert upon his honour that the Charlestown had struck.  If that were possible to have been his opinion at that time, I shall take to liberty to propose a question to him upon it, pray, Sir, shall I impute to your courage or your excellence in manœuvre the singular method you chose to possess yourself of your prize the Charlestown? which was by bearing away with both your frigates and fleeing on the contrary tack from our ships until we lost sight of you.  But granting our ships to have been fleeing in the manner you describe them, what refinement in discipline prevented you for ordering the Hermione instead of wearing to stand on and keep sight of us which was in your power to have done if you had wished it.

Having made my observations on the most material parts of the valiant captain’s letter, I cannot conclude mine without paying my tribute of admiration for his ingenuity in composing the account of the action and magnifying the force opposed to him ; his deviation from truth I can easily imagine is calculated for the peculiarity of his situation.  For so great is my opinion of hs generosity, that had he taken us all I am persuaded he could have extolled our bravery, even though the enhancing his own would be the consequence.

I am, Sir,

Your humble servant,


Commander of his Majesty’s sloop

Vulture, the day of the action.

Halifax, 4th of October, 1781.


The Royal Gazette, New York, 07 Nov 1781, p. 3.


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]

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

Revised 6 August 2014 ©