NANCY CAPTURE. 28 November 1775. On 8 September H.M. Frigate Phoenix departed England escorting a convoy of victuallers and two ordnance transports to Boston. The convoy was scattered by storms as it made its way across the Atlantic, and the frigate reached Boston on 9 November to report that one of the transports, the brigantine Nancy, was missing. Acting on information possibly sent by Arthur Lee, Washington alerted his small squadron of cruisers to be on the watch. One of those vessels, the 74-ton schooner Lee (formerly the Two Brothers) had recently been fitted out with six small cannon in Marblehead by John Glover and on 28 October she was officially commissioned under the command of Captain John Manley with a crew made up of seamen detached from Washington's infantry regiments. At dusk on 28 November Manley captured the much larger (250-ton) but unarmed Nancy.
This was the first important prize taken by the Americans, and Washington sent reinforcements to Cape Ann to secure her. She yielded 2,000 muskets, 100,000 flints, 30,000 round shot, 30 tons of musket shot, and a 13-inch brass mortar weighing over 2,700 pounds. The latter entered into American service and was dubbed "Congress" in a joyous mock christening ceremony. The materiel taken from the Nancy provided significant logistical support for the ordnance-starved Continental Army.
While this event is not mentioned in many general accounts of the Revolution, Major General William Howe immediately wrote to the Ministry to warn them that the capture gave the Americans the ability to set Boston on fire if they chose to exercise it. (Naval Documents, 2:1251-1252.) Although not technically a navy victory, this capture was the highlight of the Americans' first efforts at sea and gave an important impetus to the establishment of the Continental Navy. More importantly, the loss shocked the British government and brought a major change in policy requiring the Admiralty to provide escorts for all Ordnance Department shipments, and for all ordnance vessels hereafter to be armed and capable of self-defense.
revised by Robert K. Wright Jr.