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"She Fought Bravely" - The Privateer Vengeance

April 20, 2018

We figured it was long overdue for the nerds to return to Newburyport and once again discuss Nathaniel Tracy’s privateer fleet that harassed British supply lines in the North Atlantic during the American Revolution. Today we'll review the privateer Vengeance.

 

According to the ship’s bond, the Vengeance was a four hundred ton brig armed with over twenty 6 pound cannons and a crew compliment of one hundred and twenty men. She was commanded by Wingate Newman, an experienced privateer who had previously commanded the brigantine Hancock.  Newbury physician Samuel Nye served as the ship’s surgeon and kept a journal of his adventures on board the Vengeance.

 

 

 

The privateer left Newburyport on August 16, 1778 in search of a rumored British supply convoy bound from the West Indies to England. Approximately two and a half weeks later, on September 2, 1778, the Vengeance encountered the fleet, but was chased away by two frigates escorting it. Four days later the privateer encountered the same convoy, but was too far away to give chase.

 

On September 17th, the Vengeance’s luck changed when its crew observed the sixteen gun packet ship HMS Harriot sailing westward for New York City. Captain Newman immediately ordered the Vengeance to give chase. According to the commander, the Harriot offered “small resistance.” 

 

Surgeon Nye described the engagement in greater detail. “Sept 17 Lat 49 Discovered a sail at 9 AM bearing ENE 4 leagues distance at 3 PM got within cannon shot of her gave her two or three bow chasers and received as many stern chasers from her soon after which she hauled up her courses and gave a broadside but her guns being light the shot did not reach she then endeavored to get away by making sail again but found it impracticable she again lay to till we got within pistol shot of her and then gave us another broadside which was returned on our part and to such purpose as to oblige her to strike at once after having one man killed and six wounded.”

 

After the Harriot surrendered, the crew was removed and the prize was sent to Newburyport to be sold.

 

Four days later, on September 21, 1778, the Vengeance encountered the fourteen gun HMS Snow Eagle, which was en route to Falmouth, England. After a long chase the Snow Eagle was forced to turn and engage the Newburyport privateer. 

 

Newman held his fire until the very last minute and then unleashed a full broadside into the Snow Eagle. After a twenty minute fight the British ship surrendered with two killed and six wounded.  Among the dead was one of the passengers, a Colonel Howard of the 1st Guards Regiment.  Nye recalled how he was brought on board the enemy vessel to render medical assistance to the wounded. One sailor was so badly injured the doctor “was obliged to amputate his leg.” 

 

On board the Vengeance, only Captain Newman was slightly wounded.

 

The Newburyport privateer took eighty nine prisoners that day. Among the detainees were an assortment of officers. “The prize proved to be . . . from New York to Falmouth out twenty eight days mounting twelve three pounders and having forty three men beside the following passengers Col Howard of the 1st Regiment Guards killed in the engagement Col McDonald 71st Regiment Highlanders Col Anstruther Col Stevens of the Guards Maj Barcley Maj Forbes and the Hon Maj afterwards Lord Charles Cathcart Capt of the Athol Highlanders and 2d Major of Lord Cathcart’s legion and brother to Lord Cathcart Mr Sloper cornet of horse two sergeants three or four servants and Miss Jane Marsh On board were some dry goods besides plate and cash to a considerable amount Got the prisoners on board our brig and sent Mr Thomas Newman prize master and a gang of our people aboard to repair her rigging.”

 

Captain Newman was now faced with a dilemna. Specifically, he had “more prisoners aboard than my own number consisted of, my vessel excessive crank, and not much provisions on board. I determined to go to Bilboa in order to get rid of my prisoners and to refit my vessel, but on making Cape Ortugal the wind came to the Eastward and blew very hard, which obliged me to put into this port [La Coruña, Spain] . . .”

 

Upon arriving in La Coruña around October 4, 1778, Newman turned all of his prisoners over to the British consul, Herman Katenkamp. In turn, he secured a receipt for the future exchange of American prisoners of equal ranks.

 

The Vengeance was back at sea in late October 1778. While on patrol off the coast of Spain she encountered the fourteen gun British privateer Defiance. A vicious fight ensued before the Defiance was forced to surrender. 

 

Newman lost eight men killed or wounded, while the British suffered fifteen casualties.

 

 

 

In December, 1778, the Vengeance captured the brigantine Elizabeth and the brig Francis.

 

The Vengeance returned to the New England coast in April, 1779. On April 19th she met the British privateer Mary, which was en route to Antigua. Although only slightly outgunned, the Mary immediately surrendered without a fight.

 

The privateer returned to Newburyport on May 29, 1779.

 

While in port, the ship underwent extensive repairs. As she was nearing the end of her refit the British established a military outpost at Penobscot, Maine. In response, Massachusetts authorities began raising an expedition to drive them out. Among the privateers recruited for this expedition was the Vengeance.

 

Apparently Captain Newman declined to participate in the expedition with the Vengeance and thus, command was transferred to a Captain Thomas Thomas of Newburyport. (This is NOT a typo...his name really was Thomas Thomas.)

 

The privateer took part in the ill-fated Penobscot Expedition of 1779.  Privateer Micah Lunt of Newburyport would later report the fate of the ship. “[In] the year 1779 I shipped in Newburyport on board the armed ship Vengeance commanded by Thomas Thomas in the expedition to Penobscot which ship was driven up the river by the British fleet and with others in the expedition was burnt by order of the Commodore to prevent them falling into the hands of the British their crews took to the woods and on foot found their way back to the province of Massachusetts.”

 

The Vengeance was destroyed in the Penobscot River to prevent her capture on August 14, 1779.  All of her crew were discharged from Massachusetts service on August 27, 1779.

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