H.M.S. Somerset arrived in Boston harbor in December 1774, carrying 68 cannon and a contingent of British Marines under the command of Maj. John Pitcairn. By the end of that year all those men had been landed and housed in barracks. As for the ship itself, Adm. Samuel Graves reported to London in January:
The Somerset was so leaky at Sea that two Hand Pumps were continually at Work, and it is the constant Employment at present of one hand to pump to Keep her free.This Somerset was thirty years old that year, as described on this website of a group that reenacts its crew.
Spring weather allowed the navy to do some repairs. On 31 March, Graves wrote to Gen. Thomas Gage that he wanted to take off all the ship’s guns and most of her cargo “that by heeling her, when lightened, they may caulk as much of her bottom as possible.” The general and admiral weren’t on good terms, but they tried not to actively interfere with each other’s work, so Gage assigned the navy two transport boats to move its heavy equipment.
On 11 April, Graves reported to the Admiralty in London about the Somerset:
Upon stripping the sheathing from her Bottom, we found the Ocham in her seams entirely rotten and the Butt Ends open; these Defects have been repaired, her Decks and sides well caulked and I have placed her, where the Lively and Canceaux formerly lay, between Charles Town and Boston. It is very likely that in this situation she will be of considerable service.In a long, self-justifying report Graves wrote later, he explained what sort of “considerable service” he had in mind:
as the situation of things became more and more critical, and he was solicited to guard Boston against any attempt [i.e., attack] from Charles Town side, he caused the channel of the [Charles] river to be sounded, and, finding there was room enough for a large ship to swing at low water, ordered Captain [Edward] Le Cras to place the Somerset exactly in the Ferry way between the two towns, which he accordingly did.This information is useful in understanding the mindset of the British military commanders in Boston 235 years ago. They weren’t expecting an imminent attack by rebellious provincials, but they felt they had to guard against one.
In fact, the navy had stationed one or two warships at the mouth of the Charles since the Powder Alarm of the previous September. But the Lively had twenty guns, the Canceaux eight. By replacing them with the Somerset’s 60+, Graves was making a very intimidating statement.
TOMORROW: The Somerset on 18-19 Apr 1775.
(The photo above shows H.M.S. Victory a full century after our Somerset had wrecked on Cape Cod. As I understand it, the two warships were about the same size, but if anyone has pictures of a ship of the Somerset’s class please let me know.)