The Late Affair At Occacock

July 11 to July 16, 1813
–From the Raleigh Star, July 30, 1813

Letter from Thomas S. Singleton to Governor William Hawkins of North Carolina

“Sir–In compliance with your request [made by the Governor on July 24] I have made the following statement of facts relative to the late affair at Occacock, which I believe to be correct.  On the 11th inst. about 9 P. M. arrived off Occacock Bar and anchored within one mile of the Inlet, a British fleet consisting of one 74, three frigates, one brig, and three schooners, under the command of Admiral Cockburn; which was discovered by the inhabitants of Occacock, some of whom apprised the inhabitants of Portsmouth before day of the circumstance.  As soon as day light appeared, I sent my trunk, containing all the money and Custom House bonds belonging to the office on board the revenue cutter Mercury, which was got under way by Captain Wallace as soon as the Pilot was able to discern the stakes that marked out the channel.  The barges started from the fleet about the time the cutter weighed her anchors, and such was the rapidity of their movements, that they were within one mile and a half of her when she cleared the swash.  The eleven barges came in regular order, quite close together, until they came nearly within reach of shot from the privateer brig Anaconda of New-York, and the letter of marque schooner Atlas of Philadelphia; they then separated from one to two hundred yards apart, and hauled off under the edge of Occacock, and waited a short time for the approach of the other barges, (ten in number) and upon their arrival, they all began slowly to approach the above mentioned vessels, discharging their twelve pound carronades, which they carried in their launches and barges; they also fired several congreve rockets at the shipping without effect.  The Anaconda and Atlas commenced firing very spiritedly, though it was of short duration, for the former had but fifteen men on board, the latter but thirty; they were therefore compelled to submit to overwhelming numbers, as there could not have been less than three thousand men at that time inside the bar and crossing it together; the men abandoned the brig and schooners and betook themselves to their boats, most of whom escaped; the Captain of the Atlas remained in her, and continued to fire at the enemy after all his men had forsaken him.  Several of the barges proceeded in pursuit of the cutter, thinking (as they afterwards said) if they could have taken the cutter they would have precluded the possibility of information reaching Newbern  until they arrived there themselves; the cutter very narrowly escaped by crowding upon her every inch of canvass she had and by cutting away her long boat.  The admiral did not hesitate to declare that it was his intention to have reached that place previous to the receiving any intelligence of his approach.  After pursuing the cutter 8 or 10 mils through the sound, they gave out the chase and returned.  Several hundred men were landed on Portsmouth, and I presume as many on Occacock; among those landed on Portsmouth there were about three hundred regulars of the 102d regiment, under the command of Col. Napier, and about 400 marines and sailors.  They had several small field pieces in their launches but did not land them, finding no necessity for them.  On both the above mentioned places there was the most wanton, cruel and savage-like destruction of property I have ever witnessed; furniture of all kinds split and broke in pieces; beds ripped open and the feathers scattered in the wind; women and children robbed of their clothing, and indeed many little children have been left without a second suit to their backs.  They broke open my office and destroyed every paper they could lay their hands on, private as well as public; I very fortunately had buried the most valuable papers belonging to the office, which escaped their savage paws.  They robbed me of all the books in my Library, as well as every other species of property they could lay their hands on except the Law Books, & them with savage fury they tore in pieces.  They plundered the two Islands of 200 head of cattle, 400 sheep & 1500 fowls of various kinds, for which they pretended to pay; they paid $1600 for the above articles, which is about one half the value of the cattle.  This was done no doubt, to acquire the reputation of being a generous enemy, without actually deserving it.  After they had been on Portsmouth two days I was informed by Captain Powell, that the admiral considered it necessary for the safety of his men and officers that I should go on board his Britannic Majesty’s ship Sceptre, and there remain until they had all embarked, and the squadron ready to sail.  I was immediately sent on board where I remained two days, during which time I was very politely treated; at the expiration of the two days I was turned adrift in the ocean with four Spaniards in a small boat, who were as little acquainted with the Bar as myself, by which means we all narrowly escaped being lost in the breakers.  On the 16th they hoisted sail and stood to sea, the wind at S. S. W.

Very respectfully, I remain, sir,
Your ob’t serv’t. &c.

His Excellency William Hawkins, Esq.

P. S.     The inhabitants being much alarmed a number of them endeavored to make their escape from the Island, among whom was a Mr. Richard Casey with his family, he had got into his boat with his wife and children and was under way, when he was hailed by a party of soldiers and ordered back, which he was about doing though slowly (for he was a decrepit old man) when one of the soldiers fired on him and shot him in the breast–I believe the wound will not prove mortal.  The admiral told him (as he told every other person who complained of depredations) ‘point out the man who did it and he shall be corrected,’ well knowing it was impossible for them to identify any one among such a number of strangers.

T. S. S.”

Another description of the affair came from Thomas Watson, of Newbern, who had encountered some of the members of the crew who escaped from the Anaconda.  He added another detail:  “Mrs. Gaston (lady of the Representative in Congress) could not sustain the shock.  The alarm produced on her mind by a report that the enemy had actually landed in town, threw her into convulsive fits, and she expired in 6 or 8 hours!”  The crew of the Anaconda may not have remained to witness what Mr. Singleton witnessed, for they reported to Mr. Watson that the enemy “behaved better than we supposed.  Centinels were placed at the different doors, and money was offered by the Admiral for the provisions.  . . . One man in attempting to escape with his family was killed.” — taken from the Raleigh Register Extra of July 17, 1813; reprinted by the Pittsburgh Gazette, August 6, 1813
________________________________________________________________The Headliners Foundation appreciates and supports efforts to preserve our national journalistic legacy and suggests that Texans and others who love journalism and its rich history in this country consider donating to their state’s efforts to put these early newspapers online.  Contact your state library, historical society or university.  For a list of historic newspapers online, use this link: http://guides.library.upenn.

About the Author

Mary Bowden is a researcher working at the Texas Collections Deposit Library at the University of Texas. A little-known but invaluable treasure of U.S. history and the history of American journalism is archived in the collection of bound United States’ Newspapers at the University of Texas at Austin. The collection began more than a century ago and has been stored in recent years in the Texas Collections Deposit Library on the campus of the University of Texas. The sizeable archive is currently in the early stages of being digitized before being moved to a more climate-controlled environment at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus of the University, on the north side of Austin.

Mary Bowden