Naval History of Great Britain
William James

published 1837

Vol VI


In August, 1811, the Shannon sailed for the coast of North America ; and, had this frigate, in the excellent order in which she was kept, met the Constitution in August, 1812, we verily believe -- But the Shannon and Constitution did not meet; therefore the thing was not tried.

On the 21st of March, 1813, accompanied by the Tenedos, of the same force, and kept in nearly the same order, Captain Hyde Parker, the Shannon sailed from Halifax on a cruise in Boston bay. On the 2d of April the two frigates reconnoitred the harbour of Boston, and saw the President and Congress, the latter quite, and the former nearly ready for sea. The Constitution was at this time undergoing a large repair; and her decks were being lowered, to render her more snug, and give her a smaller and more inviting appearance. Captains Broke and Parker having resolved, if in their power, to bring the President and Congress to action, the Shannon and Tenedos took a station to intercept them. It was in this interval that the Chesapeake escaped into the port in the manner related ; and on the 1st of May foggy weather, and a sudden favourable shift of wind, enabled the President and Congress to elude the vigilance of the two British frigates and put to sea.

Captains Broke and Parker very soon discovered the chance they had missed, and sadly disappointed they were. There now remained in Boston only the Constitution and Chesapeake. The first, as has been stated, was undergoing a serious repair ; but the Chesapeake had only to get in new main and mizen masts, and would be ready for sea in a week or two. Having obtained a furlough to enjoy his share of prize-money, Captain Evans was succeeded in the command of the Chesapeake by Captain James Lawrence, the late fortunate, highly applauded, and, we readily admit, truly gallant, commander of the Hornet.

As two frigates were not required to attack one, and as the appearance of such a superiority would naturally prevent the Chesapeake from putting to sea, Captain Broke, on the 25th of May, took a supply of water and provisions from the Tenedos, and detached her, with orders to Captain Parker not to rejoin him before the 14th of June ; by which time, it was hoped, the business would be over. On the 26th the Shannon recaptured the brig Lucy, and on the 29th the brig William, both of Halifax. Aware of the state of incapacity to which some of the British frigates on the station had reduced themselves, by manning and sending in their prizes, Captain Broke destroyed all he captured. We believe he had sacrificed not fewer than 25 sail of prizes, to keep the Shannon in a state to meet one or the other of the American frigates. Being resolved to have a meeting with the Chesapeake, nothing; but the circumstance of the two recaptures belonging to Halifax could induce Captain


Broke to weaken the Shannon's crew by sending them in. The master of the Lucy, assisted by five recaptured seamen belonging to some ship on the station, carried in that vessel ; and a midshipman and four of the Shannon's men took charge of the William. On the 29th, in the afternoon, the Shannon boarded the Nova-Scotia privateer brig Sir-John-Sherbrooke, and took from her 22 Irish labourers, whom the brig, three days before, with 30 more (then volunteers on board herself), had recaptured in a prize belonging to the American privateer Governor-Plumer; bound, when the latter fell in with her, from Waterford to Burin, Newfoundland.

Before we proceed further, let us show what guns were mounted by the two frigates, whose mutual animosity was on the eve of being quenched by the capture of one of them. On her main deck, the Shannon was armed the same as every other British frigate of her class, and her established guns on the quarterdeck and forecastle were 16 carronades, 32-pounders, and four long 9-pounders, total 48 guns. But Captain Broke had since had mounted a 12-pounder boat-carronade through a port purposely made on the starboard side of the quarterdeck, and a brass long 6-pounder, used generally as an exercise gun, through a similar port on the larboard side ; besides which there were two 12-pounder carronades, mounted as standing stern-chasers through the quarterdeck stern-ports. For these last four guns, one 32-pounder carronade would have been more than an equivalent. However, as a 6-pounder counts as well as a 32-pounder, the Shannon certainly mounted 52 carriage-guns. The ship had also, to be in that respect upon a par with the American frigates, one swivel in the fore, and another. in the main top.

The armament of the Chesapeake, we have already on more than one occasion described : she had at this time, as after wards found on board of her, 28 long 18-pounders on the main deck, and 20 carronades, 32-pounders, and one long shifting 18-pounder, on the quarterdeck and forecastle, total 49 guns ; exclusively of a 12-pounder boat-carronade, belonging to which there was a very simple and well-contrived elevating carriage for firing at the tops, but it is doubtful if the gun was used. Five guns, four 32-pounder carronades and one long 18-pounder, had, it was understood, been landed at Boston. Some have alleged, that this was done by Captain Lawrence, that he might not have a numerical superiority over his antagonists of the British 38-gun class : others say, and we incline to be of that opinion, that the reduction was ordered by the American government, to ease the ship, whose hull had already begun to hog, or to arch in the centre.

On the 1st of June, early in the morning, having received no answer to several verbal messages sent in, and being doubtful if any of them had even been delivered, Captain Broke addressed


to the commanding officer of the Chesapeake a letter of challenge, which, for candour, manly spirit, and gentlemanly style, stands unparalleled. The letter begins : " As the Chesapeake appears now ready for sea, I request you will do me the favour to meet the Shannon with her, ship to ship, to try the fortune of our respective flags. " The Shannon's force is thus described: " The Shannon mounts 24 guns upon her broadside, and one light boat-gun, 18-pounders upon her main deck, and 32-pound carronades on her quarterdeck and forecastle, and is manned with a complement of 300 men and boys (a large proportion of the latter), besides 30 seamen, boys, and passengers, who were taken out of recaptured vessels lately. " After fixing the place of meeting, and providing against all interruption, Captain Broke concludes thus : " I entreat you, sir, not to imagine that I am urged by mere personal vanity to the wish of meeting the Chesapeake ; or that I depend only upon your personal ambition for our acceding to this invitation. We have both nobler motives. You will feel it as a compliment if I say, that the result of our meeting may be the most grateful service I can render to my country ; and I doubt not that you, equally confident of success, will feel convinced, that it is only by repeated triumphs in even combats that your little navy can now hope to console your country, for the loss of that trade it can no longer protect. Favour me with a speedy reply. We are short of provisions and water, and cannot stay long here. "

This letter Captain Broke intrusted to a Captain Slocum, a discharged prisoner, then about to proceed, in his own boat to Marblehead, a port a few miles north of Boston. Shortly afterwards the Shannon, with colours flying, stood in close to Boston lighthouse, and lay to. The Chesapeake was now seen at anchor in President roads, with royal yards across and apparently ready for sea. The American frigate presently loosed her fore topsail, and, shortly afterwards, all her topsails, and sheeted them home. The wind, blowing a light breeze from west by north, was perfectly fair. At about 30 minutes past noon, while the men of the Shannon were at dinner, Captain Broke went himself to the mast-head, and there observed the Chesapeake fire a gun, and loose and set topgallantsails. The American frigate was soon under way, and made more sail as she came down, having in her company numerous sailing pleasure-boats, besides a large schooner gun-boat, with, we believe, Commodores Bainbridge and Hull, and several other American naval officers on board. While at the Shannon's mast-head, Captain Broke saw that Captain Slocum's boat had not reached the shore in time for the delivery of his letter of challenge to the commander of the Chesapeake. Notwithstanding this, there cannot be a doubt, that Captain Lawrence had obtained the consent of Commodore Bainbridge (whose orders front the government at Washington were to despatch the Chesapeake to sea as soon as she was


ready), to sail and attack the Shannon, in compliance with one or more of the verbal challenges which had been sent in. It was natural for the conqueror of the Peacock to wish for an opportunity to capture or drive away a British ship, that had repeatedly lay to off the port, and, in view of all the citizens, had used every endeavour to provoke the Chesapeake to come out and engage her.

At 0' 55 m. P. M., (sic) Cape Ann bearing north-north-east half-east distant 10 or 12 miles, the Shannon filled, and stood out from the land under easy sail. At 1 P. M. the Chesapeake rounded the lighthouse under all sail ; and at 3 h. 40 m. P. M. hauled up, and fired a gun, as if in defiance ; or, perhaps, to induce the Shannon to stop, and allow the gun-vessel and pleasure-boat spectators an opportunity of witnessing how speedily an American, could " whip " a British frigate. Presently afterwards the Shannon did haul up, and reefed topsails. At 4 P. M. both ships, now about seven miles apart, again bore away ; the Shannon with her foresail clewed up, and her main topsail braced flat and shivering, that the Chesapeake might overtake her. At 4 h. 50 m. the Chesapeake took in her studding-sails, topgallantsails, and royals, and got her royal yards on deck. At 5 h. 10 in. P. M., Boston lighthouse bearing west distant about six leagues, the Shannon again hauled up, with her head to the southward and eastward, and lay to, under topsails, topgallantsails, jib, and spanker.

At 5 h. 25 m. the Chesapeake hauled up her foresail ; and, with three ensigns flying, one at the mizen royalmast-head, one at the peak, and one, the largest of all, in the starboard main rigging, steered straight for the Shannon's starboard quarter. The Chesapeake had also, flying at the fore, a large white flag, inscribed with the words: " SAILORS' RIGHTS AND FREE TRADE ; " upon a supposition, perhaps, that this favourite American motto would paralyze the efforts, or damp the energy of the Shannon's men. The Shannon had a union jack at the fore, an old rusty blue ensign at the mizen peak, and, rolled up and stopped, ready to be cast loose if either of these should be shot away, one ensign on the main stay and another in the main rigging. Nor, standing much in need of paint, was her outside appearance at all calculated to inspire a belief, of the order and discipline which reigned within.

At 5 h. 30 m. P. M., to be under command, and ready to wear if necessary, in the prevailing light breeze, the Shannon filled her main topsail and kept a close luff ; but, at the end of a few minutes, having gathered way enough, she again shook the wind out of the sail, and kept it shivering, and also brailed up her driver. Thinking it not unlikely that the Chesapeake would pass under the Shannon's stern, and engage her on the larboard side, Captain Broke divided his men, and directed such as could not fire with effect to be prepared to lie


down as the enemy's ship passed. But, either overlooking or waving this advantage, Captain Lawrence, at 5 h. 40 m., gallantly luffed up, within about 50 yards, upon the Shannon's starboard quarter, and, squaring his main yard, gave three cheers.

The Shannon's guns were loaded thus : the aftermost maindeck gun with two round shot and a keg containing 150 musket-balls, the next gun with one round and one double-headed shot, and so alternately along the broadside. The captain of the 14th gun, William Mindham, had been ordered to fire, the moment his gun would bear into the Chesapeake's second maindeck port from forward. At 5 h. 50 m. P. M. the Shannon's aftermost maindeck gun was fired, and the shot was seen to strike close to the port at which it had been aimed.* In a second or so the 13th gun was fired : then the Chesapeake's bow gun went off ; and then the remaining guns on the broadside of each ship as fast as they could be discharged.

At 5 h. 53 m. P. M., finding that, owing to the quantity of way in the Chesapeake and the calm she had produced in the Shannon's sails, he was ranging too far ahead; and, being desirous to preserve the weathergage in order to have an opportunity of crippling the Shannon by his dismantling shot, Captain Lawrence hauled up a little. † At 5 h. 56 m., having had her jib-sheet and fore topsail-tie shot away, and her helm, probably from the death of the men stationed at it, being for the moment unattended to, the Chesapeake came so sharp to the wind as completely to deaden her way ; and the ship lay, in consequence, with her stern and quarter exposed to her opponent's broadside. The shot from the Shannon's aftermost guns now took a diagonal direction along the decks of the Chesapeake; beating in her stern-ports, and sweeping the men from their quarters. The shot from the Shannon's foremost guns, at the same time, entering the Chesapeake's ports from the mainmast aft, did considerable execution. ‡ At 5.h. 58 m. an open cask of musket-cartridges, standing upon the Chesapeake's cabin-skylight for the use of the marines, caught fire and blew up, but did no injury whatever. Even the spanker-boom, directly in the way of the explosion, was barely singed.

As the Shannon had by this time fallen off a little, and the manoeuvres of the Chesapeake indicated an intention to haul away, Captain Broke ordered the helm to be put a-lee ; but, scarcely had the Shannon luffed up in obedience to her helm, than the Chesapeake was observed to have stern way, and to be paying round off . The Shannon immediately shifted her helm a-starboard, and shivered her mizen topsail, to keep off the wind again, and delay the boarding, probably until her guns had done a little more execution among a crew, supposed to be at least a


fourth superior in number. At that moment, however, the Shannon had her jib-stay shot away ; and, her head-sails being becalmed, she went off very slowly. The consequence was, that, at 6 P. M., the Chesapeake fell on board the Shannon, with her quarter pressing upon the latter's side, just before her starboard main-chains. The Chesapeake's foresail being at this moment partly loose, owing to the weather clue-garnet having, been shot away from the bits, the American frigate forged a little ahead, but was presently stopped, by hooking, with her quarter port, the flook of the Shannon's anchor stowed over the chess-tree.

Captain Broke now ran forward ; and observing the Chesapeake's men deserting the quarterdeck guns, he ordered the two ships to be lashed together, the great guns to cease firing, the maindeck boarders to be called, and Lieutenant George Thomas L. Watt, the first lieutenant, to bring up the quarterdeck men, who were all boarders. While zealously employed outside the bulwark of the Shannon, making the Chesapeake fast to her, the veteran boatswain, Mr. Stevens (he had fought in Rodney's action), had his left arm hacked off with repeated sabre cuts, and was mortally wounded by musketry. The midshipman commanding on the forecastle, Mr. Samwell, was also mortally wounded. Accompanied by the remaining forecastle party, about 20 in number, Captain Broke, at 6 h. 2 m. P. M., stepped from the Shannon's gangway-rail, just abaft the fore rigging, on the muzzle of the Chesapeake's aftermost carronade, and thence, over the bulwark, upon her quarterdeck. Here not an officer or man was to be seen. Upon the Chesapeake's gangways, about 25 or 30 Americans made a slight resistance. These were quickly driven towards the forecastle, where a few endeavoured to get down the fore hatchway, but, in their eagerness, prevented each other. Several fled over the bows; and, while part, as it is believed, plunged into the sea, another part reached the main deck through the bridle-ports. The remainder laid down their arms and submitted. Lieutenant Watt, with several quarterdeck men, and sergeant Richard Molyneux, corporal George Osborne, and the first division of marines ; also Lieutenant Charles Leslie Falkiner, third of the Shannon, with a division of the maindeck boarders, quickly followed Captain Broke and his small party Lieutenant Watt, Just as he had stepped on the Chesapeake's taffrail, was shot through the foot by a musket-ball fired from the mizen top, and dropped on his knee upon the quarterdeck ; but quickly rising up, he ordered Lieutenant of marines James Johns to point one of the Shannon's 9-pounders at the enemy's top. In the mean time Lieutenant Falkiner and the marines, with the second division of which Lieutenant John Law had now arrived, rushed forward ; and, while one party kept down the men who were ascending the main hatchway, another party answered a destructive fire still continued from the main and mizen tops. The Chesapeake's main top was presently stormed


by midshipman William Smith (now lieutenant e) and his top, men, about five in number ; who either destroyed or drove on deck all the Americans there stationed. This gallant young man had deliberately passed along the Shannon's fore yard, which was braced up to the Chesapeake's main yard, which was nearly square ; and thence into her top. All further annoyance from the Chesapeake's mizen top had also been put a stop to by another of the Shannon's midshipmen, Mr. Cosnahan, who, from the starboard main yard-arm, had fired at the Americans, as fast as his men in the top could load the muskets and hand them to him.

After the Americans upon the forecastle had submitted, Captain Broke ordered one of his men to stand sentry over them, and then sent most of the others aft where the conflict was still going on. He was in the act of giving them orders to answer the fire from the Chesapeake's main top (this was just before Mr. Smith's gallant and successful exploit), when the sentry called lustily out to him. On turning round, the captain found himself opposed by three of the Americans ; who, seeing they were superior to the British then near them, had armed themselves afresh. Captain Broke parried the middle fellow's pike, and wounded him in the face; but instantly received, from the man on the pikeman's right, a blow with the but-end of a musket, which bared his skull, and nearly stunned him. Determined to finish the British commander, the third man cut him down with his broadsword, but, at that very instant, was himself cut down by Mindham, the Shannon's seaman, already known to us. Captain Broke was not the only sufferer upon this occasion : one of his men was killed, and two or three were badly wounded. Can it be wondered, if all that were concerned in this breach of faith fell victims to the indignation of the Shannon's men ? It was as much as Captain Broke could do, to save from their fury a young midshipman, who, having slid down a rope from the Chesapeake's fore top, begged his protection. Mr. Smith, who had just at that moment descended from the main top, assisted Mindham and another of the Shannon's men in helping the captain on his legs. While in the act of tying a handkerchief round his commander's head, Mindham pointing aft, called out, " There, sir, there goes up the old ensign over the yankee colours." Captain Broke saw it hoisting (with what feelings may well be imagined), and was instantly led to the Chesapeake's quarterdeck, where he seated himself upon one of the carronade-slides.

The act of changing the Chesapeake's colours had proved fatal to a gallant British officer, and to four or five fine fellows of the Shannon's crew. We left Lieutenant Watt, just as, having raised himself on his legs after his wound, be was hailing the Shannon, to fire at the Chesapeake's mizen top. He then called for an English ensign ; and, hauling down the American ensign, bent, owing to the halliards being tangled, the English flag below


instead of above it. A few seconds before this, the Chesapeake's quarter gallery had given way, and the two ships were gradually separating. Observing the American stripes going up first, the Shannon's people reopened their fire; and directing their guns with their accustomed precision at the lower part of the Chesapeake's mizenmast, killed their own first lieutenant (a grape-shot took off the upper part of his head) and four or five of their comrade. Before the flags had got half-way to the mizen peak, they were lowered down and hosted properly ; and the aggrieved and mortified men of the Shannon ceased their fire.

An unexpected fire of musketry, opened by the Americans who had fled to the hold, killed a fine young marine, William Young. On this, Lieutenant Falkiner, who was sitting on the booms, very properly directed three or four muskets, that were ready, to be fired down. Captain Broke, from his seat upon the carronade-slide, told Lieutenant Falkiner to summon the Americans in the hold to surrender, if they desired quarter. The Lieutenant did so. The Americans replied, " We surrender ; " and all hostilities ceased. The Shannon was now about 100 yards astern of the Chesapeake, or rather upon her larboard quarter. To enable the Shannon to close, Captain Broke ordered the Chesapeake's main yard to be braced flat aback, and her foresail to be hauled close up. Almost immediately afterwards Captain Broke's senses failed him from loss of blood ; and the Shannon's jollyboat just then arriving with a fresh supply of men, he was conveyed on board his own ship.

Between the discharge of the first gun, and the period of Captain Broke's boarding, 11 minutes only elapsed ; and, in four minutes more, the Chesapeake was completely his. The following diagram will explain the few evolutions there were in this quickly decided action. 

Now for the damage and loss of men sustained by the, respective combatants. Five shot passed through the Shannon ; one only below the main deck. Of several round shot that struck her, the greater part lodged in the side, ranged in a line just above the copper. A bar-shot entered a little below the water-mark, leaving a foot or 18 inches of one end sticking out. Until her shot-holes were stopped, the Shannon made a good deal of water upon the larboard tack ; but, upon the other, not more than usual. Her fore and main masts were slightly injured


by shot ; and her bowsprit (previously sprung) and mizenmast were badly wounded. No other spar was damaged. Her shrouds on the starboard side were cut almost to pieces; but, from her perfect state aloft, the Shannon, at a moderate distance, appeared to have suffered very little in the action.

Out of a crew, including eight recaptured seamen and 22 Irish labourers two days only in the ship, of 306 men and 24 boys, the Shannon lost, besides her first lieutenant, her purser (George Aldham), captain's clerk (John Dunn), 13 seamen, four marines, three supernumeraries, and one boy killed, her captain (severely), boatswain (William Stevens, mortally), one midshipman (John Samwell, mortally), and 56 seamen, marines, and supernumeraries wounded ; total, 24 killed and 59 wounded.

The Chesapeake was severely battered in her hull, on the larboard quarter particularly. A shot passed through one of her transoms, equal in stoutness to a 64-gun ship's ; and several shot entered the stern windows. She had two maindeck guns and one carronade entirely disabled. One 32-pounder carronade was also dismounted, and several carriages and slides broken. Her three lower masts, the main and mizen masts especially, were badly wounded. The bowsprit received no injury ; nor was a spar of any kind shot away. Her lower rigging and stays were a good deal cut ; but neither masts nor rigging were so damaged, that they could not have been repaired, if necessary, without the ships going into port.

Out of a crew of at least 381 men and five boys or lads, the Chesapeake, as acknowledged by her surviving commanding officer, lost her fourth lieutenant (Edward 1. Ballard), master (William A. White), one lieutenant of marines (James Broom), three midshipmen, and 41 petty officers, seamen, and marines killed, her gallant commander and first lieutenant (both mortally), her second and third lieutenants (George Budd and William L. Cox), acting chaplain (Samuel Livermore), five midshipmen, her boatswain (mortally), and 95 petty officers, seamen, and marines wounded ; total, 47 killed and 99 wounded, 14 of the latter mortally. This is according to the American official account ; but, it must be added, that the total that reported themselves, including several slightly wounded, to the Shannon's surgeon, three days after the action, were 115 ; and the Chesapeake's surgeon wrote from Halifax, that he estimated the whole number of killed and wounded at from 160 to 170.

Of the Chesapeake's guns we have already given a full account : it only remains to point out, that the ship had three spare ports of a side on the forecastle, through which to fight her shifting long 18-pounder and 12-pounder boat-carronade. The former is admitted to have been used in that way; but, as there is some doubt whether the carronade was used, we shall. reject it from the broadside force. This leaves 25 guns, precisely the number mounted by the Shannon on her broadside.


The accuracy of Captain Broke's statement of his ship's force is, indeed, worthy of remark : he even slightly overrated it, because he represented all his guns of a side on the upper deck, except the boat-gun, as 32-pounder carronades, when two of the number were long nines.

This will be the proper place to introduce an account of some of the extraordinary means of attack and defence, to which, in their naval actions with the British, the fears of the Americans had compelled them to resort. Among the Chesapeake's " round and grape " (the only admitted cannon-shot used on board an American ship, were found double headed shot in abundance ; also bars of wrought iron, about a foot long, connected by links and folded together by a few rope-yarns, so as, when discharged from the gun, to form an extended length of six feet. Other bars, of twice the length, and in number from three to six, were connected at one end by a ring : these, as they flew from the gun, expanded in four points. The object of this novel artillery was to cut away the shrouds, and facilitate the fall of the masts ; and the plan was, to commence the action with the bar and chain shot, so as to produce, as early as possible, that desirable result : after which, the American ship could play round her antagonist, and cut her to pieces with comparative impunity.

So much for the materiel of her opponent ; nor was his personnel forgotten. The canister-shot of the Chesapeake, when opened, were found to contain in the centre angular and jagged pieces of iron and copper, broken bolts, and copper and other nails. The musket-cartridges, as we formerly noticed, contained each three buck-shot loose in the powder; and several rifled-barrel pieces were found among the small-arms. As British seamen were well-known to be terrible fellows for getting on board an enemy, something was to be done to check them in their advance. Accordingly, a large cask of unslacked lime was brought on board the Chesapeake, and placed on the forecastle with the head open, in order that the American crew might scatter the lime by handfuls over the assailants. A bag of the same was placed in the fore top. We do not, however, believe, that Captain Lawrence had any hand in this contrivance. One of the Shannon's early shot struck the cask, and scattered the contents, as if in retribution, over the faces and into the eyes of the projectors. We ourselves saw the remains of the lime on and about the Chesapeake's forecastle : we recollect also observing, that the quarterdeck and forecastle barricades of the American frigate were lined with strong netting, to catch the splinters.

Lieutenant Budd, when called upon to certify as to the number of men with which the Chesapeake went into action, swore to 381 ; but even admitting his own account of the killed and mortally wounded to be correct, the Chesapeake certainly had five men more. For instance, the prisoners out of



the ship, mustered at Halifax, including 91 severely and slightly wounded, and four that were sick, amounted to 325 ; which number, added to 61, the acknowledged amount of the killed and mortally wounded, makes 386. This was three short of the number, appearing by the Chesapeake's books to have been victualled by her on the morning of the action, and as many as 54 short of the regular complement established upon the ship. Several of the Chesapeake's petty officers, indeed, after their arrival at Melville-island prison, near Halifax, confessed that 30 or 40 hands, principally from the Constitution, came on board ; but whose names, in the hurry and confusion, were not entered in the purser's books. In confirmation of several men having joined the ship a very short time before the action, a number of bags and hammocks were found lying in the boats stowed over the booms ; and, in direct proof that some of the Constitution's men were on board the Chesapeake, three or four of the Guerrière's Americans, who, after that ship's capture, had enlisted on board the Constitution, were among the prisoners taken out of the Chesapeake, and were immediately recognised by their former shipmates, now, as stated before, serving on board the Shannon. But, as the American officer swore that the Chesapeake commenced action with only 381 men, we shall give her no more ; and, although not above one boy, that would rate as such in a British ship, was to be seen on board the Chesapeake, we shall allow her five.

In one of the lockers of the Chesapeake's cabin, was found a letter dated in February, 1811, addressed by Robert Smith, Esq., then secretary at war, to Captain Samuel Evans at Boston, directing him to open houses of rendezvous for manning the Chesapeake, and enumerating the different classes, or ratings, at a total of 443. The Chesapeake was manned in April, 1811 ; and as, in the American naval service, the men enlist for two years and sign articles for that period, the ship would require to be remanned in April, 1813, the very month, as we have seen, in which the Chesapeake returned to Boston. The greater part of the crew then re-entered ; and, as may be supposed, a very large proportion of those who accepted their discharge were, or rather had been, British men-of-war's men. In order to fill up the deficiency, four houses of rendezvous were opened. The moment a man declared himself a candidate, he received a dollar, and accompanied an officer to the ship. There he was examined as to his knowledge of seamanship, age, muscular strength, &c., by a board of officers, consisting of the master, surgeon, and others : if approved, the man signed the articles and remained where he was ; if rejected, he returned to the shore with a dollar in his pocket. So fastidious was the committee of inspection, that frequently, out of five boat-loads of men that would go off to the ship in the course of the day, three would come back,


not eligible. The features of the American war would have borne a very different aspect, could British ships have been manned in a similar way.

As far as appearance went, the Chesapeake's was a remarkably fine crew ; and a clear proof of the stoutness of the men was afforded, when, in the middle of the night after the action, in consequence of a strong manifestation of a desire to retake the ship, the irons, which the Americans had got ready for the wrists of the Shannon's crew, and which, to the number of 360, were stowed in a puncheon, with the head off, standing under the half-deck, came to be put upon the wrists of the Chesapeake's crew. None of the Americans found them too large, and many, when not allowed to choose such as fitted them, complained that the manacles hurt them on account of their tightness.

Among the 325 prisoners, whose names were set down in the agent's book at Halifax, about 32, including the gunner, were recognised as British seamen. This fellow was an Irishman, and went by the name of Matthew Rogers ; by which name, but with, of course, a blank for his birth-place, he stands in the Washington " Register " formerly noticed by us. It is probable that, had the Chesapeake been taken when Captain Evans commanded her, five times 32 traitors would have been found on board of her. Nay, the men who, when the first party from the Shannon rushed on board, leaped from the Chesapeake's bows into the water were, it is natural to conjecture, deserters from British ships of war. That they were not all Americans, the following anecdote will prove. One of the Shannon's men, when in the act of cutting down one of the Chesapeake's men, was stopped by the imploring; ejaculation, " Would you, Bill? '' " What, Jack ! " " Ay, Bill, but it won't do ; so here goes." Overboard the poor fellow sprang and was seen no more ! This man's name was John Waters, a fine young Bristolian, who had deserted from the Shannon, when at anchor in Halifax harbour, on the 3d of the preceding October. We naturally turn to the return of loss at the foot of the American official account ; but we search in vain for the name of " John Waters " It is true that he most likely went by another name ; but, as it is customary to report men who fall or leap overboard, or who are not actually slain or wounded in the action, under the head of " Missing, " and no such head appearing in the American returns, we conclude that all the men of the Chesapeake, whose shame-stricken consciences prompted them to commit self-destruction in the manner of poor Waters, were purposely omitted. We are therefore more than ever convinced, that, when she commenced engaging the Shannon, the Chesapeake had on board upwards of 400 men. But, as we said before, the American sworn amount only shall be introduced into the







Broadside-guns No






Crew (men only) No







It is clear from this statement, that the " superiority of force, " little as it may have been, was on the side of the Chesapeake. That we will not, for a moment, dwell on ; nor shall the American star and chain shot, and hogshead of lime, be allowed to disturb the equality and fairness of the action. But Captain Broke did something more than capture an American frigate of equal force : he sought and commenced the attack close to an American port filled with armed vessels, and beat his ship in 11, and captured her in 15 minutes : thereby proving, that the bard, who eight months before had sung, 

And, as the war they did provoke, 

We'll pay them with our cannon ;

The first to do it will be BROKE, 

In the gallant ship the SHANNON,* 

was not a false prophet.

Thus was the spell broken; and we may remark, that the Chesapeake was not finally subdued by a superiority in that quality which constituted the forte of the Shannon, her gunnery. No, it was by boarding ; by Captain Broke's quick discernment in catching, and his promptitude and valour in profiting by, the critical moment, when the Chesapeake's men were retreating from their quarters. Gallant, truly gallant, was the behaviour of Captain Lawrence. His first lieutenant, Augustus Charles Ludlow, emulated his commander ; and both deserved a better crew than the Chesapeake's ; a crew that (oh, woful addition !) consisted, within about a twelfth part, of native Americans.

Owing to Captain Broke's incapacity from his wound, Lieutenant Provo William Parry Wallis, second of the Shannon, took charge of her, and Lieutenant Falkiner, third of the Shannon, remained in charge of the Chesapeake. Having repaired the damage done to their respective rigging, and the Shannon having fished her mizenmast, the two frigates made sail for Halifax ; and on the 6th, at 3 h. 30 m. P. M., the prize, followed by her captor, passed along the wharfs of the town, amidst the cheers of the inhabitants, as well as of the crews of the ships of war that were lying in the harbour. Captain Lawrence had died on board the Chesapeake of his wounds two days before and Captain Broke, in a state of severe suffering from his wounds, was removed from the Shannon to the house of the commissioner, Captain the Honourable Philip Wodehouse.

Frégates de la classe Leda


La HMS Leda, lancée en 1800, est la première d’une longue série de 47 frégates de 38 canons dont 28 de 18 livres, construites d'après un plan réalisé à partir  de la frégate française Hébé capturée en 1782.  


HMS Leda


Royal Navy




Naufrage en 1808


Classe et type

Frégate classe Leda


1053 tonneaux


45.7 mètres


12.2 mètres

Tirant d’eau

4 mètres


284 hommes


28 canons de 18 livres et 10 canons de 9 livres et 8 caronades de 32 livres

       HMS Trincomalee : Lancée à Bombay le 12 octobre 1817, elle est la douzième frégate de cette série. Elle est construite en Inde avec le teck des immenses forêts de Malabar. Au début du vingtième siècle, elle est acquise par George Wheatley Cobb et renommée Foudroyant. En 1991 elle est restaurée et reprend son nom de HMS Trincomalee qui lui vient de l’engagement en 1782 entre vaisseaux anglais et français au large du port qui porte ce nom. Elle sert  aujourd’hui de navire musée à Hartlepool, en Grande Bretagne.


 HMS Trincomalee dessinée par Joseph Wheatley.


        HMS Unicorn : (Licorne en français) frégate de 46 canons pour 48 mètres de long, elle a été construite à l'arsenal royal de Chatham et lancée en février 1822. La coque de l'Unicorn est toujours à flots dans le port de Dundee en Ecosse.


  La dernière frégate de cette classe fut construite en 1830.



Voici l’histoire de la frégate de 18

HMS Shannon, et de son duel

avec la frégate américaine USS Chesapeake


    La HMS Shannon est une frégate  de 38 canons dont 18 de 18 livres de la classe Leda de la Royal Navy. Elle fut lancée en 1806 et servit durant les guerres de l’Empire et la deuxième guerre d'indépendance américaine de 1812.    





   Grande Bretagne


HMS Shannon


Brindley, Frindsbury


5 mai 1806


Désarmée et détruite le 12 novembre 1859

Classe et type:

Frégate de 38 canons de la classe Leda


951 tonneaux

Longueur :

45.7 mètres


11.9 mètres


330 hommes


Pont supérieur:      28 canons de 18 livres

Pont des officiers:  1 canon long de 6 livres

                          2 canons de 9 livres

                          2 caronades de 12 livres

                          1 boat-caronade de 12 livres

                          14 caronades de 32 livres

Gaillard avant:       2 canons de 9 livres

                          2 caronades de 32 livres

     Construite par Brindley à Frindsbury dans le Kent, la HMS Shannon est une des plus fortes frégates construites par la Royal Navy durant les guerres napoléoniennes. A cette époque l’Amirauté préfère plutôt construire davantage de vaisseaux, plus petits et moins lourdement armés, car les amiraux anglais se plaignent régulièrement de  ne pas avoir assez de frégates.

    Rapidement mise en service, elle fait partie d'un escadron qui patrouille au large de Boulogne, et prend part le 8 octobre au bombardement de la ville. Elle navigue ensuite en 1807 avec l’HMS Meleager pour protéger les baleiniers au large du Groenland. 


    A la fin de 1807, après la déclaration de guerre du Portugal, la HMS Shannon se joint à l’expédition de Sir Samuel Hood contre Madère. La frégate retourne ensuite patrouiller dans la Manche, et le 27 janvier 1809, capture la goélette corsaire française de 14 canons Pommereuil. Le 1 juin 1811, la HMS Shannon est à Plymouth pour faire recuivrer sa coque.

    Lorsque les relations se détériorent entre les Etats Unis et la Grande Bretagne, Broke reçoit l’ordre de partir pour l’Amérique du Nord. Il arrive à Halifax le 24 Septembre 1811 après 45 jours de mer.

    En juillet 1812, il reçoit le commandement d’une escadre composée des HMS Shannon, HMS Africa, HMS Belvidera, HMS Aeolus et HMS Guerriere, avec l’ordre d’assurer le blocus des ports américains. Le 16, il capture le brick américain de 16 canons le Nautilus au large de Sandy Hook. Plus tard dans la soirée, l’escadre donne la chasse à la frégate américaine USS Constitution. Dans la soirée du 17 juillet, une brise favorable se lève et permet à l’USS Constitution de s’échapper .

    Le 31 octobre 1812, il capture le brick corsaire américain Thorne.

    En 1813,  au cours d’une patrouille avec son escadre, il est séparé du HMS Tenedos par une tempête, et décide de faire route vers Boston, où il arrive le 2 avril. Il constate la présence des frégates américaines USS President et USS Constitution. Peu après l’USS Chesapeake va elle aussi entrer dans le port de Boston.

    Broke reçoit l’ordre de surveiller le port avec le HMS Tenedos, pendant que le reste de l’escadre croise au large. Le 16 mai, ils chassent un grand voilier américain, et le force à s’échouer près du Cap Ann Town. Ils s'en emparent sans pertes. C’était la corvette française corsaire Invincible. Elle avait déjà été capturée dans le golfe de Gascogne par HMS Mutine, mais reprise par le corsaire américain Alexander


La frégate américaine USS Chesapeake est rentrée à Boston après une croisière contre les navires marchands anglais. Les semaines précédentes, elle a été remise en état, et a reçu un nouveau commandant, le capitaine  James Lawrence, tout récemment promu. Beaucoup des officiers ont été remplacés, ainsi qu’une grande partie de l’équipage.


Ces grandes frégates américaines de 38 ou 44 canons ont été construites dans les années 90 et ont déjà remporté une série de duels.L'USS Constitution capture  la HMS Guerriere et la HMS Java, et L’USS United States écrase  la HMS Macedonian. 

Le navire est donc un bon navire, mais il faut du temps aux hommes pour devenir un équipage discipliné et entraîné au combat. Ce temps, ils ne l’auront pas. Assurant le blocus au large de Boston se trouve la HMS Shannon, commandée depuis sept ans par le Capitaine Philip Broke qui lui a eu tout le temps d’entraîner son équipage.


"La routine à bord était pour la bordée présente l’exercice aux grands canons les lundi et mardi matin,  et ensuite l’entraînement aux armes individuelles pour la première division, les. mercredi et vendredi après-midi, c’était le tour des caronades, et l’entraînement pour la deuxième division. Jeudi était réservé aux aspirants : grands canons le matin et armes individuelles l’après-midi Ainsi chaque homme passait une matinée aux grands canons, une matinée aux caronades et deux après-midi aux mousquets, chaque semaine. »

     En plus de ces entrainements réguliers, Broke organise des compétitions dans lesquelles s'affrontent les équipes de canonniers invités à prouver leur rapidité et leur précision en tirant sur un tonneau jeté à la mer.

   Un jeu appelé "singlestick" est souvent pratiqué. Coups plutôt violents et parades se font comme dans un combat au sabre mais avec des bâtons, ce qui rend le jeu souvent douloureux mais rarement dangereux. Ce jeu développe la rapidité de l’œil et du poignet.

    Désireux d’engager et de vaincre une des frégates lourdes américaines qui ont jusque là remporté de nombreux duels contre la Royal Navy, Broke prépare un défi. L’ USS President s’est déjà échappé en profitant du brouillard. L’USS Constitution doit subir de nombreuses réparations. Seule l’USS Chesapeake semble prête à prendre la mer. Dans un premier temps il éloigne le HMS Tenedos , espérant  ainsi faire sortir la frégate américaine; Mais il commence à désespérer de voir la Chesapeake sortir du Port se décide à envoyer un défi par écrit.

"Comme la Chesapeake semble à présent prête à prendre la mer, je requiers de vous la faveur de rencontrer la Shannon dans un duel, vaisseau à vaisseau, pour éprouver la fortune de nos pavillons respectifs. ......La Shannon est armée de 24 canons long de 18 livres sur son pont principal  et de caronades de 32 livres sur les gaillards avant et arrière; son équipage est de 300 hommes , sans compter trente marins et passagers capturés à bord de navires. .....Je vous implore, monsieur de ne pas imaginer, que je veuille cette rencontre par pure vanité, ou qu’elle ne dépende que de votre ambition personnelle. Nous avons tous deux de plus nobles motifs. Vous y verrez un compliment, si je dis que le résultat de notre rencontre pourrait être le plus grand service que  je puisse rendre à mon Pays, et je ne doute pas un instant que, confiant dans votre succès, vous serez convaincu que ce n’est que grâce à des triomphes répétés à combat égal que votre petite marine pourra espérer consoler votre Pays de la perte du commerce qu’il ne peut  protéger. Faites moi la faveur d’une réponse rapide, car nous sommes à court de provisions et d’eau, et ne pourrons rester en station bien longtemps. J'ai bien l'honneur d'être, Monsieur, votre humble et obéissant serviteur. P.B.V. Broke, capitaine du navire de Sa Majesté britannique Shannon."

    En effet, la Shannon qui se trouve au large de Boston depuis 56 jours, sera bientôt à court de provisions. Une longue période en mer a fatigué le vaisseau. L’invitation est envoyée, portée par un prisonnier américain. Le messager a à peine le temps de toucher le rivage que la Chesapeake sort du port. 

Le Duel


    Nous sommes le 1 juin 1813, en début d’après-midi.  Shannon et Chesapeake sont sur le papier de même force. 


HMS Shannon

USS Chesapeake


Périodes de service



1813-1815 (RN)


954 tonneaux

1244 tonneaux


45.7  mètres

46 mètres


11.9 mètres

12.5 mètres


330 hommes

440 hommes


28 canons de 18 livres

4 canons de 9 livres

2 caronades de 12 livres

18 caronades de 32 livres


28 canons de 18 livres

20 caronades de 32 livres



     La frégate américaine porte trois drapeaux américains et une grande flamme blanche au mat de misaine sur laquelle est écrit 'Free Trade and Sailor's Rights'. La Shannon ne porte qu’un vieux drapeau bleu, et son aspect extérieur après un long séjour en mer peut laisser penser qu’elle sera un adversaire facile. Les deux navires font voile vers le large, où la Shannon ralentit pour attendre son adversaire. Lawrence serre le vent pour placer son navire sur le flanc de son adversaire. Les deux navires sont au contact vers 17h30, à 20 miles à l’est du phare de Boston, entre Cape Ann et Cape Cod.

    Comme les deux navires ne sont plus qu'à à 35 mètres l'un de l'autre, une première bordée est échangée. Sur la Chesapeake, le quatrième lieutenant Mr Ballard est blessé mortellement, le maître voilier est tué et le capitaine Laurence reçoit une balle dans le bras, mais ordonne de poursuivre l’approche. Une seconde et une troisième bordée sont échangées, et cette fois parmi les blessés américains,  il y a le premier lieutenant.

    Ce sont maintenant les caronades de 32 livres du HMS Shannon qui balaient les gaillards et le pont de la Chesapeake. Une grande partie de l’équipage de la Chesapeake est déjà hors de combat, et les deux tiers de ses canons hors d’état de tirer. La voile de misaine a été dégréée, ce qui rend le navire peu manœuvrant. A la barre, trois hommes sont successivement  tués par les tirs d'un canon de 9 livres que Broke a fait installé sur le pont des officiers dans ce but.  Quand l'ancre de la Chesapeake se prend dans l’un des sabords arrière du Shannon, cela permet à ce dernier de la prendre en enfilade. La frégate américaine incapable de manœuvrer est balayée par les bordées britanniques. 


HMS Shannon contre USS Chesapeake, le 1er juin 1813

La HMS Shannon est à gauche

    Quand la fumée se dissipe, le Capitaine Broke décide de monter à l’abordage. Lawrence a donné le même ordre, mais les anglais sont les plus rapides. Le Capitaine Lawrence mortellement blessé d'une balle dans la poitrine donne un dernier ordre "Press onward, my fellow warriors!" "Don't give up the ship!".     Les deux frégates sont désormais bord à bord.


Peint par D. Bayes  

    A 18h.00, un petit groupe d’une vingtaine d’hommes mené par Broke se lance à l'abordage. Sur la Chesapeake il n'y a plus vraiment d'officier capable de reprendre les choses en main. Au cri d’abordage le lieutenant Cox s'est bien précipité sur le pont, mais juste au moment où son son commandant tombe, et il lui faut le descendre.Le pont principal est désormais vide, ravagé par les bordées du Shannon. Les canonniers américains se sont réfugiés vers le pont inférieur.

    Broke et ses hommes s’avancent rapidement, alors que d’autres anglais viennent maintenant renforcer le groupe d’abordage. Sur les hunes, le combat a cessé. Les tireurs d’élite anglais ont d’abord éliminé tous les tireurs américains dans les gréements, puis tiré sur les marins qui se trouvaient sur le pont. Certains conduits par l’aspirant William Smith, qui commande la hune de misaine ont pris d’assaut la hune américaine en passant par les vergues et tué tous les américains présents. De son coté, Mr Cosnaham, qui commande la hune de grand mat, s’est avancé sur la grand-vergue, d’où il a pu tirer sur la Chesapeake, tuant trois hommes.


Le Capitaine Broke conduit lui-même l'abordage

Le Capitaine Broke conduit une charge contre un groupe de marins américains qui essaient de se rallier sur le gaillard d’avant. Après quatre minutes de tir nourri, les américains demandent quartier, mais se voyant supérieurs en nombre, ils se reprennent et repartent à l’attaque. Dans le pont inférieur, le second lieutenant Georges Budd essaie de rallier l’équipage américain mais seuls quelques hommes le suivent et c'est avec eux qu'il défend le navire jusqu'à ce qu'il soit blessé à son tour. Le lieutenant Ludlow, bien que déjà  blessé s'est précipité lui aussi sur le pont, où il reçoit un coup de sabre mortel. Bientôt seuls les Marines américains continuent à résister, mais sur les 44 soldats, 10 sont déjà morts et une vingtaine blessés.    

    C’est à ce moment que trois marins américains, venus des gréements descendent et se jettent sur le Capitaine Broke. Pris par surprise, il tue cependant le premier, mais est blessé par le mousquet du second, alors que le troisième lui porte un coup de sabre à la tête, le jetant sur le pont. Avant qu’il puisse achever Broke, il est sabré par William Mindham. L’équipage de la Shannon se précipite pour défendre son capitaine et prendre d’assaut le gaillard.

    Broke passe le commandement de la Shannon au Lieutenant Wallis.

    Le lieutenant anglais Watt, bien que blessé demande un drapeau anglais, et après avoir descendu l’enseigne américaine, il s’apprête à hisser le drapeau anglais au mât d'artimon, mais les cordages s’étant emmêlés, il se trouve obligé de faire redescendre les couleurs anglaises. A ce moment les deux navires s’éloignent légèrement l’un de l’autre. Les hommes du Shannon voyant cela, reprennent le tir vers le mat d’artimon, et tuent leur propre lieutenant et quatre ou cinq de leurs camarades. 

   Le Shannon est alors à alors a environ 100 yards, sur bâbord. Des embarcations anglaises arrivent avec un nouveau contingent d’une soixantaine d'hommes.

     Un tir de mousquet venu de la cale ou se sont réfugiés les américains, tue un jeune marine, William Young. Sur ce, le lieutenant Falkiner installé sur les vergues fait pointer quatre ou cinq mousquets vers le bas, prêts à tirer et somme les américains de se rendre, s’il veulent obtenir quartier. Les américains répondent  « nous nous rendons », et toute hostilité cesse.

    Quinze minutes après le début du combat, la Chesapeake est aux main des anglais. Les canons de la HMS Shannon ont tiré deux fois plus vite, et leur groupe d’abordage à montré une supériorité décisive dans le combat homme à homme. Les anglais ont eu 23 tués et 57 blessés. Du coté américain on compte 47 tués, dont le quatrième lieutenant, le maître marinier, un lieutenant de marines, et trois aspirants; et 97 blessés, dont le capitaine et son premier lieutenant (mortellement), les deuxième et troisième lieutenant , cinq aspirants et le bosco (mortellement). 

   Broke qui s’est évanoui du fait de la perte de sang est ramené sur la Shannon pour être soigné par le chirurgien du navire. 

La Shannon escorte l’USS Chesapeake vers Halifax, où elles arrivent le 6 juin. Là, les marins américains sont emprisonnés, et le navire remis en état pour servir dans la Royal Navy. Après une brève croisière sous le commandement du capitaine Teahouse, la Shannon avec à son bord le Capitaine Broke convalescent repart pour l’Angleterre, où elle arrive le 2 novembre. Les Lieutenants Wallis et Falkiner ont été promus au rang de commander, et Messieurs Etough et Smith ont été faits lieutenants. Le Capitaine Broke a été fait baronet . La ville de Londres lui a décerné la médaille de la ville, et un sabre valant 100 guinées. Il a aussi reçu un service valant 750 livres et une coupe de 100 guinées. 


 HMS Shannon escorte la Chesapeake à Halifax



Les journaux annoncent la victoire de la Shannon 


Dans la London gazette du 6 juillet 1813, la victoire est racontée en détail. On retrouve aussi le récit du combat dans la "Naval History of Great Britain", écrit par William James et publié en 1837. La Shannon sera par la suite utilisée comme bateau d'entraînement. Renommée HMS St Lawrence en 1844, elle est finalement détruite à Chaltam le 12 novembre 1859.