Revolutionary War Historical Article

The Last Naval Battle of the American Revolution in American Waters

by Lindsay Cook Brock, National Trustee, Florida Society of the Sons of the American Revolution

Editor's Note: Reprinted in Part from the SAR Magazine, Spring, 2008. Used by Permission.

 

On Saturday March 8, 2008, the Florida Society of the Sons of the American Revolution held its annual celebration of the "Last Naval Battle of the American Revolution" at the facilities of the Canaveral Port Authority in Cape Canaveral.

2008 marked the 225th anniversary of this historic naval battle fought in American waters south of Cape Canaveral.

The battle strategy began on March 9, 1783, when the Alliance, led by Capt. John Barry, and the Due de Lauzun, under command of Capt. John Green, divided their precious cargo of $72,000 Spanish silver dollars and other specie that were badly needed by the Continental Congress in Philadelphia.

Off the coast of what is today Fort Pierce they completed the transfer and headed northward along the Florida coast.

At this same time, the British ships Alarm, a 32-gun frigate commanded by Capt. Charles Cotton; Sybil, 28-gun frigate led by Capt. James Vashon; and Tobago, 18-gun sloop-of-war with Capt. George Martin at the helm, met off Cape Canaveral and began cruising southward, looking for the American ships.

The British ships were spotted by Barry on the morning of March 10, 1783. Barry decided to head southwest for the protection of the Spanish fleet, which he knew was sailing for a raid on Jamaica.

As they tried to escape, the slower ship, the Due de Lauzun, lagged behind. Barry slowed his ship for the Due de Lauzun to come alongside and advised Green to jettison his cannon to lighten his ship.

A fourth ship appeared on the horizon and the British ships shifted their positions, one breaking off from the pursuit.

Barry decided that the fourth ship was an ally, so he made the daring move to engage the one British ship, Sybil, which was closing in, and thus buy sufficient time for the Due de Lauzun to escape to safety. Barry deliberately placed his ship between the Due de Lauzun and the oncoming Sybil. The Sybil continued firing her cannon and the Alliance took several shots. One smashed into the captain's cabin, killing a master's mate and wounding several others.

Barry left the quarter deck and personally walked from cannon to cannon encouraging and cautioning his men to not fire until he gave the order himself. He wanted to lure the enemy in as close as possible, "half a pistol range." The Alliance took a full broadside from the Sybil and still did not fire her cannon.

At the last moment, Barry ordered the main topsail raised to mast to position the Alliance directly abreast of the Sybil. At the order from Barry the full fury of a broadside from his ship was unleashed upon the Sybil. The British guns went silent after 40 minutes of close fighting; the Sybil lost two sails and had considerable damage to her hull. The Sybil quickly broke off from the fight and fled back to the other British vessels. Her casualties were reported to range up to 37 killed and 40 wounded.

Thanks to the courage and skill of Barry, both American ships completed their mission and on March 20, 1783, the Alliance sailed into New Port, R. I., abandoning the plan to return to Philadelphia because of the strong presence of a British patrol.

Thus, the last naval battle of the Revolutionary War was fought and won off the coast of Florida just south of Cape Canaveral ---sealing another American naval victory.

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