Roxana Lewis Dabney included in The Annals of the Dabney Family of Fayal (pp. 50-54) the official report of the Battle of Fayal that her grandfather, U.S. Consul John Bass Dabney, wrote to his superior, Secretary of State James Monroe. Original spellings, punctuations and abbreviations (some of which seem archaic by 21st century standards) have been preserved in the text below.
FAYAL, 5th October, 1814.
TO THE SECRETARY OF STATE
of the United States, Washington.
Sir: I have the honour to state to you that a most outrageous violation of the neutrality of this port, in utter contempt of the laws of civilized nations, has recently been committed here, by the commanders of his Britannic majesty’s ships Plantagenet, Rota and Carnation, against the American private armed brig “General Armstrong,” Samuel C. Reid commander, but I have great satisfaction in being able to add, that this occurrence terminated in one of the most brilliant actions on the part of Captain Reid, his brave officers and crew, that can be found on naval record.
The American brig came to anchor in this port in the afternoon of the twenty-sixth of September, and at sunset of the same day, the above-named ships suddenly appeared in these roads; it being nearly calm in the port, it was rather doubtful if the privateer could escape, if she got under way, and relying on the justice and good faith of the British captains, it was deemed most prudent to remain at anchor. A little after dusk Captain Reid, seeing some suspicious movements on the part of the British, began to warp his vessel close under the guns of the castle [fort], and while doing so, he was at about eight o’clock P.M. approached by four boats from the ships filled with armed men. After hailing them repeatedly and warning them to keep off, he ordered his men to open fire on them and killed and wounded several men. The boats returned the fire and killed one man and wounded the first lieutenant of the privateer, and returned to their ships; and as it was now bright moonlight, it was plainly perceived from the brig as well as from the shore, that a more formidable attack was premeditated. Soon after midnight, twelve or more large boats crowded with men from the ships and armed with carronades, swivels and blunderbusses, small arms &c. attacked the brig; a severe contest ensued which lasted about forty minutes, and ended in the total defeat and partial destruction of the boats, with a most unparalleled carnage on the part of the British. It is estimated by good judges that near four hundred men were in the boats when the attack commenced, and no doubt exists in the minds of the numerous spectators of the scene, that more than half of them were killed, or wounded; several boats were destroyed; two of them remained alongside of the brig literally loaded with their own dead. From these two boats only seventeen reached the shore alive; most of them were severely wounded. The whole of the following day the British were occupied in burying their dead; among them were two lieuts. And one midshipman of the Rota – the first Lt. of the Plantagenet, it is said, cannot survive his wounds, and many of the seamen who reached their ships were mortally wounded and have been dying daily. The British mortified at this signal and unexpected defeat, endeavor to conceal the extent of their loss; they admit however that they lost in killed, and those who have died since the engagement, upwards of 120 of the flower of their officers and men. The Captain of the Rota told me he lost 70 men from his ship. Two days after this affair took place the British sloops of war Thais and Calypso came into port, when Capt. Lloyd took them into requisition to carry home the wounded officers and seamen. They have sailed for England, one on the 2d. and the other on the 4th. inst.; each carried 25 badly wounded. Those who were slightly wounded, to the number, as I am informed, of about thirty remained on board of their respective ships and sailed last evening for Jamaica. Strict orders were given that the sloops of war should take no letters whatever to England, and those orders were rigidly adhered to.