The Action of 29 July 1782 was a minor naval engagement that took place towards the end of the American War of Independence. The Royal Navy frigate HMS Santa Margarita captured the French frigate - the 36-gun Amazone off Cape Henry, but the next day the squadron under Louis-Philippe de Vaudreuil intervened and recaptured the frigate.
HMS Santa Margarita a Spanish-built prize frigates of 36 guns captured in 1779. She was commissioned in March 1781 - with 255 men under Captain Elliot Salter, who sailed her to North America where she formed part of George Johnstone's squadron in June 1781.
On 29 July 1782 off Cape Henry at the entrance to Chesapeake Bay, Salter came in sight of eight large warships out of thirteen under French Admiral Louis-Philippe de Vaudreuil. Vaudreuil having saved most of the French Navy's ships in the disastrous defeat at the Battle of the Saintes in the Caribbean three months before, took command of French fleet in America having reorganised in Boston.
Santa Margarita was initially chased by the Amazone commanded by the Vicomte de Montguioté, which he could not engage for fear of the French squadron coming up in her support. By 3pm however the bigger ships were no longer in sight and, at the request of his crew, he tacked to fight the French frigate.
At about 5pm both ships closed to within pistol shot and opened fire. At that range they fought for an hour and a quarter; the British having the heavier broadsides inflicted severe damage on the Amazone. With several guns dismounted, four feet of water in the hold, her masts and rigging badly damaged: the main and mizzen masts fell over board. With heavy casualties and her captain Montguioté dead the Amazone then struck her colours.
Santa Margarita took her prize in tow while Salter's crew worked through the night to repair Amazone’s damage sufficiently to sail her away. The French had lost heavily losing 70 killed with another 70 to 80 more wounded and the rest taken prisoner. By comparison the British had five dead, seventeen wounded and had sustained only minimal damage with her rigging taking the worst of it. Salter put a lieutenant and 68 men - a third of his company - aboard he Amazone and took her in tow. A start was made on transferring her surviving crew to Santa Margarita as prisoners – a process hindered by the boats of both ships having been destroyed or damaged in the fighting. By dawn however de Vaudreuil's thirteen ships was back in sight and Salter saw no option but to retrieve his men and abandon Amazone. Salter's preference would have been to burn her but large numbers of French prisoners, many of them wounded were still on the Amazone. By now faced with an overwhelming force Santa Margarita once again made use of her speed and tried to escape. Salter and his crew were chased by the French fleet for 48 hours and finally eluded them by his pilot's skill in running the ship amid the shoals at the mouth of the Delaware River, where the French could not follow.
Later in the year the young Horatio Nelson (then captain of the HMS Albemarle) cited in a letter 'the dressing which Captain Salter gave the French frigate Amazone, for daring to leave the line-of-battle ships' in relation to the reluctance of another of de Vaudreuil's to follow that example and engage him off Boston. Salter in his official report gave high praise of the French crew and her captain Vicomte de Montguioté who was killed early in the action and his replacement and second in command the Chevalier de Lepine.
The naval action was the inspiration for English artist Robert Dodd to do a pair of paintings (possibly commissioned by Salter himself) to commemorate the action. Both were exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1784, and are on display at the National Maritime Museum.
- The European Magazine: And London Review, Volume 2. Philological Society of London. 1783. pp. 314. https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=5SwoAAAAYAAJ&dq=.
- Clowes, William Laird; Markham, Clements Robert (1966). The Royal Navy: A History from the Earliest Times to the Present, Volume 4. AMS Press. p. 83. https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Js4gAAAAMAAJ&q=.
- Barringer, Fordham & Quilley pp.149-50
- Winfield p. 213
- Nicolas, Nicholas Harris, ed (1844). The dispatches and letters of Vice Admiral Nelson. p. 62. https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=FP8GAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA66&dq=.
- The London Magazine, Or, Gentleman's Monthly Intelligencer, Volume 51. R. Baldwin. 1782. p. 443. https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=n_YRAAAAYAAJ&dq=.
- Fordham, Douglas; Barringer, T. J; Quilley, Geoff, eds (2007). Art and the British Empire. Manchester University Press. ISBN 9780719073922.
- Winfield, Rif (2007). British Warships of the Age of Sail 1714–1792: Design, Construction, Careers and Fates. Seaforth. ISBN 9781783469260.
- External sites
- "The capture of the 'Amazone' by HM ship 'Santa Margarita', 29 July 1782". http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/11941.html.
- "HMS Santa Margarita and L’Amazone 1782". https://dawlishchronicles.com/hms-santa-margarita-and-lamazone-1782/.
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