Monday, July 5, 2010

Ships: Gone But Not Forgotten

Continental Congress Ship Ranger was a ship rigged, three masted sloop of war of 308 tons. She was laid down in early 1777 at the Langdon Shipyard in New Hampshire. Very similar to sister sloops of war Providence and Boston, Ranger would probably have slipped through the cracks of history had it not been for her daring and controversial first captain: John Paul Jones.

Jones signed on to the Continental Navy as a lieutenant in 1775 after escaping punishment for killing a crewman while he was a captain in the British merchant marine. He had by then changed his name, adding Jones to his natal John Paul, and his capability and experience were very much welcomed in the infant navy of the Revolution. In 1777, Jones was promoted to commander and boarded Ranger. He took her to France where he captured his first English prizes, two merchants off Nantes.

Ranger was 116 feet in length on her gun deck and 34 feet in her beam with a draft of 13 1/2 inches. She carried 18 6 pound guns and a compliment of 140 men. She was perfectly fitted to an occupation of privateering being light, speedy and easy to maneuver.

Jones continued his European cruise into 1778, taking prizes or burning British ships as he went. He tried to burn a flotilla in Whitehaven harbor but the mission failed. He then attempted to kidnap the Earl of Selkirk from his home on St. Mary's Island. The idea was to hold Selkirk and exchange him for American prisoners being held near Plymouth but the Earl was away. Jones' men did take the family silver but, after buying it from his crew, Jones returned the silver to Countess Selkirk in a famously chivalrous gesture.

Almost immediately after this incident, Ranger met and engaged HMS Drake off Belfast Lough. (The picture of that action above is taken from Ranger's website.) The two ships were well matched in size and armament but Ranger's maneuverability and Jones' handling of her won the day. After an hour long battle at close range, Drake's rigging was literally torn apart and her captain was dead. She struck to Ranger and Jones limped her into the French port of Brest where she and her crew were exchanged for the 200 Americans at Plymouth.

Jones stayed in France to become Captain of the Bonhomme Richard and Lieutenant Thomas Simpson took command of Ranger. She sailed back to America with Boston and Providence where she arrived in October of 1778. She was back at sea by February of 1779 and involved in actions that resulted in the capture of 18 enemy ships over the course of that year. Using lovely Tybee Island as a base, Ranger, Providence and Boston assisted in the defence of Charleston.

When the city fell, however, so did Ranger. On May 11, 1780 she, along with her old companions Providence and Boston, was captured by the British. She did short duty as HMS Halifax but was sold out of the service at the end of the Revolution. CS Ranger ended her days, most unfortunately, as an inglorious British merchant working the India trade.

Gone she may be but never forgotten; USS Ranger is a favorite name for line of battle ships in the U.S. Navy. We still have not yet begun to fight.


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! You are so right, Pirate Queen... Ranger is gone, but not forgotten. My favorite part of the story was the bit about Jones returning the family silver to Countess Selkirk... Nicely done, Captain.

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Timmy! Even the British papers were impressed. One London pamphleteer referred to Jones' chivalry as a "surprising gesture from a barbarous American".

I believe Jones should have responded something like: "I'm happy to disappoint you."