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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
I have no doubt the mast was defective and that it should have been renewed before leaving port; and to this circumstance I attribute all the misfortune attending the cruise. I cannot express the disappointment and mortification I now felt, not so much on my own account as on account of the loss incurred by the worthy gentlemen who planned and fitted out the expedition. Our only hope was to get into Lisbon or St. Ubes before daylight the next morning, and thus escape capture. We accordingly cleared away the wreck, rigged a jury-foremast and bore away for Lisbon. At 4 P.M., an hour after the accident occurred, we were going at the rate of seven knots, and had the breeze continued through the night we should have got into port by daylight next morning. But unfortunately the wind became light during the night and we made but little progress. At 5 A.M., daylight, made Cape Espartel and the Rock of Lisbon, when it became almost calm. We then commenced sweeping and towing with two boats ahead until 1 P.M., when a light air sprung up from the westward and I had strong hopes that we should be able to get into port or run the vessel on shore and destroy her, and thus escape capture.
At 2 P.M., being about four miles from the land, received a Lisbon pilot on board. At this time the ebb tide commenced running out the Tagus, when I had the mortification to see a frigate coming out with the first of the ebb, with a light air of wind from off land. Soon we were under her guns. She proved to be the Granicus, 38 guns, Captain W. F. Wise. We were all removed to the frigate and the schooner taken in tow for Gibraltar.
Two days after our capture, namely, the 3rd of December, we arrived at Gibraltar. All my officers and men were distributed and sent to England in different ships; myself and the first and second lieutenants were retained on board the Granicus to undergo an examination at the Admiralty Court at Gibraltar. The next day after our arrival the frigate left port for Tetuan Bay, Morocco, opposite Gibraltar, to water and paint the ship. We were taken on this little voyage, and had I not been a prisoner I should have enjoyed very much the novelty of this excursion, which occupied three or four days, after which time we again returned to Gibraltar.
Capt. Wise was a fine gentlemanly man and always treated me and my officers with great respect and kindness; we messed in the wardroom, and I had a stateroom to myself and was as comfortable and happy as I could be in the circumstances in which I was placed. I used to dine with Capt. W. almost daily; he frequently said to me, “Don’t feel depressed by captivity, but strive to forget that you are a prisoner and imagine that you are only a passenger.” He also invited my first lieutenant, Mr. de Peyster, occasionally to dine with him, and said he would endeavor to get us paroled and thus prevent our being sent to England.
We stated to him that we had voluntarily released more than thirty British prisoners, notwithstanding that the American government gave a bounty (to letters-of-marque and privateers) of one hundred dollars per head for British prisoners brought into the United States. These facts Capt. Wise represented to the governor and also added that the five English prisoners found on board the Leo said they had been very kindly treated, and he hoped his Excellency would release me and my two lieutenants upon our parole and let us return to the United States. The governor refused to comply with the kind request of Capt. Wise and said he had positive orders from the British government to send every American prisoner brought to that port to England.
When Capt. Wise informed us that he was unable to obtain our liberty on parole, he gave me a letter of introduction to a friend in England, requesting him to use his best interest to get myself and my first and second lieutenants released on parole and thus enable us to return forthwith to the United States.
Mr. Daly, an Irish gentleman, second lieutenant of the Granicus and a fine fellow, who was connected with several persons of distinction in England, also gave me a letter to a noble lady of great influence at Court. I regret I do not recollect her name but I clearly recollect the emphatic expression of the kindhearted and generous Daly when he handed me the letter to his noble friend. “Cause this letter to be presented,” said he, “and upon it this lady will never allow you or your two friends to be sent to prison in England.”
Mr. de Peyster was a high-spirited man, and when he learned that we could not obtain our liberty on parole, he became extremely vexed and excited and told the wardroom officers that, if it should ever please God to place him in command of a letter-of-marque or privateer during the war, he would never again release one English prisoner, but would have a place built in the vessel to confine them until he should arrive in the United States—that the bounty of $100 given by the United States government was nearly equal in value to an African slave, and therefore it became an object to carry them into port; but from motives of humanity we had released many of their countrymen and now they refused to parole three unfortunate men who were in their power. I said but little on the subject but from that moment resolved to make my escape the first opportunity.