J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Friday, August 12, 2016

The Fights After the Fight off Fairhaven



Yesterday I started describing the 14 May 1775 fight outside Buzzard’s Bay between the newly-armed whaler Success from the village of Fairhaven and two trading sloops that the Royal Navy had recently captured.

When I broke off, provincial militia captains Nathaniel Pope and Daniel Egery had recaptured one of the prize sloops and were heading after the other, owned by the Wing family of Sandwich.

The Royal Navy junior officer left in charge of that vessel, Midn. Richard Lucas, spotted the provincials and ordered his crew to sail away.

But the prize sloop couldn’t move off fast enough. The provincials caught up. Both sides fired their swivel guns and muskets. According to one American:
the Success had but one carriage gun, a swivel, which, having lost its trunnions, was then loaded, lashed to a timber head, and when chance brought it in range, fired, but proving yet loyal to the king, it kicked out of the traces and went overboard at first fire.
A Fairhaven mariner recalled the British commander “was a North Briton or Scotchman…[who] kept most of the time during the action in the cabin, occasionally showing his head from the companion-way to give orders to his men.” A provincial marksman, probably Joseph Shockley, “was ordered to stand by the mast and ‘drop the dodging officer.’”

The next time Lucas stepped outside, Shockley shot him in the head. Fortunately for the midshipman, Shockley had loaded the gun with buckshot:
He had received a buckshot directly in front, on the retreating line of his forehead, which, piercing to the bone, slid on its surface, cutting the scalp in its course, and was found flat, thin and sharp on the back of his head.
Lucas reportedly “took his mishap philosophically, saying his kin had been characterized as a thick-skulled family.”

With the British commander down, the fight ended quickly. Pope and Egery brought their ships up alongside the Wings’ sloop. The militiamen swarmed over the rails, recapturing the prize. In addition to Lucas, two of the British crew were wounded, but no one killed. The provincial crews triumphantly sailed all three vessels back to Fairhaven.

Then they worked fast, expecting that the leaders of the larger town of Dartmouth would not be pleased by the fight. Those men were mostly Quaker, tied into British trade networks, and fearful of retaliation from the Royal Navy. According to Capt. Pope’s son:
Joseph Rotch, Edward Pope, and many others, came from [New] Bedford on Monday morning, and held counsel with some of the timid at the house of Esquire [Lemuel] Williams, and concluded to send the prisoners and captured sloops, with an apology, back to the Falcon; but the captors were on the qui vive, and marched off the prisoners for Taunton before the council rose. Thus defeated, the council sent a committee to Captain [John] Linzee, at Taunton Court, with an apology, “making the best story they could.” Colonel Edward Pope and ’Squire Williams were of this committee.
Four prisoners were left in Dartmouth: Midn. Lucas, wounded sailors Jonathan Lee and Robert Caddy, and surgeon’s mate John Dunkinson, probably caring for the others. Most of the sailors found on the captured ships were set free; Pope’s son recalled that some “were very clever fellows, and I think some of them remained” in Massachusetts.

On the morning of 16 May, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress in Watertown received “a verbal information of the capture of three vessels, by a king’s cutter, at Dartmouth, and the retaking two of them, and fifteen marines prisoners.” Capt. Egery appears to have brought that news after leaving Taunton. Other men from Dartmouth may have brought the same news with a different spin. The legislature, as usual, formed a committee to sort things out.

The next day that committee recommended “that the inhabitants of Dartmouth be advised to conduct themselves, with respect to the prisoners they have taken, agreeably to the direction of the committee of inspection for that town.” The legislature would thus grant authority to the local Patriot activists. A “long debate” followed before the congress confirmed that recommendation and sent “the gentlemen from Dartmouth” back home.

That wasn’t the end of the matter. On 7 June the congress had to consider “what is best to be done with the four prisoners brought from Dartmouth, via Cambridge”—Lucas and his men. The legislators decided they should “be sent to Concord, to the care of the selectmen of said town, to be by them secured and provided for, agreeably to their rank, at the expense of this colony, until they receive some further order.”

Meanwhile, there was a dispute between the owners of the sloops, Jesse Barlow and Simeon Wing, and the Fairhaven men who had rescued them. On 1 July a congress committee found:
Messrs. Wing and Barlow applied to the Dartmouth people, who took the vessels, for them again: the people offered them their vessels, upon Wing’s paying them eight dollars, and Barlow ten dollars, with which they complied, and Wing paid the money; after which, the Dartmouth people detained the vessels until the orders of Congress could be known, and refuse to give them up, without Barlow and Wing paying forty-five dollars, and giving bonds to indemnify the Dartmouth people.
That afternoon the congress decided to “leave the matters in dispute to arbitration.”

At some point, Richard Lucas was exchanged. He was commissioned a captain in the Royal Navy in 1782, commanded the 74-gun warship Arrogant in 1796, and died the following year.

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