"To Cruise Against the Enemies of the United States" - The Privateer General Arnold
The Privateer General Arnold was a two hundred and fifty ton merchant vessel that was converted into a privateer in early 1778. It was owned by Nathaniel Tracy of Newburyport and authorized on April 16, 1778 by the State of Massachusetts "to cruise against the enemies of the United States." She was commanded by Captain Moses Brown and was armed with 18 guns.
This ship was NOT the same General Arnold that was destroyed in Plymouth Harbor during a blizzard in December, 1778.
The privateer departed Newburyport in early May on its first cruise. Shortly thereafter, an accident occurred. According to Captain Brown, "The first gun that was fired burst and killed or wounded all my officers" As a result, Brown and his crew were forced to return to Newburyport.
The ship was refitted with new guns which apparently were worse than the originals. "They proved my guns, and burst four more of them" After some delay, Brown was able to secure proper cannons and set sail in early August. "Cruised three months and took a brig, which was re-taken, and returned in November."
By February, 1779, the General Arnold was already on its third cruise. It appears the ship had multiple engagements and secured several prizes. Sailing master Thomas Greele described one such encounter. "March 28th Sunday at 6 A. M. St Michaels bore S. S. E. distant nine or ten miles. Saw a sail under St. Michaels which gave us chase. At ten she came up with us and proved to be the British ship Gregson, a Liver pool privateer, mounting twenty twelve pounders and one hundred and eighty men. After an action of two hours and fifteen minutes, she sheared off and made sail; but we could not come up with her as our spars, rigging and sails were much cut up; her loss unknown but from appearances it must have been deplorable indeed."
Two months later, Captain Brown and his crew was cruising off the coast of Spain. "April 4th took the ship William, Capt. John Gregory, from Gibralter, bound to New York; put Mr. Samuel Robinson on board as prize master. . . April 19th anchored in Corunna, in Spain, refitting till May 19th."
On May 20, 1779, the General Arnold attacked the Nanny off the coast of Cape Finisterre, Spain. Its captain, Thomas Beynon, described the encounter. "The following are the particulars of an engagement we had with the General Arnold, Captain Moses Brown, of eighteen six pounders and one hundred men on the 20th of May off Cape Finisterre. Saw a ship in chase of us, and being resolved to know her weight of metal before I gave up your property I prepared to make the best defence I could. Between 8 and 9 o'clock he came along side with American colors, and three fire pots out, one on each fore yard arm and one at his jib boom end. Hailed and told me to haul down my colors. I desired him to begin and blaze away for I was determined to know his force before I gave up to him. The battle began and lasted two hours, our ships being close together, having only room to keep clear of each other. Our guns told well on both sides ; we were soon left destitute of rigging and sails. As I engaged under top sails and jib, and we were shattered below and aloft, I got the Nanny before the wind, and fought an hour that way, one pump going, till we had seven feet of water in the hold. I thought it then almost time to give up the battle, as our ship was a long time in re covering her sallies, and began to be water logged. We were so close that I told him I had struck and hauled down my colors."
Shortly after surrendering, Captain Brown's prize sunk. "By the time we were out of the Nanny, the water was up to her lower deck. When Captain Brown heard the number of men I had he asked me what I meant by engaging him so long. I told him I was then his prisoner and hoped he would not call me to account for what I had done before the colors were hauled down. He said he approved of all I had done and treated my officers and myself like gentlemen and my people as his own."
However, the General Arnold did not emerge unscathed either. According to Beynon, "The privateer [General Arnold] was in a shattered condition; his fore yard shot away in the slings and lying on her fore castle and a piece out of his main mast, so that he could make no sail until it was fixed: all his running rigging entirely gone, and a great part of his shrouds and back stays. None of his sails escaped except his main sail."
Despite the damage sustained, the privateer was still able to capture two more vessels off the Spanish coast on May 30th and June 1st. Unfortunately,, the General Arnold encountered the 50 gun ship HMS Experiment on June 2, 1779. The privateer was in no condition to fight. As Sailing Master Greele correctly surmised the General Arnold "was captured by His Britannic Majesty's ship, Experiment, fifty guns, Sir James Wallace, commander. So ends our cruise."
Captain Brown and his crew were first taken to Madeira, Portugal and then to Savannah, Georgia. Upon arrival, they were confined to a prison hulk. They were released in 1780. Brown returned to Newburyport in January, 1781.