The Revolution told by one of the Navy’s Greatest Ships

The War Years (1775-1783)

November 16, 2016
by Joel W. Thurman Also by this Author


Journal of the American Revolution is the leading source of knowledge about the American Revolution and Founding Era. We feature smart, groundbreaking research and well-written narratives from expert writers. Our work has been featured by the New York Times, TIME magazine, History Channel, Discovery Channel, Smithsonian, Mental Floss, NPR, and more. Journal of the American Revolution also produces annual hardcover volumes, a branded book series, and the podcast, Dispatches

The importance of the maritime history of the American Revolution is often overlooked. Most of the war was fought on land, and what few ships the American’s could muster failed to achieve significant wins throughout the course of the war. Many history books record one significant battle and its hero, John Paul Jones. In recent years, the historiography of the American Revolution has started to shift resulting in an explosion of new ideas, new information, and new viewpoints. Unfurling the sails on one of the lesser known ships of the American Revolution, the USS Boston, serves as a window into the nascent navy. Boston’s creation, service, and fate reveals a great deal about the struggles and triumphs of the American Revolution and the hopes and fears of the Colonial Navy.

The ship Boston in many regards is the embodiment of the city of the same name. As early as 1747, fishermen in Massachusetts kidnapped Royal Navy officers in exchange for the release of impressed sailors.[1] Impressment was a common means of forced military service used by many world powers at the time. While arguably necessary it was hardly ever well received. Boston was one of America’s largest commercial ports, and home to one of the first causes of the revolution, the Boston Massacre. It was a city under siege from the various rules and regulations of the crown, occupied by an army of redcoats that had systematically crept in to heighten an already hostile atmosphere.  The city was surrounded by a fleet of the world’s strongest navy.

The decision to create a Navy was not an easy one and, as appears to be the trend of colonial politics, there were several debates and arguments over if, how, and when a navy should be created. Among the most prominent politicians in favor of a Navy were John and Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and Benjamin Franklin. The creation of a navy was effectively the same as declaring independence from Britain. While the colonies could legally keep a militia, the building of a navy to oppose the British was “simply unprecedented.”[2] The navy symbolized a nation, her ships embodied her will. Where the army could only stand guard and defend, a ship could sail and spread diplomacy. It was this latter reason that made its creation so dangerous. If the Colonies rebelled and created their own navy, they could sail to Britain’s other colonies and spread the cancer of rebellion.

John Adams and six other men made up a seven-man committee to oversee the development and budget of the Continental Navy following a congressional declaration on October 13, 1775. The committee decided to build thirteen frigates, ships designed for speed and maneuverability, at a proposed budget of $866,666.66. This ambitious budget was allotted to create five frigates with thirty-two guns, Hancock, Raleigh, Randolph, Warren, and Washington; five with twenty-eight guns, Effingham, Montgomery, Providence, Trumble, and Virginia; and three with twenty-four guns, Boston, Congress, and Delaware.[3] Thirteen ships, one for each of the colonies, a symbolic gesture considering the Declaration of Independence would not be created and signed for nine more months.

Boston shows the struggles that Congress had in creating an armed resistance. Just as General Washington struggled to arm and clothe his forces, so too did the navy. They needed to procure cannons, gunpowder, and of course build the ships. Fortunately, the New England colonies were skilled at crafting ships, and the maritime industry in the colonies produced “35,000 tons of ships per year.”[4]

Each ship was a monumental undertaking and would be built at different locations around the New England colonies. This was in part to spread out responsibilities of construction, but also to prevent their entire naval force from being in the same spot at the same time. The dry-docks would be equivalent to the scaffolds around today’s skyscrapers, truly remarkable feats of engineering and construction that any developing nation should be proud of. Forty tons of hemp would be ordered by Thomas Cushing for the creation of Hancock and Boston, the two ships being built at Newbury Port in Massachusetts.[5] Jonathan Greenleaf, Stephan Cross, and Ralph Cross would be commissioned to build Boston upon the specified “draughts [and] directions” agreed upon; for Boston that would be a keel of ninety-six feet, with “timber and plank to be of the best white Oak … and the decks which are to be laid with good pine …” Furthermore, Cross and company would need to “find and fix” many of the other materials necessary for building a ship, including “rum for the laubourers.” Failure to build the ship properly would have resulted in “the penal sum of Two Thousand pounds.”[6]

The USS Constitution, a slightly larger ship that was launched in 1797, needed roughly 1,500 trees for its creation.[7] The sails too were an enormous undertaking. The frigate Boston had twenty-one sails and several spares. Compared to the British vessel HMS Victory, a much larger thirty-seven sail ship, which required nearly four acres of sails or 6,500 square yards and twenty-seven miles of rope rigging.[8] The investment of even a single ship was an enormous undertaking for the young nation which had only just begun to fight at Lexington and Concord a few months prior to the contracts being sent out for the creation of Boston and the other twelve frigates.

To buy the nation some time to construct their continental fleet, the founding fathers had to play a diplomatic game of chess. John Adams stated in his letters that the patriots were “brave and every day improving in the exercises and discipline of war,” and that they ought to arm privateers, and continue to build their navy due to the potential for “immense advantages.”[9] Letters of mark were issued to available ships as privateers all the while the frigates of war were being built in the colonies in separate locations.

After the successful siege of Boston, which opened up the port for activity and the eventual fitting of cannons on the frigate Boston, the ground campaign shifted towards a place of strategic importance in New York.[10] Washington arrived in New York on April 13, 1776 with orders to increase his force of 19,000 soldiers to 28,501 and prepare for the British who were awaiting reinforcements after they fled Boston to Nova Scotia in March.[11] Washington carried with him enough enthusiasm and zeal that many of the carpenters and journeymen assigned to building the frigates had requested to volunteer for service under Washington. Congress, however, believed that their service would be put to better use in the building of the Continental frigates.[12]

Boston left dry-dock on June 3, 1776 and slipped into the murky waters of the Merrimack River. Capt. Hector McNeill took the helm of the Boston on June 15, he was listed third in order on a relative rank of naval captains on October 10.[13]  McNeill was living in Quebec, Canada at the time the revolutionary actions began to take place. McNeill had served in the French and Indian War as the captain of a ship and became a prisoner of war when his ship was captured by Indians; he may have been imprisoned for as many as nine years.[14] His son would later serve on Boston in 1777 after a brief stint in the Army.

June 3, 1776, Boston slipped into the waters of the Merrimack River “in the view of a great number of Spectators.”[15] On September 21 the Marine Committee, whose letters bore the signature of John Hancock among many others, issued the first orders to the “Frigate Commanded by Capt. McNeill.” The Boston and the larger Raleigh were to be fitted with “Twenty four nine Pounders Interestingly, these cannons were on loan as the letter from the Marine Committee added that the State of Massachusetts would be reimbursed and that “[they] shall in due time also cause their Cannon to be returned.” In addition to cannons, there were directions to purchase “a proper number of swivel guns, good muskets, Blunderbusses, cutlasses, Pikes and other arms and instruments suitable for this ship.”[16] The expense of getting these arms fell on the State of Massachusetts and it was further emphasized on November 13 that the cannons were “lent by the State for use on the Continental Frigate called the Boston.”[17]

Boston and the rest of the thirteen frigates needed to make a show of force on the high seas to take some of the pressure off of the ground forces, or at the very least reduce or disrupt British command of the seas. Orders issued in October sent Boston, Raleigh, and Hancock to Rhode Island to take prizes and sink British ships in particular, the three commanders were ordered to “take, sink, or destroy” any “British men of war” in the region. Upon reaching Rhode Island, they were to proceed south towards the British stronghold of New York. However, if Warren and Providence were completed and properly fitted with arms, the five frigates were to sail to Newfoundland, presumably to cut off reinforcements.[18] But the ships never left port.

The buildup of the thirteen frigates and the ambitious plot to arm them to the teeth for battle was far too ambitious. There were several communications between April and July of 1776 from Thomas Cushing, commissioner of marine affairs, to John Hancock, president of the Continental Congress, searching for cannons for the ships Boston and Hancock.[19] McNeill himself made an additional request on January 1, 1777 for swivel guns on the same day that Washington found himself surrounded by Lord Cornwallis’s soldiers at Trenton, New Jersey.[20]

On May 21, 1777, a sufficiently armed fleet had been gathered under the command of Capt. John Manley, who ranked second on the Marine Committee’s list, and his frigate Hancock. Manley’s squadron consisted of Hancock, Boston, and nine privateer vessels, their orders forcing them to leave Raleigh behind to receive separate orders upon completion. Their first task, was to evade capture from British Admiral Howe’s fleet of seventy-plus warships spread throughout the coast, roughly thirty of them patrolling the waters in a porous blockade that sent up words of forty-six ships a month as prizes destined for New York.[21]

After Manley’s squadron had slipped away from without issue, the privateers either became separated or chose not to continue the mission to hunt down enemy ships in the Grand Banks near Newfoundland.[22] H McNeill was also known to be difficult to get along with, he and Manley did not agree on many things. So much so that Samuel Cooper, a Congressional minister, wrote to John Adams, “Manly and McNeal do not agree… They ought to sail together with all the Force they can obtain…McNeal is inclin’d and has obtain’d Liberty from Congress it is said, to sail alone.” McNeill sailed with Manley, but the cooperation was short lived.

The first major operation for Boston came on June 7 and 8 off the coast of Newfoundland; it was also the first major encounter for a Continental frigate during the war, and the event for which Boston is known. Historian George Daughan suggested that during this first naval battle the Hancock captured the “28-gun frigate HMS Fox,” with the Boston “watching from a safe distance.”[25] Historian Sam Willis however believed that if Boston had not been present Hancock likely would have been defeated, and described the action as being a display of competent seamanship as the ships chased their prey over two days.”[26]

McNeill’s journal offers a rare glimpse into the event. First and foremost, Captain Manley had the foresight to want to discuss signals in the fog on June 7. While the battle did not take place in the fog, their meeting most likely included other signals in addition to those used in fog. McNeill said that on June 8 the two ships, Hancock and Fox were engaged in broadside exchanges with one another. Boston later moved into position where it could provide broadside attack to ultimately end the battle.[27]

Continental frigates Hancock and Boston capturing British frigate Fox, June 7, 1777 (U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command)
Continental frigates Hancock and Boston capturing British frigate Fox, June 7, 1777 (U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command)

Their celebration with the prize Fox, now a part of their fleet did not last long. The HMS Rainbow, whose forty-four guns (though McNeill’s initial journal indicates thirty-two or thirty-six) provided strategic support for the British when Washington was overwhelmed at New York, was now in pursuit. [28] Boston, Hancock, and Fox sailed in separate directions so as not to present an easy target. Rainbow chose to follow the Hancock because it was the larger of the potential prizes. Rainbow was accompanied by two other ships that chased after Fox. Fox surrendered after a brief fight, having only flown the Continental flag for one month. After a brief chase Manley, fearing that Rainbow was now a 74-gun man-o-war, surrendered without a fight. Boston escaped into the Sheepscot River of Maine.[29]

The crushing defeat and loss of Hancock caused Captain McNeill to be court-martialed and dismissed from service. The Scottish captain who was captured by Indians, a prisoner of war in the Seven Years War, could not escape the shame of losing one of the thirteen Continental frigates. To Congress, Boston should have stood her ground and fought bravely alongside Hancock and Fox. As it was, Hancock became the HMS Iris and had many attacks on the colonies. Manley was imprisoned in New York and later in Mill Prison in England.[30]

McNeill tried many tactics to keep his command of Boston as it returned to Boston Harbor on August 25th. He wrote to the Marine Committee that he believed Rainbow was “well acquainted with the time of [their] sailing from Boston and with the length of [their] intended cruise,” but stopped short of accusing an actual spy.[31] He tried to demonstrate that he knew Boston better than anyone else. He wrote that his crew had altered the trim of the ship many times in order to make her sail faster, but had never achieved results that could rival the British vessels or even Hancock “in fine weather.”[32] His plea had failed. It was very likely that Congress thought his rivalry with Manley had gotten the better of him, and he deliberately abandoned Hancock, for Manley was ranked second of the captains in the navy and McNeill third.[33] McNeill lost control of his ship on December 27, 1777.[34]

The fall and winter of 1777 was difficult for both the army and navy. Having already lost Hancock to the British, September saw Delaware captured, Washington, Effingham, Congress, and Montgomery scuttled and burned to the waterline. The remaining frigates were either trapped behind the British blockade or still being built.[35] The Navy was in need of a turning point like Saratoga had been for the army. That came when Capt. Samuel Tucker took the helm of Boston in December of 1777.

Samuel Tucker, like McNeill, was of Scottish decent and born in Massachusetts.[36] He had been living in England when war broke out and was offered a commission in the army or navy. He refused both offers and instead boarded a vessel for America where he joined the rebellion.[37] It was said that the ship he was a passenger on encountered a terrible storm and nearly sank because the crew had failed to man the ship properly, but Tucker took charge and even replaced the captain at the helm to save the ship.[38]

Tucker was given the assignment of transporting a very special cargo to France. Boston’s cargo included two future Presidents of the United States, John Adams and his son John Quincey Adams, along with Jesse Deane, who was roughly John Quincy’s age and the son of Silas Deane, the diplomat that Adams replaced.[39]

After setting out to sea on the 14th of February, the ship was almost immediately discovered.  Captain Tucker’s journal notes that on the 19th they spotted what appeared to be three large ships, two of twenty guns (but in reality 32 and 28 guns), HMS Appolo and HMS Mermaid, and the other of similar size to Boston, HMS Felicité. Tucker did not know the extent of Boston’s capabilities, his command of this ship had been less than two months and he had never tested it in combat, therefore Tucker did what his predecessor McNeill would not have, and asked the honorable John Adams and his fellow officers “what was best.” This was to be one of many times Tucker would consult the advice of Adams and his officers; an entry on the 27th suggests that Adams had a hand in helping Tucker create order and structure on the ship.[41] The decision was made to continue their mission and Adams recalled periodic sightings of the vessels as they were chased all day and eventually lost their pursuers.[42]

The trip across the Atlantic was met with harsh weather. John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail that “seas ran very high, and the Spray of the seas would have wet Us, but Captn. Tucker kindly brought great Coats on Purpose with which he covered Up me and John [Quincey] so that We came very dry.”[43] He even noted that his son “Johnny … [had] been very Seasick …”[44]

Adams could have taken any ship to France that he wanted. Most likely, he wanted to be on one of the original ships that he helped to create. “An Honour, that I make it a Rule to boast of” Adams said in a letter to Abigail.[45] It was this very message that he was sending to France. An original vessel, built by an independent nation, voyaging to perform that nations sovereign will. How grand an entrance it must have been for Adams to arrive in Bordeaux on Boston, the ship even towing a captured prize.[46]

Boston could be argued as one of the last remaining hopes of a successful military campaign. General Washington and Congress knew that they would not last in a prolonged war without further aide from France. The Adams mission was of the utmost importance and by the time he arrived in France, Randolph was sunk killing 311 sailors and leaving only four survivors.[47]  The navy suffered yet a further loss of another frigate Virginia as it ran aground and lost its rudder on March 31, forced to abandon the vessel, it was taken as a prize and repaired by the British.[48]

Upon his arrival in Bordeaux, Adams wrote “it is the universal Opinion of the People here … that a Friendship between France and America, is the Interest of both Countries.”[49] Tucker utilized those friendships to make much needed repairs between April and May to , top mast and riggings that had been damaged by lightning on Feb. 21st before receiving further orders.[50]

After being repaired, Boston had taken four British prizes in European waters.[51] Tucker wrote on May 28 that he had put down a potential mutiny after discovering a plot to take the ship to England; and he had also learned of the destruction of Randolph.[52] With John and John Quincey safely in France, Boston, “a ship more valued … than all [in] the American Navy,” began its voyage back to the United States.[53]

Boston did not return home alone. The frigate Providence, helmed by Commodore Abraham Whipple was also in France, after it left American waters in early May to deliver important documents and updates to the American delegates.[54] They arrived in Boston Harbor on October 15, less than a month after Raleigh had been grounded and captured.[55] Boston spent the rest of 1778 in port refitting and awaiting orders. Tucker was reported to have spent time with family before returning to his ship the following spring.[56]

Boston made several trips to Newfoundland and captured several prizes in 1779. One such event saw Boston disguising itself as a British vessel by flying their flag until it was in position to strike. When they came within range, Boston hoisted the “stars and stripes” and captured the ship.[57] After this encounter, Boston was ordered to sail towards Bermuda and intercept British ships destined for New York. The mission resulted in for Boston.[58] These orders most likely saved Boston from utter destruction as most of the fleet that returned from France was ordered to the Penobscot River, where the [59] Warren, one of the thirteen frigates fell along with the entire fleet of the Penobscot Expedition.[60]

By the spring of 1780, only Providence, Boston, and Trumbull were remaining, the later of which did not make her maiden voyage until May of 1780, a design flaw preventing her from leaving the shallow waters of the Connecticut River. [61] Boston received orders on January 20, 1780 to head to South Carolina.[62] Orders, that sealed Boston’s fate.

Boston, along with Commodore Whipple’s flagship Providence and the majority of the remaining ships in the navy were ordered to protect Charleston. The defense was a complete disaster, with fault shared by both Commodore Whipple’s inability to command a large naval force and Major General of the Continental Army Benjamin Lincoln’s delays in evacuation and orders.[63] The month-long siege resulted in the biggest defeat of the revolution in terms of colonial soldiers killed or taken captive. It resulted in the loss of yet another fleet of the navy including Providence, taken into British service along with naval hero John Paul Jones’ Ranger. Captain Tucker was taken prisoner after he and his crew abandoned Boston as part of the strategy to defend the city. [64] Boston, abandoned by her crew and sacrificed by her commanding officers, was captured and put under British colors. Now flying the Union Jack, Boston, was renamed H.M.S. Charlestown, an intentional jab at the colonies who named the ship after their rebellious town only to see it sail away under the name of their worst defeat.

News of Charleston traveled fast. John Adams, while in Holland negotiating a loan, now had to deal with a financial crisis on his hands [65] Adams wrote to a Dutch ambassador .[66] Adams knew the answer though. They had suffered the loss of their navy in Penobscot, and now Charleston. To Adams the loss was even deeper: they had lost Boston and now only one frigate of the original thirteen remained, Trumbull; it had just barely taken sail in May and was captured in 1781.

Boston, the ship that embodied the spirt of revolution, that carried two future Presidents safely to France and even taking a prize along this way, that had taken “more guns from the enemy during the Revolutionary war than any other [ship],”[67] continued to sail as HMS Charlestown through the remainder of the war. In June of 1781 it intercepted French ships en route to Boston but lacked significant prizes and action in British service.[68] When the war ended, so did her usefulness as a ship of war. Historians suggest that the ship was sold in 1783, the same year that the treaty was signed to end the war, most likely to help pay war debts. The new owner and subsequent fate are lost to history.

What is not lost to history are the fates of the two captains of Boston. Hector McNeill finished the war as a privateer commanding first a vessel called Pallas and then Adventure. McNeill died at sea on Christmas Day, 1785.[69] Samuel Tucker had a lengthy career in the Navy, serving again in the War of 1812 and achieving a rank of Commodore. Living a full life of eighty-five years, Tucker died on March 10, 1833 to a quick illness. With him at his death was General Lafayette, the highest ranking officer from the Revolution who was still alive at the time.[70]

Boston carried with it the strength of American independence. It was one of thirteen frigates commissioned before the Declaration of Independence was signed. It was designed specifically to combat the British navy. Its creation was an act of war that required the skilled negotiating of John Adams and John Hancock, two titans of the Revolution. After a successful maiden voyage she fled from battle leaving her allies behind. She had to undergo a change of leadership in order to become the most successful ship in the Continental navy, taking more prizes than any other ship during the war and having the longest life of any of the thirteen original frigates. She became a prisoner of war, and was released when the war was over. Boston embodies the naval story of the American Revolution.


[1] Christopher Magra, The Fisherman’s Cause, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009, 8-9.

[2] Sam Willis, The Struggle for Sea Power, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2016, 81.

[3] Nathan Miller, The U.S. Navy: A History, Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1997, 19.

[4] Willis, 82.

[5] “Thomas Cushing to John Hancock” in William Bell Clark. Naval Documents of the American Revolution Volume 4. Washington: 1969, 69.  Since 1964, the Navy Department has published Naval Documents of the American Revolution. Future cites will refer to these collections as NDAR by volume, year of publication and page.

[6] “Contract for Construction of Two Continental Frigates at Newburyport”, Ibid. 124.

[7] Commander Tyrone G. Martin (Retired U.S. Navy), “Building Constitution – USS Constitution Museum.” USS Constitution Museum. Accessed May 03, 2016.

[8] JR Potts, HMS Victory, Accessed May 3, 2016.

[9] “[In Congress, Fall 1775–Spring 1776] ,” in Founders Online, National Archives  Source: The Adams Papers, Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, vol. 3, Diary, 1782–1804; Autobiography, Part One to October 1776, ed. L. H. Butterfield. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1961, 327–330. Founders Online has a vast collection of John Adams’ letters. Future cites will refer to this collection as The Adams Papers.

[10] David McCollough, 1776, New York: Simon and Schuster, 2006. 101.

[11] Edward Lengel, General George Washington, New York: Random House Paperbacks. 2005, 132.

[12] “Journal of the Continental Congress”, February 14, 1776, NDAR vol. 3, 1968.

[13] Gardner Weld Allen. Captain Hector McNeill of the Continental Navy. Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston: Harvard University Press, 1922.

[14] Ibid., 4.

[15]Boston Gazette, Monday, June 10, 1776.” NDAR vol 5., 1970, 448.

[16] “Letter from the Marine Committee to Hector McNeill” in Allen., 29

[17]In Council Novr 13 1776.” NDAR vol 7, 1976, 96.

[18] “Instructions of the Marine Committee for Captains John Manley, Hector McNiell, and Thomas Thompson” in Allen., 31.

[19]Thomas Cushing to John Hancock, April 27, 1776.” NDAR vol. 5, 1282, 1178, 1279.

[20]Captain Hector McNeill to the Massechusettes Board of War,” NDAR vol. 7, 825

[21] Daughan, 129.

[22] Allen, 7.

[23] George C. Daughan, If By Sea, New York: Basic Books, 2008, 130.

[24] “To John Adams from Samuel Cooper, 3 April 1777,” The Adams Papers.

[25] Ibid., 131

[26] Willis, 196.

[27] Allen, 48.

[28] Daughan, 131 and Allen, 51.

[29] Daughan, 132.

[30] Gardner Weld Allen, Massachusetts Privateers of the Revolution, Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1927 191.

[31] Allen, Captain Hector McNeill, 66.

[32] Ibid., 70-71.

[33] John Hannibal Shepard, The Life of Samuel Tucker, ebook, 42.

[34] “Notes and Resolutions of the [Continental] Navy Board of the Eastern Department, December 27, 1777.” NDAR vol. 10, 815.

[35] Willis, 194.

[36] Shepard, 11.

[37] Ibid., 16.

[38] Ibid., 18.

[39] “Diary of John Adams Excerpt” NDAR vol. 11, 331.

[40] “Journal of the Continental Frigate Boston Exerpt,” NDAR vol. 11, 373.

[41] “Diary of John Adams,” NDAR vol. 11, 456.

[42]Diary of John Adams,” Ibid., 374.

[43] Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, February 13, 1778. The Adams Papers

[44] “Diary of John Adams Exerpt,” Naval Documents Vol. 11, pg 369

[45] “Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 11 July 1777,” Ibid.

[46] “Remarks on Wednesday March 11th 1778. on Board Ship Boston,” NDAR vol. 11, 1078.

[47] Edgar Stanton Maclay, A History of the United States Navy, From 1775 to 1898, Vol 1 ebook pg 83-85.

[48] “Journal of the H.M.S. Emerald, Captain Benjamine Caldwell,” NDAR vol. 11, 848-849.

[49] “Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, April 12, 1778” The Adams Papers,

[50] “February 21 Journal of the Continental Navy Frigate Boston, Captain Samuel Tucker,” NDAR vol. 11, 394.

[51] Sheppard, 86.

[52] “To John Adams from Samuel Tucker, 27 May 1778,” The Adams Papers.

[53] “Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams, 21 October 1778, draft,” Ibid.

[54] “The Providence Gazette; And Country Journal, Saturday, May 9, 1778,” NDAR vol 12, 302-303.

[55] Daughan, 184.

[56] Sheppard, 93.

[57] Ibid., 94-96.

[58] Ibid., 100 & 110.

[59] Willis, 331.

[60] Mark Mayo Boatner, Cassell’s Biographical Dictionary of the American War of Independence: 1763-1783, London: Cassell & Company, 852.

[61] Willis, 194.

[62] Sheppard, 117.

[63] Daughan, 202 and Willis, 353.

[64] Raymond Mann, Boston II (Frigate) Naval History and Heritage Museum Online, 12/25/2005

[65] Willis, 354.

[66] “From John Adams to Joan Derk van der Capellen tot den Pol, 21 January 1781,” The Adams Papers.

[67] Sheppard, 90-91.

[68] The London Gazette, no 12212 pg 4, accessed 5/4/16.

[69] Allen, 10.

[70] Sheppard, 257.



Primary Sources

“[In Congress, Fall 1775–Spring 1776] ,” Founders Online, National Archives ( [last update: 2016-03-28]). Source: The Adams Papers, Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, vol. 3, Diary, 1782–1804; Autobiography, Part One to October 1776, ed. L. H. Butterfield. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1961, pp. 327–330.

“From John Adams to Joan Derk van der Capellen tot den Pol, 21 January 1781,” Founders Online, National Archives ( [last update: 2016-03-28]). Source: The Adams Papers, Papers of John Adams, vol. 11, January–September 1781, ed. Gregg L. Lint, Richard Alan Ryerson, Anne Decker Cecere, Celeste Walker, Jennifer Shea, and C. James Taylor. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003, pp. 63–68.

Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 13 February 1778, Adams Family Papers Electronic Archive Accessed 5/3/2016

Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams, 8 February 1778, Adams Family Papers Electronic Archive accessed 5/3/2016

“To John Adams from Samuel Tucker, 27 May 1778,” Founders Online, National Archives ( [last update: 2016-03-28]). Source: The Adams Papers, Papers of John Adams, vol. 6, March–August 1778, ed. Robert J. Taylor. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983, pp. 158–159.

The London Gazette, no 12212 pg 4,

Allen, Gardner Weld. Captain Hector McNeill of the Continental Navy. Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston: Harvard University Press, 1922 Ebook access via

Allen, Gardner Weld. Massachusetts Privateers of the Revolution. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1927

Bell, William Clark. Naval Documents of the American Revolution Volume 3. Washington: 1968. [electronic edition] Naval History and Heritage Command.

Bell, William Clark. Naval Documents of the American Revolution Volume 4. Washington: 1969 [electronic edition] Naval History and Heritage Command.

Crawford, Michael J., Naval Documents of the American Revolution Volume 10, [electronic edition] Naval History and Heritage Command

Crawford, Michael J., Naval Documents of the American Revolution Volume 11, [electronic edition] Naval History and Heritage Command

Crawford, Michael J., Naval Documents of the American Revolution Volume 12, , [electronic edition] Naval History and Heritage Command

Morgan, William James. Naval Documents of the American Revolution Volume 5. Washington: 1970. [electronic edition] Naval History and Heritage Command

Morgan, William James. Naval Documents of the American Revolution Volume 7. Washington: 1976. [electronic edition] Naval History and Heritage Command

Morgan, William James. Naval Documents of the American Revolution Volume 8, [electronic edition] Naval History and Heritage Command

Peabody, Robert E. Naval Career of Capt. John Manley of Marblehead. Essex Institute Historical Collection Vol XLV, Massachusetts: Essex Institute, January 1909 Ebook


Secondary Sources

Boatner, Mark Mayo Cassell’s Biographical Dictionary of the American War of Independence, 1763-1783. London: Cassell & Company, 1966

Daughan, George C., If By Sea: The Forging of the American Navy – From the Revolution to the War of 1812, New York: Basic Books, 2008.

Ferling, John. A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic, New York: Oxford University Press, 2003

Field, Thomas W. The Battle of Long Island: With Connected Preceeding Events, and the Subsequent American Retreat. Brooklyn, NY: Long Island Historical Society, 1869. Ebook

Lengel, Edward, General George Washington, New York: Random House Paperbacks, 2005

Maclay, Edgar Stanton, A History of the United States Navy: From 1775 to 1898, Vol I. Ebook

Maritime Dimensions of the American Revolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Mann, Raymond, Boston II (Frigate), Naval History and Heritage Museum Online

Martin, Commander Tyrone G. (Retired U.S. Navy) “Building Constitution – USS Constitution Museum.” USS Constitution Museum. Accessed May 03, 2016.

McCullough, David G., 1776, New York: Simon and Schuster, 2006

Miller, Nathan. The U.S. Navy: A History (3rd Ed.) Anapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1997.

Potts, JR. “HMS Victory-History, Specs and Pictures – Navy Warships and Submarines.” HMS Victory. April 11, 2016. Accessed May 3, 2016.

Sheppard, John Hannibal, The Life of Samuel Tucker, Commodore in the American Revolution, Ebook

Willis, Sam. The Struggle for Sea Power: A Naval History of the American Revolution. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2016



  • Joel,
    excellent insightful article.Noticed several references to Sam Willis Struggle for Seapower.
    Any other books of this genre you could recommend?

    1. Thank you for your comments and interest. The book by Sam Willis is a personal favorite and a large part of my inspiration to write maritime history. It is a growing topic but there is not a huge selection of literature. Willis and Daughan provide excellent overviews of the naval battles during the war.
      Daughan, George C., If By Sea: The Forging of the American Navy – From the Revolution to the War of 1812, New York: Basic Books, 2008.

      1. Hi Joel,

        thanks for your reply. I was hoping to nominate Struggle for Seapower for the JAR book of the year but I don’t believe they have sent a copy for review.

        I’ll put “if by sea” on my Christmas list.

        Perhaps those of us who love colonial maritime history could be identified through a JAR member questionnaire of interests so we can share comments and suggested readings.

  • THANK YOU SO MUCH … For this series on THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION – and – this particular
    segment on the NAVAL WARFARE – part of the fight for AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE. RARE to see
    and read about what went on AT SEA – and this is one terrific work ! Many thanks – HENRY PAISTE

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