Cumberland Runs from Pomona

Massachusetts Privateer Ship Races HM Frigate Pomona, and Loses
28 January 1779

On 28 January 1779, Massachusetts Privateer Ship Cumberland (Commander John Manley) was cruising about thirty miles to the east of Barbados, in the British West Indies. Cumberland was about 290 tons and armed with eighteen 6-pounders, four 3-pounders and fourteen swivel guns, a heavy battery for a privateer. She had a crew of about 125 men aboard.1 At 0700 Cumberland sighted a ship steering for the Cumberland. An observer on the Cumberland said that “. . .  we likewise set all sail upon a wind and stood for her, running in a short time close under her larboard quarter.” This proved to be a mistake, for the ship was HM Frigate Pomona (Captain William Waldegrave), a vessel of 593 tons, armed with twenty-four 9-pounders and four 3-pounders. She had a nominal crew of 200 men.2

Manley started running, but the frigate took in her steering sails, hauled her wind and began a chase. The fight turned into a running exchange of shots: the Americans firing into Pomona’s forecastle and striking sometimes; the Pomona firing bow chasers at the fleeing privateer. The weather was windy and squally, somewhat favoring the bigger ship. The distance fluctuated: sometimes a quarter mile apart, sometimes within musket shot. At least one American was killed in this exchange.3

As night came on, Manley threw overboard eight of his guns, started his water, and slightly altered course, in an attempt to lighten his ship and gain more speed. This failed to have any effect: “ . . . frigate, being right in our wake and within short distance, kept her course, and, shooting close up under our larboard quarter, gave us four or five double-headed and round shot. Some flew among our rigging and one ball, striking us abaft the fore-chains, went through and through the ship, making her shake again.”4

It was now about 2100. The two ships were now close together, Cumberland running to the leeward of the bigger frigate, which was on her port quarter. Manley could hear the British yelling at him to “strike your d... d rebel colors,” but did not do so. A desperate plan was quickly improvised: “Captain Manley intended to clap the helm down and so let the frigate run her head or bow right amidships of us. In this event the Cumberland would have been sunk, and he who got out on board the frigate first would be best fellow. I presume we would have had a pretty tight scratch of it, for we had 130 picked men and not a sick one on board.”

The observer continues: “ . . . all hands were called aft to arm themselves with swords and pistols for boarding . . . But the misfortune of it was that, on opening the arm-chests, not more than thirty cutlasses and a few miserable pikes were found, so the captain gave it up and ordered the colors to be struck.”5

The British brought the Cumberland into Barbados the next day, where she was taken into the Royal Navy as HM Sloop Rover.  

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Time: 14 hours

1 Greenwood, John, The Revolutionary Services of John Greenwood of Boston and New York 1775-1783, New York: The De Vinne Press, 1922, p. 49; Allen, Massachusetts Privateers in the Revolution, 106

2 Winfield, British Warships in the Age of Sail 1714-1792, 290

3 Greenwood, 49

4 Greenwood, 49-50

5 Greenwood, 50

Posted 14 February 2012 ©