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A Yankee Skipper Who Preyed On British Shipping Relates His Wartime Experiences
American sea captain George Coggeshall tells of his experiences evading the British navy during the War of 1812 and spending over half a century at sea.
October 1957 | Volume 8, Issue 6
TUESDAY NOV. 22ND. At 7 A.M. made a small sail bearing S.S.W.; made sail in chase. We soon came up with and boarded the English schooner Hannah, Patrick Hodge, master, from Malaga bound to Dublin with a cargo of fruit. Took out the prisoners and a supply of fruit and then manned her and gave orders to the prize-master to make the best of his way to the United States of America. At 3 P.M. came up with and boarded a Danish galliot; at midnight put ten English prisoners on board of this galliot. I supplied them with provisions and a quarter-cask of wine and allowed him to proceed on his voyage. She was from Marseilles bound to Hamburg, with a cargo of wine and oil. At 8 A.M. saw a sail bearing N.N.E. Made sail in chase; at eleven boarded her. She proved to be a Swedish barque from St. Ubes bound to Stockholm.
WEDNESDAY NOV. 23RD. At 1 P.M. wore ship to the S.E. in chase of a brig. She proved to be a Russian from Oporto bound to Hamburg, with a cargo of wine and fruit. At noon discovered two frigates to leeward. They both made sail in chase of us. I plied to windward, tacking every hour, and beat them with great ease, but as there were two of them I was not quite at ease until I had got out of their neighborhood.
THURSDAY NOV. 24TH. Showers of rain and a high head sea running—the two frigates still in chase of us. At 5 P.M. the weathermost frigate was about ten or twelve miles distant to leeward. Finding I could beat them with so much ease, I reefed the sails and plied to windward. Towards morning the wind moderated and at daylight there was nothing in sight.
FRIDAY NOV. 25TH. At 3 P.M. discovered a sail bearing about S.E. Made sail and bore easy in chase. At half past three, made her out to be a frigate, when I hauled upon the wind. At four, she fired a gun and showed American colors. I set an American ensign for a few minutes, and then hauled it down and hoisted a large English ensign. He fired three or four shot, but finding they fell short, stopped firing and crowded all sail in chase. Night coming on, I soon lost sight of him. During the night we had fresh breezes and cloudy weather. At daylight there was nothing in sight; took in sail.
SATURDAY NOV. 26TH. At 1 P.M. discovered a sail to windward bearing N.W. Made sail in chase, tacking every hour. At five made him out to be a ship standing upon the wind to the N.E. At half past nine o’clock, after getting on his weather quarter, ran up alongside, hailed him, and ordered him to heave to, which order was immediately obeyed. I sent my boat on board and found her to be the English ship Speed, burthen about 200 tons. Captain John Brown, from Palermo bound to London with a cargo of brimstone, rags, mats, etc., etc. She mounted six guns with a crew of about twenty men. We kept company through the night.
SUNDAY NOV. 27TH. In the forenoon of this day removed the prisoners from the ship Speed and put Mr. Azor O. Lewis on board as prize-master, and a crew of ten men. I also took out his guns, powder, shot, and some fruit and then ordered Mr. Lewis to proceed to the United States. At 2 P.M. made sail and steered to the S.W. and at five lost sight of the prize.
THURSDAY DEC. 1ST. At 1 P.M. saw a ship on our weather quarter coming up with us very fast. I made sail upon the wind to the westward, to get to windward of the ship in order to ascertain her character.
It was then blowing a strong breeze from the N.N.W. and was somewhat squally with a head sea running. About half past two our schooner gave a sudden pitch, when to the astonishment of every person on board the foremast broke about one third part of the way below the head, and in a moment after it broke again, close to the deck. While in this situation I had the mortification to see the other ship pass within pistol shot, without being able to pursue her. I believe she was an English packet just out of Lisbon and bound for England, and I have not the smallest doubt, if it had not been for this dreadful accident, we should have captured her in less than one hour from the time we first saw her. At this time the packets transported large quantities of specie to England, and this ship would, in all human probability, have proved a rich prize to us.
[Here Captain Coggeshall resumes his narrative.]