Sunday, June 11, 2006

Cutters

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the Invasion of Ocracoke & Portsmouth in the War of 1812. I received this note from Jim Goodwin, model ship builder and maker of our ship's in bottles:

"Just read your May Newsletter about Ocracoke & the War of 1812. One point I think needs to be mended, and that is concerning the Revenue Cutter that left Portsmouth to warn New Bern about the British landing. Revenue Cutters were typically two-masted topsail schooners similar to Otway Burn’s Snap Dragon. Why they were called “cutters”, I do not know, and “cutter” in nautical terms implies a small, single mast vessel. This term has been confusing to some at times because of its varied definitions (don’t you love the English language!). The Revenue Service had specifics at that time which called for their cutters being about 80’ on deck with 6-10 guns. The vessel that Singleton refers to was the New Bern-built Mercury.

From Irving King’s The Coast Guard Under Sail, (1989), p.55:

'The Mercury (Captain William H. Wallace) made her mark in the war in quite a different fashion. Built at New Bern, NC, she sailed out of Ocracoke with a captain, three mates, and a crew of twenty-five. At about 9 o’clock on the evening of 11 July 1813, the Mercury appeared off Ocracoke Bar and anchored about a mile from the inlet. That night a fleet under Admiral Cockburn was discovered nearby and reported to Thomas Singleton, collector of customs at Portsmouth. Singleton packed the port’s money and customhouse bonds into a trunk, which he placed aboard the Mercury for safekeeping. As dawn broke, Capt. Wallace set sail. At about the same time the vessels of Cockburn’s fleet, consisting of one 74, three frigates, one brig, and three schooners, got under way. The Mercury cleared the wash a mile and a half ahead of the fleet, which captured the brig Anacosta of New York and the letter-of-marque schooner Atlas of Philadelphia. Several of Cockburn’s ships passed up the prizes for the cutter, because the admiral was anxious to stop her before she could carry word of his fleet to New Bern. After an eight-to-ten mile race through the sound, the Mercury made her escape by crowding on all sails and cutting away her long boat. Thus the cutter both saved the custom receipts and prevented Cockburn from proceeding to New Bern with his fleet'

"Another source I read states that Wallace also pitched the cannons in that chase.

"It is a marvelous tale of heroism and sailing skill. Also, C. S. Forester modeled his Hornblower character after Admiral Cockburn."

Many thanks to Jim for sharing his nautical knowledge with us.

You can read our latest newsletter here. It's the story of the Invasion of Ocracoke & Portsmouth in the War of 1812.
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