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passed through the main-hatchway. The powder-boys of the Serapis had got more
cartridges up than were wanted, and, in their hurry, they had carelessly laid a roAv of
them on the main-deck, in a line with the guns. The grenade just mentioned set fire
to some loose powder that was lying near, and the flash passed from cartridge to
cartridge, beginning abreast of the mainmast and running quite aft.

The eflToct of tliis explosion was awful. More than twenty men were instantly
killed, many of them being left with nothing on them but the collars and Avristbands
of their shirts, and the waistbands of their duck trowsers ; while the official returns
of the ship, a week after the action, show that there were no less than thirty-eight
wounded on board, still alive, who had been injured in this manner, and of whom
thirty were said to have been then in great danger. Captain Pearson described this
explosion as having destroyed nearly all the men at the five or six aftermost guns. On
the whole, near sixty of the Serapis's people must have been instantly disabled by this
sudden blow.

The advantage thus obtained, by the coolness and intrepidity of the topraen, in a
great measure restored the chances of the combat, and, by lessening the fire of the
enemy, enabled Commodore Jones to increase his. In the same degree that it encour-
aged the crew of the Richard, it diminished the hopes of the people of the Serapis.


One of the guns under the immediate inspection of Commodore Jones had been
pointed some time against the mainmast of his enemy, Avliile the two others liad
seconded the fire of the tops, Avith grape and canister. Kept hekiw decks by this double
attack, where a scene of frightful horror was present in the agonies of the wounded,
and the effects of the explosion, the spirits of the English began to droop, and there
was a moment Avhen a trifle would have induced them to submit. From this despond-
ency they were temporarily raised by one of those unlooked-for events that ever
accompany the vicissitudes of a battle.

After exchanging the ineffective and distant broadsides already mentioned with
the Scarborough, the Alliance had kept standing off and on, to leeward of the two
principal ships, out of the direction of their shot, when, about half-past eight, she ap-
peared crossing the stern of the Serapis and the bow of the Richard, firing at such
distance as to render it impossible to say which vessel would suffer the most. As soon
as she had drawn out of the range of her own guns, hei- helm was put up, and she ran
down near a mile to leeward, hovering about, until the firing had ceased between the
Pallas and Scarborough, when she came within hail and spoke both of these vessels.
Captain Cottineau of the Pallas earnestly entreated Captain Landais to take possession
of his prize, and allow him to go to the assistance of the Richard, or to stretch up to
the windward in the Alliance himself, and succor the commodore.

After some delay, Captain Landais took the important duty of assisting his consort,
into his own hands, and making two long stretches, under his topsails, he appeared,
about the time at which we have arrived in the narration of the combat, directly to
windward of the two ships, with the head of the Alliance to the -westward. Here
the latter ship once more opened her fire, doing equal damage at least, to friend and
foe. Keeping away a little, and still continuing her fire, the Alliance was soon on the
larboard quarter of the Richard, and, it is even affirmed, that her guns were discharged
until she had got nearly abeam.

Fifty voices now hailed to tell the jieople of the Alliance that they were firing into
the wrong ship, and three lanterns were shown, in a line, on the off side of the Richard,
which was the regular signal of recognition for a night action. An ofiicer was directed
to hail, and to order Captain Landais to lay the enemy aboard, and the question being
put, whether the order was comprehended, the answer was in the affirmatiA'c.

As the moon had been up some time, it was impossible not to distinguish between
the vessels, the Richard being all black, while the Serapis had yellow sides, and the
impression seems to have been general in the former vessel, that they had been attacked
intentionally. At the discharge of the first guns of the Alliance, the people left one or
two of the twelves on board the Richard, which they had begun to fight again, saying
that the Englishmen in the Alliance had got possession of the ship, and were helping
the enemy. It ajjpears that this discharge dismounted a gun or two, extinguished
several lanterns on the main deck, and did a good deal of damage aloft.



The Alliance hauled off to some distance, keeping always on the off side of the
Richard, and soon after she reappeared edging down on the larboard beam of her con-
sort, hauling up athwart the bows of that ship and the stern of her antagonist. On this
occasion, it is affirmed that her fire recommenced, when, by possibility, the shot could
only reach the Serapis through the Richard. Ten or twelve men appear to have been
killed and wovmded on the forecastle of the latter ship, which was crowded at the time,
and among them was an officer of the name of Caswell, who, with his dying breath,
mamtained that he had received his wound by the fire of the friendly vessel.

After crossing the bows of the Richard, and the stern of the Serapis, delivering
grape as she passed, the Alliance ran off to leeward, again standing off and on, doing
nothing, for the remainder of the combat.

The fire of the Alliance added greatly to the leaks of the Richard, which ship by
this time had received so much water through the shot-holes, as to begin to settle. It
is even affirmed by many witnesses, that the most dangerous shot-holes on board the
Richard were under her larboard bow, and larboard counter, in places Avhere they
could not have been received from the fire of the Serapis. This evidence, however, is
not unanswerable, as it has been seen that the Serapis luffed upon the larboard-quarter of
the Richard in the commencement of the action, and, forging ahead, was subsequently
on her larboard-bow, endeavoring to cross her fore foot. It is certainly possible that
shot may have struck the Richard in the places mentioned, on these occasions, and
that, as the ship settled in the water from other leaks, the holes then made may have
suddenly increased the danger. On the other hand, if the Alliance did actually fire
while on her bow and quarter of the Richard, as appears by a mass of uncontradicted
testimony, the dangerous shot-holes may very well have come from that shij).

Let the injuries have been received from what quarter they might, soon after the
Alliance had run to leeward, an alarm was spread in the Richard that the shij) was
sinking. Both vessels had been on fire several times, and some difficulty had been ex-
perienced in extinguishing the flames, but here was a new enemy to contend with, and
as the information came from the carpenter, whose duty it was to sound the pump-
wells, it produced a good deal of consternation. The Richard had more than a hun-
dred English prisoners on board, and the master-at-arms, in the hurry of the moment,
let them all up from below, in order to save their lives. In the confusion of such a scene
at night, the master of a letter-of-marque, that had been taken off the north of Scot-
land, passed through a port of the Richard into one of the Serapis, when he reported
to Captain Pearson that a few minutes would probably decide the battle in his favor,
or carry his enemy down, he himself having been liberated in order to save his life.
Just at this instant the gunner, who had Httle to occupy him at his quarters, came on
deck, and not perceiving Commodore Jones or Mr. Dale, both of whom were occupied
with the hberated prisoners, and believing the master, the only other superior he had
in the ship, to be dead, he ran up on the poop to haul down the colors. Fortunately


the flag-staff had been shot- away, and, the ensign already lianging in the water, he
had no other means of letting his intention to submit be known, than by calling
out for quarter. Captain Pearson now hailed to inquire if the Richard demanded
quarter, and was answered by Commodore Jones himself in the negative. It is prob-
able that the reply was not heard, or, if heard, supposed to come from an unauthor-
ized source, for, encouraged by Avhat he had learned from the escaped prisoner, by the
cry, and by the confusion that prevailed m the Richard, the English captam dii-ectcd
his boarders to be called away, and, as soon as mustered, they were ordered to take
possession of the prize. Some of the men actually got on the gunwale of the latter
ship, but finding boarders ready to repel boarders, they made a precipitate retreat.
AU this time the topmen were not idle, and the enemy were soon driven below agahi
with loss.

In the meanwhile Mr. Dale, who no longer had a gun that could be fought, mus-
tered the prisoners at the pumps, turning their consternation to account, and })robably
keeping the Richard afloat by the very blunder that had come so near losing her. The
ships were now on fire again, and both parties, with the exception of a few guns on
each side, ceased fighting, in order to subdue this dangerous enemy. In the course of
the combat the Serapis is said to have been set on fire no less than twelve times, while
toward its close, as will be seen in the sequel, the Richard Avas burning all the while.

As soon as order was restored in the Richard, after the call for quartex*, her chances
of success began to increase, while the English, driven under cover, almost to a man,
appear to have lost, in a great degree, the hope of victory. Their fire materially slack-
ened, while the Richard again brought a few more guns to bear ; the mainmast of the
Serapis began to totter, and her resistance, in general, to lessen. About an hour
after the explosion, or between three hours and three hours and a half after
the first gun was fired, and between two hours and two hours and a half after the
ships were lashed together. Captain Pearson hauled down the colors of the Serapis
with his OAvn hands, the men refusing to expose themselves to the fire of the Rich-
ard's tops.

As soon as it was known that the colors of the English had been lowered, Mr. Dale
got upon the gunwale of the Richard, and laying hold of the main-brace pendant,
he swung himself on board the Serapis. On the quarter-deck of the latter he found
Captain Pearson, almost alone, that gallant officer having mahitained his post through-
out the whole of this close and murderous conflict. Just as Mr. Dale addressed the
English captain, the first-Ueutenant of the Serapis came up from below to inquire if the
Richard had struck, her fire having entirely ceased. Mr. Dale now gave the EngUsh
officer to understand that he was mistaken in the position of things, the Serapis having
struck to the Richard, and not the Richard to the Serapis. Captam Pearson confirm-
ing this account, his subordinate actpiiesced, offering to go below and silence the guns
that were still playing upon the American ship. To this Mr. D:de would not consent^


but both the EngUsh officers were immediately passed on board the Richard. The
firing Avas then stopped below. Mr. Dale had been closely followed to the quarter-
deck of the Serapis by Mr. Mayrant, a midshipman, and a party of boarders, and as
the former struck the quartei'-deck of the prize, he was run through the thigh, by a
boarding-pike, in the hands of a man in the waist, who was ignorant of the surrender.
Thus did the close of this remarkable combat resemble its other features in singularity,
blood being shed and shot fired, while the boarding officer was in amicable discourse
with his prisoners !

As soon as Captain Pearson was on board the Richard, and Mr. Dale had received
a proper number of hands in the prize. Commodore Jones ordered the lashings to be
cut, and the vessels to be separated, hailing the Serapis, as the Richard drifted from
alongside of her, and ordering her to follow his own ship. Mr. Dale now had the
head sails of the Serapis braced sharp aback, and the wheel put down, but the vessel
refused both her helm and her canvas. Surprised and excited at this circumstance, the
gallant lieutenant sprang from the binnacle on which he had seated himself, and fell at
his length on the deck. He had been severely wounded in the leg, by a splinter, and
until this moment had been ignorant of the injury. He was replaced on the binnacle,
when the master of the Serapis came up and acquainted him with the fact that the ship
was anchored.

By this time, Mr. Luut, the second lieutenant, who had been absent in the pilot-
boat, had got alongside, and was on board the prize. To this officer Mr. Dale now
consigned the charge of the Serapis, the cable was cut, and the ship followed the
Richard, as ordered.

Although this protracted and bloody combat had now ended, neither the danger
nor the labors of the victors were over. The Richard Avas both sinking and on fire.
The flames had got within the ceiling, and extended so far that they menaced the
magazine, while all the pumps, in constant use, could barely keep the water at the same
level. Had it dejiended on the exhausted people of the two combatants, the ship must
have soon sunk, but the other vessels of the squadron sent hands on board the
Richard, to assist at the pumps. So imminent did the danger from the fire become,
that all the powder was got on deck, to prevent an explosion. In this manner did
the night of the battle pass, with one gang always at the pumj^s, and another contend-
ing with the flames, until about ten o'clock in the forenoon of the 24th, when the latter
were got under. After the action, eight or ten Englishmen in the Richard stole a boat
from the Serapis, and ran away Avith it, landing at Scarborough. Several of the men
were so alarmed with the condition of their ship, as to jump overboard and swim to
the other vessels.

When the day dawned, an examination was made into the condition of the Richard.
Abaft, on a line Avith the guns of the Serapis that had not been disabled by the ex-
plosion, the timbers were found to be nearly all beaten in, or beaten out, for in this

T ii E FRIG A T E IX A « T U U il


respect there was little difference between the two sides vt' tiie shij) ; and it was said
that her poop and upper decks would have fallen into the gun-room, but for a few fut-
tocks that had been missed. Indeed, so large was the vacuum, that most of the shot
fired from this part of the Serapis, at the close of the action, must have gone throuo-h
the Richard without touching any thmg. The rudder was cut from the stern-post, and
the transoms were nearly driven out of her. All the after-j^art of the shi}), in particular,
that was below the quarter-deck, was torn to pieces, and nothing had saved those
stationed on the quarter-deck but the impossibility of elevating guns that almost
touched their object.

The result of this exammation was to convince every one of the impossibility of
carrying the Richard into port, in the event of its coming on to blow. Commodore
Jones was advised to remove his wounded while the weather continued moderate, and
he reluctantly gave the order to commence. The following night and the morning of
the succeeding day were employed in executing this imperious duty, and about nine
o'clock, the officer of the Pallas, who was in charge of the sliip, with a party at the
pumps, finding that the water had reached the lower deck, reluctantly abandoned her.
About ten, the Bon Homme Richard walloAved heavily, gave a roll, and settled slowly
into the sea, bows foremost.


The extraordinary activity of Griffith, which communicated itself with promptitude
to the crew, was produced by a sudden alteration in the weather. In place of the well-
defined streak along the horizon, that has been already described, an iminense body
of misty fight appeared to be moving in with rapidity from the ocean, while a distinct


but distuiit roaring aunounced the sure ap})roach of the tempest, that had so long
troubled the waters. Even Griitith, while thundering his orders through the trmnpet,
and vu'ging the men, by his cries, to expedition, would pause, for histants, to cast
anxious glances in the direction of the coming storm ; and the faces of the sailors Avho
lay on the yards Avere turned, instmctively, toward the same quarter of the heavens,
while they knotted the reef-points, or passed the gaskets, that were to confine the un-
ruly canvas to the prescribed limits.

The pilot alone, in that confused and busy throng, where voice rose aboA^e voice,
and cry echoed cry, in quick succession, appeared as if he held no interest in the im-
portant stake. With his eyes steadily fixed on the approaching mist, and his arms
folded together in composure, he stood calmly Avaiting the result.

The ship had fallen off, Avith her broadside to the sea, and was become unmanage-
able, and the sails Avere already brought into the folds necessary to her security, Avhen
the quick and heavy fluttering of canvas was thrown across the water, Avith all the
gloomy and chilling sensations that such sounds produce, Avhere darkness and danger
unite to appal the seaman.

"The schooner has it!" cried Griffith; "Barnstable has held on, like himself, to
the last moment — God send that the squall leave him cloth enough to keep him from
the shore !"

" His sails are easily handled," the commander observed, " and she must be over
the principal danger. We are falling off before it, Mr. Gray ; shall Ave try a cast of
the lead?"

The pilot turned from his contemplative posture, and moved sloAvly across the deck
before he returned any reply to this question — like a man Avho not only felt that every
thing depended on himself, but that he Avas equal to the emergency.

" 'Tis unnecessary," he at length said ; " 'twould be certain destruction to be taken
aback, and it is difficult to say, Avithin several points, hoAV the Avind may strike us."

" 'Tis difficult no longer," cried Griffith ; " for here it comes, and in right earnest !"

The rushing sounds of the Avind Avere now, indeed, heard at hand, and the words
were hardly past the lips of the young lieutenant, before the vessel boAved doAvn
heavily to one side, and then, as she began to moAe through the water, rose again ma-
jestically to her upright position, as if saluting, like a courteous champion, the powerful
antagonist Avith Avhich she was about to contend. Not another minute elapsed, before
the ship Avas throAving the Avaters aside, Avith a lively progress, and, obedient to her
helm, Avas brought as near to the desired course as the direction of the Avind Avould
alloAV. The hurry and bustle on the yards gradually siibsided, and the men sloAvly
descended to the deck, all straining their eyes to pierce the gloom in Av^hich they were
enveloped, and some shaking their heads in melancholy doubt, afraid to express the
apprehensions they really entertained. All on board anxiously awaited for the fury of
the gale ; for there were none so ignorant or inexperienced in that gallant frigate, as

T H E 1' R I a A T K 1 N A S T O K M . 91

not to know, tliat as yet, they only felt the infant efforts of the wind. Each moment,
however, it increased in power, though so gradual was the alteration, that the relieved
mariners began to believe that all their gloomy forebodings were not to be realized.
During this short interval of micertainty, no other sounds -were heard than the Avhistling
of the breeze, as it passed quickly through the mass of rigging that belonged to the
vessel, and the dashing of the spray, that began to fly from her bows, like the foam of
a cataract.

" It blows fresh," cried Griffith, who Avas the first to speak in that moment of
doubt and anxiety ; " but it is no more than a cajjful of wind, after all. Give us
elbow-room, and the right canvas, Mr. Pilot, and I'll handle the shij) like a gentlemen's
yacht, in this breeze."

" Will she stay, think ye, under this sail ?" said the low voice of the Stranger.
"She will do all that man, in reason, can ask of wood and iron," returned the lieu-
tenant; "but the vessel don't float the ocean that Avill tack under double-reefed topsails
alone against a heavy sea. Help her with the courses, pilot, and you shall see her come
round like a dancing-master."

"Let us feel the strength of the gale first," returned the man who was called Mr.
Gray, moving from the side of Griffith to the weather gangway of the vessel, where he
stood in silence, looking ahead of the ship, with an air of singular coolness and ab-

All the lanterns had been extinguished on the deck of the frigate, when her
anchor was secured, and as the first mist of the gale had passed over, it was succeeded
by a faint light that was a good deal aided by the glittering foam of the waters, which
now broke in white curls around the vessel in every direction. The land could be
faintly discerned, rising like a heavy bank of black fog, above the margin of the
waters, and was only distinguishable from the heavens by its deeper gloom and ob-
scurity. The last roj^e was coiled, and dejDOsited in its proper place, by the seamen, and
for several minutes the stillness of death pervaded the crowded decks. It was evident
to every one that their ship Avas dashing at a prodigious rate through the Avaves ; and
as she Avas approaching, Avith such velocity, the quarter of the bay Avhere the shoals
and dangers Avere knoAvn to be situated, nothing but the habits of the most exact
discipline could suppress the uneasiness of the oflicers and men Avithin their OAvn
bosoms. At length the voice of Captain Munson Avas heard, calling to the pilot.
" Shall I send a hand into the chains, Mr. Gray," he said, " and try our water ?"
Although this question Avas asked aloud, and the interest it excited drcAv many of
the officers and men around him, in eager impatience for his answer, it Avas unheeded
by the man to AA'hom it wns addressed. His head rested on his hand, as he leaned
over the hammock-cloths of the vessel, and his Avhole air was tliat of one whose
thoughts Avandered from the i)ressing necessity of their situaticm. Griffith Avas among
those Avho had approached the pilot, and after Avaiting a moment, fi'om respect, to hear

92 P A G E S A N D P 1 C T U R E S .

the answer to his commander's question, he presumed on his own rank, and leaving
the circle that stood at a little distance, ste})pcd to the side of the mysterious guardian
of their lives.

" Captain Munson desires to know whether you wish a cast of the lead ?" said the
young officer, with a little impatience of manner. No immediate answer was made to
this repetition of the question, and Griffith laid his hand unceremoniously on the
shoulder of the other, Avith an intent to rouse hnn, before he made another application
for a reply, hut the convulsive start of the i)ilot held him silent in amazement.

" Fall back there," said the lieutenant, sternly, to the men, who were closing aroi;nd
them in a compact circle ; " away with you to your stations, and see all clear for stays."
The dense mass of heads dissolved, at this order, like the water of one of the waves
commingling with the ocean, and the lieutenant and his companion were left by them-

" This is not a time for musing, Mr. Gray," continued Griffith — " remember our
compact, and look to your charge — is it not time to put the vessel in stays? — of what
are you dreaming ?"

The pilot laid his hand on the extended arm of the lieutenant, and grasped it with
a convulsive pressure, as he answered —

" 'Tis a dream of reality. You are young, Mr. Griffith, nor am I past the noon
of life ; but should you live fifty years longer, you never can see and experience what
I have encountered in my little period of three-and-thirty years !"

A good deal astonished at this burst of feeling, so singular at such a moment, the
young sailor was at a loss for a reply ; but as his duty was uppermost in his thoughts,
he still dwelt on the theme that most interested him.

" I hope much of your experience has been on this coast, for the ship travels lively,"
he said, " and the daylight showed us so much to dread that we do not feel over-
valiant in the dark. How much longer shall we stand on upon this tack?"

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe Cooper gallery; → online text (page 9 of 43)