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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces part of
Annapolis: Its Colonial and Naval Story

Walter B. Norris

published by
Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1925

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

 p293  Appendix I

Plan for Destroying British Frigates
by Means of Fire-Boats Controlled from Shore

I am indebted to Mrs. Margaret Roberts Hodges, of Annapolis, Genealogical Investigator, for the following plan for hauling fire-boats across Maryland rivers and thus setting on fire British ships of war which ventured up them to harass the villages and towns. It was found among the papers in the Land Office in Annapolis; on the back was a well-executed pen-and‑ink drawing of the "Liverpool Frigate," 28 guns, one of the small British ships which operated in the Delaware, Chesapeake, and off the Virginia capes in 1776 and 1777. The author of the plan is indicated by the indorsement, "Jeremiah Riley's Scheme to Burn Ships of War." Riley was from Upper Marlboro, for later in the year Col. Joshua Beall charged "Lieut. Jeremiah Riley" with insubordination and a courtmartial was ordered. The document here quoted is addressed:

"On the Service of the United Colonies

Stephen West, Esquire

of the Woodyard near

Upper Marlborough in

By Express [image ALT: an underscored blank] Maryland."

It is endorsed, "Sunday, 10 o'clock, 18 February, [1776] forwarded to the Committee of Correspondence at Marlborough — S. W.," also, "Sunday, 1 o'clock, 18  p294 February, forwarded to The Honorable The Council of Safety at Annapolis — D. Crawford."

Stephen West was a prominent patriot, gunsmith, and merchant of Upper Marlborough, and Crawford was another merchant of the same place in whose warehouse many of the provincial records were stored when removed from Annapolis for fear of an attack on the town. The time was just previous to the arrival of the Otter off Annapolis (for which see page 163), and in fact the Otter was for a time mistaken for the Liverpool. The following is the plan:

"A plan [which], if put in execution, would keep any large vessel from coming up any of our rivers where the channel runs nigh shore. Lay an anchor on the far side of the channel with a block on the nigher side; with a rope through the block bring both ends to shore; then fasten one end through the keel of the flat [boat] under water at the head of the flat [boat]. Then take another rope through the keel at the stern under water; then put two rag bolts in her head, one above the other well cased with iron, the hole through the boat bigger than the bolt, to let it turn to the ship side, having the bolt some length through the boat with a good head to it.

"Now fill the boat with anything that will burn quick, with some tar in a tub, hot, set to fly on the ship's side when the boat strikes. Now have some hot tar put in the boat, set it on fire when the ship is so nigh that she can't turn out of our way, then set our boat arunning with twenty men holt of the rope, run the boat against the ship; — if she don't burn I will burn for her.

 p295  "Now at the same time have another large boat under her head on fire with a large arm on head and stern for to hold her fast. Now, if two would not be safe, three or four would be a small charge. Now if the boat runs too fast stop her with the stern rope, for you may put her back or forward as you please. Now have your rope through a block at the waterside; as your rope won't be seen there, you may run them as you please."

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Page updated: 7 May 13