Monday, July 9, 2018

The First Cruise of the USS Ranger in 1777-1778 as Remembered in Veterans' Pension Applications (Part I)

The first cruise of the United States Sloop of War Ranger under Captain John Paul Jones is celebrated in the annals of US Naval History for its daring and audacious raids on the British home islands, the taking of six prizes and the destruction of several more, and the defeat and capture of the 20-gun Sloop of War Drake after a bloody engagement in the Irish Sea.  The cruise is well-documented in Volumes 10-12 of the Naval Documents of the American Revolution (NDAR), but there are other details-some of them unique in the surviving record - preserved within the pension application files on the service of some of the officers, seamen and marines who served on the Ranger in 1777 and 1778.

Perhaps the most comprehensive and revealing of these accounts lies in the narrative of Revolutionary service presented by Solomon Hutchins of Kittery Maine, who made not one but three voyages on the Ranger and was one of the last of her crew to apply for and receive a pension in 1832 (S.2504).  Hutchins was no fan of Captain Jones - he omits the honorific "Esq." which most of the other applicants appended to their Captain's name - and some of the fo'c'sle gossip he offers in his account as explanations for John Paul Jones' behavior during the cruise should be considered in the light of other conflicting documentation.  Nonetheless his narrative on the whole is remarkably consistent with other declarations by Ranger veterans and official accounts and Hutchins provides a wealth of eye-witness detail that makes it clear that he was either an observer or participant in the episodes he describes.

In this, the first of a multi-part series on the first cruise of the USS Ranger in 1777-1778 as remembered in their pension applications by those who served on board during this time, we follow Solomon Hutchins from his enlistment in Portsmouth as a marine through his service as a seaman under Captain Jones and then with Captain Simpson on the return home across the Atlantic, and his subsequent service under Simpson that resulted in his twice being captures and his saving a part of the Ranger's pennant by fashioning it into a handkerchief.  This transcription has being broken up into paragraphs for ease of reading but is otherwise as recorded in 1832 in Hutchin's pension application:

"…he entered as a marine aboard the ship Ranger for twelve months the time he does not recollect but it was while the said ship was lying at Portsmouth N.H. that he served as a sailor aboard said ship – that he sailed from said Portsmouth in the fall of the year [Novemner 1, 1777] and returned the next fall [October 1778] that when he sailed said ship was commanded by John Paul Jones    [Thomas] Simpson of said Portsmouth was first Lieutenant – [Elijah] Hall of said Portsmouth was second Lieutenant  - and [David] Cullam was sailing master That he does not recollect the name of the captain of Marines [1.][Samuel] Wallingford was Lieutenant of Marines and killed in the battle between the Ranger and Drake [on April 24, 1778] by a musket ball entering his forehead and passing through his head that all of the officers of the Ranger are dead

– that when the Ranger sailed from Portsmouth as aforesaid she sailed for France on her way took a brig loaded with Malaga Wine raisins & grapes [2] and entered a place called Piu Beef [Paimboeff near the mouth of the River Loire] below Nantes] that the Ranger then sailed to Brest

after that he cruised in the Irish Channel and when opposite a fort the name of which he does not recollect [Carrickfergus near Belfast, Northern Ireland] a ship was discovered lying close under the guns of the fort [the 18-gun Sloop of War Drake] – that in the night the Ranger run in and attempted to cut the ship out and run in with close reefed topsails throwed out her anchor ahead in order to enable her to lay along side or cut the ship out the Ranger swung under the stern of the ship the cable of the Ranger was cut and she was put about and stood out for White haven [3].  When opposite White haven Capt. Jones went ashore in the night time with two boat crews he returned aboard the next morning and brought one or two prisoners and it was expected aboard the Ranger that Jones had spiked the cannon – That he the said Hutchins did not accompany the party [4].

that the Ranger then went down the Channel and it was said aboard robbed his old master of his plate and brought it aboard in bags that the said Hutchins did not see the plate [5].

that he the said Hutchins sailed for the port where the said ship was lying and run in as near as they durst then put about crowded all sail and the ship weighed her anchor at the same time took up the one the Ranger had lost when her cable was cut as aforesaid and followed the Ranger and came up with her an action commenced that continued an hour and five minutes that the Ranger took the ship which was the Drake after the battle Jones took the boat of the Drake and give it to a fisherman whose boat Jones had lost Jones put the fore top sail of the Drake aboard the boat also a number of boys and sent the sail as it was said as a present to Governor [6].

after repairing the vessels they sailed for Brest and in passing the Channel having the Drake in toe (sp) they saw a large ship about day break and Jones commanded Simpson to cut the hawser for he was going to give chance Jones gave Simpson no orders to follow him and Simpson stood for Brest Jones in the Ranger run the Drake out of sight and made signals for the Drake to come up that he the said Hutchins went up into the top and help make the signals – the next morning the Drake was right ahead of the Ranger The vessels were hove to and Simpson was confined to the cabin of the Drake and Hall put aboard as commander – They were then opposite some rocks called Scylla [Scilly] as he the said Hutchins things – they then stood for Brest where they arrived and Jones put Simpson in prison afterwards on petition of the officers and even to the agent Simpson was taken from prison put into command of the Ranger and Jones taken out of the ship [7].

that they remained at Brest til the ships Boston and Providence arrived and that he then returned in the Ranger to Portsmouth New Hampshire where he was discharged having served more than his time he returned home to Kittery in the County of York and the District of Maine and there remained two or three months that he then entered again aboard said ship Ranger  the lying at said Portsmouth that he entered as a sailor for one year and was appointed coxswain of one of her boats The officers of the Ranger were the same as in the first cruise except Jones and the Lieutenant of Marines –that he sailed in the Ranger in company with the Boston, Providence and Queen of France and they took nine sail of the Jamaica Fleet –that he was put aboard one of the prizes and the prize retaken and carried to Halifax where he remained a prisoner till a cartel arrived when he was redeemed carried to Boston Ms and from there returned to said Portsmouth where the Ranger was lying and went aboard the Ranger and there remained and was aboard her when she sailed for Charlestown South Carolina in company with the Boston and Providence & Queen of France where they arrived were blockaded and finally taken by the British that he struck the Ranger’s pennant and remained a prisoner till he was exchanged sent to Philadelphia and from there returned home the time for which he had enlisted having expired that he returned home in June or July and enlisted in the spring the year before that he wore the star part of said pennant home on his neck [8]…” 

[1.] Marine Captain Matthew Clarke, the only one of Jones' officers whom he himself appointed, was dismissed in February, 1778, after the Ship's Lieutenants and Sailing Master complained that a marine officer of his rank being carried on the rolls of a 20-gun ship was an infringement on their 3/20th share of prize money.  This was but one of the divisions between Captain Jones and his junior officers and crew that would lead to a state of near mutiny during this voyage.  It is evident that Hutchins sided with those who felt the Captain was in the wrong.

[2]  Ranger took two brigantines on her outbound voyage, both on route from 
M├ílaga, Spain to England with wine and fruit.  The first was the Mary, taken on November 23rd, and the second was the George, taken on the 26th.  The Mary made port at Nantes, while the George sailed to Bordeaux. The names of the prize crew on board the George are recorded in the Ranger's log and Hutchins is not among their number.  Possibly he was put on board the Mary with Midshipman Joseph Green as prize master, or he may simply have neglected to record the second ship taken.

[3] This episode is very consistent with John Paul Jones own account of his attempt to cut out the Drake, including the lost of the "best bower anchor" which the Drake subsequently recovered.

[4]  The raid on White Haven in Cumberland, England during the night of April 22-23 included an attempt by Captain Jones with his shore party to set fire to the shipping in the port, which by various mishaps and the less than attentive efforts of some of the Ranger's crew resulted in the lost of only a couple of British vessels.  The guns of the fort were spiked, except for one or two which fired belatedly on the Ranger's withdrawing boats.

[5]  Although he was once an apprentice to a Whitehaven shipowner and was born at nearby 
Kirkdean in nearby Scotland, there is no evidence that his master was ever the Earl of Selkirk, whose family silver was taken (and later returned by Jones) after the Captain and a party from the Ranger landed on St Mary's Isle the morning after the White Haven raid in an effort to capture the Earl who was not to be found.

[6]  Jones gave the boat to the fisherman, whose own craft he had detained on his first approach to Carrickfergus and had subsequently drifted away.  The sail was not a gift to the Governor, though a prize taken earlier that month did contain furniture belonging to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.  Jones describes the incident with the fishermen in his May 27, 1778 report of his recent cruise to the American Commissioners in France; "
It was now time to release the honest Fishermen whom I took up here on the 21st.—And as the poor fellows had lost their Boat, she having sunk in the late stormy Weather, I was happy in having it in my Power to give them the necessary Sum to purchase every thing new which they had lost.—I gave them also a good Boat to transport themselves ashore and sent with them Two infirm Men on whom I bestowed the last Guinea in my Possession to defray their travelling Expences to their proper home at Dublin—they took with them One of the Drakes Sails which would sufficiently explain what had happened to the Volunteers.—The grateful Fishermen were in Raptures and expressed their Joy in three Huzzas as they passed the Rangers Quarter."

[7]  The arrest and imprisonment of Lt. Simpson, who had earlier been made Prize master of the Drake, brought tensions between the junior officers of the Ranger and their Captain to a head.  Petitions by the prize crew of the Drake and from Lt. Hall, Sailing master Cullam and the ship's doctor in favor of Lieutenant Simpson denounced captain Jones's actions as unjust, while Jones felt that his junior officers had encouraged a state of near mutiny.  Arguments have been made on both sides by historians ever since.  Captain Jones did remain in France, because he had always wanted a larger ship and expected command of a Frigate, and Lt. Simpson was restored from prison and sailed the Ranger home has her captain at the end of the cruise, retaining commander of her thereafter.

[8]  This amazing detail indicates that Coxswain Hutchins not only struck the Ranger's pennant before she was taken after the fall of Charleston on May 12, 1780, but he at least managed to conceal a portion of it - its blue ensign and white stars - during his time as a prisoner, wearing it a s a handkerchief about his neck when he was released.  In order to have done so, it must have been one of the top mast pennants, rather than the Ranger's largest naval flag, which Hutchins took down.  Perhaps it was made of silk.  The image of this veteran sailor returning from war with the famous stars of his ship's flag knotted jauntily about his neck like a bandana in true sailor fashion is truly marvelous and may very well have happened that way.

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