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Rattlesnake Revisited


David Lester
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Good Morning All,

 

My first exposure to model ships came when I was a kid, maybe 10 years old. My best friend's father built them and I was mesmerized by them whenever I went to his house. They lived in a large old mansion with a fireplace in every room and a ship model on every mantelpiece. His dad knew I was interested in models (plastic cars and planes,) so he would show me his work space and tools and supplies. I know he told me the names of all of the ships he had modeled,  but I didn't remember any of them except one - the Rattlesnake - because what kid could forget an intriguing ship's name like that. Decades later when I started modeling ships myself, I decided I had to build the Rattlesnake as a kind of tribute, which I am currently doing.

 

This past weekend I had the opportunity to re-connect with my old friend who has just returned to Canada after many years of living and working abroad. He had retrieved his belongings out of storage, set up his new house and when I visited, I could hardly believe my eyes. He still has his long-deceased dad's Rattlesnake (and one other model which I'll talk about in a separate post.) I always imagined all the models to be long gone, but apparently all of them have survived; his siblings have the others. 

 

Here are some pictures of it. The quality of the pictures isn't very good, as the room was quite dark, I only had my cell phone with me and I had trouble with glare on the glass case, but I think you can see it well enough. The last time I saw this model was over 50 years ago. I was pretty excited to see it again. I know he built many of his models from scratch but I'm not sure about this one. Many of the details are very similar to my Mamoli version.  While his stern painting isn’t as fine as it might be, the rest of the workmanship looks pretty good to me, especially the rigging.

 

I was interested in the flag he placed on it, which I believe to be the British White Ensign or St. George's Ensign. I understand that the Rattlesnake was an American privateer, was captured by the British and introduced into their fleet as the Cormorant. It seems a bit odd to me that he's showing it with a British flag and still bearing the name Rattlesnake. I don't know enough about naval history to know how these things transpired. That ensign would never have been flown by an American ship, would it? Was it the practice for an opposing navy to immediately raise their flag on a captured ship? Is this a legitimate way to have modeled this ship? or was he just taking artistic license? I'm kind of curious about that. I'm also curious about the blue colour of the bulwarks. I have never seen them painted blue before. Again, is there some legitimacy to this or is it more likely that he just happened to have some blue paint kicking around? Does anyone have any thoughts?

 

Anyway, that's my Rattlesnake story.  My friend gave me the other model that he had. Unlike the Rattlesnake, this one is in very poor condition and he's hoping I can restore it and it's mine to keep! Neither of us knows what ship it is. I'll post pictures of it separately to try to get some input from some of you, but I'd like to do a little research on my own first, to see if I can narrow it down a bit. In any case I'm pretty pleased to own it regardless of what it is or what condition it's in.

 

David

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I don't know if the Brits changed the ship name on the ship or only for "paperwork" purposes.   But.. both sides were known to carry "extra" flags of other nation's navies.  Sort of an early stealth attempt that was often quite successful.  All sides many times did not have a flag flying at sea and then raised one as appropriate.

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  • 2 months later...

John Miller writes from his "Early American Ships":

 

"The 16-gun privateer ship Rattlesnake was built in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1779 or 1780, allegedly to the designs of maverick designer John Peck. She was owned by John Andrews and others of Salem, and her captain was Mark Clark. She mounted anywhere between 14 and 20 carriage guns at various times, and she usually carried about 85 men. The earliest commission found on her is dated June 12, 1781, but she may have been commissioned earlier.  One privateer with the name Rattlesnake is reported to have captured more than $1 million of British shipping on a single cruise in the Baltic, but whether it was this Rattlesnake or not, we do not know..

 

Our Rattlesnake was captured off the American coast in 1781 by the brand new British 44-gun ship Assurance, and was renamed Cormorant. She was taken to England and her lines were drawn ... It took the British bureaucracy a long time to realize that they already had a ship called the Cormorant already in the Royal Navy, so she was renamed Rattlesnake once more in August, 1783, after the war was over. Chapelle says she was sold out of the service in 1784, but British records indicate that she was not sold out until 10 October, 1786."

 

Miller states that the conjectural idea that the Rattlesnake was sold into French service, originated with a European Model kit company. At any rate, a privateer vessel built in haste, during wartime, of rot-prone New England white oak no less, could not have lasted for very long, so it is doubtful that there is any real Privateer Le Tonnant connection, nor would there have been any service life left in her after 1786. [My opinion.]

 

Spelling and grammatical errors corrected! :)

Edited by uss frolick
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