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The bad luck of several frigates, and the rough handling of
the "Globe" by the packets, illustrate one side of the fortune of war,
as the good hap of the "America" and "Governor Tompkins" shows the
other.

[Illustration: Diagram of the Montague, Pelham, Globe battle]

It is, however, the beginnings and endings of commercial routes,
rather than the intermediate stretch, which most favor enterprises
against an enemy's trade. In the thronging of vessels, the Caribbean
Sea, with its teeming archipelago, was second only, if second, to the
waters surrounding the United Kingdom. England was one extremity, and
the several West India Islands the other, of a traffic then one of the
richest in the world; while the tropical articles of this exchange, if
not absolute necessaries of life, had become by long indulgence
indispensable to the great part of civilized mankind. Here, therefore,
the numbers, the efforts, and the successes of American privateers
most nearly rivalled the daring achievements of their fellows in the
Narrow Seas and the approaches to Great Britain and Ireland. The two
regions resembled each other in another respect. Not only was there
for both an external trade, mainly with one another, but in each there
was also a local traffic of distribution and collection of goods, from
and to central ports, in which was concentrated the movement of import
and export. As has been remarked concerning the coastwise carriage of
the United Kingdom, this local intercourse, to be efficient, could not
be regulated and hampered to the same extent as the long voyage,
over-sea, transportation. A certain amount of freedom and
independence was essential, and the risk attendant upon such separate
action must be compensated, as far as might be, by diminishing the
size of the vessels engaged; a resource particularly applicable to the
moderate weather and quiet seas prevalent in the tropics.

Both the exposure of trade under such relaxed conditions, and the
relative security obtained by the convoy system, rigidly applied, are
shown by a few facts. From September 1, 1813, to March 1, 1814, six
months, the number of prizes taken by Americans, exclusive of those on
the Lakes, was reported as two hundred and seventy. Of these, nearly
one third--eighty-six--were to, from, or within the West Indies. Since
in many reports the place of capture is not given, nor any data
sufficient to fix it, it is probable that quite one third belonged to
this trade. This evidences the scale, both of the commerce itself and
of its pursuers, justifying a contemporary statement that "the West
Indies swarm with American privateers;" and it suggests also that many
of the seizures were local traders between the islands, or at least
vessels taking their chance on short runs. On the other hand, the
stringency with which the local officials enforced the Convoy Act was
shown, generally, by the experience at this time of the United States
naval vessels, the records of which, unlike those of most privateers,
have been preserved by filing or publication; and, specifically, by a
number of papers found in a prize by the United States frigate
"Constitution," Captain Charles Stewart, while making a round of these
waters in the first three months of 1814. Among other documents was a
petition, signed by many merchants of Demerara, praying convoy for
fifty-one vessels which were collected and waiting for many weary
weeks, as often had to be done. In one letter occurs the following:
"With respect to procuring a license for the "Fanny" to run it, in
case any other ships should be about to do so, we do not believe that,
out of forty vessels ready to sail, any application has been made for
such license, though out of the number are several out-port vessels
well armed and manned. Indeed, we are aware application would be
perfectly useless, as the present Governor, when at Berbice, would not
permit a vessel from that colony to this [adjoining] without convoy.
If we could obtain a license, we could not justify ourselves to
shippers, who have ordered insurance with convoy."[231]

The expense and embarrassment incident to such detentions are
far-reaching, and the effects are as properly chargeable as are
captures themselves to the credit of the cruisers, by the activity of
which they are occasioned. The "Constitution" could report only four
prizes as the result of a three months' cruise, necessarily shortened
by the approach of spring. This made it imperative for a vessel,
denied admission to most home ports by her draught of water, to
recover the shelter of one of them before the blockade again began,
and the exhaustion of her provisions should compel her to attempt
entrance under risk of an engagement with superior force. As it was,
she was chased into Salem, and had to lighten ship to escape. But
Stewart had driven an enemy's brig of war into Surinam, chased a
packet off Barbados, and a frigate in the Mona Passage; and the report
of these occurrences, wherever received, imposed additional
precaution, delay, and expense.

At the same time that the "Constitution" was passing through the
southern Caribbean, the naval brigs "Rattlesnake" and "Enterprise"
were searching its northern limits. These had put out from Portsmouth,
New Hampshire, when the winter weather drove the blockaders from
there, as from Boston, whence the "Constitution" had sailed. Starting
early in January, 1814, these two light cruisers kept company, passing
east of Bermuda to the island of St. Thomas, at the northeast corner
of the Caribbean. Thence they turned west, skirting the north shores
of Porto Rico and Santo Domingo as far as the Windward Passage.
Through this they entered the Caribbean, followed the south coast of
Cuba, between it and Jamaica, rounded Cape San Antonio, at its western
extremity, and thence, traversing the Straits of Florida, returned
along the coast of the United States. Having already been chased twice
in this cruise, they were compelled by a third pursuer to separate,
February 25. The stranger chose to keep after the "Enterprise," which
being a very dull sailer was obliged in a flight of seventy hours to
throw overboard most of her battery to escape. The two put into
Wilmington, North Carolina, a port impracticable to a frigate.[232]

In this long round the brigs overhauled eleven vessels, two only of
which were under the British flag. Two were Americans; the rest
neutrals, either Swedes or Spaniards. Of the two enemies, only one was
a merchant ship. The other was a privateer, the chase of which gave
rise to a curious and significant incident. Being near the Florida
coast, and thinking the brigs to be British, twenty or thirty of the
crew took to the boats and fled ashore to escape anticipated
impressment. As Marryat remarks, a British private vessel of that day
feared a British ship of war more than it did an enemy of equal force.
Of the neutrals stopped, one was in possession of a British prize
crew, and another had on board enemy's goods. For these reasons they
were sent in for adjudication, and arrived safely. Judged by these
small results from the several cruises of the "Enterprise,"
"Rattlesnake," and "Constitution," the large aggregate of captures
before quoted, two hundred and seventy, would indicate that to effect
them required a great number of cruisers, national and private. That
this inference is correct will be shown later, by some interesting and
instructive figures.

While the making of prizes was the primary concern of the American
privateers, their cruises in the West Indies, as elsewhere, gave rise
to a certain amount of hard fighting. One of the most noted of these
encounters, that of the schooner "Decatur," of Charleston, with the
man-of-war schooner "Dominica," can hardly be claimed for the United
States; for, though fought under the flag, her captain, Diron, was
French, as were most of the crew. The "Dominica" was in company with a
King's packet, which she was to convoy part of the way to England from
St. Thomas. On August 5, 1813, the "Decatur" met the two about three
hundred miles north of the island. The British vessel was superior in
armament, having fifteen guns; all carronades, except two long sixes.
The "Decatur's" battery was six carronades, and one long 18-pounder.
For long distances the latter was superior in carrying power and
penetration to anything on board the "Dominica;" but the American
captain, knowing himself to have most men, sought to board, and the
artillery combat was therefore mainly at close quarters, within
carronade range. It began at 2 P.M. At 2.30 the schooners were within
half-gunshot of one another; the "Dominica" in the position of being
chased, because of the necessity of avoiding the evident intention of
the "Decatur" to come hand to hand. Twice the latter tried to run
alongside, and twice was foiled by watchful steering, accompanied in
each case by a broadside which damaged her rigging and sails, besides
killing two of her crew. The third attempt was successful, the
"Decatur's" bow coming against the quarter of the "Dominica," the
jib-boom passing through her mainsail. The crew of the privateer
clambered on board, and there followed a hand-to-hand fight equally
honorable to both parties. The British captain, Lieutenant Barretté, a
young man of twenty-five, who had already proved his coolness and
skill in the management of the action, fell at the head of his men, of
whom sixty out of a total of eighty-eight were killed or wounded
before their colors were struck. The assailants, who numbered one
hundred and three, lost nineteen. The packet, though armed, took no
part in the fight, and when it was over effected her escape.[233] The
"Decatur" with her prize reached Charleston safely, August 20;
bringing also a captured merchantman. The moment of arrival was most
opportune; two enemy's brigs, which for some time had been blockading
the harbor, having left only the day before.

In March, 1814, the privateer schooner "Comet," of Baltimore, not
being able to make her home port, put into Wilmington, North Carolina.
She had been cruising in the West Indies, and had there taken twenty
vessels, most of which were destroyed after removing valuables.



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