Westward Expansion and the War of 1812, 1803-1820

Author: William Orme  | Date: August 19, 1812

How the "Guerriere" Was Outfought

I COMMANDED the American brig Betsey, in the year 1812, and was returning home from Naples, Italy, to Boston. When near the western edge of the Grand Bank of Newfoundland, on the 10th of August, 18’ 12, I fell in with the British frigate Guerriere, Captain Dacres, and was captured by him. Myself and a boy were taken on board of the frigate; the remainder of my officers and men were left in the Betsey, and sent into Halifax, N. S., as a prize to the Guerriere.

On the 19th of the same month, the wind being fresh from the northward, the Guerriere was under double-reefed topsails during all the forenoon of this day. At 2 P.M. we discovered a large sail to windward, bearing about north from us. We soon made her out to be a frigate. She was steering off from the wind, with her head to the southwest, evidently with the intention of cutting us off as soon as possible.

Signals were soon made by the Guerriere, but as they were not answered, the conclusion of course was, that she was either a French or an American frigate. Captain Dacres appeared anxious to ascertain her character, and after looking at her for that purpose, handed me his spy-glass, requesting me to give him my opinion of the stranger. I soon saw from the peculiarity of her sails, and from her general appearance, that she was, without doubt, an American frigate, and communicated the same to Captain Dacres. He immediately replied, that he thought she came down too boldly for an American, but soon after added, "The better he behaves, the more honor we shall gain by taking him."

The two ships were rapidly approaching each other, when the Guerriere backed her maintopsail, and waited for her opponent to come down, and commence the action. He then set an English flag at each masthead, beat to quarters, and made ready for the fight. When the strange frigate came down to within two or three miles distance, he hauled upon the wind, took in all his light sails, reefed his topsails, and deliberately prepared for action. It was now about five o’clock in the afternoon, when he filled away and ran down for the Guerriere. At this moment, Captain Dacres politely said to me: "Captain Orme, as I suppose you do not wish to fight against your own countrymen, you are at liberty to go below the water-line." It was not long after this before I retired from the quarter-deck to the cockpit.

Of course I saw no more of the action until the firing ceased, but I heard and felt much of its effects; for soon after I left the deck, the firing commenced on board the Guerriere, and was kept up almost constantly until about six o’clock, when I heard a tremendous explosion from the opposing frigate. The effect of her shot seemed to make the Guerriere reel and tremble as though she had received the shock of an earthquake. Immediately after this, I heard a tremendous crash on deck, and was told the mizzenmast was shot away. In a few moments afterward the cockpit was filled with wounded men.

At about half-past six o’clock in the evening, after the firing had ceased, I went on deck, and there beheld a scene which it would be difficult to describe; all the Guerriere’s masts were shot away, and as she had no sails to steady her, she lay rolling like a log in the trough of the sea. The decks were covered with blood, the gun tackles were not made fast, and several of the guns got loose, and were surging to and fro from one side to the other.

Some of the petty officers and seamen, after the action, got liquor, and were intoxicated; and what with the groans of the wounded, the noise and confusion of the enraged survivors on board of the ill-fated ship, rendered the whole scene fearful beyond description.


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Chicago: William Orme, "How the Guerriere Was Outfought," Westward Expansion and the War of 1812, 1803-1820 in America, Vol.5, Pp.157-159 Original Sources, accessed December 9, 2022, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=QYRIEK9VBY5SA7E.

MLA: Orme, William. "How the "Guerriere" Was Outfought." Westward Expansion and the War of 1812, 1803-1820, in America, Vol.5, Pp.157-159, Original Sources. 9 Dec. 2022. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=QYRIEK9VBY5SA7E.

Harvard: Orme, W, 'How the "Guerriere" Was Outfought' in Westward Expansion and the War of 1812, 1803-1820. cited in , America, Vol.5, Pp.157-159. Original Sources, retrieved 9 December 2022, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=QYRIEK9VBY5SA7E.