Action of 21 July 1781
The Action of 21 July 1781 was a naval skirmish off the harbor of Spanish River, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia (present-day Sydney, Nova Scotia), during the American Revolution. Two French Navy frigates, led by Admiral Latouche Tréville and La Pérouse, engaged a convoy of 18 British ships and their escorts from the Royal Navy. The two French frigates captured two of the British escorts while the remainder of the British convoy escaped.
The convoy, which consisted of eighteen ships, including nine coal-transporting and four supply ships, was bound for Spanish River on Cape Breton Island to pick up coal for delivery to Halifax. The escorting ships were the frigate Charlestown (28); the sloops Allegiance (24) and Vulture (20); an armed transport Vernon (14); and another small armed ship Jack (14).
Two French frigates Astrée (38), commanded by La Pérouse, and Hermione (34), commanded by Latouche Tréville, attacked the convoy. The French severely damaged Charlestown, which lost its mainmast and a number of its officers, including Captain Francis Evans. The French also significantly damaged Jack, which also lost its captain, and subsequently struck her colors. The engagement ended at nightfall. Captain Rupert George of Vulture led the damaged escorts into a safe harbor. Six French and seventeen British sailors were killed.
While the British escort was severely damaged, the convoy was still able to pick up a load of coal at Spanish River and deliver it to Halifax. The French captured the British ship Thorn off Halifax Harbor, along with three merchantmen, which they brought back to Boston.
On October 6, Jack was taken to Halifax and later released under the British command of R. P. Tonge (son of W. Tonge), who, after a brief skirmish with two American privateers in Canso, took American prisoners to Quebec. The following year, the British recaptured Jack in the Naval battle off Halifax.
The French commanders would go on to achieve further acclaim and recognition for their performance. Latouche Tréville became an admiral and was named a hero of the Napoleonic war. La Pérouse later became a famous explorer.
American privateers attacked British mining on Cape Breton throughout the war.
- (French: Combat naval en vue de Louisbourg, or Combat naval à la hauteur de Louisbourg)
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