Samuel Chester Reid



Occupation 1

privateer in the War of 1812

Occupation 2

sea captain


General Armstrong


NA/Mid-Atlantic region


Maritime Republic (1751-1815)








His father, a lieutenant in the British navy, was captured in the American Revolution, joined the rebels, and settled in America. Samuel Reid went to sea at the age of eleven, and his early experience was in the West Indies. After his ship was taken by a French privateer, he was imprisoned for a time at Guadalupe. He later served as acting midshipman on the sloop of war Baltimore and commanded his first merchant ship at the age of twenty...
Reid achieved fame in the War of 1812 as commander of the privateer brig General Armstrong. On 26 September 1814 Reid's ship entered the neutral Portuguese harbor of Fayal in the Azores for water and provisions. On the same day the General Armstrong was discovered there by a British naval squadron consisting of the ship of the line Plantagenet, the frigate Rota, and the brig Carnation. Against this powerful squadron, the General Armstrong could muster less than 100 officers and men and carried only nine guns.
During the night of 26-27 September, the General Armstrong twice engaged in action with boats from the British ships. On the first occasion, Reid ordered his gunners to fire when he was convinced that the British boats were preparing to attack, and a brief engagement ensued. Later the British launched a full-scale attack with additional boats and made a determined attempt to board the American ship. They were beaten off and suffered heavy casualties. On the morning of the twenty-seventh, after renewed fighting with the Carnation, Reid ordered his ship to be scuttled and, with his men, abandoned it. The British lost more than 100 men killed and wounded, the Americans only nine. This fiercely fought engagement against overwhelming odds made Reid a national hero on his return to the United States. As the battle was in a neutral port, it led to an extended diplomatic correspondence between the United States, England, and Portugal over questions of responsibility and possible indemnities. In the 1850s the U.S. claim against Portugal was rejected, but ultimately one of Reid's sons received compensation from the U.S. government...
In the years after the War of 1812, Reid became harbor master of the Port of New York. This was a lucrative post, because its holder received fees from the vessels entering the port. He was active and creative in this position; he devised marine and land telegraph systems, reorganized the system of pilots for the port, published a code of signals for the telegraph on Staten Island, and took the lead in persuading the government to place a lightship off Sandy Hook. Reid's long service in peace and war was recognized by his appointment as sailing master in the navy.

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