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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
SUNDAY NOV. 13TH. At 6 A.M. saw a brig to windward. At seven she set English colors—gave her a gun when she struck her flag. She proved to be the English brig Alexander, Captain Grain, from Leghorn bound up the Channel. It now commenced blowing a strong breeze from the N.W. and soon there was a high sea running. Saw a large ship steering up the Channel; left the prize, made sail in chase of her. At 10 A.M. she set English colors and fired a gun. Had the weather been smooth, I think we could have carried her by boarding in fifteen minutes, or had I met her at sea I would have followed her until the weather was better and the sea smooth; but being now in the English Channel, with a high sea, it would have destroyed our schooner if she had come in contact with this wall-sided ship. He showed six long nines on each side. Thus after exchanging a few shot I hauled and let him go, and then returned to our prize. Fresh gales and cloudy weather.
MONDAY NOV. 14TH. At 2 P.M., the weather moderated, when I took out of the Alexander the captain, mate and crew, and put on board of her Mr. Turner as prize-master and seven men, with orders to proceed to a port in the United States.
TUESDAY NOV. 15TH. As it was now the middle of November and no prospect of much fine weather, and my schooner so badly armed, I concluded to leave this rough cruising ground and run to the southward in hopes of finding better weather.
WEDNESDAY NOV. 16TH. Saw a sail to the eastward, made sail in chase; at 9 A.M. boarded her. She proved to be the Spanish brig Diligent, Captain José Antonio de Bard, from Bilbao bound to London—put eight English prisoners on board of her with a tolerable supply of provisions, and let him proceed on his course. At 10 A.M. saw two sail to the westward when we made sail in chase.
THURSDAY NOV. 17TH. Four sail in sight, light airs and fine weather. Made sail in chase of the nearest vessel at noon. The chase hove to and hoisted Spanish colors. When about to board this brig we discovered an English man-of-war very near, in full chase of us.
FRIDAY NOV. 18TH. The man-of-war brig still in chase of us about two miles distant at 8 P.M. Passed near a brig standing to the eastward. Had not time to board her, as the man-of-war was still in chase. At midnight the wind became fresh from the W.S.W. with dark rainy weather. Took in all the light sails, and hauled close upon the wind to W.N.W. At 7 A.M. saw a small sail on our weather bow, made sail in chase. At ten, came up with the chase, found it was the English sloop Brilliant, Captain John Pétrie, from Teneriffe bound to London with a cargo of wine.
SATURDAY NOV. 19TH. At meridian took out of the prize twenty quarter-casks of wine, together with her sails, cables, rigging blocks, etc., and after removing the prisoners, scuttled her. At 1 P.M. she sank. Strong gales from the northward and rainy weather during the night.
SUNDAY NOV. 20TH. At 7 A.M. saw a sail to windward, tacked ship to get the weather gage [that is, to get the advantage of the windward position]. At eleven, got her on our lee beam when we made her out to be an English brig-of-war of 16 guns. I commenced firing my long 12. At noon, after receiving about thirty or forty shot from this brig without any material damage, I hauled off. Some of his shot passed over us, some fell short; and only one of his shot hulled us; this shot passed through our bands amidships and lodged in the hold. I could outsail him with the greatest ease and if I had had a long, well-mounted centre gun, I could have annoyed him without receiving any injury by just keeping out of the reach of his cannonades.
MONDAY NOV. 21ST. At meridian saw a sail bearing W.S.W. Made sail in chase. At 4 P.M. , she being directly to leeward, I ran down to discover the character of the chase. I soon made her out to be a frigate. When within three miles distance I hoisted an English ensign. The frigate showed Portuguese colors and resorted to every stratagem in his power to decoy us down within the range of his shot. Finding I could outsail him with ease, I hauled down the English colors, set an American ensign, and hauled close upon the wind, and soon lost sight of him. During the night we had fresh gales at E.N.E. and squally weather.