You are on page 1of 2

John Paul Jones and The Privateers

On Wednesday April 22, 1778 and around the same time that Flora Macdonald was being re-united with her husband,
John Paul Jones, the American privateer, landed at St. Mary’s Isle and raided Lord Selkirk’s house. Jones was on
familiar ground. He had been brought up on Selkirk’s estates where his father was a gardener. Two days later, off
Carrickfergus, Jones captured the 20-gun sloop H.M.S. “Drake”.

American privateers had already devastated Campbeltown’s trade. Only 94 ships had entered or left Campbeltown with
foreign cargoes in 1776 and by the following year, 1777, the town’s transatlantic trade had ceased altogether.

Though the whole point of Benjamin Franklin’s commissioning privateers was to capture British prisoners to be
exchanged for American prisoners, that aspect of their commission was to be largely ignored by the privateers who
were, quite simply, out to take prizes and make their fortunes.

Hearing quickly of these attacks, Campbeltown’s Town Council wasted no time in preparing defences and, on the
following Monday, they ordered “a good-going vessel” to patrol the waters off Sanda Island and three-men sentry
posts to be positioned on Sanda, at Corphin and on Davaar to observe signals from the patrol ship and one another to
alert the town to any danger.

In the event, aware of these preparations or not, John Paul Jones returned to Brest on May 8, 1778 without making
any attempt to attack Campbeltown.

The thought however was definitely in his mind for, on June 5, 1778, he had written down while at Passy, now part
of Paris, in which he had advised the American Plenipotentiaries and The French Ministry of Marine that “The Fishery
at Campbeltown is an object worthy of attention.”

Despite continuing to build up the town’s defences, nearly eighteen months were to pass before there was any real
cause for excitement in Campbeltown.

On August 24, 1779, appeared off the Kerry coast with a squadron of six ships - two frigates, one of 40 guns, the
other of 32-guns; a 12-gun brig and two cutters, one of 18 guns and the other of 12 guns.

This is the only occasion when he might have threatened Campbeltown for he sailed north and captured “The Betsy” off
Islay, sending her as a prize to Bergen. Fortunately for Campbeltown, he continued north and then engaged a British
squadron off Flamborough Head on September 23, 1779. Although he caused the British squadron’s 44-gun “Serapis”
and 24-gun “Countess of Scarborough” to surrender, Jones lost his own command, the “Bonhomme Richard” in the action
and he returned to Texel having captured some 500 British prisoners.

The danger from John Paul Jones might have passed but not yet the danger from other privateers for, in the spring of
1779, the Dublin revenue officers had captured a notorious smuggler, “The Favourite”, which lay under guard in
Dublin Harbour.

Her part-owner, Luke Ryan, had not been captured and he contrived to free his crew, led by the ship’s mate, one
Edward McCatter (or McCarter or even McArthur), a native of Cork, from prison, retake the ship and sail to France
where they changed the ship’s name to “Black Prince” and began life as an American privateer, ostensibly sailing with
an American captain but in reality run by themselves. McCatter and most of the crew came from The Port of Rush, just
to the north of Dublin - not to be confused with the town of Portrush.

Both before and after events, fishermen from Rush were invited to Campbeltown to teach the locals the art of lining
for cod and ling. No doubt the crew of Ryan and McCatter’s “Black Prince” were very familiar with the waters around
Kintyre - and Campbeltown itself - and on her fourth voyage, between September 4 and 24, 1779, they did indeed
appear in these local waters where they did some damage to the herring busses and too reportedly put ashore, most
likely in Islay, to demand water and provisions.

So successful were Ryan and McCatter that, eventually, Benjamin Franklin gave them a second commission, to be
commanded by Edward McCatter. This was the “Black Princess”, a 60-foot cutter with a 20-foot beam and a 65-man
crew. She was given 18 6-pounders, 2 stern-chase 9-pounders and 30 swivel guns and put to sea on December 21,
1779 in company with the “Black Prince”.

In Campbeltown, defensive preparations had been in abeyance since the alarm of September and it wasn’t till the
summer of 1780 that the batteries above the Red Quarry and at the foot of Limecraigs were nearing some kind of
completion though, even by June 29, 1780, when the “Black Princess” set sail from Britanny for The Bristol Channel
and The Irish Sea, the Campbeltown batteries still hadn’t any guns in position.

A week later, off The Isle of Man, the “Black Princess” came up with the 70-ton Campbeltown brig “John” bound for
Dublin with a cargo of coal. When McCattan’s men boarded her and demanded £400, her master, John McIsaac,
protested, the ship and her cargo weren’t worth even half that much. A loaded pistol point directly at his chest quickly
changed his mind !

On July 10, he pillaged the Campbeltown registered “Dove” between Cushendun and Kintyre but her master, Kenneth
Morrison, managed to sail her into the shelter of Sanda. On the same day too, the last we hear of McCatter in
Scottish waters, he also took another Campbeltown-registered ship, the “Sophia Auguste”, prize in the Sound of Islay
and her master, Alexander Mackinnon, reported her loss the following day.

McCatter might have departed but his colleage Luke Ryan, now in his new ship, the “Fearnot”, made two forays into
Scottish waters in 1780
Deprived of arms since the 1745 rebellion, Stornoway, unlike Campbeltown, was defenceless and, seizing the town,
Ryan made arrangements for a ransom and made off with fifteen of the local worthies as hostages.

Ryan’s final fling in Scottish waters was late 1780, when, on December 23, he was to seize the Islay packet, a brig.
The action was observed by John Campbell, master of the Campbeltown-registered sloop “Carleton” and, hearing that
Ryan was demanding a 900 guinea ransom for the brig, he passed on a message to two Oban-bound herring busses.

A message was immediately sent to Campbeltown where the frigate “Seaford” and two cutters, the “Hope” and the
“Ranger” were lying but ‘contrary winds’ put paid to any question of pursuing Ryan’s “Fearnot”.

A fiction, worthy of any pantomime script, grew up around the facts - The tale had it that ‘Campbell of Islay’, a
fighting man, an army major was aboard the Islay packet. He had been fighting for many years in India and had
married a sweet young lass and was bringing her back to Islay with all the jewels and spoils he had taken in his fightings,
the whole of his wealth was on board the packet.

Supposedly, when the packet was boarded, the major, with pistol in each hand, wanted to fight it out to the last with
“the pirate crew” but his pistols were to no avail against the raider’s guns and well-armed company. “Paul Jones”, for
the story was attributed to 1778 rather than its true date of 1780, had robbed the major of all his wealth and, after
drinking to the health of the gallant major and his lady, had half-an-hour later been “flying across the Atlantic and
never seen again on the Cantyre coast.

Supposedly too, Major Campbell landed in Islay a penniless man, despoiled of his hard-earned wealth but, as ‘Paul
Jones’ could not rob him of his land, he soon got together a second fortune and lived prosperously with his sweet
young wife ! Alas for romance - There was no ‘Campbell of Islay’ to fit the bill. One, Daniel, a bachelor, had died in
1777 and was succeeded by his brother Walter, who had married earlier, in 1768. A few days after the seizure of the
Islay packet, the American commissions to both the “Black Prince” and the “Black Princess” were withdrawn, though
they then continued to sail under French commissions.

In March 1781, the Campbeltown-registered sloop “Hope” fell victim to a French privateer, commanded by a Captain
Kelly, who lost her eight days later to a Guernsey privateer. The “Hope” was eventually restored to her owners.

In 1781, both Ryan and McCatter were caught and sentenced to be hung at Execution Dock in London, both were
reprieved and eventually pardoned. Ryan died a debtor in prison having incurred a medical bill of £100 for the
inoculation of three of his children. McCatter’s death is not recorded, seemingly he was exchanged to America.
Whether he was ever paid or not too remains something of a mystery for McCatter was entitled to prize money
amounting to nearly two million livres, more than any other privateer captain.

With the privateers out of the way, Campbeltown’s foreign trade slowly began to return. In 1782 and 1783 there was a
total of but 33 ships for the two years. Smuggling too became somewhat less risky and the twinkling lights from ‘The
Brownie’s Attic’ on Cara were once again to be seen and too to catch the attention of revenue cutters. In 1796, Donald
Marquis, Cara’s tacksman and owner of the “Beaufroy”, sailing with herring and white fish to Bergen and returning with
timber, found himself under “increased vigilance”, after the crew of the revenue cutter “Prince of Wales” recovered 18
casks of ‘foreign spirits’ hidden on Cara.

You might also like