Today, the Half Cent Coin remembers the bloody sea battle between the privateer Decatur and the HMS Dominica in the Atlantic ocean, southeast of Florida and northwest of Puerto Rico.
From Battles of the United States, By Sea and Land by Henry Barton Dawson, published in 1858:
August 5, 1813, The Capture of the Dominica
The enterprise and gallantry of the privateers which sailed from the several ports of the United States have been referred to in former chapters of this work; and the subject of this is a continuation of that series of exploits.
Among the vessels which were thus equipped and authorized to cruise against the enemy was the schooner Decatur, of Charleston, South Carolina, carrying six twelve-pound carronades, one long-eighteen, on a pivot, and one hundred and three men, Captain Dominique Diron, commanding.
She had been cruising in the track of the West India traders; and, on the fifth of August, she was in latitude 23° 4′ N., longitude, about 67° W., steering to the northward, under easy sail.
At half-past ten in the morning two sail were discovered from the masthead; and the schooner, tacking to the southward, immediately made chase.
Half an hour afterwards they were made out to be a ship and schooner, standing to the northward; and at half-past twelve the Decatur came abreast of the schooner, which showed British colors.
At one o’clock the Decatur wore round, still keeping to windward of the schooner; and half an hour afterwards the latter opened a fire, which inflicted no injury.
The Decatur’s crew were called to quarters; the guns and small-arms were loaded; the grapplings, swords, pikes, and other arms were got in readiness for boarding; the necessary ammunition, water, &c., were taken on deck; the hatches were fastened down; and every preparation was made for an engagement.
The plan of operations was to bear down on her opponent, to throw in a fire from all her guns and small arms, and, taking advantage of the smoke, to board.
With this design, at two o’clock, the Decatur wore, in order to pass under the schooner’s stern, and give her a raking fire; but this object was thwarted, by the enemy lufﬁng, and throwing in a full broadside, as the former came up, without doing any damage.
A cannonade, with the Decatur’s long gun, followed; and, the latter having hoisted American colors, at half-past two, the schooner appeared desirous of shaking off her antagonist.
To prevent this the Decatur hauled upon the larboard-tack, with the hope of bringing her bowsprit over the schooner’s stern; but this was prevented, and another broadside, which injured the Decatur’s sails and rigging, was given by the former, and answered with the long gun of the latter.
Thus the contest continued—the one attempting to run into and board her antagonist, the latter skillfully avoiding her, and keeping up a warm fire—until half-past three o’clock, when the bow sprit of the Decatur was run over the schooner’s stern,—her jib-boom piercing the mainsail of the latter,—and under “a terrible fire” from her guns and small-arms, the boarders, led by the first prize-master (Vincent Saﬁth) and the quarter-master (Thomas Wasborn), rushed to the schooner’s quarter-deck.
The crew of the schooner being unable to separate the vessels, a terrible scene of slaughter ensued on the schooner’s quarter-deck; and the vessels, meanwhile, gradually worked alongside of each other.
While thus situated Captain Diron ordered his entire crew to board; and, having abandoned their guns, the order was “executed with the promptness of lightning.”
The contest now became a close hand-to-hand engagement, and it was carried on with the most desperate energy.
Pistols, cutlasses, boarding-pikes, cold shot hurled by hand, and every other
conceivable means of offense and defense were resorted to by both the crews; and one of the bloodiest and most desperately contested engagements on record was carried on the schooner’s deck.
At length, the deck having been covered with the dead and wounded, the Captain and all the principal officers of the schooner having fallen, and the Decatur’s crew having overpowered their opponents, the colors of the schooner were struck by the victors, and the engagement ended.
The force of the Decatur has been already noticed; that of the schooner— which proved to be His Britannic Majesty’s schooner Dominica—was twelve twelve-pound carronades, two long-sixes, a thirty-two-pound carronade on a pivot, and a brass four-pound swivel, with a crew of seventy-seven men.
The loss of the former was three killed and fifteen wounded, that of the latter was Captain Barrette, her commander, Master Sackett, Purser Brown, Midshipmen Archer and Parry, and eight men, killed , Midshipman Nichols and forty-six men, wounded—leaving the surgeon, Midshipman Lindo, and ﬁfteen of her crew, alone, without having suffered injury.
It was said, by a contemporary writer, that “This engagement has been the most bloody, and the loss of the killed and wounded, on the part of the enemy, in proportion to the number engaged, perhaps the greatest of any action to be found in the records of naval warfare.”
The Half Cent Coin shows with an image of a seven-gun ship similar to that used by the privateers during the War of 1812.