Explorations 6: British Royal Navy in Boston – January 1775

An accounting of the British Royal Navy in America on 1 January 1775, modified from Admiral Samuel Graves’,  “List of North American Squadron, on the 1st of January 1775”. Admiral Graves assumed command of Royal Navy in North America in July of 1774, later succeeded by Admiral Richard Howe, brother of General William Howe, in January 1776.  Graves was given the unenviable task of patrolling and controlling 1000 miles of American coast with less than 30 ships stationed from Canada to the Caribbean.

The list and the discussion below only involves the ships assigned to Boston. The largest British warships along the North American east coast were all assigned to Boston. The warships, ships of the line with 3 masts, were rated by the number of mounted guns on

E HMS Asia

Enter aHMS Asia cropped from a watercolor by George Gustavus Lennox 1797 caption

the decks; a 1st ship of the line contained more guns than a 4th ship of the line. Third ships of the line were considered the optimum compromise between guns and maneuverability. Post ships were essentially frigates, warships with 3 masts, built for speed and maneuverability at the expense of firepower, and used mainly as escorts and for patrolling. A schooner is a ship with 2 masts known for its speed, agility and ability for sailing in shallow coastal waters and rivers.

 

  1. HMS Boyne:  A 3rd ship of the line, serving in the navy from 1766-1783. It carried  70 guns: 28 x 32 pounders, 28 x 18 pounders, and 14 x 9 pounders. It carried a full crew of 520 officers and sailors.  The ship was broken up in 1783.
  2. HMS Somerset:  A 3rd ship of the line, serving in the navy from 1748-1778. It carried 70 guns: 26 x 32 pounders, 28 x 18 pounders, and 16 x 9 pounders. It carried a full crew of 520 officers and sailors. She ran aground at Cape Cod, Massachusetts, during a storm, and was wrecked. The ship served in several battles during the French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War. Paul Revere had to avoid the Somerset while crossing Boston’s Back Bay on his ride to alert Lexington and Concord that the British were coming. The Somerset also provided cannon cover for the retreating British troops, returning to Boston from the battles of Lexington and Concord. The Somerset serving, at the time, as Admiral Graves’ flagship, fired its guns at the rebels fortifications on Breed’s Hill, now known as the Battle of Bunker Hill.
  3. HMS Asia:  A 3rd ship of the line, serving in the navy from 1764-1802. It carried 64 guns: 26 x 24 pounders, 26 x 18 pounders, 10 x 4 pounders and 2 x 9 pounders. It carried a full crew of 480 officers and sailors. The ship was broken up in 1804. A star-crossed ship that initially entered the Revolutionary War by delivering 500 British marines to New York in 1774. She endured a rebel inflicted burning, although, not catastrophic, in 1776, and another fire, this time self-inflicted while in Jamaica in 1796; the fire was extinguished and the ship was saved.  The Asia participated in the capture of Martinique of 1794, but in action a few days later was unable to carry it out its orders of firing on a Martinique fort, because the ships pilot refused to navigate in shallow waters.
  4. HMS Preston:  A 4th ship of the line, serving in the navy from 1757-1815. It carried 50 guns: 22 x 24 pounders, 22 x 12 pounders, 6 x 6 pounders. It carried a full crew of 300 officers and sailors. It was broken up in 1815. She fought an indecisive battle with a larger French warship in 1778 during the Revolutionary War. The Preston was disabled in the British-Dutch Battle of Dogger Bank in 1781.
  5. HMS Glasgow:  A 6th post ship, serving in the navy from 1757-1779. It carried 20  x 9 pounder guns. It carried 130 officers and sailors in January 1775, but was rated to carry 160.  The ship burned in Montego Bay, Jamaica in 1779. She engaged 6 Continental Navy ships, on their maiden voyage, in 1776 and managed to escape unscathed.
  6. HMS Mercury:  A 6th post ship, serving in the navy from 1756-1777. It carried 20 guns, likely 9 pounders. It carried 130 officers and sailors in January 1775, but was rated to carry 160.
  7. HMS Diana:  A schooner serving in the navy from 1775-1775. It carried 4 or 6 x 6 pounders. It carried a crew of 30 officers and sailors.  It has the distinction of being the first British ship captured and destroyed by the rebels in the Revolutionary War, in the mud flats of Boston Harbor. She was commanded by Admiral Samuel Graves nephew, Lieutenant Thomas Graves. Thomas Graves eventually rose to the rank of admiral, and served as second in command under Horatio Nelson during the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801.

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