Virginia Navy Galley Washington


(1) Captain Goodrich Boush

Patrol Craft

3 February 1777-May 1779

Virginia Navy Galley

(2) Captain Willis Wilson
[June] 1779-[December] 1779
(3) First Lieutenant Bush
[January] 1780-[June] 1780

Commissioned/First Date:

6 June 1776

Out of Service/Cause:

[June] 1780/abandoned



Date Reported: May 1776 (nominal)

Number/Caliber  Weight        Broadside

 4/24-pounder    96 pounds 48 pounds

12/9-pounder    108 pounds 54 pounds

Total: 16 cannon/204 pounds

Broadside: 6 cannon/54 pounds




75′ length, 27′ beam, with 10′ depth in the hold, with a quarterdeck and spar deck, probably built with a beam of 22′


(1) First Lieutenant Bush, [June] 1779-[June] 1780; (2) Ensign James Long, [June] 1779-; (3) Midshipman Holt, [June] 1779-; Midshipman Gilmore, [June] 1779


(1) South Quay, Virginia to Edenton, North Carolina, [1779]-[1779]




In early 1776 the Provincial Congress of North Carolina sent two of its members to confer with Virginia about the defense of the North Carolina sounds, and in particular, Ocracoke Inlet. Trade through Ocracoke was important to both colonies, as it was a shallow entrance, suitable for bringing in gunpowder and war supplies from the West Indies. An informal agreement was worked out, but the terms were vague. Virginia thought North Carolina would match her effort. North Carolina thought Virginia would build vessels and North Carolina would furnish materiel and support. As a result of this conference Virginia decided to build two galleys for the defense of the sounds.1

On 6 June 1776 “Chas.” [Christopher] Calvert was appointed to superintend construction of these galleys, which were to be “employed in Ocracock for the protection of the Trade of this colony and North Carolina . . .” Calvert was to obtain a master builder to superintend the work, hire workmen, provide all the materials for the construction, and keep exact records of the expenses. Calvert was to select the place for the yard, on either the Blackwater or the Nottoway Rivers. Calvert selected South Quay, on the Blackwater River, for his yard and work was soon begun.2

The plan for the galleys had seemingly been worked out in May 1776. They were to be seventy-five feet in length, with a twenty-seven foot beam and a depth in the hold of ten feet. They were to have a quarterdeck and a spar deck below, suitable for the crew to live in. They were to have twenty-four rowing ports and six gunports on each side. How many masts these vessels had is unknown, but it was planned to give them a lateen rig. The battery was to consist of four 24-pounders, two each in the bow and stern, and twelve 9-pounder guns in broadside.3

By 17 July 1776 the work was underway on one galley.4 The Virginia Navy Board, examining the plans for the galleys, determined that the designed 25′ beam was too wide. The first galley was to be finished to that beam, but the Board ordered, on 16 July, that the second galley be narrowed to 22′ in beam.5 The second galley was to be the Virginia Navy Galley Washington.

Construction proceeded slowly. Calvert was having trouble with his carpenters, who were unhappy about the food and living accommodations at South Quay.6 On 29 November 1776 the Virginia Navy Board ordered another alteration in plans: Washington’s hold was to be made as deep as possible without injury to the vessel.7 Goodrich Boush was recommended as Captain of the Washington on 31 January 17778 and was commissioned on 3 February 1777.9

By 4 April 1777 the alterations in the plan of these vessels convinced the North Carolina authorities that they were being designed for use in the open sea. They accordingly planned to withdraw from the project. North Carolina would attempt to purchase one of the galleys for use at Ocracoke, failing which North Carolina would fit out its own vessel.10

Washington was still under construction at the Navy yard on 5 September 1777, but there were no carpenters (reported on 2 September by Captain Christopher Calvert). The Virginia Navy Board offered increased wages and exemption from militia duty to those carpenters willing to return to work. Meanwhile, one Caleb Herbert would soon return from Norfolk and will be asked to go and complete the galley.11

In January 1778 the Virginia House of Delegates received a report on the condition of the Virginia Navy. Several resolutions were approved on 22 January, including one for selling the Washington: “ Resolved, that it will be expedient and proper to propose to the state of North Carolina that one of the two large gallies built for the defence of the sea coast harbours of that state by this commonwealth shou’d be received by that state at the expence she cost this, and be employed, together with the galley of this state now at Edenton, for the protection of a navigation equally important to both states.”12

In April 1778 the Virginia Navy Board began filling various requisitions for materials for the Washington, extending off and on through October 1778. She may have been completed by October 1778, but quite possibly had no guns.13 Very few other records of the Washington exist. In May 1779 Boush died at Norfolk, Virginia.14 About the same time, on 15 May 1779, one of the crew members of the Washington deserted, a slave named Frank. At that time the Washington was said to be at Edenton, North Carolina.15

No replacement captain was named following Boush’s death.16 In the summer of 1779, both gallies at Ocracoke Inlet were ordered around to Hampton Road. Governor Thomas Jefferson of Virginia had judged the commercial traffic through South Bay to be “inconvenient, and, therfore, of itself has got mostly into different channels, so that the little remaining there from this State will not justify the expense of keeping these Gallies any longer at their present station.”17

Aboard the Caswell was a sailor named Joseph Rankhorn. His pension application sheds some clarity on the events of the summer of 1779. Caswell was then stationed at Ocracoke Inlet. According to Rankhorn, “. . . sometime in the summer when it was ascertained that the Caswell was very leaky and that it was necessary to have her replaced as she was then unfit for service. That Captain therefore sailed back to Edenton, and from there to a place called the South Key [South Quay] on the Chowan River . . .” Rankhorn continued “ . . . he [Willis Wilson] then left the Caswell and took another ship which was then entirely new and indeed was not rigged off when they arrived this ship was called the Washington, the guns and other munitions were transferred from the Caswell to the Washington, . . .”18

The officers transferred from the Caswell were First Lieutenant Bush, Ensign James Long, and Midshipmen Holt and Gilmore.19

Washington, after completing her rigging and arming, sailed down to Edenton to take on provisions and other supplies. Rankhorn explains what happened next: “ . . . at first day intended after taking in some provision etc. to return to the Ocracoke inlet, but whilst they were waiting for the supply of provisions the Captain ascertained that the Washington was so indifferently constructed that she was not fit for service: in a short time after this Captain Wilson left the crew and ship with but little provision and went to his residence in Virginia, previous to his departure he paid applicant a part of his wages . . .”20 Wilson evidently paid out what wages he could and then retired to Virginia rather than remain with the useless Washington.

Washington remained at Edenton, under the immediate command of First Lieutenant Bush. As time spun by the crew became restless and morale dropped. Rankhorn’s personal narrative of the end of his service clearly shows how Washington dropped below any utility as a warship:

“ . . . applicant continued on in the service in this situation until march 1780 when his term of service expired. Upon inquiry he was informed that he could not get a discharge until Captain Wilson returned which was constantly expected for this purpose he remained in the service until sometime in June when despairing of Wilson’s return he came to the conclusion to demand his discharge of Lieutenant Bush. His wife had come from Virginia where he resided to see him he had gone ashore into Terrell County not far from Edenton and was there stating with her. Applicant and others were sent ashore for the purpose of procuring provisions, and being near the place where Bush was, he went to him, told him the time he entered the service, and for what length of time, which had expired 3 months before and demanded of him a discharge. Bush told him that he was not authorized to discharge him that it could be done by Wilson alone that he knew his term of service had expired. Applicant then asked him to advise him what to do. Bush told him that he had a head, feet & hands, his time had expired and to determine for himself, that he was not authorized to discharge him. Applicant construed this into a tacit discharge, & therefore told Bush he should go home, which he did and which was about 12 or 13 miles from Edenton. This ended his service.”21

As the crew evaporated and no orders or captain ever arrived, Washington was left derelict and was abandoned, perhaps by June 1780.22

1 Still, William N., North Carolina’s Revolutionary War Navy, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, Division of Archives and History: Raleigh, 1976, 7

2 NDAR, “Minutes of the Virginia Committee of Safety,” V, 405

3 Still, 7, and 30n32, citing a plan for a galley in the Virginia Convention papers dated May 1776; see also Sanchez-Saavedra, E. M., A Guide to Virginia Military Organizations in the American Revolution, 1774-1787, Willow Band Books, Westminster, MD: 1978, 156 for the memorandum and Virginia Navy Galley Accomac for a transcription of the memorandum.

4 NDAR, “Journal of the Virginia Council of Safety,” V, 1119

5 NDAR, “Virginia Navy Board to Captain Christopher Calvert,” V, 1106

6 NDAR, “Virginia Navy Board to Captain Christopher Calvert,” VI, 239 and note; “Virginia Navy Board to Captain Christopher Calvert,” VII, 131

7 NDAR, “Journal of the Virginia Navy Board,” VII, 329

8 NDAR, “Journal of the Virginia Navy Board,” VII, 1073

9 NDAR, “Journal of the Virginia Council,” VII, 1098-1099

10 NDAR, “Journal of the Virginia Navy Board,” VIII, 174-175 and 175 note; “Joseph Hewes to Governor Richard Caswell,” VIII,  271-272

11 NDAR, "Virginia Navy Board to Captain Christopher Calvert," IX, 878-879

12 NDAR, “Journal of the Virginia House of Delegates,” XI, 190-191 and 191 note

13 Still, 11, 12

14 Dixon and Nicolson’s Virginia Gazette, Saturday, May 22, 1779

15 Dixon and Nicolson’s Virginia Gazette, Saturday, July 24, 1779

16 Still, 17

17 Cross, Charles B., Jr., A Navy for Virginia: A Colony’s Fleet in the Revolution, The Virginia Independence Bicentennial Commission, Yorktown: 1981, 32-33

18 Pension Application of Joseph Rankhorn, transcribed by Will Graves,

19 Pension Application of Joseph Rankhorn

20 Pension Application of Joseph Rankhorn

21 Pension Application of Joseph Rankhorn

22 CBAR, 202

Posted 21 September 2014 ©