Not dead yet: the curious case of the Speedwell, on the hunt for Americans, March 1812

A report from New York, March 31, 1812, published in Niles' Weekly Register, March-September 1812, Vol. II.

The Speedwell of Guernsey was a successful privateer, and caused the Americans much grief. In October 1778 the ship was mentioned in a letter by John Adams. Ironically, it had captured a Guernseyman working for the Americans, Captain Peter Collas 'of Boston', who was the son-in-law of Benjamin Franklin's favourite sister, Jane.

Captain Noble, of the ship Herald, from Portsmouth, England, has communicated to us the following intelligence:

The Privateer schooner Speedwell, Captain Hamilton, sailed from Guernsey the latter end of February for the Bay of Biscay, to cruise for Americans. The first night after sailing, a black man, an American, one of the crew, went in to the main hold and set the vessel on fire near the bulk head of the liquor room, which was not discovered until she was on fire below, when a man was ordered down to examine the cause. The moment he got into the hold, the black man attacked and wounded him severely, upon which he retreated on deck. The black man was armed with a large knife, a cutlass, and axe. The first lieutenant then went down, but soon returned severely wounded—as did three others after him. Finding the fire gain fast, and near the liquor and magazine, they cut scuttles in the deck, and threw their powder and liquors overboard. The black man was then discovered trying to scuttle the schooner; when the captain jumped down and fired at him, but without effect. The black man retreated under the forecastle deck and again began to cut a hole in her bottom. By this time the crew had extinguished the flames, and fired several shots at the black man, seven of which entered his body. At every wound he would say, 'Not dead yet', and continue cutting. They were obliged at last to scuttle the forecastle deck when they fired at and killed him, after he had wounded seven men and done so much damage as to oblige the privateer to return to Guernsey Roads, where she arrived on the first of March, her crew underwent a trial and she was again fitted out for a cruise. At Guernsey they were fitting out as privateers, two brigs, two schooners, two luggers and several cutters for the Bay of Biscay.