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British sloop LITTLE BELT and the American frigate PRESIDENT

Date: 1811 - 1825
Overall: 435 x 545 mm, 250 g
Medium: Ink on paper
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Purchased with USA Bicentennial Gift funds
Object Name: Aquatint
Object No: 00004363

User Terms

    This aquatint by J Hassell after the painting by Joseph Cartwright depicts the American frigate PRESIDENT approaching the damaged British sloop LITTLE BELT.

    The aquatint is inscribed:
    To the Right Honourable Charles Philip Yorke, First Lord of the Admiralty. This print elucidating the extreme disproportion of force between the American frigate PRESIDENT and His Majesty’s Sloop LITTLE BELT Arthur Butt Bingham Esquire Commander; and representing the situation of both ships in the morning after the Action of the 11 May 1811 is respectfully inscribed by his obliged servant J Cartwright.
    SignificanceThis illustration depicts the aftermath of the action between HMS LITTLE BELT and USS PRESIDENT. The 'LITTLE BELT Affair' was one of many incidents that contributed to the War of 1812 between America and the British Empire.
    HistoryThe 'Little Belt Affair' of May 1811 refers to an incident between the American frigate PRESIDENT commanded by John Rodgers, and the British sloop LITTLE BELT commanded by Arthur Bingham. Although America had won independence from Great Britain in the Revolutionary War, in the early 1800s tension was rising between the two nations around a number of unresolved issues, including the impressment of thousands of American sailors.

    The Secretary of the United States Navy Paul Hamilton had received news that a British ship, the GUERRIERE, had impressed an American merchant sailor from Maine into the Royal Navy. The PRESIDENT was informed of the news, and set sail up the coast toward New York. A few days later the PRESIDENT sighted the British sloop LITTLE BELT outside of Chesapeake Bay, and believing it to be the GUERRIERE, pursued the ship and was soon within speaking distance. Both vessels claim they demanded the other identify his ship, and that both refused to answer.

    The ships engaged in barrage - which ship first fired is unknown - and the 1,576 ton 44-gun PRESIDENT overwhelmed the 460 ton 20-gun LITTLE BELT, which sustained several deaths and multiple injuries. Having learnt of the ship's identity, the next morning Lieutenant John Creighton of the PRESIDENT went to LITTLE BELT and offered assistance, and apologised for the 'unfortunate affair'. Bingham declined the American offer to use the ports of the United States, and sailed to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

    Additional Titles

    Primary title: HM sloop LITTLE BELT and the American frigate PRESIDENT COMMODORE ROGERS

    Web title: British sloop LITTLE BELT and the American frigate PRESIDENT

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