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This Month in Naval History
Saranac I

Saranac I

(Brig: t. 360; a. 14 32-pdr. car., 2 long 12-pdrs.)

The first Saranac was a brig laid down in the autumn of 1814 by Beldin and Churchill, at Middletown, Conn.; and completed in the early summer of 1815. The new brig, commanded by Lt. John B. Elton was built to be part of a projected flying squadron intended to cruise against British shipping under the command of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, but the War of 1812 ended before the squadron could be assembled.

Only a few days after the ratification of the Treaty of Ghent had restored peace, President Madison asked Congress to declare war upon Algiers since the Barbary state had persistently violated its treaty with the United States by preying upon American merchant shipping and by mainstreaming American citizens. Congress declared war on 2 March, and the Navy began preparations to send two squadrons to the Mediterranean. The first, commanded by Commodore Stephen Decatur, sailed from New York on 20 May 1815 reached Gibraltar on 15 June, and, two days later captured the Algerian flagship, 40-gun frigate, Mashuda. On the 19th, the American warships took the Algerian brig, Estedio. Decatur then proceeded to Algiers and opened negotiations with the dey, threatening to capture the remaining Algerian squadron unless the Barbary ruler accepted American terms which included: abolition forever of tribute, release of American prisoners, compensation for seized American property, emancipation of any Christian slaves who might escape to United States warships, and treatment of any captives taken in future wars as prisoners-of-war instead of as slaves. While the dey was hesitating over this ultimatum, an Algerian cruiser appeared on the horizon and headed for the port. Decatur ordered his men-of-war to give chase, but the dey capitulated in time to save the endangered pirate ship.

In reporting his success to Washington, Decatur warned: ". . . the presence of a respectable naval force in this area will be the only certain guarantee for its (the treaty's) observance."

On 5 July 1815, as Decatur was writing his report, ship of the line, Independence, which had left Boston two days before, was leading the first detachment of Commodore Bainbridge's squadron across the Atlantic bringing the ". . . respectable naval force . . ." so necessary to protect American well-being in the Mediterranean, Soon after Bainbridge reached Cartagena Spain, Saranac joined him with the second group. The full squadron cruised along the Beast of North Africa as visible evidence of the firm resolve of the United States to uphold its recently won rights and its ability to do so. After visiting Algiers, Tripoli, and Tunis, Bainbridge proceeded via Malaga to Gibraltar where his squadron joined Decatur's on 13 September. On 6 October, after assisting Decatur in establishing a new Mediterranean squadron commanded by Captain Shaw, Bainbridge, with several other men-of-war including Saranac, got underway homeward and reached Newport, R.I., on 15 November 1815.

But not all pirates were based on the Mediterranean's Barbary Coast. The collapse of Spain's colonial empire in the New World, during the Napoleonic wars, had created an unstable political situation in much of Latin America which was highly favorable to piracy. As Saranac returned to the United States, buccaneers often operating under privateer commissions issued by one or another of the revolutionary governments then struggling for independence from Spain— were plaguing the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.

After repairs, Saranac sailed for the West Indies to protect American shipping from freebooters and from interference by Spanish cruisers attempting to enforce the "paper blockade" of King Ferdinand's former colonies. One of the brig's most important assignments during this duty was her patrol off Amelia Island, an islet off the Atlantic coast of Florida just below the boundary between Georgia and that nominally Spanish colony. The Buccaneer Commodore, Luis Aury, harried by Commodore Patterson's United State cruisers in the golf, had recently abandoned his base at Galveston and transferred his piratical fleet to Amelia Island where Spain's authority had all but vanished. Saranac and other vigilant ships of the United States Navy so hampered Aury's operations that, on 22 December 1817, he yielded to an ultimatum from Captain John D Henly of the United States frigate, John Adams, and left his island base on the Florida coast.

But Saranac hastily constructed out of green timber, had deteriorated rapidly during her service in tropical waters. After her leaking had reached a dangerous rate, the brig was decommissioned on 12 December 1818, condemned, and sold at New York City.


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