Authors: James Nelson
A powerful maritime adventure in the epic, true-to-life tradition of Patrick O'Brian.
In the winter of 1776, a decade of simmering tensions finally comes to the boil. The rebel government of Philadelphia, determined to cast off the chains of British tyranny, has authorised the creation of the United States Navy â a brazen act of American aggression against the greatest maritime power in the world.
Still battered from her fight in Bermudan waters, the brig-of-war
under the command of Captain Isaac Biddlecomb sets sail on a daring mission to raid the British store of arms on New Providence Island in the Bahamas. But he finds that his greatest enemy is an undisciplined crew on the brink of mutiny, and, beset by betrayal and treachery, Biddlecomb must find a way of uniting his men against a cruel and common foe . . . as the British Navy prepares to sink the
under the merciless blasts of its guns.
An enthralling new instalment in the Revolution at Sea series begun with BY FORCE OF ARMS and THE MADDEST IDEA
To Nat Sobel, without whom I would still be a poor, dumb sailer, rather than the poor, dumb, published sailor that I am today
And to Lisa
For the Encouragement of the Men employed in this service I am ordered to inform you that the Congress have resolved that the Masters, Officers and Seamen shall be entitled to one half of the value of the prizes by them taken, the wages they receive from the Colony notwithstanding.
The ships and vessels of War are to be on the Continental risque & pay â¦
October 5, 1775
At least there are no flies, he thought, but the price you paid for that one minor luxury was the cold, the damnable cold. Stephen Hopkins, delegate from Rhode Island to the Second Continental Congress, pulled his coat tighter against his chest and folded his arms. It was October 5, 1775, and Philadelphia was already cold and wet, a prelude to the coming winter. At sixty-eight years old Hopkins was not as tolerant of such weather as he had once been.
He glanced around the big room in the Philadelphia State House. The delegates from the various colonies were filtering in for the morning's session, though many still remained out of doors, conducting in huddled meetings the real business of Congress. The walls and high ceiling of the room were painted a brilliant white, mitigating the gloom to some degree. The round tables scattered around the floor were covered with rich green cloth, so many little islands, each with a silver inkstand in the middle and a sprout of white quills sticking out at odd angles.
The president's desk sat on a raised stage at the front of the room, flanked on the left and the right by identical fireplaces. Hopkins considered telling the boy to stoke up the fires a bit. He was on the verge of voicing that demand when he heard the familiar clop clop clop of John Adams's walking stick, like someone tapping rapidly on the floor with a small hammer. The Massachusetts delegate moved with his usual frenetic pace across the hall and into the meeting room.
âWell, damn the fire,' Hopkins muttered to himself, and then to Samuel Ward, his fellow Rhode Island delegate, he added, âHere's Adams. I'll warrant things will warm up directly.'
âHopkins, there you are,' said Adams from across the room, working his way through the tables to the Rhode Island delegation. âI looked for you at your rooms but you had left already.'
âI'm willing to rise very early to avoid seeing you first thing in the morning, John,' said Hopkins.
âIndeed. Well, you can avoid me no longer. Have you seen the letters from Barry?'
âI have.' The letters in question, not yet officially read before Congress, had been carried from England by Capt. John Barry. They reported the sailing of two brigs, unarmed and unescorted, carrying great quantities of military stores and bound away for Quebec.
âI think it likely that we'll see some action now, in the naval line,' Hopkins said. âThose members who do not have enough imagination to see the need for a navy in the abstract should at least be able to see the benefit of arming a few ships to capture those brigs.'
He ran his eyes over the room. It was now all but full, the many delegates congregating in the hallway having taken their seats, and John Hancock, president of the Congress, was making his usual flamboyant entrance. âOnce we turn this corner, we pave the way for the creation of a navy. If you will allow me to thus mix my metaphors.'
âIn point of fact I agree with you, Hopkins, your literary style notwithstanding,' Adams said.
In the front of the room President Hancock brought his gavel down on the desk and called for order, but Adams continued, âI've arranged for Lee to move for a committee of three to draft a proposal to fit out some armed vessels. Once that is passed, I'll require you to nominate myself, Deane, and Langdon for that committee.'
âAnd you reckon you can draft such a proposal?'
âWe have already. We need only for the Congress to ask for it.'
Hancock once again pounded the desk with his gavel. âI trust you gentlemen will not be too disappointed if we give over our discussion of trade for the moment. We have recently received several letters from England, brought to us by Capt. John Barry, containing information upon which we should consider action. Mr Thompson, if you would?' Hancock nodded to the secretary.
âSir,' Thompson read out loud, âIt has come to my attention, through sundry sources, that there has sailed from this place on the eleventh of August two north country built brigs of no force, last loaded with six thousand stand of arms and a large quantity of powder and other stores for Quebec without a convoy â¦'
Hopkins watched the various expressions across the room as the implication of the letter became clear. He could see on some faces disgust; John Dickinson of Pennsylvania for one, while beside Dickinson, Benjamin Franklin sat expressionless, not even appearing to listen.
I wonder what old Franklin is thinking, Hopkins thought. No doubt he'll favor going after these brigs, thinks we've been too cautious as it is.
Hopkins's eyes moved toward Connecticut's table. Silas Deane sat quite erect, listening intently, like a dog waiting for his master to say âFetch.' New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, all of the delegates listened closely as it dawned on each of them that they would once again have to make a decision the implications of which were far greater than the immediate effects.