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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORY AND HERITAGE COMMAND
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Boston

A city and seaport located in eastern Massachusetts on Massachusetts Bay at the mouths of the Charles and Mystic Rivers. It is the capital of Massachusetts and the seat of government for Suffolk County. One of the oldest cities in the United States, Boston was the site of historical events far too numerous to mention here.


III

(Fr: t. 530; lbp. 134'; b. 34'6" (moulded); dph. 11'6"; cpl. 220; a. 32 guns (12-pdrs. and 9-pdrs.))

The third Boston--a frigate constructed by Edmund Hartt at Boston, Mass., with funds donated by the people of that city--was launched on 20 May 1799 and was placed in commission in July 1799 sometime on or before the 24th, Capt. George Little in command.


Boston set sail from Boston, Mass., on 24 July. On her way south to the West Indies, she spent several weeks patrolling the American coasts searching for French warships and privateers then conducting an undeclared naval war against American maritime commerce. She then took station off the northern coast of Saint Dominque (now Haiti) both to search for and capture French ships and to protect American ships trading with that former French dependency. On 7 November, Boston and Norfolk encountered a sloop--apparently French--and a barge--apparently pirate--and made prizes of both. On 1 December, while cruising in company with General Greene, the warship took part in the capture of the brig Flying Fish. Later that day, the two ships retook the schooner Weymouth which had been seized by a French privateer about two weeks earlier.


For the next few months, Boston continued to cruise along the northern and western coasts of Hispaniola. Sometime in January 1800, she caught the French letter of marque Les Deux Anges and sent her to the United States to be condemned by a prize court. She apparently made no captures between late January and early March, though she served as escort for American merchantmen sailing through the area.


In March 1800, however, things livened up. On the 4th, Boston fell in with the French sloop La Fortune bound for Saint Jago (now Santiago de Cuba). The Frenchman was relieved of a quantity of money and then allowed to proceed on her way. On the afternoon of 11 March, she was cruising off Gonaives when a flotilla of nine barges loaded with armed men started out for her. Boston kept her gunports closed until they were within range. When she ran out her guns, the barges began to retreat in haste. The American frigate opened fire and destroyed five of them while the other four made good their escape. Her next capture came on 26 March when she encountered the French sloop L'Heureux carrying a cargo of coffee. Sloop and cargo were disposed of by sale at Port Republican in Saint Dominique.


Records of her service between late March and early June do not exist; however, on 9 June, she encountered an eight-gun schooner off Gonaives. The stranger hoisted the Danish flag, but Boston took her anyway, suspecting her Danish character to be a ruse de guerre. On 21 June, while cruising in company with Augusta, Boston participated in the capture of a French brig bound from Aux Cayes to Saint Jago with a cargo of sugar. Four days later, Boston headed back to the United States.


She remained in Boston until mid-September at which time she returned to sea to search for several French cruisers that had been plaguing commerce along the United States' coast. For about a month, she cruised the Atlantic, spoke to a number of ships, but sighted no French cruisers. Then, at about 6:00 on the morning of 12 October, Boston spied a schooner and a ship sailing together some miles distant to the west northwest. The American frigate laid on sail and gave chase. After about two hours running, she began to gain on the two strangers, and they parted company. Not being able to overhaul both, Boston chose to pursue the larger quarry. By noon, she had closed the ship by about half the original distance. Four hours later, she cleared for action. At 4:30 that afternoon, Boston hoisted her colors and fired a shot from her bow gun. The Frenchman ran up his flag, fired a shot in return, and shortened sail for action.


The two ships exchanged broadsides for about 40 minutes before the sails and rigging of both were so tattered that neither could work ship well enough to keep up the action. They drifted apart, and Boston's crew began repairs to her rigging. At 9:00 that night the action recommenced. After an hour and 20 minutes of cannonading, Le Berceau struck her colors. Soon thereafter, her fore and main topmasts went by the board. A report of the action by the Frenchman's second lieutenant differs to quite an extent from the American account with regard to the duration of the battle and the time of Le Berceau's surrender. He placed the surrender time at around 2:00 on the afternoon of the 13th rather than late in the night of the 12th. There is no way to determine which, if either, version is true, but the fact remains that Boston overwhelmed Le Berceau.


The American frigate took her prize in tow and headed back to her home port. En route, Boston's ship's company made temporary repairs to both ships. On one occasion the towline parted, and Boston lost sight of Le Berceau for two days. They rejoined company and, with the tow restored, continued on to Boston where they arrived on 17 November 1800. Though condemned as a legitimate prize of war and sold to the United States government, Le Berceau was returned to France under the terms of the treaty concluded about two weeks before her capture.


Boston remained at her namesake home port undergoing repairs through the spring and summer of 1801. On 6 September, she put to sea for New York to embark Mr. Livingston, the American minister to France, and his party for the passage to France. She arrived in New York on the 14th, embarked the minister and his party, and set sail for France on 28 October. She disembarked the minister at L'Orient late in November or early in December and returned to sea to join Commodore Richard Dale's squadron in the Mediterranean Sea. Sailing by way of Malaga, Spain, she stopped off at Toulon, France, from 10 to 19 January 1802 and then headed for her blockade station off Tripoli.


Boston stayed off Tripoli for most of her tour of duty in the Mediterranean. She did, however, leave station for periodic provisioning visits to Malta or to escort an occasional convoy. She appears to have made no captures and only to have engaged in minor skirmishes with the Tripolitan pirates. The only recorded clash between Boston and the corsairs occurred on 16 May 1802. She chased a small vessel into shoal water where she could not follow. When the American frigate hauled off into deeper water, six Tripolitan gunboats came out of the harbor to assist the grounded vessel. Though initially thwarted by Boston and a Swedish frigate, they were able to attempt their mission anew when the Swede bore off to concentrate on the shore batteries, and Boston gave chase to a stranger. The vessel proved to be another Swedish man-of-war, and Boston returned her attention to the gunboats. She ran inshore as close as she could and loosed four broadsides on the gunboats, inflicting some damage and casualties on the Tripolitans while receiving little or none in return.


She remained on duty in the Mediterranean until the latter part of 1802. At that time, she headed back to the United States, arriving at Washington, D.C., on 27 October. She was laid up in ordinary at the Washington Navy Yard and remained in ordinary--gradually deteriorating--until August 1814 when she was destroyed in the fire that gutted the navy yard just before the British entered Washington.

Raymond A. Mann


23 December 2005