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Letter from Captain Nicholson: Account of the attack on New-Providence



Before this comes to hand, I make no doubt you will have heard of our arrival in this port, and of our engagement with the Glasgow man-of-war; but as I intend giving you an account of our cruise, must beg your patience for a while respecting that matter. The 17th of February, left Cape-Henlopen, and after a very pleasant passage of fifteen days, came to anchor off the Island of Abaca, about seventeen leagues distance from New-Providence, where we brought to several small vessels belonging to Providence, which gave the Commodore an opportunity of inquiring into the state of the Island, as to its defence; and found it very well supplied with warlike stores, and an object worthy of our attention, as it was not sufficiently manned to give us opposition. The vessels we then had in our possession were detained as transports, to carry the Marines over to Providence. We embarked, and made sail on Saturday evening, March 2, and on Sunday, at two o' clock, landed all our men (two hundred and seventy in number) under my command at the east end of the Island, at a place called New-Guinea. The inhabitants were very much alarmed at our appearance, and supposed us to be Spaniards, but were soon undeceived after our landing. Just as I had formed the men, I received a message from the Governour, desiring to know what our intentions were. I sent him for answer, to take possession of all the warlike stores on the Island belonging to the Crown, but had no design of touching the property or hurting the persons of any of the inhabitants, unless in our defence. As soon as the messenger was gone, I marched forward to take possession of Fort Montague, a fortification built of stone, about half way between our landing place and the town. As we approached the fort, (within about a mile, having a deep cove to go round, with a prodigious thicket on one side and the water on the other, entirely open to their view,) they fired three twelve-pound shot, which made us halt, and consult what was best to be done; we then thought it more prudent to send a flag to let them know what our designs were in coming there. We soon received an answer, letting us know that it was by the Governour' s orders that they fired. They spiked up the cannon and abandoned the fort, and retired to the fort within the town. I then marched and took possession of it, in which were found seventeen pieces of cannon, (thirty-two, eighteen, and twelve pounders,) and not much damaged; they were spiked with nails and spikes, which are easily taken out. I thought it necessary to stay all night, and refresh my men, who were fatigued, being on board the small vessels, not having a convenience either to sleep or cook in. The next morning by daylight we marched forward to the town, to take possession of the Governour' s house, which stands on an eminence, with two four-pounders, which commands the garrison and town. On our march I met an express from the Governour, to the same purport as the first. I sent him the same answer as before. The messenger then told me I might march into the town, and if I thought proper, into the fort, without interruption; on which I marched into town. I then drafted a guard, and went up to the Governour' s, and demanded the keys of the


fort, which were given to me immediately, and then took possession of Fort Nassau. In it there were forty cannon mounted, and well located for our reception, with round, langridge, and canister shot. All this was accomplished without firing a single shot from our side. We found in this fort a great quantity of shot and shells, with fifteen brass mortars; but the grand article, powder, the Governour sent off the night before, viz: one hundred and fifty casks. Immediately after we were in the fort, I sent for the Governour, and made him prisoner until the Commodore arrived, which was soon after. We remained at Providence till we got all the stores on board the fleet, and then took our departure, the 17th of March. We have brought with us from Providence the Governour, his Secretary, and one Mr˙ Irving, Receiver-General of his Majesty' s Customs, who belongs to South- Carolina.

On the 4th instant, we made the east end of Long-Island, and discovered the Columbus (who had parted with us the night before) to windward, with a schooner of six guns, one of Captain Wallace' s tenders, which she had taken that morning. We made Block-Island in the afternoon, when the Commodore ordered the brig to stand in for Rhode-Island, to see if any more of the fleet were out, and join us the next morning; which was accordingly done, but without seeing any vessel except a New-York sloop, which Captain Biddle brought to the fleet, and after her papers were examined, she was released. At daylight we discovered a brigantine to leeward; we made sail, and soon came up with her, and, after a few shots, took her. She proved to be a bomb brigantine belonging to Wallace' s fleet, mounting eight guns and two howitzers, commanded by one Snead, a Lieutenant in the Navy. We continued to cruise all day within sight of Block-Island, and in the evening took a brigantine and sloop from New-York, and have brought them into port with us, not being satisfied as to their clearances. At sunset we were twelve sail in all, and had a very pleasant evening. At twelve o' clock went to bed, and at half past one was awakened by the cry of "all hands to quarters." We were soon ready for action; the main body of my company, with my First Lieutenant, was placed in the barge on the main-deck, the remaining part, with my Second Lieutenant and myself, on the quarter-deck. We soon discovered a large ship standing directly for us. The Cabot was foremost of the fleet, our ship close after, not more than one hundred yards behind, but to windward withal. When the brigantine came close up, she was hailed by the ship, which we then learned was the Glasgow man-of-war; the brigantine immediately fired her broadside, and instantly received a return of twofold, which, owing to the weight of metal, damaged her so much in her hull and rigging, as obliged her to retire for a while to refit. Our ship then came up, (not having it in our power to fire a shot before without hurting the brigantine,) and engaged her side by side for three glasses, as hot as possibly could be on both sides. The first broadside she fired, my Second Lieutenant fell dead close by my side; he was shot by a musket-ball through the head. In him I have lost a worthy officer, sincere friend and companion, that was beloved by all the ship' s company. Unfortunately for us, our tiller-rope and main-brace were shot away soon after the firing began, which caused the ship to broach to, and gave the enemy an opportunity of raking fore and aft. The battle continued till daylight, at which time the Glasgow made all the sail she could crowd, and stood in for Newport; and our rigging was so much hurt, that we could not make sail in time to come up with her again. At sunrise, the Commodore made the signal to give over the chase, he not thinking it prudent to risk our prizes near the land, lest the whole fleet should come out of the harbour. The Glasgow continued firing signal guns the whole day after.

In the action I lost three of my people out of twelve that were on the quarter-deck, and two others, who were in the barge, were slightly wounded. Captain Hopkins, of the Cabot, is wounded, his Master killed, and the Second Lieutenant of Marines wounded; and since dead. Upon the whole, it was a very hot engagement, in which our ship and the brig were much damaged; but we have this consolation, that the enemy is full as badly off; for by several expresses from Rhode-Island, we are assured that it was with much difficulty she got into port, both pumps going. We are now, thank God, in harbour, and shall stay some time to refit.