Opinion

Confederate pirates learn not to mess with a Maine woman

Believing she was threatened with rape, a Maine woman turned the tables on her Confederate captors one dark night in the Caribbean in early January 1863.

That month found the 233-ton brig J.P. Ellicott (out of Bucksport) sailing from Boston to Cienfuegos in Cuba to pick up cargo. Aboard the two-masted ship were some crewmen; its master, Captain A. (Alfred) Devereaux*, his wife Augusta**, and the first mate and his wife.

Alfred would have been 26 or 27, Augusta 22 or 23. Despite extensive research, I cannot identify the first mate and his wife.

As the J.P. Ellicott sailed at latitude 28° 12″ north and longitude 68° 55″ west on Saturday, January 10, 1863, Devereaux noticed an American-flagged schooner approaching his ship. “Fore-and-aft rigged,” the 150-ton schooner “carries gaff-topsails and staysails, and is pretty well found aloft,” the Boston Traveler reported weeks later.

The schooner was “almost flat upon the floor, has sharp ends, and off the wind sails very fast, but close-hauled, having little depth of keel, and not being coppered, she is not weatherly,” the paper noted.

A Confederate flag suddenly replaced the American flag on the approaching schooner. Both ships hove to as the Confederate captain hailed the J.P. Ellicott;“stand by for boarding” would adequately paraphrase what the Southern sailor hollered.

Devereaux quickly noticed the enemy ship’s armament: a “rifled 34-pounder” mounted “amidships” and two 12-pounders, mounted “one on each side,” according to the Boston Traveler.

A boat filled with armed sailors pulled from the Confederate ship to the J.P. Ellicott. An officer accompanied the boarding party; he probably was not a Confederate Navy lieutenant named Gray, later identified as the officer who boarded the Massachusetts schooner Hanover off Haiti on January 30.

Described by the Hanover’s master as “a mere boy, a Southerner … who appeared to be ill at ease at the business in which he was engaged; he was quite courteous,” Gray definitely would not have precipitated what happened next aboard the J.P. Ellicott.

The Fiddlehead Focus / St. John Valley Times staff are pleased to feature content from our sister company, Bangor Daily News. To read the rest of “Confederate pirates learn not to mess with a Maine woman,” an article by contributing Bangor Daily News staff writer Brian Swartz, please follow this link to the BDN online.

 

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