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Pennsylvania Navy Fire Sloop Aetna




Aetna

(1) Captain William Gamble

Fire Vessel

26 March 1776-19 October 1776

Pennsylvania Navy Sloop

(2) Captain John Brice
19 October 1776-11 March 1777
(3) Captain William Clark
[15 March] 1777-23 October 1777


Commissioned/First Date:

26 March 1776

Out of Service/Cause:

23 October 1777/expended during Augusta battle


Tonnage:


Battery:

Date Reported:

Number/Caliber  Weight           Broadside

 

Total:

Broadside:

Swivels:


Crew:

(1) 28 May 1776: 4 [total]
(2) 1 July 1776: 4 [total]
(3) 1 August 1776: 4 [total]
(4) 1 January 1777: 9 [total]


Description:


Officers:


Cruises:


Prizes:


Actions:

(1) Action of 23 October 1777, in the Delaware River


Comments:

Pennsylvania Navy Fire Sloop Aetna was in service by the spring of 1776. On 26 March 1776, William Gamble was appointed as her Captain.1 On 2 May 1776 Gamble was supposed to be in command of a guard boat, fitting out to cruise in the Cape May [New Jersey] channel. This may have been a temporary assignment for Gamble, or the Aetna may have been the “guard boat.”2


When the British sent a naval force into the Delaware River, the Aetna was sent down to participate in the battle of 7/8 May. Her crew was fleshed out with four volunteers under Third Lieutenant Greenway of the Pennsylvania Navy Ship Montgomery.3 On 28 May the Pennsylvania Council of Safety fixed the crew and pay rates for the fire sloop: she was to have a captain (at $26.67 per months, plus three sets of rations), a lieutenant (at $18 per month plus two sets of rations), and two sailors (at $7 per month with a $4 enlistment bounty).4 Following the river battle the Council of Safety appointed Samuel Davison as Commodore of the Pennsylvania Navy. This decision was not accepted by various captains and a confrontation occurred before 20 July 1776. Gamble was among those who refused Davison's orders, and Gamble “swore the would fetch fire sloop & the Galleys & Blow the Ship to the Divel.”5 The ship in question was Davison's flagship, the Montgomery. On 24 June 1776, Gamble, among others, signed a statement denying there had been any hostile actions on anyone's part.6


Aetna was reported as having a crew of four on 1 July 1776,7 and again on 1 August 1776.8 On 19 October 1776, Gamble offered his resignation to the Council of Safety, angered that several promotions had ocurred without his being included. The Council accepted his resignation and appointed John Brice to replace him.9 On 1 January 1777 Aetna's crew was reported as two officers and seven sailors, one of whom was on leave.10 Brice was promoted to the Pennsylvania Navy Fire Brig Volcano on 11 March 1777.11


The Council of Safety selected William Clark to succeed Brice, and he was appointed and commissioned by the Executive Council on 5 April 1777.12 The promotion was announced to Commodore Hazelwood on 9 April.13


Aetna was one of many Continental and Pennsylvania Navy vessels sent down the Delaware River to oppose the British invasion in the late summer of 1777. On 19 September 1777 she was at Marcus Hook, Delaware with the combined fleet.14 When Philadelphia fell to the British the fire sloop was among those cut off below the city.15


Comet was present in the American fleet on the morning of 23 October 1777, during the engagement with the British fleet. Commodore Hazelwood, about 080016 launched three or four17 fire vessels toward the stricken Augusta. Roebuck described the attackers as two brigs and a “skiff.” The two brigs were two of the three brigs available (Comet, Hellcat, and Volcano) and the “skiff” was probably the sloop Aetna.


Scarcely had the vessels raised sail to come down the river than all gunfire from the British fleet was directed on them. “ . . . their shot flew so thick around them and indeed cut their rigging so much that the crews got frightened and set them on Fire . . .”18 to soon. The men quickly evacuated the burning vessels. The British boats closed in on the burning fire vessels, and managed to tow them ashore. All were destroyed without loss to the British.19


Clark was cashiered on 13 January 1778.20



1 NDAR, “Minutes of the Pennsylvania Committee of Safety,” IV, 526

2 NDAR, “Minutes of the Pennsylvania Committee of Safety,” IV, 1381

3 NDAR, “Minutes of the Pennsylvania Committee of Safety,” IV, 1443-1444; “Captain Thomas Read to the Pennsylvania Committee of Safety,” IV, 1445-1446

4 NDAR, “Minutes of the Pennsylvania Committee of Safety,” V, 287-288

5 NDAR, “Commodore Samuel Davison to the Pennsylvania Galley Captains,” V, 649 and notes

6 NDAR, “Provincial Galley Commanders’ Report to Subcommittee of Congress,” V, 714

7 NDAR, “Amount of Men in Actual Pay, Officers included, in the Service of the Province of Pennsylvania, to the First July, 1776,” V, 857-858

8 NDAR, “Men in Actual Pay in the Service of Pennsylvania, First of August, 1776,” VI, 6-7

9 NDAR, “Captain William Gamble to the Pennsylvania Council of Safety,” VI, 1333-1334 and 1334 note

10 NDAR, “Pennsylvania Navy List,” VII, 834-835

11 NDAR, “Minutes of the Pennsylvania Navy Board,” VIII, 86

12 NDAR, “Minutes of the Pennsylvania Supreme Executive Council,” VIII, 277

13 NDAR, “Pennsylvania Navy Board to Captain John Hazelwood,” VIII, 307

14 NDAR, “Journal of H.M.S. Camilla, Captain Charles Phipps,” IX, 942; “Journal of H.M.S. Pearl, Captain John Linzee,” IX, , 942 and note

15 NDAR, “Diary of Captain Francis Downman, Royal Artillery,” IX, 973-974

16 NDAR, “Master’s Log of H.M.S. Roebuck, Captain Andrew S. Hamond,” X, 246-248; “Journal of H.M.S. Camilla, Captain Charles Phipps,” X, 250; “Journal of H.M.S. Pearl, Captain John Linzee,” X, 250-251; “Journal of H.M. Armed Ship Vigilant, Commander John Henry,” X, 251

17 “Master’s Log of H.M.S. Roebuck, Captain Andrew S. Hamond,” X, 246-248, where they are listed as two brigs and a skiff.  NDAR, “Master’s Log of H.M.S. Somerset, Captain George Ourry,” X, 254 indicates four fire vessels, ships, were sent down, but this probably includes the last fire attack. NDAR, “Journal of H.M. Armed Ship Vigilant, Commander John Henry,” X, 251 indicates four vessels used in fire attacks between 0800 and 1000. NDAR, “Journal of H.M.S. Pearl, Captain John Linzee,” X, 250-251, however, indicates four vessels in the fire attack, as does NDAR, “Master’s Log of H.M.S. Somerset, Captain George Ourry,” X, 254. See Jackson, Pennsylvania Navy, 197, 348

18 Jackson, Pennsylvania Navy, 348, 197 and 197n78, a letter from Bradford to Wharton, 27 October 1777.

19 NDAR, “Master’s Log of H.M.S. Roebuck, Captain Andrew S. Hamond,” X, 246-248; “Journal of H.M.S. Camilla, Captain Charles Phipps,” X, 250; “Journal of H.M.S. Pearl, Captain John Linzee,” X, 250-251; “Journal of H.M. Armed Ship Vigilant, Commander John Henry,” X, 251; “Master’s Log of H.M.S. Somerset, Captain George Ourry,” X, 254

20 Jackson, Pennsylvania Navy, 349


Posted 21 September 2014 © awiatsea.com