The Admiral and the Aide-de-Camp

The Revolutionary War Correspondence of Sir Samuel Hood and Jacob de Budé

by Jim Ambuske, Ph.D.

The portrait of one of the most important British naval officers to serve during the American War for Independence hangs in the Manchester Art Gallery in Manchester, England. The 1783 painting by famed artist Sir Joshua Reynolds depicts Rear Admiral Sir Samuel Hood as he looked upon returning home from his service in the war’s West Indian campaigns. Hood is resplendent in a rear admiral’s blue coat, his eyes fixed with purpose, conveying at once the firm confidence and defiance he exuded in battle and in its wake. Dark clouds dominate most of the portrait’s background, an ominous sign for a sailor, and in a larger sense the fate of what remained of Britain’s American empire in the Caribbean. Reynolds’ use of foreground lighting to illuminate his principle subject reveals to us an engagement in the background between British and French forces just off the coast of Dominica during the Battle of the Saintes in April 1782. The French ships sail adjacent to the blackened sky while Hood’s flagship, HMS Barfleur, her sails torn by shot, returns fires. Reynolds suggests to us that Lord Hood and his fleet were all that stood between British liberty and preservation of George III’s dominions in the Caribbean, and the all-consuming darkness of French tyranny and absolute monarchy.[1]

Hood certainly believed as much. In his view this idealized portrait reflected reality, and not without some justification. Hood devoted most of his life to the Royal Navy, the British Empire, and the Crown. This eldest son of a clergyman first went to sea in the 1740s at the age of sixteen, embarking of a long naval career defined by transatlantic warfare. Hood commanded vessels in North American and French waters during the Seven Years War; oversaw British naval operations and enforced trade regulations as Commodore of the Halifax, Nova Scotia station in the late 1760s; fit out the Channel Fleet as Commissioner of Portsmouth in the early years of the American rebellion; and became a flag officer with the command of a squadron under Admiral Sir George Rodney during the Revolutionary War’s final years. When revolution engulfed France itself in the last decade of the eighteenth century, provoking new hostilities between the British and French, the Admiralty named Hood commander-in-chief of the Mediterranean Fleet. Recalled home in the mid-1790s, Hood spent his remaining years in public service (which included two stints in Parliament) as governor of the Greenwich Hospital.[2]

The object in Hood’s painted right hand also commands our attention. Perhaps, as the curators at the Manchester Art Gallery speculate, the thick paper he holds aloft represents the Freedom of the City of London. Hood, along with Rear Admiral Sir Francis Samuel Drake, received the commendation in 1782 in appreciation for their actions in the West Indies.[3] From a different angle, however, the packet may also be indicative of Hood’s prolific letter writing. It is this possibility that connects him to a treasure trove of his letters hidden among the Georgian Papers in Windsor Castle.

What follows is a reflection on my unexpected encounter with Hood and his unpublished letters in the Royal Archives. I happened upon them while searching for something else in George III’s papers. My aim here is twofold:  First, I attempt to place the Hood letters in Windsor Castle within their historical context and in conversation with an edited collection of his papers published over a century ago. Second, I offer some thoughts on their significance in hopes of demonstrating the kind of new insights and research questions that the Georgian Papers Project could engender as we digest the wealth of material digitally emanating out of Windsor Castle over the next several years.

Hood’s letters provide fascinating insight into Britain’s struggle to maintain its authority over the American mainland colonies and defend its valuable possessions in the Caribbean. They may also point to how George III kept abreast of military developments in America beyond daily consultations with his ministers. And they illuminate how one British officer strove to prevent the world from turning upside down.


Students of eighteenth century British naval history and the naval campaigns of the American Revolution are likely aware of Hood’s capacity to write and to write in great detail. This was both out of necessity and Hood’s own proclivity to argue his points to their fullest extent. Ships carried lengthy messages through a communications network that spanned thousands of nautical miles and was subject to temporal delays of weeks or months depending on a variety of factors. Consequently, British military officials maximized opportunities to send as much information as possible to their superiors in London. Reports of enemy fleet movements, status updates on the condition of ships and crew, and after action reports provided London officials with the tools to craft military strategy.

We know of Hood’s profusion with the pen in part because in the late nineteenth century the naval historian David Hannay edited a collection of his letters at the behest of the Navy Records Society. Hannay transcribed and annotated Hood’s correspondence principally from 1781 to 1783. In that period Hood participated in the Battle of Chesapeake Bay on September 5, 1781, a disaster for the British navy that trapped General Lord Cornwallis and his army in Yorktown, Virginia. Cornwallis surrendered to French and American forces one month later. His defeat all but ended British hopes of regaining control of the mainland colonies. The British West Indies was a different story. The French threatened the valuable sugar plantations and the enslaved Africans who worked the islands for their white masters. Hood, operating under Rodney’s overall command, helped defend these economically more important colonies and the vast wealth they contributed to imperial coffers. In 1783, the Jamaica Assembly voted to erect a neo-classical statue of Rodney in Spanish Town to celebrate his victory at the Battle of the Saintes.[4]  Hood received no such public monument. His letters act as one instead. They offer a window into a crucial period in the shared history of Atlantic peoples.

Hannay drew on Hood materials in the British Museum and Public Records Office to create his edited volume. Hood sent numerous letters to George Jackson, Second Secretary to the Admiralty, and Sir Philip Stephens, First Secretary of the Admiralty. He was on close terms with both men. Inasmuch as officers’ long dispatches conveyed important news to London, they also served as a way for military personnel to shape opinions about their own conduct and that of their fellow soldiers and sailors. Hood was no different in this regard. “It is rarely,” Hannay observed, that Hood “has a good word for anybody, or that his criticism is not pointed by contempt.”[5] That these writings often functioned more as private letters than official dispatches, and his correspondents understood them as such, allowed Hood the freedom to express his opinions on a host of matters and especially on the actions of his brother officers.

In letters to Jackson and Stephens, Hood often criticized Rodney and other commanders such as Admiral Thomas Graves for their tactical ability, strategic thinking, and personal motives. Rodney was a frequent target. The commanding officer’s gambling habits had driven him into debt frequently, so much so that at the outset of the American Revolution he was in Paris hiding from British creditors. His debts paid by a French nobleman, Rodney returned home to the command of the Leeward Island station.

Hood felt that Rodney’s February 1781 capture of St. Eustatius and confiscation of merchant goods on the Dutch island clouded his military judgement. By seizing the goods Rodney and the men under his command gained a right to a portion of the proceeds from their sale.  A letter to Jackson from May 1781 is typical of Hood’s style. After first acknowledging that the “King has been very gracious and good in giving to his army and navy the spoils of St. Eustatius,” and then detailing fleet movements over previous weeks, Hood complained that Rodney had refused to allow several damaged ships to put into port. Rodney apparently believed that a French fleet would arrive from Europe at any moment. Hood discounted that idea based on his own reading of the dispatches. While in transit to Barbados he wrote of his inability to fathom why Rodney denied his request and left his “squadron so unmeaningly stationed” in the interim. “[U]nless,” Hood intimated carefully, “it was to cover him at St. Eustatius” and by implication the merchant goods from which Rodney stood to profit.[6] It is but one example of many in which Hood strongly implied that Rodney placed his own interests above the preservation of British America.

What Hood did possess was a supreme confidence in his own abilities as an officer and a belief in the purity of his motives. It is difficult to find in his published or unpublished correspondence evidence of the financial self-interest that cast a shadow over Rodney’s career. He fought for king and country, not to line his pockets with the spoils of war.

Hood reckoned that British forces would have had greater success if his superior officers had taken his advice or permitted him to act differently. And in fact, it is a pervasive theme throughout his correspondence. In the above quoted letter, he told Jackson that if Rodney had allowed him to reposition his squadron to the windward he would “have brought the enemy to close action upon more equal terms, or they must have given up their transports, trade, &c.”[7] He could be arrogant and not a little disdainful of how patronage advanced the careers of some officers faster than others. To be sure, he benefited from patronage over the course of his long career, even as he felt at times that it too often favored men of lesser skill. While Commissioner of Portsmouth he suspected that was why the Admiralty would not give him command of a squadron at sea in the war’s early years. In 1780, he went so far as to ask George III to intervene.[8] For all his self-assurance Hood did not fully appreciate the fact that the Admiralty likely kept him in Portsmouth because he did his job very well.

Hannay considered Hood’s willingness to present a friendly face to his superior officers only to criticize them in letters behind their back as a black mark on his character. It certainly put Jackson in an awkward position. He and Rodney were frequent correspondents, too. For Hannay “all these backbiting letters” were unpleasant and “diminishes their value as evidence or their attractiveness as reading.” Nevertheless, as any good historian should Hannay upheld his editorial duty “to give his man with the wart on his nose,” despite his belief that Hood was right in his criticisms more often than not.[9]


The discovery of previously unknown Hood manuscripts in the Georgian Papers suggests that Hood’s “backbiting” is actually a critical form of evidence that has much to tell us about his political world and his participation in an imperial civil war. Considered alone the Jackson and Stephens letters give an impression of an often petty man who, convinced of his own superiority, felt compelled to inform his chiefs of how he would have fought a battle to a more successful end had he been in overall command. Moreover, the correspondence between Hood and the king in the latter man’s published papers reveal a dutiful naval officer eager to please his sovereign by offering advice and support when called upon, yet one careful not to promote himself in an unbecoming manner.

The 140 manuscript letters and reports found within the papers of George III’s aide-de-camp force us to ask very different questions: In what ways did Hood’s motives in maintaining direct communication with one of the King’s most trust men differ from those of the Jackson/Stephens correspondence? What can these particular letters tell us about the ways in which George III informally gathered intelligence about British military operations in America? How did these networks shape his thinking regarding Britain’s ability to retain all or at least some of the American colonies? While we cannot fully answer these questions here, we can explore the provenance of these letters and begin to consider how they might complicate our understanding of Hood, George III, and the American Revolution.

Who was Hood’s confidant in the King’s personal service? Major General Jacob de Budé was a Swiss national and a descent of an old branch of a Champagne and later Parisian family. His direct ancestors emigrated to Geneva in the late fifteenth or early sixteenth centuries. He was born in 1736 in Pays de Vaud in western Switzerland. As a young man de Budé waited on George III’s uncle, William IV, Prince of Orange as a military page and later served in a Swiss regiment. [10]

In 1772, Robert Darcy, 4th Earl of Holderness and governor of George III’s two eldest sons recommended de Budé for the position of sub governor to his third and fourth sons, the princes William and Edward. De Budé accepted the appointment at an initial salary of £350. It marked the beginning of his long personal attachment to the Royal Family, which included serving as secretary to Prince Frederick when he became Duke of York. George III bestowed upon him the rank of general in the Hanoverian army as a reward for his faithful devotion. Upon meeting him in 1786, the English novelist Frances Burney described de Budé as “tall and showy” in his red, gold, and blue Windsor uniform with “a sneer in his smile that looks sarcastic, and a distance in his manner that seems haughty.” His death in 1818 elicited a different response. The Duke of York had a commemorative plaque installed at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle “as a tribute of his sincere affection and regard for” his departed friend.[11]

Finding the Hood-de Budé letters was an accident. One September morning in Windsor Castle, while searching for evidence concerning George III’s attitude toward Scottish emigration to the colonies, I requested de Budé’s papers in the hope that his aide-de-camp recorded the King’s thinking on that head. That investigation proved fruitless. What I found was better. In one box, nestled with ledger books detailing Royal Household expenses, numerous recipes, and miscellaneous correspondence, a bundle of letters lay wrapped in a protective sheet of brown paper, all bound together by string. The letters begin on February 7, 1781, one week after the capture of St. Eustatius, and conclude on May 18, 1783 as Hood sailed past Bermuda on his way home to England. They are primarily from Hood to de Budé. In some cases, the letters are duplicates of those sent to Jackson and Stephens, others contain enclosed extracts of Hood’s correspondence with Rodney, Graves, and other officers, some feature battle reports, while others still are unique to de Budé and Hood’s relationship. Regardless of their content, Hood always understood that he wrote to one of the King’s men. Indeed, in the collection’s first letter he asked de Budé to present his “most humble & unfeigned Duty” to George III and Queen Charlotte.[12]

We need to know something about de Budé and Hood’s shared history in George III’s service if we are to understand the potential significance and scholarly value of their correspondence. The two men may have known each other by 1778. In May of that year the king undertook an official visit to Portsmouth to review the fleet. At this moment, the American War had taken a more dangerous turn. An imperial civil war transformed into an international conflict when Louis XVI formed an alliance with George III’s rebellious American subjects. The British king went to Portsmouth to inspect his warships and rally his officers and men as they made ready to once again do battle with their French enemies. He dined with Hood, then the port’s commissioner, and the fleet’s senior officers during a visit that lasted several days.[13]

The king had a personal agenda during his Portsmouth visit as well. He had decided to send his third son, William, into the Royal Navy. Even though George III never left England he wanted his sons to have a broader understanding of the world and the people over which they might one day rule.[14] In Portsmouth he solicited advice from Rear Admiral Robert Digby, (under whom the future king would serve as a midshipman on active duty in Gibraltar, North America, and the Caribbean), and Hood concerning the young boy’s education while at sea.[15] In 1779, he entrusted de Budé with the responsibility of monitoring William’s conduct. This the King made clear in formal instructions to Digby, de Budé, and his son. De Budé would correspond with the teachers overseeing the prince on his voyages and in turn relay information about his progress to the boy’s parents.[16]

George III expected his Swiss aide-de-camp to act as a conduit for information. De Budé served as a kind of clearinghouse for updates concerning matters of the heart, in this case the well-being of the king’s son, and by extension the war zones into which the prince sailed.  He played an important part in the king’s complex intelligence apparatus that we are only just now beginning to understand. He relied on men such as de Budé, and he employed covert operatives to gather information about Britain’s enemies and threats to his own safety. One such spy, code-named “Aristarchus,” sent copious letters to the king, most of which remain unpublished. The intelligence in these documents ranges from the reasonable to the borderline absurd. At one point George III called into question Aristarchus’s intelligence—in both meanings of the word—and ordered him removed from the payroll. A secret agent apparently stationed in Brest kept a watchful eye on French and American machinations. He or she committed these observations to a journal that is included among the king’s manuscripts. There is every reason to suspect that de Budé performed a similar role for the king in his correspondence with Hood.[17]

De Budé and Hood were on personal terms when Prince William first went to sea. In late November or early December 1779, de Budé delivered a letter to Hood from the king concerning the progress on repairs to the HMS Sandwich. He was in Portsmouth to visit Prince William. The young midshipman had recently returned from his first cruise aboard the HMS Prince George. It was not uncommon for de Budé to act as a courier for the George III—he delivered two such letters to Prince William during his visit—and in this particular moment we see him acting as an intermediary between the naval officer and his king.[18]

An April 1780 short note by Hood is even more tantalizing. The letter appears in one of Sir John Fortescue’s edited volumes of George III’s papers under the title “Sir Samuel Hood to General [?].” Hood expressed his thanks to “my dear General” for apparently making representations to the monarch on his behalf in support of his quest to command a squadron. He agreed to be “perfectly patient” until “a fitt opportunity” presented itself. Hood’s use of the phrase “my dear General” and the warmth behind it is a clue. He addresses de Budé in the same way throughout their correspondence. The recipient’s evident proximity to the George III is another piece of evidence. Hood’s language intimates that his correspondent had knowledge of the king’s mind.[19]

We will of course need additional research into the Georgian Papers to confirm these suspicions. The evidence uncovered thus far does suggest that Hood’s friendship with de Budé was both genuine and an opportunity to relay his perspective to the king. Hood had few qualms about airing his complaints directly to the Admiralty because he believed that his letters could influence military strategy for the imperial good. And he believed that his criticisms were necessary and correct. The king was another matter. The de Budé letters reveal a politically astute rear admiral who was attentive to eighteenth century ideas of virtue, duty, and propriety. Hood knew well enough that sending “backbiting” letters directly to George III would reflect poorly on his character and undermine his ability to curry favor with the king. Yet, he wanted to influence the direction of British military policy, see the colonies subdued, France defeated, and the restoration of peace in the king’s dominions. Writing to one of George III’s trusted servants was one means toward those ends.

Two letters from a critical turning point in the American War illustrate Hood’s candor and the kind of information that de Budé could have retransmitted to the king. In the summer of 1781, the British rightly suspected that the French and Americans were preparing a joint operation against either Major General Sir Henry Clinton’s army in New York or General Lord Cornwallis’s men in Virginia. In June, the French general the Comte de Rochambeau asked Admiral the Comte de Grasse to bring his fleet north from the West Indies to prevent the Royal Navy from reinforcing British troops on land. Rodney, in ill health and wishing to take some ships home for repairs, placed Hood in command of 14 ships of the line with orders to pursue the enemy. Hood, along with Admiral Graves and Admiral Drake, eventually clashed with the French fleet on September 5, 1781 in the Battle of Chesapeake Bay. The British defeat left Cornwallis and his army besieged at Yorktown. His surrender on October 10, 1781 effectively ended the war on the mainland and later inspired one of the best songs on the Hamilton soundtrack.[20]

The first letter is dated September 2, 1781 and records Hood’s efforts to bring his fleet north and his deliberations with General Clinton and Admiral Graves in New York. A clearly frustrated Hood feared that intelligence lapses and poor planning had left the British “in the dark” about the French fleet’s whereabouts. They did not know where de Grasse was nor where French ships stationed at Rhode Island had gone.

The second letter, dated September 16, 1781, details the Battle of the Chesapeake and its aftermath. Hood wrote it as the Barfleur cruised near the Delaware Bay. He recognized that the battle was a major setback for the British.  Both letters share some similarities to correspondence that Hood sent to Stephens on August 30th and to Jackson on September 16th, with key differences. The September 2nd letter to de Budé details events after Hood closed out his note to Stephens. Similarly, the second letter contains additional details as well as an extra paragraph. Hannay only published two of the ten enclosures referenced in the August 30th letter to Stephens.[21] All ten are in the de Budé Papers. The second letter enjoys the company of all five of its enclosures in the edited volume. Copies of these items appear in the de Budé papers as well.

I have transcribed Hood’s two letters to de Budé below without annotation and with their original punctuation and spelling intact. Ship names are given in italics for clarity. I first transcribed these letters in September 2015 and have used the digital versions now available on the Georgian Papers website to make corrections. For brevity’s sake, I have omitted the enclosures expect for No. 1 and No. 5 to the second letter. I include them here because the first contains Hood’s reflections on the battle written on the morning after the engagement. The second is a copy of the war council minutes in which Admirals Graves, Hood, and Drake reluctantly determined that they could not risk reinforcing Cornwallis in light of the strength and position of the French fleet in Chesapeake Bay.

If, as I suspect, de Budé did pass along some of Hood’s sentiments to George III, he may have tempered some of Hood’s language. Perhaps he did show some of the letters to the king unfiltered, along with the numerous enclosures that Hood included in his correspondence. The mere existence of these letters within the king’s collection at the least compels us to consider these possibilities. How they influenced the king’s thinking, if at all, is not immediately clear. The Royal Navy’s April 1782 victory at the Battle of the Saintes, the backdrop for Joshua Reynolds’s portrait of Hood, gave George III hope that order might yet be restored in America.[22] Perhaps some of Hood’s reports via de Budé heartened him. These are queries that we cannot yet fully answer. But, thanks to the digitization of the Georgian Papers and the generous fellowship opportunities sponsored by the Omohundro Institute, King’s College, and other partners, we now have a sea of rich material stretching toward the horizon, and countless new questions to fill our sails.

[1] Joshua Reynolds, Admiral Lord Hood, 1783, oil on canvas, 127.2 cm. x 100.9 cm., Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester, England, United Kingdom. Hood paid at least £105 for the painting. Malcom Cormack, “The Ledgers of Sir Joshua Reynolds,” The Volume of the Walpole Society 42, (1968-1970): 53.

[2] My account of Hood’s life is derived from Colin Pengelly, Sir Samuel Hood and the Battle of the Chesapeake (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2009), and David Hannay, ed., Letters Written By Sir Samuel Hood (Viscount Hood) in 1781-2-3 Illustrated by Extracts from Logs and Public Records (Printed for the Navy Records Society, 1895), vii-xlvii. To my knowledge, Pengelly’s work is the only modern Hood biography.

[3] London’s Roll of Fame: Being Complimentary Notes and Addresses From the City of London on Presentation of The Honorary Freedom of that City, and on other occasions, To Royal Personages, Statesmen, Patriots, Warriors, Artic Explorers, Discovers, Philanthropists, and Scientific Men; With their Replies and Acknowledgements (London: Cassell & Company, Limited, 1884), 68.

[4] The best treatment of the American Revolution and the Caribbean is Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy’s An Empire Divided: The American Revolution and the British Caribbean (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000).

[5] Hannay, ed., Letters Written By Sir Samuel Hood, viii. This particular copy of Hannay’s volume is one of 18,000 books and manuscripts in The Newlin Collection on Oceans Law and Policy held at the Arthur J. Morris Law Library at the University of Virginia School of Law. Many of these volumes cover the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Interested researchers should contact for additional information.

[6] Hood to Jackson, 21 May 1781, Ibid., 12,15.

[7] Ibid., 16.

[8] See below.

[9] Hannay, ed., Letters Written By Sir Samuel Hood, xv – xvi.

[10] Marcel Godet, Henri Tüler, and Victor Attinger, eds., Dictionnaire Historique & Biographique de la Suisse : Publié avec la Recommandation de la Société Générale Suisse D’histoire (Neuchâtel: Administration du Dictionnaire historique et biographique de la Suisse, 1924), 2:332.

[11] Sylvanus Urban, ed., The Gentleman’s Magazine: and Historical Chronicle. From July to December 1818 (London, 1818), Part II, 572; George III to Lord North, 22 August 1772 in Sir John Fortescue, ed., The Correspondence of King George the Third (Frank Cass & Co. LTD, 1967),  2:381-382; Charlotte Barrett, Diary and Letters of Madame D’Arblay, Edited by Her Niece (London, 1854), 3:30-31; The Royal Companion to the “Sights of London,” and within Twenty-Five Miles of St. Paul’s; Containing a Mass of Valuable Information Useful, Entertaining, and Instructive: Especially to Visitors to “The Great Metropolis,” Series VII, (London: Joseph Clayton and Son, 1850), 17.

[12] The letters are cataloged as Papers of Major General Jacob de Budé, RA GEO/ADD/15/0613-0735; Hood to de Budé, 7 February 1781, RA GEO/ADD/15/0613, Royal Archives, Windsor.

[13] For the king’s memorandum on his experiences in Portsmouth see Fortescue, ed., The Correspondence of King George the Third, 4:126-130.

[14] For George III’s family life see John Brooke, King George III (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1972), 260-317; Flora Fraser, Princesses: The Six Daughters of George III (Anchor, 2006); and Jeremy Black, George III: America’s Last King (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2006), 144-161. A useful biography of William IV is Tom Pocock, Sailor King: The Life of King William IV (London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1991).

[15] Rear Admiral Robert Digby to George III, 9 May 1778, Papers of George III, RA GEO/MAIN/16141; Hood to George III, 15 July 1778, Ibid, RA/GEO/MAIN/16146.

[16] The draft letters are George III to Digby, c. 9 June 1779, RA/GEO/MAIN/16155; George III to de Budé, 11 June 1779, RA/GEO/MAIN/16155; George III to Prince William, 13 June 1779, RA/GEO/MAIN/16158-16159. The final draft of the de Budé letter is in the de Budé Papers, RA GEO/ADD/15/0460. Digby also wrote the king directly, at the king’s instructions. Another fine example of de Budé at work is in his report to Queen Charlotte that Prince William had taken become infatuated with her niece, Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. De Budé to Queen Charlotte (draft), [?23 September 1783], RA GEO/ADD/15/0468, Georgian Papers Online (, January 2017).

[17] A goodly number of Aristarchus’s letters as well as the secret intelligence journal are contained within the box covering RA GEO/MAIN/4121-4448. For the order to remove Aristarchus from the payroll see George III to Lord North, 14 July 1781, RA GEO/MAIN/4264. For examples of payments to secret service agents see Fortescue, ed., The Correspondence of King George the Third, 6:339.

[18] Hood to George III, 3 December 1779, Fortescue, ed., The Correspondence of King George the Third, 4:508-509; Prince William to George III, 2 December 1779, William Henry, Duke of Clarence Papers, 1779-1830, RA GEO/MAIN/44608.

[19] Hood to General [?], 25 April 1780, Fortescue, ed., The Correspondence of King George the Third, 5:52.

[20] Lin-Manuel Miranda, “Guns and Ships,” in Hamilton: An American Musical (Atlantic, 2015).

[21] These enclosures are Hood to Rear Admiral Francis Samuel Drake, 11 August 1781, and Hood to Graves, 25 August 1781, in Hannay, ed., Letters Written By Sir Samuel Hood, 27-28. These enclosures are cataloged in the de Budé papers as RA GEO/ADD/15/0634 and RA GEO/ADD/15/0640. Hannay included Graves’s report on the events of September 5th and after. See Graves to Stephens, 14 September 1781, Hannay, ed., Letters Written By Sir Samuel Hood, 40-44. The original manuscript is in The National Archives of the UK(TNA): ADM 1/489/419-422.

[22] Black, America’s Last King, 249.


I thank her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II for her gracious permission to quote from the Royal Archives.

RA GEO/ADD/15/0631


Barfleur off the Chesapeak Sept 2d 1781

My dear General


When I joined Sir George Rodney on the 30th of June in Basseterre road St Kitts, I was under orders to proceed with 14 sail of the Line to this coast, after seeing the Jamaica Trade off Cape Tiberoon which was then to proceed on, under the Convoy of the Sandwich, Hydra & Ranger; but Sir George having immediately after I anchored, received intelligence, that five or six sail of the Line of French ships, were arrived at Martinique, he judged it necessary to Lessen my squadron, and to detach Rear Admiral Drake with five ships to St. Lucia.

At noon that day I took leave of the Admiral to collect the ships, I had ordered to compleat their water at old Road, that no time might be lost, in fullfilling my orders, on the arrival of the Jamaica Trade from St. Lucia, which, the Belliqueux and Prince William were ordered to bring to me, at St Eustatius.

Soon after I sailed from Basseterre the intention of my going off Tiberoon, was laid aside, and the Jamaica ships, put under convoy of the Torbay, Sandwich Prince William, & Hydra, & Ranger; and on Sir George Rodney’s arrival at St. Eustatius the next day, he declared his intention of going for England immediately taking with him the Gibralter, Triumph, Panther & Boreas frigate and made over to me the Command of His Majesty’s Fleet on the Leeward Island Station. That same Evening I received the enclosed intelligence No. 1, and early the next morning, Sir George sent me the letter No. 2 from the Senior Captain at St. Lucia, informing him, that the ships arrived at Martinique, were two frigates & two sloops of war with about seventy sail from Marseilles; And it was recommended to me, by the Admiral, to recall the ships, which he had sent to St. Lucia with Rear Admiral Drake, and to wait their joining me, before I proceeded to this Coast. I instantly dispatched the Sybil on that service, with orders for their meeting me, at St. Johns Road Antigua, for which placed I sailed the next evening, with ten sail of the Line. In the night I fell in with La Nymph frigate, which Sir George Rodney had sent from Basseterre road, to reconnoiter Fort Royal Bay and St. Piers and being informed by her Commander that he had seen four sail of the Line at Fort Royal but that the weather was so very hazey, he could form no opinion of their force; I immediately sent La Nymph back, with the Letter No. 3 to Rear Adml Drake. Early the next morning, I spoke with an Armed Brig from New York, with dispatches from Sir Henry Clinton, & Rear Admiral Graves addressed to Sir George Rodney, of which No. are copies. I immediately ordered the Armed Brig into Nevis road to compleat her water and then proceed to St John’s Road; on the 6th she joined Me, and without wanting an hour, pushed away, on her return to New York, with Answers to the Letters she brought.

Having embarked the 40th Regt. on board His Majesty’s Squadron under my command, at the request of Brigadr General Christie, to whom Sir Henry Clinton’s Messenger delivered the dispatches he was charged with, for General Vaughan; I put to sea on the 10th at the dawn of day, not caring to wait any longer for the St. Lucia ships, Lest the Enemy should make this coast before me, but as I was running out Mr Drake appeared, with four ships of the Line, having a certainty, that the enemy had no ships, Larger than a frigate at Fort Royal, and without delaying a moment, I pushed on as fast as possible on the 25th. I made the Land a little to the Southward of Cape Henry, and from thence dispatched a Frigate with the Letter No. 9 to R:A: Graves and finding no Enemy had appeared either in the Chesapeak, or Delaware, I proceeded off Sandy Hook. On the 28th in the morning I received the Letter No. 10, from Mr. Graves, which was couched in terms I did not expect, from what he had written to Sir George Rodney, and being apprehensive much inconvenience might arise, from the Squadron under my Command going within the Hook, and knowing there was not a moment to be lost, in moving with His Majesty’s whole Naval force, in order to prevent a junction of the West India ships, with those at Rhode Island if possible; though the Barfleur was seven leagues from the place the commanding officers were to meet, I immediately gott into my Boat, and in the afternoon found the General & Admiral together, who were consulting upon an attempt, to destroy the ships at Rhode Island This was an additional Argument, in support of my opinion, against my going within the Bar, as the Equinox was so near at hand, and I urged the necessity, which struck me very forcibly that such of Rear Admiral Graves’s ships as were ready, should immediately proceed without the Hook, whether to attend Sir Henry Clinton to Rhode Island, or to look for the Enemy at Sea, My Idea was readily acquiesced in; but that same night; intelligence was received, that the Rhode Island ships sailed on the 25th taking all their Transports with them, but without Troops. On the 31st in the evening Mr, Graves came over the Bar, with the London, Bedford, Royal Oak, America, Europe & Adamant (the Robust & Prudent, being up at New York) I was undersail to receive him and without dropping anchor, he steered to the Southward — But how unfortunate no frigate was stationed to watch the motions of the French Squadron, as I understand it had been laying in a state ready to push to sea, at the shortest notice — and upon the return of the Concorde frigate, which carried the Pilots to the Count De Grasse at the Cape, all the ships sailed; Now they must either be destined to make a Junction with the West India Ships, or they are going to Boston; Had a frigate been placed at Gayhead, or Block Island, and have dogged the Squadron at a distance, a few leagues, to the Eastward of Nantucket Shoals, a pretty clear judgement might have been formed, when it is gone to, at present we move totally in the dark. If it is gone to Boston, De Grasse has either Laid aside his intentions of coming to America, or his object is Halifax; one or the other seems pretty certain to my mind, but I confess I cannot think the Enemy bold enough to attempt to attempt Halifax so late in the year.

We have looked into the Delaware without gathering any intelligence of the Enemy and are now going to the Chesapeak; in case an opportunity of a conveyance for New York should suddenly arise, I will close my letter and if any material occurrence should turn up, before anything goes towards New York, I will take up my pen again


Adieu my dear General, and believe me with all truth & attachment


Your most faithfull and obedient humble servant


Saml Hood



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Barfleur off the Delaware Septr. 16 1781


My dear General


On the 5th instant about 10 AM one of the look out frigates made the signal for a fleet, and at 11 we plainly discovered 24 sail of french ships of the Line and 2 frigates at Anchor about Lynn have Bay, with their topsail yards hoisted aloft, as a signal for getting under sail, soon after they began to come out, in a Line of Battle a head, but by no means regular & connected, which afforded the British fleet a most glorious opening for making a close attack to advantage, but it was not embraced; and as the French fleet came out upon close upon a wind, and the English Line steer’d Large, the action commenced in the Van, pretty near, that part of the Enemy’s fleet being to windward of their Center, and the center to windward of their Rear; our center then <word scratched out> upon a wind began to engage at the same time, but at a most improper distance (though the London had the signal for close action flying as well as the signal for the Line a head at half a cable, and Lay with her main topmast to the mast the whole time, notwithstanding the french ships were pushing on) and our rear, being barely within random shot, did not fire at all, while the signal for the Line was out. No. 1 contains my sentiments upon upon the unfortunate day, as committed to writing the next morning, which I mentioned to Mr. Graves when I attended his first Summons On the 6th it was calm all day, and in the evening Mr. Drake & I were sent for on board the London, when Mr. Graves communicated intelligence he had received from the Captains of the Medea & Iris, who had reconnoitered the Cheseapeak, which was as follows, “That a ship of the Line, one of 40 Guns & a frigate, were at Anchor, between the Horse Shoe Shoal and York river, and that they saw three Large ships coming down the Bay, which they thought were of the Line”— Mr. Graves also communicated to us, a letter from Sir Henry Clinton, to General Earl Cornwallis, which he was desired to gett conveyed to his Lordship if possible,— The Richmond & Iris, had just before been detached upon that Service — on the 7th & 8th the Enemy being to windward with a commanding Breeze, had an opportunity of attacking us, if they pleased, but they shewed no inclination for it — on the 9th The french fleet carried a press of sail which proved to me, De Grasse had other views than those of fighting us, and I was much concerned to see Mr. Graves did not make all the sail he could also, and endeavour to gett off the Cheseapeak before him; it appeared to me, to be a measure of the utmost importance to keep the French out, and if they did gett in, they should first beat us. Instead of that Mr. Graves put His Majesty’s fleet on a contrary course just at dark, and at 8 oclock made the signal & lay too. At daylight next morning, nothing was seen of the French fleet from the Barfleur, which alarmed me exceedingly and I debated with myself some little time, whether I should venture to write Mr. Graves a few lines, or not, as it is rather awkward and unpleasant, to send advice to a Senior Officer; however, I at last concluded to do it, and having made the signal for my repeating frigate to come under the Barfleur’s stern, sent her with the letter of which No. 2 is a copy—This occasioned another summons to Mr. Drake & me, on board the London, when I found to my great astonishment Mr. Graves was as ignorant as myself, where the french fleet was, and that no frigates had been particularly ordered (though we had several with us) to watch, and bring an account of, the Enemy’s Motions — The question was put to me what was most proper to be done? to which I replied, that I thought the letter, I had taken the liberty to send, had most clearly & fully expressed what my sentiments were, but if it was wished I should say more, it could only be, that we should gett into the Cheseapeak to the succour of Lord Cornwallis, if possible, but what I was afraid it was out of our power, as doubtless De Grasse would most effectually bar the Entrance against us, which was what human prudence Suggested, we ought to have done, against him.—

On the 13th early in the morning, I received the Note No. 3 from R.A. Graves, No. 4 is my answer to it, which again called Mr. Drake & me on board the London, when the resolution contained in No. 5 was taken — There was nothing else left to be done, irksome & much to be lamented as the alternative was.

When the Terrible was in this Country last year with Sir George Rodney (who had he now led His Majesty’s fleet from the West Indies The 5th of this month, would I am confident been a most Glorious day for England) She was twice ashore, and has been very leaky ever since, and her Leaks were last spring encreased, by another ship running on board of her at sea—and the firing of her Guns the other day, had so affected her, that she was scarcely to be kept above water, in the finest weather, and had she mett with the least bad weather, or one of her chain pumps failed she must inevitably have gone done, and as there was reason to expect a Gale of wind Every day; All her Men, & such of her stores as were serviceable were ordered to be taken out on the 13th and the ship sett fire to. She was commanded by the Honble William Clement Finch, who behaved most nobly in action and I very much regrett the losing so excellent and amiable an officer, from under my Command.


I have the honor to me my dear General


Your most faithfull and much obliged humble Servant



Saml Hood


P.S. We are now endeavouring to gett to New York



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Enclosure No. 1

Barfleur upon the Coast of Virginia Septr. 6th 1781


Yesterday the British fleet had a rich and most delightfull harvest of Glory, presented to it, but omitted to gather it, in more instances than one

First that the Enemy’s Van was not very closely attacked, as it came out of the Lynn haven Bay

Secondly when the Enemy’s Van was greatly extended beyond the Center & Rear, that it was not attacked with the whole force of the British fleet; had such an attack been made, several of the Enemy’s Ships must have been demolished in half an hours action, and there was a full hour and a half to have engaged it, before any of the Rear could have come up — And Thirdly when the Van of the two fleets gott into action and the ships of the British Line seemed to be hard pressed; One (the Shrewsbury) totally disabled very early from keeping her station, by having her fore & main top sail yard shot away which left her second (the Intrepid) exposed to the fire of two Ships of superior force, which the noble & spirited behaviour of Capt Molloy, obliged to turn their sterns to him; That the Signal was not thrown out for the Van Ships to make sail to have enabled the center division to have pushed on to their support, instead of engaging at such an improper distance. (the London being under her Topsails only with the Main topsail to the Mast, the whole time she was firing, and the signal for close action, as well as the signal for the Line flying) that the second ship a stern of the London received but trifling damage, and the third astern of the London, received not damage at all, which most clearly proves, how much the center division engaged, at too great a distance—now, had the Center division gone to the support to the support of the Van, and the signal for the Line at half a Cable’s length, been hauled down or the Commander in Chief had sett the example of close actions, even with the signal for the Line flying, the Van of the Enemy must have been cut up, and the Rear division of the British fleet, would have been opposed to those Ships of the Enemy the center fired at, and at the proper distance for engaging, or the Rear Admiral who commanded it, would have had a great deal to answer for. Instead of that, our center division did the enemy but little damage, and our rear Ships, being barely within random shot, three only fired a few Guns. So soon as the signal for the Line was hawled down at 25 minutes after five, the Rear division bore up, above half a mile to Leeward of the Center Division, but the french ship bearing up also, it did not near them, and at twenty five minutes after six, the signal for the Line at half a cable being again hoisted, and the signal for Battle hawled down, R: A: Sir S. Hood called to the Monarch, (his Leader) to keep her wind as he dared not separate his division just at dark the London not bearing up at all.

N.B: This forenoon Capt. Everet came on board the Barfleur, with a message from R:A: Drake, to R:A Sir S. Hood, desiring his opinion. whether he should renew the action, Sir Samuel’s answer was — “I dare say Mr. Graves will do what is right — I can send no opinion, but if he (Mr. Graves) wishes to see me, I will wait upon him with great pleasure”



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Enclosure No. 5


The Opinion of Rear Adml. Graves Rear Adml. Saml Hood and Rear Adml. Drake Upon a consultation on board the London Sept 13th 1781.


At a Council of War held on board His Majesty’s Ship London at Sea, the 13th Septr. 1781 upon a report received from Captain Duncan of His Majesty’s Ship Medea, that they had seen the Evening before, the French Fleet at Anchor off the Horse Shoe Shoal in the Chesapeak, that the large Ships appeared more numerous, and to be in Divisions, but that it was too late to get near enough to form a clear Judgement

Upon this state of the position of the Enemy, the present Conditions of the British Fleet, the season of the Year so near the Equinox, and the impracticability of giving any effectual succour to General Earl Cornwallis in the Chesapeak

It was resolved, that the British Squadron under the Command of Thomas Graves Esqr. Rear Admiral of the Red, Sir Samuel Hood Bart. and Francis Samuel Drake Esqr. Rear Admirals of the Blue should proceed with all possible dispatch to New York, and there use every possible means for putting the Squadron in the best state for service, provided that Capt. Duncan who is gone again to reconnoiter should confirm his report of the position of the Enemy, and that the Fleet should in the mean time facilitate the Junction of the Medea


A Copy


(Signed) Thos. Graves

Saml Hood

Fra: S: Drake


5 Responses

  1. […] to stop a French fleet meant General Cornwallis’s army couldn’t be supported or evacuated. As Jim Ambuske and others have pointed out, the responsibility for that failure was bitterly contested. Accounts […]

  2. […] to stop a French fleet meant General Cornwallis’s army couldn’t be supported or evacuated. As Jim Ambuske and others have pointed out, the responsibility for that failure was bitterly contested. Accounts […]

  3. […] documents relating to epochal events, like memorandums about the slave trade in West Africa and a cache of letters by Sir Samuel Hood, the second in command at the Battle of the Chesapeake in September 1781, which set the stage for […]

  4. […] documents relating to epochal events, like memorandums about the slave trade in West Africa and a cache of letters by Sir Samuel Hood, the second in command at the Battle of the Chesapeake in September 1781, which set the stage for […]

  5. […] Three months later, George III wrote to General Jacob de Bude, sending him a likeness of Octavius, whose absence the King felt more and more each day. (To learn more about the King’s connection with de Bude, read Jim Ambuske’s blog, “The Admiral and the Aide-de-Camp.”) […]

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