Other Events in the Sea in 1776 | Naval History


    About the author

    Gardner W. Allen
    Gardner W. Allen

    Gardner W. Allen (1856–1944) was an American naval historian known for his detailed studies of naval operations and ship histories. Allen’s most significant contribution is his work on American naval history, particularly during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. His notable publications include “Our Navy and the Barbary Corsairs,” “Our Naval War with France,” and “The Naval History of the American Revolution.”



      Having followed the movements of two fleets in service during 1776, there remain to be considered various cruises and actions of a number of single vessels, public and private, that went out upon the sea in that year; and some other events as well.

      The Massachusetts navy began its existence in August, 1775, when the Machias Liberty and Diligent were taken into the service of the province and Jeremiah O’Brien was put in command of them. The Diligent was afterwards commanded by Captain John Lambert. These vessels cruised intermittently and with some success for over a year, or until October, 1776. In February they were at Newburyport and received new crews. In the spring O’Brien took two or three small prizes (O’Brien, chs. vii, viii, ix; Am. Arch., IV, iv, 1294, vi, 800, V, iii, 384,387; Massachusetts Mag., January, April, 1910; Boston Gazette, June 10, July 29, 1776; Mass. Court Rec., February 8, March 23, 1776.)

      Meanwhile the force had been increased. As a result of the report of the committee appointed December 29, 1775, to consider the subject of a state navy, ten vessels were authorized by the General Court of Massachusetts in February, 1776, the number being shortly afterwards reduced to five. April 20 it was resolved “that the Brigantine building at Kingston be called the Independence, that the Brigantine building at Dartmouth be called the Rising Empire, that the Sloop building at Salisbury be called the Tyrannicide, that one
      of the Sloops building at Swanzey be called the Republic and the other the Freedom.” The Tyrannicide was changed into a brigantine a few months later. Another vessel, the brigantine Massachusetts, was built at Salisbury in the spring. The Tyrannicide, Captain John Fisk, carrying fourteen guns and seventy-five men, seems to have been the first of these newly constructed vessels to get to sea. She sailed July 8 and four days later captured a prize. Captain Fisk’s report, dated July 17, says: “This may serve to acquaint your Honours that in latitude 40° 26′ north, longitude 65° 50′ west, I fell in with the armed schooner Despatch from Halifax, bound to New York; and after an engagement of one-and-a-half hour, she struck to the American arms. I boarded her and found on board eight carriage guns and twelve swivel guns, twenty small arms, sixteen pistols, twenty cutlasses, some cartridges, boxes, and belts for bayonets, nine half barrels powder, all the accoutrement for said cannon. The Commander and one man were killed, and seven others wounded. The crew consisted of thirty men and one boy. I lost one man killed and ten wounded, and my vessel was much shattered, which obliged me to return with my prize, which I have at anchor in Salem Harbour, and wait your Honours’ orders how to proceed with the prisoners. All the Captain’s papers and orders were thrown overboard.” (Coll. Essex Inst., January, 1906.) Fisk sailed again and during the month of August took four prizes, one of which was recaptured by a British frigate which chased and nearly caught the Tyrannicide. Upon Fisk’s advice his sloop’s rig was changed after her return from this cruise. October 29, Fisk was ordered on another cruise to the eastward of Nantucket Shoals as far as the ninth meridian of longitude and south to the twelfth parallel of north latitude. Meanwhile the brigantine Independence, Captain Simeon Sampson, whose instructions of July 26 were apparently the next issued after those of Captain Fisk, was “Directed Imediately to proceed on a Cruize not only against our Unatural Enemies, but also for ye Protection of the Trade of the United States, and you are directed to Range the Coast of the Province of Main . . . and from thence proceed as farr Southward as the Lattitude thirty-four North, and not further West than the Shoals of Nantuckett, nor further East than the Island [of] Sable, on the Coast of Nova Scotia.” The Independence accomplished little during the year (Mass. Court Rec., April 20, May 4, September 13, 1776; Rec. Mass. Council, July 26, October 29, 1776; Am. Arch., V, i, 405, 552; Boston Gazette, August 19, 1776; Massachusetts Mag., April, 1908, January, 1909.)

      Richard Derby of Salem reported, October 3, that on the previous evening the brigantine Massachusetts, “belonging to this State, aryved here.” She bad been cruising during September under the command of Captain Daniel Souther, who, Derby says, “Informs me that a few Days after he sailed he fell in with & Took a Brigantine of about 250 Tons from Falmouth in England mounting six three pound Cannon & having on board a Captain & about 20 Privates of the 16th Regiment of Dragoons, with their Horse Accoutrements . . . He parted from the Prize this Day week in a Storm which has Continued almost ever since, but as the wind has been favourable this Day or two I Expect every moment to see or to hear of her being aryved at Boston. The prisoners in all amount to 35 which Cap Souther tho’t too many to Cary the Cruise with him & therefor tho’t best to Return & Land them, Espetially as he Expected to Do it in a few Days, but Gales of wind have prevented him. The Honble Board I hope will send me Directions how to Dispose of the Prisoners . . . They say the People in Brittain know Nothing what is passing in America & Capt Souther Informs me the Chaplain has told him the People in England begin to grow very weary.” (Massachusetts Mag., October, 1908; Boston Gazette, October 7, 1776.)

      The sloops Republic, Captain John Foster Williams, and Freedom, Captain John Clouston, when ready for sea were ordered to Boston. In October the Republic was sent on a cruise off Nantucket and soon captured the British armed ship Julius Caesar. The Republic was afterwards employed in commercial voyages. Captain Clouston’s orders are dated September 20, 1776: “The sloop Freedom under your command, being in all respects equipped in a warlike manner and being also well and properly manned, so as to enable you to proceed on a cruise, you therefore are directed to range the eastern shore of this State laying between the River Piscataqua and Machias, in order to clear that coast of any of the enemy’s cruisers that may be infesting the same; and from thence proceed to the mouth of the River St. Lawrence and there cruise until the first of November, in order to intercept any of the enemy’s vessels that may be passing that way; and from thence you must proceed to the coast of Newfoundland and there cruise until the middle of November aforesaid, in order to surprise and seize such vessels of the enemy as you meet upon that coast or in any of the harbours of the same; after which you may proceed upon a cruise as far southward as latitude 38° north and continue upon said cruise so long as you find it practicable or expedient; and then you are to return to the harbour of Boston, always using every necessary precaution to prevent the sloop under your command from falling into the hands of the enemy. You are to observe and follow such orders and directions as you shall from time to time receive from Captain Daniel Souther, provided they are consistent with the instructions now given you. And whereas you have received a commission by force of arms to attack, seize and take on the high seas all ships and other vessels belonging to the inhabitants of Great Britain, or others infesting the sea-coast of this Continent, you are therefore punctually to follow the instructions already delivered you for regulating your conduct in this matter, and in all things conduct yourself consistent with the trust reposed in you.” (Massachusetts Mag., April, 1909.) These instructions were probably not carried out, and after her return from a short cruise, the Freedom was altered into a brigantine, being fitted out with the masts, sails, and rigging of the Rising Empire. This vessel for some reason, after a very short cruise, had been reported by her captain to be “totally unflt for the service,” and was put out of commission (Ibid., April, July, 1909, July, 1911; Mass. Court Rec., October 9, 1776.)

      In May, 1776, the Connecticut brig Defence, Captain Harding, captured several tories crossing to Long Island. Harding then fitted out three small sloops to search for tories, the Defence being too well known to them. In a letter expressing well defined opinions of toryism, Governor Trumbull of Connecticut acknowledged Harding’s reports “communicating alarming intelligence of a most unnatural and traitorous combination among the inhabitants of this Colony. Possessed of and enjoying the most valuable and important privileges, to betray them all into the hands of our cruel oppressors is shocking and astonishing conduct and evinces the deep degeneracy and wickedness of which mankind is capable. Have laid your communication before my Council. They are equally shocked at this horrid baseness and will with me be ready to come into any proper measures to defeat and suppress this wicked conspiracy to the utmost of our power; and in the mean time approve and applaud your zeal and activity to discover and apprehend any persons concerned in this blackest treason.” (Am. Arch., IV, vi, 503.) The Defence afterwards performed valuable service in Massachusetts Bay, returning to New London in July, and continued cruising during the rest of the year (Am. Arch., IV, vi, 439, 470, 482, 483, 503, 531; Connecticut Courant, July 22, 1776; Continental Journal, October 10, 1776; New London Hist. Soc., IV, i, 37.)

      Delaware and Chesapeake Bays and the Carolina sounds witnessed a good deal of marine conflict during the year 1776. Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia maintained many small craft, as well as some large vessels, for defense, and a number of captures were made early in the year. Several Continental vessels also cruised in these waters. In March the British sloop of war Otter, with several tenders and prizes, came up Chesapeake Bay nearly as far as Baltimore. The ship Defence, Captain James Nicholson, of the Maryland navy, went out to meet the Otter, drove her down the bay and recaptured her prizes. Governor Dunmore of Virginia employed a considerable fleet in Chesapeake Bay, which in July comprised more than forty vessels. Whatever British men-of-war happened to be stationed in the bay, and there were generally a few at least, were attached to this fleet. A family of tories, John Goodrich and several sons, also cruised about the bay in Dunmore’s service. The chief function of the state cruisers was to check the ravages of these vessels along the shores of the bays and rivers. Several of their prizes were recaptured by the navies of Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina, and other captures, some of them important, were occasionally made. June 20, Captain James Barron of the Virginia navy took the Oxford, one of the fleet of Scotch transports bound to Boston, and brought her into Jamestown (Am. Arch., IV, iv, 114, 122, 123, 125, 126, v, 199, vi, 1559, V, i, 152, 525, ii, 162, iii, 821, 1607; Almon, iii, 31; Boston Gazette, February 5, May 20, July 15, 1776; N. E. Chronicle, May 23, 1776; So. Lit. Messenger, February, 1857.)

      After the departure of Hopkins’s fleet for New Providence in February, the Marine Committee fitted out other Continental vessels from time to time. Those that cruised along the coast of the Middle States were the brigs Lexington and Reprisal, of sixteen guns each, and the sloops Independence and Sachem, of ten guns each, and Mosquito of four guns. April 7, in sight of the Virginia capes, Captain John Barry of the Lexington reported to the Marine Committee: “I have the pleasure to acquaint you that at one P.M. this day I fell in with the sloop Edward [of eight guns], belonging to the Liverpool frigate. She engaged us near two glasses. They killed two of our men and wounded two more. We shattered her in a terrible manner, as you will see. We killed and wounded several of her crew. I shall give you a particular account of the powder and arms taken out of her, as well as my proceedings in general. I have the happiness to acquaint you that all our people behaved with much courage.” (Pennsylvania Gazette, April 17, 1776.) Captain Barry was an Irishman by birth and afterwards became a distinguished officer of the navy. In July the sloop Sachem captured a heavily armed British letter of marque brig (Am. Arch., IV, v, 810, V, ii, 823; Almon, iii, 81; Griffin’s Life of Barry, 30; Barney, 45, 46; N. E. Chronicle, April 25, 1776.)

      The British man-of-war Roebuck, 44, cruised about the Virginia and Delaware capes from the middle of March until June. May 5, in company with the Liverpool, 28, and a number of tenders and prizes, she came up Delaware Bay. On the 8th these vessels were met below Chester by thirteen Pennsylvania galleys and an engagement followed which lasted all the afternoon. The Continental schooner Wasp, Captain Alexander, came out of Christiana Creek, into which she had been driven the day before by the British, and recaptured one of their prizes – a brig. The Roebuck was considerably injured in her rigging and, in attempting to get near the galleys, grounded on a shoal; the Liverpool anchored near by for her protection. During the night the Roebuck got off and the British dropped down the river. The galleys followed and another action took place. An American prisoner, impressed on board the Roebuck, says that the galleys “attacked the men-of-war the second day with more courage and conduct [and] the Roebuck received many shots betwixt wind and water; some went quite through, some in her quarter, and was much raked fore and aft . . . During the engagement one man was killed by a shot which took his arm almost off. Six were much hurt and burned by an eighteen-pound cartridge of powder taking fire, among whom was an acting lieutenant.” (Am. Arch., IV, vi, 810.) The British ships then retreated. In his official report to the admiral the captain of the Roebuck says: “On the 5th of May I took the Liverpool with me, sailed up the River as far as Wilmington, where I was attacked in a shallow part of the River by thirteen Row Gallies attended by several FireShips and Launches, which in two long Engagements I beat off and did my utmost to destroy . . . After having fully executed what I had in view, I returned to the Capes the 15th.” (Brit. Adm. Rec., A. D. 487, November 28, 1776.) The presence of the Reprisal and Hornet in the bay, or near by, although they took no part in the action, may have contributed to the discomfort of the Englishmen’s situation (Am. Arch., IV, vi, 395, 408, 498, 809-811; Almon, iii, 173; Boston Gazette, May 20, 1776 ; Barney, 40-43; Wallace’s Life of Bradford, 367.)

      The Reprisal, Captain Lambert Wickes, was ordered June 10 to Martinique, but she did not sail at once; at the end of the month she was still in the Delaware. On the 29th the armed brig Nancy, from the West Indies bound to Philadelphia with ammunition and military stores, was chased off the Delaware capes by six British men-of-war and tenders; she engaged the latter and beat them off. The Lexington and Reprisal came to the Nancy’s rescue, and under cover of a fog she was run ashore near Cape May and the most valuable part of her cargo, including two hundred and seventy barrels of powder, was saved. The fog soon lifted and the British were seen to be very near and sending in boats. The Nancy’s captain and crew then quitted her after setting her on fire, a large quantity of powder being still on board. Two or three of the British boats then came in, boarded the Nancy “and took possession of her with three cheers; soon after which the fire took the desired effect and blew the pirates forty or flfty yards into the air and much shattered one of their boats under her stern. Eleven dead bodies have since come on shore with two gold-laced hats and a leg with a garter. From the great number of limbs floating and driven ashore it is supposed thirty or forty of them were destroyed by the explosion.” (Am. Arch., V, i, 14.) According to a British account, which may, however, refer to another incident, the boats sent in “boarded amidst a heavy fire from the shore, where thousands of people had assembled to protect her. Finding it impossible to get her off, we set her on fire, with orders to quit her without loss of time, as we found her cargo consisted of three hundred and sixty barrels of powder with some saltpetre and dry goods; but unfortunately, before we had all left her, she blew up and a mate and six men was blown to pieces in her. The oars of the other boats were all knocked to atoms and two men had their ribs broke; but considering the whole, we was amazingly fortunate, as the pieces of the vessel was falling all round for some time.” (Navy Rec. Soc., vi, 35, journal of Lieutenant (later RearAdmiral) James, in which discrepancies in date and other details may perhaps be accounted for by its having been written two years later, in prison.) The Americans mounted a gun on shore and opened fire on the men-of-war. The fire was returned and Lieutenant Wickes, brother of the captain of the Reprisal, was killed (Am. Arch., IV, vi, 783, V, i, 14; Mag. Amer. Hist., March, 1878, narrative of Lieutenant Matthewman.)

      The Reprisal sailed July 3 for the West Indies, taking out as passenger William Bingham, who was to be the American commercial and naval agent at Martinique. The Reprisal convoyed thirteen merchantmen to a safe distance beyond the Delaware capes. During the voyage she took and manned three prizes, which left her very short-handed. As she was approaching the port of St. Pierre, July 27, the British sloop of war Shark, 16, came out of the harbor. Captain Chapman of the Shark says that at half-past five that afternoon a ship was seen coming around the northern point of the bay and was suspected of being an American. At seven the Shark slipped her cables and made sail. Half an hour later the Reprisal tacked. “We wore and stood towards him & haild him twice in French, to which he made no answer; we afterwards haild him in English, he continued to make sail from us & made no reply. At 9 fir’d a shot ahead of him and haild in English, told him we was an English Man of War; he made no answer, but bore down and fired a Broadside into us, which we returned immediately and continued engaging 1/2 an hour, then he back’d his Maintops & dropt astern & afterwards tack’d; 1/4 past 10 we tack’d & stood towards him, at 1/2 past 10 they fired two shot at us from the shore, which occasioned us to bear away; he kept his Wind and anchord in the Bay.” (Brit. Adm. Rec., Captain’s Logs, No. 895 (log of the Shark.) Wickes says that be replied to both the French and English hail of the Shark and that the latter fired a shot at ten o’clock followed by three others in succession, to which the Reprisal returned four, whereupon the English made sail in order to withdraw from the contest. A French officer on shore thought that the English fire was the more rapid and better delivered. He says that after parting from the Reprisal, the Shark chased a schooner, which took refuge under a battery; whereupon the battery fired two shot at the Shark. The next day she returned to her anchorage in the harbor. The Reprisal went back to the United States in September and the sloop Independence, Captain John Young, was sent out to take her place. Naval stores were greatly needed at all times and the Marine Committee took measures to obtain them in the West Indies, the depot for European goods of that kind. Ships of war were largely employed for their transportation (Am. Arch., V, i, 180, 249, 609, 706, 741, ii, 324, 410; Almon, iv, 103; Archives de la Marine, B7 458; Pap. Cont. Congr., 78, 23, 293, 295 (Wickes to Committee of Secret Correspondence, July 11, 13, 1776) ; Mar. Com. Letter Book, 20, 26 (September 20, October 4, 1776); Boston Gazette, August 19, October 7, 1776; Independent Chronicle, October 3, 1776.)

      In the spring of 1776 a British expedition was sent against the southern colonies. A fleet of transports with troops under the command of General Cornwallis sailed from Cork convoyed by two fifty-gun ships and several smaller vessels commanded by Commodore Parker. In May this force arrived in North Carolina and was joined by General Clinton, who had left Boston with several regiments in January; Clinton now assumed the command. The objective point of the expedition having been left to his discretion, he determined to attack Charleston, and on June 4 the fleet appeared off the bar at the harbor entrance of that town.

      Meanwhile the Americans had been making preparations for defense. A force of five or six thousand, less than half of them regulars and all raw troops, was collected under the command of General Charles Lee. A fort of palmetto logs was built at the southern end of Sullivan’s Island whichcom manded the channel. This fort was garrisoned by about three hundred and flfty regular troops and a few militia under Colonel Moultrie. Seven or eight hundred men were stationed at the northern end of Sullivan’s Island to oppose the approach of the British from Long Island. The South Carolina navy, at that time consisting of three vessels, probably took some part in the defense of the town.

      The British met with some difficulty and delay in getting over the bar, but by June 27 were ready for the attack. Their naval force consisted of the Bristol and Experiment of flfty guns each, the twenty-eight-gun frigates Solebay, Syren, Active, and Actaeon, the Sphynx, 20, the Friendship, 18, the bomb-vessel Thunder, which carried two mortars, and a few smaller armed vessels (For the expedition against Charleston, see Am. Arch., IV, vi, 1205-1210; Almon, iii, 142, 189-192, 264-267, 314-319; Dawson’s Battles of the United States, ch. x; Pennsylvania Gazette, September 11, Nov. 20,1776; Penn. Evening Post, April 23,1776; Winsor’s Narrative and Critical History of America, vi, 168-172, 229; Channing, iii, 226-228; Clowes, iii, 371-379.)

      On the 28th the attack was made. Commodore Parker says in his report: “At half an hour after ten I made the signal to weigh, and about a quarter after eleven the Bristol, Experiment, Active and Solebay brought up against the fort. Thunder Bomb, covered by the Friendship armed vessel, brought the Saliant Angle of the East Bastion to bear N. W. by N. and . . . threw several shells a little before and during the engagement in a very good direction. The Sphynx, Actaeon and Syren were to have been to the westward, to prevent fireships and other vessels from annoying the ships engaged, to enfilade the works, and if the rebels should be driven from them, to cut off their retreat if possible. This last service was not performed, owing to the ignorance of the pilot, who run the three frigates aground. The Sphynx and Syren got off in a few hours, but the Actaeon remained fast till the next morning, when the captain and officers thought proper to scuttle and set her on fire.” (Almon, iii, 189, 190 (July 9, 1776.)

      The engagement lasted ten hours. The fort was little damaged by the bombardment it received from the British, while the fire of the Americans was delivered slowly and accurately, and with marked effect upon the ships of the enemy. In his report to the President of Congress General Lee says the ships “anchored at less than half musket shot from the fort and commenced one of the most furious and incessant fires I ever saw or heard.” About half-past four in the afternoon the fort appeared to the British to have been silenced, but this was due to a failure of ammunition, and upon the arrival of a fresh supply, an hour and a half later, the fire was renewed. The Americans behaved extremely well, and Lee, upon visiting the fort, “found them determined and cool to the last degree; their behavior would have done honor to the oldest troops.” (Am. Arch., IV, vi, 1205 (Lee’s report, July 2, 1776.) Moultrie became thenceforth one of the heroes of the Revolution and the fort was named for him. The British troops who had landed on Long Island, to what number is uncertain, had intended to cross over to Sullivan’s Island and attack the fort in the rear, where it was partly open and unfinished. The islands were separated by a shallow channel usually passable at low tide, but continued easterly winds had so backed up the water that it was too deep to be forded.

      At about nine o’clock in the evening the British fire ceased and two hours later the fleet dropped down to its former anchorage. The Actaeon, after she had been set fire to and abandoned by her crew the next morning, was boarded by Americans who brought away her colors and some other property; half an hour later she blew up. The damage suffered by the British ships was heavy, especially by the Bristol and Experiment, and upon these two ships also the loss was greatest, which altogether amounted to sixty-four killed and a hundred and forty-one wounded, many of the latter dying from their injuries soon afterwards. The American loss was twelve killed and twenty-five wounded, five of them mortally. The attack was not renewed, and after making repairs, the fleet sailed for New York.

      Under the encouragement of acts passed by the Continental Congress and the various provincial assemblies, privateering flourished during 1776, although it came very far from assuming the proportions that it attained in later years. Only thirty-four private commissions were issued under the authority of the Continental government, but probably a much larger number of privateers were sent out by the separate states. Vessels of this class cruised at sea, along the Atlantic coast, and in West Indian and European waters. The privateersmen were commonly successful, but first and last a good many of them fell into the hands of the enemy.

      Captain James Tracy was unfortunate enough to fall in with a British frigate, mistaking her for a merchantman. Tracy sailed from Newburyport, June 7, in the brig Yankee Hero, carrying twelve guns and twenty-six men, including officers. He expected to get more men at Boston. Off Cape Ann the captain sighted a sail which he determined to chase, and here he received a reinforcement of fourteen men who came out from the shore in boats; with forty, he still had only a third of his complement. Tracy then bore away for the sail, which was five leagues distant, to the east-southeast; when too late he discovered the chase to be a man-of-war. He now put about for the shore with the ship, which turned out to be the frigate Milford, in pursuit. The wind, which had been westerly, died away, and in an hour and a half the frigate, having taken a fresh breeze from the south, was within half a mile and began to fire her bow chasers. The wind shifted to the west again. Tracy reserved his fire until the enemy should be within close range. She soon came up on the Yankee Hero’s lee quarter within pistol-shot and the unequal contest became warm. The account of the affair was “chiefly collected from those who were in the engagement.” “After some time the ship hauled her wind so close, which obliged the brig to do the same, that Capt. Tracy was unable to fight his lee guns; upon this he backed under her stern, but the ship, which sailed much faster and worked as quick, had the advantage and brought her broadside again upon him, which he could not evade, and in this manner they lay not an hundred feet from each other yawing to and fro for an hour and twenty minutes, the privateer’s men valiantly maintaining their quarters against such a superior force. About this time the ship’s foremast guns beginning to slack fire, Capt. Tracy tacked under his stern and when clear of the smoke and fire, perceived his rigging to be most shockingly cut, yards flying about without braces, some of his principal sails shot to rags and half of his men to appearance dying and wounded.” The first lieutenant was among the wounded. The frigate having sheared off there was a short lull, during which the wounded were carried below and the crew began to repair the rigging. They were getting nearer shore and Tracy hoped to be able to escape. Before things could be put to rights, however, the frigate “again came up and renewed the attack, which obliged Capt. Tracy to have recourse to his guns again, though he still kept some hands aloft to his rigging, but before the brig had again fired two broadsides, Captain Tracy received a wound in his right thigh and in a few minutes he could not stand; he laid himself over the arm chest and barricadoe, determined to keep up the fire, but in a short time, from pain and loss of blood, he was unable to command, growing faint, and they helped him below. As soon as he came to, he found his flring had ceased and his people round him wounded, not having a surgeon with them, in a most distressed situation, most of them groaning and some expiring. Struck severely with such a spectacle, Capt. Tracy ordered his people to take him up in a chair upon the quarter deck and resolved again to attack the ship, which was all this time keeping up her fire; but after getting into the air, he was so faint that he was for some time unable to speak and finding no alternative but they must be taken or sunk, for the sake of the brave men that remained he ordered them to strike to the ship.” (Mass. Spy, September 11, 1776.) The action lasted over two hours and the Yankee Hero lost four killed and thirteen wounded. On the Milford were thirty American prisoners who had been impressed and were forced to fight against their countrymen. The frigate took her prize to Halifax (Ibid., June 21, September 11, 1776; Am. Arch., IV, vi, 746-749; Mil. and Nav. Mag. of U. S., May, 1835.)

      In May, 1776, the American privateer Camden, 14, fought three hours with the brigantine Earl of Warwick, 16. An explosion then took place on the Warwick which killed and wounded thirty men and she was obliged to strike (London Chronicle, July 13, 1776.) About the same time the privateer Cromwell, 20, captured and took into Philadelphia the British sloop of war Lynx (Ibid.) The private armed sloop Yankee, Captain Henry Johnson, of Boston, cruised in the English Channel, and, having taken two prizes, had many prisoners on board. The captain of one of the prizes and one or two other British officers, being in Captain Johnson’s cabin, seized a cutlass which had been carelessly left within reach, and, arousing the other prisoners, soon had possession of the Yankee, which they took into Dover (Am. Arch., V, i, 684, 755, 750; Boston Gazette, July 15, December 9, 1776. For other operations of privateers in 1776, see Am Arch., V, i, 588, 874, 958, ii, 232, 346; Almon, iii, 34, 235, 267, 268, iv, 159, 160, 161 ; Boston Gazette, June 17, August 12, September 2, 16, 30, November 25, December 30, 1776; Independent Chronicle, June 13, October 17, November 14, 28, 1776.)

      Several attempts were made during the Revolution to destroy British men-of-war at anchor. Such an enterprise was discussed in 1775 in reference to the British fleet in Boston Harbor, and some preparations seem to have been made to carry it out. Samuel Osgood wrote to John Adams from the camp at Roxbury, October 23,1775: “The famous Water Machine from Connecticutt is every Day expected in Camp; it must unavoidably be a clumsy Business, as its Weight is about a Tun. I wish it might succeed [and] the Ships be blown up beyond the Attraction of the Earth, for it is the only Way or Chance they have of reaching St Peter’s Gate.” (Adams MSS.) The “Water Machine” here referred to was probably the contrivance of David Bushnell of Counecticut, which afterward excited great interest; yet just at this time John Hancock, President of Congress, wrote to General Washington: “Captn. John Macpherson having informed the Congress that he had invented a method by which with their leave he would take or destroy every ministerial armed vessel in North America, they appointed Govn. Hopkins, Mr. Randolph & Mr. J. Rutledge to confer with him on the subject, for he would not consent to communicate the secret to any but a committee & you. These Gentlemen reported that the scheme in theory appeared practicable and that, though its success could not be relied on without experience, they thought it well worth attempting on the fleet in & about Boston harbour, their destruction being an object of the utmost consequence. The Congress have therefore directed Capt. Macpherson to repair immediately to Cambridge.” (Letters to Washington, 89, 72 (October 20, 1775).)

      These projects went no farther at the time, and the British continued to ride safely at anchor in the harbor until they saw fit to take their departure the next spring. In July, 1776, preparations of a similar nature were made. On the night of August 17 two fireships in the Hudson River attacked the ships Phoenix and Rose, which had recently been assaulted by galleys. One of the fireships ignited the Rose’s tender, which was “totally consumed.” The other approached the Phoenix, whereupon that ship opened fire and cut her cable. The English account says: “Ten Minutes Afterwards she boarded us upon the Starboard Bow, at which time the Rebels set fire to the Train and left her. Set the Fore Topsail and Headsails, which fortunately cast the ship and disengaged her from the Fire Ship, after having been Twenty Minutes with her Jibb Boom over the Gun whale.” (Brit. Adm. Rec. A. D. 487, August 17,1776, remarks on board H.M.S. Phoenix.) The British then prudently dropped down the river to a new anchorage. The most interesting attempt to destroy a British manof-war was made in New York Harbor about the same time, with a submarine boat and torpedo designed by David Bushnell. The operator succeeded in bringing his boat under a British ship, but was unable to attach the torpedo to her side, on account of the copper sheathing, then drifted away and lost his bearings. The torpedo, left floating in the harbor, afterwards exploded with great force ; it contained a hundred and fifty pounds of powder which was ignited by a time-lock. Two subsequent trials, made in the Hudson River, also failed. The next year Bushnell endeavored to draw a torpedo against the side of a ship in Black Point Bay, near New London, by means of a line. But the line, having been discovered, was hauled in by the crew of a schooner near by; whereupon the torpedo exploded, demolishing the schooner and killing three men (Am. Arch., V, i, 155, 451, 692; Almon, iii, 341, vi, 90; Ford’s Washington, iii, 202, iv, 348, x, 504; Clark’s Naval History, i, ch. v; Mag. Amer. Hist., March, 1893; Boston Gazette, August 26, 1776; N. E. Chronicle, August 29, 1776.)

      Towards the end of the year 1776 some of the thirteen frigates authorized by Congress in December, 1775, were nearly ready for service. The Raleigh’s keel was laid at Portsmouth March 21 and just two months later she was ready to enter the water. “On Tuesday the 21st inst. the Continental Frigate of thirty-two guns, built at this place under the direction of John Langdon, Esq., was Launched amidst the acclamation of many thousand spectators. She is esteemed by all those who are judges that have seen her, to be one of the compleatest ships ever built in America. The unwearied diligence and care of the three Master-Builders, Messrs. Hacket, Hill and Paul, together with Mr. Thompson under whose inspection she was built, and the good order and industry of the Carpenters deserve particular notice; scarcely a single instance of a person being in liquor, or any difference among the men in the yard during the time of her building, every man with pleasure exerting himself to the utmost; and altho’ the greatest care was taken that only the best of timber was used and the work perform’d in a most masterly manner, the whole time from her raising to the day she launched did not exceed sixty working days, and what afforded a most pleasing view (which was manifest in the countenance of the spectators) this noble fabrick was compleatly to her anchors in the main channel in less than six minutes from the time [of] the run, without the least hurt; and what is truly remarkable, not a single person met with the least accident in launching, tho’ near five hundred men were employed in and about her when ran off.” (New Hampshire Gazette, May 25, 1776, quoted in N. H. General Rec., January, 1907.)

      On September 21 the Marine Committee directed that the frigates Boston, Captain Hector McNeill, and Raleigh, Captain Thomas Thompson, should be fitted out as expeditiously as possible, and these vessels were ordered to cruise in Massachusetts Bay and to the eastward, in search of the British frigate Milford. October 23 these orders were modified by joining with these two vessels the frigate Hancock, and instructions were issued for Captains Manley, McNeill, and Thompson: “You are hereby directed to act in concert and Cruize together for the following purposes and on the following stations. Your first object must be to inform yourselves in the best manner possible, if any of the British men of war are Cruizing in the bay of Boston or off the Coast of Massachusetts, and all such you are to endeavour with your utmost force to take, sink, or destroy. Having effected this service you are to proceed together towards Rhode Island and there make prize of or destroy any of the enemies Ships of war that may be found Cruizing off the Harbour or Coast of Rhode Island. The Prizes you make are to be sent into the nearest Port. When you arrive at Rhode Island, if Commodore Hopkins should not be already sailed on his Southern expedition and the two frigates built in that State should not be ready for the Sea, in that case you are to join Commodore Hopkins and proceed with him on the said expedition, producing those orders to him to justify the measure. But if the Rhode Island frigates should be ready for the sea, there will be no Occasion for you or either of you to go Southward. And you will then proceed, taking with you any Continental Vessel that may be at Rhode Island and ready, if Commodore Hopkins should be sailed before you come there, and proceed to Cruize against the enemies Ships & Vessels that may be found off the Coast between the Harbour of Newport and the Banks of Newfoundland. We have no doubt from your zeal and attachment to the cause of America that you will execute this service with all possible dispatch and vigor, and so bid you heartily farewell.” (Mar. Com. Letter Book, 39.) The frigate Randolph, built at Philadelphia, was put under the command of Captain Biddle and was expected to sail before the end of the year. For one reason or another, however, chiefly, no doubt, the difficulty of manning the ships and the British blockade, no Continental frigate got to sea in 1776 (Am. Arch., V, ii, 428, 1200, iii, 826, 827, 1198, 1254, 1332, 1484; Mar. Com. Letter Book, 21, 22, 23, 24 (September 21, 1776.)

      In October the Reprisal was placed at the disposal of the Committee of Secret Correspondence of Congress and the Lexington, Andrew Doria, and Sachem were put under the orders of the Secret Committee; these were two distinct committees. These vessels, in addition to other duties, carried important dispatches. The Reprisal was ordered to take Franklin, who had been appointed a commissioner to France, to his post; and afterwards to cruise in the English Channel. She sailed about the 1st of November and anchored in Quiberon Bay a month later; two small prizes were taken during the voyage. Franklin went ashore at Auray, and made the best of his way to Paris, where he arrived December 22 (Mar. Com. Letter Book, 34, 35 (October 17, 18, 1776); Pap. Cont. Congr., 37, 75, 83, 95 (October 24, 1776) ; Am. Arch., V, ii, 1092, 1115, 1197-1199, 1211-1213, 1215, iii, 1197.)

      The Lexington, Captain William Hallock, went to the West Indies in the service of the Secret Committee of Congress and on her way back from Cape Francois, in December, was captured off the Delaware capes by the British frigate Pearl. About this time there were six British ships in this vicinity or stationed in the bay, which at the end of the year was closely blockaded. A lieutenant and a small prize crew were put on the Lexington and seventy of her own crew were left on board. The same evening these prisoners recaptured the ship and, though without officers to direct them, took her safe into port (Am. Arch., V, iii, 1484, 1486; Mag. Amer. Hist., March, 1878, narrative of Lieutenant Matthewman; Port Folio, June, 1814, memoir of Commodore Dale.)

      Under orders dated October 17, 1776, the Andrew Doria, Captain Isaiah Robinson, sailed for the Dutch island of St. Eustatius for a cargo of military supplies. Upon arriving at that place and anchoring in the roads, November 16, the Andrew Doria fired a salute of eleven guns, which was returned by the fort with two guns less, as for a merchantman. This has been called the first salute given the American flag in a foreign port, but about three weeks before this an American schooner had had her colors saluted at the Danish island of St. Croix. In response to a British complaint the salute to the Andrew Doria was disavowed by the Dutch government and the governor of St. Eustatius was recalled. The Andrew Doria, having taken on the stores for which she was sent, sailed for Philadelphia. On the return voyage, near Porto Rico, she captured the British twelve-gun sloop of war Racehorse after an engagement of two hours. A few days later another prize was taken, but was recaptured. The Andrew Doria and Racehorse arrived safely in port (Barney, 47-51; Amer. Hist. Rev., viii (July, 1903), 691-695; N. E. Mag., July, 1893; Mar. Com. Letter Book, 34; Pap. Cont. Congr., 28, 173 (March 28,1777.)

      Related posts