On the rainy and foggy night of June 12, 1813, the British frigate Narcissus attacked the US Revenue Cutter Surveyor which lay at anchor in the York River not far from where TCYorktown is now located. Manned by only 15 men, she was attacked by a boarding party of 50 Englishmen in boats from the Narcissus, Lieutenant John Crerie, R.N. The boarders approached with muffled oars, from such an angle that Captain Samuel Travis, in the Surveyor, was unable to bring his guns to bear. He therefore gave his men two muskets each and bade them hold their fire until command. No sign or sound went up from the Surveyor to show that the attackers had been observed until the Englishmen were within pistol range; then with a whoop the cutter men cut loose their muskets and stood by to repel boarders.
They had little time to wait, it seems, for 'with the rattling volley came the cheers of the attacking party, who dashed alongside despite the leaden missiles, and a desperate hand-to-hand conflict ensued on the deck of the Surveyor. Although outnumbered and surrounded by the enemy, the crew did not flinch, contesting the deck with stubborn courage in response to ringing appeals from Captain Travis, who did not surrender his vessel until further resistance would have resulted in useless and wanton shedding of blood.'
In this brief and bloody struggle, five cutter men were wounded; seven British were wounded and three killed. The following day, Crerie returned Travis' sword with a note whose sentiment impresses one as much with Crerie's gallantry as with Travis' own:
Your gallant and desperate attempt to defend your vessel against more than double your number excited such admiration on the part of your opponents as I have seldom witnessed, and induced me to return you the sword you had so ably used, in testimony of mine.
Our poor fellows have severely suffered, occasioned chiefly, if not solely, by the precaution you had taken to prevent surprise. In short, I am at a loss which to admire most-the previous arrangement on board the Surveyor, or the determined manner in which the deck was disputed inch by inch. You have my most sincere wishes for the immediate parole and speedy exchange of yourself and brave crew.
I am, Sir, with much respect,
Your most obedient servant,
She was then used by the British on the Chesapeake. Her ultimate fate is unknown.