A few days after the first battle of the Revolution at Concord, Massachusetts, Benedict Arnold conceived how Lake Champlain would be crucial to winning American independence. He immediately sent some of his New Haven regiment to Skenesboro (now Whitehall) at the southern end of the lake, with orders to seize the yacht Katharine and convert her into the 8-gun ketch Liberty, while he himself rode to Cambridge, where Massachusetts Major General Dr. Joseph Warren promoted him to colonel and gave him orders to secure Lake Champlain, using men from all the New England colonies plus New York. After using Liberty to help with the capture of the forts at Ticonderoga and Crown Point (he sent the 69 massive fort cannons under Henry Knox to form a ring around Boston in order to force the British to leave; they evacuated on 17 March 1776, the first major American victory of the war), he sailed to the northern end of the lake, where he captured the British fort of Saint-Jean/Saint John and the British warship George, which he renamed Enterprise. In the fighting, a shot from one of his cannons sank the 12/14-gun British Navy schooner Royal Savage, which he had been hoping to capture as well. His men returned to Saint John, so that they could raise the schooner on 2 November and bring her back down the lake, along with two other smaller vessels that were under construction. Royal Savage, was probably named after Mohawk Chief Thayendanegea (Joseph Brant), who fought on the British side, and the name was retained in honor of the Oneida, the only tribe to fight on the US side. Royal Savage was the second purpose-built warship in the Continental Navy. When first captured, she would have flown the British flag over-written with LIBERTY; for the first few months of 1776, she would have flown the 13-star flag invented by Washington at Boston, and for the rest of her career she flew the Continental Colors.
During the winter of 1775-6, Arnold captured Montreal and only just failed to capture Quebec City, so he returned to Lake Champlain and started to build a fleet: he knew that the British would try to force their way down the lake with a large army to destroy Washington and his army in the summer. He started building four large sailing/rowing galleys and nine large gunboats. This required the British to construct an even bigger naval force at the northern end of the lake, and they were not ready to face Arnold’s ships until 11 October 1776. As the British sailed south, Arnold lay in wait for them behind Valcour Island until the British had mostly passed his fleet. Then he sailed his flagship, Royal Savage, out to harass the British, who turned around to do battle. Arnold’s fleet was mostly destroyed in the battle, but it had done its job: it was already too late in the year for the British army to be brought down the lake. Royal Savage had run on a sandbar, and after she had taken the combined fire of the British fleet to the point where she was a wreck, Arnold transferred his flag to another ship, and the British took the trouble to burn the schooner.
The next year, Arnold reinforced his fleet, and the British built an even stronger fleet to oppose him, so the British were able to transport their army under Major General John Burgoyne down the lake. The isolated and surprised Burgoyne was defeated by an American army under Gates and Arnold at the two battles of Saratoga on 19 September and 7 October 1777. The victory at Saratoga was responsible for bringing the French and Spanish into the war, and thus for winning independence. Therefore, flagship Royal Savage had a crucial role in winning our independence.
Colonial Navy Inc. (non-profit, tax-exempt) plans to build a full-sized operational copy of Royal Savage to coincide with the upcoming USA 250th, to take part in a year-round sail-training program with several other historic ship copies. Her appearance is known from several period images. She is to be built of cold-molded wood-epoxy laminates for strength and longevity at a cost of only $1 million. Our Project Director is John Millar, who built the full-sized copies of the 24-gun frigate Rose in 1970 and the 12-gun sloop Providence in 1976 (Royal Savage at 65 feet long on deck and 21 feet beam is identical in size to Providence) so he is the right person to supervise this new ship. Contributions, which are tax-deductible, may be sent to Colonial Navy, Inc., 710 South Henry Street, Williamsburg, Virginia, 23185-4113. Please designate Royal Savage.
Colonial Navy Inc.’s historic ship line-up: ships Batchelors Delight, General Pickering; barque Surprise; brigs Tartar, Cabot, Andrew Doria; schooner* Royal Savage; ketch Thunder;* sloop Enterprise; cutter Dolphin.