Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

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The Battle of Fayal

The Battle of Fayal happened on September 26 1814, at the neutral Portuguese colony of Fayal in the Azores. The British ship HMS Plantagenet commanded by Captain Robert Loyd, was sailing to the West Indies with the frigate HMS Rota and the brig-sloop HMS Carnation for the Louisiana Campaign. The three were cruising in Fayal Roads when they spotted the brig General Armstrong an American privateer. Captain Samuel Chester Reid commanded her. Captain Loyd sent a pinnace under Lieutenant Robert Faussett to ascertain the nationality of the ship in port. When the British came within gun range of the American vessel and requested that its identify itself, Captain Reid declared that he would fire if the British came any closer.

Lieutenant Faussett was unable to stop his boat in the rough tidewater and it drifted too close to the General Armstrong. The Americans opened fire and scored hits on the pinnace. Two men died and seven others wounded before the British ship was able to maneuver out of range. Carnation moved in and anchored in front of the American ship to negotiation for a solution to the problem. The discussions failed. HMS Carnation lowered four boats filled with heavily armed men and headed towards Captain Reid as he maneuvered his ship closer to shore. The first attack came in the morning. The Americans observed the incoming boats they maneuvered again to receive them. In the following skirmish, Carnation was kept out of range by enemy fire and the boats were repulsed with a loss estimated by Reid to be twenty dead and twenty wounded. One American was killed and another wounded.

The next attack came with twelve boats armed with carronades and filled with 180 marines and sailors from Plantagenet and Rota. The Carnation stopped out of gun range of the Americans. There the boats divided into three divisions for the attack. Lieutenant William Matterface commanded the boats and Carnation directed the covering fire. Loyd anchored Rota and Plantagenet a few miles away and they did not participate. The British headed forward, the boats advanced but accurate American fire and the current kept Carnation from closing the range and she was damaged. It took Lieutenant Matterface until the afternoon for his boats to reach General Armstrong. When the British arrived, a boarding was attempted but the American gunners sank two of the British boats before they could get close, captured two more and killed many of the boarders at point blank range. Lieutenant Matterface and several other officers were killed and no one of sufficient rank survived to lead the remaining British.

Altogether thirty-six sailors of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines were killed, another ninety-three were wounded. Two Americans were killed and seven wounded in total, including Reid who was hit with a musket ball. Reid's men fired nails, knife blades, brass buttons and other makeshift projectiles from their cannon, which reportedly caused severe pain to the surviving British. After being repulsed, the British slowly rowed back to their ships and it was early morning on September 27 when they made it back to British force. Captain Lloyd’s response to the defeat was to send Carnation back to destroy General Armstrong but when she arrived, American fire caused further damage so Carnation broke off the attack. A little later Carnation appeared again but Captain Reid had already chosen to scuttle his brig by firing one of his swivel guns straight through the hull. The vessel was boarded while it was sinking and the British set the sails on fire.

Reid and his crew escaped to the shore. The British wanted to land a detachment to search for the Americans but the Portuguese governor prevented them from doing this. Captain Reid and the crew of General Armstrong were credited with helping delay the British attack on New Orleans and when they returned to America, they were greeted as heroes.