MANLEY, JOHN. (1732?–1793). American naval officer. Massachusetts. John Manley may have been born in Torquay, England, perhaps in 1732, and may have served in the British navy. It is known that Manley was living in Boston in the late 1750s and was the captain of a merchant ship. He was selected by General George Washington to command one of the vessels in the "navy" being organized in the fall of 1775 to operate against British supply vessels. As captain of the armed schooner, Lee, he left Plymouth on 4 November 1775, but his first three captures were all returned to their owners. Toward the end of the month he made the first important capture of the war, when he took the Nancy and its shipment of 2,000 muskets and other munitions in the entrance to Boston harbor, within sight of its escort. The next month he took several other prizes and was hailed as a naval hero. In January 1776 Washington named him commander of his "navy." Congress confirmed Manley as a captain in the new Continental navy on 17 April 1776. With his flag aboard the thirty-two-gun Hancock, he made several successful cruises. On 8 June he and the Boston captured the twenty-eight-gun frigate Fox, but on 7 July he and his prize were taken off Halifax by the forty-four-gun Rainbow, which was commanded by Sir George Collier. Even though the Americans out-gunned the British, the commander of the Boston, Captain Hector McNeill, who loathed Manley, refused to come to the Hancock's aid. After being confined on a prison ship in New York Harbor, Manley was exchanged in March 1778. A court-martial acquitted him of losing his ship, but McNeill was suspended from the navy.
With no suitable new command awaiting him, Manley went to sea as a privateer, and in the fall of 1778 made a successful cruise in the Marlborough. Early in 1779, as captain of the Cumberland, he was captured by the Pomona near Barbados. Escaping from prison, he was captured again while making his second cruise in the Jason, and spent two years in Old Mill Prison, England, before being exchanged. In September 1782 he took command of the Hague, one of two frigates remaining in the Continental navy. (The other was Commodore John Barry's Alliance.) Manley's last cruise, in the West Indies, was marked by a brilliant escape from a British ship of the line (seventy-four guns) and by his capture of the Baille in January 1783. This conferred upon him the distinction of closing the regular maritime operations of the United States in the Revolution: The man who took the first important prize of the war also took the last one captured by a Continental ship. He died in Boston on 12 February 1793.
SEE ALSO Privateers and Privateering.
Smith, Philip Chadwick Foster. Fired by Manley Zeal: A Naval Fiasco of the American Revolution. Salem, Mass.: Peabody Museum, 1977.
revised by Michael Bellesiles