Captains and colonies: Royal Navy Service in the North Atlantic world, 1660-1739

Miles, William R. (2014) Captains and colonies: Royal Navy Service in the North Atlantic world, 1660-1739. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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This dissertation examines captains of the English/British Royal Navy and their service in the North Atlantic between 1660 and 1739. The navy deployed six to twelve warships as convoy escorts and station ships to royal colonies on the American mainland and the Newfoundland fisheries. Captains sent to the New England station at Boston are examined in detail. In order to explore navy professionalization and professionalism, supplementary evidence comes from captains protecting the yearly Newfoundland convoy. Reconstructing and analysing captains’ service in North America has generated little interest from historians because the scale of deployment favours the study of fleet and squadron activities after 1739. Rather than identify the captain as a state servant strictly from an operational perspective, his daily presence is examined as part of the early-modern British Atlantic Empire. British Admiralty records provide the primary documentary evidence, especially orders and instructions and surviving captains’ correspondence. Other Admiralty records such as ship lists, ships’ logs, and correspondence from the Navy and Victualling Boards are also employed. Detailed examination of these under-utilized sources enhances our understanding of the daily routines of both navy and maritime communities. Ships dispatched to New England engaged in a variety of tasks, and the Admiralty controlled them through an evolving set of orders and instructions that focussed on the captain’s responsibility to maintain the integrity of warship and crew. Instructions to colonial governors granting them partial operational control over warships were counterbalanced by orders to captains precluding them from endangering the ship, interfering in colonial societies, or engaging in undue opportunism while on assignment. Nevertheless, the captain’s need to interact with maritime communities during day-to-day operations put him into frequent contact and conflict with other self-interested persons, in particular colonial governors and merchants. This dissertation offers new perspectives on overseas naval service by emphasizing the considerable agency displayed by captains serving in the colonies. Encounters with contentious colonial governments, inflexible naval administrators, difficulties with resupply and repair, and even threats of incarceration demonstrate the captain’s ill-defined position as an individual within a centralized imperial institution required to negotiate through a decentralized British Atlantic World.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
Item ID: 15563
Additional Information: Includes bibliographical references (pages 353-380)
Keywords: navy, Britain, America, captains, convoys
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > History
Date: June 2014
Date Type: Submission
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Great Britain--Colonies--Sixteenth century; Great Britain--Colonies--Seventeenth century; Ship captains--Great Britain--Sixteenth century; Ship captains--Great Britain--Seventeenth century; Great Britain. Royal Navy--History

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