This historic painting of the War of 1812 naval action between H.M.S. ENDYMION and U.S.S. PRESIDENT records the aftermath of the battle when the British Admiralty flag is raised on PRESIDENT’s stern, the air between the ships still thick with smoke from cannon fire. Ironically it was PRESIDENT that fired the first shot of the War of 1812 during a skirmish with the British frigate BELVIDERA, and here we see her firing what may have been the last. The battle took place several weeks after the Treaty of Ghent, but there is no evidence that the combatants were aware that the war had officially ended.
Full of the outstanding detail and accuracy for which the Buttersworth family is known, this work also shows a deft use of color contrast in cloud and in the ships to bring the dramatic battle to life. A nearly identical painting to this one by Thomas Buttersworth Sr. is held in the collection of the Penobscot Maritime Museum in Searsport, Maine; one of 24 works by the Buttersworth family in the collection of the museum. Given the striking similarity, Thomas Jr. likely painted this work after the work done by his father, or the two may have collaborated on this work together, continuing the family tradition of recording naval actions in detailed works of art.
PRESIDENT was one of the six original frigates of the US Navy, built in New York City in 1800 and a sister ship of the USS CONSTELLATION. The ship was a prime target of the Royal Navy during the War of 1812 as it was seen to have insulted British honor in an earlier battle.
At the time of the battle President’s captain was Stephen Decatur Jr., famed naval hero whose many victories against Britain, France and the Barbary states established the United States Navy as a rising power. He is particularly known for his capture of the British frigate HMS MACEDONIAN in a famous action in 1812, while in command of the frigate USS UNITED STATES.
HMS ENDYMION was a 40-gun fifth rate British frigate, launched in 1797. ENDYMION served in the French Revolutionary Wars, the Napoleonic Wars, the War of 1812 and during the First Opium War.
On January 15, 1815 PRESIDENT was pursued by a squadron consisting of four frigates while trying to escape New York Harbor. PRESIDENT was an extremely fast ship and successfully evaded the fast British squadron with the exception of HMS ENDYMION which has been regarded as the fastest ship in the age of fighting sail.
PRESIDENT had the advantage in structural strength, firepower, crew, and tonnage, but not in maneuverability. Despite having fewer guns, ENDYMION was armed with 24-pounders just like PRESIDENT. This meant that ENDYMION’s shot could pierce the hull of PRESIDENT unlike GUERRIERE'S which bounced of CONSTITUTION'S hull, giving her the name “Ironsides.”
ENDYMION fired into PRESIDENT's hull severely damaging her- holes below the waterline, 10/15 starboard guns disabled, water in the hold, and shot from ENDYMION found inside PRESIDENT's magazine. Decatur knew his only hope was to dismantle ENDYMION and sail away from the rest of the squadron. When he failed, he surrendered his ship to "the captain of the black frigate (ENDYMION)". Decatur took advantage of the fact ENDYMION had no boats that were intact and attempted to sneak away under the cover of night, only to be caught up by HMS POMONE after which he surrendered without a fight. Decatur had surrendered the United States finest frigate and flagship PRESIDENT to a smaller ship, but part of a squadron of greater force.
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