Editor's note: The following text was originally published in 1793 from the newspapers listed below. Thanks to volunteer researcher George A. Thompson for finding, cataloging and transcribing this article. The language, spelling and grammar of the article reflects the time period when it was written.
HMS "Iris" dismasted by the French Frigate "Citoyenne-Francaise" 13 May 1793. Thomas Luny, date unknown. Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons. While no images of the fight described in these reports are available, this scene depicts a similar combat between similar ships in 1793. Both are single-deck frigates engaging, with the British getting the worst of it. Note the tendency in naval engagements in the age of sail to target the rigging as much as possible to immobilize the target.
British Orders to Engage the French Frigate received.
"Boston", August 5. The master of a vessel lately arrived at Newport from Jamaica, on his passage spoke with Captain Courtnay, commander of his Britannic Majesty's frigate "Boston", of 32 guns, who informed him, that he had positive orders to cruise near the Sound until he met the French frigate "l'Embuscade" --------- Further accounts state, that the "Boston" had arrived at the Hook, and that the commander had sent up a challenge to Capt. Bompard, of the "l'Embuscade", and informed him that he should be there about three days in waiting for him, and that he wished much to see him. Capt Bompard was preparing to meet him.
Diary; or, Loudon's Register, August 8, 1793, p. 3, col. 2
"L'Embuscade Frigate". We the subscribers do certify, are ready to make oath, if required, that have been hailed by, and obliged to go on board his Britannic Majesty's frigate the "Boston", on the 29th of July last, Capt. Courtnay, the commander thereof, requested us to inform Citizen Bompard (meaning the Captain of the French frigate "l'Embuscade") "That he would be glad to see -- and was then waiting for him," or words fully to that import. And we further certify that a mid-ship-man of the "Boston", who came in the boat with us until he was near Governor's-Island, assured us, "that the "Boston" was fitted out for the express purpose of fighting and taking the "Ambuscade"; and that Capt. Courtnay had on that account been permitted to take on board, at Halifax, as large a number of extra seamen, as he thought proper. Peter Deschent, C. Orset, Esq., Andrew Allen.
Diary; or, Loudon's Register (New York, N. Y.), August 6, 1793, p. 3, col. 1 [the "Esq." added in pen]
Capt. Dennis, of the United States revenue cutter "Vigilant", came up on Sunday evening from Sandy Hook: He informs us that at 4 P. M. of the afternoon of said day, 2 leagues E. by S. of the Hook, spoke the British frigate "Boston", of 32 guns, commanded by Capt. Courtnay, having in company with him a small schooner of 8 guns. -- Capt. Courtnay, informed Capt. Dennis he wou'd be very happy to see the French Republic's frigate "L'Embuscade", Citizen [?] Bompard, at any time within five days: -- (If we are to judge from appearances on board the "l'Embuscade", it is more than probably he will be gratified with a sight of her.)
The following note was on the Coffee-house book yesterday afternoon: -- "Citizen Bompar's compliments wait Capt. Courtnay -- will meet him agreeable to invitation -- hopes to find him at the Hook to-morrow. -- dated Monday, July 29th.
We hear that nine vessels are chartered by different parties for the Hook, in order to see the action between the "L'Embuscade" and the "Boston" frigate.
Daily Advertiser (New York, N. Y.), July 30, 1793, p. 2, col. 5 - p. 3, col. 1
Challenge Accepted! Spectators Gather!
FOR SANDY HOOK
For the purpose of carrying Passengers.
The beautiful and fast sailing Schooner "EXPERIMENT", Charles Buckley, Master, Will sail as soon as the French frigate "l'Embuscade" gets under way. For passage apply to the master on board. It is desired of those who wish for a passage to call by 10 o'clock. Said schooner lies at Jone's new Wharf.
July 30. D Advertiser, July 30, 1793, p. 3, col. 1
Please insert the following, and oblige many of your customers:
We hear that a number of boats are engaged, for the purpose of conveying some of the lovers of Royalty, who reside among us, on board His Most Gracious Majesty's Frigate "Boston", now cruising off Sandy Hook, to congratulate the Right Honorable Mr. Courtnay, on his safe arrival in these latitudes.
The Whigs of New-York, will do well to mark those men who are most forward on this business, for it is too true, that we harbour miscreants among us, who will scarce treat a Frenchman with common civility in the street, and yet will go 40 or 50 miles to make obeisance to a titled Briton -- Mark these men, I say.
DEMOCRAT. Diary; or, Loudon's Register (New York, N. Y.), July 29, 1793, p. 3, col. 1;
When Citizen Bompard or the "l'Embuscade", received the invitation from the British Frigate, "Boston", for a visit at the Hook, he immediately put every thing in train to visit his honourable friend, Capt. Courtnay. Yesterday and the day before, all hands were busied on board the "l'Embuscade"; and being in complete order, she weighed anchor, at 5 o'clock this morning, and fell down with the tide, round the Battery and was obliged to anchor in the North River, the tide being spent, and the wind ahead; lay there till past three o'clock this afternoon -- It is expected she will weigh anchor in the course of the afternoon, and must beat down against the wind, he, and all hands on board, being eager to pay their respectful salutations to Capt. Courtney, who they say is impatiently waiting for Capt. Bompard. It is not thought improbable but that Capt. Courtney, with the "Boston", may visit New York before he leaves the coast; others wish that Capt. Bompard may visit Halifax, at the company of the French people is not well relished by some people here. How that may turn out, we may hear is two or three days. Some think, that as a fleet of French ships are hourly expected here from Baltimore, the visit my be interrupted. Number of gentlemen are gone to the Hook, as witnesses to the important visit of these two Commanders, belonging to the two greatest nations on earth.
Diary; or, Loudon's Register (New York, N. Y.), July 30, 1793, p. 3, col. 3;
The following LETTER was transmitted by Citizen BOMPARD, to Captain Courtnay, of the British frigate "Boston", on hearing that the latter "would be happy to see him at the Hook."
"On board of the French republic's frigate, "L'Embuscade", 29th of July, 1793, the 2d year of the Republic.
"SIR, "I have received an invitation by a sloop which you boarded yesterday, to sail out of this harbour and fight your frigate; I should not have hesitated a moment to comply with your wishes (which seems to me only ostensible) had you conveyed your challenge in the mode that honour prescribes. Upon an occasion of this kind, I should have written to the opposite commandant, and have pledged my honour, that I was unattended by any other armed vessell, and that I would not employ any artifice or strategem, unbecoming the character of a brave and candid soldier; as you have conducted yourself in a different manner, you must be sensible that I cannot consistently with my duty, expose the brave man I have the honour to command, on vague and unauthenticated reports.
"Therefore, sir, if you are really the brave man, you pretend to be, pursue the above measures, and as soon as I receive your answer, shall do myself the honour of waiting upon you. (Signed.) BOMPARD, Captain-Commander of the "L'Embuscade
"N. B. Citizen Bompard, having not received an answer to the above letter, resolved however not to disappoint the martial ardor of Captain Courtnay, and accordingly has sailed this morning out of the harbor to wait upon him."
Grand Naval Combat. The following information is given us by one of the hands belonging to the Pilot Boat Hound, of this port: --- On Wednesday night last, about 8 o'clock, the pilot boat fell in with, to the southward of the Hook, the two frigates "L'Embuscade" and "Boston", standing on one course, and took a birth between the two until towards day light, when the boat sheered off out the reach of their guns, and lay to. After day light the "L'Embuscade" fired a gun and hoisted the National flag of France, which was shortly after hoisted by the British frigate. The "L'Embuscade" then bore down upon the "Boston", both ships being then between the Grove and the Woodlands, distant about 5 leagues S. E. of the Hook. The "Boston" endeavoured several times to get to windward of the "L'Embuscade", but not being able to accomplish her point, she was obliged to come to close action precisely at 37 minutes past five o'clock, A. M. The action continued from that time until half past seven -- during the course of which the "L'Embuscade's" colours were shot away, which induced our informant to suppose she had struck, but shortly hoisted them again. In a little time the same accident happened to the "Boston", which was as soon replaced. The "L'Embuscade" attempted to board the "Boston", but failed.
About 7 o'clock the fire from the "L'Embuscade" was somewhat slackened, but seemed to be renewed from the "Boston", when a shot from the "L'Embuscade" struck the main-top-mast of the "Boston", and carried it overboard; on which she immediately ceased firing, crouded all the sail she could and ran off -- the "L'Embuscade" fired three guns more at her as a token of Victory, and as soon as she could get underway to follow the "Boston", of which she was delayed in about half an hour, owing to her rigging and sails being very much mutilated) she gave her chace, which out informant assures us she continued till past nine o'clock, when both ships were out of sight. --- They were both steering to the southward.
(The above account is corroborated by the information of another person who was on board the pilot boat "Hound", and saw the whole action very distinctly with the naked eye.)
Daily Advertiser (New York, N. Y.), August 2, 1793, p. 3, col. 1;
Thursday morning, August 1st, 1793, on board sloop "Friendship", Capt. Peterson, (a Newport Packet.)
AT 6 o'clock, A. M. distant four miles from the Hook. Got under way immediately and sailed towards the vessels; at half past 6 o'clock, discovered them to be engaged a cable's length assunder, at 45 minutes past 6 o'clock saw the windward ship (the "L'Embuscade") had lost the fore-top-sail-tie. Both ships standing W at 50 minutes past 6 o'clock, the leeward ship "Boston" lost her main-top-mast, and the head of her main-mast also apparently carried away.
At 55 minutes past 6 o'clock, the firing ceased, both ships appearing to be repairing their damages, when the "Boston" bore off, before the wind (S. W.) At 8 minutes past 7 o'clock the "L'Embuscade" bore down to engage again. 20 minutes past 7, saw the British union flying in the mizen shrouds of the crippled ship -- the national colours flying at the mizen peak of the "L'Embuscade". At 35 minutes past 7 o'clock saw the "Boston", with studding sails alow and aloft, making every effort to get off -- The "L'Embuscade" still repairing, but making what sail she could to follow.
At 8 o'clock the "Boston", under full sail still, was about a league a head of the "L'Embuscade", steering S. W. about 9 knots an hour; The latter carrying a foresail, a fore-topsail a foretop-gallant-sail, main-top-sail and mizen-topsail set, the main sail loose.
At 20 minutes past 8 o'clock, . . . the ships 1 1-2 league asunder, the "L'Embuscade having set her bower studding sails; at 33 minutes past 9 o'clock, could just discern the "L'Embuscade"; at 50 minutes past 9 o'clock, discerned the "Boston", from the mast head, the "L'Embuscade" still pursuing, and overhawling the "Boston".
Diary; or, Loudon's Register (New York, N. Y.), August 2, 1793, p. 3, col. 4
Last Evening, the French Fleet which has been so long expected from the Chesapeake, arrived in this port, consisting of 15 sail. On their approach toward the city, the citizens, to the number of several thousands, collected on the battery, to welcome them to our port. After they had come to anchor off the battery, the Admiral, accompanied by several other officers, came on shore in the barge, and waited on his Excellency the Governor, at the government house; a few moments after which the Admiral's ship fired a salute, which was immediately answered from our battery, with three cheers from the amazing concourse attending.
What greatly added to the beauty of this scene was the arrival of the "L'Embuscade", from her cruise -- as she approached, the people assembled were at a loss how to express their joy, having heard of the gallant behavior of Citizen Bompard, the commander, and his crew -- continued shouts and huzzas were vociferated, which were returned from on board, until she had passed into the East River. We have just learnt, that only 7 men were killed, and 10 wounded in the engagement, which was incessant for three glasses, in which time both ships were much burnt in their rigging, and the main top mast of the "Boston" was carried away before the wind, was pursued by the "L'Embuscade", but out sailing her, the "L'Embuscade" abandoned her fell in with, and took a Portuguese brig, richly laden, and has thus safely arrived to the Universal joy of their brethren in this city.
A great variety of accounts have been handed the public on the subject of the battle between the "L'Embuscade" and "Boston", all of which agree, that the arrogant Capt. Courtnay, of the "Boston", received a most severe drubbing from the gallant Captain Bompard, of the "L'Embuscade".
Diary; or, Loudon's Register (New York, N. Y.), August 3, 1793, p. 3, col. 1, from N-Y Journal
We are favored through a Correspondent with the following relation of the late action between the frigates "L'Embuscade" and "Boston" given by an Officer who was on board the former of these ships.
"Though the Challenge given by Capt. Courtnay to Capt. Bompard, on the 29th ult. has become a topic of common conversation, I mean not to enter into a discussion of the propriety or impropriety thereof, but only state facts, leaving each candid Republican in this Land to decide as he thinks proper, on the final event.
I cannot help observing that on the morning of the day when the challenge was received, the Crew of the "L'Embuscade" had been permitted to make a holiday; notwithstanding which, as soon as they received information of this uncommon and unexpected summons, assembled with a distinguished cheerfulness and zeal, worthy of the cause in which they were engaged; for, though the situation of the frigate would on common occasions have required the work of three days to fit her for sea, she nevertheless, by their extraordinary exertions, weighed anchor in twenty-four hours.
Owing to contrary winds, we did not reach Sandy-Hook till the 31st ult. at two o'clock, P. M. when the Captain ordered to steer to the eastward, in anxious expectation of seeing his antagonist at the place of rendezvous, but we did not find him there.
Capt. Bompard, stimulated by the natural feelings of a soldier, to gratify Captain Courtnay in his wish, steered on the eastward five leagues farther, in hopes of meeting this new champion of chivalry, and at four in the morning of the 1st of August, having then our larboard tacks on board, seeing at the same time an English brig, at which we fired a gun, and hoisted our national colours, when the brig wore and hauled her wind, on the same tack with the ship, which we were then convinced was a frigate, with French colours flying.
On this, Captain Bompard ordered the private signal to be made, which not being answered by the other, left no room to doubt that she was our challenging rival.
In our approach to each other, the Boston endeavored to get to windward, but without success, at last we got so close, that Captain Courtnay relinquished his disguise, substituting in its room, the royal colors.
This was at three-quarters past five, when Captain Bompard in his jacket, came forward, and sundry times, in a very loud voice, called Captain Courtnay by name, who, instead of a common reply, very politely answered with a broadside.
A Thousand Huzzas! A Thousand cries of Vive la Republique Francoise! announced to the Georgists of Halifax, the impression which their royal artillery made on the hearts of Republicans!!!
The crew of the "Boston" was silent, and the netting prevented us seeing the face of her noble Commander.
The "L'Embuscade" permitted the "Boston" to shoot ahead, and then attempted to put about, but missing stays, continued on the same tack. The "Boston" then wore, when the "L'Embuscade" backed her main and mizen topsail, and as she passed began her fire; it was not quick, but time will probably prove that it was well directed.
The fight continued till three quarters past seven, when a shot carrying away the "Boston's" main top-mast, she instantly wore and made tail before the wind.
She must have suffered severely, and we were so much crippled in our masts and rigging, our braces, bowlings, &c. being cut to pieces, that it was some time before we could wear, not could we work the ship with the same dispatch the enemy did.
The enemy by this means had gained a considerable distance from us, being still before the wind with all the sail she could possibly crowd; but we found that the state of our masts would not admit of a press of sail, we nevertheless continued the chase till 11 o'clock, when seeing that we had no chance of coming up, and discovering at same time a Portuguese brig, within two miles of the "Boston", we made sail after and captured her, as a proof of our victory and the enemy's defeat
We then hove to till the necessary repairs were completed, and afterwards made the best of our way for New-York.
We had seven men killed in action, and fifteen wounded.
Our people say, they was a number of men thrown overboard from the English frigate; their wounded we have great reason to believe are numerous, as our fire, during the whole of the action, was directed with that deliberate coolness, characteristic of Republican valor.
The fire of the "Boston" did much more damage to our rigging than to our hull, and . . . in contradiction to the rules of war, generally adhered to by civilized nations, they fired at us a quantity of old iron, nails, broken knives, broken pots, and broken bottles -- a mode of warfare with which their enemy was then, and I hope ever will be unacquainted.
It may be proper to mention, that Capt. Bompard endeavored to board the enemy, in which case broken bottles would have proved of little service, but this the British Captain prudently avoided; whether, when all the circumstances of the challenge are taken into view, his nation will promote him for this act of wisdom: I cannot say, it would be difficult to say, whether the cool deliberate courage, or the innocent cheerful gaiety of the citizens of the "L'Embuscade", was most conspicuous during the engagement.
Those who had never been in action before, were astonished to behold what little effect a broad side was attended with.
I will say nothing of our intrepid Captain, it would be doing him an injury to attempt his praise.
Our ship's colours, torn as they were at the close of the action, have been presented to the Tammany Society of this city, as a token of that respect which those virtuous patriots merit, in our opinion, from their Republican Brethren of France.
Diary; or, Loudon's Register, August 6, 1793, p. 3, cols. 1-2;
PHILADELPHIA, August 2. "L'EMBUSCADE" FRIGATE.
Extract of a letter from a gentleman at Long Branch to his friend in this city, dated August 1, 1795.
"This morning we were gratified with the view of an action between "L'Embuscade" and an English frigate of about the same size, which is said to have come from Halifax, on purpose to attack her. The action began at about half after five this morning, and lasted till near seven, the firing was tremendous, and both vessels during the action appeared at time to be much in confusion. At length the French ship shot away the main-top-gallant mast of the English man, and that shot appeared to decide the fate of the battle, for she immediately bore off. The "L'Embuscade" had her sails clued up, and appears willing to attack, provided the other does not run away. She has, however, beat the English ship completely.
Daily Advertiser, August 6, 1793, p. 2, col. 3
New-York, August 3. About 7 o'clock last evening came up and anchored in the East river, amid the repeated huzzas of the citizens of New-York, the French frigate "L'EMBUSCADE". We have been enabled only to gain a few particulars of the action between her and the "Boston", for this day's paper -- the whole of which we hope to lay before our readers on Monday: It appears that the action commenced about the same time, and ended in nearly the same manner as mentioned in our paper of yesterday -- that the "l'Embuscade" chased the "Boston" about five hours to the Southward, when owing to the shattered condition of her sails and rigging, and espying a Portuguese Brig off, she gave over chasing the "Boston" frigate, and pursued the Brig which she captured and brought to this city.
The Frigate "L'Embuscade" had six men killed and twelve men wounded, but they supposed the number of killed and woulded on board the "Boston" must have been much more, as they saw her throw 21 bodies overboard during the chase; her pumps were kept constantly going. It is supposed Capt. Courtnay is among the slain. The "L'Embuscade's" masts are so full of shot holes that she will be obliged to replace the whole with new ones.
General Advertiser (Philadelphia, Pa.), August 6, 1793, p. 2, col.
An English visitor's account
The day of my first arrival in New York was rendered memorable by the severe engagement which took place off Sandy Hook, between the "Boston" and the "Ambuscade". We heard distinctly the broadsides as we passed down Long Island Sound, but knew not on what account they were fired. This battle being premeditated on the part of the French, various were the conjectures respecting the cause, and I therefore took some pains to gain correct information.
The "Ambuscade", a large 44 gun frigate, had been some time lying opposite to New York, and it was known that the "Boston" was stationed on the outside of Sandy Hook. Captain Bompard, who commanded the "Ambuscade", had given no intimation of his intended departure, until, on a sudden, preparations were made to go out, and a report was spread that Captain Courtenay, the British commander, had sent him a challenge. The circumstance which gave rise to the report was this: A pilot-boat had carried some provisions to the "Boston", and as the pilot was returning down the side of the ship to his boat, a young midshipman said to him, "give our compliments to Captain Bompard, and tell him we shall be glad of his company on this side the Hook." This lost nothing by the way in being communicated to the French commander, who was even told that it was a direct challenge from Captain Courtenay. It soon spread over New York, and the French faction began to feel ashamed that their ship should be blockaded, and thus challenged to come out, by an enemy so inferior in force. This was a spur to Bompard, who, having taken on board a number of American seamen that had offered themselves as volunteers, he promised to chastise the haughty foe. He accordingly went out, attended by a great number of vessels and boats crowded with Americans to witness the fight. The "Boston" soon descried the enemy, and was observed to alter her tacks and to prepare for battle, which soon began on the part of the French, while her antagonist waited her neared approach. The Gallic-Americans assembled on the occasion had already begun to persuade themselves that the little "Boston" was declining an engagement, when she opened a tremendous and incessant fire. I was informed, so rapid were her broadsides, that she gave three to two received from her enemy during the whole engagement. In the heat of battle the brave Captain Courtenay was killed, and the first lieutenant of the "Boston" badly wounded. The latter, having passed through the surgeon's hands, was brought on deck, and proved an able substitute for his deceased captain during the remainder of the bloody conflict. The mainmast of the "Ambuscade" was shot through, and could barely be supported by the shrouds -- a breeze would have carried it by the board. The "Boston" having lost her fore-top-mast, she put about to replace it, and soon after descrying the French fleet from St. Domingo, she made sail towards Halifax, while the "Ambuscade" declined following, happy, no doubt, in getting back. The Democrats set up the cry of victory, and they publicly rejoiced at what I thought a discomfiture. Next morning I mixed among a group going on board the "Ambuscade", and there, for the only time, saw the horrid issue of battle. The decks were still in parts covered with blood -- large clots lay here and there where the victim had expired. The mast, divested of splinters, I could have crept through; and her sides were perforated with balls. I shrunk from this scene of horror, though amongst the enemies of my native country. The wounded were landed, and sent to the hospital. I counted thirteen on pallets, and double that number less severely wounded. Nothing but commiseration resounded through the streets, while the ladies tore their chemises to bind up the wounds. Advertisements were actually issued for linen for that purpose, and surgeons and nurses repaired to the sick ward. The French officers would not acknowledge the amount of their slain. I calculate the proportion to the wounded must have been at least twenty. I afterwards went on board the "Jupiter", a line of battle ship, and one of the St. Domingo squadron. The sons of equality were a dirty ragged creww, and their ship was very filthy. I witnessed Bompard's triumphal landing the day after the engagement. He was hailed by the gaping infatuated mob with admiration, and received by a number of the higher order of Democrats with exultation. They feasted him, and gave entertainments in honour of his asserted victory. He was a very small elderly man, but dressed like a first-rate beau, and doubtless fancied himself upon this occasion six feet high! At this moment I verily believe the mob would have torn me piecemeal had I been pointed at as a stranger just arrived from England. I ground this supposition on the fact of a British lieutenant of the navy having been insulted the same day at the Tontine coffee-house; but he escaped farther injury by jumping over the iron railing in front of the house. The flags of the sister republics were entwined in the public room. Some gentleman secretly removed the French ensign, on which rewards were offered for a discovery of the offender, but he remained in secret.
Charles William Janson. The Stranger in America. London, 1807. pp. 428-31.
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