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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Monday, May 04, 2015

Taking the General Monk

Yesterday I left the Pennsylvania navy vessel Hyder Ally and the Royal Navy sloop General Monk in the middle of a fight in Delaware Bay on 8 Apr 1782.

The young captain of the Hyder Ally, Joshua Barney, told his helmsman to do the opposite of what he ordered and then yelled, “Hard a-port!” The helmsman steered to starboard. Meanwhile, the commander of the General Monk, trying to keep alongside the smaller American vessel, heard Barney and ordered a turn to port.

The General Monk’s jib boom plunged into the Hyder Ally’s rigging. In that position, the Americans could fire their port guns at the British vessel, but most of the British cannons were useless. The Hyder Ally crew rushed to keep the two ships entangled and started to fire. They even turned some of their starboard guns around.

The Hyder Ally cannon blasted canister and grape shot across the deck of the General Monk—thirteen broadsides in all. Barney had recruited riflemen from the Pennsylvania countryside as marines, and they joined in the firing from the rigging. After twenty-six minutes of battle, twenty of the British crew of 136 were dead, thirty-six wounded, including the captain. A British midshipman surrendered the General Monk.

Meanwhile, the Royal Navy frigate Québec was sailing up the main channel of the Delaware River, chasing the battle. That meant Barney and Lt. Justus Starr, whom he sent to command the new capture, had to work fast to separate the two ships and start upriver toward Philadelphia. They bought time by hoisting British flags and exchanging friendly signals with the Québec until it halted.

Once the Hyder Ally and General Monk had left the enemy frigate behind, Barney called over and learned the name of his prize. Lt. Starr also reported back that of the larger ship’s twenty-four guns, six were only “Quaker guns”—logs carved like cannon to intimidate other ships into surrendering. So the fight wasn’t as much of a mismatch as it had seemed.

The 10 April Freemen’s Journal, published in Philadelphia, reported:
Yesterday the Hyder Ally, a vessel fitted out for the protection of this river and its trade, returned to Chester after a severe conflict with a vessel of superior force, which with great gallantry and good conduct, on the part of captain Barney and his crew, has been captured and brought into port.
The General Monk was eventually made a Continental Navy ship, once more called the General Washington. Philip Freneau wrote a poem on the fight, which became known as the Battle of Delaware Bay. Years later, Barney commissioned Louis-Philippe Crépin to paint “Hyder Ally Captures the General Monk,” shown above; that picture is now owned by the U.S. Naval Academy Museum.

Barney went on to a long naval career, which included capture by British privateers in 1793, service in the navy of Revolutionary France, and a command in Chesapeake Bay during the War of 1812. He was wounded at the Battle of Bladensburg and died, reportedly of complications from that wound, in 1818.

During the same war, with America once again awash in anti-British sentiment, a privateer named Hyder Ally was launched from Maine. This ship thus indirectly preserved the name of an Indian government official who had died decades earlier.


steve mark said...

Stirring articles. There were 3 USS Barney USN ships, fitting tributes to a hard-fighting commander.

Pat said...

Very exciting story. Glad to hear an account of another Hyder Ally that had a little more success.

Anonymous said...

Glad to find this story. One of the Pennsylvania Riflemen was my ancestor, Robertt Kinkaid. He served first in the First Virginia Regiment and then in Morgan's Rifles before serving on the Hyder Ally. He remained on the General Monk or George Washington until the end of the war.

John Seagrove said...

My Gt.Gt.Grandfather John served on the HMS General Monk when she was heavily defeated by Barney's Hyder Ally at Delaware Bay battle April 1782. RN Gunner John was not killed but captured and slung into New Jail, Philly with his other British shipmates - so I'm told! Who/where in Philadelphia archives would know where I can find the records proof of his incarceration there? John Seagrove