European Waters in 1778 | 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.”



      Captain John Paul Jones brought the Ranger to France in December, 1777, eager to carry the war upon the enemy’s shores. He wrote to the Marine Committee: “It is my hearts first and favorite wish to be employed in Active and enterprizing Services where there is a prospect of Rendering such Services Useful and Acceptable to America. The Singular Honor which Congress hath done me by their generous approbation of my past Conduct hath inspired me with Sentiments of Gratitude which I shall carry with me to my Grave; and if a life of Services devoted to America can be made instrumental in securing its Independence, I shall regard the Continuance of such approbation as an honor far Superiour to the Empty Peagentry which Kings ever did or can bestow.” (Pap. Cont. Congr., 58, 137 (December 10, 1777).

      During the first two months after his arrival, Jones spent much time in Paris, conferring with the American Commissioners. While there he suggested the cruise of a French fleet to America, which a little later was carried out by D’Estaing. As to his own plans, the command of the Indien, building at Amsterdam, had been intended for him, but this vessel had been transferred to the French government for political reasons. In being deprived of this fine ship, Jones met with one of the most trying of his many disappointments. A cruise in the Ranger was then proposed. Jones had already stated to the commissioners (In his letter of December 5, 1777) his views of sound American policy, which was to attack defenseless seaports of the enemy and to cruise, in squadrons if possible, against his commerce in his own waters, where it was concentrated, rather than attempt to cope with an overwhelming naval power; to destroy the greatest amount of property in the shortest time, striking quickly and unexpectedly, rather than attempt to send in prizes at too great risk of recapture. This policy was less pleasing to those under him, whose first thought was of prize money (Sands, 72-76, 311.)

      Early in February, 1778, Jones returned to his ship, which, having been thoroughly refitted, dropped down the Loire to Quiberon Bay, where lay a French fleet under Admiral La Motte Picquet. The Continental brig Independence, Captain Young, was also in the bay. Jones negotiated with the admiral through William Carmichael, secretary to Silas Deane, in regard to a salute of thirteen guns which he proposed to give to the French flag. He afterwards wrote to the Marine Committee: “I am happy in having it in my power to congratulate you on my having seen the American flag for the first time recognised in the fullest and completest manner by the flag of France. I was off their bay the 13th and sent my boat in the next day to know if the Admiral would return my salute. He answered that he would return to me, as the senior American continental officer in Europe, the same salute which he was authorized by his court to return to an Admiral of Holland or of any other Republic, which was four guns less than the salute given. I hesitated at this, for I had demanded gun for gun. Therefore I anchored in the entrance of the bay, at a distance from the French fleet; but after a very particular inquiry on the 14th, finding that he had really told the truth, I was induced to accept his offer, the more so as it was in fact an acknowledgment of American Independence. The wind being contrary and blowing hard, it was after sunset before the Ranger got near enough to salute La Motte Picquet with thirteen guns, which he returned with nine. However, to put the matter beyond a doubt, I did not suffer the Independence to salute till the next morning, when I sent the Admiral word that I should sail through his fleet in the brig and would salute him in open day. He was exceedingly pleased and returned the compliment also with nine guns.” (Sands, 77 (February 22, 1778.)

      This was the most authoritative salute up to that time given to the American flag by a foreign power. Although Jones says that neither he nor La Motte Picquet knew of the alliance that had been concluded a week before, it is probable that the admiral had received some intimation of the propriety of returning an American salute. The acknowledgment of the Andrew Doria’s salute at St. Eustatius in 1776, the first notice taken of a Continental vessel, was disavowed by the Dutch government, and the response to that of the privateer General Mifflin at Brest in 1777 was not admitted by the French government. The salute to the Ranger’s flag was, as Jones says, a formal recognition of American independence and was a natural sequence of the treaties of commerce and of alliance which had been signed February 6 by representatives of the United States and France (Sands, 76-78; Sherburne, 216; Memoires de Paul Zones, 24; Dr. Green’s Diary, February 13,14,15, 1778; Jones MSS., letters of Carmichael and Picquet, February 13,14,1778; Sparks MSS., xlix, 12 (Jones to Deane, February 26,1778); Log of Ranger, February 14, 1778 ; Stopford-Sackville MSS., 100.)

      An outcome, presumably, of this episode in Quiberon Bay was a discussion some weeks later of the general subject of international salutes among high naval officials of France and on board D’Estaing’s fleet. On his voyage to America the admiral conferred with his distinguished passenger Gerard, minister to the United States, and in June a council of officers was held on the flagship at which the project of an agreement between the United States and France, relating to this subject, was drawn up. It provided that ships of either power entering ports of the other should salute first, in recognition of territorial sovereignty; that between ships commanded by officers of equal rank, the American should salute first, thereby acknowledging the precedence of the French crown, but in other cases the inferior should fire the first salute; and finally, that all salutes should be returned by an equal number of guns (Archives de la Marine, B4 141, 303-313.)

      The brig Independence sailed for America in the spring. By Jones’s advice Captain Young attempted to get into Ocracoke Inlet, North Carolina, but unfortunately his ship was wrecked on the bar (Jones MSS., Capt. Bell to Jones (November 3, 1778), Jones to Bell (November 15, 1778), and to Young (November 18,1778); Mar. Com. Letter Book, 146, 157, 158 (to Young and to Navy Board, May 6, June 18, 1778).)

      From Quiberon Bay the Ranger proceeded to Brest, arriving below the town March 8. The fleet of Admiral d’Orvilliers was at that time lying in the harbor of Brest. In this vicinity the Ranger remained a month and again saluted the French flag, receiving eleven guns in return for thirteen. April 10 she sailed on a cruise in British waters. On the 14th, between Scilly and Cape Clear, a brigantine was taken and sunk, and on the 17th, off Dublin, a ship was captured which Jones sent back to Brest. The events of the following week, during which the Ranger cruised about the Isle of Man and the adjacent shores of England, Scotland, and Ireland, the neighborhood of Jones’s early life, added much to his naval reputation (For this cruise of the Ranger, see Sands, 79-98; Sherburne, 44-64; Green’s Diary; Scribner’s Mag., July, 1898; Jones MSS.; Log of Ranger.)

      Towards evening of April 17, Jones “stood over from the Isle of Man, with an intention to make a descent at Whitehaven. At 10 o’clock,” he says in his report to the commissioners, “I was off the harbor with a party of volunteers and had everything in readiness to land, but before eleven the wind greatly increased and shifted, so as to blow directly upon the shore ; the sea increased of course, and it became impossible to effect a landing. This obliged me to carry all possible sail so as to clear the land and to await a more favorable opportunity.” (Sherburne, 45 (Jones to American Commissioners, May 27, 1778)

      During the next few days a revenue cutter was chased and a schooner and sloop were sunk. Adverse winds prevented an attempt being made to destroy a number of vessels at anchor in a bay on the Scotch coast. “The 21st, being near Carrickfergus, a fishing boat came off, which I detained. I saw a ship at anchor in the road which I was informed by the fisherman was the British ship-of-war Drake, of 20 guns. I determined to attack her in the night. My plan was to overlay her cable and to fall upon her bow, so as to have all her decks open and exposed to our musketry, &c.; at the same time it was my intention to have secured the enemy by graplings, so that had they cut their cables they would not thereby have attained an advantage. The wind was high and unfortunately the anchor was not let go so soon as the order was given, so that the Ranger was brought up on the enemy’s quarter at the distance of half a cable’s length. We had made no warlike appearance, of course had given no alarm; this determined me to cut immediately, which might appear as if the cable had parted and at the same time enable me, after making a tack out of the Lough, to return with the same prospect of advantage which I had at the first. I was, however, prevented from returning, as I with difficulty weathered the lighthouse on the lee side of the Lough, and as the gale increased. The weather now became so very stormy and severe and the sea so high that I was obliged to take shelter under the south shore of Scotland (Sherburne, 46; Sands, 80.)

      “The 22d introduced fair weather, though the three kingdoms as far as the eye could reach were covered with snow. I now resolved once more to attempt Whitehaven, but the wind became very light, so that the ship could not in proper time approach so near as I had intended. At midnight I left the ship with two boats and thirty-one volunteers. When we reached the outer pier the day began to dawn. I would not, however, abandon my enterprise, but despatched one boat under the direction of Mr. Hill and Lieutenant Wallingsford, with the necessary combustibles, to set fire to the shipping on the north side of the harbor, while I went with the other party to attempt the south side. I was successful in scaling the walls and spiking up all the cannon in the first fort. Finding the sentinels shut up in the guard house, they were secured without being hurt. Having fixed sentinels, I now took with me one man only (Mr. Green), and spiked up all the cannon on the southern fort, distant from the other a quarter of a mile. On my return from this business I naturally expected to see the fire of the ships on the north side, as well as to find my own party with everything in readiness to set fire to the shipping in the south. Instead of this, I found the boat under the direction of Mr. Hill and Mr. Wallingsford returned and the party in some confusion, their light having burnt out at the instant when it became necessary. By the strangest fatality my own party were in the same situation, the candles being all burnt out. The day too came on apace, yet I would by no means retreat while any hopes of success remained. Having again placed sentinels, a light was obtained at a house disjoined from the town and fire was kindled in the steerage of a large ship which was surrounded by at least an hundred and fifty others, chiefly from two to four hundred tons burthen and laying side by side aground, unsurrounded by the water. There were besides from seventy to an hundred large ships in the north arm of the harbor aground, clear of the water, and divided from the rest only by a stone pier of a ship’s height. I should have kindled fires in other places if the time had permitted. As it did not, our care was to prevent the one kindled from being easily extinguished. After some search a barrel of tar was found and poured into the flames, which now ascended from all the hatchways. The inhabitants began to appear in thousands and individuals ran hastily towards us. I stood between them and the ship on fire with a pistol in my hand and ordered them to retire, which they did with precipitation. The flames had already caught the rigging and began to ascend the mainmast. The sun was a full hour’s march above the horizon and as sleep no longer ruled the world, it was time to retire. We re-embarked without opposition, having released a number of prisoners, as our boats could not carry them. After all my people had embarked I stood upon the pier for a considerable time, yet no persons advanced. I saw all the eminences around the town covered with the amazed inhabitants (Sherburne, 47.)

      “When we had rowed a considerable distance from the shore, the English began to run in vast numbers to their forts. Their disappointment may easily be imagined, when they found at least thirty heavy cannon, the instruments of their vengeance, rendered useless. At length, however, they began to fire, having, as I apprehend, either brought down ship guns or used one or two cannon which lay on the beach at the foot of the walls dismounted, and which had not been spiked. They fired with no direction and the shot falling short of the boats, instead of doing us any damage, afforded some diversion, which my people could not help showing by discharging their pistols, &c. in return of the salute. Had it been possible to have landed a few hours sooner, my success would have been complete. Not a single ship out of more than two hundred could possibly have escaped, and all the world would not have been able to save the town. What was done, however, is sufficient to show that not all their boasted navy can protect their own coasts, and that the scenes of distress which they have occasioned in America may be soon brought home to their own door.” (Sherburne, 48.)

      An English account says: “Att 4 o’Clock a Privateer of Eighteen Guns & one hundred & twenty Men landed about thirty Men in our Harbour & set a Vessel on Fire & distributed Combustibles in several Others; the Privateer is yet standing on & off & as we just now hear is stretching with Wind at East to the W.N.W.” (Whitehaven Customs Letter Book, 96.) According to another letter from Whitehaven, “the privateer’s people who landed here this morning were all armed with pistols and cutlasses. and retired to their boats about four o’clock . . . They had on their first landing spiked up several of the cannon, in order to secure their retreat. A number of people flocking to the fort, some shot were fired at the boats, but without doing any execution. After the boats reached the privateer, she stood over to the Scotch side, and as large columns of smoke have been seen on the Scotch shore this afternoon, it is feared he has done some mischief there.” (London Chronicle, April 30, 1778.)

      Having reached the Scotch shore, Jones landed about noon on St. Mary’s Isle, “with one boat only and a very small party.” Here was the estate of the Earl of Selkirk, very near Jones’s birthplace. The plan was to seize the earl and carry him to France, to serve as a hostage for the better treatment of American prisoners in England or to secure the release of a number of them in exchange. Unfortunately for the success of the project, Selkirk was absent. The officers and men with Jones, who thus far had had little prospect of prize money, now demanded the privilege of bringing away some booty from the estate. The raids of the British in America, in which private property was not respected, were fresh in their minds. Jones unwillingly consented that they might demand and take such of the family plate as might be delivered to them. This was done, the men behaving in an orderly manner and not entering the house. Jones afterwards purchased this plate, worth several hundred pounds, at his own expense, and restored it to Selkirk, from whom he received full acknowledgment (Sherburne, 48, 51-58.)

      The week’s cruise in the Irish Sea ended with a notable event in our early naval history, which Jones relates in his letter to the commissioners at Paris. “On the morning of the 24th I was again off Carrickfergus and would have gone in had I not seen the Drake preparing to come out. It was very moderate and the Drake’s boat was sent out to reconnoitre the Ranger. As the boat advanced I kept the ship’s stern directly towards her and, though they had a spy glass in the boat, they came on within hail and alongside. When the officer came on the quarter-deck he was greatly surprised to find himself a prisoner, although an express had arrived from Whitehaven the night before. I now understood what I had before imagined, that the Drake came out, in consequence of this information, with volunteers against the Ranger. The officer told me also that they had taken up the Ranger’s anchor. The Drake was attended by five small vessels full of people who were led by curiosity to see an engagement. But when they saw the Drake’s boat at the Ranger’s stern they wisely put back. Alarm smokes now appeared in great abundance, extending along on both sides of the channel. The tide was unfavorable, so that the Drake worked out but slowly. This obliged me to run down several times and to lay with courses up and main-topsail to the mast. At length the Drake weathered the point and, having led her out to about mid-channel, I suffered her to come within hail. The Drake hoisted English colors and at the same instant the American stars were displayed on board the Ranger. I expected that preface had been now at an end, but the enemy soon after hailed, demanding what ship it was? I directed the master to answer, ‘the American Continental ship Ranger, that we waited for them and desired that they would come on; the sun was now little more than an hour from setting, it was therefore time to begin.’ The Drake being astern of the Ranger, I ordered the helm up and gave her the flrst broadside. The action was warm, close, and obstinate. It lasted an hour and four minutes, when the enemy called for quarters, her fore and main- topsail yards being both cut away and down on the cap, the top-gallant yard and mizengaff both hanging up and down along the mast, the second ensign which they had hoisted shot away and hanging on the quarter-gallery in the water, the jib shot away and hanging in the water, her sails and rigging entirely cut to pieces, her masts and yards all wounded, and her hull also very much galled. I lost only Lieutenant Wallingsford and one seaman, John Dougall, killed, and six wounded, among whom are the gunner, Mr. Falls, and Mr. Powers, a midshipman, who lost his arm. One of the wounded, Nathaniel Wills, is since dead; the rest will recover.” (Sherburne, 48, 49.) Jones estimated the British loss at forty-two killed and wounded, but it was probably less; the captain was killed and the lieutenant mortally wounded.

      The Drake’s armament consisted of twenty four-pounders, the Ranger’s of eighteen six-pounders. According to different accounts, the Drake’s crew numbered one hundred and fifty to one hundred and ninety and was probably little in excess of the lower figure. It consisted partly of volunteers and raw recruits and the ship had only one lieutenant. On the whole she does not appear to have been well prepared for battle. The Ranger also was at a disadvantage, her crew of one hundred and twenty-three being at this time in a dissatisfied and even mutinous state of mind, under the influence of the first lieutenant, Thomas Simpson (Sherburne, 49; Sands, 95; Scribner’s Mag., July, 1898.) While the Ranger’s capture of a vessel of inferior force could hardly be regarded as a remarkable achievement, it was still highly satisfactory to have taken a regular man-of-war of the enemy in his own waters.

      The day after the battle both ships were employed in repairing injuries. A brigantine was captured at this time. When ready to sail, the Ranger and Drake passed out to sea by the North Channel, owing to a shift of the wind, and returned to Brest by way of the west coast of Ireland. May 6, Lieutenant Simpson, in command of the Drake, having disregarded the Ranger’s signals, was put under arrest by Jones for disobedience of orders. Both vessels arrived safely at Brest May 8. An American at that place, writing home, says: “It was a pleasure to see the English flag flying under the American stars and stripes.” (Boston Gazette, July 6, 1778.) About two hundred British prisoners were confined on the Drake, awaiting exchange. Meanwhile six British men-of-war had been ordered to cruise for the Ranger in St. George’s Channel, and it was reported in England that both she and the Drake had been captured by a British frigate (Wharton, ii, 581, 582; Sherburne, 63; London Chronicle, May 2, 5, 9, 14, 1778.)

      The arrest of Simpson was the outcome of an unfortunate state of affairs on board the Ranger. For a number of reasons there had been discontent among the crew, which had been encouraged by Simpson, who, it was charged by Jones, had gone so far as to incite mutiny before the battle with the Drake, when Jones had intended to go in and attack that vessel, if she had not come out. According to Jones, Simpson on that occasion “held up to the crew that being Americans fighting for liberty, the voice of the people should be taken before the Captain’s orders were obeyed” (Sands, 95); and the captain says that if the capture of the Drake’s boat had not brought about a change in the men’s temper, a dangerous mutiny might have been the result. Jones also held Simpson in some degree responsible for the failure of his plans at Whitehaven. Simpson having come out from America in the Ranger, with the expectation of taking command upon Jones being given a larger ship, was dissatisfied. He was popular with the crew; whereas Jones, owing to his severe discipline, to his violent temper, and perhaps to other personal traits, and partly to his indifference to prize money, was disliked by his men. This was particularly unfortunate because undeserved, for in his letters he shows constant solicitude for their interests. The American Commissioners in Paris, lacking authority, were obliged to refuse payment on Jones’s drafts for the daily support and sustenance of his crew, which caused him great annoyance. They also regretted Simpson’s arrest, especially as there were not enough American officers in Europe to convene a court-martial, and it would be necessary to send him to America for trial. The result was that, with the approval of Jones, though he afterwards repented it, Simpson was released from custody and put in command of the Ranger. Surgeon Green says in his diary, July 27: “This day Thomas Simpson, Esqr. came on board with orders to take command of the Ranger, to the joy and satisfaction of the whole Ships company.” Not long after this the Ranger sailed for America (Sherburne, 60-62; Sands, 94-96, 99-104, 117, 118, 123-126; Wharton, ii, 597.)

      The frigate Boston, Captain Samuel Tucker, early in February, 1778, was anchored in Nantasket Roads. William Jennison, lieutenant of marines, records in his journal, February 13, that “Capt. Tucker went to Braintree in his Barge and brought the Honble John Adams and suite on board.” (Penn. Mag. Hist. and Biogr., April, 1891.) This distinguished passenger had been appointed commissioner to France in place of Silas Deane; he had with him his son John Quincy Adams, then eleven years old. February 15 the frigate sailed with a wind from the west southwest; on the 20th it began to blow. “A clap of thunder with sharp lightning broke upon the mainmast just above the upper moulding, which burnt several of the men on deck. A most terrible night. The captain of the mainmast was struck with the lightning, which burnt a place on the top of his head about the bigness of a Quarter Dollar – he lived three days and died raving mad.” (Ibid. This casualty is not mentioned in the ship’s log.) Meanwhile the Boston was being chased by a British thirty-six-gun frigate, but fortunately escaped. “Capt. Tucker had instructions not to risque the ship in any way that might endanger Mr. Adams, and was ordered to land him safe in France or Spain.” (Ibid.) Moreover the ship was short-handed. March 10, “at 11 A.M. discovered a vessel to windward; gave chase and came alongside at noon. She fired three guns at us, one of which carried away our mizen yard. We returned a few shots and hoisted American colors, upon which she struck her colors. Our boats were got out immediately, but a heavy squall prevented them getting to the ship before they had thrown overboard the mail, which sunk not more than a boat’s hook length before our boats reached the ship. She was named the Martha, carried 16 nine-pounders and was . . . bound from the Thames for New York.” (Penn. Mag., April, 1891.) Hezekiah Welch, one of the frigate’s lieutenants, was put on board the Martha as prize-master and she was sent back to Boston. According to the invoice her cargo was worth ninety-seven thousand pounds sterling. Tucker wrote to the Navy Board of the Eastern District: “I hope to pay for the Boston, as I told your honnours before Sailing. I am but Poorly mand to my Sorrow; I dare not attack a 20 gun Ship.” (Tucker MSS., March 11, 1778.) A few days after the capture of the Martha, the first lieutenant of the Boston, William Barron, was fatally injured by the bursting of a gun. After a very stormy passage the frigate anchored in the Garonne River, March 31, and the next day went up to within three miles of Bordeaux (Life of Tucker, ch. iv, and appendix, log of the Boston; Archives de la Marine, B8 14.)

      After careening and thoroughly refitting his ship and enlisting a number of Frenchmen for his crew, which required several weeks, Captain Tucker dropped down the river. On June 6, the Boston sailed in company with a French frigate and a fleet of merchantmen. She then made a short cruise in the Bay of Biscay and along the French coast, during which four prizes were taken. The Boston went into L’Orient July 3 and remained nearly a month. Tucker had trouble with his crew; June 19 he wrote to the Navy Board that the situation with respect to his people was very disagreeable and had been since he left Boston, and that there had been “a Consparicy carried to a great Length, but fortunately discovered it the day before sailing from Bourdeaux, which I wrote the Honble Commissioners at Paris. I had the Confederates of Bourdeaux imprisoned and believe they will be Banished if not hung.” (Tucker MSS.) A spirit of insubordination persisted to some extent, and July 28, Tucker ordered one of the crew “to be brought to the gangway and receive twelve stripes on his naked back. His crime was talking among the people and making them believe that the officers on board had embezzled some part of the prizes, cargo, and other abuse.” (Tucker, 303, log of the Boston.) Meanwhile forty-seven of the French sailors enlisted at Bordeaux had been arbitrarily taken out of the ship by a French general at L’Orient. The prisoners taken in the prizes also became restless, and on learning that an uprising among them was being planned, Tucker ordered twenty-three of them to be put in irons. The first of these recent prizes of the Boston having been sent to America, the other three were sold at L’Orient. August 1 the Boston sailed, and on the 3d anchored at St. Nazaire (Tucker, ch. v, and appendix; Adams MSS., April 10, 11, 22, 1778; Tucker MSS., July 3, 7, 12, 13, 1778.)

      The frigate Providence, Captain Whipple, was then at Paimboeuf, and a few days later came down the river and joined the Boston. The Providence, after escaping from the blockade of Narragansett Bay May 1, sailed directly for France, arriving at Paimboeuf on the 30th; she was to procure guns for Continental vessels under construction. On the voyage she captured a prize which was recaptured and then again taken by a French ship. August 8 the Providence and Boston with a small convoy, with Whipple in command, sailed for Brest, where they arrived in six days and found the Ranger. There was also a large French fleet at Brest. August 22 the Providence, Boston, and Ranger sailed for America. September 26 they were on the Banks of Newfoundland, and on the 15th of October they arrived at Portsmouth, having taken three prizes on the passage from France (Tucker, ch. v, and appendix; Archives de la Marine, B7 459 (letter of Whipple, May 31, 1778); Mar. Com. Letter Book, 157, 159 (June 10, 19,1778); Tucker MSS., August 24, September 15, 1778; Granite Monthty, November, 1881, log of the Ranger; Boston Gazette October 5, November 2,1778; Boston Post, October 24, 1778.)

      The Continental cutter Revenge, Captain Conyngham, cruised with success during 1778, usually out of Spanish ports. The Spanish people were generally friendly to the American cause and treated with hospitality the vessels which visited their ports. Early in the year the Revenge sailed from Bilbao and cruised to the Straits of Gibraltar and in the Mediterranean, taking several prizes. Her arrival in Cadiz is mentioned by an officer on the British ship Monarch, who complains of the unfriendly feeling of the Spaniards towards the English. The Monarch sent a boat ashore “to get what is termed product,” but was unsuccessful; it was refused many times. “Judge of the situation of our spirited commander, who is a true British seaman, when during the time we lay there – seven days being detained by the wind – we had the mortification to see the usual honours paid to two Dutch frigates and above all to the Revenge, American privateer commanded by Cunningham, who came swaggering in with his thirteen stripes, saluted the Spanish Admiral, had it returned and immediately got product, the Spaniards themselves carrying on board wood, water, fruit and fresh provisions; all which we were eye witnesses of, as she anchored directly under our stern, within two cables length.” (London Chronicle, May 7, 1778; Boston Gazette, October 12, 1778.) There were eleven other American vessels lying in Cadiz at this time. Conyngham relates an incident not mentioned in the English officer’s letter. “An English ship of the Line & two frigatts were laying in Cadiz on our arrival; in their usual & diabolick mode of Warfare had determined in the Night by their boats to set the revenge on fire. A Good french man on board one of them Gave notice to the french Consul of their designe, who advised us of. Consequently was prepared for them, they did appeare in the dead of the night, but took Care to Keep their distance; the spanish admirall had thiss notice & he politely offered a 74 Gun ship to protect us. We acknowledge the favor, but was noways apprehensive of any danger; to the Contrary it was our wish they would make the Attempt.” (Penn. Mag. Hist. and Biogr., January, 1899, Conynghams narrative.)

      The Revenge returned to the north of Spain and went into Ferrol. She fitted out there and then cruised among the Azores and Canary Islands, taking several prizes, some of which were destroyed and others sent to American or to European ports. “Those seas covered by British Cruzers of every description and [with] orders from their Govermt to follow the revenge into any harbour she might be in & destroy her.” Conyngham then returned to Coruna, but found the Spanish less hospitable; the protection of the government had been withdrawn. This, Conyngham says, was due to British influence at court. He was allowed to refit at a small neighboring port, however, and then sailed for the West Indies (Ibid.)

      About the end of September, which was perhaps a little before Conyngham returned to Coruna after his cruise among the Western Islands, the privateer Vengeance arrived at that place. The Vengeance was a twenty-gun brig from Newburyport commanded by Captain Newman; she sailed from Cape Ann August 16. About two weeks after leaving port the Vengeance ran into a West India fleet and was chased out again by two frigates. “On the 17th of September,” says Captain Newman, “in Latt. 49 N. and Long. 20 West, fell in with the Ship Harriot Packet, of sixteen guns and forty-five men, Capt. Sampson Sprague, from Falmouth bound to New York, which, after a small resistance, struck. I man’d her and ordered her for Newbury-Port. And on the 21st of the same month fell in with the Snow Eagle Packet, from New York bound to Falmouth, Commanded by Edward Spence, mounting fourteen carriage guns and sixty men including some officers of the British army, which, after an engagement of about twenty minutes, was obliged to strike to us, which I likewise ordered for Newbury-Port. Col. Howard of the 1st Regiment of Guards was killed and several other officers, and a number wounded. Lucky for me, not one man killed or wounded except myself, by a musket ball in my thigh . . . Among the passengers was four Colonels, three Majors, one Cornet of dragoons . . . I have delivered my prisoners to the British Commissary residing here, taking his receipt for the same, obligating him to return a like number of American prisoners of equal rank.” (Boston Post, January 9, 1779.) This letter was dated October 4 at Coruna. Possibly the feeling aroused over the arrival of these prisoners of rank in the British army and protests made to the Spanish government may have had something to do with Conyngham’s inhospitable reception about the time (Boston Gazette, January 11, 1779; Mar. Com. Letter Book, 227 (August 16, 1779); Hist. Man. Com., Amer. MSS. in Royal Inst., i, 807 (October 1, 1778, declaration of British consul at Coruna as to Newman’s prisoners.)

      Up to the time of her arrival in the West Indies, the Revenge, according to a letter from Martinique dated December 10, had captured sixty British vessels, twenty-seven of which were sent into port and thirty-three sunk or burned. She cruised several weeks out of Martinique among the Windward Islands. Conyngham received instructions, October 26, from William Bingham, the American naval agent in the West Indies. A month later Bingham wrote to Conyngham: “As the defensive Alliance entered into between France & the United States of America will point out to you one Common Object as the Motive that our Conduct is mutually to be regulated by that of annoying and circumventing the Designs of the Enemy, I must seriously recommend to you not to lose sight of it.” He was to be on the lookout for D’Estaing, expected soon to arrive in the West Indies from America; and also for “a Frigate with Transports under her Convoy of a great Number of Troops from France,” and acquaint them, as far as possible, with the movements of the British fleet. A set of French signals was furnished him. “Another grand object that must attract your attention is the endeavouring to capture some of the Transports that have sailed from New York bound for the English West India Islands. It appears that they have suffered by a Gale of wind & have lost their Convoy, so that perhaps they will fall an easy Prey. No recompense could requite the services you would render your Country by capturing some of those that have Troops on board, as it might perhaps hinder the success of any of their operations in these Seas.” (MS. Letter, November 29,1778.) The Revenge made several prizes in the West Indies, including two British privateers, and had an engagement with a twenty-eight-gun cutter. This cruise continued until midwinter (Penn. Mag. Hist. and Biogr., January, 1899; Boston Gazette, February 15,1779.)

      The Continental navy, already greatly reduced, was further depleted in the year 1778 by the loss of the frigates Washington, Effingham, Randolph, Virginia, and Raleigh, and the Alfred, Columbus, Independence, and Resistance. Of the original thirteen frigates there now remained only the Boston, Warren, Providence, and Trumbull. Among the ships lost before they had ever been in service mus be counted the fine large frigate Indien, which passed from the American to the French flag. To replace these severe losses the frigates Deane and Queen of France, the sloop of war General Gates, and the prize schooner Pigot had been added to the navy; also a brigantine called the Retaliation, whose service seems to have been brief and uneventful. The frigate Alliance might be included in the list, but she did not cruise until the following year. The frigates Warren and Providence had begun their active careers during the year 1778, and concerning two frigates built in Connecticut a letter of William Vernon, written December 17 to John Adams, says: “The ship building at Norwich is given to Capt. Seth Harding and call’d the Confederacy, near ready to sail; she is a fine Frigate, it is said exceeds the Alliance if possible. The Trumbul remains in Connecticut River, perhaps may never be got out, unless Camels are built to carry her out.” In regard to the America, Admiral Howe had written in March: “According to the latest Information obtained from some of the well-affected Inhabitants in the New England Provinces, the Two-decked Ship building at Portsmouth is not expected to be finished before the Autumn.” The America had to wait much longer than that for her completion. If to the vessels here mentioned as ready for service we add the sloop Providence, the Ranger and the Revenge, the list of the Continental navy in commission at the end of 1778 is full. The prize sloop of war Drake would have been a valuable cruiser and might have been acquired for the Continental service, but was not, probably owing to lack of available funds and of authority on the part of the American Commissioners at Paris (Paullin, 516, 517; Publ. R.I. Hist. Soc.. viii, 256; Brit. Adm. Rec., A. D. 488, No. 55, March 16, 1778.)

      The navy therefore showed a gradual falling away, and its condition at the end of the year 1778 was by no means satisfactory. The state navies also seemed to be steadily dwindling. Privateering, however, continued active, and British commerce suffered severely from American enterprise of this kind. The Continental Congress issued one hundred and twenty-nine commissions to privateers in 1778, an increase of sixty over the previous year, and doubtless large numbers continued to be commissioned by the different states (Naval Records (calendar), 217-495, list of Continental letters of marque.)

      At the beginning of 1778 the British navy comprised three hundred and ninety-nine vessels of all classes, of which two hundred and seventy-four were in commission; a year later the figures were four hundred and thirty-two and three hundred and seventeen respectively (Hannay, ii, 211.) Eighty-nine vessels were on the North American station in January, and the same number in September, but the fleets on these two dates were differently constituted. Nearly half the first were frigates and fifteen were ships mounting sixty-four, fifty, or forty-four guns; the September fleet, which included Byron’s squadron, contained fewer frigates, but seven seventy-fours, six sixty-fours, five fifties, and three forty-fours (Brit. Adm. Rec., A. D. 488, January 5, September 11, 1778, Disposition of His Majesty’s Ships and Vessels in North America.) There were also about fifteen vessels at Newfoundland and thirty or forty in the West Indies. The total force of the navy in men was sixty thousand (Hannay, ii, 212; Schomberg, i, 440, iv, 56-59; Almon, vii, 249.) A list of New York privateers, September 8, 1778, to March 8,1779, contains one hundred and twenty. one names (Trumbull MSS., xxiii, 116.)

      Information in regard to captures and losses is scanty and unsatisfactory, and the few available lists and figures are doubtless inaccurate and incomplete; and estimates are perhaps sometimes exaggerated. The Continental navy made fewer captures than in the previous year, while presumably the privateers made more. According to one calculation, made in February, 1778, they had then taken seven hundred and thirty-nine British vessels since the beginning of the war. Another estimate places the British loss for the year at three hundred and sixty-four, of which eighty-seven were recaptured or ransomed; but this list includes captures by the French. According to the same authority the British took two hundred and forty-eight vessels from their enemies. A contemporary newspaper gives a list of two hundred and twenty-two American vessels captured on the West Indian station within a few weeks. Another list, that of American vessels taken on the North American station between October, 1777, and April, 1778, contains only five names; while between May, 1778, and February, 1779, seventy-nine prizes were brought in by New York privateers (Hannay, ii, 220; Clowes, iii, 396; London Chronicle, September 17, November 7, 1778; Almon, vii, 190; Brit. Adm. Rec., A. D. 488, No. 57, April 23, 1778, list of vessels seized or destroyed since October 25, 1777; A. D. 489, No. 27, February 27, 1779.

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