Give Me a Fast Ship: The Continental Navy and America's Revolution at Sea
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Five ships against hundreds—the fledgling American Navy versus the greatest naval force the world had ever seen.
America in 1775 was on the verge of revolution—or, more likely, disastrous defeat. After the bloodshed at Lexington and Concord, England’s King George sent hundreds of ships westward to bottle up American harbors and prey on American shipping. Colonists had no force to defend their coastline and waterways until John Adams of Massachusetts proposed a bold solution: The Continental Congress should raise a navy.
The idea was mad. The Royal Navy was the mightiest floating arsenal in history, with a seemingly endless supply of vessels. More than a hundred of these were massive “ships of the line,” bristling with up to a hundred high-powered cannon that could level a city. The British were confident that His Majesty’s warships would quickly bring the rebellious colonials to their knees.
They were wrong. Beginning with five converted merchantmen, America’s sailors became formidable warriors, matching their wits, skills, and courage against the best of the British fleet. Victories off American shores gave the patriots hope—victories led by captains such as John Barry, the fiery Irish-born giant; fearless Nicholas Biddle, who stared down an armed mutineer; and James Nicholson, the underachiever who finally redeemed himself with an inspiring display of coolness and bravery. Meanwhile, along the British coastline, daring raids by handsome, cocksure John Paul Jones and the “Dunkirk Pirate,” Gustavus Conyngham—who was captured and sentenced to hang but tunneled under his cell and escaped to fight again—sent fear throughout England. The adventures of these men and others on both sides of the struggle rival anything from Horatio Hornblower or Lucky Jack Aubrey. In the end, these rebel sailors, from the quarterdeck to the forecastle, contributed greatly to American independence.
Meticulously researched and masterfully told, Give Me a Fast Ship is a rousing, epic tale of war on the high seas—and the definitive history of the American Navy during the Revolutionary War.
INCLUDES NINE MAPS AND SIXTEEN PAGES OF FULL COLOR ILLUSTRATIONS
Recognizing Trevett, Gould immediately began peppering him with questions about the size of the American fleet and its whereabouts. Trevett answered his questions directly and disingenuously: Biddle’s Charleston fleet was lying off Abaco; the Providence was in Nassau harbor to take the Mary and her goods; and Trevett’s marines needed breakfast. His bluff worked. Gould sent enough bread, bacon, and coffee to feed a garrison. Trevett sent two marines to see the commandant of Fort Montague and
McNeill Esq’r Commander,” 5/29/77; LOC, John Bradford Letter Book, Bradford to Marine Committee, 6/19/77. 71 NDAR, 8:1040, Manley to McNeill, 5/29/77; ibid., 9:39–40, McNeill Journal, 6/6/77. 72 MHS, McNeill Journal, 5/30/77; McNeill Letter Book, McNeill to Captain Thomas Thompson, 7/21/77. 73 NDAR, 9:8–9, McNeill Journal, 6/3/77. 74 Ibid., 47, McNeill Journal, 6/7/77, 85–87, Deposition of Nathaniel Oakes, Quartermaster, H.M.S. Fox, 6/11/77; 87–88, Deposition of Captain Thomas Hardy,
Pennsylvania Packet, 3/29/78. 95 Ibid. 96 NDAR, 11:683–684, Vincent to Vice Admiral James Young, 3/17/78. 97 Biddle, Autobiography, 107–109; NDAR, 11:1175, Eyewitness Account of Engagement Between Continental Navy Frigate Randolph and H.M.S. Yarmouth, 8/21/1801. 98 NDAR, 11:623, Yarmouth Journal, 3/12/78; ibid., 11:683–684, Vincent to Vice Admiral James Young, 3/17/78. 99 Ibid., New York Gazette and the Weekly Mercury, 4/20/78; Clark, 245. 100 Ibid., 666–667, Deposition of Alexander
before, they buried their comrade. Richard’s death haunted his brother. Like Barry, Biddle, and Jones, Lambert was young, confident, and patriotic. He hailed from Maryland’s Eastern Shore, already legendary for supplying the colonies with hearty sailing stock. No portraits or descriptions of Lambert exist. By eighteen he was already a ship’s master, and he proved his patriotism in 1774 when he refused to carry a cargo of tea ordered by his Loyalist-leaning bosses. When Congress chose him to
Fielding, had run aground in Narragansett Bay between Newport and Providence. She was part of the British blockade, and had recently captured a privateer sloop. Fielding celebrated the New Year by sending his longboats over to Patience Island, looking for remnants of a rebel stronghold, only to find the island abandoned. The boats returned at dark just as it began to rain. That night a marine entered Fielding’s cabin and roused him from his slumber. Two of the American prisoners had cut away the