Action of 29 July 1782

The action of 29 July 1782 was a minor naval engagement that took place towards the end of the American War of Independence. The British Royal Navy frigate HMS Santa Margarita captured the 36-gun French frigate Amazone off Cape Henry, but the next day the squadron under Louis-Philippe de Vaudreuil intervened and recaptured the frigate.[5][6]

Action of 2 September 1781
Part of the American Revolutionary War
Combat de la fregate Amazone et du HMS Santa Margarita juillet 1782.jpg
The capture of the Amazone by HMS Santa Margarita, 29 July 1782 by Robert Dodd
Date29 July 1782
Result Inconclusive
 Great Britain  France
Commanders and leaders
Kingdom of Great Britain Elliot Salter Kingdom of France Louis-Philippe de Vaudreuil
Kingdom of France Lieutenant Louis-Charles de Montguyot de Cambronne [1][2]  
1 heavy Frigate 1 light frigate
13 ships
Casualties and losses
5 killed & 17 wounded[3]

1 frigate captured but later abandoned

70 killed & 80 wounded[4]
Action Between the Amazone and HMS Santa Margarita: Cutting the Prize Adrift; by Robert Dodd


HMS Santa Margarita had previously been a Spanish-built frigate of 36 guns that had been captured in 1779 by the Royal Navy off Lisbon. She was then commissioned in March 1781 - with 255 men under Captain Elliot Salter, who sailed her to North America where she formed part of George Johnstone's squadron in June 1781.[7]

On 29 July 1782 off Cape Henry at the entrance to Chesapeake Bay, Salter came in sight of eight large warships out of thirteen under French Admiral Louis-Philippe de Vaudreuil. Vaudreuil having saved most of the French Navy's ships in the disastrous defeat at the Battle of the Saintes in the Caribbean Sea three months before, took command of French fleet in America having reorganised at Boston.[4]

The main armament of Santa Margarita consisted in 28 18-pounder long guns, while Amazone was a light frigate carrying only 26 12-pounder long guns. [8]


Santa Margarita was initially chased by Amazone commanded by Lieutenant Montguyot, which he could not engage for fear of the French squadron coming up in her support. By 3pm however the larger ships were no longer in sight and, at the request of his crew, he tacked to fight the French frigate.[3]

At about 5pm both ships closed to within pistol shot and opened fire. At that range they fought for an hour and a quarter; the British having the heavier broadsides inflicted severe damage on Amazone. With several guns dismounted, 4 feet (1.2 m) of water in the hold, her masts and rigging badly damaged: the main and mizzen masts fell over board. With heavy casualties, her captain Montguyot dead and her first officer wounded,[6] Amazone then struck her colours.[4]

Santa Margarita took her prize in tow while Salter’s crew worked through the night to repair Amazone's damage sufficiently to sail her away. The French had lost heavily losing 70 killed with another 70 to 80 more wounded and the rest taken prisoner. By comparison the British had five dead, seventeen wounded and had sustained only minimal damage with her rigging taking the worst of it.[3] Salter put a lieutenant and 68 men - a third of his company - aboard Amazone and took her in tow. A start was made on transferring her surviving crew to Santa Margarita as prisoners – a process hindered by the boats of both ships having been destroyed or damaged in the fighting. By dawn however de Vaudreuil's thirteen ships was back in sight and Salter saw no option but to retrieve his men and abandon Amazone.[4] Salter's preference would have been to burn her but large numbers of French prisoners, many of them wounded were still on Amazone. By now faced with an overwhelming force Santa Margarita once again made use of her speed and tried to escape. Salter and his crew were chased by the French fleet for 48 hours and finally eluded them by his pilot's skill in running the ship amid the shoals at the mouth of the Delaware River, where the French could not follow.[5]


Later in the year the young Horatio Nelson (then captain of HMS Albemarle) cited in a letter 'the dressing which Captain Salter gave the French frigate Amazone, for daring to leave the line-of-battle ships' in relation to the reluctance of another of de Vaudreuil's to follow that example and engage him off Boston.[9] Salter in his official report gave high praise of the French crew and her captain, Lieutenant Montguyot, who was killed early in the action and his replacement and second in command the Chevalier de L'Épine.[6][10]

Reporting on the action, Admiral Vaudreuil called the attention of Navy Minister Castrie upon the advantages of carronades and of friction primers over slow matches. [11]

The naval action was the inspiration for English artist Robert Dodd to do a pair of paintings (possibly commissioned by Salter himself) to commemorate the action. Both were exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1784, and are on display at the National Maritime Museum.

Notes, citations, and referencesEdit



  1. ^ Lacour-Gayet (1910), p. 417.
  2. ^ Anonymous (1789), p. 92.
  3. ^ a b c The European Magazine: And London Review, Volume 2. Philological Society of London. 1783. p. 314.
  4. ^ a b c d Clowes, William Laird; Markham, Clements Robert (1966). The Royal Navy: A History from the Earliest Times to the Present, Volume 4. AMS Press. p. 83.
  5. ^ a b Barringer, Fordham & Quilley pp.149-50
  6. ^ a b c Troude (1867), p. 203.
  7. ^ Winfield p. 213
  8. ^ Troude (1867), p. 204.
  9. ^ Nicolas, Nicholas Harris, ed. (1844). The dispatches and letters of Vice Admiral Nelson. p. 62.
  10. ^ The London Magazine, Or, Gentleman's Monthly Intelligencer, Volume 51. R. Baldwin. 1782. p. 443.
  11. ^ Troude (1867), p. 205.


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