Raids on Labrador

The Raids on the Labrador Coast
13 August 1778-[1] September 1778

1. Preliminaries

Massachusetts Privateer Ship Cumberland (Commander James Collins) was preparing for sea in early July 1778. Cumberland sailed, probably about mid-July 1778, and headed to the north, going up to the Strait of Belle Isle, which divided the southern coast of Labrador from Newfoundland. At that time the entire area of Labrador was included in the Province of Quebec; today only the very southern part of the coast is included in Quebec.

Collins sighted and chased a few vessels but had no particular luck in capturing any. After a short time he steered back south and east and arrived on the Newfoundland Banks. About the first week of August 1778, Cumberland encountered the Rhode Island Privateer Ship Minerva (Commander John Grimes), which was substantially crewed from Massachusetts despite the Rhode Island commission. The two skippers hove to and exchanged information. Collins told Grimes of his trip through the Strait of Belle Isle and his failure to capture anything, even though he had chased several vessels.

Grimes probably informed Collins that he thought he would sail over to the Straits of Belle Isle and see what he could do there. Relations were friendly enough between the two that the Second Lieutenant of the Cumberland was allowed to leave the ship and enter the Minerva as a prize master. Although, as subsequent events showed, there may have been some informal co-ordination between the two commanders, there is no evidence of it in the documentation. When they parted Minerva sailed for the Straits of Belle Isle, while Cumberland headed south and then north, toward the southern Labrador coast.

2. Minerva North of the Strait of Belle Isle

Minerva arrived at Temple Bay on 14 August, where two brigs and a ship were found. These were ordered rigged and loaded.1 On 15 August2 the 120-ton3 brig Ann was sent off to Boston. Joseph Hibbert was sent aboard as prize master, along with six other men. Two of the British crew entered aboard the privateer, and were sent back to the Ann to join the prize crew. Ann was also from Chatham, and owned by Temple & Pinson. She was sent off to Boston.4 Ann was also libeled on 17 September 1778 and tried on 7 October 1778.5

The brig Hope was dispatched on 17 August, with Joseph Jacobs assigned as her prize master. Meanwhile, Minerva’s Captain of Marines, Stanislaus Crowley, had been creating trouble. Grimes unceremoniously dumped him at Temple Bay,  “thinking it unsafe to keep him on board.”6

The next day (18 August) the ship Pinson was dispatched. John Harmon was assigned as prize master, with six of the Minerva’s crew as the prize crew. One French volunteer and four men from the Pinson, who entered aboard the privateer, were also sent back aboard. She was also from Chatham and owned by Temple & Pinson.7 The Pinson was certainly the ship which arrived in Boston on 26 September 1778 as a prize of the Minerva’s. She arrived with a prize brig, possibly the Hope. Their cargoes were said to “consist of wine and other spirits.” Minerva was stated to be armed with twenty guns in this report.8 A more accurate report indicates this ship had a cargo of fish.9 Pinson was advertised for sale in the Boston newspapers on 8 October 1778, being listed as 150 tons. The sale was to take place on 12 October. Her cargo was advertised for sale at the same time. Hope, listed as 150 tons, was advertised in the same auction, along with her miscellaneous cargo.10 Pinson, listed at 150 tons, and Hope, listed at 100 tons, were libeled in the Maritime Court of the Middle District on 15 October, and tried on 15 November 1778.

Thomas Kelling, the agent for the firm of Noble and Pinson at L’Anse au Loup, in the Strait of Belle Isle, reported that Grimes had been in Chateau Bay on 13 August. He plundered the stores and took away three vessels. Kelling said the crews of these vessels deserted to the Americans. Kelling added that Grimes had manned and armed a brig and some other vessels to assist him in attacking the fishing stations on the coast.11

Minerva was in Chateau Bay on 18 or 19 August. Coghlan reported on the actions there, to Admiral Montague at St. Johns, Newfoundland, on 19 August. Grimes had been to his posts on the Alexis River. Coghlan feared an attack on Fogo and had summoned a meeting of the principal merchants to plan the defense of the harbor. There was a weak response to the meeting:  “but it was with great difficulty he could get even the voice of one Englishman, who would engage to stand by him, although there were 250 able men, capable of bearing arms.” There was no real likelihood of any attack on Fogo, however.12

On 21 August the Minerva was at Cape Charles in Labrador, twelve miles from Temple Bay.13 She captured the brig Charming Nancy coming out of that harbor. Samuel Giles was made prize master with three Americans, one French volunteer and three men who were captured, and then entered the privateer. Another prize, taken at Cape Charles, was the schooner Drake. Grimes wrote a report to the owners on 21 August, and sent it off by the Drake, under a prize master named Proctor.14 Drake, listed as 75 tons, was libeled in the Maritime Court of the Middle District on 15 October 1778, and tried on 15 November 1778.15

Grimes reported to the owners that he had “entered a considerable no. of men, & believe I shall take a Circuit out to sea to habituate them to the ship, as well as to give them a little respite from fatigue. Perhaps after that I may make another short Excursion in some of their ports, but I have no fixed Determination what particular course I shall take.”16

Map of the southern and south-eastern coast of Labrador to illustrate the raids of August 1778. Adapted from detail of a map in Whitely, “Newfoundland, Quebec, and the Administration of the Coast of Labradore, 1774-1783.”


Instead Grimes sailed north up the Labrador coast to Sandwich Bay, where a George Cartwright operated a trading post.17 Cartwright saw the privateer at sea on 26 August at 1500. He sent off five of his men to the ship to see who she was and later observed his boat being towed by the stranger. Cartwright relates in his journal what followed:

“At one o’clock this morning, I was alarmed by a loud rapping at my door, which when I had opened, a body of armed men rushed in; they informed me that they belonged to the Minerva privateer, of Boston in New-England, commanded by John Grimes; mounting twenty nine-pounders, and manned with one hundred and sixty men; and, that I was their prisoner. They then demanded all my keys, took possession of both my vessels; also the Otter, then full of goods which she was going to land from the brig and of all my stores which were on shore. About nine the Minerva worked into Blackguard Bay, and came to an anchor there. T then went on board her, and was received with civility by Captain Grimes; who told me that, some days ago, he had entered Temple Bay and taken three vessels from Noble and Pinson, which he had filled with fish, and stores from the shore and sent off for Boston. and sent off for Boston He said that many of the fishermen had entered with him; among whom were two men who had lately lived with me, and who had informed him where I lived. From thence he went to Charles Harbour, where he had taken one vessel from Mr Slade, another from Mr Seydes, and had plundered my possessions there and at Ranger Lodge; at the former place another man who lived with me last year, and one of my salmoniers at the latter, had entered with him. I requested the releasement of Mr. Daubeny who was kept prisoner on board, but he would not grant it. He sent an officer and a party of men in my baitskiff to Caribou Castle, to plunder there also. The skiff was piloted by that villain Dominick Kinnien who out baitmaster of her for the first time yesterday, and who, together with his whole crew six men, had entered with the privateer’s people the instant they got on board. In the course of the day, they shipped what was in the Otter on board the Countess of Effingham, and, in the evening sent her off for Boston. In going out of the harbour they ran her on shore off the low on the east side, but soon got her off again, and went to sea through the north-east passage. In the night I slipped a skiff out of the harbour with four hands, to inform the boats, and order to go into North Harbour, in Table Bay.”18

The Minerva’s two prizes were the ship Countess of Effingham and the brig Reconciliation.19 The Countess of Effingham (David Kinloch) had only arrived in Sandwich Bay on 22 August; she was from Lisbon, Portugal with a cargo of salt.20 She sailed for Boston on 27 August under prize master John Adams with a prize crew of ten Americans and one British sailor who had entered aboard the privateer. The Reconciliation (John Kettle) was a former American vessel taken prize, and was fairly new, measuring about eighty tons.21 She sailed on 28 August, under prize master Robert Cushing with a prize crew of four Americans, one French volunteer and one British sailor who had entered the privateer.22 The Reconciliation was, possibly, the brig that arrived at Boston on 29 September 1778. She was said to have a cargo of fish and oil, and was the sixth of the Minerva’s eight prizes to arrive.23  Reconciliation, listed at 100 tons, was libeled in the Maritime Court of the Middle District on 15 October 1778, and tried on 15 November 1778.24

Cartwright recorded the events of 28 August in his journal:

“The Minerva came into the harbour this morning, where she moored, and filled her empty water casks. The Otter and Stag were sent to Caribou, to bring down what was there; and they shipped off some of my dry fish, and most of the goods which were here. By this time many of my people had entered on board the privateer, and some of them had informed the captain of the four men going away in the skiff last night; which enraged him and his people so much, that I found it prudent to send Indian Jack by land, with orders for the boats to come in here.”25

Again, on 29 August:

“In the course of this day, the remaining part of the dry fish, and most of the goods which were here, were shipped off on board the Reconciliation. In the afternoon the three shallops which were out a fishing, came into the harbour,  the people were set on shore and the sails were unbent; but the Indian boy was kept on board. In the afternoon, the surgeon of the privateer drove the two Indian women on board, and the child, Phillis, was soon sent after them. In the night, the Otter and the Stag returned from Caribou, with all my property from that place. At supper, having heard that they intended to send to Paradise and White-bear River for what was there, I dropped a hint of expecting a frigate here immediately; and it had the desired effect.”26

On 30 August the Americans began pulling out. Cartwright recorded:

“Early this morning I found the enemy in a great bustle. They took on board the privateer, all the goods which had been brought down from Caribou, except a chest of baggage, which Grimes returned; but many were pillaged out of it. He then gave me small quantity of provisions, returned my boats and most of their sails, and by noon, the ship together with my brig went to sea through Western Tickle, and steered away north-east by east; passing to the westward of the Gannet Islands. May devil go with them!”27

Cartwright noted that the Minerva’s guns formerly belonged on one of the Royal Navy’s frigates which had been cast away; he thought the Syren. He recorded the officers as first lieutenant Carlton, third lieutenant Cushin, the master as Ogilvie, the surgeon as Elliot,  and the Lieutenant of Marines as Larey.

“Carlton and Elliot are two of the greatest villains as any unhanged; the other three behaved exceedingly well, particularly Mr. Ogilvie, of whose civilities I shall ever retain a most grateful remembrance. I should be particularly happy to have it in my power to properly reward the infamous behaviour of Carlton and Elliot; and the villainy of Thomas Adams, lately a mate in the service of Noble and Pinson,also of Michael Bryan, Luke Ryan, Dennis Ryan, and Dominick Kinnien, lately my servants, who were by far the most active in distressing me. They were the persons who gave information where I lived, piloted the ship to this place, and discovered to the enemy the places where great part of my property lay. Grimes is a lying rascal; for, he voluntarily made me many promises, and afterwards broke them all. Many of my people entered, and went away in the privateer; and most of the remainder would have done so likewise, under the apprehension of being left here destitute of the means either of subsisting, or getting off the island; but I thought it my duty to my king and country, even in my then distressed situation, to prevent the desertion. Grimes turned two rascals on shore again, and I immediately gave them a most severe beating with a sound stick.”28

No less than thirty-two of Cartwright’s men had joined the Minerva, including Kettle and William Johnston, the mate of the Resolution. Four Eskimo natives were also taken, to be sold into slavery. At Boston, the turncoats were put in prison and not paid any prize money. Cartwright said that “Grimes artfully held out a share of the booty, to inveigle the fishermen to enter with him, in order that he might replace those men whom he had sent away in the different prizes; otherwise he would not have had men enow left to navigate his own ship; but on his arrival at Boston he threw them all into prison, to cheat them of their share of the prize-money. The villains were served right, and Grimes acted in character.” Cartwright reckoned his losses at £14000.29

Grimes now turned toward home, escorting two prizes to port. He was intending to get into Portsmouth, New Hampshire, but bad weather forced him to put into Old York, where the Minerva arrived on 17 September 1778. Grimes notified his owners that day, stating:

“I this day arrived safe from a 3 months Cruise, during which period I have captured & sent home 8 prizes, viz 2 Ships, 5 Brigs & 1 Schooner, 1 Ship & 1 Brig is in port with me. I aim’d at Portsmo but Distress of weather oblig’d me to put in here. Here I mean to tarry with the prizes till I wait your Orders. The first fair day I mean to overhall their Cargo and if any of the fish is damaged I shall order them out & sold. I hope to expect to hear of the arrival of the 4 soon, although they sailed some time before me, please to send me word as soon as possible.”30

It was very timely for Grimes to depart the area. The British commander of the Newfoundland station, Admiral Montague, began receiving reports of the raid by the Minerva on 22 August. The report by Thomas Kelling from Chateau Bay, arrived at St. Johns on that day.31 Montagu immediately ordered Captain Robert Linzee in HM Frigate Surprize to sail for the Labrador coast. On 23 August the report from Coghlan at Fogo arrived.32 Montagu now ordered HM Armed Schooner Penguin to sail with the Surprize and both sortied on the morning of 24 August. They reached Chateau Bay on 2 September 1778, and were into Spear Harbour the following day.33

Later the owners drew up a statement of their various proceeds from the cruise of the Minerva. The total proceeds to the owners was £42,066.7. At the usual rate of a fifty-fifty split between owners and crew, Grimes would have received a little over £1900 for his share of the cruise.34

Nearly a year later, on 9 July 1779, there was a sequel for Cartwright. Let him tell it to us in his own words:

“At nine o clock at night I was alarmed by a rapping at my door; but was soon relieved from my fears, by the appearance of captain Kinloch and nine servants, which were some of my old hands. He informed me, that my old ship, the Countess of Effingham, was safe at an anchor in North Harbour, with all the salt and most of the other goods, which the Minerva’s people had carried away in her. She had been retaken on her passage to Boston by five of the crew which had been put on board at this place to conduct her thither; three of whom had entered from me and two from Noble and Pinson. They carried her into Dartmouth, where she was delivered up to my agent. She sailed from thence to Waterford, in the beginning of June; and from thence came hither. . .”35

3. Cumberland South of the Strait of Belle Isle

While Minerva was destroying fishing camps north of the Strait of Belle Isle, Collins in the Cumberland sailed along the coast of Labrador, west of the Strait of Belle Isle, destroying the stations for the sealing industry. Five stations belonging to William Grant, of the firm of Grant & Perrault, namely, Great Mecatina, Little Bradore, St. Augustine, Notagamia, and Mutton Bay were destroyed. Little Mecatina, belonging to Simon Fraser, and a fishery of Adam Lymburens were also destroyed. Collins left “one house standing, with provisions only for nine men for about two months, at the end of which it was expected that the Winter Fishing vessels would arrive from Quebec. . .” The British reported that Cumberland had twenty-two guns.36

There exists a remarkable letter from Collins to William Grant of St. Roc, a member of the firm of Grant & Perrault, dated at Little Mecatina, 23 August 1778:

“Having taken a tour on the Labradore Coasts I have visited several of your posts, and agreeable to the Rules of War Viz, The rule the Britain has adopted in the present savage war against America, have destroyed your works for the Seal fishery, leaving the dwelling houses, provisions & every necessary for the support of the poor people who may occupy them, having no disposition to destroy poor innocent individuals. I hearby wish the Subjects of the King of Britain had retained so much of the humanity they were formerly possessed with, as to have proceeded in the same line of conduct, but alas! So far from that, they have not only burned the habitations of the poor & inoffensive inhabitants of America whereever it has been in their power, but have stripped the clothes of their backs in the most inclement season of the year. We abhor such savage like proceedings, and only aim at weaking the sinews of an unjust & cruel war wickedly commenced against America.*Upon the whole, whatever is destroyed of your interest, you have only to thank your famous Lord North &c. &c. I have given the whole of what is not destroyed to the poor men in the present possession of them, hoping you will at least suffer them to enjoy a moiety without lett or hindrance, as it is for their sakes alone it is spared”37

The letter was signed “James Collins, Commander of the Cumberland Ship of War belonging to America.” The signature was followed by a postscript: “N.B. That we have not given away houses & lands before we have them in possession as Mr. Grant was pleased to dispose of those belonging to Americans, as encouragement to the Canadians, to join the British Army together with their good friends the savages, in order to butcher the inhabitants of America. Helpless mothers and innocent babes not excepted.”38

Three days later Collins raided Great Mecatina and took the two men there. He discovered the owner, one Pearson, was a French Canadian. Collins wrote to Pearson on 26 August, “I found on examination that you are of the french Nation who are our friends and allies and notwithstanding you are at present under they arbitrary and oppressive government of Great Britain I Have not suffered the least Damage to Be Done to your interest . . . We have treated all the kenedians at they Several posts Belonging to Mr. Grant as our own Brothers . . .” To make sure Pearson got the point he inclosed a copy of the letter to Grant, and closed his letter “If you are not a Detested tory I am with Due Respect . . .”39

At least two prizes were captured on this cruise. Collins, listed as Joseph Collins, libeled the 100-ton brig Two Brothers (Thomas Glassget) and the 100-ton bilander Nancy (Thomas Thembs) in the Massachusetts Maritime Court of the Middle District on 17 September. Trial was set for 7 October 1778.40

4. British Economic Losses

The British fishery was all but destroyed for the year on the Labrador coast by these raids. According to a letter from Grant to General Haldiman, the governor of Quebec, the Minerva had done “much mischief in the lower part of the coast, beyond the limites of the Province, burned some ships, carried off and destroyed all that was valuable there”. In November 1778 Haldimand complained to Lord Sandwich, the First Lord of the Admiralty, that although two frigates and two sloops had wintered at Quebec, and were kept cruising about during the open season, American privateers had swarmed in the Gulf all year, taking many prizes. The winter fishery on the north shore had been almost entirely annihilated, and many would not venture upon the fisheries there next summer unless their property was protected.41

The merchants later estimated that the two raiders, Cumberland and Minerva, had destroyed or captured property and vessels worth £15000. The raids were on the posts from Mingan to Cape Charles, north of the Strait of Belle Isle.42

1 Letter, Grimes to Owners, dated 21 August 1778, in McManemin, Captains of the State Navies, 305A-305B

2 McManemin, Captains of the State Navies, 305A

3 The Independent Chronicle and the Universal Advertiser [Boston], Thursday, September 17, 1778

4 McManemin, Captains of the State Navies, 305A

5 The Independent Chronicle and the Universal Advertiser [Boston], Thursday, September 17, 1778

6 McManemin, Captains of the State Navies, 305A

7 McManemin, Captains of the State Navies, 305A

8 The Massachusetts Spy; Or, American Oracle of Liberty [Worcester], Thursday, October 1, 1778, datelined Boston, September 28

9 The Independent Chronicle and the Universal Advertiser [Boston], Thursday, October 1, 1778

10 The Independent Chronicle and the Universal Advertiser [Boston], Thursday, October 8, 1778

11 Whitely, W. H., “Newfoundland, Quebec, and the Administration of the Coast of Labradore, 1774-1783,” in Acadiensis, p. 108n63, citing Journal of Montague, 23 August.. Online here. Hereafter Whitely, “Newfoundland.”

12 Whitely, “Newfoundland,” 108n64, citing Journal of Montague, 23 August

13 Letter, Grimes to Owners, dated 21 August 1778, in McManemin, Captains of the State Navies, 305A-305B

14 McManemin, Captains of the State Navies, 305A; Letter, Grimes to Owners, dated 21 August 1778, in McManemin, Captains of the State Navies, 305A-305B

15 The Independent Chronicle and the Universal Advertiser [Boston], Thursday, October 15, 1778

16 Letter, Grimes to Owners, dated 21 August 1778, in McManemin, Captains of the State Navies, 305A-305B

17 McManemin, Captains of the State Navies, 305B

18 Cartwright Journal, 240-241

19 McManemin, Captains of the State Navies, 305B

20 Cartwright, George, Captain Cartwright and His Labrador Journal, Boston: Dana Estes & Co., 1911, p. 239. Hereafter, Cartwright Journal. Online here.

21 Cartwright Journal, 228

22 McManemin, Captains of the State Navies, 305B

23 The Independent Chronicle and the Universal Advertiser [Boston], Thursday, October 1, 1778

24 The Independent Chronicle and the Universal Advertiser [Boston], Thursday, October 15, 1778

25 Cartwright Journal, 242

26 Cartwright Journal, 242

27 Cartwright Journal, 242-243

28 Cartwright Journal, 243-244

29 Cartwright Journal, 245-247

30 Letter Grimes to Owners, 17 September 1778, in McManemin, Captains of the State Navies, 305B-305C

31 Whitely,, “Newfoundland,” 108n63, citing Journal of Montague, 23 August

32 Whitely,, “Newfoundland,” 108n64, citing Journal of Montague, 23 August

33 Whitely, “Newfoundland,” 108n65, citing the Journal of the Surprize

34 Statement reproduced in McManemin, Captains of the State Navies,305C

35 Cartwright Journal, 270

36 Letter of William Grant, 3 November 1778, in  De Costa, Rev. B. F., “The Cumberland Cruiser,” in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, volume 34, Boston: David Clapp & Son, 1880, 278-280; Whitely, W. H., “Newfoundland, Quebec, and the Administration of the Coast of Labradore, 1774-1783,” in Acadiensis. Online here.

37 Letter, Collins to Grant, 23 August 1778, in De Costa, “The Cumberland Cruiser,”

38 Letter, Collins to Grant, 23 August 1778, in De Costa, “The Cumberland Cruiser”

39 Letter, Collins to Pearson, 26 August 1778, in De Costa, “The Cumberland Cruiser”

40 The Independent Chronicle and the Universal Advertiser [Boston], Thursday, September 17, 1778

41 White, 104, citing Letter, Grant to Haldiman, 3 November 1778; and Haldiman to Sandwich, 19 November 1778

42 White, 106, citing the Petition of W. Grant, T. Dunn, P. Stuart, A. and M. Lymbumer et al, 18 October 1782, Adm 1/2485

Posted 1 March 2012 ©