J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Lee Captures the Nancy

As engineer Col. Archibald Robertson prepared to leave London for the theater of war in Massachusetts in July 1775, he asked Viscount Townshend, Master-General of the Ordnance, to arrange for a convoy of warships to protect the “several Ordnance transports with Artillery stores and men” from rebel attacks at sea.

However, Gen. Frederick Haldimand, who was just back from Boston, assured his army superiors, including Gen. Jeffery Amherst, that there were no American cruisers to worry about and plenty of Royal Navy ships around Massachusetts Bay. So the British military added no special protection to this transport fleet. Robertson felt a little vindication when he spotted “a Rebel privateer” as he arrived in Boston on 8 November in a fleet of twelve ships.

That ship may or may not have been the Lee, commanded by Capt. John Manley (1733-1793) of Marblehead. Before the war it had been the schooner Two Brothers, owned by Thomas Stevens; it had been renamed in honor of Gen. Charles Lee.

In any event, on 29 Nov 1775, Capt. Manley’s Lee captured one of the ordnance brigs from London, the Nancy, off Cape Ann. Col. Robertson’s fear had been realized.

In January 1776, Manley was named commodore of the small fleet of privateers Gen. George Washington had urged New Englanders to create; later he received the third U.S. naval commission as captain when the Continental Congress got around to adopting the same idea. During the war Manley and his crews captured ten British vessels and helped in seizing five more, while being captured and imprisoned three times. The engraving above comes from the Surface Navy Association’s Hall of Fame. (We hope his sword was in its scabbard.)

TOMORROW: What the Nancy was carrying.


Anonymous said...

Just a small correction: The fleet of which Captain Manley and the "Lee" were a part was actually established in the Fall of 1775. Washington had not "urged the New Englanders" to create it; rather, he created it himself. The ships were leased at Continental expense, and the officers and men held ranks in the Continental Army. Technically, they were government ships, not privateers.

J. L. Bell said...

My impression was that Washington saw such value in having American ships off Massachusetts that he got ahead of the Continental Congress on the issue, though he was usually careful about respecting that body's authority. That's what I meant by urging local captains to start the operation even before the commissions came through.

Anonymous said...

Washington did, indeed, get ahead of the Continental Congress. He actually issued the commissions himself, under his authority as Commander-in-Chief. The Congress approved his action after the fact.