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He Bought HMS Drake

Ranger by William GilkersonFRENCH BUY PISCATAQUA PRIZE

A rare document in an email offers details on the first foreign warship captured by the American navy in foreign waters. HMS DRAKE was taken by John Paul Jones in 1778 in the Irish Sea aboard the Portsmouth-built ship RANGER. Despite a reluctant Piscataqua-area, Jones accomplished the impossible. Jean Peltier-Dudoyer, acquainted with Ben Franklin, bought the ship in 1779. (French version)



HMS Drake, built in1777, was the 12th British ship (out of 24) to bear that name. On April 24, 1778 the 20-gun warship Drake was captured by John Paul Jones off the British coast in a sunset battle lasting just over an hour. It’s commander George Burdon was mortally wounded in the battle. Jones and his reluctant crew from the Portsmouth, New Hampshire area outmaneuvered the British sloop in the Ranger, built at Kittery, Maine. This was the first time an American ship had defeated the "invincible" British navy in its home waters. The loss of Drake shocked the British military and its citizens. For the first time, the American Revolution came to English waters.

Despite a massive search by the British, Jones was able to elude the Royal Navy and deliver the Drake to port as a prize of war at Nantes in France. Jones hoped to trade its 200 crewmembers as prisoners of war. The Ranger and its crew returned , eventually, to Portsmouth and Jones returned to harass the British a year later in the Bonhomme Richard.

HMS Drake Purchase

But what became of the Drake?

Tugdual Delanglais wrote to us from France to say that his great-great-grant-father Jean Peltier-Dudoyer, a shipowner of Nantes, purchased the "prise anglaise" or English prize. He offered us a rare picture of the sales document or "rôle d'équipage" from 1779.

According to Tugdual’s letter, his ancestor was active in equipping boats in the port of Nantes, fitting out ships from 1771 to 1786. Like John Paul Jones, Peltier was a freemason and initially became wealthy in the slave trade. Though part of the gentry, John Peltier (also Pelletier) sent his sons to good schools, was open to new ideas, and thought of French nobles as "leaches on society". After meeting Benjamin Frankin at Nantes in 1776, he worked to help the American cause, providing weapons to the revolution well before the French government joined the cause. He is mentioned a number of times in the letters of Benjamin Franklin. Peltier slipped the arms around his own government by following the old "triagnle trade" routs and shipping them via the West Indies.

By 1779, when he purchased the captured ship Drake, Jean Peltier-Dudoyer was the most successful shipping manager in Nantes. He lost 13 of his ships to the British and was involved in fitting out the Amphytrite, once promised to Jphn Paul Jones, and the Bonhomme Richard that Jones sailed to victory against the Serapis that same year. -- JDR

French shipper

Painting of Ranger by William Gilkerson, used with permission.


HMS Drake 1779


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