The Colonial Navy - Other Ship Rigs

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The East Coast Fleet - Other Rigs



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.

6-gun Revolutionary War Square Topsail Schooner SAINT JOHN

Topsail Schooner Saint John
As soon as the French & Indians War ended in 1763, the British built and purchased many schooners to patrol the extended American coastline against smugglers, because they thought erroneously that schooners could do the job for a fraction of the cost of employing frigates. The Saint John was built in New England in 1762, probably for the sugar, molasses, and chocolate trade, and mounted six small carriage guns. She was purchased for the Royal Navy in 1763 and taken to Halifax, Nova Scotia. On 9 July 1764, under the command of Lieutenant Thomas Hill, she was attempting to destroy Rhode Island’s rum-smuggling industry (practically that colony’s only industry, and the source of the money that paid for establishing Brown University). Rhode Island’s popular elected Governor Stephen Hopkins ordered Fort George on Goat Island off Newport to sink her, the first shots of resistance fired against British authority in America, 12 years before the Declaration of Independence; today, Goat Island has no fort, only a resort hotel, condos, and timeshares. The schooner, although damaged by the massive guns of the fort, escaped and was repaired.

During the Revolution, she was based at Nassau, Bahamas; Saint Augustine and Cowford (later renamed Jacksonville), Florida. Commanded by Lieutenant William Grant, she successfully spirited away to Saint Augustine all the gunpowder that the Continental Navy on its first fleet operation was trying to capture at Nassau in March 1776. She appears to have been in the foreground of a period engraving of Nassau, and she was also depicted in a painting of Halifax, Nova Scotia by the famous Captain Hugh Palliser. Unlike many schooners of the day, she was fitted with a proper head. She carried one square topsail on each of her two masts, and probably gaff-topsails as well. Being rotten, she was apparently sold for scrap early in 1777. The British schooner Gaspee that was burned in Rhode Island in 1772 was possibly a sister-ship, and Captain Pierre Morpain’s successful 1744 Louisbourg privateer schooner, Le Succes, was most likely very similar, as was one of the first vessels of the Continental Navy fleet, the schooner Wasp (ex-Scorpion).
The Topsail Ketch Thunder

12-gun Revolutionary War Privateer Square Topsail Ketch THUNDER

The Topsail Ketch Thunder
Sailor-artist Ashley Bowen of Salem, Massachusetts painted a picture of this ketch right after she had been captured by a Salem privateer about 1780. She had been built for the Royal Navy in 1759 as a bomb-ketch, which was normally used to fire enormous exploding mortar shells into enemy fortresses, but the navy sold her in 1774 into private hands. Since she was still listed as being part of the Royal Navy’s fleet based at New York in July 1777, she had probably been taken back by the Navy on a short-term charter. The new owners built up her topsides, presumably removed the mortar bed, added a small, low forecastle, and used her as a transport ship or even a privateer. Thunder’s plans (as originally built) survive at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. A ketch was a two-masted ship with the larger mast forward of the smaller one. She carried square course, topsail and topgallant on the mainmast, and a square topsail on the mizzen. Ketches were actually quite numerous among trading vessels – the Hudson Bay Company’s Nonsuch of the 1650s to 1670s is one example. Being strongly built, Thunder probably survived the war by many years in private hands as an armed merchant ship, probably trading to the Caribbean for sugar, molasses, rum, coffee, and chocolate. The Bowen painting is at the Peabody-Essex Museum in Salem. Many period portraits exist of Thunder’s various sister ships. One of those sisters was involved in the capture of Senegal, Africa.
The Topsail Ketch Thunder

12-gun Continental Navy Square Topsail Sloop PROVIDENCE

Sloop Providence
British attempts to stop Rhode Island from smuggling rum (its chief industry, and the source of the money for founding Brown University) caused RI to found the first navy of any of the colonies in the Revolution on 12 June 1775, and the flagship (commanded by Abraham Whipple) was John Brown’s armed trading sloop Katy, that had been built about 1769, and used with a crew of 5 men for rum-smuggling and the chocolate trade. Three days later, she captured a small British vessel, the first capture by any official American navy in the war. On 26 August, RI petitioned Congress to found a national navy, which it did on 13 October 1775, and Katy, renamed Providence, became the Continental Navy’s first vessel, armed with 12 6-pounders and crewed by 80 men (including marines). Commanded by John Hazard, she participated in the capture of Nassau in March 1776, where she was the first ever to land the American Marines. Hazard was dismissed for bad behavior, and replaced briefly by Jonathan Pitcher. In May, she became John Paul Jones’ first American command. In October, Hoysted Hacker was her new captain for a few months. Captain John Peck Rathbun used her to capture Nassau again (single-handed this time) in 1778. Each of her captains found her very well suited to capturing enemy vessels. In 1779, Hacker was once more in command, and he was ordered to join the Penobscot Bay Expedition in Maine, America’s biggest disaster in the whole war. Hacker was ordered to sail up the bay and burn her on 15 August. Her appearance is known from two period paintings and a drawing.

One thing worth emphasizing about Providence is that her general appearance was almost identical to thousands of American sloops that were built from Newfoundland to Surinam from about 1680 to 1800. These vessels, which could be anywhere from 35 to 70 feet on deck, were used for local and for transatlantic trade.
Sloop Providence

12-gun Continental Navy Square Topsail Sloop INDEPENDENCE

The Sloop Independence
Shortly after independence was declared on 4 July 1776, the Continental Navy purchased a sloop (previous name unknown) that had been built in Rhode Island (or possibly Massachusetts), and undoubtedly used for rum-smuggling and the chocolate trade in the Caribbean, and so they named her Independence. She was the Navy’s 11th vessel. The sloop looked much like the navy’s very first vessel, the sloop Providence, except that she was fitted with a head, which was almost a necessity for military vessels on long-distance voyages. A sloop was a one-masted vessel with bowsprit and jib-boom pointing at an angle upwards. In this case, she carried a single square topsail. Congress was so short of money that they employed the sloop mostly for commercial purposes. They sent her under the command of Captain John Young to Martinique to bring back sugar, chocolate, and molasses, and they sent her all the way to France to pick up military supplies and cognac brandy. She also managed to capture some British vessels. She was with John Paul Jones and the Ranger off the coast of France when the French fleet officially saluted the American flags on both vessels -- the first time the stars & stripes American flag had ever been saluted by a naval vessel of another country. She was regarded as a good sailer. On her return from France, she headed for Ocracoke, NC (where the pirate Blackbeard had been killed on a similar sloop some 50 years earlier), but she grounded heavily on one of the shifting sandbars and was a total loss in 1778. Although three period portraits of Providence have been found, no clear portraits or plans for Independence are known; written descriptions are useful in reconstructing her appearance. She would have looked almost identical to the Massachusetts Navy sloop Tyrannicide before that vessel was converted into a brig.
The Sloop Independence

10-gun Continental Navy Square Topsail Cutter DOLPHIN

The Cutter Dolphin
Benjamin Franklin was American Commissioner in Paris during the Revolution, and he managed to get his hands on several small warships to serve the American cause. One of these was a cutter, which came into his hands by courtesy of the British Secret Service; they were hoping that the British could catch her loaded with Franklin’s secret letters. Her previous occupation was very likely smuggling cognac brandy into England and bringing back copper to France. Franklin, who sent his secret letters some other way, named her Dolphin (no record of her previous name), and she became the Continental Navy’s 30th vessel. Franklin placed her under the command of Captain Samuel Nicholson from Maryland (Nicholson’s two brothers, John and James, were also captains in the Continental Navy). Nicholson, who was not used to the open flush decks of all European cutters, had carpenters build the kind of tall stern found on American sloops, with a quarterdeck, stern windows, and (in this case) quarter-galleries, as well as a small, low forecastle. She was probably the only cutter ever so fitted. As a result of all the extra weight in the stern, he found that even though the cutter had 14 gunports she could comfortably support only ten carriage guns. A cutter was a one-masted vessel with bowsprit parallel to the water, and no jib-boom. In this case, she carried a single square topsail. In 1777, with a crew from many nations, she cruised brazenly off Dublin in a vain attempt to seize the Irish linen fleet, but she and her consorts did manage to capture about 20 British ships off the Irish coast in a short time. Dolphin was sunk in the Bristol Channel, after being badly damaged in a battle, but her crew all escaped. Nicholson was already at sea in command of the new French-built Continental frigate Deane by late 1777, about the time Dolphin was sunk. Dolphin’s appearance is known from a painting on an Irish clock dial, present location unknown.
The Cutter Dolphin





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