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private armed vessels had been legalized by the General Court of Massachusetts and before the business had got fairly started, James Warren wrote to John Adams:

As to ships and other vessels, I believe there are great numbers very suitable to arm already on hand. Almost every port of any consequence could furnish more or less, either great or small. Perhaps ships might be difficult to find that could mount twenty guns or upwards; but vessels to carry from six to sixteen guns I think we abound in, and I think they would soon furnish us with others. These vessels are of all burthens, drafts of water, and dimensions, and are many of them excellent sailors, and may be either purchased, or hired, on very reasonable terms.1

The larger vessels made long voyages and cruised in foreign seas. The apprehensions of the British were aroused by privateering in their home waters. According to a report from Banff, Scotland, in the summer of 1777, 'times are so troublesome and our seas so full of American privateers, that nothing can be trusted upon this defenceless coast; they have taken, within these few weeks, eight ships.' "2"It "It is true," says a contemporary chronicler,

that the coasts of Great Britain and Ireland were insulted by the American privateers in a manner which our hardiest enemies had never ventured in our most arduous contentions with foreigners. Thus were the inmost and most domestic recesses of our trade rendered insecure, and a convoy for the protection of the linen ships from Dublin and Newry was now for the first time seen. The Thames also presented the unusual and melancholy spectacle of numbers of foreign ships, particularly French, taking in cargoes of English commodities for various ports of Europe, the property of our own merchants, who were thus seduced to seek that protection under the colours of other nations, which the British flag used to afford to all the world.3

Long before privateering had become regulated by law in Massachusetts, hostilities were conducted on the water. The vessels and boats engaged in such enter2. London Chronicle, September 2, 1777.

1. Warren-Adams Letters, 1, 182.
3. Annual Register, xx1 (1778), 36.

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prises were of course not regularly commissioned, but they were usually fitted out by or under the authority of selectmen, committees of safety, or other local officials of some sort. The first episode of the kind in Massachusetts waters, as related by some writers, though on what authority is not quite certain, was the exploit of Captain Nathan Smith of Tisbury, Martha's Vineyard, in April, 1775. Setting out in a whaleboat Smith captured the armed schooner Volante, tender to the British cruiser Scarborough, probably in Homes Hole.'

Early in May, 1775, "we hear that an armed Vessel [H. M. sloop of war Falcon] a few Days ago, on some frivolous Pretence, took Possession of two other Vessels in the Vineyard Sound; on which the People fitted out two Vessels, went in Pursuit of them, retook and brought both into a Harbour, and sent the Prisoners to Taunton Gaol." In Boston harbor, during the siege of the town, there were at times clashes between the people and the British soldiers over the possession of the cattle and sheep on the islands.


The capture of the British armed schooner Margaretta off Machias in June is well known. The hero of this event, Jeremiah O'Brien, in the sloop Unity, was assisted by Benjamin Foster in a small schooner. A month later O'Brien in the same sloop, renamed the Machias Liberty, and Foster in another vessel took two British vessels.

Another incident took place in October, in which the vessel engaged had presumably been sent out by local authorities at Beverly. The following is the story:

Last Tuesday one of our Privateers from Beverly, having been on a Cruize in the Bay, was followed, on her Return into Port, by the Nautilus Man of War. The Privateer run aground in a Cove 1. Banks, History of Martha's Vineyard, 1, 404, 405.

2. N. E. Chronicle, May 18, 1775.

a little without Beverly Harbour, where the People speedily assembled, stripped her and carried her Guns, etc., ashore. The Man of War was soon within Gunshot, when she also got aground; she however let go an Anchor and bringing her Broadside to bear, began to fire upon the Privateer. The People of Salem and Beverly soon returned the Compliment from a Number of Cannon on Shore, keeping up a warm and well directed Fire on the Man of War for two or three Hours, and it is supposed did her considerable Damage and probably killed and wounded some of her Men; but before they could board her, which they were preparing to do, the Tide arose about 8 o'clock in the Evening, when she cut her Cable and got off. Some of her Shot struck one or two Buildings in Beverly, but no Lives were lost on our Side and the Privateer damaged very little, if any."

In the spring of 1775 the first halting steps were taken towards the creation of some sort of sea force in Massachusetts. Whether those who gave their attention to the matter had in mind the commissioning of privateers or a colony fleet, or both, is not apparent. Perhaps they were not at first clear in their own minds as to details. The first action taken by the Provincial Congress was on June 7, when it was

Ordered, That the Hon. Col. [James] Warren, Mr. Pitts, Mr. Gerry, the president [Joseph Warren], Col. Freeman, Mr. Pickering, Mr. Batchelder, Hon. Mr. Dexter, and Mr. Greenleaf be a committee to consider the expediency of establishing a number of small armed vessels, to cruise on our sea coasts, for the protection of our trade and the annoyance of our enemies; and that the members be enjoined, by order of Congress, to observe secrecy in this matter."

It seems likely that this action of the Provincial Congress may have been stimulated by an undated letter addressed to General Joseph Warren and signed S. L. A copy of this epistle was addressed to the Committee of Safety at Cambridge. The place from whence it was sent is unknown. The letter follows:

1. N. E. Chronicle, October 12, 1775.

2. The Journals of each Provincial Congress of Massachusetts in 1774 and 1775.

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Letter urging the Need of Armed Vessels




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