Commodore Richard Dale Monument – Portsmouth, Virginia - Atlas Obscura

Commodore Richard Dale Monument

Dedicated to a veritable Houdini among P.O.W.s who escaped imprisonment on five separate occasions.  


Born in 1756, Portsmouth native Richard Dale began his seafaring career at the age of 12, apprenticed to a ship owner and after five years, he became chief mate on a valuable brig. Dale was an intriguing figure in the American Revolution, with an uncanny knack for escaping capture, having managed to slip away from the British a remarkable five times.

Following his first capture by a tender of the HMS Liverpool, he knew some of his captors from his days as a merchant and was able to escape by fighting for the British cause until he was able to reunite with the patriot effort.

En route to Jamaica, the British vessel on which he was traveling was captured by the American vessel, the USS Lexington, and he enlisted as a midshipman with a subsequent promotion to Master’s Mate. The Lexington was later captured by the British vessel, the HMS Pearl, in 1776. Dale was released as part of a prisoner exchange early the following year.

During his third assignment on the Lexington, Dale was captured while on a mission that had wrought damage on Ireland’s coast and incarcerated at Mill Prison in Plymouth, England. Dale and his fellow inmates attempted to tunnel out of the prison as the harsh conditions and poor treatment did not instill in them much confidence in their continued survival. Dale and one of his mates were captured attempting to board a ship out of England and returned to Mill Prison to suffer even worse treatment after being placed in solitary confinement for 40 days. After a year of mistreatment in Mill Prison, Dale was able to calmly walk out of the prison dressed in the uniform of a British soldier.

Dale served as a Master’s Mate on John Paul Jones’ ship, the USS Bon Homme Richard, and was quickly promoted to First Lieutenant. After a valiant effort in a battle with the British ship HMS Serapis, Dale was promoted by Jones to Second in Command, and upon his death, Jones willed the gold-hilted sword given to him by the King of France to Richard Dale.

Dale’s fifth and final capture occurred after he had signed on as a Lieutenant on the USS Trumbull serving under Captain Nicholson. Dale was captured during a battle with a British frigate ship and imprisoned in New York, which was under British control at the time. U.S. agents were able to secure an early release for him.

Following his career at sea, Dale rose in the ranks of the Insurance Company of North America before departing for the Union Insurance Company, where he would become president for the final two years of his career before his passing in 1826.

The bronze memorial was sculpted by William Couper and cast at the Henry-Bonnard Foundry in New York. It was placed in 1917 during World War I to rally the community based on the bravery and dedication of one of Portsmouth’s favorite sons.

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