sea captain’s art of the ruse – successful several times — Standing Liberty Gold Quarter Coin

Today, the Standing Liberty Gold Quarter Coin remembers when the General Pickering, a smaller vessel, captured the Golden Eagle on June 1, 1780.

While commanding the General Pickering, Jonathan Haraden used his skills as a seaman and his art of the ruse to overtake larger ships successfully.

From the British point of view in Privateers and Privateering, published in 1910, Commander E. P. Stratham of the Royal Navy wrote the following:


There was Jonathan Haraden, of Salem, for instance, conspicuous by his seamanlike skill and marvelous coolness under fire, as well as by his bold tactics in the presence of a superior force.

It is related that, upon a dark night in the Bay of Biscay, being then in command of the privateer General Pickering, of 180 tons and 16 guns, he came across the British privateer Golden Eagle, of 22 guns — as was afterwards discovered.

Haraden was not aware of her name and force when he sighted her — at no great distance, of course ; but, having neared her, as is stated, unobserved, he concluded that she was a vessel of superior force to his own.

In the words of the narrator, “having formed a fairly accurate idea of her force,” he resolved to have recourse to a ruse — it was a very foolhardy proceeding, but it was justified by success.

Running up alongside the English vessel, he hailed the captain while the two ships, at close quarters, plunged along together.

“This is an American frigate of the largest class ; if you don’t surrender immediately, I’ll blow you out of the water!”

Now, Haradan’s craft was of 180 tons, and an American frigate of the largest class at that time — the year 1780 — would be at least 800 tons; the two vessels were close together, and we have seen that the American captain had, some time previously, been able to estimate the size and probable strength of the other; so what was the use of shouting such a fable to the Britisher?

Any seaman of moderate experience would ridicule the idea of mistaking a vessel of 180 tons, close alongside, even at night, for a first- class frigate, with her comparatively large hull and immense, towering spars.

Some of the English privateer captains whom we have been discussing would have had a very short reply for Haraden — “Frigate, be d—d!” and a broadside ; and it was really very lucky for the American that he had dropped upon a “soft thing” in finding a British skipper so extremely unsophisticated as to be deceived for a moment.

However, the captain of the Golden Eagle chanced to be the one man in a thousand who would be so taken in, and he hauled down his colors without firing a shot!

Had he been a naval officer, he would have had to answer at a court-martial for his conduct, and it is impossible to imagine any punishment for such an offence, short of death.

However, nothing succeeds like success; Haraden — according to the story, as narrated by Mr. Maclay — made good his piece of  bounce,” and took possession ; and the most appropriate comment appears to be that each captain got what he deserved.

Shortly afterwards Captain Haraden engaged a privateer — the Achilles — of vastly superior force, off Bilbao, so close in shore that the Spaniards crowded the headlands in hundreds to see the fun.

Haraden, by superior seamanship, succeeded in beating off his big antagonist and in recovering the Golden Eagle, which the enemy had recaptured but could not hold, and which had on board an officer and prize crew from the Achilles.

So the balance was in the American’s favor.

An onlooker — one Robert Cowan — is reported to have said that the General Pickering looked like a long boat in comparison with the Achilles, and that “Haraden fought with a determination that seemed superhuman; and, although in the most exposed positions, where the shot flew around him, he was all the while as calm and steady as amid a shower of snowflakes.”

Another of Captain Haraden’s exploits was the capture of “a homeward-bound king’s packet from one of the West India islands,” under very dramatic circumstances, the American captain, his watch in one hand and a lighted match in the other, with only a single round of ammunition remaining, giving the battered Britisher five minutes in which to surrender.

But surely some less vague relation is due before such a story can be accepted — the name of the packet, her force, the date, latitude and longitude, and so forth.

However, Captain Haraden was, no doubt, a fair specimen of a very fine class — the Salem skippers — and Americans have every cause for being proud of him.


Another book, A History of American Privateers by Edgar Stanton Maclay, published in 1900, devoted a chapter to the successful exploits of Jonathan Haraden.

The Standing Liberty Gold Quarter Coin shows with an image of a privateer ship, circa early 1800s.

Standing Liberty Gold Quarter Coin