For the most part, the records of all these brave ships and the thousands of men who sailed and sweated and fought in them are dim and scanty, no more than routine entries in dusty log-books which read like this: "Filled away in pursuit of a second sail in the N. We opened a fire from our larboard battery and at 5.
Got out the boats and boarded her. On this Day I was Chaced by Two Ships of War which I tuck to be Enemies, but coming on thick Weather I have lost site of them and so conclude myself escaped which is a small good Fortune in the midste of my Discouragements. Tacked ship.
At 9 tacked ship again and past just to Leeward of the Sail which appeared to be a damn'd Comical Boat, by G-d. There are a few figures of the time and place which stand out, full-length, in vivid colors against a background that satisfies the desire of romance and thrillingly conveys the spirit of the time and the place. Such a one was Captain Jonathan Haraden, Salem privateersman, who captured one thousand British cannon afloat and is worthy to be ranked as one of the ablest sea-fighters of his generation.
He was a merchant mariner, a master at the outbreak of the Revolution, who had followed the sea since boyhood. But it was more to his taste to command the Salem ship General Pickering of tons which was fitted out under a letter of marque in the spring of She carried fourteen six-pounders and forty-five men and boys, nothing very formidable, when Captain Haraden sailed for Bilbao with a cargo of sugar. During the voyage, before his crew had been hammered into shape, he beat off a British privateer of twenty guns and safely tacked into the Bay of Biscay. There he sighted another hostile privateer, the Golden Eagle, larger than his own ship.
Instead of shifting his course to avoid her, Haraden clapped on sail and steered alongside after nightfall, roaring through his trumpet: "What ship is this?
An American frigate, sir. Strike, or I'll sink you with a broadside. Dazed by this unexpected summons in the gloom, the master of the Golden Eagle promptly surrendered, and a prize crew was thrown aboard with orders to follow the Pickering into Bilbao. While just outside that Spanish harbor, a strange sail was descried and again Jonathan Haraden cleared for action.
The vessel turned out to be the Achilles, one of the most powerful privateers out of London, with forty guns and a hundred and fifty men, or almost thrice the fighting strength of the little Pickering. She was, in fact, more like a sloop of war. Before Captain Haraden could haul within gunshot to protect his prize, it had been recaptured by the Achilles, which then maneuvered to engage the Pickering.
Darkness intervened, but Jonathan Haraden had no idea of escaping under cover of it.
He was waiting for the morning breeze and a chance to fight it out to a finish. He was a handsome man with an air of serene composure and a touch of the theatrical such as Nelson displayed in his great moments. Having prepared his ship for battle, he slept soundly until dawn and then dressed with fastidious care to stroll on deck, where he beheld the Achilles bearing down on him with her crew at quarters. His own men were clustered behind their open ports, matches lighted, tackles and breechings cast off, crowbars, handspikes, and sponge-staves in place, gunners stripped to the waist, powder-boys ready for the word like sprinters on the mark.
Forty-five of them against a hundred and fifty, and Captain Haraden, debonair, unruffled, walking to and fro with a leisurely demeanor, remarking that although the Achilles appeared to be superior in force, "he had no doubt they would beat her if they were firm and steady and did not throw away their fire. It was, indeed, a memorable sea-picture, the sturdy Pickering riding deep with her burden of sugar and seeming smaller than she really was, the Achilles towering like a frigate, and all Bilbao turned out to watch the duel, shore and headlands crowded with spectators, the blue harbor-mouth gay with an immense flotilla of fishing boats and pleasure craft.
The stake for which Haraden fought was to retake the Golden Eagle prize and to gain his port. His seamanship was flawless. Vastly outnumbered if it should come to boarding, he handled his vessel so as to avoid the Achilles while he poured the broadsides into her. After two hours the London privateer emerged from the smoke which had obscured the combat and put out to sea in flight, hulled through and through, while a farewell flight of crowbars, with which the guns of the Pickering had been crammed to the muzzle, ripped through her sails and rigging.
Haraden hoisted canvas and drove in chase, but the Achilles had the heels of him "with a mainsail as large as a ship of the line," and reluctantly he wore ship and, with the Golden Eagle again in his possession, he sailed to an anchorage in Bilbao harbor.
The Atlantic trade was therefore stimulated by allowing a reduction of ten per cent of the customs duties on goods imported in vessels built and owned by American citizens. Nine of his men are missing, and the sailors who are here declare that four were shaken from the mizzen-topsail yard into the sea, where they were drowned, and five of them died from the effects of wounds and ill treatment. They are home to seafarers who, being isolated from land for long periods, developed a language of their own. Wetsera brigantine , Wade tugboat , Abandon ship!
The Spanish populace welcomed him with tremendous enthusiasm. He was carried through the streets in a holiday procession and was the hero of banquets and public receptions. Such a man was bound to be the idol of his sailors and one of them quite plausibly related that "so great was the confidence he inspired that if he but looked at a sail through his glass and told the helmsman to steer for her, the observation went round,'If she is an enemy, she is ours.
It was in this same General Pickering, no longer sugar-laden but in cruising trim, that Jonathan Haraden accomplished a feat which Paul Jones might have been proud to claim. There lifted above the sky-line three armed merchantmen sailing in company from Halifax to New York, a brig of fourteen guns, a ship of sixteen guns, a sloop of twelve guns. When they flew signals and formed in line, the ship alone appeared to outmatch the Pickering, but Haraden, in that lordly manner of his, assured his men that "he had no doubt whatever that if they would do their duty he would quickly capture the three vessels.
One more story of this master sea-rover of the Revolution, sailor and gentleman, who served his country so much more brilliantly than many a landsman lauded in the written histories of the war. While in the Pickering he attacked a heavily armed royal mail packet bound to England from the West Indies, one of the largest merchant vessels of her day and equipped to defend herself against privateers.
A tough antagonist and a hard nut to crack! They battered each other like two pugilists for four hours and even then the decision was still in the balance. Then Haraden sheered off to mend his damaged gear and splintered hull before closing in again. He then discovered that all his powder had been shot away excepting one last charge.
Instead of calling it a drawn battle, he rammed home this last shot in the locker, and ran down to windward of the packet, so close that he could shout across to the other quarter-deck: "I will give you five minutes to haul down your colors. If they are not down at the end of that time, I will fire into you and sink you, so help me God.
It was the bluff magnificent—courage cold-blooded and calculating. The adversary was still unbeaten. Haraden stood with watch in hand and sonorously counted off the minutes. It was the stronger will and not the heavier metal that won the day. To be shattered by fresh broadsides at pistol-range was too much for the nerves of the gallant English skipper whose decks were already like a slaughterhouse.
One by one, Haraden shouted the minutes and his gunners blew their matches. At "four" the red ensign came fluttering down and the mail packet was a prize of war. Another merchant seaman of this muster-roll of patriots was Silas Talbot, who took to salt water as a cabin boy at the age of twelve and was a prosperous shipmaster at twenty-one with savings invested in a house of his own in Providence.
Enlisting under Washington, he was made a captain of infantry and was soon promoted, but he was restless ashore and glad to obtain an odd assignment. As Colonel Talbot he selected sixty infantry volunteers, most of them seamen by trade, and led them aboard the small sloop Argo in May, , to punish the New York Tories who were equipping privateers against their own countrymen and working great mischief in Long Island Sound. So serious was the situation that General Gates found it almost impossible to obtain food supplies for the northern department of the Continental army.
Silas Talbot and his nautical infantrymen promptly fell in with the New York privateer Lively, a fair match for him, and as promptly sent her into port. He then ran offshore and picked up and carried into Boston two English privateers headed for New York with large cargoes of merchandise from the West Indies.
But he was particularly anxious to square accounts with a renegade Captain Hazard who made Newport his base and had captured many American vessels with the stout brig King George, using her for "the base purpose of plundering his old neighbors and friends. On his second cruise in the Argo, young Silas Talbot encountered the perfidious King George to the southward of Long Island and riddled her with one broadside after another, first hailing Captain Hazard by name and cursing him in double-shotted phrases for the traitorous swab that he was.
Then the seagoing infantry scrambled over the bulwarks and tumbled the Tories down their own hatches without losing a man.
A prize crew with the humiliated King George made for New London, where there was much cheering in the port, and "even the women, both young and old, expressed the greatest joy. With no very heavy fighting, Talbot had captured five vessels and was keen to show what his crew could do against mettlesome foemen.
He found them at last well out to sea in a large ship which seemed eager to engage him. Only a few hundred feet apart through a long afternoon, they briskly and cheerily belabored each other with grape and solid shot. Talbot's speaking-trumpet was shot out of his hand, the tails of his coat were shorn off, and all the officers and men stationed with him on the quarter-deck were killed or wounded. His crew reported that the Argo was in a sinking condition, with the water flooding the gun-deck, but he told them to lower a man or two in the bight of a line and they pluckily plugged the holes from overside.
There was a lusty huzza when the Englishman's mainmast crashed to the deck and this finished the affair. Silas Talbot found that he had trounced the privateer Dragon, of twice his own tonnage and with the advantage in both guns and men. While his crew was patching the Argo and pumping the water from her hold, the lookout yelled that another sail was making for them. Without hesitation Talbot somehow got this absurdly impudent one-masted craft of his under way and told those of his sixty men who survived to prepare for a second tussle.
Fortunately another Yankee privateer joined the chase and together they subdued the armed brig Hannah.
This book about Captain Robert Bully Waterman is the beginning of a series of small books from The Maritime Heritage Project focusing on notable sea captains . Captain Robert (Bully) Waterman. This is a small book with news of Captain Waterman's sailing life; this Captain set sailing records on.
When the Argo safely convoyed the two prizes into New Bedford, "all who beheld her were astonished that a vessel of her diminutive size could suffer so much and yet get safely to port.