Battle off Halifax (1782)

Battle off Halifax
Part of the American Revolutionary War
Battle off Halifax by Robert Dodd[1]
Date28–29 May 1782
Location44°18′N 63°24′W / 44.3°N 63.4°W / 44.3; -63.4
Result British victory
 United States  Great Britain
Commanders and leaders
David Ropes  Lieutenant John Crymes[2][3][4][5]
1 privateer 1 brig
Casualties and losses
7 killed
13 wounded
1 privateer captured
3 killed
5 wounded

The Battle off Halifax took place on 28 May 1782 during the American Revolutionary War. It involved the American privateer Jack and the 14-gun Royal Naval brig HMS Observer off Halifax, Nova Scotia. Captain David Ropes commanded Jack, and Lieutenant John Crymes commanded Observer.[6][7][8][9][10] The battle was "a long and severe engagement" in which Captain David Ropes was killed.[11][12]


During the American Revolution, Americans regularly attacked Nova Scotia by land and sea. American privateers devastated the maritime economy by raiding many of the coastal communities,[13] such as the numerous raids on Liverpool and on Annapolis Royal.[14]

On the 7th of July, 1777, off the coast of Halifax, Sir George Collier, in command of HMS Rainbow, with a force of two British frigates and a brig, opened fire on and captured John Manley, the second in command of the Continental Navy, and the 13-gun frigate Hancock (229 men) off the coast of Nova Scotia. After a running battle lasting 39 hours, the British succeeded in capturing both Hancock and Boston, and retaking Fox (60 men). Collier returned to Halifax on 11 July with his prizes. Manley was transported to New York and imprisoned until March 1778.[15][16][17]

The engagement between Jack and Observer was one of several in the region. On 10 July 1780, the British 16-gun privateer brig Resolution under the command of Thomas Ross engaged the American 22-gun privateer Viper (130 men) off Halifax at Sambro Light. In what one observer described as "one of the bloodiest battles in the history of privateering," the two privateers began a "severe engagement"[18] during which both pounded each other with cannon fire for about 90 minutes.[19][20] The engagement resulted in the surrender of the British ship and the death of up to 18 British and 33 American sailors.[21]

Jack herself had been involved in a previous naval engagement. Jack (or Saucy Jack) was originally a Massachusetts privateer commissioned in September 1779. After three successful cruises in which she captured a number of prizes, HMS Pandora and HMS Danae captured her in July 1780 in the St. Lawrence River. The British took Jack into the Quebec Provincial Marine, though she was commissioned out of Nova Scotia. She then served as a patrol vessel for the fisheries and the St. Lawrence River. In an engagement off Cape Breton with two French frigates at Spanish River, near Cape Breton Island in 1781,[22] she was captured by the French. They took Jack back to Boston, where her previous owners purchased her and sent her to sea again as a privateer.

Observer was herself a former Massachusetts privateer, originally built as merchantman Amsterdam, which HMS Amphitrite captured on 19 October 1781.[23] The British sent Amsterdam into Halifax to be condemned as a prize, where the Royal Navy bought her.


The British ship Observer was returning to Halifax, having rescued ten crew members of HMS Blonde stranded on Seal Island.[24] On 28 May 1782, as Observer arrived at the Sambro Island Light near the mouth of Halifax Harbour, Jack approached her. When Jack discovered her quarry was a British naval vessel, the Americans tried to escape.

Observer chased Jack for two hours before catching her. The ships were evenly matched. The British immediately killed the American captain David Ropes as a result of the cannon fire. Both ships had numerous holes shot through their sails, and the British sailors attempted to climb the rigging of their ship in an effort to board the American privateer. The Americans repulsed this initial boarding attempt, but the British were ultimately successful. Jack struck her colours on the afternoon of 29 May.[25]


American privateers remained a threat to Nova Scotian ports for the rest of the war. The following month, after a failed attempt to raid Chester, Nova Scotia, American privateers struck again in the raid on Lunenburg in 1782.


  1. ^ The United States navy, 1776 to 1815,depicted in an exhibition of prints of American naval engagements and American naval commanders held at the Grolier club November 19, 1942 to January 17, 1943. New York. 22 August 2021.
  2. ^ "American vessels captured by the British during the revolution and war of 1812". Salem, Mass., The Essex institute. 1911.
  3. ^ Became Lieutenant in 1779
  4. ^ "John Crymes".
  5. ^ Also sailed the Viper.
  6. ^ "A list of the flag officers & other commissioned officers of His Majesty's fleet 1792 + 1799".
  7. ^ David Ropes
  8. ^ Ropes from Salem
  9. ^ p. 353
  10. ^ p. 186
  11. ^ Salem Gazette, 11, 18 July 1782; Boston Post, 15 June 1782; and Hunt's Magazine, February 1857, as cited by Gardner W. Allen, A Naval History of the American Revolution (Boston, 1913), Chapter 17.
  12. ^ Nova Scotia Historical Society
  13. ^ Benjamin Franklin also engaged France in the war, which meant that many of the privateers were also from France.
  14. ^ Roger Marsters (2004). Bold Privateers: Terror, Plunder and Profit on Canada's Atlantic Coast, pp. 87–89
  15. ^ Syrett, David (1989). The Royal Navy in American Waters 1775–1783. United Kingdom: Gower. ISBN 0859678067. pp. 71–72
  16. ^ Collier to Germain, 13 July 1777: PRO, CO 217/53, 161-163
  17. ^ "No. 11798". The London Gazette. 19 August 1777. p. 2.
  18. ^ Simeon Perkins Diary. Thursday, 13 July 1780
  19. ^ Bandits and Privateers: Canada in the Age of Gunpowder
  20. ^ Murdoch, Beamish (1866). A History of Nova-Scotia, Or Acadie. Vol. II. Halifax: J. Barnes. p. 608.
  21. ^ There are varying reports on the number of casualties. Another source indicates that the Americans reported 3 died (British reported 30 Americans died), while British reported 8 killed and 10 wounded.
  22. ^ Thomas B. Akins (1895) History of Halifax. Dartmouth: Brook House Press, p. 82.
  23. ^ "No. 12618". The London Gazette. 1 February 1785. p. 66.
  24. ^ Gwyn, p. 75
  25. ^ Salem Gazette, 11 July 18, 1782; Boston Post, 15 June 1782, and Hunt's Magazine, February 1857, as cited by Gardner W. Allen, A Naval History of the American Revolution (Boston, 1913), Chapter 17.


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Primary sources

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