A short history of HMS De Braak
De Braak was a brig rigged vessel classed as a sloop of war and had served under two, and possibly three national flags during her long career.
She was built prior to 1781 in Holland and purchased by the Admiralty of the Maas. While in Dutch service De Braak was documented as a vessel of 255 tons, mounting a single mast and fore and aft rigged. She was typical of a class of very large, fast cutters and employed by the Dutch as revenue cutters, privateers or naval despatch boats.
In 1795 she was still in Dutch Service and put into Falmouth while unbeknown to her captain, war was declared between the Dutch Batavian Republic and England. She was impounded and pressed into service with the Royal Navy. On her refit in England she was converted into a brig and the hull copper sheathed and re armed. On June 16 1796, Captain James Drew boarded his new command and she went into service protecting English sea borne trade in the Channel and the Irish Sea. During this service De Braak was dismasted and Drew ruefully noted that his ship’s mainmast had been lost because she was simply over masted in the first place.
The De Braak’s next deployment was to protect British trade in American waters. In February 1798 she took charge of ten ships out bound to America and by the time they had sailed off the coast of Ireland, these numbers had increased. The outbound trip was uneventful apart from one incident off the Azores involving the chasing of sails of a ship that proved to be HMS Magnamine and a privateer. A spate of bad weather followed that dispersed the convoy and De Braak dropped out of sight for seven weeks.
The next recorded incident with the De Braak was recorded on 25 May during a brush with the American sloop President twenty miles south of Cape Henlopen. Drew had arrived off the Delaware Coast but it later transpired that he had previously captured a Spanish ship bound for Cadiz, put a prize crew on board and taken Spanish captives. This was to be Captain Drew’s one and only prize in his long Naval career.
The capture of this Spanish ship gave rise to the unfounded rumour that he had taken on board cargo and valuables and it was this rumour that proved to be the undoing of many treasure hunters over the years.
On the afternoon of 25 May, the De Braak and her prize proposed to enter the Delaware and took on board the pilot Andrew Allen. With a storm brewing the pilot wished to shorten sail but Drew was against this and admonished the pilot saying “you look out for the bottom and I will look out for the spars”. Shortly after this, a violent squall laid De Braak over and she began to fill in seconds
Thus ended the career of the De Braak, however the final chapters of her story have been written by Donald G Shomette in his book De Braak – Myth & Legend from which this article has been adapted.