Friday, January 7, 2011

Chronicles of the USS Potomac & The First Sumata Expedition, Shelling of Kuala Batee

The First Sumatra Expedition

First Sumatran Expedition (building from the Wikipedia entry)

Sumatran Conflict
Friendship Incident – Battle of Quallah Battoo – Eclipse Incident – Bombardment of Quallah Battoo – Battle of Muckie

The First Sumatran Expedition, which featured the Battle of Quallah Battoo, or Kuala Batee in 1832, was a punitive expedition against the village of Kuala Batee, presently a subdistrict in Southwest Aceh Regency. The reprisal was in response to the massacre of the crew of the merchantman Friendship a year earlier. The frigate USS Potomac and its crew defeated the local Raja's forces and bombarded the settlement. The expedition was successful in stopping Sumatran attacks on American shipping for six years until another vessel was plundered under different circumstances, resulting in a Second Sumatran Expedition in 1838.


The island of Sumatra is renowned as an excellent source of pepper, and throughout history ships have come to the island to trade for it. In 1831 the American merchantman Friendship under Captain Charles Endicott had arrived off the chiefdom of Kuala Batee in order to secure a cargo of pepper. Various small trading boats darted back and forth along the coast trading pepper with the merchant ships waiting offshore. On February 7, 1831 Endicott and a few of his men went ashore to purchase some pepper from the natives when three proas attacked his ship, murdered the Friendship's first officer and two other of her crew, and plundered its cargo.[1]

Endicott and the other surviving members of his crew managed to escape to another port with the assistance of a friendly native chief named Po Adam. There they enlisted the help of three other merchant captains who agreed to help him recover his vessel. With their help, Endicott managed to retake his ship and eventually sailed back to Salem, Massachusetts. Upon reaching Salem there was a general public outcry against the massacre and in response President Andrew Jackson dispatched the frigate USS Potomac under Commodore John Downes to punish the natives for their treachery.[2]


The Potomac reached Kuala Batee on February 5, 1832. Here Downes met Po Adam who advised them that the local Rajas would in no way be partial towards paying compensation for the attack on the Friendship. Commodore Downes then decided to disguise his ship as a Danish merchantman in order to keep the element of surprise in his favor. The disguise worked so well that when a party of Malays boarded the Potomac attempting to sell a cargo of pepper they were, much to their surprise, detained so as not to alert Kuala Batee of the real identity of the Potomac. Downes then sent a reconnaissance party to scout out the defenses of the port, but this was repulsed by the Malays.[3] In addition to the three proas in the harbor, at five forts were found to be guarding the town with the majority of them near the coastline.[4]

U.S. Infantry assaulting the Acehnese forts at Kuala Batee in 1832.

Downes ordered a detachment of 282 marines and sailors into the ship's boats, some of which had equipped with a few of the Potomac's lighter cannon. It was from these boats that the sailors and marines of the Potomac burnt the Malay vessels in Kuala Batee's harbor and assaulted the town's forts while support from the guns of the Potomac herself were used to suppress the fire coming from the Malay forts. The modern rifles the Americans used were far superior to the outdated matchlock weapons of the Malays, but the natives fought fiercely and the fighting devolved into hand to hand combat in which one of the Rajas commanding the forts was killed along with about 150 other warriors.[5] Only two Americans died during the attack and another eleven sailors and marines suffering injuries.[6]

After the coastal forts fell the remaining Malays fled towards the rear of the town where another fort lay, but instead of engaging the last remaining fort the Americans attacked the town itself. Large scale looting and pillaging occurred with a range of plunder being looted from the town as well as many civilians slain. Downes later ordered his men to return to the ship and bombarded the fifth fort as well as the town until its surviving leaders agreed to surrender, killing another 300 natives in the process.[7]


The remaining Rajas begged for mercy and Downes informed them that if any American ships were attacked again the same treatment would be given to the perpetrators. Other rajas from nearby states also sent delegations to the ship pleading that Downes spare them from the same fate as Kuala Batee. Downes left the area to continue his journey eventually circumnavigating the globe, stopping at Hawaii and entertaining that nation's king and queen aboard his vessel.

Although some criticism arose from the fact that Downes did not attempt to negotiate a settlement by peaceable means, the general public was satisfied with his response and no action was taken against him.[8] The troubles with Kuala Batee were not over though and in 1838 another ship was massacred and true to Downes' word another expedition under George C. Read bombarded Kuala Batee and attacked the village of Muckie.[9]

See also

    * Second Sumatran Expedition
    * Joseph Peabody

Additional reading:

Voyage of the United States frigate Potomac, under the command of Commodore John Downes, during the circumnavigation of the globe, in the years 1831, 1832, 1833, and 1834 .. (1835).

Karen Goodrich-Hedrick and John D. Hedrick, Cruises of the United States Frigate Potomac, 7p., modern publication.

see also:

Cruise of the United States Frigate Potomac Round the World: During the Years 1831-34 (1835) Book Description

Embracing The Attack On Quallah Battoo, With Notices Of Scenes, Manners, Etc., In Different Parts Of Asia, South America, And The Islands Of The Pacific.
Book Details

Francis Warriner, Cruise of the United States Frigate Potomac Round the World: During the Years 1831-34 (1835)
Kessinger Publishing, 8-31-2008.
ISBN:  1436987598, EAN: 9781436987592, 380 pages.

Websites (many given the subject nature), Andrew Jackson, Malay Pirates:



Brief sketch:
The first USS Potomac was a frigate in the United States Navy.

Potomac was laid down by the Washington Navy Yard in August 1819, was launched March 1822. Fitting out was not completed until 1831, when Captain John Downes assumed command as first commanding officer.

On her first overseas cruise, Potomac departed New York 19 August 1831 for the Pacific Squadron via the Cape of Good Hope. On 6 February 1832, Potomac shelled the town of Kuala Batee, Sumatra in punishment for the capture of merchantman Friendship of Salem, Massachusetts and the massacre of her crew in February 1831. Of the 282 sailors and Marines who landed, two were killed while 150 natives, including the chieftain, Po Mahomet died. After circumnavigating the world, Potomac returned to Boston 23 May 1834.

The frigate next made two cruises to the Brazil Station, protecting American interests in Latin America from 20 October 1834 to 5 March 1837, and from 12 May 1840 to 31 July 1842. From 8 December 1844 to 4 December 1845, she patrolled in the West Indies, and again from 14 March 1846 to 20 July 1847 in the Caribbean and the Gulf. During this latter period, she landed troops at Port Isabel, Texas, on 8 May 1846 in support of General Zachary Taylor’s army at the Battle of Palo Alto. She also participated in the siege of Vera Cruz, 9 March to 28 March 1847.

Potomac served as flagship for the Home Squadron 1855–1856. At the outbreak of the American Civil War, she departed New York 10 September 1861 for the Gulf Blockading Squadron off Mobile Bay. At this time, William Thomas Sampson served aboard her until 25 December 1861 when he transferred to the Water Witch as executive officer. The Potomac became the stores ship for the squadron and remained at Pensacola Navy Yard as a receiving ship until 1867, when she was sent to Philadelphia. She remained at League Island Navy Yard, Philadelphia until she decommissioned 13 January 1877. She was sold to E. Stannard & Company 24 May 1877.

No comments:

Post a Comment