Lucky little brig — Half Cent Coin

Today, the Half Cent Coin remembers the naval battle between the Enterprise and the Boxer on September 5, 1813.

From The Pictorial Field-book of the War of 1812 by Benson John Lossing, published in 1869:


Better was the fortune of the ” lucky” Enterprise. She cruised for a long time off the New England coast, the terror of British provincial privateers, under Johnston Blakeley, until he was promoted to the command of the new sloop of war Wasp, when Lieutenant William Burrows became her commander.

She continued on her old cruising ground, watching for the enemy from Cape Ann to the Bay of Fundy.

On the morning of the 1st of September the Enterprise sailed from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and chased a schooner, suspected of being a British privateer, into Portland Harbor on the morning of the 3d.

The next day she put to sea, steering eastward in quest of British cruisers reported to be near Manhegan Island, off Lincoln County, Maine.

When approaching Pemaquid Point on the 5th, Burrows discovered in a bay what he supposed to be a vessel of war getting under way.

He was not mistaken. She was a British brig.

On observing the Enterprise she displayed four British ensigns, fired several guns as signals for boats that had been sent ashore to return, and, crowding canvas, bore down gallantly for the Enterprise.

Burrows accepted the challenge, cleared his ship for action, and after getting at proper distance from land to have ample sea-room for conflict, he shortened sail and edged toward the stranger.

It was now three o’clock in the afternoon. At twenty minutes past three the brigs closed within half pistol-shot, and both vessels opened fire at the same time.

The wind was light, there was little sea, and the cannonading was destructive.

Ten minutes later the Enterprise ranged ahead of her antagonist, and, taking advantage of her position, she steered across the bows of the stranger, and delivered her fire with such precision and destructive energy that, at four o’clock, the British officer in command shouted through his trumpet that he had surrendered, but his flag, being nailed to the mast, could not be lowered until the Enterprise should cease firing.

It was done. The brig was surrendered, and proved to be the Boxer, 14, Captain Samuel Blyth, who, in the engagement, had been nearly cut in two by an 18-pound ball.

Almost at the moment when Blyth fell on the Boxer, Burrows, of the Enterprise, was mortally wounded.

He was assisting the men in running out a carronade, and, in doing so, placed one foot against the bulwark to give lever power to his efforts. While in that position, a shot, supposed to be a canister ball, struck his thigh, and, glancing from the bone into his body, inflicted a painful and fatal wound.

Both commanders were young men of great promise, and were highly esteemed in the service to which they respectively belonged. Blyth was killed instantly. Burrows lived eight hours.

He refused to be carried below until the sword of the commander of the vanquished vessel should be presented to him.

He grasped it eagerly, and said, ” Now I am satisfied; I die contented.”

Both received their death-wounds at the beginning of the action; and the command of the Enterprise devolved upon the gallant Lieutenant Edward R. M’Call, of South Carolina, who conducted his part of the engagement to the close with great skill and courage.

He took both vessels into Portland Harbor on the morning of the 7th, and on the following day the remains of both commanders were conveyed to the same cemetery, and buried side by side, with all the honors which their rank and powers could claim.

The remains of Midshipman Kervin Waters, of the Enterprise, the only one of her people mortally wounded except her commander, were laid by the side of those of his gallant leader, in less than twenty days afterward, and over the graves of all commemorative monuments have been erected.

On the 6th of January following, the Congress of the United States, by joint resolution, requested the Chief Magistrate of the Republic to present to the nearest male relative of Lieutenant Burrows “a gold medal, with suitable emblems and devices, in testimony of the high sense entertained by Congress of the gallantry and good conduct of the officers and crew in the conflict with the British sloop Boxer on the 4th of September, 1813.”

By the same joint resolution Congress requested the President to present to Lieutenant M’Call, “as second in command of the Enterprise in the conflict with the Boxer, a gold medal, with suitable emblems and devices.

In this engagement the Boxer was very much cut up both in hull and rigging, while the Enterprise suffered very little. The battle was a fair test of the comparative nautical skill and good gunnery of the combatants.

Justice accords the palm for both to the Americans.

A London paper, speaking of the battle, said, “The fact seems to be but too clearly established that the Americans have some superior mode of firing, and we cannot be too anxiously employed in discovering to what circumstances that superiority is owing.”

The loss of the Boxer was a great mortification; and there can be no doubt that Captain Blyth felt full assurance of victory when he went into the contest.

Indicative of this was the nailing of the flag to the mast, always a most foolish and perilous boast in advance.

The loss of the Boxer was several killed besides her commander, and seventeen wounded.

The Enterprise lost only one killed besides her commander, and ten wounded.

This was the Boxer’s last cruise as a war vessel. She was sold in Portland, and sailed from that port for several years as a merchantman.

The Enterprise made only one more cruise during the war, under the command of Lieutenant Renshaw.

She sailed southward as far as the West Indies in company with the fast-sailing brig Rattlesnake, Lieutenant Creighton.

While off the coast of Florida she captured a British privateer, and both vessels were chased by an English seventy-four.

The Rattlesnake soon fled from the sight of both consort and pursuer, while the Enterprise was hard pressed by the Englishman for seventy hours.

Renshaw cast all her guns overboard in order to increase her speed. It was of little avail.

Nothing saved the “lucky” little brig from capture but a favorable shifting of the wind.

Not long afterward she sailed into Charleston Harbor, and was there made a guard-ship. She did not appear again at sea during the war.


The Half Cent Coin shows with images of the commemorative medals awarded for the bravery and skill of Lieutenant Burrows and Lieutenant McCall.

Half Cent Coin