in SGES Quarterly September 2004 Volume 45, No 191
SAMUEL ELBERT'S LETTER
In April 1778, while staging troops at Fort Howe on the Altamaha River in Georgia for an expedition against the British in East Florida, Colonel Samuel Elbert received intelligence that the sloop Rebecca and the brigantine Hinchinbrook, backbone of East Florida's coastal defense, were in the vicinity of Frederica on St. Simons. In addition to deterring invasion of East Florida by sea or waterway, the two ships had long terrorized American shipping along the coast.
Elbert quickly assembled a detachment of 3 field officers, 6 captains, 18 subalterns, 24 sergeants, 6 drummers, 2 fifers, 300 rank and file soldiers, and a detachment of artillery. Marching 12 miles to Darien, they embarked on the three galleys and a boat.
Unknown to Elbert, the British in East Florida were aware of the impending East Florida expedition and had sent the formidable man-of war frigate Galetea, the Rebecca, the Hinchinbrook, and the prize brigantine Hatter, a support vessel, to waylay at Frederica the galleys, which they expected would pass there ferrying troops to East Florida. The Galetea, much too large for the shallows of Frederica River, waited, along with the Hatter, in St. Simons Sound for the Rebecca and Hinchinbrook to flush the galleys out into the sound and within range of her big guns. The scenario did not work out as planned. When the galleys did arrive at Frederica the afternoon of April 18th, the were not passing through ferrying troops to East Florida. They came to do battle.
By the time they landed the troops and artillery at Pike's Bluff, a short distance up river from Frederica, the hour was too late to engage the Rebecca and Hinchinbrook, which lay off Frederica. During the evening, the Hinchinbrook sent a ship's boat out to warn the Galetea. The Galetea responded by sending the Hatter loaded with soldiers to assist the two British vessels.
The battle commenced at first light of the next morning, April 19th. The British ships, in maneuvering for battle position, ran aground in a shallow place in Frederica River the British called Raccoon Gut. They became sitting ducks to the galleys, who directed their fire at the three ships' masts to disable them, not sink them and block the river.
The letter Elbert wrote to General Howe in Savannah--reproduced below--vividly recounts the events of that day:
General, Frederica, April 19, 1778
I have the happiness to inform you that about 10 o'clock this forenoon, the Brigantine Hinchinbrooke, the Sloop Rebecca, and a prize brig, all struck the British Tyrant's colors and surrendered to the American arms. Having received intelligence that the above vessels were at this place, I put about three hundred men, by detachment from the troops under my command at Fort Howe, on board the three gallies—the Washington, Capt. Hardy; the Lee, Capt Braddock; and the Bulloch, Capt. Hatcher; and a detachment of artillery with a field piece, under Capt. Young, I put on board a boat. With this little army, we embarked at Darien, and last evening effected a landing at a bluff about a mile below the town; leaving Col. White on board the Lee, Capt. Melvin on board the Washington, and Lieut. Petty on board the Bulloch, each with a sufficient party of troops. Immediately on Landing, I dispatched Lieut. Col. Ray and Major Roberts, with about 100 men, who marched directly up to the town, and made prisoners three marines and two sailors belonging to the Hinchinbrooke. It being late, the gallies did not engage until this morning. You must imagine what my feelings were, to see our three little men of war going to the attack of these three vessels, who have spread terror on our coast, and who were drawn up in order of battle; but the weight of our metal soon damped the courage of these heroes, who soon took to their boats; and, as many as could, abandoned the vessels with everything on board, of which we immediately took possession. What is extraordinary, we have not one man hurt. Capt. Ellis [ of the Hinchinbrooke] is drowned, and Capt. Mowbry [of the Rebecca] made his escape. As soon as I see Col. White, who has not yet come to us with his prizes, I shall consult with him, the other three officers, and the commanding officers of the galleys, on the expediency of attacking the Galatea now lying off Jekyll. I send you this by Brigade Major Habersham, who will inform you of the other particulars. I am. &c.
Samuel Elbert, Col. Commandant
APRIL 19, 1778
As he wrote with flourishing stroke,
Hardee aboard the Washington,
None know how long St. Simons shook
Britannica may rule the wave,
©2004 J. G. (Jerry) Braddock Sr.,