This battle, fought off the coast of Saint Domingue, is one of the small engagements that receives casual, brief treatment in some texts on naval aspects of the War for American Independence. Unfortunately, the descriptions in some Anglopone works appear to be in error.
In this instance, Le Scipion was accompanied by La Sibylle when they encoutered the British force of the London, Torbay , plus a corvette and a shooner. Perceiving the odds disproportionately against them, the French division prepared to retreat. In launching this maneuver, Le Scipion drew very close to the London and damaged her so well that the Torbay had to stay at the rescue of her mate.
The Scipion was shipwrecked the next day (18 October) through running upon an unknown rock, and not captured as stated in Jonathan Dull's very fine work on the French Navy and American Independence. Navies and the American Revolution edited by Robert Gardiner (Chatham,1996), p.159, confuses the French ships -- the Scipion with the Sybille, which did not engage. Another work, History of the French Navy, by Jenkins, cites this incident as:
A good illustration of the relative power of French and English liners was provided during the year by a combat between the SCIPION (74) and the hundred-gun [sic] London, a perfectly efficient ship. The Frenchman, superior in design and carrying some heavier pieces, fairly beat off his nominally stronger opponent.The foregoing quote is from page 182 of Jenkin's work. Jenkin's reference to Le Scipion's "possessing less armament, [but being of] ... superior design and heavier guns.." compared to the London needs to be examined further. In the same paragraph, Jenkins makes references to other engagements that can be confusing. The reference to an 'unusal incident' concerning a frigate has nothing to do with Le Scipion, a 'ship of the line' launched in 1778 at Rochefort. French records show that Le Scipion was under the command of Nicolas de GrimoŁard during the 17 October 1782 combat. GrimoŁard's reported that Le Scipion suffered 15 killed and 45 wounded (among them apparently GrimoŁard himself and enseigne Thiroux de Conteville with a bad shot in the thigh). Later, GrimoŁard received an admiral's rank and was awarded the title of 'comte' by the king in 1783. He was executed in 1794 during the French Revoution, as was the fate of many other of the quality French naval leaders who served in the American war.
La Sybille was involved in a separate battle in January 1783, against the more powerful Magicienne in defence of her convoy, and escaped after dismasting her opponent. But a week later she was dismasted by a storm, and was forced to jettison most of her guns. Further misfortune followed when she was spotted off the Chesapeake by smaller 28-gun Hussar and had no other resource than to attempt a surprise boarding of her opponent, but in vain and La Sybille was sunk on 22 January 1783.
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Page content contributed by M. Jacques de TRENTINIAN. Posted 31 March 2004.