American Prizes
July 1775

Name of Vessel:

Phillipa [Phillippa, Philippa, Magna Charta]

Master of Vessel:

Richard Maitland

Rig of Vessel:


Date of Capture:

10 July 1775

Place of Capture:

In the Savannah River off Tybee Island, Georgia


Georgia Navy Schooner Liberty

Home Port:

From What Port:

London, England

To What Port:

Savannah, Georgia








Prize master:

Prize crew:

Ordered Into:

Savannah, Georgia

Into What Port:

Savannah, Georgia

Date Arrived:

12 July 1775

Date Tried:


Date Sold:





Comments: In early June 1775 the South Carolina Council of Safety learned of a shipment of gunpowder due to arrive in Savannah, Georgia. The information was that this was the annual present of gunpowder for the Indians. Since gunpowder and ammunition were in critically short supply in all the colonies, the Council of Safety determined to intercept the shipment.

Two barges were sent from South Carolina, commanded by Captains John Joyner and John Barnwell of the 1st South Carolina regiment, with a total of about forty men each. These proceeded to Bloody Point to intercept the powder. Bloody Point, on Daufaskie Island, was the landfall for all vessels entering the Savannah River. From Bloody Point new arrivals were visible, as was the town of Savannah.

Georgia Royal Governor Sir James Wright had anticipated trouble with the shipping in the river. Governor Wright had no military forces available in the colony and had written to General Gage and Admiral Graves for help. Help was coming, although not in response to Wright’s letter. On 27 June HM Schooner St. John (Lieutenant William Grant) sailed from St. Augustine, East Florida with dispatches for Wright, from Governor Patrick Tonyn.

On 4 July 1775 the Second Georgia Provincial Congress convened, and joined the Continental Association on 6 July. This brought the colony squarely into the rebellion. The Georgians had been aware of the presence of the South Carolinians and now blessed the enterprise by co-operating. The Georgians informed Barnwell and Joyner of the presence of the St. John. The schooner Elizabeth, owned by Samuel Price and Richard Wright of Savannah, was taken up and commissioned as the Liberty. Price cooperated with the Provincial Congress acting as schooner’s pilot. The Provincial Congress authorized Captain Oliver Bowen and Captain Joseph Habersham as commanders of the newly outfitted ten gun schooner. They were ordered to assist Captains Joyner and Barnwell of South Carolina (whose troops were on Tybee Island) in the capture of the incoming powder vessel. A secondary purpose was to nullify the St. John. Other reports list this vessel as having eight to ten guns, swivels, and a fifty-man crew. The cannon were 6-pounders. [cite]

The merchant ship in question was the 270-ton Phillipa [Philipa,  Philippa, formerly the Magna Carta] (Richard Maitland), which had sailed from London, England on 2 May 1775 with a cargo of 13000 pounds of gunpowder, as well as small arms, and casks of musket balls. The cargo was intended for the Indian trade and for British troops and loyalists in Georgia and eastern Florida.

Grant was making every effort to find the powder vessel first. On 3 July he ran down a ship outside the bar, but she was from Barbados in ballast and was released. The presence of the Liberty and the two barges may have influenced Grant, and he moved further out to sea. On 9 July two more ships were stopped and searched for powder, but were released. Unknown to Grant, he had already missed his chance.

On 7 July the Phillipa anchored nine miles from Tybee Point, to await a pilot to take her up to Savannah. The Liberty was anchored out of sight from Tybee, but Bowen and Habersham were no doubt informed of the arrival of a large ship. On 8 July Liberty moved up and anchored in the ship channel about three or four miles from the Phillipa. If the powder ship moved up river it would have to pass the schooner. At 1400 a pilot went aboard the Phillippa and she got underway.

As Phillippa moved upriver, Maitland got a closer look at the schooner. “The schooner was full of armed men and had ten carriage-guns mounted.” Below her deck several boards had been removed “which were for small arms in close quarters.” At 1600 the Liberty fired two muskets at the Phillippa as a signal to heave to, and ordered Maitland to identify himself. Maitland was suspicious, having had a previous experience in South Carolina, when he had violated the Continental Association and been exposed for it. [cite] Maitland made a futile effort to escape before he hove to. Maitland demanded to know who the schooner was. Bowen offered to serve as a pilot for the ship, which Maitland declined. Bowen then  “hauled down their pendant and hoisted at the masthead a white flag with a red border, on the field of which flag was stamped or imprinted in large red letters the word ‘American Liberty’, and the people on board the schooner said the schooner’s name was the Liberty.”

A change in the wind and an ebb tide forced both vessels to anchor. They remained at anchor until the following morning. Then Maitland was ordered to sail up the Savannah to Cockspur Island, with Liberty following. About three hundred men were camped there. Maitland was ordered to anchor, and the two South Carolina barges came out and joined the schooner. Bowen, Joyner, and Seth Cuthbert of Savannah led a boarding party to the Phillipa. Maitland was forced to hand over his papers. Next Captain Joseph Habersham came aboard. He had a written order from the Provincial Congress which authorized him to seize the arms, gunpowder, and whatever else was included in the cargo. Maitland was informed that the Americans would “take all the gunpowder, shot, lead, and Indian trading arms.” When the unloading had begun, Maitland was allowed to depart for Savannah in order to inform Governor Wright of what had happened.

The Americans were able to take off 16,000 pounds of powder and “seven hundredweight of leaden bullets.” They also “took away all the bar-lead, sheet-lead, Indian trading arms, and shot, that were on board.” The Carolinians and the Georgians divided the cargo between them.

All the gunpowder, along with a few kegs of musket balls, was transferred to the Liberty. There was no room aboard the Liberty for many of the kegs of powder and the small arms, so the Phillipa’s crew was instructed to keep her at anchor near Cockspur Island. A “prize crew” was put aboard to insure that she stayed put. On 12 July the Phillipa received instructions from the Georgia Committee of Safety to proceed to Savannah.  There a second boarding party, led by William Platt, a Savannah merchant, and under the overall direction of the Committee, unloaded the rest of the cargo into boats and transported it to the city magazine for storage.

Maitland met his ship at Savannah and was aboard by 12 July. Governor Wright urged Maitland to file a protest or affidavit with Anthony Stokes, the chief justice of the province. This would have had no effect but to draw more attention to Maitland. The necessity of having the cargo’s bonds cancelled finally forced Maitland to file an affidavit on 21 September 1775.

[NDAR, I, 766-767, 812, 845, 848, 856 and note, 885, 920, 920-921, 922, 931-932, 938, 949, 1003; NDAR, II, 686, 675; Patrick O’Kelley, “Nothing but Blood and Slaughter:” Military Operations and Order of Battle of the Revolutionary War in the Carolinas, Volume One 1771-1779, 2004, pp. 32-33; Hufford, Jon R., “Enough Gunpowder to Start a Revolution,” paper. Texas Tech University. 2007, 315, 316n8, [This is from  Allen D. Candler and Lucian Lamar Knight, comps.. The Colonial Records of the State of Georgia, 26 vols., vols. 27-39 manuscripts, 38, pt. I: 606-614, 614, 615], 317, 318; Accessed 1/28/08;Paullin, Charles Oscar, The Navy of the American Revolution, The Burrows Brothers Company: Cleveland, 1906, 459, 460;; Coleman, Georgia, 53]

Posted 20 January 2009 ©

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