James Pyne first appears in Revolutionary War naval records on 19 February 1777 when the South Carolina Navy Board orders an anchor and cable to be delivered to him for the temporary use of a prize taken by the brig Comet, to which he is attached as 2nd Lieutenant. Later that year on 13 October, the Navy Board instructs Pyne to “Open a House of Rendezvous” and assemble a crew of eighty seamen and officers to man the brigantine Comet. Just six days later, Captain Pyne was made aware of a “Brigg now off the Barr, by her behaviour is suspected to be an Enemy Cruizer” and ordered to prepare to go to sea imminently. On 24 October, Pyne is issued specific and comprehensive orders regarding “The Brigantine of War Comet of which you are Captain, being now Compleatly fitted, and ready to proceed on a Cruize, having a full Compliment of Men, Stores, and provissions for Three Months”. On 1 November 1777, the Commissioners of the South Carolina Navy Board followed up Captain Pyne’s orders by authorizing “the Credit of this State with whatever sum he may want” extended for the Comet should she put into any port during her cruise. Captain James Pyne and the 16-gun brig Comet sailed from Charleston the following day with her compliment of 85 men.
By early December, Pyne and brig Comet were cruising in the Caribbean Sea. A letter from Montego Bay dated 10 January 1778 published later in a London newspaper reports, “By Capt. Jacks, who arrived a few days ago from the Grand Caimanas (Caymans), we are informed, that the crew of the Camel (Comet) privateer, James Pine, Commander, belonging to Charles-Town,’ landed on the west end of that Island the 14th of December, and plundered the inhabitants, both men, women, and children, of all their cloaths and furniture, not leaving them so much as a plate, knife, or fork, &c. killed their live stock of all kinds; carried off two Negroes, four puncheons of rum, three casks of wine, some barrels of flour, cordage, block, &c. Just eight days after Pyne’s raid on the British island, on 22 December 1777 the South Carolina Navy brig Comet was taken near the Isle of Pine off the west end of Cuba by HM frigate Daphne of 90-guns under the command of Captain St. John Chinnery. The Comet’s officers and men were initially carried into Pensacola, FL from whence Captain Pyne was sent to New York as a prisoner while his crew was distributed among several vessels in the Royal Navy. In early March 1778, Comet’s Master’s Mate Jarvis Williams and Midshipman Paul Ripley arrived at Charleston with two other crewmen who escaped from the British at St. Augustine.
In response to a letter from Captain Pyne in confinement at New York, on 27 August 1778 the Commissioners of the South Carolina Navy Board recommended “that as we have Actual information of Many Men belonging to this State, being confined at New York, a Cartel may be sent there as soon as Convenient with the British Prisoners now here, to Exchange for Captain Pine, and such other Prisoners of this State as may be there.” By 6 November 1778, the Commissioners could report “that some time past, Capt. James Pyne and Lieut. Wells Late of the Brigg Comet- returned to Charles Town from their Captivity” and on their arrival “Directed them to look after the finishing and fiting of the New Brigg now Building at the State Ship Yard- said Brigg being now near Ready to be Launched.” The Commissioners further commended “Capt. James Pyne as a fitt and proper person to Command said Brigg”. Navy Board records indicate that Pyne was in command of the schooner Rattlesnake later that month on 24 November. Six days later on 30 November 1778, Lieutenant Charles Crowly was ordered to “call upon Capt. Pyne for the Articles of the Schooner Rattlesnake and that you use all your Endeavours to enlist Men for the said Vessel, giving a Bounty of Thirty Dollars for Every able Seaman who shall enlist for the Term of Six Months but to Open no Rendevouze”. That same day Captain James Pyne was assigned a different command by the Navy Board, ordering him “with all possible Dispatch get the Brigg Hornet Compleatly Fitted and Manned to proceed on a Cruize, and… Exert yourself all in your power to get said Brigg ready, as the Service of the state at this time Require it”. Less than a week later, the Navy Board ordered Pyne to order all Hornet’s seamen to temporarily man the brig Notre Dame for a short ten day cruise. To further entice the men, the Board promised all prize monies would “belong wholy to the Captors”.
Captain James Pyne spent December through February superintending the fitting out of the 14-gun brig Hornet. On 28 February 1779, The Navy Board issued Captain Pyne orders. “The State Brigg Hornet of which you are Captain being now Compleatly fitted, well Manned, and having a full Quantity of Provisions and Stores, and now ready to proceed on a Cruiz the Commissioners of the Navy Board Direct that you do Embrace the first faviourable Opertunity to proceed to Sea in Company with the State Schooner Rattle Snake Capt. Frisbee, and the privateer Brigg of war Munmouth Capt. Ingersall, and that you Continue to Cruize in Company Close a Long the Coast, as far to the Southward as Tybee, and as far to the Northward as Cape Fear, not Exceeting Ten days from the time you leave Charles Town Barr, during which time you are by every means in your power, Endeavour to Take, Sink Burn, or Destroy, any of the Vessels or goods belonging to the King of Great Britain or any of his Subjects, Except such as belong to the Islands of Bermuda or new providence and in order to prevent Seperation during the Cruize you are to furnish Capt. Frisbee and Ingersall with proper Signals, before you Sail Over the Bar of Charles Town The Commissioners particularly recommend that you do Endeavour by every means in your power to Cultivate Harmony and a Good Understanding between all the Officers and Seamen, on board the Different Vessels, and that you Cause a regular and good Command to be Carried by all the Officers in their different stations on board the Hornet, and that you have all the Vessels Company properly Quartered and Stationed before you leave the Harbour, and that you Cause them to be regularly Exercised to the Great Guns and small Arms Once every day, and that the Rules of the Navy to be Constantly fixed in some public part of the Vessel where they may at all times be seen by any of the Crew and that the same be publickly read to the whole Vessells Company Once every week- You are not to Suffer any provissions or Stores belonging to the Vessel to be wasted or Extravigantly Expended, and you are to Cause every Warrant Officer to keep Exact and regular Accounts of all Stores Expended in their different Departments and make regular returns to you every Month, which you are Carefully to Examine and when found right to sign them, and at the End of three Months you are to Cause Each of them to return to the Clerk of the Board a General return of all stores Expended, and of all Stores of every kind that remain on board as no pay bill will be passed till such returns have been Examined- Should you be so fortunate as to take any prize, you are to put on board a proper person as prize Master with a sufficient number of men to Navigate her with Orders to proceed to Charles Town or some Inlet in the State of South Carolina, and to treat all prisoners with Humanity and Tenderness, and by Every Opertunity Advise the Board of Every Transaction worth Communicating- As an Encouragement to the Officers and Seamen in the Navy of this State to Engage privateers belonging to the Enemy, the state has agreed that all Vessells fitted out by the Enemy to Cruize against the United States of America, taken by any of the State Vessels shall belong wholy to the Captors, and in Case any man in the Service shall be maimed or any way disabled, he is provided for, and if any man is Killed in the service and leave a wife or Children they are to be provided for by the State, this you are to Inform the whole Vessels Company of.”
In March 1779, Captain James Pyne was unlucky enough to run afoul of Captain Chinnery and the 20-gun frigate Daphne again off of Charleston, eluding capture himself by escaping to shore in the ship’s longboat. The balance of Hornet’s compliment of eighty officers and men were well treated and carried into Savannah where they were paroled and landed on South Carolina soil. Captain James Pyne was next appointed by the South Carolina Navy Board to command the 6-gun row galley Rutledge. Captain Pyne in the Rutledge along with two other galleys participated in an action on the Stono River on the night of 22 June 1779, capturing a British schooner and silencing enemy batteries on John’s Island. Anchored off of Eveleigh’s Plantation under the watchful eyes and ready guns of over a thousand British soldiers all the following day on 23 June, Pyne sailed downriver with the setting sun. His little fleet of three row galleys and British prize schooner survived the gauntlet of cannon and rifle fire emanating from the riverbank, escaping with six dead and a number of others wounded. One month later on 26 July 1779 we find the South Carolina Navy Board ordering Captain Pyne to “Immediately bring to Charlestown the Rutledge Galley and take on board water and Provisions for 2 Months and have the Galley in readiness to proceed on Service on the Shortest Not[ice].” It is assumed that August was spent fulfilling those orders and making the vessel ready as on 4 September 1779, the Navy Board ordered Captain James Pyne “that you do Immediately on rec[eipt] of this, Endeavour by Every means in your Power, to Enlist Seamen and able bodied Negroe Men to Serve on board the Rutledge Galley for Six Months, and that you allow One Hundred Dollars Bounty to every able Bodied Seaman and forty dollars @ Month, and for every able Bodied Negro man forty Dollars @ Month, the Negro to be appraised, and the Owner to be Set[tled] in the Value, in Case of being killed Captured or maimed by the Enemy.” Five days later the Navy Board directed Pyne to proceed “with all possible dispatch to the Southward in Serch of the Enemy and use every means in your Power to take or distroy any of the Enemys Vessels or- Boats, where ever they may be found, you are by Every Opportunity to Acquaint Count DeEstang of your Situation and to desire his directions how to proceed with the Galley”. In orders given to Captain Benjamin Ford of the row galley Carolina on 12 October 1779, Captain Pyne is identified as the senior officer in the South Carolina Navy operating in the area at the time.
On 4 November 1779, while returning to Savannah in company with the former Royal Navy victualer Myrtle and expecting a reception by American forces, Captain James Pyne and the galley Rutledge were captured at the mouth of the Tybee River. The Rutledge was renamed Viper and taken into British service. By the end of November, Captain Pyne had already “attended the [South Carolina Navy] Board, and acquainted them with the loss of the Rutledge Galley”. Apparently, no blame was found in Pyne’s actions as he was ordered by the Navy Board to take command of the brig Notre Dame on 20 December 1779 after the resignation former commander William Hall. Two days later however, Pyne along with Captain William Sisk were directed to go on board, take possession of and inventory all stores on two French ships recently purchased for use of the South Carolina Navy, the Bricole and Truite. The sloop Truite apparently his charge, Captain Pyne carried the vessel to the “State Ship yard at Hobcaw, as a place of Safety”. Originally built at France in 1776 as a small transport, the Truite- or Trout in English- was armed with 26 guns at this time. On 24 January 1780, Pyne reported back to the Navy Board that “if the Trout is to be fitted for a Cruzing Ship… it will be necessary to [break] off her upper Deck, which will be attended with Considerable Expence & Delay.” The Board responded the following day by informing Captain Pyne of his appointment “to the Command of the Trout” and their desire for him “ with all possible dispatch get her fitted and ready for harbour Service”. On 8 February 1780, Captain James Pyne along with a number of other captains of vessels in the service of South Carolina were issued instructions to report to Commodore Abraham Whipple, Commander in Chief of the Continental Navy, who would be responsible for having “them Stationed, and disposed of in the best and most Effectual manner for the defence of this town and [Charleston] Harbour”. The Abraham Whipple Collection in the Rhode Island Historical Society includes two letters from the Commodore to Pyne dated 9 and 21 February 1780.
Anticipating the loss of his vessel, Captain Pyne was ordered to remove “all the Guns, shot & powder” from the Truite on 22 March and to “send them to charlestown in the most Expeditions manner”. The pension application of John Taylor (S-7683) indicates the marine served only about ten days on board the Truet (Truite) under Captain Pyne at Fort Moultrie when the vessel was ordered sunk in the Cooper River channel to prevent the approach of the enemy. After the Fall of Charleston, Pyne was sent to Philadelphia with other naval officers on parole where he was exchanged. Along with his 1st Lieutenant on the Truite Charles McCarthy, on 18 July 1780 Captain James Pyne requested from the Continental Congress an appointment in the Continental Navy. Their memorial was read before Congress two days later and referred to the Board of Admiralty for consideration. By the time the Board of Admiralty was ready to act on 25 October 1780, Lieutenant McCarthy was already engaged in private service. However their report regarding “Pyne’s qualifications and former services under the State of South Carolina, are such, as in the opinion of this Board, may recommend him to the Rank of a Lieutenant in the navy of the United States- But they beg leave to inform Congress, that they have at present several Lieutenants of long standing upon their navy list, who are not in actual service.” James Pyne was soon after appointed 3rd Lieutenant of the sloop-of-war Saratoga under the command of Captain John Young. About November 1780, when Blaney Allison was promoted to 1st Lieutenant of the Saratoga in the place of Joshua Barney who had been captured while in temporary command of a prize vessel, Pyne was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant of the vessel. It is in this capacity he was serving when the Continental Navy sloop Saratoga vanished on 18 March 1781 with all hands lost. Continental Navy Lieutenant James Pyne’s will can be found on page 176 in Will Volume 20 of Charleston County, SC and was proved in 1783 on page 149 of the Probate Records. A newspaper advertisement for the settlement of his estate dated 8 July 1783 names Deputy Marshal of South Carolina’s Admiralty Court John Sansum as Pyne’s administrator.