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THE BRITISH FLEET IN RHODE ISLAND.
But little information has been gathered in regard to the vessels of "His Majesty's Navy," that were stationed in the waters of Rhode Island during the years preceding the Revolution. The names of some of the vessels are known to us, and we have a general knowledge of the high-handed acts of their commanders—of the cutter St. John, the ship Maidstone, the schooner Gaspee, and the sloop Liberty ; and, later, of the exacting demands of Wallace, of the Rose, and Ayscough, of the Swan; but there is yet much to be learned in relation to these and other vessels that were stationed here—their size, their armament, the number of men they carried, and the manner in which they were victualed. For years the people bore with them, but there came a time when the feelings of the inhabitants were so embittered, by frequent acts of injustice and high handed measures, that they utterly refused to provide anything further for their sustenance, and it was not till they themselves were nearly reduced to the point of starvation, and were threatened by the guns of the enemy, that they were willing to listen to a compromise. In 1775 no vessel could enter Narragansett Bay without being robbed of her stores and cargo; and every farm on the sea-board was stripped of its flocks and herds, by the boats that scoured the shores for this purpose. It was, therefore, an act of necessity, one of self preservation, that led the inhabitants, at that time, to furnish such articles as they had previously supplied, and for which there was a constant demand. To save the town from bombårdment, permission was granted by the General Assembly to the inhabitants of Newport, to feed the enemy; they appointing some one person for this purpose, and the ships agreeing, in turn, to permit the coasting vessels, engaged in bringing in provisions, to come and go without interruption.
(1)The following extracts, from two letters, written by William Vernon,
illustrate the text. William Vernon was, in 1777, elected by Congress a member of the Eastern Navy Board, established at Boston, and was its presiding officer, from its organization to its dissolution.
NEWPORT, Aug’t 23, 1775. GEORGE HALEY, Esq., LONDON Sir: * E * * * The Venus, Othello and Hampden are all safely arrived at Montego Bay, Jamaica. The oppession of the British Parliament, or rather of the Ministry is felt in every port of America, truly felt in North America, by some Individ
It was an unusual thing to see a vessel of war, other than a privateer, in the waters of Rhode Island prior to 1764 and 1765. At that time the growing discontent was becoming more and more marked, owing to the determined efforts of the Crown to enforce the stamp act; and to support the officers of the customs, in their effort to collect the revenue, a number of vessels, under Lord Colville, Rear Admiral of the white, &c., were sent here. These were the ships Squirrel and Maidstone, and the
uals sensibly so, indeed Tools of Government, of the Navy, especially, I am sorry to say, many of them are most glaringly partial in doing what they are pleased to call Duty; by taking possession of those persons' Vessels with whom they are not intimately or somehow connected, other Persons' property they seize and send to Boston coming from any part of the World. Our Brig Royal Charlotte, John Knowles, Master, from Jamaica, loaded with Rum and Sugar, Cap'n Wallace, of his Majesty's Ship Rose, on the 19'th June, seized and sent to Boston, notwithstanding the condition of the Port Bill, and of any Ports being free and open, is that they continued their Trade to Great Britain and the British Islands in the West Indies, yet we say in direct violation of the Act, he sent our Vessel and Cargo to Boston, where she now remains in possession of Admiral Greaves, Illgally held, to our prejudice, upwards of £2000 sterling. Whereas between the 19'th of June and this Date, the said Wallace hath released and given up above Ten Sail of Vessels from Hispaniola and other Ports, loaded with Molasses, Sugar, Coffee, Wine &c. &c. This partial conduct of Cap'n Wallace we can not account for, certainly we must recover adequate Damages of him, if all Law and Justice is not abrogated with you, for which purpose, we have made a legal protest, and perhaps may be the subject of Litigation in your Courts of Law. * * * * * The Depredations committed by this petty Tyrant upon our Trade and the defenceless Town of Newport is shocking to human Nature, he is a savage beyond belief and description; you know we have
cutter St. John. The Squirrel was commanded by Captain Richard Smith, the Maidstone by Captain Antrobus, and the St. John by Captain Hill. The presence of these vessels, under the circumstances, did not tend to conciliate the people, but, on the contrary, they helped to strengthen a feeling of opposition, which was heightened by the injudicious acts of their commanders. It is a matter of history that their officers frequently went beyond the letter of their instructions, and this finally led the exasperated people to measures that were clearly acts of insubordination. The schooner St. John had the guns of Fort George turned upon her, the sloop Liberty was burnt by an excited crowd of sea-faring men, and a boat of the Maidstone was wrested from the crew, and openly burnt in one of the streets of Newport.
From the time that the Squirrel was sent here, in the autumn of 1763, up to the opening of the Revolution, there was seldom a day when there was not one or more vessels of war on this station. How these vessels were victualed I have now the means of stating. When ships were sent to America, it was necessary to provide regular supplies of provision for them while on the coast. To this end a contract was made with some party, who was known as the Victualing Agent, and who had his assistants in the Colonies—one (general) in Boston, one in Halifax, one in Newport, and one in Charleston. The victualing agent, at the time of which I am writing, was Sir Alexander Grant, who soon after retired from the office, and the appointment was then given to his son, Robert Grant. There were two contracts, which were renewed from time to time; the one known as the "beef contract," and the other was for general ship stores; and the better to understand the nature of these obligations, I give copies of two that are in a perfect state of preservation :
three other Vessels at Jamaica that it's probable will fall into his hands, as we daily expect them. We do not expect any favour, as we have no connection with Scotch Men, whose influence intirely governs him, and whose principals are notoriously abhorrent to the present Family, at least those who reside with us are peculiarly so. * * * * *
Y'r H’ble Serv’ts
S. & W. VERNON.
NEWPORT, February 22, 1776, Mr. Josian HEWES, at Philadelphia,
* * * * * You will not be surprized, when I tell you, that last Sunday, Wallace, the Infernal Pirate, sent the Bomb Brig'te and Three Arm’d Cutters into the Harbour, and after stripping the Brig'te Venus, which lay aground just within the Lime Rocks, of Sails, Colles, Anchors, Cordage and Yard, Topmasts, in one word everything, and then set Fire to her, which burnt to the water's edge-- this was a fine Vessel of about 170 tons-Good God, where is our American Navy?
I am, Dear Sir,
“CONTRACTED AND AGREED, this sixth day of July, 1772, with the Commissioners for victualing his Majesty's navy, for and on the behalf of his Majesty, by me, Robert Grant, of London, merch't: and I do hereby oblige myself timely and seasonably to furnish all such of his Majesty's ships and vessels, as shall come to New England, and be in want of provisions, with good wholesome sea victuals, fit in all respects for the service of his Majesty's navy, at and after the following rates and prices sterling, viz.i.
“BREAD), at sixteen shillings per hundred weight.
“BEER ; at thirty-seven shillings and sixpence per tun of two hundred and sixteen gallons of beer measure : or, if more is demanded, tifteen gallons of rum of merchantable proof are to be furnished in lieu of and the same price as one tun of beer.
“ BEEF ; at eight pence per piece of four pounds.
“ CHEESE ; Cheshire, Gloucester, or Warwickshire, or cheese of equal goodness, at 4 d. per pound.
“ VINEGAR; at 6d. per Gallon.
“Including new casks of all kinds (except for beer) that may be wanted for packing of said provisions, setting up and trimming of casks, cartage, labor, freight, boat hire, and all other charges whatsoever relating to the victualing, except necessary and extra necessary money to the Pursers, and in case