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Item Ref:  BSL - Boston Blockade

The Commander-in-Chief of His Majesty's Ships and Vessels employed in North America
Issues Orders from Boston During the British Occupation to Appoint Thornbrough to Captain a Ship Which Later Wreaked Havoc on American Vessels

Rear Admiral John Montagu
John Montagu, 1719-95


William Atkinson

American Revolution: Boston Under Occupation. A 2 page folio Document Signed by Rear Admiral John Montagu, "Commander in Chief of His Majesties Ships and Vessels Employed in N. America," Boston, April 19, 1774, to Captain Thornborough, commander of the sloop Tamer. "Whereas I have thought fit to appoint you Captain of His Majesty's Sloop Tamer in the room of Captain James Montagu ... and whereas His Majesty's sloop Tamer is not yet arrived, You are hereby required and directed forthwith to go on board His Majesty's sloop Kings Fisher and there take upon you the charge of Commander till the arrival of the Tamer." Exactly one year later the first shots of the American Revolution were fired at Lexington.

Montagu commanded the North American Squadron from August 1771 to July 1774, a very trying period. He was embroiled in the Gaspee affair, the Gaspee Commission, the Boston Tea Party, and, as a final gesture, it was Montagu who initiated the naval blockade of Boston under the terms of the Boston Port Act. He was the most disliked of all the men who held the North American naval command. The Boston Tea Party was a protest by the American colonists against Great Britain in which they destroyed many crates of tea on ships in Boston Harbor. The incident, which took place on Thursday, December 16, 1773, has been seen as helping to spark the American Revolution.  England reacted with the Boston Port Act. The Boston Port Act, passed by the British Parliament and becoming law on March 31, 1774, is one of the measures (variously called the Intolerable Acts, the Punitive Acts or the Coercive Acts) that were designed to secure the United Kingdom's jurisdictions over her American dominions. A response to the Boston Tea Party, it outlawed the use of the Port of Boston for "landing and discharging, lading or shipping, of goods, wares, and merchandise" until such time as restitution was made to the King's treasury (for customs duty lost) and to the East India Company for damages suffered. In other words, it closed Boston Port to all ships, no matter what business the ship had.

Historical Note

John Montagu was born in 1719 in Lackham, Wiltshire, the son of James Montague and a great-great-grandson of the first Earl of Manchester. Montagu entered the Royal Academy at Portsmouth on August 14, 1733 and served on board a number of vessels during the next seven years. He was promoted to lieutenant on December 22, 1740 and assigned to the Buckingham the following February. He attained the rank of commander in March 1744/5, and was made captain in January 1745/6 on board the 40-gun ship Ambuscade, seeing action at Cape Finistre the following May. He saw limited command in the eight years between 1748 and 1756, during which time he served as Member of Parliament for Huntington.

Montagu returned to active duty in 1757 as captain of the Monarque, and one of his first responsibilities was to carry out the sentence of the court martial of Admiral John Byng (Governor of Newfoundland 1742) who had been found guilty of negligence for his decision to retreat from the French forces at Minorca the previous year. Byng was shot by firing squad on the quarter-deck of the Monarque on March 14.

Montagu saw action in various European engagements during the Seven Years' War (1756-1763). In 1770 he was made Rear Admiral of the Blue Squadron and the following year made Commander-in-Chief of the North American station, from the Gulf of St. Lawrence south to Florida and the Bahamas, the time during which he issued these orders.  He held that position until 1776 when he was made Commander-in-Chief and Governor of Newfoundland. In February of that year he was raised to Vice Admiral of the Blue.

While in charge of the Newfoundland station, Montagu was mainly concerned with protecting the coast and the fishing fleet from American privateers. He succeeded in this by outfitting "a number of the best fast sailing vessels in the trade ... as armed cruisers, putting young lieutenants, masters, mates, midshipmen, and petty officers in charge of them. With the men-of-war under his command and these improvised sloops and cutters, he most effectively protected our coasts from the American privateers." (D.W. Prowse: 1895, pp. 340-1) With the outbreak of renewed hostilities with France in 1778, he ordered the capture of St. Pierre and Miquelon, had the town burned, and the 1392 residents sent back to France.

His tour of duty in Newfoundland ended in 1778 and he returned to England. From 1783 to 1786 he served as Commander-in-Chief at Portsmouth and rose through the admiralty ranks, being made Admiral of the White Squadron on September 24, 1787. He retired to Fareham in Hampshire, where he died on September 7, 1795.

Service history:

1733 trained at Royal Naval Academy at Portsmouth,
1740 promoted lieutenant and served on the Buckingham,
1744 present at the Battle of Toulon,
1757 present at the execution of Admiral John Byng,
1770 promoted to Rear-Admiral of the Blue,
1771 — 1774 commander-in-chief of the North American station,
1776 promoted Vice-Admiral,
1776 commander-in-chief and governor of Newfoundland,
1782 promoted Full Admiral of the Blue,
1783 — 1786 commander-in-chief of Portsmouth
1787 promoted Full Admiral of the White,

As an interesting sidebar, The 1st Lord of the Admiralty at this time was also named John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, but that is another story and another John Montagu.

As another interesting sidebar, Captain Thornborough's son was a cabin boy in the fleet and went on to become an Admiral of the Red and also became Commander-in-Chief at Portsmouth and issued orders for the capture of Napoleon in 1815. According to the Records of the Naval Forces in the American Revolution, Thomborough did eventually become commander of the Tamer, remaining in command until 1776. Both the Tamer and Kingsfisher served in the New York area during the Revolution under the direct command of Admiral Howe and both captured a number of Continental vessels. A scarce document from Boston during the "intolerable" occupation which led directly to the breakout of the war.

2 page Document – Signed and Dated: 19 April, 1774
Text as Follows:

By John Montagu, Esq. Rear Admiral of the Blue and Commander in Chief of His Majesties Ships and Vessels Employed in N. America,

Whereas I have thought fit to appoint you Captain of His Majesty's Sloop Tamer in the room of Captain James Montagu who is appointed to the Kingsfisher

And whereas His Majesty's sloop Tamer is not yet arrived,

You are hereby required and directed forthwith to go on board His Majesty's sloop Kingsfisher and there take upon you the charge of Commander till the arrival of the Tamer or until you receive further Orders strictly charging and Commanding all the Officers and Company of the said Sloop to behave themselves jointly and severally in their respective employments with all due respect and Obedience unto their Acting Captain and you likewise to observe and execute the general Printed Instructions and such Orders and directions as you shall from time to time receive from me or any other your superior Officer for His Majesty’s Service. Thereof not you, nor any of you, may fail as you will answer the contrary at your own Peril, and for so doing this shall be your Order

Given under my hand on board His Majesty’s Ship “Captain” at Boston this 19th April 1774
J. Montagu [signature]

To Capt. Thornborough, Commander of His Majesty’s Sloop Tamer hereby appointed to Command the Kingsfisher until further Orders

By Command of the Admiral
William Atkinson

Document Specifications:  The document in one sheet handwritten on both sides and measures 8" wide x 12¾" tall (200mm x 323mm).  It is batonne laid paper with the watermark of "GR below crown".  It has one vertical and three horizontal folds with some toning (paper aging) along the edges otherwise in very fine condition. A wonderful Colonial American Document that presages the Revolution and personifies the American grievances.

 Offered by Berryhill & Sturgeon, Ltd. .................................  $ Listed on eBay

End of Item - BSL - Boston Blockade

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