Naval Operations 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.”



      Notwithstanding the reverses of the Americans on land and sea during the previous year, it is evident that the British, about the beginning of 1778, were finding the subjugation of their revolted colonies a serious undertaking, and were apprehending a still more stubborn resistance on the part of the rebels encouraged by their one notable success at Saratoga. The French alliance with the United States, which soon followed, must have increased this feeling and have emphasized the need of energetic measures. A little later Lord George Germain, the British Secretary of State for the Colonies, sent to General Clinton, who had succeeded Howe, these secret instructions, dated March 8, 1778: “If you shall find it impracticable to bring Mr. Washington to a general & decisive Action early in the Campaign, you will relinquish the Idea of carrying on offensive Operations within Land & as soon as the Season will permit, embark such a Body of Troops as can be spared from the Defence of the Posts you may think necessary to maintain, on Board of Transports under the Conduct of a proper Number of the King’s Ships, with Orders to attack the ports on the Coast from New York to Nova Scotia,” and to destroy all ships and other property alongshore wherever practicable, “so as to incapacitate the Rebels from raising a Marine or continuing their Depredations upon the Trade of this Kingdom.” Two armaments were recommended, one from New York, the other from Halifax, to attack Connecticut and New Hampshire and then unite against Boston (Stevens, 396, 1062; Stopford-Sackville MSS., 96; Sparks’s Washington, v, 549.) The services of the army seem to have been required on land, and the commerce and privateering of New England were spared the annihilation which a rigorous prosecution of this plan must have entailed. The project plainly indicates a keen appreciation on the part of the British ministry of the telling effect upon their commercial interests of American privateering. About the middle of March, as soon as the British government had been officially notified of the treaty of alliance, Lord Stormont was recalled from Paris and war with France became inevitable, although it was delayed a few months and then began without formal declaration. Orders were sent to the British army to evacuate Philadelphia and fall back on New York.

      Meanwhile the Americans were striving to make the most of their slender resources upon the sea. Another expedition to New Providence was undertaken early in 1778, this time by a single ship, the sloop Providence, which had visited the place two years earlier as one of Commodore Hopkins’s squadron. The Providence was now commanded by Captain John P. Rathburne and carried a crew of about fifty men. About the middle of January she sailed from Georgetown, South Carolina, where she had put in early in the winter. The next morning after getting to sea, says Lieutenant Trevett, “at daylight saw a sail to the eastward and then saw two more; they proved to be British, a ship, brig and sloop. They gave chase and the ship gained on us fast; by two P.M. we could see her tier of guns. Night coming on and very dark, we took in all sail and put out our lights and in a few hours, being lighter, we could see her and she passed us and when she was out of sight we altered our course and in the morning could not discover a single sail. We had hove over so much of our wood, water, &c., in order to lighten ship, that we concluded to make all sail for Abaco. We had a short passage, came to anchor and went to work making a scaling ladder. In two days after, we stood over to New Providence, having sent down our topmast and topsail yard and housed our guns ; we also kept all our men out of sight. About midnight we got abreast of the harbor with a light air of wind off the land.” A force of twenty-eight men under Trevett’s command was sent ashore. “We took nothing with us to eat or drink, but filled our pockets with ball cartridges. We landed about a mile from the Fort and got our scaling ladder and all things ready.” The sentinels having been taken by surprise, the landing party soon had possession of Fort Nassau. Several guns were found loaded, with matches burning by them. Two British ships were in the harbor. “We employed the remainder of the night in placing some of the heavy pieces of cannon to point on the different streets of the town and on the ships. When daylight appeared we set our thirteen stripes flying at the fort.” (R.I. Hist. Mag., July, 1886.) Upon requisition a breakfast was provided for the party and an officer and two men were sent to take possession of Fort Montague at the eastern end of the town, four miles distant. This was accomplished and the guns were spiked. A midshipman and four men were then sent in a boat, seized for the purpose, to one of the English vessels, a sixteen-gun ship, and to this small force the officer in command, seeing the American flag on the fort and the guns pointing at him, surrendered with his crew of forty-five. Five other vessels in the harbor, prizes brought in by the British, were recaptured. The report had been concocted for the occasion and disseminated among the inhabitants that the Providence was merely one of an American fleet at Abaco, and the number landed was also greatly exaggerated; this made easier the exploits of the very small detachments sent out by Trevett. An armed force of about two hundred of the inhabitants collected with the purpose of attacking the fort, but they were induced to desist by the threat of the Americans to burn the town.

      A British sloop of war appeared off the harbor, but being warned away by signals and fired upon by the fort, she stood out again to sea, remaining in the offing. On the morning of January 30 the prizes were manned and the expedition sailed away, taking off thirty Americans released from prison and valuable military stores, including sixteen hundred pounds of powder. In this affair no blood was shed and no private property on the island was disturbed. Two of the prizes, being of little value, were burned; the others were sent into port. The ships sailed north and soon became separated. Having joined company again, the Providence and the armed prize ship went into New Bedford together early in March (R. I. Hist. Mag., July, October, 1886; Clark, i, 74; Almon, vi, 99; Boston Gazette, March 9, 1778; Pap. Cont. Congr., 44, 10, 17, 21, 23 (January 29, February 21, May 11, 1778); Mar. Com. Letter Book, 143 (April 22, 1778).)

      The frigate Randolph, after a very short stay in France, returned to America about the first of the year, apparently sailing directly for South Carolina, whence she had so recently come. A squadron was organized at Charleston, with Captain Biddle in command, composed of the Randolph and four vessels of the South Carolina navy, three of them being privateers taken temporarily into the state service. These four vessels were the ship General Moultrie, 18, and the brigs Notre Dame, 16, Polly, 16, and Fair American, 14. One hundred and fifty South Carolina troops served on the squadron as marines. According to the statements of British prisoners in Charleston the Randolph carried twenty-six twelve-pounders, six six-pounders, four coehorns in each top, and upwards of three hundred men, one third of them tolerable seamen; the General Moultrie carried twelve short and six long six-pounders, and eighty men; the Notre Dame, sixteen sixes and a hundred and twenty men; the Fair American, twenty guns and a hundred and twenty men (Brit. Adm. Rec., A. D. 488, February 13,1778; Stevens, 811; Paullin, 430.) This armament put to sea February 12, 1778, in search of a number of British vessels that had been cruising along the coast, but it was soon found that the enemy had departed. The squadron then sailed for the West Indies and cruised several days to the eastward of Barbadoes, taking one small schooner. On the 7th of March, in the afternoon, the Randolph, in company with her consorts and prize, sighted a large man-of-war to windward, which turned out to be the British sixty-four-gun ship Yarmouth. This vessel came down before the wind and when within hail, about eight P.M., was first discovered to be a two-decker. The Randolph in reply to her hail hoisted her colors and gave the Yarmouth a broadside. Early in the engagement Captain Biddle was wounded in the thigh, but continued in command, seated in a chair on deck. The General Moultrie took part in the action, but being to leeward and near the Randolph, fired into her by mistake, and it was thought possible that Biddle was wounded by one of her shot. The other vessels were not engaged. The Randoph’s fire was rapid and accurate. According to a letter of Captain Hall of the Notre Dame, she handled the Yarmouth “so roughly for 12 or 15 minutes that the British ship must shortly have struck, having lost her bowsprit and topmasts and being otherwise greatly shattered, while the Randolph had suffered very little; but in this moment of glory, as the Randolph was wearing to get on her quarter, she unfortunately blew up.” (Independent Chronicle, August 13, 1778.) Captain Vincent of the Yarmouth reported March 17 to Admiral Young, at Barbadoes, that “on the 7th instant at half past five P.M. discovered six sail in the S.W. quarter, on a wind standing to the northward; two of them ships, three brigs and a schooner. We were then 50 leagues due east of this island. We immediately bore down upon them and about nine got close to the weather quarter of the largest and headmost ship. They had no colours hoisted and as ours were then up, I hailed her to hoist hers or I would fire into her; on which she hoisted American and immediately gave us her broadside, which we returned, and in about a quarter of an hour she blew up. It was fortunate for us that we were to windward of her; as it was, our ship was in a manner covered with parts of her. A great piece of a top timber, six feet long, fell on our poop; another large piece of timber stuck in our fore top-gallant sail, then upon the cap. An American ensign, rolled up, blown in upon the forecastle, not so much as singed. Immediately on her blowing up, the other four dispersed different ways. We chased a little while two that stood to the southward and afterwards another that bore away right before the wind, but they were soon out of sight, our sails being torn all to pieces in a most surprising manner. We had five men killed and twelve wounded. But what I am now going to mention is something very remarkable. The 12th following, being then in chase of a ship steering west, we discovered a piece of wreck with four men on it waving; we hauled up to it, got a boat out, and brought them on board. They proved to be four men who had been in the ship which blew up and who had nothing to subsist on from that time but by sucking the rain water that fell on a piece of blanket which they luckily had picked up.” (London Chronicle, May 26,1778; Almon, vi, 143; Brit. Adm. Rec., Captains’ Logs, No. 1091 (log of the Yarmouth) ; Port Folio, October, 1809.) The rest of the squadron with the prize arrived safely in port. The loss of another frigate was a severe blow to the Continental navy and to the country, but the loss of Captain Biddle was far more serious. While only in his twenty-eighth year, he had given strong indications of ability as a seaman and officer, and of character as a man. Having served as a midshipman in the British navy in his youth, he had the military and naval training which was lacking in nearly all the American seamen of that period. With the exception of John Paul Jones, it is probable that Biddle had no superior in the service. If four men as good as these two and Wickes and Conyngham had been given constant employment throughout the war in ships like the Randolph or Hancock, perhaps the history of the Continental navy might have been different.

      The frigates Raleigh and Alfred, having made the voyage to France together in the fall of 1777, set sail in company December 29, homeward bound. When it had become evident to the American Commissioners at Paris that the times were not propitious for the cruising of Continental ships in European waters, they had addressed a letter of advice, dated November 25, 1777, to Captain Thompson of the Raleigh, suggesting a circuitous passage back to America. “As it is by no means safe to return into the ports of France, you will calculate your stores so as to have a sufficiency for your cruise, which we cannot indeed be particular in the direction of. It has been suggested that one or more of the India ships returning may be intercepted, that part of the West India homeward-bound ships may be expected about this time, as well as transports returning from New York and elsewhere in America, and that by cruising in the proper latitudes you may meet with them; that the British factories and commerce on the African coast at this time lie without any force sufficient to protect them, and that by running along that coast you may greatly annoy and distress the enemy in that quarter and afterwards go for the West Indies. As you and Captain Hinman have already considered these several plans for a cruise, we leave with you to determine which to prefer and the manner in prosecuting either, or any other that may appear more likely to answer the design of your commission. We are happy in observing the harmony and confidence which subsists between you and Captain Hinman and hope the same prevails between your officers and men, which we are certain you will cultivate through the whole of your expedition, in which we recommend to you to avoid giving any offense to the flags of neutral powers and to show them proper marks of respect and friendship . . . Whenever you judge it prudent to dismiss prisoners subjects of his Britannic Majesty, we advise you to take from them in writing an acknowledgment of their having been your prisoners, their quality, place of residence, and that they are dismissed by you in confidence that an equal number of the subjects of the thirteen United States of the same rank, that now are or may hereafter be prisoners to his said Britannic Majesty, will be set at liberty. You are also to deliver a copy of such writing to the prisoners, enjoining them to deliver the same on their arrival in Britain to the lords of the British admiralty, and by the first opportunity enclose a duplicate to the committee or board of marine in Boston and another to us, with an account of your proceedings.” (Wharton, ii, 428; Lee MSS., November 25, 1777; Independent Chronicle, April 9,1778.) The commissioners’ hopes in regard to the exchange of prisoners were doomed to disappointment.

      The Raleigh and Alfred sailed for the West Indies by way of the coast of Africa, and captured a British vessel off Senegal. By March 9, 1778, according to Captain Thompson’s report, they had reached latitude 16° 31′ north, longitude 55° 40′ west, and at Six A.M. two Sail to the west northwest were seen from the Raleigh. At half-past seven she hove to for the Alfred; the strange ships were then standing to the north, close-hauled. Captain Thompson directed Captain Hinman to run down and observe the sternmost ship. At ten o’clock, being within five or six miles, it was plainly seen that the strangers were armed. The Raleigh and Alfred then hauled on the wind on the same tack with the other ships, which were to leeward. Thompson thought that this manoeuvre would give him more time to discover their force and rate of sailing. The strange ships then tacked, ,trying to work up and get our wakes.” The Raleigh sailed as well as they, while the Alfred fell off to leeward and astern. “As the weathermost ship pass’d under the Alfred’s lee, standing to the Southward on the third tack, Capt. Hinman hoisted his colours and fired several shot, which were returned under English colours. They were then two miles apart and the other ship four miles to leeward of her consort; the Alfred was about three miles astern of us.” The Raleigh was about to tack and stand towards the Alfred, so as to attack the weathermost ship in company with her, before the other could get up; but just then, half-past twelve, the Alfred stood off before the wind, which was light from the east northeast, and set all her light sails in the effort to escape. The Raleigh had an equal chance to attack one or to escape from both ships, but “the Alfred was neither able to engage one nor to escape by sailing.” Thompson regretted that the Alfred attempted to escape, as it was evident that the leeward ship, then bearing southwest, would cut her off before she could pass her or the Raleigh give assistance. The Raleigh did not go about, but hauled up her courses, thinking the windward ship would stand for her; but “they both made towards the Alfred. I then ordered the master to veer and make sail towards the Alfred and run between her and the other ship, to take off her fire and give the Alfred an opportunity to escape.” The Alfred at first seemed to gain on the British, “but in a few minutes the two got up and began a furious fire, which was return’d by the Alfred as fast as they could. Just as we had got studdingsails hoisted we had the mortification to see the Alfred haul down her colours. It was then one o’clock; the firing lasted about ten minutes. We were then within three miles of the ships.” There was nothing then left for the Raleigh, in the captain’s opinion, but to escape from a superior force, and she hauled to the north. The sea being smooth the British soon finished taking possession of the Alfred and began to chase the Raleigh, and gained on her. When night came she edged away and set all her light sails. The British chased all night by a bright moon. At daylight they were four or five miles away and at seven o’clock seemed to be gaining. The Raleigh, by throwing overboard all she could spare and starting her water, was lightened about thirty-five tons and began to gain. At ten o’clock the British gave up the chase, after nineteen hours. One of them sailed faster than the other, but would not come up alone, often heaving to and waiting for her consort (Continental Journal, April 30, 1778.)

      These British ships were the Ariadne, 20, and the Ceres, 16. Captain Pringle of the Ariadne reported to Admiral Young: “The two strangers at first shewed a disposition to attack us, but in consequence of the King’s ships having brought the stern-most to close action about noon, the other made off. The ship in action, after having given to and received from the Ariadne and Ceres some broadsides, struck; and proved to be the rebel ship Alfred, of 20 nine-pounders and 180 men. Her consort was the Raleigh of 82 guns.” (London Chronicle, May 26,1778; Almon, vi, 144; Brit. Adm. Rec., Captains’ Logs, No. 4141 (log of the Ceres.)

      The Raleigh arrived at Portsmouth early in April. Captain Thompson’s report no doubt put his conduct in the most favorable light, but did not save him from severe censure. By proper management it was believed that not only should the Alfred have been saved from capture, but both the British vessels, so inferior in force, should have been taken. Captain Hinman’s judgment might reasonably be questioned on two points: first, his running off to leeward in a vain attempt to escape, thereby removing himself from the support of the Raleigh; second, his surrender after such a very brief resistance, while there was a chance of the Raleigh’s coming to the rescue. As to the subsequent conduct of the Raleigh, it is not inspiring to think of her precipitate flight from two small ships mounting about the same number of guns that she did and probably lighter ones. Captain Thompson was doubtless a good seaman, not lacking in physical courage, and zealous in the cause; but without military sense and unequal to the responsibilities of the situation.

      Early in March the Frigate Warren, Captain John B. Hopkins, blockaded in the Providence River, escaped through the British fleet in Narragansett Bay. John Deshon, of the Eastern Navy Board, wrote to the other members of the board, March 9: “Respecting the Ship Warren I am happy She so well Succeeded in geting out of this river. Every Circumstance Combined in her Favour that She might Clear of the Enemy; the night was Exceeding Dark, and there was but little wind untill the Crittecal time of Passing the Greatest Danger, when the wind Shifted very Suddenly into the N.W. and blowd Exceeding hard, so that the Enemy Could not without the Greatest Difficulty Get under Sail and Persue. I was at Warrick Neck and up the Most part of the Night when the Warren Passed and am Very Sure it was Imposable for Captn Hopkins to gain the Port of N. London, there being So much wind and the weather so Severe Cold. There [were] on board the Warren abt 170 men, manny of which had not a Second Shift of Cloaths, therefore it will be Very Difficult as well as Teadius for Captn Hopkins to beat this Courst at this Severe Season; the Orders Given him by me you have with you, which Gives him not the least Encouragement to Cruise. Nevertheless Should the Ship Keep out this three weeks, I Shall not be in the least uneasy abt her; well Knowin the men in no Condission to Beat a Winters Courst, we have Succeeded beyound Expectation in Geting her out and I have not the least Doubt but She will in due time Return with honor to the Commander and his Compy.” After a short cruise the Warren put into Boston, March 23. Two days later William Vernon wrote from Providence: “This moment several of the Ship Warrens Men came to Town from Boston, who inform me they Arrived There last Monday; and in passing the Enemys Ships in this River . . . they sustained some damage, their Mizen Yard shot away, Main yard wounded, several shot passed through their Hull, one Man only sleightly wounded. The Wind blowing and continueing fresh at N.W., the Crew badly Clothed and Weather extreem Cold, were under the Necessity of standing to the Southward in warmer Weather under easie sail far as the Latt. 24°, where they fell in with the Ship Neptune, Capt. Smallwood, from Whitehaven bound to Phila., Loaded with Salt and dry Goods.” This ship and another prize were taken and the Warren then sailed for Boston. The Columbus also tried to escape from Narragansett Bay, but was chased ashore on Point Judith and burned (Publ. R. I. Hist. Soc., viii, 214 (March 9, 1778), 215, 229 (March 25, 1778), 230, 231, 233; Brit. Adm. Rec., A. D. 488, Nos. 55, 57, March 16, April 23, 1778; Continental Journal, March 26, 1778; Independent Chronicle, April 9, 16, 1778.)

      The next vessel to attempt the perilous feat of blockade-running was the frigate Providence, and she succeeded. William Vernon wrote to John Adams: “The 30th of April we sent down the Providence, Capt. Whipple, having on board about 170 men, who was ordered to the flrst Port in France he cou’d make, to be under the direction of the Commissioners, where we hope she is safe Arrived. No dispatches was sent by this ship, as she was to pass a dangerous passage; however, in a brisk Wind & dark Night she got out safe, receiveing a heavy fire from the Lark, wch was the uppermost ship, who’s Fires he returned with Spirit & good effect, Kill’d a Number & Wounded many Men, much disabled the Ship; the lower-most Ship by this alarm was prepared to receive the Providence, who was obliged to pass her very near, gave her their Fire, that was returned with good success.” (Adams MSS., May 20, 1778.) Having reached the open sea, the Providence sailed for France. The frigate Trumbull, unable to pass over the bar at the mouth of the Connecticut River, remained in the river during the whole year. William Vernon wrote, March 25, 1778, that “she must be intirely stript of her Yards and Top Mast and all her Story, even to a Swept Hole, that if possible to bring her to 9 or 10 feet Water.” (Publ. R. I. Hist. Soc., viii, 212, 214, 229, 230, 231, 232; Mar. Com. Letter Book, 136, 147, 148 (April 6, May 8, 9, 1778)

      The frigate Virginia, Captain James Nicholson, which had been repeatedly ordered to sea, and had been waiting nearly a year for a chance to run the blockade in Chesapeake Bay, finally got away from Annapolis, Maryland, March 30, in company with a brig which had on board a pilot in whom Nicholson had confidence. At three o’clock the next morning, however, the frigate ran on a shoal. She was forced over, but lost her rudder and was thereupon anchored, leaking badly. At daylight two British men-of-war were discovered, one of them only two gun-shots distant. Nicholson and nine men, with the ship’s papers, went ashore in a boat and the Virginia was then surrendered to the enemy. Nicholson afterwards went aboard one of the British vessels in order to parole his officers. He was not court-martialed for the loss of his ship, but Congress instituted an inquiry and acquitted him of blame (Penn. Packet, April 15, 1778; Mar. Com. Letter Book, 124, 129, 138, 150 (January 28, March 4, April 8, May 16, 1778) Barney, 65, 66.)

      Captains John Barry and Thomas Read had in 1776 been appointed to command the frigates Effingham and Washington, which since the occupation of Philadelphia by the British had been bottled up in the Delaware River above the city. The officers and men, therefore, unable to get to sea, had been employed on shore and on the river in cooperation with the army and in the defense of Delaware Bay in the fall of 1777. January 29, 1778, Barry was ordered by the Marine Committee to command a boat expedition down the river and bay, for the purpose of annoying the enemy, capturing or destroying their transports if possible, and cutting off their supplies and diverting them to the use of the Continental army, then in desperate straits at Valley Forge. Owing to a quarrel between Barry and the Navy Board of the Middle District, his selection for this duty was opposed, but finally, after nearly a month’s delay, the matter was arranged. Towards the end of February, Barry, having manned four of the frigates’ boats, it is said with only twenty-seven men, ran down the river and past the city at night; below he was joined by five other boats, half-manned. He then occupied himself with destroying everything along the banks of the river that could be of use to the enemy and that could not be conveyed to the American army. On March 7, while at Port Penn on the Delaware shore of the bay, he captured two ships, one of them armed with six four-pounders, and a schooner “mounting Eight double fortified four Pounders & Twelve four Pound” howitzers; the schooner was acting as convoy. The ships were transports, each with a crew of fourteen men, bringing forage and supplies from Rhode Island to the British army in Philadelphia; the schooner was manned by a crew of thirty-three. A day or two later a number of British vessels came up the bay and Barry was obliged to burn the transports to prevent recapture. He attempted to take the schooner into Christiana Creek, but being hard-pressed was compelled to run her ashore and scuttle her. The Marine Committee had hoped to take her into the naval service, and had given orders for her equipment and employment as a lookout vessel off the capes. Most of the cargoes of all the vessels were saved and were purchased for the army, yielding a good amount of prize money. Barry reported his exploit to General Washington and received a congratulatory letter in reply. He continued to harass the enemy on the river for another month (Barry, ch. vii; Boston Gazette, April 6, 1778; Hist. Mag., July, 1859; Publ. R. I. Hist. Soc., viii, 223; Amer. Cath. Hist. Res., April, 1904; Pap. Cont. Congr., 137, app., 197 (December 19, 1777), 152, 2, 367 (March 9, 1778) ; Mar. Com. Letter Book, 125, 126 (January 29, 1778), 134, 135 (March 11, 26, 1778), 143 (April 24, 1778.)

      In addition to the frigates Washington and Effingham, a large number of smaller vessels, including several galleys of the Pennsylvania navy, were blockaded in the Delaware River above Philadelphia. It had long been feared that the British would come up the river and capture or destroy these vessels, and General Washington advised that they be stripped and sunk. The two frigates had already been sunk and raised again and a number of the smaller vessels were prepared for sinking at short notice. On May 7 the expected British expedition, of seven hundred men, came up the river, and apparently only a part of the galleys were sunk in time to be saved. The British force, under Captain Henry, came up in a brig, a schooner, four galleys, four gun-boats, and eighteen flatboats carrying the soldiers of the party. Captain Henry says in his report: “At noon we were abreast of White-hill, where the gallies, armed vessels and gun-boats were placed to cover the landing of the troops, which was performed without opposition. At this place the Washington and Effingham rebel frigates, the former pierced for thirty-two and the latter for twenty-eight guns, were set on fire and consumed, together with a brig and sloop. The troops then marched, took possession of Borden-town and destroyed a battery of 3 six-pounders; whereupon the gallies, armed vessels, &c. proceeded to that place, where they burnt two new ships, one of which was pierced for 18 guns, one privateer sloop for 10 guns, with ten sail of brigs, schooners and sloops.” (Almon, vi, 149.) Farther up the river many other vessels were burned as well as a large amount of public property on shore. “The whole number of vessels destroyed was forty-four sail.” The expedition returned to Philadelphia May 9. Fifty-eight guns of these sunken and destroyed vessels were afterwards raised by the Americans (Ibid., 148-150; Brit. Adm. Rec., A.D. 488, May 10, 1778; Hist. Mag., July, 1859; Mag. Amer. Hist., March, 1878, Matthewman’s Narrative; Barry, ch. viii.)

      Thus a series of misfortunes befell the Continental navy during the early months of 1778, the effect of which must have been depressing and naturally caused some loss of confidence in the commanding officers. Colonel Timothy Pickering wrote to his brother, April 26, from York, Pennsylvania, the temporary seat of the Continental Congress: “Our naval affairs have been conducted shockingly. You will see by the papers how foolishly the Virginia was lost. The Randolph, Capt. Biddle, has been blown up in an engagement with a large ship in the West Indies. This misfortune is deeply to be regretted, for Biddle was an excellent & amiable man and accomplished naval commander. From all that I can learn the conduct of the other commanders of our frigates has been generally shamefully bad.” (Pickering MSS., v, 76.) One of Pickering’s correspondents, in recommending Captain Fisk of the Massachusetts navy for the command of a Continental frigate, wrote: “I am confident he wd. not give her away like a Coward as perhaps has been the case with some others, nor lose her like a blockhead as M … did his.” (lbid, xvii, 128 (March 30, 1778). Doubtless Manley is meant.) Another says: “All the men that is got home from the Alfred sayes if Capt. Thomson had come down they would have Taken ye Two English Ships in one hours engagement.” (lbid., xvii, 147 (May 4,1778.) William Ellery wrote from York, April 25, to William Vernon: “The Enemies ships do indeed swarm in the Seas of America and Europe; but hitherto only one of our Frigates hath been captured on the Ocean. Two have been burned in North River, two sunk in Delaware, one captured there, and one in Chesapeak. The Alfred we are just informed was taken on her passage home by two frigates in sight of the Rawleigh. The particulars of this capture and why she was not supported by the Rawleigh we are ignorant of. I hope Capt. Thompson is not culpable. I entertain a high opinion of him. The Columbus is a trifling Loss and I should not much lament the Loss of the Alfred, if her brave Captain, Officers and men were not in the hands of a cruel enemy. Our little fleet is very much thinned. We must contrive some plan for catching some of the Enemy’s Frigates to supply our Losses; but we must take care not to catch tartars. It is reported that Capt. Biddle of the Randolph, in an engagement with a sixty-gun ship, was blown up. We have been so unfortunate that I am apt to believe almost any bad news; but this report I cannot believe.” (Publ. R. I. Hist. Soc., viii, 237.) William Story, clerk of the Navy Board at Boston, wrote to Vernon, April 29: “The doctr. of the Alfred has been at the Board and gives a particular Accot. of Capt. Thompson’s behaviour; he is Condemned by every One and they are Crying out why don’t your board turn him out and hang him, &c, &c. I am Sorry the Service Suffers by the Misconduct of the officers in the navy. I want the board should be together to determine concerning Capt. Thompson.” (lbid., 240.) Captain Manley, who had been a prisoner in New York since his arrival there after the capture of the Hancock in July, 1777, was finally released and returned to Boston April 21. He was tried by a court-martial in June for the loss of his ship, and acquitted. Captain McNeill of the Boston was tried for not properly supporting the Hancock, and was dismissed from the navy. Captain Thompson was court-martialed and was also dismissed (lbid., 246, 247; Massachusetts Spy, April 30, 1778; Penn. Packet, July 14,1778; Clark, i, 53; Mar. Com. Letter Book, 143, 147, 165 (April 28, May 8, July 24, 1778); Pap. Cont. Congr., 37, 163 (January 15, 1779) ; Jones MSS., September 4, November 15, 17, 1778; Wolcott MSS., June 16, 1778.)

      The Continental brigantine Resistance was purchased for the navy in 1777, and was fitted out at New London. Captain Samuel Chew was given command of her in June of that year, but she seems first to have got to sea early in 1778. She mounted ten four-pounder guns, and while cruising in the West Indies, fell in with a twenty-gun British letter of marque, March 4. After a hard-fought battle, in which Chew and one of his lieutenants were killed, the vessels parted and the Resistance returned to Boston. The new sloop of war General Gates got to sea during the summer and captured two prizes; in the action with one of them, Captain Skimmer of the Gates was killed (Mar. Com. Letter Book, 92, 93, 94 (June 17,1777), 143 (April 28,1778); New London Hist. Soc., IV, i, 9; Adams MSS., October 2, 1778, Vernon to Adams; Jour. Cont. Congr., September 14, 1778.)

      Captain Barry was appointed, May 30, 1778, to command the frigate Raleigh, Captain Thompson having been relieved. Barry was ordered, August 24 and again on the 28th, to sail to the southward in the Raleigh in company with the brigantine Resistance, now commanded by Captain William Burke, formerly in command of the schooner Warren, of Washington’s fleet at Boston in 1776. The Raleigh and Resistance were at Boston. The Marine Committee apparently had in mind two other frigates for service in southern waters, with these vessels or independently. These were the Warren, at Boston, and the Deane, which, after her completion at Nantes, had come over to Portsmouth under the command of Captain Samuel Nicholson, arriving in May. The instructions sent to Barry provided for a cruise on the southern coast of the United States, but they were not carried out; other orders to Barry, issued after he had sailed, also related to a southern cruise. The Resistance must have sailed before the orders of August 24 reached Boston. She was sent out to look for the fleet of Admiral D’Estaing, which was expected to arrive soon, but missed it; and then cruising to the southward she ran into Admiral Howe’s fleet and was captured (Mar. Com. Letter Book, 131 (March 6, 1778), 147, 148, 153, 154 (May 8, 9, 30, 1778), 173, 174 (August 24, 28, 1778), 175, 179a (September 14, 28, 1778); Independent Chronicle, May 7, 1778; Almon, vi, 195; Amer. Cath. Hist. Res., April, 1904; Publ. R.I. Hist. Soc., viii, 255; Adams MSS., October 2, 1778.)

      The Raleigh sailed from Boston September 25 alone, except for two vessels under her convoy, which apparently soon dropped astern. The wind was fresh from the northwest, but seems to have died down before night; the Raleigh’s first course was east by south. At noon two sail were sighted at a distance of fifteen miles to the southeast. The Raleigh hauled to the north, and the strange vessels, which were the British fifty-gun ship Experiment and the Unicorn of twenty-two guns, followed in pursuit. The chase continued nearly sixty hours before a shot was fired, off the coast of Maine. On the morning of September 27 the ships were not in sight, but reappeared about half-past nine in the forenoon. The wind blew fresh from the west, and the Raleigh, running off at a speed of eleven knots, drew away from her pursuers, but in the afternoon, the wind having diminished again, the Unicorn gained on her. The narrative of two of the Raleigh’s officers says: “At half past four P.M. tacked and stood to the S. westward in order to discover the headmost ship’s force; at the same time saw several islands, but could not tell the name of either. Our ship being cleared for action and men at their quarters, about five P.M. coursed the headmost ship [the Unicorn], to windward athwart her fore foot, on which we hoisted our colours, hauled up the mizzen sail and took in the stay sails; and immediately the enemy hoisted St. George’s ensign. She appearing to be pierced for twenty-eight guns, we gave her a broadside, which she returned; the enemy then tacked and came up under our lee quarter and the second broadside she gave us, to our unspeakable grief, carried away our fore top-mast and mizzen top-gallant-mast. He renewed the action with fresh vigor and we, notwithstanding our misfortune, having in a great measure lost command of our ship, were determined for victory. He then shot ahead of us and bore away to leeward. By this time we had our ship cleared of the wreck. The enemy plied his broadsides briskly, which we returned as brisk; we perceiving that his intentions were to thwart us, we bore away to prevent his raking us, and if possible, to lay him aboard, which he doubtless perceived and having the full command of his ship, prevented us by sheering off and dropping astern, keeping his station on our weather quarter. Night coming on we perceived the sternmost ship gaining on us very fast, and being much disabled in our sails, masts and rigging and having no possible view of escaping, Capt. Barry thought it most prudent, with the advice of his officers, to wear ship and stand for the shore, if possible to prevent the ship’s falling into the enemy’s hands by running her on shore. The engagement continuing very warm, about twelve midnight saw the land bearing N.N.E. two points under our bow. The enemy, after an engagement of seven hours, thought proper to sheer off and wait for his consort, they showing and answering false fires to each other.” (Pennsylvania Post, October 19, 1778, quoted in Barry, 94, 95.)

      The Experiment soon came up and joined in the fire, and the British tried to cut off the Raleigh from the shore. “Encouraged by our brave commander, we were determined not to strike. After receiving three broadsides from the large ship and the fire of the frigate on our lee quarter, our ship struck the shore, which the large ship perceiving poured in two broadsides, which was returned by us; she then hove in stays, our guns being loaded gave us a good opportunity of raking her, which we did with our whole broadside and after that she bore away and raked us likewise, and both kept up a heavy fire on each quarter, in order to make us strike to them, which we never did. After continuing their fire some time they ceased and came to anchor about a mile distant.” (Barry, 96.)

      According to the Experiment’s log, at quarter before six P.M. on the 27th, the “Unicorn came to close Action with the Chace, the first Broadside carried away the Enemys foretopmast and Main top-gallant Mast, at 7 a violent fireing on board both Ships, 1/2 past 9 the fireing ceased 1/2 an Hour, on which we fired several Signal Guns & was answered by the Unicorn with Lights & false Fires bearing N 1/2 E 3 miles, at 10 the Unicorn still in Action, at 11 spoke her & found the chace close by her, soon after got alongside the Chace, she gave us a Broadside & we riturned it, she then run upon the Shore, we being close to the Rocks, tacked & Anchored about 1/2 a Gun Shott from her, as did the Unicorn in 20 fathoms Water; at 5 A.M. the Enemy still on shore on a small barren Island called Seal Island, the Rebel Colours still hoisted, at 7 weighed and Anchored near her, fired several Guns & hoisted out all our Boats, Manned & Armed, sent a Boat ahead with a Flag of Truce to offer them Quarters, on discovering which she hawled down her Colours, her first Lieutenant and One Hundred & thirty-three Men were got ashore on the Island, but surrendered on a Summons by Truce.” (Brit. Adm. Rec., Captains’ Logs, No. 331; also No. 1017 (log of the Unicorn).)

      The Raleigh had run on a rocky island in or near Penobscot Bay, the identity of which seems not to have been perfectly established. Barry had at once proceeded to land his crew, intending to destroy his ship, and before morning he and eighty-five of his men had escaped in boats to the mainland; but through negligence or treachery the combustibles prepared for firing the ship were not ignited. The British soon took possession of the frigate and made prisoners of those of her crew who had not yet left her. The Raleigh lost twenty-five killed and wounded. The Unicorn had ten killed and many wounded, and was much injured in her hull and rigging. Captain Barry with those of his crew who escaped found their way back to Boston, where they arrived in about two weeks. The British hauled the Raleigh off the rocks and took her into their service. Barry’s reputation did not suffer from this mishap and he was held blameless by a court of inquiry. In November he was appointed to command a fleet of galleys to be employed in an expedition against East Florida, but this project was never carried out (Barry, ch. ix; Dawson, ch. xlii; Mar. Com. Letter Book, 184, 191 (October 25, November 20, 1778); Boston Gazette, October 5,1778; Brit. Adm. Rec., A. D. 489, October 28,1778.)

      The Massachusetts state brigs Tyrannicide, Captain Hamden, and Hazard, Captain Sampson, sailed late in 1777 on a cruise in the West Indies. Early in their voyage they took three prizes, but after arriving upon their cruising ground they had little success. One of the few vessels they saw, wrote Sampson from Martinique, March 5, 1778, was “a Frigate that we fell in with a few days before we Arrived here, wch after we boar away for her and discovered her to be a Six & thirty Gun Frigate and we not thinking proper to engage her, Sheard from her, wch shee Perseving, gave us Chase, but we soon Run her out of sight … The Hazard proves to be a very good Sea-boat & is as Excellent Sailor and works kindly every way.” (Massachusetts Mag., July 1908.) They sailed home March 30, and arrived in May. The brig Massachusetts, Captain Lambert, was ordered on a cruise to the coasts of England, Spain, and Portugal. In June, Captain Fisk was appointed to command the Hazard, which Sampson had given up on account of ill health. Fisk declined the appointment, saying that he would not “go to sea untill I can git a ship that is able to make some defence against a British frigate.” (Mass. Archives, cliii, 73.) The Hazard was then given to Captain Williams and he was ordered to cruise for West Indiamen. In August, Captain Hallet, who succeeded Haraden in the Tyrannicide, was ordered to cruise off Long Island, but owing to the proximity of the English fleet after the French fleet had gone to Boston, he “stood away to the Northwd.” He fell in with and cruised a few days with the Continental frigate Warren. Hallet says that on September 25 he saw a sail standing towards him, which “hove out an English Ensign. I gave her a Bow Chace and English Colours; hail’d her, was answered from St George’s Bay bound to Jersey. I order her to heave out her boat & come on board me, which she did. I sent a Prize Master who sent the Capt. with his Papers on board me. I then hoisted an American Jack & ordered her to strike to the United States, which was complied with.” (Mass. Archives, cliii, 110.) The prize was a British letter of marque brig called the Juno. Early in the year 1778 a moderate building programme had been planned for the Massachusetts navy, but was only partially carried out (Mass. Court Rec., January 17, April 21, June 23, 1778; Mass. Archives, cli, 440, 442, 449, cliii, 73, 110,114; Massachusetts Mag., April, July, October, 1908.)

      In Boston Harbor March 23, 1778, were the ships Defence and Oliver Cromwell of the Connecticut navy; the former, which had previously been rigged as a brig, carried eighteen six-pounders; the Cromwell, twenty nine-pounders. There were also in port at the same time three privateer ships, the General Mifflin and Minerva, of twenty guns each, and the Hancock, of eighteen guns (Brit. Adm. Rec., A. D. 488, No. 57, April 23, 1778, intelligence collected for Admiral Howe.)

      Late in March the Defence, Captain Samuel Smedley, and. the Oliver Cromwell, Captain Timothy Parker, sailed from Boston on a cruise. Near the Bahamas, April 15, they fell in with and captured the British ships Admiral Keppel, 18, and Cygnus, 16. A seaman on the Oliver Cromwell wrote in his journal: “We gave chase under a moderate sail. At 9 o’clock came up with them. They at first shew French colors to decoy us. When we came in about half a mile, they ups with the English colors. We had Continental colors flying. We engaged the ship Admiral Kepple as follows: When we came in about twenty rods of her, we gave her a bow gun. She soon returned us a stern chase and then a broadside of grape and round shot. Captain orders not to fire till we can see the white of their eyes. We get close under their larboard quarter. They began another broadside and then we began and held tuff and tuff for about two glasses, and then she struck to us. At the same time the Defence engaged the Cyrus, who as the Keppel struck, wore round under our stern. We wore ship and gave her a stern chase, at which she immediately struck. The loss on our side was one killed and six wounded, one mortally, who soon died. Our ship was hulled nine times with six-pound shott, three of which went through our berth, one of which wounded the boatswain’s yeoman. The loss on their side was two killed and six wounded. Their larboard quarter was well filled with shott. One nine-pounder went through her main-mast. Employed in the afternoon taking out the men and manning the prize.” (New London Hist. Soc., II, i, 50, IV, i, 38, 41. The quotation is from the logbook of Timothy Boardman.) In May the Defence had small pox on board and put into Charleston, South Carolina. A letter from that place, dated June 26, says: “On receiving intelligence of several of the Enemy’s privateers being on our coast & annoying our trade with impunity, Capt. Smedley (notwithstanding he was at the time performing quarantine for the small pox), on an application from His Excellency our President, fitted out the Defence immediately, being assisted by Commodore Gillon [and other officers of the South Carolina navy], and last friday sailed over our Bar in quest of them, having in Company with him a French Armed Sloop called the Volant, commanded by Capt. Daniel, who voluntarily offered his service on the occasion. Before night they fell in with Three privateer Sloops, two of which they took” (Trumbull MSS., viii, 149) and brought into Charleston. The third sloop escaped. These vessels were from St. Augustine, a place much frequented by British privateers. The Defence, in company with the Volant, returned to Boston in August, and in December was sent on another cruise with the Oliver Cromwell (lbid., xx, 182, xxvi, 42, 46; Independent Chronicle, August 6, 1778.)

      In January, 1778, the American privateer brig General Sullivan, carrying fourteen guns and a hundred and thirty-five men, had an engagement in the West Indies with the sixteen-gun Liverpool privateer Isabella, said to have had a crew of only fifty. They fought two hours and a half yardarm and yardarm and then separated. The British report says: “The engagement was hot and I believe fatal to them, for we could see them falling out of the tops and hear their shrieks and groans. It falling dark and our rigging cut to pieces, we could not work our ship and so lost our prize.” The Sullivan seems to have suffered most severely, having eleven killed and twenty-three wounded, many of them dangerously. The Isabella lost two killed and ten wounded, one mortally (Williams, 214, 215.)

      On the morning of May 26, some distance off the Delaware capes, the British ship Minerva, carrying sixteen six-pounders, ten coehorns, and forty men, fell in with an American brigantine mounting fourteen guns, sixes and fours, six coehorns, and twenty-four swivels. The British account says: “At eight o’clock he came up with us, it blowing then easy; he kept his head toward us, so that we could not see his whole force, and we suspected his attempting to board, on which we fired a cohorn and hoisted our colours. He still keeping his station, we fired on board of him and opened our stern ports; on seeing this he run up abreast and gave us a broadside, hoisting the 13 stripes. We returned his broadside and the action continued for one hour and 57 minutes, having obliged him to sheer off at ten o’clock. We were in no condition to follow him, 16 of our crew being killed and wounded, our scuppers on both sides running with blood, I may say, of as brave men as ever faced an enemy, our sails and rigging being mostly cut and destroyed and all our masts very severely wounded. Our greatest distance from the privateer during the engagement did not exceed the length of our ship and we were often yard arm and yard arm, scarce clearing one another’s rigging. Our topmast stay-sail, which continued set during the action, had 180 shot through it, 9 great shot besides small ones through our ensign, 1 through our pendant, 13 shot in our mizen-mast, our main-mast shot through and our fore-mast greatly damaged. I believe that the rebel was as much damaged in rigging as ourselves and his loss of men must have been very considerable, be being quite crowded with them; he carried six swivels in his tops and great quantities of their shot consisted of old iron cut square, old pots, old bolts, &c. About the middle of the engagement an alarm was raised that our ship was beginning to sink; on this a number of the men deserted their quarters, and among them the person who was at the helm. The captain rallied them instantly, took the helm himself, and while standing there a ball went through his hat.” The report that the ship was sinking “arose from some of the enemy’s shot having gone through and through, which staved 14 puncheons of rum between decks.” “Such resolution was then shewn that had the ship been in a sinking condition, I am convinced she would have gone to the bottom with the colours standing, every one on board being determined to sell his life as dear as he could. The rebel hailed us to strike, but we could spare no time to answer him.” The Minerva lost seven killed and nine wounded. She was much crippled, and with the help of a British frigate got into New York four days later (London Chronicle, October 8, 1778, reprinted in Penn. Mag. Hist. and Biogr., April 1889.)

      Four Connecticut fishermen were captured by the British at sea in September, 1778, and taken to Jamaica, where they were impressed on board the sloop Active, bound to New York. During the voyage the four Americans rose upon the crew of the Active, fourteen in number, and confined them below. Although the British were armed and made many desperate attempts to regain possession of the sloop, they were finally subdued after a two days’ struggle. The Active was then headed for port, but was seized by a Pennsylvania state cruiser and a privateer, who claimed her as a prize and took her into Philadelphia. The conflicting claims of the Connecticut fishermen and the last captors, for prize money, led to long and important litigation, involving the question of state sovereignty (Penn. Mag. Hist. and Biogr., January, 1893; Jameson’s Essays in Constitutional History U. S., 17.)

      The twenty-gun ship General Hancock, Captain Hardy, a privateer of Boston, on the 19th of September fell in with the British letter of marque Levant, of thirty-two guns, and they fought three hours, beginning at one o’clock in the afternoon. Both ships hoisted their colors and after firing a few shot the Levant came alongside the General Hancock; then the action began. At half-past two Captain Hardy received a severe wound, which proved fatal. The ships exchanged broadsides at short range until four o’clock, when the Levant blew up, part of the wreck falling on board the American ship. The Hancock’s boats were immediately lowered and eighteen of the Levant’s crew of about a hundred were saved. The American loss included four killed, besides the captain (Almon, vii, 168; Continental Journal, September 24, 1778. The Levant is called a frigate in the account of the affair. Further accounts of privateers and prizes in 1778 are given in N. E. Hist. and Gen. Reg., xxiii (1869), 47, 181, 289; London Chronicle, January 15, February 24, June 16, August 29, September 29, 1778; Royal Amer. Gazette (New York), March 19, 1778; Boston Post, October 7, December 5, 1778; Penn. Packet, July 24, 1778; Boston Gazette, August 24, September 14, 21, October 12, 1778; Massachusetts Spy, June 25, November 5, 1778; Independent Chronicle, December 24, 1778.)

      The recall of the British ambassador from France in March, 1778, was followed by preparations for war between the two nations. The French collected a fleet at Brest under the command of the Comte d’Orvilliers and another at Toulon under the Comte d’Estaing. The Brest fleet fought an indecisive engagement off Ushant in July with the British fleet of Admiral Keppel. It was intended that the Toulon fleet should cross the Atlantic and blockade Admiral Howe in Delaware Bay. The overwhelming preponderance of sea power on the side of the British had hitherto given them nearly complete control of the American coast; and they had been free to move their troops and supplies from place to place with little hindrance, except the occasional loss of a transport which had become separated from its convoy. There was now a prospect of the Americans being able, with the help of French fleets, to dispute the naval supremacy of England, at least along their own shores. Disappointments were in store for them, however, and began with the dilatoriness which marked the preparation of this Toulon fleet from the beginning, and all its subsequent movements. D’Estaing sailed from Toulon April 13, taking with him as passengers M. Gerard, the first minister plenipotentiary of France to the United States, and Silas Deane, who had been recalled by Congress and was returning home to explain his transactions in France. The fleet passed Gibraltar more than a month later and appeared off the Delaware capes July 7. It was said that this exceptionally long voyage was due to time spent in drills and to unnecessary delays, but D’Estaing himself says it was caused by the extreme slowness of some of his vessels and the necessity of keeping his fleet together. At any rate, he was too late to accomplish the first great object of the expedition, which was to close the Delaware before the British left it. Howe had sailed June 22, passed out of the bay on the 28th, and arrived off Sandy Hook two days later. The evacuation of Philadelphia by the British had been ordered early in the spring and was carried out June 18. Howe’s fleet had on board all the stores and baggage of the army, which marched overland through New Jersey. If the British fleet had been caught in the Delaware, it is possible that a victory as decisive as that of Yorktown three years later might have been the result; for the British army, without their fleet to transport them from the lower bay of New York to the city, might have fared badly. D’Estaing, moreover, having captured Howe’s fleet, could have taken New York. Howe on July 12 had six ships of sixty-four or more guns, three fifties, two forty-fours, and four frigates. Another British fleet under Admiral Byron was coming to reinforce him. D’Estaing had eight ships of seventy-four or more guns, three sixty-fours, one fifty, and five frigates (Almon, vi, 122; Schomberg, iv, 331, 338; Sands, 75, 311; Mahan, 350, 359, 360; United Service, October, 1905, “D’Estaing’s campaign”; Stopford- Sackville MSS., 110; Channing, iii, 288,298.)

      D’Estaing soon sailed for New York with the intention of entering the harbor and attacking Howe. He arrived off Sandy Hook July 11, but did not go inside. He was told by all the pilots he consulted that his heavier ships could not pass over the bar. He offered a hundred and fifty thousand francs to any pilot who would take him inside, but no one volunteered. Thus a second opportunity to annihilate the British fleet was lost. The French policy perhaps did not favor an early and decisive triumph of the American cause, and possibly D’Estaing was less strenuous in his efforts than he would have been if he had been fighting for his own country alone. This would have been reasonable from the French point of view and consistent with the admiral’s instructions, which called for the performance of some “action beneficial to the Americans, glorious for the arms of the king, fit to manifest immediately the protection that His Majesty accorded to his allies.” (United Service, October, 1905.)

      D’Estaing remained off Sandy Hook eleven days, and is said to have captured during that time twenty British vessels bound into New York. July 22 he sailed for Newport, having been requested by Washington to cooperate with General Sullivan in an attack on that town. On the 29th the French fleet appeared off Newport and a few days later occupied the eastern and western channels of Narragansett Bay. Four British frigates and two sloops of war were destroyed, either by the French or by the English themselves, to prevent capture. Unfortunately Sullivan did not get ready for the movement against Newport until August 8. D’Estaing then ran into the central channel of the bay, under fire from the batteries at the entrance, and anchored the main body of his fleet north of the harbor. The attack was planned for the 10th. On the 9th the British fleet appeared off Point Judith, where it anchored. Howe had sailed from New York August 1, having been reinforced by several ships of Admiral Byron’s fleet, which had been scattered by a storm on its passage from England. Howe now had with him one seventy-four, seven sixty-fours, five fifties, two forty-fours, six frigates, and several small vessels. Although his force was thus considerably increased, he was still somewhat weaker than his adversary, and seems to have had no intention of attacking. Under the circumstances, however, D’Estaing preferred the open sea, and early the next morning, August 10, the wind having shifted to the north during the night, he cut his cables and ran out of the bay. Upon observing this movement of the French, Howe got under way, and the two fleets spent the next twenty-four hours manoeuvring for the weather-gauge, or, according to D’Estaing’s account, the British fleet fled before the wind, attempting to get back to New York, with the French in pursuit. This continued until late on the afternoon of the 11th, and the leading French ships were just overhauling the British rear, when the wind, which had been increasing, became a violent gale, which soon scattered the vessels of both fleets, each ship being engaged in a struggle with the elements. “At half-past three in the morning” of the 12th, says D’Estaing in his report, “the bowsprit broke, then the foremast, then the main-top, then the mizzenmast; finally the mainmast fell. Our rudder broke next. This last misfortune was the greatest of all. We were now only a floating mass with nothing to steady us and nothing to guide us.” (United Service, October, 1905.) This was the plight of the admiral’s flag-ship, the Languedoc, of ninety guns. The storm continued unabated until the afternoon of the 13th, when it subsided. Before night the Languedoc and another dismasted French ship were attacked by two British ships, but darkness put an end to the encounter. The next day most of the French fleet came together and anchored for temporary repairs. The British made their way back to New York. D’Estaing, having completed necessary repairs, bore away for Rhode Island August 17, and appeared again before Newport on the 20th. It was then decided that the fleet could be thoroughly refitted at no place nearer than Boston, and D’Estaing therefore sailed again on the 22d, to the great disappointment of Sullivan, who was forced to abandon his campaign against Newport. The French arrived in the lower harbor of Boston August 28, and four days later Howe’s fleet, having refitted at New York, appeared in sight. On his way to Boston, Howe had captured the Continental brig Resistance, which had been sent out to look for the French fleet. Finding D’Estaing’s position too strong to be attacked, Howe soon departed, returning to New York. D’Estaing remained at Boston over two months, finally sailing for the West Indies November 4. He arrived at Martinique December 9 (Mahan, 359-365; Clowes, iii, 397-411; United Service, October, 1905; Almon, vii, 27-50,106-112; Doniol, iii, ch. vii; Chevalier’s Marine Francaise, ch. iii; Clark, i, 83, 84; Schomberg, iv, 338, 339 ; Publ. R.I. Hist. Soc., viii, 255. For Dr. Samuel Cooper’s account of D’Estaing, see Hale, i, 183.)

      Shortly after the final departure of D’Estaing from Rhode Island, the British frigate Carysfort, Captain Fanshawe, with a considerable fleet and a detachment of the army under General Grey, made a raid, September 4, upon American shipping in Buzzard’s Bay and at Martha’s Vineyard. The expedition was sent by Admiral Gambier, who about this time succeeded Howe in command of the North American station. At New Bedford, Fair Haven, and Holmes’s Hole about twenty vessels of some size, besides seventy smaller ones and many boats, were destroyed; also twenty-six storehouses and other public property. Major Silas Talbot of the Continental army reported to General Sullivan that the British fleet comprised forty-five sail, great and small, bringing four thousand troops, to oppose whom the Americans mustered one thousand militia. Talbot said that besides destroying nearly all the shipping at New Bedford, they burned twenty shops and twenty-two houses in the town. A few weeks later Gambier sent out another marauding expedition, to Egg Harbor, New Jersey (Almon, vii, 36-38, 47-49,154-156; Stevens, 1157; Sparks MSS., September 7, 1778, Talbot to Sullivan.) These transactions were in line with the policy advocated earlier in the year by Germain, whose under-secretary, William Knox, wrote October 31: “What a proof is the Bedford enterprize of the propriety of the orders so repeatedly given for attacking the rebel sea ports, and what a reflection is it upon Lord Howe’s character that Gambier, in his short absence, has done more to subdue the Rebellion than his lordship during the whole of his command. It was always clear in speculation that the Militia would never stay with Washington or quit their homes, if the coast was kept in alarm, but the experiment having now been made, the effect is reduced to a certainty. Surely somebody will ask
      Lord Howe why he has never attempted any thing of the kind.” “I much fear [D’Estaing] will go to the West Indies, . . . but perhaps Byron’s enterprizing turn may discover the practicability of burning his fleet and the town of Boston together, and then everything will succeed with
      us.” (Hist. Manuscripts Com., Various Collections, vi, 153. For other contemporary opinions of Howe, see Mass. Hist. Soc. Proc., November, 1910.)

      General Sullivan evacuated Rhode Island by passing over to the mainland at Tiverton August 29. The British fortified the eastern channel of Narragansett Bay, or Sakonnet River, by batteries on the shore and by a two-hundred-ton schooner named the Pigot, armed with eight twelve-pounders, manned by a crew of forty-flve men and moored near the mouth of the river. Major Talbot fitted out at Providence a small sloop called the Hawke with two three-pounders and manned her with a detachment from the army afterwards reinforced, it is said, to the number of sixty in all. Talbot proceeded to Mount Hope Bay where he waited for a favorable wind. On the night of October 28 he dropped down the river and passed the batteries unseen, drifting downstream under bare poles. “At half-past one,” he says in his report, “got sight of the schooner Pigot, but a small distance from her was hailed by her and fired upon by her marines from the quarter-deck, but reserved our fire till we had run our jibb boom through her fore shrouds, then threw in such a volley of musketry loaded with bullets and buckshot and some cannon, that the seamen that were on deck immediately ran below begging for quarters and them that were below never made their appearance upon deck, the consequence of which was, my men run out upon our jibb boom and boarded her without the loss of a man. We came to sail. with her and run into this harbor [Stonington], where my men are all landed and on their march to Providence.” (Almon, vii, 337.) For this exploit Major Talbot was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-colonel in the Continental army and was afterwards made a captain in the navy (Continental Journal, November 19, 1778; Boston Post, November 28, 1778; Tuckerman’s Life of Talbot, ch. iii.)

      In Boston Harbor about the middle of December were the Continental frigates Warren, Providence, Boston, Deane, and Queen of France. All except the first of these vessels had come from France during the year. There was likewise in port the new frigate Alliance, built at Salisbury on the Merrimac River and fitting out for her first voyage. One or two state cruisers and about ten large privateers were also lying in Boston Harbor at this time. Of the frigates the Deane was fully manned and ready for sea: the others would have been nearly so, if privateering had not made it practically impossible, without great delay, to get men for their crews (Publ. R. I. Hist. Soc., viii, 255, 256; Brit. Adm. Rec., A.D. 489, No. 19, December 20, 1778, intelligence collected for Admiral Gambier.) These six frigates represented almost the entire strength of the Continental navy in commission in American waters at the end of 1778.

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