In , it was inconceivable that the American colonists could have overcome the overwhelming military superiority of Great Britain.
Yet the belligerent colonists seemed certain that they could defeat the British army they so despised. On the other hand, the one great fear shared by all colonists was that they would not be able to overcome the presence of the Royal Navy. Yet, somehow, the colonists were able to resist the British at sea, attract capable allies to aid them, and successfully conclude their quest for independence. The American Revolution can safely be viewed as part of a prolonged worldwide naval conflict between France and Britain beginning with the Glorious Revolution in and ending with the British victory at Trafalgar in during the Napoleonic Wars.
Blue Water Patriots: The American Revolution Afloat - James M. Volo - Google Libros
This was a period in which the armed merchantmen of the age of trade were replaced by genuine warships whose task was to control the sea lanes. The American Revolution was a watershed in this regard with improved warship designs, new technologies, improved gunpowder and communications, and innovative tactics.
Although French participation in the war for independence was crucial, the primary focus of this work is the period before , when the colonists confronted the Royal Navy alone with only their ingenuity and courage to defend them. Every school child knows that the American Revolution began on Lexington Green in April, , but how many are aware that in a Royal Navy cutter, St. John, engaged in the suppression of smuggling, was fired upon by Rhode Islanders; that in , the revenue sloop Liberty was seized and burned by the people of Newport; or that in , the navy cutter Gaspee was burned in the night by armed patriots attacking from small boats.
These Blue Water Patriots fought the first battles on the road to American independence. This is their story.
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James M. He has taught on the Graduate level for more than 15 years and authored several reference works regarding U. In addition, he has consulted on TV and movie productions. Jones was a foreign-born disciplinarian only recently arrived in the colonies. Rathbun, on the other hand, was a successful America-born merchant skipper who knew the waters Providence plied quite well. He seems also to have been more familiar with Providence as a ship type.
Rigged as a single-masted sloop, she touted a vast amount of canvas for her size, making her fast and maneuverable, but tricky to handle. As the British invasion of New York got underway that summer, Rathbun found himself anchored with Jones in the Delaware Bay while the captain sought better orders. The Marine Committee eventually provided them, and Providence left Delaware for a prize cruise on August Not content with simply taking prizes and the wealth they promised, Jones struck targets on land and in port, including the harbor of Canso in Nova Scotia and two ports on the Island of Madame.
In both instances, he out-sailed the much better-armed warships, seemingly taunting their captains by cutting across their paths or alternatively shortening sail to bring them in close before adding sail to pull away. Following his return to the colonies in October, Jones was promoted to command the Alfred. Rathbun went with him as first lieutenant. Clearly, both men valued their partnership.
While waiting, Jones presided over a court martial, Rathbun joining as a member of the court. Because privateering offered greater chance for financial reward than the Continental Navy, it was a popular destination for deserters. Consequently, Jones decided to board Eagle and search its crew to meet his own needs.
He sent two boats across, Rathbun commanding one from Alfred and marine Lt. John Trevett aboard one from Providence. The next morning Rathbun re-boarded the privateer and began his search. From time to time he still took prizes, typically supply ships supporting British forces in Canada. The normal procedure called for placing prize crews aboard and dispatching the ships to an American port, but one such ship, John , was an armed sloop. Jones placed Rathbun in command and ordered him to keep station with Alfred.
Rathbun investigated and determined the reverse, that Watkins had sought to tamp it down, going so far as to take a cutlass from one rebellious crewman. He asked Jones for a personal favor, to let Watkins remain aboard John for the time being as Watkins was ill. Alfred returned to Boston in December, where authorities sought to arrest Jones over the Eagle affair.
Blue Water Patriots: The American Revolution Afloat
Involved in suits and counter-suits, he lost Alfred and was only offered an opportunity to return to the Providence. Jones and Rathbun were both dissatisfied with the state of affairs and decided to make their cases directly to the Marine Committee. Rathbun detoured to see Esek Hopkins in Rhode Island on the way. There, he secured a letter of recommendation from Hopkins, addressed to William Ellery, a member of the Committee. Hopkins praised Rathbun, explaining:. By the end of April, Rathbun was given command of Providence and was on his way to Rhode Island to assume his new post.
Rathbun finally rendezvoused with his ship in Bedford, Massachusetts early that summer. His new captain of Marines was John Trevett. After completing repairs to Providence , Rathbun returned to sea, skirting past British-occupied New York. Spying a squadron of five ships convoying south off Sandy Hook, New Jersey, Rathbun mirrored their course from inshore, eventually attacking the largest, which proved to be a gun ship, Mary. Mary and two of the vessels fought him off, but Rathbun still managed to capture a small schooner. The next day, Providence continued south, searching for Mary , but instead encountered a British privateer.
By August, Rathbun had returned, disappointed, to Bedford. There, Rathbun heard that Mary was in the port of New Providence for repairs and resolved to pay her, and the town, another visit. He also encountered Capt. Nicholas Biddle, commanding the frigate Randolph.
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Biddle, well-acquainted with Trevett, pressed the Marine to join his crew, but Trevett informed him that he had already committed to sail for New Providence under Rathbun. Mary loomed too large for Trevett to abandon his promise. As Providence returned to sea in January, bound for the Bahamas, Rathbun and Trevett marked the beginning of their third year of war.
They chased her and Rathbun could not shake them, despite tossing supplies overboard to lighten the ship. Fortunately, Providence stayed just far enough ahead to lose its pursuers that night by dousing its lights and dropping sail. Once the British passed by, Rathbun raised sail and altered course.
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His horizons were clear the next morning. This is their story. The s were a period in which the armed merchantmen of the age of trade were replaced by genuine warships whose task was to control the sea lanes. The American Revolution was a watershed in that it marked the advent of improved warship designs, new technologies, improved gunpowder and communications, and innovative tactics. Volo provides readers with the historical context for understanding the fascinating technological and strategic innovations occurring in the Atlantic and in the Caribbean.