My ancestry is full of Revolutionary War participants, as are many people’s ancestries. Our families fought hard for our republic to be born. So much of my concentration has focused on the battles of the northern states, that I never realized the last naval battle of the Revolutionary War in American waters happened off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Florida, which is my state of residency now. Intrigued, I ventured forth to learn more.
The Alliance and the Duc De Lauzun: These two were Continental Navy ships. The Alliance was a 36-gun frigate commanded by Capt. John Barry who later became a Commodore and the father of the American Navy. Captain John Green was at the helm of the Duc De Lauzun.
January 1783: The Alliance was ordered to load currency valuables such as gold in Havana and bring the shipment to Congress at Philadelphia. The Alliance set out to sea only to discover that the American ship, Duc De Lauzun, had already loaded the currencies including $72,000 Spanish silver dollars, intended for the Continental Army. Captain Barry decided he would escort the Lauzun home, and a good strategy that would prove to be. Three British warships sped to confiscate the gold. They were the HMS Alarm, a 32 gun frigate, HMS Sybil, a 28 gun frigate, and the HMS Tobago, an 18 gun war sloop.
Treaty of Paris February 3, 1783: This treaty officially ended the war and America was independent. This document was signed five weeks before the battle with the Alliance began. Oh, for better communications beyond the Paul Revere type.
March 1783: On March 6th, the Continental Navy sailed. The next day the ships were chased at sea by the Royal Navy frigates Alarm and Sybil. The Alliance and Lauzun eluded Alarm and Sybil for three days at which time they encountered the Alarm, Sybil, and the war sloop Tobago. Capt. Barry had Capt. Green jettison a cannon to lighten the Lauzun’s weight. On March 10th the USS Alliance and the HMS Sybil battled at sea off the coast of Cape Canaveral, the very last sea battle in the Florida coastal Atlantic waters. Alliance pulled ahead, but the heavily filled ship, Duc De Lauzun was falling behind. Alarm fell back. Sybil pressed on. Sybil fired upon the Lauzun. Captain Barry positioned the Alliance between the ships to draw fire away from the Lauzun. HMS Sybil fired towards the Alliance and hit the frigate’s cabin, killing a Continental Navy junior officer and wounding several others. Barry held his fire. When he was but a stone’s throw away, Barry’s ship fired broadside into the Sybil. The ships exchanged fire for about 40 minutes and then the Sybil fled, badly damaged and having 40 wounded and 37 killed sailors.
The Lauzun and Alliance headed towards Philadelphia again. On March 19, the Alliance was chased by a British warship again and Capt. Barry headed out to open sea as a diversion. The Lauzun was able to slip into the Delaware Bay and up the Delaware River to Philadelphia. The Alliance sailed to Newport Rhode Island instead of Philadelphia due to patrols by the British. That is when Capt. Barry learned the war was already over.
COMMEMORATION: An historical marker and monument commemorates the last Continental Navy battle of the American Revolutionary War in American waters, which took place off the coast of Cape Canaveral on March 10, 1783. The Florida Society of the Sons of the American Revolution, the Cape Canaveral Council, the U.S. Navy League, and various SAR and DAR chapters are responsible for the placement of the historical marker located in front of the Port Authority building at the Cape. From Free Republic online I learned that the cannon for the monument was cast from a model cannon retrieved from the Atlantic Ocean by Florida famous treasure hunter Mel Fisher. Mel Fisher is very well known in the Space Coast of Florida for his astounding recoveries from the ocean floor.
I have spent much time at Cape Canaveral during my life, but did not know of this final battle. Now anyone can see the monument by visiting the Canaveral Port Authority building located at 445 Challenger Road, in Cape Canaveral, FL. Florida and its history never ceases to amaze me. At the time of this battle my image of Florida was that of a land sparsely inhabited by people, greatly inhabited by mosquitoes and alligators, and the ocean abundant with fish and seafood, a bounty in itself.