Large Frigate L’Indien/South Carolina 1781

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    Frigate South Carolina 1781/French designed L’Indien

    As a native and resident of Charleston, South Carolina, I have had a long interest in the Frigate South Carolina of the American Revolution.

    My quest is to find more illustrations and any models of the ship. I have posted here some of the best. The first is of the L’Indien (her French name) from Souvenirs de Marine, the second is a crude sketch done by a crew member many years after her demise, the 3rd is a finer sketch of a ship very similar to the South Carolina (it may or may not be her), same with the 4th, the last is of an English Indiaman that could be her also but not sure. If anyone knows more about her, please post it. There are lots of contemporary conjectural illustrations of the ship but many of those are questionable.

    For background the ship was designed in France by Louis Boux as a large frigate for the purpose of escorting merchant ships on long voyages to the far east. To deceive British spies she was built in Amsterdam starting in 1777 ostensibly for King Louis XVI using the Duke of Luxembourg as a cover.

    In the meantime the State of South Carolina sent Commodore Alexander Gillon (a Dutch native) to Europe to purchase warships for the state’s fledgling navy with credit up to 500,000 livres (a medium frigate at the time ran 100,000). Several parties were competing to obtain the ship including John Paul Jones. Gillon managed to lease L’Indien from the Duke who got possession to keep the British from seizing it in exchange for a quarter of her prize money and 300,000 livres.

    The ship was launched by 1780 and Gillon renamed her South Carolina and spent the next year fitting out with Gillon borrowing right and left to pay her bills. The Dutch creditors got so angry at the delayed payments that Gillon had to move the incomplete ship to the outer channels and finish her there. Finally in August 1781 she got underway in a violent storm that almost wrecked her but fortunately future Commodore John Barry was on board and came on deck to save the ship. The ship rounded the Scottish coast, stopped briefly in Spain and then made for Havana as South Carolina by now was occupied by British forces. In Havana Gillon allowed the ship to be flagship of the Spanish invasion of the Bahamas in April 1782 in exchange for refitting the ship from her voyage.

    The South Carolina next made her way to Philadelphia where she received a lot of interest as she was the largest warship in American service. Shipbuilder Joshua Humphreys came aboard and noted her size and heavy armament and left a sketch of her midship section in his workbook now in the Philadelphia Maritime Museum.

    With creditors assembling to seize the ship Gillon left by land for South Carolina with Capt. Joyner taking the ship to sea in December. British spies had alerted naval forces in New York and 3 frigates awaited the South Carolina off the Delaware Capes. After an 18 hour running battle the ship struck her colors and was taken to New York where she was surveyed which showed that her heavy Swedish 36 pounder guns had so strained her hull that she was sold as a merchant ship. Nothing more is known of her fate except that her ship’s bell was found in a lumber mill in India during World War II and is now in the State Museum in Columbia. This would make sense if she became an Indiaman after the war.

    The Chevalier de Luxembourg pressed his claims against the state which were not settled until 1855 for $65,000, a mere fraction of the ship’s true cost at the time. I would be greatful for any additional information on period illustrations of the ship and photos of fine models of the ship.

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