Boston vs Berceau

12th October 1800
Part of : The Quasi War (1799 - 1805)
Previous action : Enterprise vs Flambeau 23.7.1800


United States of America

Ship NameCommanderNotes
Boston (28) George Little

République Française

Ship NameCommanderNotes
Le Berceau (20) Louis André Senez (1761-1836)

Notes on Action

Description of the ActionB043

She was cruising about six hundred miles northeast of Guadeloupe when, on the morning of Sunday, October 12, she sighted a ship and a schooner. They separated, and she chased the ship. The pursuit continued, before the wind, nearly all day.

The log-book of the Boston, under the date October 13, 2 says :

" At meridian the chase bore S. W., distance about three leagues. At 4 P. M. the ship was clear for action. At half-past 4 p. M. hoisted our colors and gave the chase a shot from the bow gun. She hoisted French colors and fired a gun to windward and began to shorten sail for action. At fifteen minutes before 5 P. M. came up with the ship, hailed her and ordered him to strike his colors to the United States flag. The captain replied that his colors were too well made fast to haul down. The action immediately commenced and lasted till 24 minutes past 5 P. M. The sails and rigging of both ships being much shattered, it was impossible to work either ship; in consequence of which we drifted too far apart for our shot to do execution. I then ordered all hands to be employed repairing the rigging to commence the action again. At 9 p. M. the action recommenced, which lasted till 20 minutes past 10 p. M., when her fore and main topmasts were shot away. She then struck her colors to the Boston, and not long after her fore and main topmasts went over the side, which I was sorry to see. . . . Oct. 14 [13], 1800. Long. 53 21 , lat. 20 48 r . This ship proved to be the French national ship Le Berceau, mounting 24 guns on one deck, 22 long French nines and two twelve-pounders, and 230 men, commanded by Louis Andre Senes, a post-captain from Cayenne, on a cruise. Employed getting 117 prisoners on board the Boston. Found on mustering the ship's company that we had seven men killed and eight wounded. All hands employed repairing the rigging on board the Boston and clearing the wreck on board the Berceau. I find the Berceau lost, killed in the action, 34 men, and 18 wounded."

In his report to the Secretary of the Navy Captain Little says the Berceau was "captured on the 12th October in lat. 22 50 North, long. 51 West, after an action of two hours. . . . with regret I mention our loss on board the Boston: four killed in the action, [three] mortally wounded, since dead; among the latter was Mr. Samuel Young, the purser, who requested liberty to quit the cockpit and assist on the quarter-deck. He fell early in the action. Eight were wounded, but are all on the recovery. I have subjoined a particular list of the killed and wounded. It is a cause of satisfaction for me to add that the officers and crew of the Boston, without an exception, discovered courage and firmness during the action; and it would be injustice in me not to acknowledge that the Captain of Le Berceau fought his ship gallantly so long as she was in a situation capable of being defended. Soon after he had struck, his fore and main masts went over the side and his ship was otherwise in a very shattered condition. The Boston was much injured in her masts, spars, rigging, and sails, considering the force of the corvette, which compelled me to return from my cruise to refit .... The enemy s loss I have not been able to ascertain, as they had thrown overboard their watch and quarter bills and most of their papers, but from the best information I have been able to obtain, they had upwards of 230 men when the action commenced; 197 were found on board after the action, including the wounded, who were 18."

French Officers ReportB043

Lieutenant Clement of the Berceau made a report of the battle, which differs materially from that of Captain Little. He says:

"At half -past three o clock the frigate hoisted the American flag and pennant and fired twice. We at once hoisted French colors and pennant and answered by a single cannon shot. The frigate, at a quarter to four, being within speaking distance, asked us whence we came. A moment later she fired on us, and ranging along our port side within pistol shot, the battle began in a most spirited manner on both sides. The musketry was very sharp and well sustained, the only delays being to reload the pieces. The battery also was served with the greatest activity, and the cry of Vive la Republique! was often heard during the battle. At six o clock our topgallant masts were seriously wounded, the shrouds were cut through, and the yards, sails, and lower masts were riddled with shot. At five minutes after six o clock the frigate dropped astern, having her topsail ties cut and the yards on the caps. We boarded our fore and main tacks and came by the wind. The frigate from this moment ceased firing and we worked without ceasing at repairing damages.

"At half -past eight o clock the frigate again attacked us and we discharged a broadside. From that time the action was renewed with great ferocity at pistol shot. At half-past nine o clock the captain, seeing a favorable opportunity of boarding the frigate, gave the order, and the crew only awaited the chance, and our vessel manoeuvred to favor the attempt. The frigate, however, took care not to allow herself to be boarded, and the action continued at pistol range up to eleven o clock, when the frigate again hauled off to repair damages. We again set our courses, a short time after which our jib-boom was carried away and the topmasts followed. At this time our shrouds and backstays were nearly all cut through, and the two spare topmasts had also been cut upon the gallows frame. We therefore found ourselves without the possibility of repairing, but we nevertheless made as much sail as we could. The frigate also was much damaged in her sails and rigging and she remained out of gunshot, but always in sight.

" At five o clock the next morning nobody had yet left his post and we expected every moment a third attack, when the frigate passed us to the starboard at a great distance and placed herself to leeward of us at half a league distance. In the course of the morning we saw that she was working at repairs. At half-past eleven o clock our foremast, pierced with shot, fell to starboard, and a short time afterward the mainmast also fell. At two o clock in the afternoon the frigate, which had now finished repairs, came up to us on the starboard side."

The Berceau then surrendered. Her loss, according to Clement, was four killed and seventeen wounded.


The Berceau was towed most of the way to port by her captor, undergoing repairs on the way. October 24 they fell in with an American brig bound to Barbadoes; Captain Senes was paroled and put aboard her. Four days later the cable with which the prize was being towed parted in a heavy sea, and she was lost sight of for two days, being again taken in tow October 30. Two weeks after this Little brought his frigate and her prize into Boston harbor. His report, dated Nantasket Roads, November 15, 1800, begins: "I have the honor to inform you that I arrived last evening in company with the French national corvette Le Berceau"; the report is accompanied by a list of the Boston's casualties. The prisoners were landed on Castle Island, where they remained under guard, except the officers, who were paroled. The Berceau was condemned a few weeks later, and on January 15 was sold to the United States. Under the treaty with France, however, which had already been concluded, she was given up. September 26, 1801, she sailed for France.

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