Volume 9: 1777


Samuel Curwen, an American loyalist refugee in England and a former Admiralty Judge, confided to his journal in July 1777 "that an insurrection excited by an enthusiastic ardor for liberty, rightly or wrongly understood, and in such distant provinces, is not to be easily quelled." Judge Curwen was correct in his perceptions, but he could not, of course, foresee that this particular insurrection in distant provinces would not be quelled until American independence was won.

During the summer months of 1777 all out efforts were being made to strengthen the defenses of the Delaware River approaches to Philadelphia. As a member of a committee appointed for the purpose, John Adams sailed down river to inspect the defensive works and chevaux de frise. Adams and the other committee members were accorded a little diversion on their inspection tour. He later told his wife Abigail that they had a "Band of Musick" along, and that it sounded ll "very agreeable upon the Water."

Although bracing for an expected British Army-Navy attack, Philadelphia did not let the Fourth of July, first anniversary of the Declaration, pass unnoticed. Ships in the river were dressed with American flags and streamers, yards were manned, and a thirteen gun salute was fired "in honor of the Thirteen United States." Similar observances were held in other cities.

Events which are seen unfolding through the documentation in this volume continue to demonstrate dramatically the overwhelming value of British sea strength. Washington confided to the President of Congress that: "The Amazing advantage the Enemy derive from their Ships and the Command of the Water, keeps us in a state of constant perplexity." Richard Henry Lee was more explicit about Admiral Howe's fleet: "Curse on his Canvass Wings—Tis an unfair advantage they take of us." Fair or unfair, the Howe brothers, General and Admiral, used their unchallenged naval superiority to move a large force to the Head of Elk in Chesapeake Bay where the troops were landed to move on Philadelphia.

The cruise of the Continental Navy frigates Hancock and Boston started with promise of success but ended disastrously when the former ship was captured, the latter forced to run off, and their prize H. M. S. Fox retaken. The commanders of the American frigates were at odds, and they paid a high price for their lack of cooperation and coordination.

A growing impatience with the long delay in getting other Continental Navy ships to sea is evident in Marine Committee correspondence. Raleigh, Captain Thomas Thompson, and Alfred, Captain Elisha Hinman, finally sailed in company for France. On their eastward passage Raleigh engaged and heavily damaged H. M. Sloop Druid, a convoy escort.

Upon their arrival in European waters, Thompson and Hinman would learn that American naval vessels and privateers, operating from French ports, had the British mercantile community in a state of near panic. From Whitehaven, England, a resident wrote: "I believe no Time last War were the people on this Coast half so frightened as they have been lately on the Appearance of the American Privateers."

Of course, stepped-up rebel activity in the seas surrounding the British Isles also generated additional Royal Navy ships out on patrol and consequently more American vessels were captured. Increasing numbers of Yankee seamen languished in Mill and Forton prisons. One prisoner observed that the curious citizenry would come by to see the "Americans with horns."

A newspaper item from New York dated September 29, 1777, carried the notice that Captain John Tollemache commanding H. M. S. Zebra was killed in a duel with a Captain Pennington of the Guards. The Zebra had arrived the day before the duel, and the Guards officer had come a passenger in the ship. Captain Tollemache was buried in New York's Trinity Church yard. Particular notice is taken of this duel here because Tollemache, when commanding H. M. Sloop Scorpion, was on the American Station before Lexington and Concord. Through the years, he became a familiar figure to all who have worked on Naval Documents of the American Revolution as his actions were followed in every volume since the first in the series.

Dr. William James Morgan, the superlative editor of this unique documentary work, is the Senior Historian in the Naval Historical Center where he is supported by a small group of experienced and highly qualified colleagues. They form the staff of the Center's Historical Research Branch where, under Dr. Morgan's leadership, they share responsibilities for projects in addition to this Revolutionary War series. Prominent among other Research Branch tasks is the preparation of a three volume highly selective documentary history of the Navy in the War of 1812. These dedicated staff members are Dr. William S. Dudley, Mrs. Joye L. DuRant, Mr. E. Gordon Bowen-Hassell, Lieutenant Donna V. Nelson, USN, Mr. George K. McCuistion, Mr. Robert I. Campbell, and Mrs. Katherine J. Huie.

Mr. and Mrs. Henry J. Scheffenacker, that incomparable husband and wife team of editorial assistants whose names first appeared in Volume 1 with expressions of appreciation for their outstanding contributions, retired while Volume 9 was in preparation. They have left an indelible mark of thoroughness and devotion. They set the highest of standards for those who labor on Naval Documents to strive for.

As Volume 9 neared completion, it was also learned that Commander W. E. May, RN (Ret.) was leaving London and would be unable to continue research and -manuscript procurement on our behalf at the Public Record Office. For more than a decade, in what has been truly a labor of love, he has provided us with British documents which are absolutely essential to the balanced coverage and timely progress of Naval Documents volumes. We are deeply grateful to Commander May.

Madame Ulane Bonnel, distinguished and indefatigable historian in Paris, as always, continued supportive of our needs from French depositories and individuals. Sound foreign document review and translation services were forthcoming from Commander Canio Di Cairano, USNR (Ret.) .

Unpublished Crown copyright material in the Public Record Office, London, is reproduced by permission of Her Majesty's Stationery Office. Documents from four additional depositories appear for the first time in Volume 9—Savitz Library, Glassboro State College, Glassboro, New Jersey; Charleston Library Society, Charleston; New York Archives, Albany; Archives de la Marine, Brest, France. These additions bring to ninety-five the number of libraries, archives, historical societies, ctc., in as widely separated locations as Florence, Italy, and San Marino, California, which have provided the manuscripts for the Naval Documents volumes. The large number of institutions, in this country and abroad, whose holdings are represented in this documentary series is a living testimony to the unstinting assistance and cooperation the project has received since its inception and continues to receive today.

John D. H. Kane, Jr.

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