On the Water

Oil Painting, The Privateer Brig Warrior Capturing The Schooner Hope

In this ca. 1814 scene by artist Thomas Birch, the American privateer brig Warrior has just captured the English schooner Hope, which was en route from Glasgow, Scotland to Buenos Ayres, Brazil with a cargo of English manufactured goods.

A bitter offshore battle has left large jagged cannonball holes in the sails of both vessels. The Warrior's crew has removed the Hope's cargo, and is placing a prize crew aboard the Hope via the two small craft going between the two ships. The prize crew will sail the Hope to an American port, where the prize can be formally registered and auctioned off, with the proceeds shared among the Warrior's owners and crew. Prize crews manned captured enemy ships, which could otherwise escape too easily.

Contemporary sources indicate that the 430-ton armed privateer brig Warrior was built on the swift pilot boat model and carried 21 guns and 150 crew during the War of 1812. Large crews were required by privateers not only to fight enemy shipping, but to provide prize crews if successful. The Warrior's captain Guy R. Champlin was one of the American sailors most feared by the British, as he had a remarkable record of bold action, great bravery and fearless aggression.

Anglo-American artist Thomas Birch (1779-1851) began painting marine scenes in the early 19th century. He is known to have painted several War of 1812 engagements based upon eyewitness accounts—this is a rare preserved example. The British schooner Hope was insured by the oldest marine insurer in North America, the Insurance Company of North America (INA), which bought the painting. It was donated to the Smithsonian in 2005 by CIGNA, INA’s successor corporation.

ID Number:
Birch, Thomas
oil on canvas
ca 1814
without frame: 14 x 22 in.; 35.56 x 55.88 cm; with frame: 18 x 26 in.; 45.72 x 66.04 cm
CIGNA Museum and Art Collection