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Marlborough Runs the Blockade





Massachusetts Privateer Ship Marlborough Runs the British Blockade in Narragansett Bay
24/25 December 1777



Sakonnet Passage detail, from the Blaskowitz map of 1777.

 

The 250-ton Rhode Island Privateer Ship Marlborough (Commander George Waith Babcock) was commissioned on 11 December 1777; was owned by John Brown of Providence, Rhode Island,1 mounted twenty guns2 and had a crew of 125 men.3 Babcock was a native of Exeter, Rhode Island.4 She sailed from Swansea, Massachusetts on 23 December and anchored for the night at Fall River.  On the 24th she came to sail. Babcock steered down Sekonnet Passage but got aground. After a three hour delay while getting afloat, Marlborough continued her passage. HM Sloop Kingsfisher (Commander Alexander Graeme) was anchored in Sekonnet Passage, further down the bay.5 Christmas Eve was cold, clear and dark  night: a hard frost and a northwest wind. About midnight, the Marlborough and the brigantine Peggy and Betsey6 (Stephen Clay),7 ran down the passage. HM Galley Alarm sighted the pair and opened fire. The Peggy and Betsey stood too close to the shore and ran aground on the north point of Fogland. Marlborough got clear.8 At 0100 on Christmas Day the Fogland Ferry fired on the Marlborough. Down river, Kingsfishers crew heard the sound and saw the flashes of several guns being fired from the Fogland Ferry battery. Graeme was alerted to a Rebel vessel coming down the passage. Kingsfisher came to sail and ran toward the American held shore. At 0200 the dim outline of a ship was seen in the passage: the Marlborough. Kingsfisher got up all sail and fired a bow chaser at the privateer, which returned three shots as she swept past. By 0230 Graeme noted the Chase leaving us fast. She was nearly out of sight by 0300. Kingsfisher proceeded to the mouth of Sekonnet Passage and anchored at 0400, but Marlborough was long gone.9 Commenting on this escape, Mackenzie said it was not surprising, as Kingsfisher was a remarkly bad Sailer, and the Rebel vessels are generally light and clean when they attempt to go out . . .10


Marlborough, meanwhile, had continued out to sea, and was at Tarpaulin Cove, Martha’s Vineyard by Christmas night, where she anchored. The next day she sailed to Holmes Hole [Woods Hole] seeking sailors.11 An advertisement for sailors was placed in the Providence Gazette on 27 December, noting that the Marlborough was laying at Bedford, Massachusetts. She had “fought Her way out by the British Ship and Galley at Fogland . . .” According to Babcock she would have captured the Kingsfisher had she been fully manned.12 She returned to Martha’s Vineyard on 29 December on the same errand. Babcock sailed on his cruise on 2 January 1778.13


Summary Table

Vessel

Tons

Guns

Broadside

Men

Killed

%

Wounded

%

Total

%

Marlborough

250

20

[60]

125

Kingsfisher

302

14

42

125

Alarm

Time: 20 minutes.
Note: No casualties reported.





1 NDAR, Journal of H.M. Sloop Kingsfisher, Commander Alexander Graeme, X, 805 and note.  Maclay, History of American Privateers, 116, indicates she was a Massachusetts vessel. Sheffield, An Address Delivered by William P. Sheffield before the Rhode Island Historical Society, 60, gives the date of commission as 30 December 1777.

2 NDAR, Journal of H.M. Sloop Kingsfisher, Commander Alexander Graeme, X, 805 and note; Advertisement for Seamen for the Rhode Island Privateer Ship Marlborough, X, 813 and notes

3 NDAR, Journal of H.M. Sloop Kingsfisher, Commander Alexander Graeme, X, 805 and note

4  Allen, Massachusetts Privateers of the Revolution, 215

5 NDAR, Journal of H.M. Sloop Kingsfisher, Commander Alexander Graeme, X, 805 and note

6 NDAR, Diary of Frederick Mackenzie, X, 805-806 and 806 notes

7 NDAR, Diary of Frederick Mackenzie, X, 813 and note; Journal of H.M. Sloop Kingsfisher, Commander Alexander Graeme, X, 823 and note

8 NDAR, Diary of Frederick Mackenzie, X, 805-806 and 806 notes

9 NDAR, Journal of H.M. Sloop Kingsfisher, Commander Alexander Graeme, X, 805 and note

10 NDAR, Diary of Frederick Mackenzie, X, 805-806 and 806 notes

11 NDAR, Journal of H.M. Sloop Kingsfisher, Commander Alexander Graeme, X, 805 and note

12 NDAR, Advertisement for Seamen for the Rhode Island Privateer Ship Marlborough, X, 813 and notes

13 NDAR, Journal of H.M. Sloop Kingsfisher, Commander Alexander Graeme, X, 805 and note


Posted 10 February 2017 © awiatsea.com