Sea History 103 - Winter 2002-2003

Page 17

I n this painting for Captain Brisbane of HMS Flora, Francis Holman depicted the battle between the Con tinental Navy frigates Hancock (second from left), Bosrnn (fourth from left) and Fox (formerly HMS Fox) and HMS Flora (engaging Hancock) and

sion of naval fo rces on borh sides of rhe fores, and following a massive bombardment borh fores fell, rhereby opening rhe river rn Brirish shipping. As rh e Conrinenral Army rerreared, rhe exposed posirion of Effingham and Washington caused grear co ncern among rh e American leadership . Norwanring chem rn fall inro enemy hands, bur also no r wishing rn squander rhe reso urces commirred rn rheir co nsrrucrion, General Washingrn n proposed char rhe rwo be scurried in such a way char rhey could lacer be raised and pur back in rn service. Cap rains John Barry and Thomas Read supervised rhe sinking of rheir prospecrive commands. T h e nexr spring, Co nrinental forces raised the ships by parching rhe hulls and pumping our rhe wa rer. Howeve r, Caprain John H enry of rhe Royal Navy led seven hundred m en up rhe D elaware on 7 May 1778 and roured rhe rebel defenders, sening fire rn the ships. In Rhode Island, Connecricur, and Maryland, Brirish efforrs rn blockade rhe remaining four frigares met with limi ted success. Ar Newporr, Commodore Esek Hopkins supervised rhe final ourfining of rhe 32-gun Warren and rhe 28-gun Providence. Delays in consrrucrion , due rn alteration of the plans and difficulry in enlisring crews, prevented them from sa iling and joining the fri gates H ancock and Boston, whi ch co uld have been an imposing demo n s rra rion of Ame ri can na va l force. Hopkins's plan did nor come rn fruition , for a British force landed ar Newport in December 1776 and blockaded Narragansett Bay. The sh ips remained bottled up in port unril 1778, when Cap tai n John


HMS Rainbow (far right) in J uly 1777. The B ritish retook Fox and captured H ancock; the frigate, renamed Iris, later captured the Continental Navy frigate T rumbull. (Courtesy, the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts)

B. Hopkins navigared Wa rren past th e British fl eet and arrived in Bosrnn on 23 March. T he nexr monrh, Cap rain Abraham W hipple fo llowed in Providence. In Con necticut, rh e efforts rn get Trumbull rn sea also met w ith difficulries . Incessa nt delays in obtaining duck and cordage for rh e ri gging led naval agenr Jeremiah Wadsworth rn co mmenr, "I chink chis country is older in fraud and C hicanery [sic] then G reat Britain. " Builr on rhe Connecricur River, rhe ship an empted rn sail in January 1777 for her final outfirring, bur rwo Brirish fri gares blocked her departure. To prevenr capture, Captain Dudley Salrnnsrall decided rn arm rheship in the ri ver, bur rh e guns and srn res so loaded down rhe vessel char she co uld nor navigare over rhe bar. The ulrimare soluri on rn rhe dilemma came from General Benedict Ar nold. He recommended char several lighrers be secured alongside and conn ecred w ith scraps under the keel. T hey could rhen be unloaded, rhereby lifong rhe fri gare and allowing her rn clear rhe shoal. Ir was nor unril rhe appoinrmenr of Elisha Hindman as caprain, in March 1779, char rhe idea was implemenred and rhe shi p final ly broke free from irs capriviry. T he sole so uthern-bui lr fri gare, Virginia of Balrimore, Maryland, had one of rhe srrangesr careers of any of rhe thirteen ships. Anxious rn gee Virginia rn sea, Co ngress ordered Caprain James N icholson in April 1777 rn sail for rhe Wesr Indi es, and ifhe needed , rn "encourage" caprured sailors rn enlisr, as ir had previously instrucred Caprain Biddle. Nicholson inrerprered the order differenrly, and insread of seeking

Brirish crews, he decided rn impress local sailors. On l 3April, Caprain George Cook of rhe Maryland Scare Navy ship D efense, N icholson's old command, repon ed rn Governor Thomas Johnson rhe impressm enr of one of his crew. The sailor in quesrion, Philip Miller, escaped from Virginia and reporred the poor rrearmenr he had received wh ile on board. N ichol son defended himself by scaring char, alrhough he had no direcr orders rn impress resi denrs of rhe colony, he believed Congress wo uld nor disapprove of his acrion . This represenred one of rhe earliesr co nfronrarions berween rhe powers of rhe scare and the federal governmenr. In this case, Congress ordered N icholso n rn release any impressed sailors and co remain in port unril furrher orders. Maryland did nor push for his dismi ssa l since ir favo red keep in g a sourherner as the ranking caprain in rhe Conrinenral Navy. This conrroversy, and Brirish parrols in Chesapeake Bay, prevenred rhe sailing of Virginia until 30 March 1778 . Nearly rwo years afrer rhe ship 's launch , N icholson finally aimed his ship for rhe open sea. Whi le navigaring rhrough rhe V irginia Capes, however, rhe ship ran up on a sand bank. Accusing rhe local pilor of saborage, N icholson ordered additional sail rn push rhe ship over rhe bar. As rhe ship careened over rhe obstacle, her rudd er was ripped from its mounrs. U nable rn maneuver, Nicho lson ordered Virginia anchored and hoped that rhe tide wo uld push her back inro rhe H am pron Roads. As the sun rose on 1 Ap ril, Brirish warships closed on her posirion. Nicholson gathered the ship's