Action of 15 September 1782

Last updated
Action of 15 September 1782
Part of the American Revolutionary War
Date15 September 1782
Result British victory
Union flag 1606 (Kings Colors).svg  Great Britain Royal Standard of the King of France.svg  France
Commanders and leaders
Naval Ensign of Great Britain (1707-1800).svg Captain George Elphinstone Flag of the Kingdom of France (1814-1830).svg Latouche Tréville   (POW)
4 ships 3 ships
Casualties and losses
Light 1 ship captured,
600 prisoners

The action of 15 September 1782 was a naval action in the mouth of the Delaware Bay in which four Royal Naval vessels under the command of George Elphinstone pursued and attacked three French warships that included two frigates under the command of Comte de la Touche Tréville. The French 38-gun frigate Aigle was grounded and captured along with the Comte de la Touche.



In early 1782, Captain Latouche-Tréville assumed command of Aigle, which, along with the frigate Gloire, ferried funds and equipment for the fleet of Admiral Vaudreil. On 5 September 1782 Aigle and Gloire encountered the recently acquired British ship Hector, a former French ship of the line that had been severely damaged and then captured during the Battle of the Saintes. Hector managed to escape, but she was damaged further and later sank in the 1782 Central Atlantic hurricane.

Aigle and Gloire chased the British sloop HMS Bonetta of 16 guns, Lieutenant Richard Goodwin Keats through the night of 11 September 1782, but she evaded her pursuers. The next morning the French were seen by the brig HMS Racoon14), Lieutenant Nagle who had departed company from the squadron off the Delaware River and who unfortunately failed to identify them as enemy ships until too late. After receiving raking fire he was forced to surrender. Keats re-joined the squadron and reported his encounter the previous night. [1]

Latouche hoisted signals requesting a pilot, but none was forthcoming. At 2100, the division dropped anchor and Gloire sent a boat to Lewistown to request a pilot, but the boat did not return. [2]

On 13 September the small British squadron consisting of HMS Vestal, HMS Bonetta, and the prize Sophie, [Note 1] led by Captain George Elphinstone in HMS Warwick, and HMS Lion sighted the three vessels anchored in the Delaware River off Cape Henlopen Light. The British set out in chase; Captain Elphinstone, in the 50-gun ship Warwick, dispatched the lighter vessels 28-gun frigate Vestal, the sloop Bonetta and the Sophie under command of Richard Keats as they were to traverse shallow waters.


Chased by the British division, Latouche attempted to escape into shallow waters without a pilot, but then discovered that Racoon had a pilot, offering him 500 Louis d'or to lead the frigates. However, when she entered the safe channel, Aigle found her interdicted by the British, and diverted into a secondary channel, which she found to be barred by a sandbank. The British dropped anchor, waiting for the high tide. Meanwhile, Gloire's boat finally returned with a pilot, who informed Latouche that his situation was hopeless. Latouche then started evacuating his guests and funds from the frigate all through the afternoon and night. [Note 2] Two British boats attempted to cut away Gloire's cutter, and Aigle's longboat had to intervene with musket fire. [2]

Around 1000 on the 14th, the British sent a cartel to offer an exchange of prisoners. Latouche agreed and released Racoon's captain, Lieutenant Nagle. Soon after, British boats started advancing, and Latouche attempted to retreat deeper into the channel to hopefully lighten his frigates enough so she could sail over the sandbank. [3] Both Gloire and Aigle ran aground, but Gloire managed to cross, while Aigle settled. Racoon crossed the sandbank with no difficulty.

Gloire succeeded in getting so far up the river that she could not be attacked with any prospect of success, while the British ships had to traverse the shallows without a pilot on board. [4] Keats took upon himself responsibility for navigating the shallows of the Delaware and continued the chase for two whole days as they eased over banks. Aigle, which now had most of Racoon's crew grounded, allowing the Vestal and Bonetta, drawing less water to gain positions to attack the French frigate. The Vestal ran aground on the starboard quarter of the Aigle, the Bonetta anchoring within 200 yards of her larboard quarter, while the Sophie anchored under her stern.

Latouche had some of Aigle's guns thrown overboard and had cut away her masts in an attempt to refloat her, but to no avail. With the descending tide, Aigle settled on the side, rendering her remaining artillery useless. Latouche then started evacuating the frigate and had holes bored in her hull, after which he remained with her and struck her colours on 15 September. [5] [Note 3] Despite the attempts to scuttle Aigle, the British were able to refloat her and took her into service under her own name. Gloire and Racoon escaped. [6] [7]


Along with the Aigle, the British captured all of Racoon's crew. Aigle had had on board some senior French officers, who escaped ashore, as did the now-wealthy pilot. The French officers who escaped included Comte de Rochambeau (commander of the French army), Vicomte de Laval, Duke Laurun, Viscount de Fleury, and some others. In addition, they took most of the treasure the ships were carrying. [8]

The British were able to refloat Aigle and took her into service as HMS Aigle . Comte de La Touche, along with several noblemen that included two of Marquis de Lafayette's family, as well 600 sailors and troops, were captured by the crew of the Royal Naval vessels, helped by a number of British troops who had arrived very late in the action. Comte de La Touche-Tréville remained a prisoner for the rest of the war's duration. Captain Elphinstone allowed Latouche and his mistress to reunite. [5] The Sophie was taken into the navy, but sold two years later.

Notes, citations, and references


  1. the same ship that carried Latouche's mistress. [3]
  2. The French officers who escaped included "Baron Viomini" [sic] (commander of the French army), Mons. La Va de Montmerancy, Duke Laurun, Viscount de Fleury, and some others. They took most of the treasure she was carrying, as well.
  3. Latouche was freed when the peace was signed in 1783.


  1. Hannah. p. 20.{{cite book}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  2. 1 2 Monaque (2000), p. 94.
  3. 1 2 Monaque (2000), p. 96.
  4. "No. 12388". The London Gazette . 12 November 1782. pp. 3–4.
  5. 1 2 Monaque (2000), p. 98.
  6. "No. 12388". The London Gazette . 12 November 1782. pp. 3–4.
  7. Hannah. p. 21.{{cite book}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  8. The Remembrancer, Or Impartial Repository of Public Events, Volume 14


Related Research Articles

George Elphinstone, 1st Viscount Keith 18/19th-century British naval officer

Admiral George Keith Elphinstone, 1st Viscount Keith was a British naval officer active throughout the Napoleonic Wars.

Louis-René Levassor de Latouche Tréville

Louis-René Madelaine Le Vassor, comte de La Touche-Tréville was a French vice-admiral. He fought in the American War of Independence and became a prominent figure of the French Revolutionary Wars and of the Napoleonic wars.

French ship <i>Formidable</i> (1795) Ship of the line of the French Navy

Formidable was an 80-gun Tonnant-class ship of the line of the French Navy, laid down in August 1794 and given the name Formidable, on 5 October, but renamed Figuieres on 4 December 1794, although the name was restored to Formidable on 31 May 1795 after she was launched at Toulon on 17 March 1795. She participated in the Battle of Algeciras, the Battle of Cape Finisterre and several other actions before the British captured her at the Battle of Cape Ortegal on 4 November 1805. The British took her into service as HMS Brave. She was sold to be broken up in April 1816.

Battle of Cape Henry 1781 naval battle of the American Revolutionary War

The Battle of Cape Henry was a naval battle in the American War of Independence which took place near the mouth of Chesapeake Bay on 16 March 1781 between a British squadron led by Vice Admiral Mariot Arbuthnot and a French fleet under Admiral Charles René Dominique Sochet, Chevalier Destouches. Destouches, based in Newport, Rhode Island, had sailed for the Chesapeake as part of a joint operation with the Continental Army to oppose the British army of Brigadier General Benedict Arnold that was active in Virginia.

HMS <i>Ardent</i> (1764) Ship of the line of the Royal Navy

HMS Ardent was a 64-gun third-rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy. She was built by contract at Blaydes Yard in Hull according to a design by Sir Thomas Slade, and launched on 13 August 1764 as the first ship of the Ardent-class. She had a somewhat turbulent career, being captured by the French in the action of 17 August 1779, and then re-captured by Britain in 1782.

HMS Argonaut was a 64-gun third rate ship of the line, in Royal Navy service during the French Revolutionary Wars and the American Revolution. Launched in 1779 as the French ship Jason, she was captured by the British in 1782 and commissioned by them in the same year. After active service against the French, she was converted to a hospital ship in 1804 and permanently moored off Chatham Dockyard. Argonaut was removed from navy service in 1828 and broken up in 1831.

French frigate <i>Surveillante</i> (1778)

Surveillante was an Iphigénie-class 32-gun frigate of the French Navy. She took part in the Naval operations in the American Revolutionary War, where she became famous for her battle with HMS Quebec; in 1783, she brought the news that the war was over to America. She later took part in the French Revolutionary Wars, and was eventually scuttled during the Expédition d'Irlande after sustaining severe damage in a storm. The wreck was found in 1979 and is now a memorial.

French frigate <i>Bellone</i> (1778) Iphigénie-class frigate of the French Navy

Bellone was an Iphigénie-class 32-gun frigate of the French Navy on plans by Léon-Michel Guignace. She took part in the American Revolutionary War in the Indian Ocean with the squadron under Suffren, and later in the French Revolutionary Wars. She was present at the Glorious First of June.

Six ships of the Royal Navy have borne the name HMS Racoon, after the raccoon:

French frigate <i>Hermione</i> (1779)

Hermione was a 32-gun Concorde-class frigate of the French Navy. Designed for speed, she was one of the first ships of the French Navy to receive a copper sheathing. At the beginning of the Anglo-French War of 1778, she patrolled in the Bay of Biscay, escorting convoys and chasing privateers. She became famous when she ferried General La Fayette to the United States in 1780 in support of the rebels in the American Revolutionary War. She took an incidental role in the Battle of Cape Henry on 16 March 1781, and a major one in the action of 21 July 1781.

HMS Ariel was a 20-gun Sphinx-class sixth-rate post ship of the Royal Navy. The French captured her in 1779, and she served during the American Revolutionary War for them, and later for the Americans, before reverting to French control. Her French crew scuttled Ariel in 1793 to prevent the British from recapturing her.

Action of 21 July 1781

The action of 21 July 1781 was a naval skirmish off the harbour of Spanish River, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, during the War of American Independence. Two light frigates of the French Navy, captained by La Pérouse and Latouche Tréville, engaged a convoy of 18 British ships and their Royal Navy escorts. The French captured two of the British escorts while the remainder of the British convoy escaped.

Pierre André de Suffren French Navy officer

Admiral comte Pierre André de Suffren de Saint Tropez, bailli de Suffren, Château de Saint-Cannat) was a French Navy officer and admiral. Beginning his career during the War of the Austrian Succession, he fought in the Seven Years' War, where he was taken prisoner at the Battle of Lagos. Promoted to captain in 1772, he was one of the aids of Admiral d'Estaing during the Naval battles of the American Revolutionary War, notably taking part in the Siege of Savannah.

French frigate <i>Aigle</i> (1782)

The French frigate Aigle was launched in 1780 as a privateer. The French Navy purchased her in 1782, but the British captured her that same year and took her into the Royal Navy as the 38-gun fifth rate HMS Aigle. During the French Revolutionary Wars she served primarily in the Mediterranean, where she was wrecked in 1798.

The action of 5 September 1782 took place during the American War of Independence between two French Navy frigates, Aigle and Gloire, and a lone British 74-gun ship of the line HMS Hector. In a two-day battle, the two frigates severely damaged Hector and only failed to capture her when a British squadron appeared on the horizon. The French withdrew, but Hector foundered a few days later after the 1782 Central Atlantic hurricane.

The action of 7 June 1780 took place during the American War of Independence between the frigates Hermione and HMS Iris. The ships exchanged fire for one hour and a half before parting. The battle resumed in written form when Hawker published his account of the battle in a newspaper, which Latouche contested heatedly.

The action of 2 September 1781 was a minor naval engagement fought off Cape Ann during the American War of Independence; HMS Chatham captured the French frigate Magicienne after a fight of a few hours.

HMS Racoon was a 14-gun two-masted brig-sloop of the Royal Navy, purchased for service during the American Revolutionary War. She was commissioned in August 1782 under the command of Lieutenant Edmund Nagle, but was captured and destroyed four weeks later by the French frigate Aigle.

French frigate <i>Amazone</i> (1778)

Amazone was a 32-gun Iphigénie-class frigate of the French Navy. She was the second ship of the French Navy to receive a copper sheathing in 1778. She served in the War of American Independence under Captain Lapérouse, and later in the French Revolutionary Wars.

French frigate <i>Astrée</i> (1780)

Astrée was a 32-gun Nymphe-class frigate of the French Navy. She served in the War of American Independence under Captain Lapérouse, notably taking part in the action of 21 July 1781 and the Hudson Bay expedition. During the French Revolutionary Wars, she took part in the Atlantic campaign of May 1794. Astrée was wrecked in 1796