Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

The Devastation (built circa 1804)
MSA SC 5496-001723
British Frigate, Captain Thomas Alexander, War of 1812


The British bomb vessel Devastation was built around 1804 (by an A. Milner? [Age of Nelson]). In 1810, Captain John Taylor sailed the ship to Cadiz Bay, Spain, where the Devastation, the Thunder, and the Ætna participated in the siege of Fort Catalina.1

Captain Thomas Alexander (b. 1785 - d. 1825) assumed command the ship around 1812. His previous service included the Battle of the Basque or Aix Roads in 1809, under Admiral Alexander Cochrane.2 Captain Thomas Alexander commanded the Devastation during service in the Baltic Sea, and later crossed the Atlantic to the Chesapeake during the War of 1812. On April 12, 1814, he sailed the vessel to Fort McHenry with several other British bomb ships, including the Meteor, the Ætna, the Terror, and the Volcano. The battle began the following day, with the vessels bombing the fort from approximately two miles away.3

The Devastation came closed to its own destruction in September 1814. On August 17th, the Devastation had proceeded up the Potomac River to bombard Fort Washington, accompanied by four other bomb ships under Captain James A. Gordon.4 The ships, including the Devastation, the Ætna, the Meteor, the Fairy, and the Erebus,5 had met constant difficulties in sailing up the river, which proved too shallow in many places for the large vessels. Around September 3rd, following the taking of Fort Washington, the Devastation ran aground on a shoal while sailing back down the Potomac. Captain Gordon wrote to Admiral Alexander Cochrane that 650 American troops under Commodore John Rodgers5 "took advantage of this Circumstance to attempt her destruction by three fire vessels and attended by five row Boats. But their object was defeated by the prompitude and gallantry of Captain Alexander who pushed off with his own Boats and being followed by those of the other Ships chase the boats of the Enemy up to the town of Alexandria."6 Meanwhile, crewmembers from the Devastation and from Captain Gordon's frigate, the Seahorse, managed to tow the fire vessels away from the grounded ship.7 The fire vessels were old ships that Commodore Rodgers' men had set on fire and sent adrift in the direction of the Devastation.8

The Devastation also participated in the raids that the British conducted throughout the Chesapeake. On the morning of October 31, 1814, Captain Alexander arrived at Parker's Point, Virginia, on the Potomac River, and "on finding the Houses deserted, ... made dispositions for driving in Cattle."9 However, he ran into approximately one thousand infantrymen in the area. Alexander managed to withdraw with few British casualties, taking two American prisoners and twenty horses.10 After returning to the Devastation, Captain Alexander sailed up the Chesapeake Bay into Maryland. He anchored at Poplar Island, off the coast Talbot County, where he wrote a letter to Commodore Robert Barrie reporting the encounter.11

The bomb-ship was lying near Cumberland Island, Georgia, by the end of March 1815.12 A large number of slaves from plantations on the island sought their freedom by boarding the Devastation.13 The vessel also carried at least one slave who had escaped from Maryland: William Mitchel, a Colonial Marine who participated in the invasion of Cumberland Island. He had fled from John Dare's farm in Calvert County in July 1814.14

The Royal Navy sold the Devastation in 1816, and Captain Alexander received command of the Alligator at the East India Station in 1822.15

1.     "Devastation." Michael Phillips' Ships of the Old Navy. Age of Nelson.

2.     William James and Frederick Chamier. The Naval History of Great Britain (New York, NY: Vol. 6. Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1902) 181.
      Joseph Allen. Battles of the British Navy: From A.D. 1000 to 1840 (London, UK: A.H. Baily & Co., 1842) 485.
        Hugh Noel Williams. The Life and Letters of Admiral Sir Charles Napier, K.C.B. (London, UK: Hutchinson & Co., 1917) 2.
        John Marshall. Royal Naval Biography; or, Memoirs of the Services of All the Flag-Officers. Suppl., Part 3 (London, UK: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, 1829) 410-411.
        Edgar Sanderson. A History of the British Empire (London, UK: Blackie & Son, 1882) xiii.
        Michael J. Crawford, ed. The Naval War of 1812: A Documentary History. Vol. 3 (Washington, D.C.: Naval Historical Center, 2003) 337.
        "Devastation." Michael Phillips' Ships of the Old Navy. Age of Nelson.

3.     Allen 485.
        Franklin R. Mullaly. "The Battle of Baltimore." Maryland Historical Magazine. 54 (1959): 92.

4.     Peter Goodwin. Nelson's Ships: A History of the Vessels in Which He Served, 1771-1805 (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2002) 277.
        Marshall 411.

5.     James Ralfe. The Naval Chronology of Great Britain. Vol. 3 (Charing Cross, UK: Whitmore and Fenn, 1820) 247.

6.     James and Chaumier 192.
        Charles Oscar Paullin. Commodore John Rodgers: Captain, Commodore, and Senior Officer of the American Navy: 1773-1838. (Cleveland, OH: The Arthur H. Clark Company, 1910) 287.
         Robert Malcomson. Historical Dictionary of the War of 1812 (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2006) 220.

7.     Qtd. in Crawford and Dudley 240.

8.     Crawford and Dudley 240.
        Paullin 287.
        William Laird Clowes. The Royal Navy: A History from the Earliest Times to the Present. Vol. 6 (London, UK: Sampson Low, Marston and Company, 1901) 147.

9.     Paullin 287.

10.   Qtd. in Crawford and Dudley 337.

11.   Sylvanus Urban. "Interesting Intelligence from the London Gazettes." The Gentleman's Magazine. 85.8 (1815): 551.
        John K. Mahon. The War of 1812 (New York, NY: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1972) 315.

12.   Crawford and Dudley 337.

13.   Claim of Ann Dare, Case 560. Case Files, compiled ca. 1827 - ca. 1828, documenting the period ca. 1814 - ca. 1828. *ARC Identifier 1174160 / MLR Number PI 177 190*. National Archives, College Park.
      Mary R. Bullard. Cumberland Island: A History (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2003) 3.

14.   Bullard 120.

15.   Claim of Dr. John Dare, Case 606. Case Files, compiled ca. 1827 - ca. 1828, documenting the period ca. 1814 - ca. 1828. *ARC Identifier 1174160 / MLR Number PI 177 190*. National Archives, College Park.

16.   "Devastation." Michael Phillips' Ships of the Old Navy. Age of Nelson.
         Marshall 411.

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