Volume 10: 1777


The day is I hope near at hand when we can say with safety that America is free and Independent

wrote Thomas Wharton, Jr., president of the Pennsylvania Supreme Executive Council, to John Hazelwood, commodore of the Pennsylvania State Navy, on October 24, 1777. Wharton's optimism was inspired by the news that two Royal Navy warships, H.M.S. Augusta (64 guns), and H.M. sloop Merlin, had been destroyed in combat with American forces. They had been attempting to support an attack by land on Fort Mercer, part of the American defenses along the Delaware River by which the Americans sought to isolate the British forces that recently cap­tured Philadelphia. Word of the ships' destruction came just a few days after confir­mation of the surrender of a British army to American arms at Saratoga, New York.

In the last months of 1777 events such as these, and indications that France might enter the war as a formal ally, made the Revolutionaries hopeful that their struggles would achieve American independence. Nevertheless, these patriots had just cause for concern. Despite the Americans' brave and desperate defense of the Delaware passes, the British won control of the river before winter set in, ensuring their hold on Philadelphia. A British thrust up the Hudson River in October, although too late to save Burgoyne's army, demonstrated the effectiveness of a joint army-navy British force, and how unprepared and ineffective American defenders could be. This ma­neuver resulted in the destruction of three American forts and two Continental Navy frigates, and the burning of the New York state capital at Kingston. In October 1777 an American operation to recapture Newport, Rhode Island, failed miserably. The British continued to blockade Chesapeake Bay and Charleston, South Carolina.

These operations and a number of more minor campaigns are documented in this volume. Highlights include selections from the extant logbooks of all the British vessels in the Delaware River campaign, including some not used by earlier histori­ans of that campaign. The volume also introduces new sources previously unexam­ined by scholars. Two, from the records of the High Court of Admiralty in the Pub­lic Record Office, an undervalued resource, are the journal of the Rhode Island Navy galley Spitfire and a letter book of Continental Navy Captain Gustavus Conyngham, unknown to Robert Wilden Neeser when he published the definitive edition of Conyngham's papers in 1915.

Some documents in these pages are especially rich in description, such as the intelligence reports of the physical appearance of Continental Navy warships Alfred and Raleigh (enclosed in Admiral Sir Thomas Pye to Philip Stephens, Oct. 25, 1777). Other, more prosaic records contain hidden gems of information, such as the "Red Baise to line ports" listed in the Account of the Continental Navy brigantine Resis­tance (Nov. 9, 1777). In these documents we hear the voices of ordinary seamen, as when the crew of the Maryland Navy ship Defence petitions the governor to investigate their harsh conditions of service (Dec. 9, 1777). We also hear the protests of the victims of injustice, such as the plea of Cuba, an African American woman taken into Boston on board a prize, appealing to the authorities of the State of Massachusetts to prevent the captors from selling her as a slave.

Dr. Michael J. Crawford, editor of this volume and head of the Early History Branch of the Naval Historical Center, and his assistant editors E. Gordon Bowen­ Hassell, Charles E. Brodine, Jr., and Mark L. Hayes labored together many years in surveying collections, selecting documents, transcribing, translating, and annotating the materials, and, finally, preparing the comprehensive index. They wish to ac­knowledge with thanks the superb assistance rendered them by the two other histo­rians in the branch, Christine F. Hughes and Carolyn M. Stallings, who temporarily set aside their work on the third volume of the Center's Naval War of 1812 documentary series to participate in the various stages of proofreading. Charlotte Marie Knowles, the branch secretary, provided splendid word-processing and general of­fice support. The staffs of other Center branches, especially the Navy Department Library and the Curator Branch's Photographic Section, provided essential services. Wendy E. Karppi, of the office of the Center's Senior Historian, lent her expertise in correcting Spanish transcriptions and translations.

This volume builds on the accomplishments of previous editors and staff. The project's first editor, William Bell Clark, laid the foundations for our Naval Documents of the American Revolution series as early as the first decades of the twentieth century, when he began collecting the texts of documents relating to the naval aspects of the war. In addition, the current editors acknowledge a debt of incalculable proportions to Dr. William.James Morgan, editor of volumes 5 through 9, who continues to ad­vise the Center as Senior Historian Emeritus.

During a 10-month fellowship in documentary editing, Dr. Gregory D. Massey assisted the project by selecting, transcribing, annotating, and indexing documents concerning the lower South and the West Indies. The Center is grateful to him for his fine contribution and to the National Historical Publications and Records Com­mission, which sponsored his fellowship.

The following summer interns assisted with various editorial tasks: Midshipman Christopher Adams, Ensign Aaron Cooper, and Andrew Laas. Two members of the United States Navy Reserve Volunteer Training Unit 0615 also made valuable con­tributions: Commander Dennis Grabulis, and J01 Loraine Ramsdall.

Among the translations of foreign-language materials appearing in this volume are those by Commander Canio Di Cairano, USNR (Ret.), Elizabeth G. Crabbs, Rus­sell B. Holmes, and Dr. Oscar M. Villarejo. Mary Hannah, of the Department of the Navy's Naval Maritime Intelligence Center, Foreign Language Services, cheerfully handled contractual arrangements for a number of document translations. Antonia Macarthur performed wonders of research for the volume at the Public Record Of­fice in London.

Unpublished Crown copyright material in the  Public Record Office, London, is reproduced by permission of Her Majesty's Stationery Office.

Extracts from the following printed works are reprinted by permission of the publisher:

The Diary of Elizabeth Drinker, edited by Elaine F. Crane, Boston, Mass.: Northeastern University Press, Copyright © 1991 by Elaine Forman Crane.

Diary of the American War: A Hessian Journal, by Johann von Ewald, translated and edited byJoseph P. Tustin, New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, Copyright © 1979 by Yale University.

The Keith Papers. Selected from the Papers of Admiral Viscount Keith, edited by W. G. Perrin and Christopher Lloyd,  [London]:  Navy Records Society, Copyright © 1927-55.

Diary of Frederick Mackenzie, Giving a Daily Narrative of his Military Service as an Officer of the Regiment of Rayal Welch Fusiliers during the Years 1775-1781 in Massachusetts, Rhode Is­land, and New York, by Frederick Mackenzie, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, Copyright © 1930, 1958 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.

The Private Papers ofJohn, Earl of Sandwich, First Lord of the Admiralty 1771-1782, edited by G.R. Barnes and J.H. Owen, [London]: Navy Records Society, Copyright © 1932-38.

The present volume publishes the texts of documents drawn from fifty-seven repositories and private collections, located across North America from Portland, Maine, to San Marino, California, and from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Hamilton, Bermuda, as well as in several centers of learning in Europe. Three repositories are newly represented in the series: City of Liverpool Library, Liverpool, England; Archivo General Central, Alcala de Henares, Madrid, Spain; and Archivo General de Simancas, Valladolid, Spain. We greatly appreciate the cooperation of all of these in­ stitutions and individuals.

The mission of the Naval Historical Center is to disseminate information on naval history in order to promote an understanding of America's naval and maritime heritage. We are deeply grateful to Dr. Crawford and his associates for so ably pro­ducing a volume that will be of continuing value to scholars, students, naval per­sonnel, and other individuals interested in the crucial role played by the sea and by those who go down to the sea in the development of the American nation.

William S. Dudley
Director of Naval History

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