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, July 22, 2021

Captain Manley’s Temper

One of the striking details of Cdr. Sir George Collier’s account of the sea battle on 6-8 July 1777, recounted yesterday, is how his ship had almost no coordination with the other Royal Navy frigate in the fight.

Capt. John Brisbane had sailed the Flora up from New York on orders of Adm. Lord Howe. He happened to intersect the three Continental ships that Collier’s Rainbow was chasing down from Nova Scotia.

Brisbane and Collier didn’t expect to see each other. At first Collier thought Brisbane’s ship was an enemy vessel only pretending to be British. At one point in the maneuvers, Brisbane’s sailing master warned him that they might be so far north as to be out of their station.

I also wonder if the two Royal Navy officers were wary of giving up authority to the other. Collier was in home territory and (at least when the chase began) overseeing two ships, but as a captain Brisbane outranked him.

But the British captains weren’t the only ones who had trouble coordinating their attack.

Capt. John Manley on the Hancock was the star of the young Continental naval forces. Starting with command of one of Gen. George Washington’s schooners out of Beverly, Manley had racked up more and richer captures than any other captain. There was even a broadside ballad about him, illustrated with the engraving above.

But Capt. Manley also had a temper, and he was in continual conflict with other Continental naval officers. In October 1776 he complained about being ranked as second most senior captain in the navy, thus being “under the Command of one man, whose Ability I had reason to doubt.”

In April 1777, as I recounted back here, Manley insisted on a court-martial for his lieutenant, Joseph Dobel, for disobedience.

Then in early May, Manley summoned other captains onto his ship for a court-martial of eight men, including his pilot, ”for Mutiny.” 

One measure of Manley’s anger about those eight men is that the captains he summoned included Hector MacNeill and John Paul Jones, and they hated him.

TOMORROW: Divided command.


EJWitek said...

The two British Captains would also have been cognizant of prize money and how it would be distributed should the "Yankee" vessels be taken. Large sums were involved and sharing credit for the capture of a prize ship could substantially affect an individual share. The comment that Brisbane's sailing master warned him that his ship might be out of station could be significant in this regard.

J. L. Bell said...

Yes, revenue from prizes was always an issue for naval captains and privateers, though one hopes the imminent prospect of being blown out of the water motivated them to work together when their mutual survival was at stake.

The ship Brisbane went after turned out to be a British vessel that hadn’t yet reached an American port to be condemned, so the best he could hope for was a reward for “military salvage.”

In chasing the Hancock Collier had hopes of a bigger prize.