Military Wiki
Capture of HMS Savage
Part of the American Revolutionary War
American privateers Edgar S Maclay.gif
American privateers during the Revolutionary War.
DateSeptember 6, 1781
Locationoff Charleston, South Carolina, Atlantic Ocean
Result United States victory
 United States of America  Kingdom of Great Britain
Commanders and leaders
Naval Jack of the United States.svg George Geddes Kingdom of Great Britain Charles Stirling
1 sloop-of-war 1 sloop-of war
Casualties and losses
11 killed
~30 wounded
1 sloop-of-war damaged
8 killed
26 wounded
1 sloop-of-war captured

The Capture of HMS Savage refers to a naval battle of the Revolutionary War involving the American privateer Congress and the British sloop-of-war HMS Savage. It occurred in September 1781 off South Carolina and is considered one of the hardest fought single ship actions of the war.[1]


By 1781 the smaller British vessels blockading Chesapeake Bay were raiding the American coast by means of boat expeditions. One commander involved in the operations was Captain Charles Stirling of the sloop Savage, armed with sixteen 6-pounders. Stirling is noted for having plundered Mount Vernon, the estate of General George Washington, who was the overall commander of the Continental Army and later the first American president. Shortly after, Captain Stirling sailed his ship south.

In the early morning of September 6, Savage was escorting a convoy when she encountered the sloop-of-war Congress, ten leagues from Charleston.[2] Congress was under the command of Captain George Geddes of Philadelphia, armed with twenty 12-pounders and four 6-pounders, with a complement of 215 officers and men. Stirling placed Savage between the merchant vessels and the stranger.[2]

When Stirling first saw the Congress he sailed towards her, in the hope that she was a privateer of twenty 9-pounder guns, that had been raiding in the area. However, when he got closer and saw that she was significantly stronger even than the privateer he though she might be, Stirling chose to attempt an escape.[3][Note 1] However, by 10:30 am the Americans came within range and opened fire with their bow chasers. By 11:00 Congress had closed the distance and her crew engaged with muskets and pistols to which the British replied with "energy". At this point Captain Geddes observed that his ship was faster than that of the enemy so he maneuvered ahead of Savage until almost abreast, in preparation for a broadside attack.[4]

A duel then commenced at extreme close range, during which both ships were heavily damaged. Sailors on both sides were also burned by the flashes of their enemy's cannon. The rigging of Congress was torn to shreds during the exchange which compelled the Americans to stand off for quick repairs. After doing so, the chase was resumed and the privateer was swiftly alongside the Savage again when another duel began.

For about an hour the Americans and British fought and by the end Savage was in ruins. The quarter deck and the forecastle had been completely cleared of resistance, the mizzenmast was blown away and the mainmast was nearly gone as well. Geddes felt this was an opportune time to board the enemy but just as he was moving his ship in, a boatswain appeared on the Savage's forecastle, waving his hat as a sign of surrender.

British forces suffered the loss of eight men killed and 34 wounded, including Captain Stirling; the Americans 11 killed and around 30 wounded.[3] In his letter reporting on the action, Captain Stirling noted that after he and his men became prisoners, the Americans had treated them "with great Humanity."[3]


Unfortunately for the Americans, they never made it back to port. The frigate HMS Solebay captured Savage on 12 September.[5] When she was captured, Savage had a prize crew of 30 men aboard her.[6] Maclay states that the same frigate captured Congress and recaptured Savage.[Note 2] (The London Gazette mentions the recapture of Savage, but not the capture of her captor Congress.)

See also


  1. Savage had a broadside of 48 pounds; Congress had a broadside of 132 pounds. (The privateer Stirling thought Congress was would have had a broadside of 90 pounds, or almost twice that of Savage.) Savage also had 90 fewer men on board than Congress.
  2. Maclay further states that Congress became the HMS Duchess of Cumberland, and on 19 September wrecked during the passage to Newfoundland where a prison ship was waiting to take on the American prisoners. Twenty men died in the incident, though the survivors eventually made it to Placentia, where the Americans were put aboard the ship sloop HMS Fairy and taken to Old Mill Prison in England.[7] This appears incorrect. The court martial record for her loss reports she sailed on 21 September from Placentia and was wrecked on 22 September.[2] The nautical distance between Charleston and Halifax, Nova Scotia, is such that a vessel sailing at a steady 10 knots, a fast pace for a sailing vessel, would take four and a half days, and Placentia lies beyond Halifax, making it extremely improbable that a vessel captured on 12 September at Charleston would be sailing again from Placentia on 21 September, let alone 19 September. Furthermore Duchess of Cumberland was a cutter (or sloop; accounts vary) of 125 tons burthen and 16 guns.[2] Lastly, early in his book, Maclay states that the Congress/Duchess of Cumberland was built in Beverley, Massachusetts;[8] Geddes's Congress was a Philadelphia privateer. She may have been a Congress, but if so, she may have been the Congress, of eighteen 9-pounders guns, and 120 men, that HMS Oiseaux captured sometime between 16 June and 2 July 1781.[9]


  • Hepper, David J. (1994). British Warship Losses in the Age of Sail, 1650-1859. Rotherfield: Jean Boudriot. ISBN 0-948864-30-3. 
  • Maclay, Edgar S. (1900). A history of American privateers. Sampson, Low, Marston & co.. 

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