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Monmouth Countians Capture British Ship

Monmouth Countians Capture British Ship

Throughout 1775, a steady steam of British supply vessels sailed the Atlantic Seaboard with provisions for the British Army. The Monmouth shore, due to proximity to New York City and prevailing wind patterns, was a common place for British ships to make landfall. These ships, made less agile by heavy cargoes and punished from storms, frequently grounded along the unmarked Monmouth shoreline and its narrow inlets. It was one of these groundings that created the first opportunity for the patriots (Whigs) of Monmouth County to take their first clear action against the British military.


On October 5, 1775, the HMS Viper, made landfall along the Monmouth shore near Barnegat during “a gale of wind.” Warships were frequently accompanied by smaller vessels called “tenders” that ferried goods between the ship and shore. The Viper and its tender beached off Barnegat. The Viper’s crew threw materials overboard in order to raise the ship and escape the shallows; its tender was not so fortunate. The Viper sailed away, along with most of the tender’s crew.

Beach near Barnegat Inlet


Word of the stranded tender reached Freehold on October 7 and the Monmouth County Committee quickly ordered the militia to capture the tender and salvage the materials thrown overboard. Presumably the next day, a militia party co-led by James Allen of Dover and Asher Taylor of Shrewsbury townships arrived at Barnegat and captured the tender and its three remaining sailors. The New Jersey Provincial Congress recorded the capture on October 11: “A small vessel, supposed to be a tender of a Man of War, was taken near Barnegat with three persons on board… and said persons secured in some safe place in the County of Monmouth."


On the 13th, the captured British sailors were deposed by Dr. Nathaniel Scudder of the Monmouth County Committee. Richard Symonds, the senior sailor, testified that the tender was blown off course. He "discovered land, entered Cranberry Inlet being unable to continue at sea on acct of the smallness of the vessel & badness of the weather." Symmonds reported that the tender was boarded by Taylor and Allen, who, "finding he belonged to a man of war, insisted upon detaining him & his companions... demanded delivery of their arms, with which they complied and since remained in custody."


Five days later, the New Jersey Provincial Congress read a report on the incident and resolved:


That it be recommended to that Committee to publish an Advertisement in the Newspapers, describing the Sloop, so that the owner may know where to apply; and that the Men and Arms, found on board the said Sloop, be taken proper care of by that Committee, until this Congress shall give further order.


The New Jersey Provincial Congress agreed to receive the three prisoners on January 2, 1776. But Monmouth County Committee Chair, John Burrowes, reported bad news in that regard on January 11: “The two lads have gone off, & Mr. Simmonds appears in a very uneasy situation.” Burrowes agreed to transfer Symmonds. The fate of the two junior sailors is not known, but Symmonds is recorded as being confined in Philadelphia (with a number of other captured British sailors from other ships) in a Continental Congress document compiled on February 21, 1776.


On February 1, the Monmouth Committee of Observation advertised the sale of the beached tender in the New York Journal. The sale would occur on May 1. The ship was described as a 30 foot sloop, tender to the frigate Viper. The Committee gave the rightful owner the option to recover it: "if the original owner shall apply, prove property and pay charges, any day before the first of May next, he may have her again in her present condition.” Absent that, the vessel would be sold.


It can be safely assumed that the Monmouth County Committee knew full well that the British Navy would not demean itself by applying to a rebel County Committee (which it did not recognize) for the return of its vessel. With the capture and sale of the tender and detention of its crew, Monmouth County Whigs were now active participants in the still-undeclared Revolutionary War.


Interestingly, the two men who led the capture, James Allen and Asher Taylor, would both turn Loyalist a few years later.


Sources: New Jersey State Archives, Bureau of Archives and History, Manuscript Coll., State Library Manuscript Coll., #74, 76-77; Dennis Ryan, New Jersey in the American Revolution, 1763-1783: A Chronology (Trenton: New Jersey Historical Commission, 1974) p 24; Peter Force, American Archives, (Force and Clarke: Washington, DC, 1837) Series 4, vol. 3, P1287; Minutes of the Provincial Congress and the Council of Safety of the State of New Jersey 1775-1776 (Ithaca: Cornel University Press, 2009) pp. 204-6; John Almon, The Rembrancer or Impartial Repository of Public Events, Part I (John Almon: London, 1776), p 339; "Peter Force, American Archives: Documents of the American Revolution, 1774-6 (digitized:, v3: p 1221, 1227.);  Christopher Marshall, The Diary of Christopher Marshall (Amazon Digital Services, 2014) p 48; William James Morgan, Naval Documents of the American Revolution (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1969) vol. 3, pp. 577, 753; National Archives, Papers of the Continental Congress, M247, I58, Papers of John Hancock, p 424;   .

Related Historical Sites: none


Related Articles: #1, #8, #10.  

More on People in this Article: James Allen 169; Nathaniel Scudder 2, 23, 89, 219; John Burrowes 6, 96.


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