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ships that were manned for the greater part by seasick landsmen, and short-handed at that.
The secret orders that had been given to Commodore Hopkins commanded him to go in search of Lord Dunmore, who had been making so much trouble along the shores of Chesapeake Bay as to cause Washington to write that "if this man is not crushed before spring he will become the most formidable enemy America has." The ships were to gather at Cape Henlopen, and sail thence for the Chesapeake. But the Delaware River was full of ice, and it was not until February 17, 1776, that the squadron finally passed out to sea. Then, on the night of the 19th, while running along with a fresh breeze, the Hornet and the Fly became separated from the others, and did not again join the squadron.
It appears from the meagre record that Hopkins did not enter the Chesapeake at all. Instead of that he sailed away to the Bahama Islands, because he had learned that a large quantity of military supplies were stored at New Providence, with only a few men to guard them. He was determined to capture the supplies.
On reaching Abaco, Hopkins divided his forces by sending 300 men under Capt. Samuel Nichols, in ten small sloops found at Abaco, to capture New Providence. Hopkins
supposed the force would surprise the garrison, but the commander was found ready to repel an attack, and the Providence and the Wasp had to be sent over to assist the men in landing.
It was at this point that a branch of the American naval personnel, of which too little notice has been taken by historians, first made a record for gallantry. Captain Nichols was the first captain of marines in the American naval service, the organization of the marine corps having been ordered by the Congress on November 10, 1775.
Under cover of the guns of the Providence and the Wasp, Captain Nichols and his marines landed on the beach, and then "behaved with a spirit and steadiness that have distinguished the corps from that hour down to the present moment." They carried the forts by assault. "A hundred cannon and a large quantity of stores fell into the hands of the Americans," but because the Governor had been apprised of the coming of the Americans, he succeeded in sending away in a small coaster 150 barrels of powder.
It is worth noting that Commodore Hopkins not only loaded his vessels with these stores, but that the stores made a heavy cargo for them, and they were deep in the water when they turned toward home. It should be
further noted that the Governor of the island "and several of the more prominent inhabitants" were carried away for use as hostages to compel the British authorities to modify the harsh treatment American prisoners were receiving.
New Providence was taken in the middle of March, 1776. Elated by the success of his expedition, Commodore Hopkins set sail for the north on the 17th of that month. How much more elated he and his crews would have felt could they have known that at four o'clock on that morning the British were hurriedly, and in great confusion, leaving Boston through fear of an assault by the troops of Washington, may be easily imagined.
Two weeks later the American fleet had arrived off the east end of Long Island, where, on April 4th, the tender Hawke, of six guns, and the bomb-brig Bolton, of twelve guns, were captured. And then followed a conflict that well-nigh ruined the reputation of the first American fleet commander. It began soon after midnight on the morning of April 6th.
With a gentle breeze, the fleet, well scattered out too well, in fact-was washing along over the smooth sea between Block Island and the Rhode Island shore. Only those who have floated and dreamed in the soft light
of a warm night on these waters can fully appreciate the influences of sea and air over a sailor on such an occasion, but it was, last of all, a night for thoughts of bloodshed. Suddenly a large strange ship appeared in the midst of the fleet. From the way the narrative reads one is forced to the conclusion that the lookouts were all at least half asleep. The stranger was heading for the flagship Alfred, but before she could close in, the crew of the little brig Cabot, Capt. John Burrows Hopkins, woke up, and, ranging alongside, they hailed her.
For a reply the stranger fired a broadside, and so began the first naval battle of the first American squadron.
The brave captain of the Cabot returned the fire, in spite of the great superiority of the stranger, and still bravely stood to his duty, even after a second broadside from the stranger had partly disabled his brig, killed a number of his crew, and wounded himself.
The Alfred, the flagship, soon came ranging up beside the stranger and opened fire, whereat the stranger turned his attention to her; and then came the Providence, Captain Hazard, who secured a position on the lee quarter (they were all close hauled) of the enemy, where she opened an effective fire.
By this time the Cabot was drifting out of