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Action off Conanicut Island





Action off Conanicut Island
15 June 1775



On the morning of 15 June, Captain James Wallace of HM Frigate Rose, sent Rose’s Master, one Savage Gardner, a petty officer, and eleven men onboard HM Sloop Tender Diana1 to examine the passages up the river from Newport, Rhode Island, Roses’s station.2 The crew was supplied with muskets and four swivel guns for the operation.3 A second packet, serving as a tender, was sent out in a different direction. Both were looking for the reported warships being fitted out by the Rhode Island rebels.4 A secondary mission for Gardner was the acquisition of a vessel from Providence returning from New York with provisions.5


At some time after 0900,6 Diana sailed to the north end of Conanicut Island,7 which was only a few miles from Newport. Gardner stayed in this area all day, perhaps stopping a vessel or two to investigate its lading. By 1730 Diana was standing off between the north end of Conanicut and Gould Island, about six to nine miles from where the Rose was anchored.8


About this time, on 15 June, Captain Abraham Whipple received his commission as Captain in the Rhode Island Navy, commanding the sloop Katy.9 The appointed captain of the Washington, Captain Christopher Whipple, had declined her command,10 so the smaller sloop was under the command of First Lieutenant John Grimes, who presumably received his lieutenant’s commission on the same day. With the proper paperwork in hand, Whipple could go out hunting.


Modern painting of Conental navy Sloop Providence by Nowland Van Powell. Providence was formerly the Katy. The flag is incorrect for June 1775, and she did not have so many guns as Katy.

 

In the late evening, the Diana saw a sloop coming down before the wind and Diana lay to to speak her. A little after 1800 the sloop hailed the Diana and told the British to bring to, or she would “sink Us immediately.”11 The sloop was the Katy, said to be armed with carriage guns and twelve swivels, and manned with fifty men.12 Gardner later stated she had six guns and a “full” crew. To enforce his order for the British to heave to, Whipple fired a shot at the Diana. The British answered with small arms and swivel guns, and the fight was underway.13


The version of the beginning of the fight published in the Providence paper was somewhat different. According to this version, the Diana spoke the sloop Katy. When Whipple “not answering in a Tone sufficiently submissive,” the Diana fired on the Katy, which fired back.14


For the first hour or so of the fight, the Katy kept at a distance from the Diana, which limited the damage.15 Gardner said that for about a half an hour a “smart” fire was kept up. Then the powder chest aboard the Diana blew up, eliminating the remaining swivel cartridges. The petty officer and one sailor were wounded in the explosion. The ammunition for the muskets was nearly expended. Within a short time a second armed vessel,16 an armed “Packet Boat,”17 with carriage guns18 and a crew of fifty men,19 came down, and got on the Diana’s unengaged side, placing her between two fires. With little ammunition left and night falling Gardner ran the Diana ashore on the north end of Conanicut Island. The crew got ashore, taking a few muskets with them.20


Detail from the Charles Blaskowitz map of 1777, showing the area of the action.

 

The Americans landed a few men in boats to pursue the British crew, and fired a few shots at them. As night fell the British separated and hid.21 Meanwhile the small vessel got the Diana afloat. Katy recovered her landing party and all three sailed north “in Triumph.”22 Eight swivel guns and seventeen muskets were captured in the Diana.23


The firing was heard at Newport and a large crowd collected on the wharves. According to Dr. Stiles, the two British warships were scenes of much frenzied activity. About sunset a second tender was dispatched, full of Marines, to the assistance of the Diana. This went up to Conanicut, discovered that  the other tender was missing, and returned to Newport.24


Rose was still collecting strays from the Diana. Five left the rest and stole a boat in the night. They crossed to Narragansett, went down to the ferry, and claimed to be fishermen going to Newport. They boarded the ferry and sailed a while, then seized the ferryman and came around the south end of Conanicut to the warships. The rest wandered in the fields ashore. On the 16th the warships sent an armed tender which picked them up and brought them back. This night all the cannon removed from the wharves into the town.25


On 16 June the British sailors managed to get aboard the Rose without losing a man.26


Summary Table

Vessel

Tons

Guns

Broadside

Men

Killed

%

Wounded

%

Total

%

Katy

6

12

50

Washington

Diana

17

3

17%

3

17%

Time: [2] hours



1 Often referred to as “Lindsey’s Packet,” or “Lindsay’s Packet.” Rider, Valour Fore & Aft, 12.

2 NDAR, “Remarks &c on board his Majesty’s Ship Rose,” I, 686

3 NDAR, “Mr. Savage Gardner’s Report to Captain James Wallace, R. N.,” I, 721-722 and 722 note. The second packet was the Abigail, usually referred to as “Hacker’s Packet. Rider, Valour Fore & Aft, 12.

4 NDAR, “Captain James Wallace, R. N., to Vice Admiral Samuel Graves,” I, 720-721

5 NDAR, “Diary of Dr. Ezra Stiles,” I, 686

6 NDAR, “Mr. Savage Gardner’s Report to Captain James Wallace, R. N.,” I, 721-722 and 722 note

7 NDAR, “Diary of Dr. Ezra Stiles,” I, 686

8 NDAR, “Mr. Savage Gardner’s Report to Captain James Wallace, R. N.,” I, 721-722 and 722 note

9 Paullin, Navy of the American Revolution, 464, according to the later statement of Whipple.

10 NDAR, “Journal of the General Assembly of Rhode Island,” I, 769

11 NDAR, “Mr. Savage Gardner’s Report to Captain James Wallace, R. N.,” I, 721-722 and 722 note

12 NDAR, “Diary of Dr. Ezra Stiles,” I, 686

13 NDAR, “Mr. Savage Gardner’s Report to Captain James Wallace, R. N.,” I, 721-722 and 722 note

14 NDAR, “Providence Gazette, Saturday, June 17, 1775,” I, 705

15 NDAR, “Diary of Dr. Ezra Stiles,” I, 686

16 NDAR, “Mr. Savage Gardner’s Report to Captain James Wallace, R. N.,” I, 721-722 and 722 note

17 NDAR, “Providence Gazette, Saturday, June 17, 1775,” I, 705

18 NDAR, “Mr. Savage Gardner’s Report to Captain James Wallace, R. N.,” I, 721-722 and 722 note

19 NDAR, “Diary of Dr. Ezra Stiles,” I, 686

20 NDAR, “Diary of Dr. Ezra Stiles,” I, 686; “Mr. Savage Gardner’s Report to Captain James Wallace, R. N.,” I, 721-722 and 722 note

21 NDAR, “Mr. Savage Gardner’s Report to Captain James Wallace, R. N.,” I, 721-722 and 722 note

22 NDAR, “Diary of Dr. Ezra Stiles,” I, 686

23 NDAR, “Providence Gazette, Saturday, June 17, 1775,” I, 705

24 NDAR, “Diary of Dr. Ezra Stiles,” I, 686

25 NDAR, “Diary of Dr. Ezra Stiles,” I, 695

26 NDAR, “Mr. Savage Gardner’s Report to Captain James Wallace, R. N.,” I, 721-722 and 722 note


Posted 1 May 2013 © awiatsea.com