The Ship Types - Brigs

Your Adventure Awaits…

The East Coast Fleet - Brigs

Colonial Navy Inc. plans to build up to 16 full-sized copies of historic American and Canadian square-rigged ships of the period 1607 to 1780. Each will be licensed to carry 12 paying trainees in double cabins. The ships will be operated along the East Coast, the Gulf Coast, the Caribbean, and the Great Lakes, depending upon the seasons and the weather. These ships will be identical below the waterline, and will differ in details, trim, color-schemes, and rigs. They will measure 65 feet long on deck and 20 feet beam. They will normally be sailed in small fleets of from four to six at a time, allowing for inter-vessel competitions afloat and ashore, as well as cooperation between the ships. The office to run the East Coast ships will probably be in Portsmouth, Virginia.

To learn more, click on any ship name. To see a larger drawing of any ship, click on it's image.

14-gun Rhode Island Navy Brig TARTAR

The Brig Tartar
War broke out with France in the early 1740s. Massachusetts Governor William Shirley believed that the French were on the verge of invading and conquering English America, so he planned to use New England amateur soldiers to attack the French fortress of Louisbourg, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, in order to persuade the French to delay their invasion. The plan worked, and, with help from a few Royal Navy ships, and from architect Peter Harrison (who supplied the complete plans of the fortress, drawn while he had been a prisoner there), Louisbourg was taken in June 1745. As a result of the capture of Louisbourg, the French delayed their invasion of British North America until 1747, when it was defeated at sea by British Admirals George Anson and Edward Hawke in two separate battles. The New England colonies built small warships to assist in the Louisbourg operation, and Rhode Island’s useful contribution, built in 1744, was the 14-gun brig Tartar. Some of her cannons survive at the Newport Historical Society. No clear pictures or exact dimensions of the brig have been positively identified, although she is possibly shown in a primitive sketch of the fleet near Louisbourg and she is described in prose. The Palladian stern and quarter-gallery windows reflect the fact that ship-captain/architect Peter Harrison (1716-1775) was active in Newport for part of 1744, and is known to have designed ships there. Tartar, commanded by Daniel Fones, spotted the powerful French 32-gun frigate La Renommee as New England forces neared Louisbourg. Bravely the tiny brig left the convoy of transports, engaged the frigate, and led her away in a lop-sided chase-battle on 3 April that enabled the rest of the fleet to escape and arrive safely; meanwhile, Fones used his brig’s speed and agility to escape in somewhat damaged condition from the frigate at nightfall. It is no exaggeration to say that had Tartar not prevented that French frigate from destroying the American invasion force at sea, the French would have permanently captured all of British America and India! We would be speaking French today. At the 1748 peace conference, France was forced to return most of captured India in exchange for Louisbourg. Tartar was sold out of the colony’s service shortly after Louisbourg had been captured. She is believed to have been placed in the Caribbean trade, where she would have brought back molasses (for making rum), sugar, coffee, and chocolate. Louisbourg, incidentally, once the third largest seaport in North America, is being beautifully restored by the Canadian government to its 1744 appearance, so that visits by the historic ships of the Colonial Navy are likely to be an exciting feature there.
the Ship Tartar

14-gun Quebec Navy Brig L’IROQUOISE

The Ship L'Iroquose
The French in Canada built a number of warships in the 18th century, ranging from small corvettes up to two 74-gun battleships. Quebec oak, however, was a great disappointment, because it proved not to last as long in ships before rotting as European oak. Just before the French surrendered their North American possessions, they built at least three identical warship brigs near Montreal in 1758-9, one of which was l’Iroquoise (“Iroquois girl”). L’Iroquoise was used to reinforce the French at Fort Niagara, New York (a fort that has been restored and is open to the public). Like her two sisters, she was of course captured by the British at the time of the fall of Montreal in 1760. The British renamed her Anson after the great British admiral. She had been patrolling the waters of Lake Ontario under British colors for only a short time before she ran on an uncharted rock and sank. Primitive paintings survive of two of her sister-ships that were also captured by the British, l’Outaouaise (“girl from the Ottawa tribe”) and Le Montcalm (named after the French military commander who died at Quebec in 1759).

14-gun Continental Navy Brig CABOT

the ship Cabot
The first eight vessels authorized by Congress for the Continental Navy late in 1775 included the 14-gun brig Cabot (formerly a Maryland-owned merchant brig, Sally that was likely in the Caribbean trade for sugar, molasses, rum, coffee, and chocolate). Cabot, named after the explorer Giovanni Caboto who sailed from England to Newfoundland in 1496, was the second vessel authorized by Congress for the Navy late in October 1775. Commanded by Captain John B. Hopkins of Rhode Island in 1776 (he was nephew of former RI Governor Stephen Hopkins who founded the Continental Congress in 1774 and the Continental Navy, in October 1775, and son of Commodore Esek Hopkins, first commander-in-chief of the Navy), she took part in the March 1776 raid on Nassau and the combat with the 20-gun British frigate Glasgow off the coast of Rhode Island in April. In 1777, her captain was Joseph Olney of Rhode Island, but Olney’s ambitious scheme to capture the 28-gun British frigate Milford went wrong when two Massachusetts Navy brigs, supposedly assisting Cabot, fled the scene without firing a shot. Cabot was captured on 26 March 1777 near Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, the first Continental Navy vessel to be captured; her crew fortunately managed to escape. While in the Royal Navy, she took part in the Battle of Dogger Bank against the Dutch in 1781, and was sold in 1783. Two portraits of her exist, an oil painting in England, and a watercolor by Randle in Canada.
the ship Cabot

14-gun Continental Navy Brig ANDREW DORIA

the brig ship Andrew Doria
The Museum of the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis contains a beautiful, large-scale model (with spars and sails that were added much later) of a jaunty 14-gun brig, Fair American. Researchers believe that, of all the vessels of that popular name, this one represents one built in Bermuda about 1776, using the long-life red juniper or cedar that grows there. She may have been employed for a time in the sugar, molasses, rum, coffee, and chocolate trade in the Caribbean. By at least early 1778, she was a privateer out of Charleston, SC (sometimes under charter to the South Carolina Navy), commanded by Charles Morgan, and was present when the 32-gun Continental Navy frigate Randolph tragically blew up in a night battle. For a time, she was a successful American privateer based in Philadelphia, but she was later captured, and sold to be a Loyalist privateer out of New York. The Naval Academy owns a painting of her stuck on a sandbar during a battle in the Delaware River in 1782. The Academy’s model, which now appears to be wildly inaccurate regarding the height of her quarterdeck, was presumably constructed in England from sketches but no real plans, to the order of the 1782 owner. The brig continues to be a popular subject for modern model-builders.

Although only one eye-witness painting survives of the Continental Brig Andrew Doria (third vessel of the Continental Navy) and that is an interior view of the Great Cabin, yet there is a strong possibility that she and Fair American were sister-ships; she could easily have been built in Bermuda. Andrew Doria (named after the Genoese Admiral Andrea Doria, 1466-1560, who won Genoa’s independence from France) became the first vessel of the American Navy to be saluted by a foreign government entity, when she was saluted on 16 November 1776 by the Dutch fort at Sint Eustatius (Statia) in the Caribbean; she flew the Grand Union Ensign, which had the British Union in the canton and some arrangement of stripes in the fly (probably red, white & blue stripes). This was taken by Americans to mean the first recognition by a foreign government of the American flag and American independence, but the Dutch quickly claimed it had been a mistake. Formerly the merchant brig Defiance, she was first commanded in the Navy by Captain Nicholas Biddle (a former mess-mate of Horatio Nelson), and later by Captain Isaiah Robinson. She was sunk to avoid capture by the British in the Delaware late in November 1777. Either of these two brigs would work well for Colonial Navy.
the Brig Andrew Doria

14-gun Continental Army Felucca Galley/Brig WASHINGTON

The Ship Washington
In 1776, General Benedict Arnold, himself an experienced salt-water sailor, was desperate to delay the expected British advance down Lake Champlain, which was intended to cut off New England from all the other colonies. He captured all the existing vessels on the lake and built a hefty fleet of new ships, which included four 12-gun galleys (Washington, Congress, Gates and Trumbull) that were rigged like Mediterranean feluccas with two masts, each with a giant lateen sail. In light weather, square topsails could theoretically be set above them on the topmasts that were erected, although there is no record of topsails having been fitted. Some, but not all of the galleys, were fitted with a raised forecastle. Even though the American fleet was essentially destroyed by the much more powerful British fleet at the Battle of Valcour Island in early October 1776, the British were thus forced to delay their push to the south until the following year, by which time Arnold was in a position to take the lead in forcing British General Burgoyne to surrender at Saratoga. That in turn was the event that persuaded the French and Spanish to enter the war on the American side, and thereby assured US independence. Washington amazingly crammed a crew of 110 into her small space (they must have taken turns sleeping), and for cannons she had two giant 18-pounders, four 12-pounders, two 9-pounders, and four 4-pounders, along with several swivels, far heavier guns than normally found on a vessel this small. However, she had more room than most ships her size because on Lake Champlain there was no need to carry barrels of drinking water, or even much food.

Washington was commanded by Brigadier General David Waterbury of Connecticut (1722-1801). She was captured by the British, who treated Waterbury well and released him quickly. They used her for a year with the same rig (and presumably replaced the cannons with all 6-pounders), but it is reported that they later converted her to a brig. The felucca rig was so dangerous and awkward that we have planned to build her as a brig. Presumably, she was eventually sunk at the end of her useful life somewhere in the northern part of Lake Champlain. After the American victory at Saratoga, naval control of Lake Champlain became mostly irrelevant anyway. Washington’s design was developed in Philadelphia, perhaps by Joshua Humphreys, and was repeated with a variety of rigs for many galleys in New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and elsewhere. These galleys are reported to have been fast and weatherly; one, after capture, cruised the waters of southern New England for some time, and another made a round trip from the Chesapeake to Bermuda. Several eyewitness paintings, drawings and engravings are known of the galleys, as well as Washington’s lines plan, preserved at Britain’s National Maritime Museum.
The Brig Ship Washington

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