Tuesday, June 20, 2017

An Arctic Summer: June 12-20, 1773

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Track of the Racehorse and Carcass with
position plots for June 13, 15, 17 and 20, 1773.
After weighing anchor from the Nore on June 4th, the converted bomb vessels Racehorse and Carcass under the command of Captain Constantine Phipps crosses the North Sea and proceeds well into the Norwegian Sea as the month progresses.  By June 20th, the expedition is already north of Iceland.  While they have yet to reach any ice, Phipps takes multiple opportunities of testing various mathematical instruments and navigational tools.  I've included six of Phipps' journal entries from mid to late June for us to examine this time around.

"12th.  The wind at SE, and the ship well advanced, I ordered the allowance of liquor to be altered, serving the ship's company one-fourth of their allowance in beer, and the other three-fourths in brandy; by which means the beer was made to last the whole voyage, and the water considerably saved.  One half of this allowance was served immediately after dinner, and the other half in the evening.  It was now light enough all night to read upon deck."

According to the Regulations and Instructions in force in 1772, seamen were allotted a gallon of beer each day.  If beer is unavailable, other spiritous liquors may be substituted in different proportions; half a pint of brandy being equal to a gallon of beer.  Spirits were often diluted with water (4 parts water to 1 part spirits was the precedent set by Edward "Old Grog" Vernon in the early 1740's) in open view of the assembled crew on deck.  Based on the Phipps' journal for June 12th, it seems the men are now receiving a quart of beer and five cups of brandy grog each day.  The beer was likely "small beer" of the time, known for low alcohol content with a comparatively high caloric value.  It's no wonder Phipps wanted to preserve his supply, considering the trials of the voyage to come in later months.

A chart from the 1772 edition of Regulations and Instructions Relating to His Majesty's Service at Sea
detailing the provisions allotted to Royal Navy seamen each day.

"13th.  The weather still fine, but considerably less wind than the day before, and in the afternoon more Northerly.  The longitude at ten in the morning was found by my watch 0°6' W.  We took three observations of the moon and sun for the longitude; the extremes differed from one another near two degrees: the mean of the three gave the longitude 1°37' E.  At noon the latitude observed was 59°32'31".  We found a difference of 36' between the latitude by dead reckoning and observation, the ship being so much more Northerly than the reckoning.  The distance by this log was too short by forty-three miles.  A log marked forty-five feet, according to the old method, would have agreed with the observation within two miles in the two days' run.  The circumstance of steering upon a meridian, which afforded me such frequent opportunities of detecting the errors of the log, induced me to observe with care the comparative accuracy of the different methods of dividing the line, recommended by mathematicians, or practised by seamen.  In the afternoon I went on board the Carcass to compare the time-keepers by my watch.  At six in the evening the longitude by my watch 0°4' E.  This evening, the sun set at twenty-four minutes past nine, and bore about NNW by the compass.  The clouds made a beautiful appearance long after to the Northward, from the reflection of the sun below the horizon.  It was quite light all night: the Carcass made the signal for seeing the land in the evening."

The various logs referred to here are variants of the chip log, a tool used to measure the approximate speed of a ship through the water by counting knots in a measured line.  The distances between knots varied depending on the type of glass being used to measure time; a log with 51 feet between knots in the line was commonly used with a 30 second glass, for example.  See the British Tars article "The Tools Needed for Dead Reckoning" for more information on this and other navigational tools. Incidentally, it was this article that led to me beginning to interpret naval history in earnest, so a quick thank you to blogger Kyle Dalton for getting me started on this journey!

"15th.  By an observation at eight in the morning, the longitude of the ship was by the watch 0°39' W: Dip 74°52'.  At half past ten in the morning, the longitude, from several observations of the sun and moon was 0°17'W; at noon being in latitude 60°19'8", by observation, I took the distance between two ships by the Megameter; and from that base determined the position of Hangcliff, which had never before been ascertained, though it is a very remarkable point, and frequently made by ships.  According to these observations it is in latitude 60°9' and longitude 0°56'30" W.  In the Appendix I shall give an account of the manner of taking surveys by this instrument, which I believe never to have been published before.  At one, observed the dip to be 75°.  A thick fog came on in the afternoon, with a flat calm; we could not see the Carcass, but heard her answer the signals for keeping company.  Variation, from the mean of several observations, 25°1' W."

The Megameter was an instrument constructed on similar principles to the object-glass Micrometer, and was suitable only for measuring distances less than 10°.  A 1772 treatise by M de Charnieres endeavored to making determining longitude with assistance from the Megameter into more common practice.

"17th.  Wind fair, and blowing fresh at SSW, continued the course NNE: ordered the people a part of the additional clothing: saw an English sloop, but had no opportunity of sending letters on board, the sea running high.  At ten in the morning, longitude by the watch 0°19'45" W: at noon, the latitude observed was 62°59'27".  The ship had out-run the reckoning eleven miles.  I tried Bouguer's log twice this day, and found it give more than the common log.  Variation 19°22' W."

Meteorological Data:
6/17 Weather on Expedition: 52° F, winds from the SSW, cloudy at noon.
6/17 Weather in Edgewater, MD (Where the blogger was travelling with family; details from Weather Channel app.): Forecast high was 93° F, mostly sunny and humid.

The blogger takes a shot at explaining how Captain Phipps
determined his latitude above the equator using
a midnight sighting of the sun.
"19th. Wind to the NW.  Took the meridian observation at midnight for the first time: the sun's lower limb 0°37'30" above the horizon; from which the latitude was found 66°54'39" N: at four in the afternoon, longitude by the watch 0°58'45" W: at six the variation 19°11' W."

"20th.  Almost calm all day.  The water being perfectly smooth, I took this opportunity of trying to get soundings at much greater depths than I believe had ever been attempted before.  I sounded with a very heavy lead the depth of 780 fathom, without getting ground; and by a thermometer invented by lord Charles Cavendish for this purpose, found the temperature of the water at that depth to be 26° of Fahrenheit's thermometer; the temperature of the air being 48°1/2.

We began this day to make use of Doctor Irving's apparatus for distilling fresh water from the sea; repeated trials gave us the most satisfactory proof of its utility: the water produced from it was perfectly free from salt, and wholesome, being used for boiling the ship's provisions; which convenience would alone be a desirable object in all voyages, independent of the benefit of so useful a resource in case of distress for water.  The quantity produced every day varied from accidental circumstances, but was generally from thirty-four to forty gallons, without any great addition of fuel.  Twice indeed the quantity produced was only twenty-three gallons on each distillation; this amounts to more than a quart for each man, which, though not a plentiful allowance, is much more than what is necessary for subsistence.  In cases of real necessity I have no reason to doubt that a much greater quantity might be produced without an inconvenient expence of fuel."

Water was not officially included in a seaman's provisions at this time, though ships would generally take on enough water to last half as long as other provisions.  Water was generally available from scuttlebutts on deck; a seaman could drink his fill at the scuttlebutt, though a marine sentry stood guard to ensure that no water was taken away.  In times of shortage, or when a ship was far from a source of replenishment, water was rationed jealously.  Being able to distill fresh water from the sea in any quantity could be a great boon to naval vessels if the method was indeed practical.

Meteorological Data:
6/20 Weather on Expedition: 48.5° F, calm and cloudy at noon.
6/20 Weather in Williamsburg (According to Weather Channel.): 77° F, 76% humidity, overcast at 1:00 PM.

The summer isn't too far advanced for either Phipps or myself, though depending on the day, we're both starting to experience uncomfortable temperatures or weather and taking steps to compensate. For Phipps, that means breaking out additional winter clothing on June 17.  For me, that means filling my cannikin with gatorade for my first quart of fluids each day.  We're still only getting started, so stay tuned!

1. Phipps, Constantine John.  A Voyage Towards the North Pole Undertaken at His Majesty's Command. (J. Nourse, 1773.)
2. His Majesty in Council.  Regulations and Instructions Relating to His Majesty's Service at Sea, The Twelfth Edition. (1772.)
3. McDonald, Janet.  Feeding Nelson's Navy: The True Story of Food at Sea in the Georgian Era. (Frontline Books, 2014.)

Saturday, May 27, 2017

An Arctic Summer: May 27, 1773

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John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich,
First Lord of the Admiralty and
Fellow of the Royal Society in 1773.
Captain Phipps of the Racehorse spends much of May 1773 preparing his ship for the coming expedition.  Stores of all kinds are taken on board, and the First Lord of the Admiralty himself (also a Fellow of the Royal Society) inspects the vessel prior to her departure. Towards the end of the month, Phipps receives his official orders for the expedition, described in the following journal entry:

"22d.  We received on board the powder, with eight six-pounders and all the gunner's stores.  Lord Sandwich gave us the last mark of the obliging attention he had shewn during the whole progress of the equipment, by coming on board himself, before our departure, that the whole had been compleated to the wish of those who were embarked in the expedition.  The Easterly winds prevented our going down the river till the 26th, when I received my instructions for the voyage, dated the 25th; directing me to fall down to the Nore in the Racehorse, and there taking under my command the Carcass, to make the best of my way to the Northward, and proceed up to the North Pole, or as far towards it as possible, and as nearly upon a meridian as the ice or other obstructions might admit; and, during the course of the voyage, to make such observations of every kind as might be useful to navigation, or tend to the promotion of natural knowledge: in case of arriving at the Pole, and even finding free navigation on the opposite meridian; not to proceed any farther; and at all events to secure my return to the Nore before the winter should set in.  There was also a clause authorizing me to proceed, in unforeseen cases, according to my own discretion; and another clause directing me to prosecute the voyage on board the Carcass, in case the Racehorse should be lost or disabled."

With Racehorse ready for sea, all that remains is to rendezvous with Carcass and get the expedition started in earnest.  As with any vessel, the captain and crew must adjust her fittings and trim based upon the performance of the ship and the needs of the coming mission.  The journal entry for May 27th shows that the best laid plans on paper don't always coincide with actual circumstances at sea:

Model of a British bomb ketch from the mid-1700's,
similar in design to HMS Carcass.
(Mariner's Museum, Newport News, VA)
"27th.  I anchored at the Nore, and was joined by Captain Lutwidge, in the Carcass, on the 30th: her equipment was to have been all respects the same as that of the Racehorse, but when fitted, Captain Lutwidge finding her too deep in the water to proceed to sea with safety, obtained leave of the Admiralty to put six more guns on shore, to reduce the complement to eighty men, and return a quantity of provisions proportional to that reduction.  The officers were recommended by Captain Lutwidge, and did justice to his penetration by their conduct in the course of the voyage.  During our stay here, Mr. Lyons landed with the astronomical quadrant at Sheerness fort, and found the latitude to be 51°31'30", longitude 0°30' East.  The Easterly winds prevented our moving this day and the following."

While not officers (yet), two members of Carcass' company in particular are worth a mention: coxswains Horatio Nelson and Nicholas Biddle. Nelson's naval career is well known.  Nicholas Biddle would have a brief but very laudable career in the Continental Navy, culminating in a 1778 engagement off Barbados commanding the Continental frigate Randolph against the 64-gun HMS Yarmouth.  Worthy of a future blog post of his own, the former slave and early abolitionist Olaudah Equiano serves aboard Racehorse, assisting Dr. Charles Irving who had developed a method for distilling drinkable water from seawater.  Equiano's autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, would be published in 1789.

Meteorological observations begin on June 4, 1773.  With my next entry in this series, we'll begin seeing who has a more pleasant summer's day: my colleagues and I on the streets of Colonial Williamsburg, or the officers and men of Racehorse and Carcass.

Phipps, Constantine John.  A Voyage Towards the North Pole Undertaken at His Majesty's Command. (J. Nourse, 1773.)

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Liberty vs. Fortunatus

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Sultana, a replica of an 18th century British schooner, of similar
size and design to James Barron's Liberty.  Sultana currently
operates out of Maryland as an education and research vessel.
In the early days of the American Revolution, the waterways of Virginia were plagued by loyalist privateers such as the Goodrich family, as well as assorted forces of the Royal Navy accumulated by Lord Dunmore.  To combat this, the Virginia Convention meeting in December 1775 called for local Committees of Safety to begin outfitting and manning assorted armed vessels for protection of patriot shipping and the general defense of Virginia's creeks and rivers.  In Hampton, Captain James Barron, an experienced merchant captain and the leader of an independent militia company, was tasked with outfitting three vessels of the nascent Virginia Navy.

One of the three vessels Captain Barron was charged with outfitting was the Liberty, first appearing in the minutes of the Committee of Safety for March 6, 1776.  Liberty was a square-stern schooner of approximately 60 tons burthen, armed with ten swivel guns, and manned by a crew of 22 in addition to her captain and a lieutenant.  Barron's son, also named James (and a future Commodore in the United States Navy) described Liberty as the "most fortunate vessel in the service, and the only one, in fact, that ran throughout the whole contest without being captured by the enemy...she was engaged, first and last, in more than twenty sharp actions."

One such action took place on an early spring day in 1779.

The Fortunatus was a New England-built schooner of 120 tons burthen and armed with ten six-pound guns, serving as a tender to the 32-gun frigate HMS Emerald.  Manned by fifty men from the frigate under the command of Lieutenant Dickey, Fortunatus entered Hampton Roads during a heavy gale at night.  The next morning, as she was preparing to put back to sea, Fortunatus was sighted by Captain Richard Barron from his home along the James River.  (Richard was the brother of James, and on several occasions commanded the schooner Patriot in Virginia's service.)  Richard rode into nearby Hampton, informing his brother James, and sounding a general alarm.  A crew of sixteen volunteers including the two Barron brothers was quickly raised, and Liberty soon sortied in pursuit.

Liberty came up with her quarry within four or five miles of Cape Henry, and the two vessels opened fire.  For the next two hours, "a most sanguinary conflict (at least on the part of the English) ensued."  Despite being her crew being outnumbered more than three to one and facing three times her own weight of metal with each broadside, Liberty held the enemy at a marked advantage; where Fortunatus was firing six-pound solid shot from each gun, each of Liberty's two-pound swivels was spraying the enemy with 32 musket balls with every discharge.  Fortunatus' fire had slackened so markedly, that Captain Barron felt compelled to hail her and request that she surrender, noting that Liberty did not have a single man killed or wounded aboard.   Convinced that he had no means of escape and hoping to preserve his remaining crew, Lieutenant Dickey struck his colors.  When an officer from Liberty boarded Fortunatus to take possession, he was shocked to discover that of her fifty man crew, only Lieutenant Dickey and four hands remained capable of serving a gun.  The remaining crew had all been killed or wounded in wave after wave of grape shot that sprayed from Liberty's guns.

The results of the action were very encouraging to the few sailors the Virginia Navy could regularly muster, and the crew of Liberty was spoken of most highly.  The captured Fortunatus was considered inefficient for the service of the Commonwealth (constantly faced with difficulties in recruiting and then paying soldiers and sailors), and was sold at auction.  As for Lieutenant Dickey, he was taken to the town of Portsmouth and held there on parole, where he was treated with great kindness and hospitality by the local populace.  Dickey would remain a captive until May 10, 1779, when a British squadron under the command of Commodore Sir George Collier invaded Virginia and captured Portsmouth and the neighboring Fort Nelson.  Dickey reputedly asked Commodore Collier to spare the town as thanks for the kindness he had received there, but the darkest days of the American Revolution in Virginia were yet to come.

1. Cross, Charles B.  A Navy for Virginia: A Colony's Fleet in the Revolution.  (The Virginia Independence Bicentennial Convention, 1981.)
2. Tormey, James.  The Virginia Navy in the Revolution: Hampton's Commodore James Barron and His Fleet.  (The History Press, 2016.)

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

An Arctic Summer: April 19, 1773

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Anyone who has spent a summer in the tidewater of Virginia can tell you that it gets hot and sticky down here.  Interpreters throughout Colonial Williamsburg have their own tricks for beating the summer heat.  Me, I'm trying a variant of 'mind over mater,' pretending I'm somewhere a bit cooler.  To that end, this is the first in a series of posts I'll be making throughout the summer chronicling the attempt of two Royal Navy vessels to sail to the North Pole in the summer of 1773.  I'll be posting entries from the journal on particularly noteworthy days with some interesting background information, as well as weather data recorded that day during the expedition and comparing it to what the Weather Channel app says about CW, just for fun.

Constantine John Phipps,
Second Baron Mulgrave
The notion of a passage to the East Indies via the North Pole was suggested as early as 1527.  In a letter to King Henry VIII, Robert Thorne suggests that as Spain and Portugal had profited greatly from nautical discoveries to the east and west, and that it was only natural that England should profit from discoveries to the north...in fact, Thorne apparently suggests that it is the King's particular duty to further England's reputation and glory by promoting such explorations.  In another letter written to Henry's ambassador to Charles V, THorne hypothesizes that during the summer, it shouldn't be prohibitively cold at the Pole due to the abundance of daylight; he suggests that the notion that encountering excessive cold at the Pole to the point of death will prove as equally as fallacious as the old notion of dying from extreme heat as one approached the equator.  Several known northern reaches experiencing fairly temperate climates year round tended to support his hypothesis.

Despite the writings of Thorne and several other prominent thinkers, no exploration of the circumpolar seas appear to have taken place until Henry Hudson attempted to find a northern passage to Japan and China in 1607.  Hudson and several other explorers in the years between 1607 and 1613 attempt to pass the North Pole by sea, none getting farther north than 82 degrees latitude before encountering impassible ice.  No other voyages were known to be attempted until 1773, when the Royal Society encouraged King George III to order and sponsor another expedition.  Constantine Phipps was already an accomplished naval officer, and a veteran of the Seven Years War.  In 1765, he served as a lieutenant aboard HMS Niger during an exploration and survey of Newfoundland, where he becomes friends with the soon to be prominent natuaralist Joseph Banks.  When Phipps hears of the expedition being planned, he quickly volunteers, and is selected to command the expedition consisting of the converted bomb ketches Racehorse and Carcass.

Knowing that the expedition will face many difficulties from the cold, likely harder than normal labor, and most likely encounter large amounts of dangerous ice, the two vessels are fitted out appropriately.  The bomb ketches (a type of vessel whose primary armament are a series of heavy mortars, ideal for shore bombardment) already boast a strong construction due to the nature of their original mission, but their hulls are further reinforced to better punch through loose pack ice without risk of damage.  The usual stock of provisions described in 'Regulations and Instructions Relating to His Majesty's Service at Sea' are adjusted to include additional supplies of spirits as an added constitutional and incentive for the men, a more extensive variety of cold weather clothing is added to the slop chests, an apparatus for distilling drinkable water from the sea is put aboard, and the crews are chosen specifically to be of high experience (substituting additional Able Seamen for the usual number of boys), officers hand-picked for their reliability, etc.  Various instruments for a variety of scientific purposes are included, along with several members of the Royal Society to make many valuable scientific observations of opportunity during the voyage.

From Phipps' Journal:
"April 19th, 1773, I received my commission for the Racehorse, with an order to get her fitted with the greatest dispatch for a voyage of discovery towards the North Pole, and to proceed to the Nore for further orders."

No weather data until we get out to sea.  Join me throughout the summer to see how the voyage unfolds!

Phipps, Constantine John.  A Voyage Towards the North Pole Undertaken at His Majesty's Command. (J. Nourse, 1773.)

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Continental Navy vs. HMS Glascow

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"Commodore Hopkins, Commander-in-Chief
of the American Fleet,"
mezzotint engraved by C. Corbutt
In the early hours of April 6, 1776, in waters off New England, five ships of the Continental Navy:the 30-gun ship Alfred, the brigs Cabot, Columbus, and Andrew Doria, along with the sloop Providence came across the 20-gun HMS Glascow and her tender Nautilus.  Under the command of Commodore Esek Hopkins, the Continental squadron anticipated an easy victory.  The morning would not go as planned.

The British vessel had been sighted by a lookout aboard Andrew Doria  just after midnight.  Captain Nicholas Biddle, a veteran of the Royal Navy, promptly ordered light hung from the ensign staff and two false fires lit in the prearranged signal for having sighted a strange sail.  Less than an hour later, the brig Cabot was alongside Andrew Doria with the Continental flagship Alfred right behind.  As the Continentals closed on the enemy, Biddle regularly expected signals from Commodore Hopkins dictating tactics to the squadron...forming a line of battle to smash Glascow with successive broadsides, for example...but he was disappointed.  No signals came from the flagship, and Biddle watched with disgust as each ship went off on it's own initiative, "all went Helter Skelter, one flying here and another there to cut off the retreat of a fellow who did not fear us,"

HMS Glascow was a relatively small vessel; at 20-guns she was the minimum strength to qualify as a sixth rate, just large enough to have a full post-captain in command rather than a commander or even a lieutenant.  Glascow had originally been part of a larger British squadron known to be operating nearby, but she and her tender had been recently detached to Virginia, bearing dispatches for Lord Dunmore.  Under the command of Captain Tyringham Howe, Glascow made straight for the Continental squadron, despite being outnumbered five-to-one.  Coming up on the port bow of Cabot, Howe asked the ships to identify themselves.  Cabot's Captain John Hopkins (son of the Commodore) named his own ship and Alfred just astern.  The exchange was cut short when a Marine on one of Cabot's fighting tops threw a grenade that exploded on Glascow's deck.  The British promptly responded with a full broadside, and the engagement began.

Cabot was outmatched, attempting to put her sixteen 6-pound guns against Glascow's twenty 9-pounders.  To make matters worse, Cabot was crewed with Americans almost entirely unused to battle at sea, with nervous gun crews unable to match the British vessel's far superior rate of fire.  Multiple broadsides smashed the Continental brig, ruining her rigging, killing four and wounding seven to include the young Captain Hopkins.  After several minutes of intense punishment, Cabot sheered off to allow Alfred to attack.  In the process, she very nearly rammed Andrew Doria as the other brig moved in to attack.  Captain Biddle's quick reflexes prevented a collision, but in doing so was forced to temporarily turn away from the engagement.

With twenty 9-pounders and ten 6-pounders, Alfred should have been more than a match for Glascow.  Once again, however, the relative inexperience of the Continental crew came back to bite them.  The British ship fired far more often than Alfred, despite the heroic efforts of Lieutenant John Paul Jones on her gun deck, his relentless drilling of the gun crews paying off as Glascow began to take damage.  Marines on both ships poured musket fire and grenades at the opposing crews.  The two ships blazed away for nearly a half hour before a fortuitous shot destroyed Alfred's wheel block and ropes...the Continental flagship could no longer steer.  Drifting out of control, Alfred was helpless as Glascow crossed her bow and raked her, firing a broadside down the entire length of the ship.  This proved to be devastating to Alfred: rigging was shredded, masts damaged, the hull pierced below the waterline, and killing four aboard ship.

A short time later, Alfred had regained control of her steering and Glascow was sailing past her to the northeast with Andrew Doria in hot pursuit.  After working furiously to get his ship into action, Captain Abraham Whipple in the brig Columbus was able to approach Glascow's stern on the starboard side.  It had taken nearly two hours, but three of the Continental ships were  finally able to coordinate their attack: Alfred to port, Andrew Doria at the center, and Columbus to starboard.  The Cabot remained out of action, almost completely disabled.  Captain John Hazard of the sloop Providence expended all his efforts in keeping his speedy vessel safely clear of the action.  The three active Continental ships traded chaser fire with Glascow and were slowly closing.  It began to look increasingly likely that the British frigate would be taken, and Captain Howe ordered his signal books and dispatches cast overboard to prevent their capture.

The chase continued until dawn, when the wind unexpectedly changed, allowing the harried Glascow to bear away.  As the light increased, Commodore Hopkins realized that Captain Howe was not fleeing...he was attempting to lure the Continental ships towards Newport, Rhode Island where a squadron of British reinforcements under Captain James Wallace lay in wait.  Hopkins ordered his ships to break off, and the action ended.  Three hours later, HMS Glascow arrived in Newport, with severe damage to her rigging and masts, with one man dead and three wounded (all from Continental Marine musket fire).  Hopkins collected his battered squadron and the five ships reached New London, Connecticut the next day.  The crews of the Continental ships were welcomed as conquering heroes...the five of them had come together to make a single small ship of the world's most powerful navy running, after all.

In truth, Hopkins' decision not to pursue Glascow into Newport was likely the wisest of his naval career.  The Continental Navy had a long way to go if they truly intended to prove an effective force against the Royal Navy.  Political infighting and quiet criticism from Captain Biddle and Lieutenant Jones would steadily weaken Hopkins' credibility, leading to his eventual relief as Commander in Chief.  The Continental Navy was off to a decidedly mediocre start, but there would be better days in the future.

McGrath, Tim. Give Me a Fast Ship: The Continental Navy and America's Revolution at Sea.  (The Penguin Group, 2014.)

Friday, March 31, 2017

In the Navy, You Can Join Your Fellow (Wo)man

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Another 'specialty' posts based on programming emphasis taking place at Colonial Williamsburg.  Throughout the month of March, CW has been putting on a great deal of programming for Women's History Month.  Specialty tours, presentations like "Tag Rag and Bobtail" describing the trials and tribulations of women following the armies fighting in the American Revolution, tales of local midwives, gentry and middle class and enslaved women, you get the idea.  It's always amazing to see how much more there is to learn about the 18th century, and I thought it appropriate for me to do some research on women serving at sea during the Age of Sail.

There are many tales of boatloads of prostitutes swarming naval vessels when they pull in to harbor, and others of women disguising themselves as men to join the navy in secret.  All of that is an important part of naval history to be sure, but I thought I would take the time to highlight a few examples of women serving openly aboard ship.

"The Destruction of L'Orient at the Battle of the Nile"
by George Arnold, 1827
Women in the Royal Navy

The Battle of the Nile taking place from August 1-3, 1798 remains one of the most celebrated actions of Horatio Nelson, eclipsed only by Trafalgar and the tragic death of Britain's greatest naval hero.  Two years ago, I read an excellent work by Brian Lavery called Nelson and the Nile, which remains my favorite non-fiction book to this day.  As I was just starting out in my exploration of naval history, and was quite surprised to read of the exploits of several women openly serving in Nelson's squadron.

Of course, according to the "Regulations and Instructions Relating to His Majesty's Service at Sea," by which the Royal Navy was governed, it was strictly forbidden to carry any woman to sea without express permission from the Admiralty.  This rule seems to have been overlooked fairly often or simply ignored.  Aboard the 74-gun Goliath, four of the nineteen men killed at the Nile left widows aboard ship.  Also aboard Goliath, sailor John Nicol remarked, "The women behaved as well as the men, and got a present for their bravery from the Grand Signior."  At Trafalgar in 1805, Nicol would again speak well of the women aboard ship, supporting his efforts in the magazine, saying he was "mich indebted to the gunner's wife, who gave her husband and me a drink of water every now and then, which lessened our fatigue much."

Meanwhile, aboard the 74-gun Orion, Ann Hopping worked throughout the battle in the powder magazine, helping to make and fill flannel cartridges to serve the guns as the battle raged around her.  Many years later, Ann would recount her adventures aboard Orion (where her husband and brother served) at age 93.  Unfortunately, she would get little recognition for her service as both she and Mary Ann Riley were denied the Naval General Service Medal, despite taking part in the battle, on grounds of gender alone.  Christina White of Majestic petitioned for a pension after having served as a nurse during the campaign.

Most, if not all, of the women aboard Nelson's ships at the Nile appear to have been the wives of petty and warrant officers; I cannot imagine the common sailor would have enough influence aboard ship to successfully get permission to bring his wife to sea with him.  Even so, since women were effectively forbidden on board, they would not be included on the ship's books, and no one who is not on the ship's books is entitled to the victuals distributed to the crew.  They and their husbands would have to arrange for their own provisions to sustain them at sea.  Following the battle, Captain Foley listed Ann Taylor, Elizabeth Moore, Sarah Bates, and Mary French in Goliath's muster book, and allowed them to receive victuals at two thirds of the men's allowance, "in consideration of their assistance in dressing and tending the wounded, being widows of men slain in fight with the enemy on the first day of August 1798."  One wonders if Foley was later made to account to the Victualling Board for the unauthorized expenditure.

Another side effect of not listing women on the ship's books is that there is no accurate way to compute any casualties they suffered.    John Nicol reports that several women were wounded in Goliath, and one woman from Leith eventually died of her wounds, soon to be buried on Aboukir Island.  Despite the fact that their presence could not be officially acknowledged, numerous British women displayed the courage and fortitude to defend their country and their families at sea.

An engraving of the frigate United States under full sail
by Master William Brady, USN.
Women in the United States Navy

Following the United States' declaration of war against Great Britain in 1812, the fledgling United States Navy enjoyed a string of victories in single ship actions: Constitution vs. Guerriere, Wasp vs. Frolic, United States vs. Macedonian, and Constitution vs. Java.  Despite these initial victories at sea, the American naval situation was somewhat desperate with the Royal Navy intending to blockade the coast from New York to New Orleans.  Special attention was paid to the city of Boston with the goal of keeping the American frigates bottled up in port.  In June of 1813, the luckless frigate Chesapeake would be captured by HMS Shannon attempting to run the Boston blockade.

Meanwhile at New York, Commodore Stephen Decatur's squadron, led by the frigate United States tried unsuccessfully to get to sea.  Quickly realizing that any serious attempt to break through the blockade would certainly result in fierce action and likely significant casualties, Decatur decided that it could be useful to carry several nurses aboard ship in case it should prove difficult to transfer his wounded to hospitals ashore.  The wives of two seamen would soon join United States as nurses in the spring of 1813.

Mary Marshall and Mary Humphries Allen appear on the ship's books as supernumerary nurses on May 10, 1813.  No information exists as to any previous medical experience for the two women, but one assumes the ship's surgeon was instrumental in establishing and supervising their duties aboard ship.  Mary Marshall was the wife of a former British sailor named William Goodman (he joined the USN as 'John Allen' to avoid retaliation for his desertion).  Mary Marshall's husband is difficult to identify; he may have been either James or Thomas Marshall, both of whom appear on the ship's books in 1811 and 1813, respectively.  Unfortunately, the two women are unlikely to have served in action, as United States never made it far out to sea while they were aboard.  Late in May, United States and her squadron cruised from New York, passed through Hell Gate and reached New London, CT on May 26.  Decatur spent the next five days gathering what intelligence he could on the dispositions of British warships in the area.  Receiving word that the closest British ships were off station and leaving an escape route open, Decatur put to sea again, but quickly encountered a pair of British 74's off Block Island.  Despite the British attempts to cut off escape, the squadron safely returned to New London where it remained closely blockaded.

On October 28, 1813, John Allen fell overboard while performing work on the ship's anchor and cathead, and drowned.  After her husband was buried in New London, Mary Allen receives permission from Commodore Decatur to make her return to New York.  What happened to Mary Marshall is unknown...she may have returned to New York with Mrs. Allen, or could have accompanied her husband to his next assignment (Decatur and much of the United States crew was transferred to the frigate President in early 1814).  While little information remains on what impact these two women made aboard United States, nurses Mary Marshall and Mary Allen remain the earliest documented instances of females serving aboard a United States warship.

Admiral Michelle Howard,
the USN's first female 4-Star Admiral.

Since the Age of Sail, women have continued to distinguish themselves at sea.  Michelle Howard was not only the first African-American woman to command an American warship (USS Rushmore in 1999), but as Vice Chief of Naval Operations, she was promoted to become the US Navy's first female 4-Star Admiral in 2014.  Wendi Carpenter became the first female naval aviator promoted to flag rank in 2011.  Margaret Klein would become the first female Commandant of Midshipmen at the United States Naval Academy.  These are just a few modern examples; I'd be remiss in writing an article on women in the navy if I didn't mention "Amazing" Grace Hopper (one of America's first female admirals), who spent decades working on early computers in the US Navy.

Given enough time, I could go on at great length of the achievements women have made in the navies of the world.  Suffice it to say that they have more than proven themselves capable of thriving in a life of hardship upon the raging main.  I'd like to conclude with the following remark made by Rear Admiral Lord Sir, Edward Pellew, Viscount Exmouth, reporting on the Battle of Algiers in 1816:

"British women served at the same guns with their husbands, and during a contest of many hours, never shrank from danger, but animated all around them."

1. Lavery, Brian, Nelson and the Nile: The Naval War Against Bonaparte, 1798, (Endeavour Press, Ltd., 2014).
2. Langley, Harold D. "The Old Navy: Women in a Warship, 1813." Proceedings January 1984: 124-125. Print.
3. Stark, Suzanne, Female Tars: Women Aboard Ship in the Age of Sail, (US Naval Institute Press, 1996).
4. New York Times, A Four-Star Female Admiral Makes History for the Navy, https://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/12/us/12admiral.html?_r=0 (July 11, 2014).
5. Wikipedia, Women in the United States Navy, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_in_the_United_States_Navy (March 29, 2017).

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Slaves and Free Blacks in the Virginia Navy

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Facade of Cesar Tarrant Elementary School in Hampton,
open from 1970-2015, and named for an enslaved veteran
of the Virginia Navy in the American Revolution.
It can be difficult to write with any confidence about the Virginia State Navy in service during the American Revolution, primarily because very few records (and certainly nothing in the way of individual ship logs) survive.  To help encourage my oldest daughter as she worked on a school report for Black History Month, I decided to do a little research into slaves and free blacks serving in the Virginia State Navy; records for something so specific are even more difficult to find, but with a little perseverance I was able to discover several interesting stories.

Various court records, land bounty claims, journals of the House of Delegates, and other sources give multiple names: Abram, William Boush, Chris (a mulatto), Emanuel, Jack Knight, Kingston (owned by Jenifer Marshall, sailing master of the row galley Accomac, and assigned to the same vessel as a foremast jack), Minny, and Singleton...these men are described only as "negro," though several are rated as pilots.  Pilots could be very valuable resources to military or merchant vessels coming into local waters; pilots are hired to guide ships through shallows, around sandbars, shoals, etc, to arrive at a safe mooring.

Slightly more substantial information exists for two slaves named Cuffy.  The first Cuffy, owned by Elenor Boury, is enlisted aboard the galley Norfolk Revenge in September 1777 as an able seaman...such a rating implies in most cases several years experience at sea.  The second Cuffy was assigned as a pilot aboard a row galley under the command of Hampton's Richard Barron.  This Cuffy "died from injuries received in service" in 1781.

A small entry exists for Nimrod Perkins, "a freeman of Colour" who served aboard the row galley Diligence.  According to records circa 1831, Nimrod and shipmates William White and Elkanah Andrews are the only surviving members of the crew.
A desertion notice from Dixon and Hunter's Virginia Gazette, May 16, 1777.
Joseph Ranger was a free black captured by the British aboard the schooner Patriot in early 1781. Though he remained a prisoner for the remainder of the war, Ranger had also previously served aboard the Virginia vessels Hero, Dragon, and Jefferson.

Cesar Tarrant, an enslaved pilot owned by Carter Tarrant of Hampton, would go on to distinguish himself during the American Revolution.  In 1779, Cesar was at the helm of the schooner Patriot (itself a tender of the larger vessel Tartar) in an action against the British privateer Lord Howe. Despite the enemy vessel being more heavily armed and manned than initially supposed, the Virginia vessels closed in to attack. Cesar bravely brought the Patriot alongside Lord Howe, ramming her bowspirit through the galley porthole of the larger vessel.  Tartar and Patriot's attack on Lord Howe would prove to be a rather bloody affair, with the British privateer eventually making its escape despite the best efforts of the Virginian tars.  Cesar was at Patriot's helm throughout the engagement, and was observed by Captain Richard Taylor to have behaved gallantly.  Following the end of the American Revolution, the state of Virginia would pass legislation securing Cesar's freedom: "Cesar entered very early into the service of his country and continued to pilot the armed vessels of the state during the late war; in consideration of which meritorious services during the late war it is judged expedient to purchase the freedom of the said Cesar."  Following his manumission, Cesar purchased a lot in Hampton where numerous white river pilots lived, apparently with some measure of respect, as several of these pilots petitioned the new state to grant licenses to skilled black pilots as well as whites.  In 1793, Cesar would purchase the freedom of his wife Lucy and their youngest child Nancy, though he would be unable to free their other two children, Sampson and Lydia, before his death in 1798.  Lucy would eventually be able to purchase Lydia's freedom in 1823, though Sampson's fate remains unknown.

Virginia was able to float the largest navy (upwards of fifty vessels of varying size at its height) among the thirteen original United States during the American Revolution, with a modicum of success. The contributions of brothers James and Richard Barron, Thomas "Silverfist" Herbert, and other prominent figures (more on these later) are handily remembered, but the efforts of free blacks and slaves in the defense of Virginia cannot be ignored.  As is seen in such inspiring stories as the Rhode Island Regiment, and James Armistead Lafayette, the freedom of Virginia and the United States was secured through the bravery of patriots from all walks and stations of life.

Stewart, Robert Armistead. The History of Virginia's Navy of the Revolution
Tormey, James. The Virginia Navy in the Revolution: Hampton's Commodore James Barron and His Fleet
AfriGeneas Slave Research Forum Archive: Tarrant, Cesar.