Apr 15, 2021 - Sale 2564

Sale 2564 - Lot 154

Price Realized: $ 10,000
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 3,000 - $ 4,000
(AMERICAN REVOLUTION--1781.) Account of a French ship's naval battle with the British off Pensacola. 13 manuscript pages plus 3 blanks, 12 1/2 x 8 1/4 inches, on 4 folding sheets, headed "Extrait du Journal de la Licorne depuis le 16 jusqu'au 19 avril 1781," stitched with ribbon; minimal wear. Np, covering events of 16 to 19 April 1781

Additional Details

In 1780, the French navy captured the HMS Unicorn, and renamed it "La Licorne" (French for Unicorn). This French-language account is transcribed from the apparently unpublished journal of the Licorne's captain. It begins with the Licorne being separated from its squadron off the southern coast of the Florida panhandle near Cape San Blas on 16 April 1781. Three days later a ship was spotted which was assumed to be one of the lost squadron, so Licorne closed in. It soon became apparent that this ship was an enemy British ship, but as it appeared inferior in strength, the Licorne continued to draw nearer, "having been well prepared for combat for a long time." Unleashing his first broadside, the captain was disconcerted to see that it had minimal effect, and that the British frigate had a surprising number of men aboard with superior arms. The Licorne attempted some clever maneuvers, but soon found most of its masts shot off. The captain concluded that "there was nothing left for us to do but continue such an unequal and disadvantageous fight to save the honor of the flag as long as possible." Soon enough his ship was completely helpless and he decided that "it was much better for the interest of the state to save the brave people who remained to me than to sacrifice them to a certain and inevitable loss." After two hours of combat he lowered the flag to bring about a cease-fire. Two minutes later, though, one of his cannons accidentally discharged, which brought a fresh onslaught from the Resource. Upon re-surrendering and being rowed to the Resource, the French captain was surprised to learn that his opposing captain had been Bartholomew Rowley (1764-1811), a youth of only 16 years old who was descended from a long noble lineage of naval commanders. The narrative ended with praise for Rowley's treatment of his captives, and of the heroism of his own officers in a hopeless cause. La Licorne was taken back into the British Navy, becoming once again the HMS Unicorn.

Captain Rowley wrote his own short account of this battle in a 2 June letter to Sir Peter Parker which was published in the London Gazette of 31 July 1781 and innumerable other sources, which has been the primary (if not only) source of information on this naval battle. Rowley named "the Chevalier de St. Ture" as the commander of la Licorne, who would be the author of this account. As we can find no other record of St. Ture, we suspect the name may be incorrect. In any event, this French account far surpasses Rowley's account in detail. It is accompanied by a modern full typed transcription and English translation, from which all quotes here have been abstracted.