The Navy and the Clyde in the American War 1777 – 1783

By M. K. Barritt, published February 1969


The outbreak of the American Revolutionary War destroyed the tobacco trade between Virginia and the river Clyde. Because of the war insurances prices rose and the Admiralty could no longer ensure the safety of the Clyde by dispatching ships to Scotland, as the few vessels that remained in European waters were needed for the Home Squadron. In this situation privateering flourished. Traders faced bankruptcy and the Navy could no longer guarantee the inhabitants any sort of protection. As privateers numbers grew, so did their notorious actions, such as those against the US frigate Wasp and even a French frigate. In 1778 with the alliance between France and the Colonies the situation worsened. The complaints of the merchants of the Clyde and their representatives in Parliament about the absence of protection against American and French privateers are assessed in the context of the shortage of frigates in the Royal Navy in the early years of the war. Local defensive measures, especially the arming of fast independent ‘running ships’ and privateers, are described with an account of their exploits. The impact of the cruises of John Paul Jones in the Ranger on the sailing of troop convoys is assessed as low compared to the challenges of coordination between central government departments and local authorities.

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Filed under: English Channel | North Sea | American Revolution | Irish Sea
Subjects include: Administration | Merchant Marines | Navies | Pirates, Corsairs & Privateers

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