Lake Champlain, 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.”



      In the days when the frontier severing Canada from New England and New York was a wilderness, the only easy avenue of communication was by way of Lake Champlain and the Richelieu River. With the exception of a few miles of rapids in the river, the whole distance from the St. Lawrence to the head of Lake Champlain was navigable, and as the shores were rough and densely wooded, the only practicable route was by water. This natural gateway was therefore of great military importance, and a struggle for its possession has marked every war involving Canada and the colonies or states to the south.

      Even before the outbreak of hostilities in April, 1775, it was understood that the British had planned to get control of Lake Champlain and Lake George and the Hudson River, so as to separate New England from the other colonies (MassHist. Soc. Proc., xii (April, 1872), 227 (letter Of Samuel Adams, November 16, 1775.) In anticipation of this, Ticonderoga was taken by the Americans under Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold, May 10, and Crown Point two days later. A schooner had been impressed at Skenesborough (Whitehall) at the extreme head of Lake Champlain, and in her Arnold proceeded with fifty men, May 14, to St. John’s on the Richelieu, at the head of the rapids. This place was taken on the 18th. Having found there nine bateaux, Arnold destroyed five of them and brought away the other four, together with a seventy-ton sloop. He then returned up the lake to Crown Point (Am. Arch., IV, ii, 645, 839.) The Americans now had full control of the lake. All naval enterprises on these inland waters were carried on by the army, which was under the command of General Schuyler.

      The British entered upon the construction of two vessels at St. John’s in the summer of 1775, but this place was again taken by the Americans under General Montgomery in November. Montgomery then began his progress through Canada, which ended with his death at Quebec on December 31. Meanwhile Arnold, having accomplished his remarkable and arduous winter march through the wilds of Maine, shared in the unsuccessful assault of Montgomery on Quebec. He spent the winter before that stronghold, hoping to gain possession of it in the spring; but upon the arrival of a British fleet in the St. Lawrence in May, 1776, the Americans were obliged to fall back up the river and evacuate Canada, finally withdrawing from St. John’s to Isle aux Noix June 18. The retreat from Sorel was conducted in an orderly manner and with trifling loss by General Sullivan, all the baggage and stores being dragged up over the rapids of the Richelieu in bateaux. The army was much weakened by the prevalence of smallpox and by disability through inoculation as a protection against that disease. Everything that could have been of value to the enemy at Chambly and St. John’s was destroyed. General Schuyler wrote to Sullivan, June 25: “Painful as the evacuation of Canada is to me, yet a retreat without loss greatly alleviates that pain, not only because it reflects honour upon you, but that I have now a confidant hope, that by recruiting your Army and keeping up a naval superiority on the Lake, we shall be able to prevent the enemy from penetrating into the inhabited parts of these Colonies.” (Am. Arch., IV, vi, 1107.) Arnold, who had left Montreal June 15 and joined Sullivan at St. John’s, advised building twenty or thirty gondolas, row-galleys, and floating batteries for the defense of the lake, and for this purpose believed that three hundred ship carpenters would be needed. Gondolas were flat-bottomed boats, difficult to handle, while galleys were larger and probably had keels; oars and sails were employed in both (Ibid., iii, 468, 738, 1208, 1342-1344, 1392-1394, vi, 1101-1108.)

      Meanwhile American naval interests on the lake had not been wholly neglected. During the preceding twelve months some construction had been undertaken and different officers had been from time to time in command of the vessels in service. The last of these officers to be appointed commodore of the little fleet was Captain Jacobus Wyncoop, who received his orders from General Schuyler in May, 1776. After the return of the army from Canada in June, ship-building at Skenesborough was pushed with vigor, urged on by the restless energy of Arnold, who had had some nautical experience and who in August was put in command. He wished to build at least one powerful frigate, but that was beyond the resources at his disposal. This activity of the Americans compelled the British also, as soon as they had recovered possession of St. John’s, to begin the construction of a fleet. A ship and two schooners were taken apart, transported over and around the rapids, and rebuilt at St. John’s. Besides these large vessels the British had thirty long-boats from the squadron in the St. Lawrence, many flat-bottomed boats, a heavily armed radeau, a gondola weighing thirty tons which had been left by the Americans at Quebec, and more than four hundred bateaux for the transportation of troops and supplies. According to Captain Douglas, commanding the British squadron in the St. Lawrence, this force included “above thirty flghting vessels of different sorts and sizes.” In this contest of ship-building during the summer of 1776 the British had a great advantage. Their fleet of men-of-war and transports in the St. Lawrence furnished them with an abundant force of ship carpenters and other artisans, as well as regular naval crews for the vessels when finished. It was with the greatest difficulty that the Americans procured a sufficient number of mechanics to build the fleet with which they were later obliged to meet the greatly superior force which the British brought against them. The demand for carpenters in the seaport towns for work upon public and private naval craft was far beyond the supply (Am. Arch., IV, iii, 4, 11-14, 49, v, 437, 1397, 1460, 1464, 1694, V, i, 563, 603, 744-746, 747, 797, 937, 969, 1277, ii, 1178, 1179.)

      On August 7, General Gates issued instructions to Arnold to take the fleet as far as Split Rock or to, but not beyond, Isle aux Tetes, and there make stand against the enemy; but if the British had decidedly superior force, Arnold was to fall back to Ticonderoga. Ten days later, the fleet being at Crown Point, an advance of the British was reported. At this time Wyncoop, who commanded the schooner Royal Savage, claimed also to be still in command of the fleet. The conflicting orders of Arnold and Wyncoop on the occasion of this supposed advance of the British naturally caused confusion. Gates ordered Wyncoop to be put under arrest and sent back to Ticonderoga and thenceforth Arnold’s authority was undisputed. The fleet left Crown Point August 24, went into Willsborough September 1, having encountered a severe storm, and on the 18th was at Isle la Motte. Arnold then wrote to Gates: “I intend first fair wind to come up as high as Isle Valcour, where is a good harbour and where we shall have the advantage of attacking the enemy in the open Lake, where the row-galleys, as their motion is quick, will give us a great advantage over the enemy; and if they are too many for us, we can retire.” (Am. Arch., v, ii, 481.) Arnold appears, however, to have remained in the vicinity of Isle la Motte until September 23. The American fleet then retreated up the lake to the strait between Valcour Island and the New York shore. This locality, which had previously been surveyed, afforded an excellent and secluded anchorage in a cove on the west side of the island, almost concealed by trees from vessels passing up the lake in the channel to the east of Valcour. October 1, Arnold received intelligence that the British were nearly ready to advance from St. John’s, and their movement began on the 4th (Ibid., i, 826, 1002, 1003, 1051, 1096, 1123, 1185-1187, 1201, 1266, 1267, ii, 185, 186, 481, 834, 835.)

      The two fleets were now ready for the conflict, and a statement of their comparative strength at the time may be made. The American force under Brigadier-General Benedict Arnold consisted of the sloop Enterprise, Captain Dickenson, carrying twelve four-pounders, ten swivels, and fifty men; the schooners Royal Savage, Captain Hawley, with four six-pounders and eight fours, ten swivels, and fifty men, and Revenge, Captain Seaman, with four four-pounders and four twos, ten swivels, and thirty- five men; the gondolas New Haven, Providence, Boston, Spitfire, Philadelphia, Connecticut, Jersey, and New York, each carrying one twelve-pounder and two nines, eight swivels, and forty-five men; and the galleys Lee with one twelve-pounder, one nine, and four fours, Trumbull with one eighteen-pounder, one twelve, two nines, and four sixes, Congress with two twelve-pounders, two eights, and four sixes, and Washington with one eighteen- pounder, one twelve, two nines, and four fours, the galleys altogether carrying also fifty-eight swivels and three hundred and twenty-six men. The American force on the lake likewise included a schooner, the Liberty, and a galley called the Gates, but these two vessels took no part in subsequent events. The opposing fleet was commanded by Captain Thomas Pringle of the British navy, who had with him on his flagship General Carleton, commanding the army. The force consisted of the ship Inflexible, mounting eighteen twelve-pounders; the schooners Maria with fourteen six-pounders and Carleton with twelve sixes; the radeau Thunderer with six twenty-four-pounders, six twelves, and two howitzers; the gondola Loyal Convert, seven nine-pounders; twenty gunboats, each with one twenty-four-pounder or a nine and some of them with howitzers; four longboats armed with one carriage gun each; and twenty-four long-boats loaded with provisions and stores. The American fleet of fifteen vessels therefore mounted eighty-six guns, throwing a total weight of metal of six hundred and five pounds, and a hundred and fifty-two swivels, while the British had about the same number of guns, but much heavier ones, discharging a total weight of over a thousand pounds. The superiority of heavy guns to light ones is much greater than in proportion to the difference in weight of projectile, one twelve-pounder being far more effective than two sixes. The Inflexible alone was a match for a good part of the American fleet; but on the other hand, the powerful battery of the Thunderer was in great measure useless because of her slowness and clumsiness. As to men, the full complement of the American fleet was eight hundred and twenty-one, but the number actually engaged was doubtless much smaller, as only five hundred had been obtained by October 1; there may have been about seven hundred at the time of the battle, and those in large part at least of poor quality, for Arnold had to take what be could get; their conduct in the battles that followed, however, could not have been better. The British fleet was manned by six hundred and ninety-seven officers and men from the regular navy. Arnold hoisted his flag on the galley Congress, and the second in command, General David Waterbury, on the galley Washington. Pringle and Carleton were both on the schooner Maria (Am. Arch., V, i, 1123,1201, iii, 834, 1017, 1039, 1179.)

      Map of Lake Champlain.

      The British fleet anchored during the night of October 10 between Grand and Long Islands and got under way the next morning with a northeast wind. It was seen at eight o’clock by the Americans off Cumberland Head. Waterbury promptly went on board the Congress to consult with Arnold, to whom he expressed the “opinion that the fleet ought immediately to come to sail and fight them on a retreat in main Lake, as they were so much superiour to us in number and strength, and we being in such a disadvantageous harbour to fight a number so much superiour and the enemy being able with their small boats to surround us on every side, as I knew they could, we lying between an island and the main. But General Arnold was of the opinion that it was best to draw the fleet in a line where we lay, in the bay of Valcour. The fleet very soon came up with us and surrounded us, when a very hot engagement ensued.” (Am. Arch., V, ii, 1224.)

      Through neglecting to reconnoitre, the British did not discover the American fleet until they had passed Valcour Island, and it was then necessary to attack from the leeward, at a disadvantage. Arnold, in his report of October 12 to General Gates, says that when the British were first seen on the morning of the 11th, “we immediately prepar’d to receive them, the gallies and Royal Savage were ordered under way, the rest of our fleet lay at anchor. At Eleven O’Clock [the enemy] ran under the lee of Valcour & began the attack. The schooner [Royal Savage] by some bad management fell to lee-ward and was first attack’d, one of her masts was wounded & her rigging shot away; the Captain thought prudent to run her on the point of Valcour, where all the men were saved . . . At half past twelve the engagement became general & very warm. Some of the enemy’s ships & all their Gondolas beat & row’d up within musket shot of us . . . The Enemy landed a large number of Indians on the Island & each shore, who kept an incessant fire on us, but did little damage; the Enemy had to appearance upwards of one thousand men in batteaus prepared for boarding. We suffered much for want of Seamen and gunners; I was obliged myself to point most of the guns on board the Congress, which I believe did good execution.” The enemy “continued a very hot fire with round & Grape Shot until five O’Clock when they thought proper to retire to about six or seven hundred yards distance & continued [their fire] until dark.” (Pap. Cont. Congr., 152, 3, 163; Am. Arch., V, ii, 1038.) Arnold’s decision to hold his ground and fight was wise; retreat would have been demoralizing and disastrous.

      Captain Pringle’s report, dated October 15, says: “Upon the 11th I came up with the rebel fleet commanded by Benedict Arnold. They were at anchor under the island of Valicour and formed a strong line extending from the island to the west side of the continent. The wind was so unfavorable that for a considerable time nothing could be brought into action with them but the gun boats; the Carleton schooner, commanded by Mr. Dacres, by much perseverance at last got to their assistance, but as none of the other vessels of the fleet could then get up, I did not think it by any means adviseable to continue so partial and unequal a combat. Consequently, with the approbation of his excellency general Carleton, who did me the honour of being on board the Maria, I called off the Carleton and gun boats and brought the whole fleet to anchor in a line as near as possible to the rebels, that their retreat might be cut off.” (London Chronicle, November 26, 1776; Am. Arch., V, ii, 1069; Almon, iv, 86. For reports of Douglas and Carleton, see Ibid., 84.)

      Of the American losses Arnold says: “The Congress and Washington have suffered greatly; the latter lost her first Lieutenant killed, Captain and Master wounded . . . The Congress reciev’d seven shot between wind and water, was hull’d a dozen times, had her main mast wounded in two places, & her yard in one; the Washington was hull’d a number of times, her main mast shot through & must have a new one. Both vessels are very leaky and want repairing . . . The New York lost all her officers except her Captain. The Philada. was hull’d in so many places that she sunk about one hour after the engagement was over. The whole kill’d & wounded amounted to about sixty.” After dark the British set fire to the Royal Savage, fearing that the Americans would again take possession of her and float her; she soon blew up. In concluding his report Arnold says: “I cannot in justice to the officers in the fleet omit mentioning their spirited conduct during the action.” (Pap. Cont. Congr., 152, 3, 163. On the whole campaign, see Dawson’s Battles of the United States, ch. xiii, with official reports and many references; Mahan’s account in Clowes, iii, 354-370, and in Scribner’s Mag., February, 1898; Amer. Hist. Record, October, November, 1874; Coll. Conn. Hist. Soc., vii (1899), 239-291.)

      After the battle was over it was evident that the American fleet could not endure another day’s contest under such disadvantages. “On consulting with General Waterbury & Colo. Wigglesworth,” says Arnold, “it was thought prudent to return to Crown point, every vessel’s ammunition being nearly three fourths spent & the Enemy greatly superior to us in Ships and men. At 7 O’Clock Col. Wigglesworth in the Trumbull got under way, the Gondolas and small vessels followed, & the Congress and Washington brought up the rear; the Enemy did not attempt to molest us.” (Pap. Cont. Congr., 152, 3, 163.) Waterbury says that a council was held, “to secure a retreat through their fleet to get to Crown Point, which was done with so much secrecy that we went through them entirely undiscovered.” (Pap. Cont. Congr., 152, 3, 163.) It is remarkable that thirteen American vessels should have been able to pass through the British fleet without detection. Pringle merely says that his purpose to cut off their retreat was “frustrated by the extreme obscurity of the night, and in the morning the rebels had got a considerable distance from us up the Lake.” (London Chronicle, November 26, 1776.) It has been suggested that Arnold led his fleet around the north end of Valcour and so avoided the British fleet (Amer. Hist. Rec., November, 1874, and Hag. Amer. Hist., June, 1881. The author, W. C. Watson, presents strong though not wholly convincing evidence in favor of this view.)

      The Americans retreated south up the lake, and early in the morning, October 12. reached Schuyler’s Island, ten miles from Valcour. Here Arnold wrote his report to General Gates of the preceding day’s battle, adding: “Most of the fleet is this minute come to an anchor; the Wind is small to the Southward. The Enemy’s fleet is under way to Leeward and beating up. As soon as our leaks are stopp’d the whole fleet will make the utmost dispatch to Crown point, where I beg you will send ammunition & your farther orders for us. On the whole, I think we have had a very fortunate escape.” (Pap. Cont. Congr., 152, 3, 163.) But it was too early to talk of escape, with the enemy in hot pursuit. Such repairs as were possible were hastily made; two of the gondolas were so much injured that it was necessary to abandon them, and they were sunk. “We remained no longer at Schuyler’s Island,” says Arnold in a later report, “than to stop our leaks and mend the sails of the Washington. At two o’clock P.M., the 12th, weighed anchor with a fresh breeze to the southward. The enemy’s fleet at the same time got under way; our gondola made very little way ahead.” (Am. Arch., V, ii, 1079 (to General Schuyler, October 15,1776.) Waterbury says of his vessel, the Washington, that she was “so torn to pieces that it was almost impossible to keep her above water; my sails was so shot that carrying sail split them from foot to head.” “In the evening,” continues Arnold, “the wind moderated and we made such progress that at six o’clock next morning we were about off Willsborough, twenty-eight miles from Crown Point. The enemy’s fleet were very little way above Schuyler’s Island. The wind breezed up to the southward, so that we gained very little by beating or rowing; at the same time the enemy took a fresh breeze from the northeast, and by the time we had reached Split Rock, were alongside of us. The Washington and Congress were in the rear; the rest of our fleet were ahead, except two gondolas sunk at Schuyler’s Island.” (Ibid.)

      Waterbury’s story of the retreat on the night of October 12 and the next morning gives fuller details. “The enemy still pursued all night. I found next morning that they gained upon us very fast and that they would very soon overtake me. The rest of the fleet all being much ahead of me, I sent my boat on board of General Arnold, to get liberty to put my wounded in the boat and send them forward and run my vessel on shore and blow her up. I received for answer, by no means to run her ashore, but to push forward to Split Rock, where he would. draw the fleet in a line and engage them again; but when I came to Split Rock, the whole fleet was making their escape as fast as they could and left me in the rear to fall into the enemy’s hands. But before I struck to them, the ship of eighteen twelve-pounders [Inflexible] and a schooner of fourteen six-pounders [Maria] had surrounded me, which obliged me to strike, and I thought it prudent to surrender myself prisoner of war.” (Am. Arch., V, ii, 1224.)

      Arnold’s narrative of the running fight continues: “The Washington galley was in such a shattered condition and had so many men killed and wounded, she struck to the enemy after receiving a few broadsides. We were then attacked in the Congress galley by a ship mounting eighteen twelve-pounders, a schooner of fourteen sixes and one of twelve sixes, two under our stern and one on our broadsides, within musket shot. They kept up an incessant fire on us for about five glasses with round and grape shot, which we returned as briskly. The sails, rigging and hull of the Congress were shattered and torn in pieces, the First Lieutenant and three men killed, when to prevent her falling into the enemy’s hands, who had seven sail around me, I ran her ashore in a small creek ten miles from Crown Point, on the east side; when, after saving our small arms, I set her on fire with four gondolas, with whose crews I reached Crown Point through the woods that evening and very luckily escaped the savages who waylaid the road in two hours after we passed.” (Am. Arch., V, ii, 1080.)

      Pringle’s report says: “Upon the 13th I again saw 11 sail of their fleet making off to Crown Point, who, after a chace of seven hours, I came up with in the Maria, having the Carleton and Inflexible a small distance astern.; the rest of the fleet almost out of sight. The action began at twelve o’clock and lasted two hours, at which time Arnold in the Congress galley and five gondolas ran on shore and were directly abandoned and blown up by the enemy, a circumstance they were greatly favoured in by the wind being off shore and the narrowness of the lake.” (London Chronicle, November 26, 1776.) The British loss in killed and wounded was about forty. A letter from Albany, dated October 17, says that the second engagement was fought “most of the time in musket shot, very warm and sharp, in which our men conducted with inimitable spirit and bravery, but were obliged to submit to superior strength. In this affair our fleet is almost totally ruined; only one galley escaped, with sloop Enterprise and two small schooners (One of then must have been the Liberty which was not in the action.) and one gondola; the rest all taken, burnt and destroyed.” The Washington “is the only vessel that the enemy possessed themselves of. Col. Wigglesworth in the Trumbull galley is arrived at Ticonderoga.” (Boston Gazette, October 28,1776.) Arnold concludes his story of this series of disasters by recounting that at four o’clock in the morning of October 14 he reached Ticonderoga “exceedingly fatigued and unwell, having been without sleep or refreshment for near three days. Of our whole fleet we have saved only two galleys, two small schooners, one gondola and one sloop. General Waterbury with one hundred and ten prisoners were returned [on parole] by Carleton last night. On board of the Congress we had twenty odd men killed and wounded. Our whole loss amounts to eighty odd. The enemy’s fleet were last night three miles below Crown Point; their army is doubtless at their heels.” (Am. Arch., V, ii, 1080.) An early attack on Ticonderoga was expected.

      Captain Douglas at Quebec, when he learned of the British victory, wrote to the Admiralty: “The ship Inflexible with the Maria and Carleton schooners, all reconstructions, did the whole of the second day’s business, the flat- bottomed rideau called the Thunderer and the gondola called the Loyal Convert, with the gunboats, not having been able to keep up with them.” (Ibid., 1178. For Carleton’s report, see lbid., 1040.) The British ship and schooners, armed with eighteen twelve-pounders and twenty-six sixes, had the Americans at their mercy, especially in the running fight of the 13th. The clumsy gondolas were practically useless and the galleys not much better.

      Ezra Green, a surgeon in the American army wrote from Ticonderoga, October 30, to a friend, giving a brief account of the battles on the lake and of subsequent events. He says the American prisoners, after their release on parole, reported that they had been “treated very kindly by the Indians as well as by the King’s troops who were at the time at Crown Point within 15 miles of this place, where they have been ever since the destruction of our Fleet. We have lately been alarm’d several times. On Monday morning last there was a proper alarm occasioned by a number of the enemies boats which hove in sight, and a report from a scouting party that the Enemy were moving on; where the Fleet is now I can’t learn, or what is the reason they don’t come on I can’t conceive. ‘T is thought they are 10 or 12 thousand strong, including Canadians and Indians. We are in a much better situation now than we were fourteen days ago and the militia are continually coming in. Our sick are recovering and it is thought we are as ready for them now as ever we shall be. There has been a vast deal of work done since the fight and we think ourselves in so good a position that we shall be disappointed if they don’t attack us. However, I believe they wait for nothing but a fair wind.” (Diary of Ezra Green, 5, 6.)

      By the time the British had taken Crown Point the season was far advanced. This fact and the presence of a formidable American force deterred them from at once attempting the capture of Ticonderoga. They withdrew to Canada for the winter, and their purpose of occupying the valley of the Hudson and separating New England from the other states was put off. They returned the next year under General Burgoyne, but the opportunity had passed. Howe had gone to Philadelphia and Burgoyne, unsupported from the south, was forced to surrender his army at Saratoga. The French alliance followed as a direct consequence. The American naval supremacy on Lake Champlain in the summer of 1776 had compelled the British to spend precious time in building a fleet strong enough to overcome it. The American defeat which followed was a victory. The obstruction to the British advance and a year’s delay saved the American cause from almost certain ruin. It thus came about through a singular instance of the irony of fate, not altogether pleasant to contemplate, that we owe the salvation of our country at a critical juncture to one of the blackest traitors in history.

      The end of the year 1776 found the War for Independence well advanced and a fair share of the strife had fallen upon the sea forces of the Revolutionists. A comparatively few small vessels, mostly converted merchantmen, under Continental and state authority, supplemented by privateers, had done the enemy a good deal of injury. It would be difficult to make even an approximate estimate of the number of American privateers at this period. Thirty-our were commissioned by the Continental Congress in 1776; probably a much larger number by the various states, as Continental letters of marque do not seem to have come into common use at this early date (Naval Records of the American Revolution (calendar), 217-495.)

      In 1776 the British navy appears to have had somewhat more than a hundred vessels in active service manned by twenty-eight thousand seamen and marines. According to the returns of Admiral Shuldham the fleet on the North American station comprised forty-three vessels of all classes in March and fifty-four in July. Probably forty of these were superior to the best ships on the American side in that year. In September, Admiral Howe reported a total of seventy vessels on the station. In November, according to a letter from London, “the Marine Force of England now in America consists of two ships of the line, ten fifties, and seventy-one frigates and armed vessels, amounting in the whole to eighty-three ships and vessels of war and 15,000 seamen.” (Boston Gazette, February 24,1777; Brit. Adm. Rec., A. D. 484, March 22, July 6, 1776, A. D. 487, July 28, September 18, 1776; Am. Arch., V, i, 463, ii, 1318; Schomberg, iv, 318-321.)

      The British attempted to meet the difficulties encountered in manning their ships by impressing Americans that fell into their hands or by inducing them to enlist. Their crews were thereby made up in part of unreliable material which required close watching. The disadvantages of this state of things appear in a letter of Shuldham to the Admiralty calling their attention to the many supernumeraries in the ships’ companies. He says: “I must beg they will please to observe that these being composed of Men taken out of the Rebel Vessels, no confidence can be placed in them, and although the Captains of His Majesty’s Ships under my Command have all of them more or less entered Americans to fill up their Complements and are now by the Law empowered to do so with regard to Men taken in future, yet it deserves to be seriously considered that if, by a constant diminution of the British Seamen upon this Service, this measure was carried to excess without any Supply from home to be distributed among the Fleet, the consequence may be very alarming; their Lordships will therefore see the necessity there is of my keeping compleat the parties of Marines belonging to the different Ships.” (Brit. Adm. Rec., A. D. 484, April 25,1776.)

      From March 10, 1776, to the end of the year the British took a hundred and forty American vessels and recaptured twenty-six, said to be mostly small trading vessels. American cruisers made three hundred and forty-two captures from the British, of which forty-four were recaptured, eighteen released, and five burned at sea, and the rest brought into port. The Continental navy alone made over sixty captures (London Chronicle, May 15, 1777; Am. Arch., V, iii, 1523-1530; Almon, iv, 312, v, 103-107; Neeser’s Statistical History of U. S. Navy, ii, 24, 284; Clowes, iii, 396, giving smaller figures. Probably all the lists are incomplete.) Besides the loss inflicted upon commerce, troops and valuable military stores had been intercepted, the evacuation of Boston had been hastened, and, most important of all, the British advance from Canada had been checked.

      The outlook for the next year was full of promise and encouragement for the Americans. Besides the smaller vessels of the Continental navy, which had already done good service, it was expected that thirteen fine new frigates would soon be in commission. Experience and training were beginning to tell in greater efficiency, and several of the captains showed signs of a capacity for developing superior military and naval qualities. October 10, 1776, Congress revised the navy list and established the relative rank of twenty-four captains. This difficult and delicate task, though doubtless influenced to some extent by political and personal considerations, was probably done with as much wisdom and justice as could have been expected with the knowledge of conditions possessed by Congress at the time. The arrangement caused dissatisfaction, however, on the part of some officers, especially John Paul Jones, who as eighteenth on the list felt that, having been the senior lieutenant, he should have stood much higher upon promotion. Some months later he wrote to Robert Morris regarding the qualifications of officers: “I cannot but lament that so little delicacy hath been Observed in the Appointment and Promotion of Officers in the Sea Service, many of whom are not only grossly illiterate, but want even the Capacity of commanding Merchant Vessells. I was lately on a Court Martial where a Captain of Marines made his Mark and where the President could not read the Oath which he attempted to administer, without Spelling and making blunders. As the Sea Officers are so subject to be seen by foreigners, what conclusions must they draw of Americans in general from Characters so Rude & Contracted. In my Judgement the Abilities of Sea Officers ought to be as far Superior to the abilities of officers in the Army as the nature of a Sea Service is more complicated and admits of a greater number of Cases than can possibly happen on the Land; therefore the discipline by Sea ought to be the more perfect and regular, were it compatible with short Enlistments.” (Jones MSS., July 28, 1777. See Sands, 59-65, 304-310.)

      The last important naval legislation of the year 1776 was passed November 20, when the Continental Congress resolved to build three ships of seventy-four guns each, five frigates of thirty-six guns, an eighteen-gun brig, and a packet boat. Only four of these vessels were completed, and those under modifications of the act generally reducing their size (Jour. Cont. Congr., November 20, 1776, July 25, 1777.) These four were the ship of the line America of seventy-four guns, the frigate Alliance, and two sloops of war, the General Gates and the Saratoga. Only the last three ever served in the Continental navy.

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