DEREK GEORGE MONTAGUE GARDNER, RSMA
The American Continental 32-gun frigate "Randolph" at Charleston, South Carolina, August 1777
Watercolour 9 x 14 inches
The artist’s original text that accompanied this painting reads:
The American Revolutionary War broke out in 1775 and the following year the Continental Congress authorised the building of 13 frigates. One of these was the RANDOLPH, built at Philadelphia and armed with a main-deck battery of twenty six 12 pdr. guns and 6 pdrs. on the quarterdeck. The British blockade thwarted her first attempt to put to sea but early in 1777 the breakout succeeded but after a few days her fore and main masts broke due to defective timber and she was fortunate enough to get safely into harbour at Charlestown, South Carolina, without being sighted by the British. There her damage was made good but it was not until August that she again got to sea where, under her able and aggressive captain, Nicholas Biddle, she soon took three prizes off the Florida coast. The drawing shows the RANDOLPH under sail as she prepares to leave Charleston harbour for sea on that occasion. I have shown her under the Grand Union or Cambridge flag which was the ensign worn by Continental navy ships until it was replaced by the first version of the Stars and Stripes which had been approved only a month or so before. Change and communications were slow by modern standards and I think it likely that the RANDOLPH would still have worn the old colours at that time and possibly even much later.*
The ship returned to Charleston with the prizes taken off Florida and after further repairs evaded the British blockade and put to sea again early in 1778. On 7th March when sailing to the east of Barbados a sail was sighted in the fading light of day which Biddle may have thought was a merchant ship or small ship of war. It proved, however, to be none other than a British 64-gun ship-of-the-line, the YARMOUTH which soon brought the RANDOLPH and her four smaller consorts to close action. For fifteen minutes the American frigate fought courageously but she was, of course, no match for the numerous and heavier guns of the YARMOUTH. A chance shot appears to have reached the RANDOLPH’S magazine and she blew up with a tremendous explosion, all her ship’s company being killed save four seamen who had a miraculous escape and who were luckily picked up by a passing ship after four days clinging to the wreckage.
Derek G.M.Gardner RSMA 1993
* In his book “Charleston’s Maritime Heritage 1670-1865”, P.C.Coker gives an account of the loss of the RANDOLPH and records how a Grand Union flag rolled up and unsinged fell onto the YARMOUTH’S forecastle when the RANDOLPH blew up.