Wreck of the Duc de Choiseul

At 9 o'clock in the morning on Friday, April 24, 1778, a 24-gun frigate raced into Liverpool Bay, flying the French colours. Pursuing it was another ship of French build, though this one flew the ensign of the Royal Navy. As Thomas Raddall put it, "Here was a puzzle. Two frigates of French build, one flying French colours, the other British, and the French one steering with speed and apparent confidence right into a British harbour!".

The following is a first-hand account of what happened next, and over the next several days and weeks in and around the settlement of Liverpool, as described in his diary by Simeon Perkins, Esq. The entries have been edited to tell the story more concisely. For the full entries, see The Diary of Simeon Perkins, 1766-1780, published by the Champlain Society in 1948.

Selected Entries from Simeon Perkin's Journal

Fryday, April 24th, This morning a ship came into the Harbour and run ashore the easterly side of the Harbour. Soon afterward another ship appeared and fired upon her. The first soon returned the fire, but not very brisk for some time. The last ship keeping up a constant fire for about 2 hours.

The first ship had French Colours, and fired under them. They cut away their Ensign staff, but could not get down their Pennant, as it was fowl, which was unfortunate as the firing began again, and several were killed or drowned getting ashore, etc. I cannot certainly learn the number of killed or wounded. She proves to be a French ship from Nantz, loaded with salt, cannon, Arms and Ammunition, Dry Goods, etc. - a valuable prize.

I go on board the King's ship, and find her to be theBlonde, Capt. Milligan. The Captain treated me and the other gentlemen that went on board, with Great Politeness, and desired assistance. The prize is full of water, and I fear will not be got off. Capt. Milligan has sent the French prisoners on shore, to the number of near one hundred, or full that number. They are distressed for provision, and apply to me. I send my people to find lodging for a number of them, - by 2 or 3 in a house.

Satterday, April 25th - The French Officers, except the Captain are come on shore. They complain that their people have robbed them of many of their cloathes, etc. They desire me to speak to Capt. Milligan for their cloathes, and to represent the necessity of sending some provisions on shore to the people.

There seems to be several gentlemen of distinction. There is a young gentlemen who speaks English. He gave me the names of the gentlemen, viz:- Mr. Heraud, Capt. Mr. pettier, Lieut. Mr. Baudier, Mr. Julaue, Mr. Corvesier, Mr. Chevalier du Saucay, Mr. Dubouchet, Mr. Larcue. The name of the Ship is the Duc De Choiseul,said to be bound to the West Indies. But the circumstances that have appeared make it probable that she may be bound to New England. Mr. Baudier has a letter from Mr. Silas Dean, recommending him to one Mr. Morris, a Member of Congress, and Capt. Milligan tells me they have the American Colours on board.

I go on board the Blonde with three of the French Gentlemen. The Capt. treats me and them with politeness, and promises them everything they could call their own. He sends on shore about 200 lbs. Beef, and about 160 lbs. bread, for the poor Frenchmen. I serve it out, making them in the messes of ten, to which I delivered 19 lbs. beef and 15 lbs. bread to a mess. Served 77 of them. The others are out of the way.

Sunday, April 26th - Foggy. The French Ship, I forgot to mention yesterday, was in ye night of the 24th, overset, and by that means killed three of the Blonde's people. Capt. Milligan has got Capt. Atwood's schooner, owned by myself, Mr. Stevenson, and Capt. Wm. Freeman, and also Elisha Hopkins' schooner alongside the Ship, to load with goods. Has cut a hole in her side, and is getting out what he can, expecting the Ship will be safe. Atwood is loaded.

Some of the French Gentlemen, and many of the seamen, attend meeting. The Ship [Blonde]has a prize sloop, said to have been a privateer, which I hear they are loading. The Frenchmen came again to me for provisions. But as I have recorded so little, I cannot give them another allowance, so they conclude not to take any tonight.

Monday, April 27th - Peasant morning. Capt. Milligan sends me a note, and desires to see me. I wait on him on board his Privateer prize, where he is busy saving the Ship's cargo. He wants a shallop to come down, in order to load her with wine, and send her to Halifax, with a letter, etc. Mr. Solomon Rider goes down to the Ship with his shallop for that purpose. I receive provisions from Capt. Milligan for the French sailors, and deliver it to them. I also delivered them 4 bushel Turnips of my own. The French Gentlemen, especially Mr. Baudier, assisted me in the distribution of the provisions.

Tuesday April 28th, - His Majesty's Ship Diamond comes into the Harbour. She is commanded by Capt. Fielding. She anchors near the Blonde.

Wednesday, April 29th - The Diamond is sailed.

Liverpool, Fryday, May 1st, 1778 - Many people are searching the western shore of the Harbour for goods that may come on shore out of the wreck. I hear some things are found. The Frenchmen are very much pinched for Provisions. I deliver them what I have, - about 3 lbs. bread to ten men, and some of them take beef, 15 lbs. to ten men, but the beef is so bad the chief of them will not take it.

Sunday, May 3rd - Mr. Griffiths came on shore from the Blonde for the French Officers. Besides what he took yesterday, viz. went on board yesterday, the second Capt. Sebastian Miquel, Le Chevalier De Sucay, Mr. Jetteau, and the Surgeon. Those on shore have absented themselves. Some of them left their cloathes at Mrs. Ford's. Mr. Griffiths ordered Mrs. Ford to detain their cloathes. Two of them, Mr. Baudier, and Mr. Boushet came to Mrs. Ford, and demanded their cloathes, and paid their reckoning and were determined to dye or have them. They accordingly took them, and marched off. Mrs. Ford sent for me. I went but was too late.

Monday, May 4th - Capt. Dalton, in the Arbuthnot is arrived. He was ashore last evening. Lieut. Topson also on shore. They took off about 30 Frenchmen. A boat from the Blonde, the French Doctor, and Interpreter. I have a letter from Capt. Milligan to send off his smiths, etc. The Doctor absents himself. I write the Capt. on the subject. Soon after Mr. Griffiths comes on shore in ye cutter, and takes off 13 more of the French.

Fryday, May 8th - Cloudy and raw weather. One of the wounded Frenchmen is dead. Is buried by the Overseers of the Poor.

Monday, May 11th - I go on board the Ship Blonde and see the Captain. He proposes to leave the wreck of the Ship Duc de Choiseul on my hands. Mr. Cheever, Mr. Tinkham, and Mr. Stevenson and myself, dine on board ye Blonde. Were very genteely received and treated.

Tuesday, May 12th - Capt. Milligan sends on shore for the remainder of the French. I assist in sending them on board. We got 10. I go on board in Abner Dogget's boat, and James Muise, also, the Chief of the Mickmack Tribe. The Captain made him several small presents, a gun, a coat, etc.

The Captain also gives me a Power to take care of the wreck, and save all I can, for which I am to have a salvage. The Ship has orders by Capt. Dalton, who arrived last night, to proceed immediately to Halifax. Mr. Dalton brings news from Halifax that the French Court has declared America Independent, and that a war is expected with France, and peace with America.

Wednesday, May 13th - I go on board the Blonde and see Capt. Milligan. Again he recommends taking Thomas Harrington into Partnership in the affair of the Wreck, which I conclude to do. Also Joseph Freeman, and William Freeman. I to be one half, and they one half among them. The Blonde sails for Halifax, and also theArbuthnot, and the Blonde sloop Prize.

Thursday, May 14th - I begin to work on board the wreck of the Ship Duc De Choiseul, and have some success in saving Arms and cloathing.

Fryday, May 15th - Work on the Wreck again, and have a number cleaning the Arms, and drying the Cloathing.

Satterday, May 16th - Work again on ye Wreck, and have some Success.

Monday, May 18th - Work on ye Wreck.

Tuesday, May 19th - At work on ye wreck. A number of the inhabitants come and Fish in the hold, and told the people at work that two Privateers were coming in, soit was best to save all they could. I went down to the Wreck, and found a number of people there. I produced my Orders, and read them. The People left working. Soon after two Privateers hove in sight, near the Western head. I soon put off from the wreck, and most of the people.

The wind being northerly, the Privateers beat up into the Harbour. I, as soon as possible, took the minds of the people whether best to engage them or not, and concluded not to molest them if they were civil, etc. The Captain of the Washington, Preston by name, sent a flag on shore and desired I would go off and see the Captain. He said their errand was the Arms and Cloathing that came out of the wreck, and that no damage would be done.

I went on board accordingly, and was very handsomely treated by the Captain, and agreed that the principle part of the goods, Arms, etc., should be given up, and that I should have salvage. He promised that no damage should be done the Inhabitants, nor anything taken but the French goods. He sends some Officers and men on shore immediately. I show them the goods, and they go to loading boats, and gondolas, and carry them off.

While they were doing this, some of our people ran off with some Arms and Cloathing. I went on board the Washington, again at evening. He made no complaint. Soon after I came on shore, a number of the Privateers' men came on shore, and ravaged and pillaged a number of the houses and stores. Broken open my store, and robbed me of a number of things, which I represented to the Captain, but had no redress, or scarcely an answer. They got under way, and went down the Harbour.

Thursday, May 2lst - I go down to the Wreck, and soon after I got there, the same Privateers hove in sight again, standing directly into the Harbour. I came directly home with all hands, and mustered to Arms as soon as possible. The Privateers got up to the Point, and anchored before we had any mustered. They sent their boat on board a sloop, Capt. Williams, from Barmuda, who arrived this morning. Loosed and hoisted her sails, and got a boat ahead towing her out.

By this time I had about 20 men mustered at the Point, by Mrs. Dexter's. I ordered Joseph Freeman, with ten men, down to ye shore, to hale the sloop, and order the boat to leave her. Which Mr. Freeman did. But they continued to tow her out. One of our swivels was then fired from Mr. Snow's wharf upon them. On which the Privateers discharged a broadside, from each schooner, of cannon, swivels, and small Arms. Our party returned the fire, and stood their ground, sheltering behind rocks, etc. The Privateers continued a brisk fire for three quarters of an hour upon the town, and as they went out, fired upon the people at Herring Cove. But by the Divine Goodness, no lives were lost, or damage done, except a swivel ball entered Mr. Tinkham's house, and some musket balls hit some other buildings.

I paraded our men on the Point, and marched down towards Pierce's, in order to show the Privateers that we had a good number of men under Arms. Marched back, and grounded our Arms, and dismissed for of an hour. Mustered again, in the afternoon, and went to work upon a breast work on the Point and made some progress so that we got some swivels mounted. Send a party to the Western Head to watch the motions of the Privateers. They report that another Privateer joined them for a little while, and then stood to the eastward, and that the Barmuda sloop and the two privateers were near the Western head, and then seemed leisurely standing out. I ordered a guard of a sergeant and 6 men.

Fryday, May 22nd - Worked on our fortifications again. The most of the Inhabitants give their attendance, We turn our breast work into a Truncheon Battery.

Satterday, May 23rd - Very windy. Could not work on our battery, only cut some truncheons. I write to Mr. Bulkeley, and Mr. Butler, and send an express to Halifax by Mr. Joseph Freeman, in Gamaliel Stuart's boat, - to give him 4 if returned any time on Fryday, or 5 if she is gone longer. Set a guard of sergeant and six men. Hear from Portmatoon that the Washington and Lizard, Privateers, with Capt. Williams sloop, are now lying there, and that they complain of being ill-used here, as they had, as they said, used us genteely, and that we wounded one of their men in his forehead.

Sunday, May 24th - Kept a guard of sergeant and six men all day, and again at night.

Monday, May 25th - A ship heaves in sight, and comes in. Proves to be ye Blonde, Capt. Milligan. His Officers come on shore and desire me to go on board, and send off their boat with me. I find the Captain at Mr. Harrington's. We go to the wreck, and then come on shore. The Captain and some of the Officers come to my house.

We walk thru the town, and have a great deal of conversation about the Privateers, etc. He seems rather displeased that I did not secret the Arms, etc, but I believe I convinced him it was not in my power. Going off in the evening, he took Josiah Sears, and John Doliver, into the boat, and carried them on board theBlonde.

Liverpool, Tuesday, May 26th, 1778 - I go on board the Blonde to breakfast. Do my endeavours to get Mr. Sears and John Hopkins released. Sears was allowed to come on shore. Doliver is to go the cruise, and then to be released. I return to the Point, find Wm. Freeman going on board. I return and go to the wreck with Capt. Milligan's boat, and the Master.

We search ye wreck and find two pigs of tin. He had two men that dove in the hold, but discovered nothing. Mr. Harrington, etc., got four pigs yesterday, and sunk them near Mr. Gardner's which were delivered to the Captain. I dine on board, and have much conversation about ye place and the wreck. I do not know how I shall settle with him for what little I have saved, as he seems to expect to take it all.

The people that shared ten Chests of Arms after the Privateers came in, mostly brought them on board and received a salvage. The Ship gets under way, and goes out. The Captain gives me a Jack for the new battery, and on my requisition, allows me one barrel powder, 14 lbs. match, and 50 flints, for which I give a receipt to the gunner. When I came on shore ye people seem much disaffected about ye Captain taking Doliver away with him, etc. Set a guard again this night.

Wednesday, May 27th - Set a guard again this night.

Fryday, May 29th - Wind N.W., and cold. Finish the platform of our battery. Mr. Peter Collins comes in her from Portmetway, and says he was taken by five Privateers at LeHave, last Wednesday, and his vessel burned. She was owned by Banajah and Stephen Collins. He was allowed to take out what he called his own. Then the schooner stripped and burned.

Tuesday, June 2nd - Rains a little. Wind S.S.W. I hear there is a Privateer in Portmetway Harbour along side of Benj. Harrington's sloop. I write to Mr. Butler by Capt. Dean. Also send by him some skins to buy me some flower.

Thursday, June 4th - Cloudy, and some rain, and foggy. A small Privateer comes into the Harbour, early in the morning, and halls along side the wreck of the French Ship. We hear a report that a Malagash schooner was retaken by some Dutchmen yesterday, at Port matoon, and also hear the Blonde has three privateers stroped in at the Ragged Islands, and the Aburthnot two stroped in at Port Roseway. I hear some of the Privateers men, that belonged to the retaken Schooner, are in Town. We double the Guard on account of the Privateers being in the Harbour, and the said men on shore.

Fryday, June 5th - Rains, and foggy. The Privateer still remains at ye wreck, and I understand towards night, that Seth Freeman and John Kinney are entered on board her. She has thrown out her ballast, and is loading with iron. I understand it is the same Privateer that carried Ebenezer Harrington to New England.

Satterday, June 6th - Still continues rainy and foggy. The Privateer remains in the Harbour, at ye wreck. Capt. Cole sails. N. Collins goes with him. I hear they carry some guns and other things out of ye wreck.

Sunday, June 7th - Wind continues easterly, and clears a little. The Privateer goes out this forenoon, about ten or eleven o'clock, having layed by the wreck (and got loaded with iron,) this three days and nights, none of the King's Cruisers appearing to disturb her. Thus our coast is guarded after all the Promises we have had from Government. Our people are much discouraged, and seem to be looking out to leave the place. Two young men are entered on board the Privateer, or gone in her, viz: Seth Freeman and John Kinney. Robert Doliver, and Joseph Verge gone with Cole.

Monday, June 8th - Some people come to town from Portmatoon that had retaken a Lunenburg schooner from ye Privateer, Capt. Woodman, last Wednesday, and by ye wind being contrary, were in that place till last Sunday, when the Salem Privateer, that day in this Harbour from Thursday till Sunday, went in there and took the schooner out of their hands again none of the King's cruising vessels appearing to their relief.

Thursday, June 11th - The same Privateer that lay at ye wreck, went into the island harbour towards night. His name is Tukesbury [the privateer was the Fox].

Fryday, June 12th - The Privateer is at ye Island. Comes out at evening. Stand across Harbour, towards Black Point.

Satterday, June 13th - Pleasant cool morning. Wind N.W. The Little privateer goes out and Lyes too off Puddingpan [West Berlin]. Three sloop and two schooners heave in sight. She makes sail, and Goes into Portmetway. A number of guns were heard.

Sunday, June 14th - Pleasant and warm. At evening we hear that the little privateer is drove on shore, and that Seth Freeman, who was on board, is got home. The guard was doubled on account of the Privateersmen, supposed to be in the wood, and might attempt to take some vessel or boat.

Monday, June 15th 1778 - By Elisha Doliver from Portmetway, we hear that the Sloops General Gage, and General Howe, and another Large Armed Sloop were at that place, and Drove the small privateer on shore. The Privateer is got off, and said to be with them.

Thursday, June l8th - A Fishing Boat, which Stephen Page, and some others redeemed from the Privateer, that was lately run on shore at Portmetway, going out, was seized by the crew of the said Privateer, in the Harbour, and carried off.

Satterday, June 20th - The Blonde, Capt. Milligan, with a prize, also arrives from the coast of New England. The Prize is a Frenchman, from Guadalupe, said to be bound to St. Peters, but was taken near Cape Ann. Capt. Milligan sends his boat for me. I go on board. He seems Displeased that no more of the Goods belonging to the wreck of the Ship Duc De Choiseul are recovered, and particularly the musquets.

Sunday, June 21st - Three of our Coasters, with the Blonde and her prize, get under way, but ye wind comes easterly. They come too again.

Monday, June 22nd - Wind S. Easterly. A Brig, Capt. Ketchum, from Barmuda, Arrives. A Privateer chases her into the Harbour, but seeing ye Blonde she shears off.

Tuesday, June 23rd - I go on board the Blonde with Wm. and Joseph Freeman. Dine with the Captain, and have verbal orders to sell all the Goods belonging to the wreck, except the Musquets, which I send on board theBlonde, in No. 44, viz: 31 from my store, (returned guns), and 13 from Capt. Freeman, that were saved from ye Privateers. Thomas Harrington put a rudder brace on board, weight about 100 lbs.

This is the last mention of the H.M.S. Blonde, or the wreck of the Duc de Choiseul, in Perkins' diary. The remains of the ship likely broke up over the Winter of 1779, and much of the wooden portions of the vessel would have been salvaged as they washed up, or were swept out to sea. Other items, including such things as cannons and other arms that were not reached by the salvers, likely still lie on the east side of the harbour.

In his short story, Adventures of H.M.S. Blonde, Thomas Raddall describes the political situation which he believes led to this strange event. According to Raddall, the French were undoubtedly carrying arms to their allies the Americans to aid them in their rebellion against the British. The "distinguished gentlemen" to whom Perkins refers were likely European officers en route to aid the Americans in their struggle.

A couple of interesting side notes: the Duc de Choiseul was named after a very important figure in French politics, Etienne-Francois, Duc de Choiseul (right). The Duc de Choiseul (the person) has an even more direct connection with Nova Scotia. Earlier in the 1700s, he enticed Acadians to settle in an area of Africa. The settlement failed.

As for H.M.S. Blonde, Raddall tells us that four years later, under a Captain Thornborough, she struck a rock off Seal Island, near Cape Sable. She had prisoners on board at the time, and almost everyone made it ashore on Seal Island. They were rescued by American privateers who took the British to the Mainland in exchange for the American prisoners. If you check the map, you'll still see Blonde Rock just to the south of Seal Island.

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