DISTRIBUTION OF PRIZE MONEY TO THE CAPTORS OF THE FRIGATE GUERRIERE.
COMMUNICATED TO THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, NOVEMBER, 25, 1812.
Navy Department, November 21, 18l2.
In order to enable the committee to form a satisfactory opinion as to the compensation to be provided for the. officers and crew of the frigate Constitution, for the capture and subsequent destruction of the British frigate the Guerriere, I have the honor to state to you that the Constitution rated .44, and mounted 55 guns; that the Guerriere rated 38, and mounted 64 guns. The Guerriere, although entirely dismasted, and in other respects much crippled, could have been brought into port, without incurring any other risk than that of recapture; but Captain Hull conceived that, if he had manned the Guerriere, for the purpose of sending her into port, he would have so far reduced the crew of the Constitution that he might have subjected both vessels to capture. He presumed that, under all circumstances; it would be better for him to destroy the Guerriere, and preserve the force of the Constitution unimpaired, and his having done so unquestionably proceeded from the most patriotic considerations.
The Guerriere was a frigate of the first class in the British navy; and, no doubt, when the engagement between the Constitution and her commenced, she was completely fitted in all respects for the most serious service. The cost of such a ship, independently of her stores, could not have been less than two hundred thousand dollars, and her stores were worth, in all probability, fifty thousand dollars at least; besides, she had on board a number of prize goods, the value of which cannot be ascertained; but was probably equal to fifty thousand dollars more. So that the whole value of the Guerriere, her stores and prize goods, at the time the action commenced may fairly be estimated at three hundred thousand dollars. Had Captain Hull have incurred the risk before mentioned, and succeeded in getting the Guerriere into port, the officers and crew of the Constitution, considering the Guerriere as her equal, would have been entitled to the whole of the Guerriere, her stores and prize goods. Sooner, however, than run the risk of losing the Constitution, he determined to destroy the whole. The question then arises, what, under these circumstances, ought the officers and crew to be allowed? For my own part, I have no hesitation in giving it as my opinion that the sum of one hundred thousand dollars would not be too liberal a provision, or too great an encouragement for the great gallantry, skill, and sacrifice of interest, displayed on this occasion; and I am persuaded that, if such a provision were made, the difficulties of manning our frigates, at present experienced, would vanish.
It may further be remarked, that Captain Hull, while on the cruise on which he captured and destroyed the Guerriere, burnt two enemy's vessels, viz. the brig Lady Warren and the brig Adeora, and obliged the enemy to burn the brig Dolphin, with a cargo of hemp and Russia goods, and to abandon an English barque laden with timber: for no part of which have the officers or crew of the Constitution received any compensation. I have the honor to be, with great respect, sir, your obedient servant,
Hon. B. Bassett.
Washington, November 23, 1812.
In compliance with your request I have the honor to state to you that my opinion, as to the value of the Guerriere, at the time the action between her and the Constitution commenced, is, that, exclusively of her stores and prize goods, she was probably worth two hundred thousand dollars; and my impression is, that her stores and prize goods must have been worth one hundred thousand dollars.
I am informed that, independently of their stores, the frigate President cost two hundred and twenty thousand dollars; that the Chesapeake cost two hundred and twenty thousand dollars; and that the Congress cost one hundred and ninety-seven thousand dollars. These vessels were certainly built on good terms; and it is from their cost that I form my idea as to the probable value of the Guerriere; and my impression as to the value of her stores and prize goods is derived from personal observation and information obtained on the occasion from different persons.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, sir, your obedient servant,
Hon. Burwell Bassett, Chairman of the Naval Committee.