The Heroína (Spanish for "heroine") was a privately owned frigate that was operated as a privateer under a license issued by the United Provinces of the River Plate (later Argentina). It was under the command of American-born Colonel David Jewett and has become linked with the Argentine claim to sovereignty of the Falkland Islands. This stems from a ceremony that took place on 6 November 1820, where Jewett formally claimed the Falkland Islands (Spanish: Islas Malvinas) for the United Provinces.
The Buenos Aires businessman Patrick Lynch acquired the French frigate Braque at some point in 1819/1820. The exact date is unknown with dates for the transaction ranging from August 1819 until January 1820. Initially it was planned to name the ship Tomás Guido but that name was considered inappropriate as Guido, Chief Secretary of the Army, was still alive at the time. After naming her Heroína and fitting out the ship to act as a privateer, Lynch obtained a corsair license from the Buenos Aires Supreme Director José Rondeau. Colonel David Jewett, an American privateer was given command of Heroína in 1820 and set out on a voyage marked by misfortune, a mutiny, and scurvy.
In July 1820, Jewett captured the Portuguese frigate Carlota that was en route to Lisbon. In doing so, Jewett crossed the line between privateer and pirate, since his corsairs license restricted his activities to Spanish ships (the United Provinces of the River Plate were not at war with Portugal). Jewett continued to capture ships of other flags causing further controversy.
In August, the crew mutinied and Jewett was only able to restore order with the support of the soldiers on board. The leader of the mutiny, James Thomas, was executed. Following the mutiny there was an outbreak of scurvy at a time when the crew of the Heroína was depleted by the need to man the prize Carlota. A storm severely damaged the Heroína and sank the Carlota forcing Jewett to put into Puerto Soledad for repairs.
Some 80 of the Heroína's crew of 200 were either sick or dead by the time he arrived in October at Puerto Soledad (later renamed Puerto Luis by Argentine settlers in line with the original French name, it was at one-time Spanish capital of the Falkland Islands). There he found some fifty British and U.S. sealing ships at anchor. Captain Jewett chose to rest and recover in the islands seeking assistance from the British explorer James Weddell. Weddell reports only 30 seamen and 40 soldiers out of a crew of 200 fit for duty, and how Jewett slept with pistols over his head following an attempted mutiny. Whilst in the Falkland Islands, there was a further attempt at mutiny with the crew eager to return to Buenos Aires.
On 6 November 1820, Col Jewett raised the flag of the United Provinces of the River Plate and claimed possession of the islands. Weddell reports the letter he received from Jewett as:
Sir, I have the honor of informing you that I have arrived in this port with a commission from the Supreme Government of the United Provinces of the Rio de la Plata to take possession of these islands on behalf of the country to which they belong by Natural Law. While carrying out this mission I want to do so with all the courtesy and respect all friendly nations; one of the objectives of my mission is to prevent the destruction of resources necessary for all ships passing by and forced to cast anchor here, as well as to help them to obtain the necessary supplies, with minimum expenses and inconvenience. Since your presence here is not in competition with these purposes and in the belief that a personal meeting will be fruitful for both of us, I invite you to come aboard, where you'll be welcomed to stay as long as you wish; I would also greatly appreciate your extending this invitation to any other British subject found in the vicinity; I am, respectfully yours. Signed, Jewett, Colonel of the Navy of the United Provinces of South America and commander of the frigate Heroína.
Many modern authors report this letter as the declaration issued by David Jewett. Weddell did not believe that Jewett was acting with the interests of the United Provinces of the River Plate in mind, rather Jewett had merely put into the harbour in order to obtain refreshments for his crew, and that the assumption of possession was chiefly intended for the purpose of securing an exclusive claim to the wreck of the French ship Uranie that had a few mouths previously foundered at the entrance of Berkeley Sound. Weddell left the islands on 20 November 1820 noting that Jewett had not completed repairs to the Heroína. On leaving the Islands, Jewett took the American schooner Rampart as a prize, an incident that had diplomatic repercussions with the United States of America.
In February 1821, Jewett was relieved of command being replaced by Guillermo Roberto Mason. On June 14, 1821 Heroína captured the Spanish brig Maipú, which was incorporated into the flotilla. Mason also attacked and seized the Portuguese ships Viscondesa and Providencia before putting into Gibraltar for repairs.
On the 20th March 1822 the Heroína was met by the Portuguese 44 gun frigate Pérola off Gibraltar. The Pérola managed to approach the Heroína and fired a broadside at point-blank range, ravaging the deck on the Heroína and forcing Mason to surrender. The Heroína was taken to Lisbon as a prize. For his action the Portuguese commander, captain Marçal de Ataíde Barahona, was made a knight of the Portuguese Military Order of the Tower and of the Sword, of Valour, Loyalty and Merit. The actions of the Heroína in seizing Portuguese ships combined with the fact that the Portuguese government, as most European governments at the time, had not yet recognised the United Provinces of the River Plate as an independent and legitimate state led to her being labelled as a pirate ship.
Mason was held by Portugal for two years before returning to Buenos Aires.
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