Ambrose Light (ship)

Not to be confused with Lightship Ambrose.
Name: Ambrose Light
Builder: Waldoborough, Maine
Laid down: 1857
Captured: 1885
General characteristics
Class and type: brigantine
Tons burthen: 215
Armament: one 60 pound cannon

Ambrose Light was a brigantine, operated by Colombian rebels.[1][2] It was captured by USS Alliance as a suspected pirate vessel in 1885.[3] The accusation of piracy was rejected by a court of law.


Capture of the Ambrose Light
Part of the Colombian Civil War

Watercolor of USS Alliance.
DateApril 24, 1885
Locationoff Colombia, Caribbean Sea
Result Ambrose Light and Colombian rebels captured.
 United States Colombian rebels
Commanders and leaders
Lewis Clark unknown
1 gunboat 1 brigantine
Casualties and losses
none 60 captured
1 brigantine captured

On April 24, Commander Lewis Clark, of the South Atlantic Squadron, was sailing to Cartagena, on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, when the lookouts aboard the Alliance sighted the one-gun Ambrose Light. It was flying a strange flag featuring a red cross over a white background so the Americans assumed the vessel was a pirate ship. A chase began and the Americans were preparing to fire a shot over the vessel's bow when a Colombian ensign was observed and the Ambrose Light came to a halt. Commander Clark put Lieutenant M. Fisher and a boarding party on the rebel ship and it was found to have been armed with one cannon and sixty heavily armed sailors. A large cache of ammunition was also discovered. The Colombians revealed their letter of marque from the rebel leader Pedro Lara, giving the men of Ambrose Light permission to blockade Cartagena. Commander Clark disregarded this and took the rebels prisoner and the brigantine as prize. The ship was put under the command of Lieutenant Fisher with ten others and sent to be condemned in New York. After arriving on June 1, a negro stowaway was found, starving to death, hiding behind some casks in the cargo hold. The man immediately received medical attention.

Legal case

Following the court proceedings, it was agreed that the USS Alliance had lawfully seized the rebels as pirates because Pedro Lara, or any rebel, had no right to commission warships.

After a legal decision, the ship was returned to her Colombian owners, in return for costs. The court ruled that the ship could legally be used to transport troops between Colombian ports during the Colombian civil war.[4] When fighting broke out in Cartagena, the American Secretary of State Thomas F. Bayard released the Ambrose Light and her crew.[1][2]

This incident was the basis for a decision in case law that defines who can be called a pirate in the United States.

See also


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