The history of the sloop, of which John Linzee was captain on the day of the Battle of Bunker Hill, is actually a fascinating one. Luckily, the ship has been “adopted” by a group of naval reenactors in Florida, and in the course of their activities they have constructed an exhaustive history of her– which they have generously permitted me to reproduce here. Many thanks!
It is worth pointing out that the Falcon’s ultimate fate was to be lost, with all hands, in Penobscot Bay– a body of water well known to members of our family.
The short version, for the casually curious, is contained in these two photos of text from the HMS Falcon website (by permission)…
27 October 1768: The Lord Commissioners of the Admiralty ordered a new “SWALLOW-class” sloop to be built; a “sloop-of-war 14, 302 burthen, 95 x 27 feet, the bottom to be copper-sheathed…”. This class of sloop was designed by master shipwright and Surveyor of the Navy, Thomas Slade, who also designed H.M.S. VICTORY and other vessels.
06 February 1769: Slade submitted his draft for building the sloop to the Admiralty and, in April, the keel was laid in the Royal Dockyard at Portsmouth, with construction to be overseen by master shipwright Thomas Bucknall.
21 January 1771: Commander Cuthbert Baines was appointed as captain of the new sloop, with Israel Pellew as his first lieutenant. Wages began for the 80-man crew.
10 May 1771: Ship’s compliment was increased up to 100, including 24 Marines.
07 June 1771: Philip Stephens, secretary to the Admiralty Board, reported that “The Portsmouth Officers inform us that the FALCON sloop can be launched on the 14th or 15th, which has been ordered, and ask for approval.”
15 June 1771: Construction being finished at a cost of £7209.8.6d, the hull was launched and commissioned as His Majesty’s sloop FALCON and fitted out for a three-year tour of duty on the West Indies station.
24 August 1771: Touched at Falmouth on the way down Channel, then to Cowes at the Isle of Wight, then on to Madeira and Antigua, arriving at English Harbor on 21 October.
? November 1771: Put in at St. Vincent, where FALCON entered service in what became known as the “First Carib War” as she supported the landing of troops and equipment on the islands.
? October 1771: Took part in an expedition against the native Caribs on St. Vincent.
31 August 1772: “The most violent hurricane ever at that time remembered in the West Indies” struck at English Harbour, Antigua, levelling every building within and around the Royal dock yard. FALCON, the fourth-rate ship CHATHAM  and the sixth-rates SEA HORSE  and ACTIVE  were dismasted and driven on shore. FALCON’s lieutenant (later Vice-Admiral) Bartholomew James wrote “… it was not before the ships were cleared even to the keelson, and the greatest purchase that could be invented used, that we were enabled to get them off”. FALCON spent the next month in dock for repairs.
? April 1774: One hundred and seven supernumeraries, mostly caulkers, bricklayers, and stonemasons, were taken on board, bound for Antigua.
16 July 1774: Philip Stephens, Secretary of the Admiralty, reported that FALCON had been ordered to return home and was to be paid off and laid up at Portsmouth upon her return.
25 July 74: Returned to England from Barbados with only four of her original officers still aboard, the rest having been promoted, sent to serve aboard other ships, or died of wounds or disease. The crew was paid off and FALCON was sent into the docks for refitting.
04 October 1774: Philip Stephens reported that a request had been made “for another sloop for the Squadron under the command of Vice Admiral Graves, Commander-in-Chief of HM ships on the coast of North America. The FALCON sloop at Portsmouth was in good condition and will be ready to receive men after fitting…” She was recommissioned on 13 October under the command of Commander John Linzee.
30 January 1775: Captain Linzee wrote to Philip Stevens from Portsmouth: “I beg you will please acquaint their Lordships that I have this day received their orders to proceed to Boston with His Majesty’s sloop FALCON”. On 26 February, FALCON sailed for Boston, Massachusetts with a crew of 125.
16 April 1775: Vice Admiral Samuel Graves, Commanding the North American Squadron, reported that FALCON had arrived at Boston Harbor “in want of many men and stores and very leaky, having had blowing weather in their passage“. She was stationed between Hull Point and Peddock’s Island and repaired.
19 April 1775: Captain Linzee and Captain Collins of the NAUTILUS  sloop were ordered to sail two schooners up the Charles River to convey troops to Boston, but the troops were encamped at Bunker Hill instead.
20 April 1775: A mob of “liberty boys” attacked Linzee and an armed shore detail near Cambridge Bridge. They were forced to retreat after being soundly defeated by the sailors.
30 April 1775: Ordered to Martha’s Vineyard to seize the sloop Champion and send her to Boston, then “to sail to Tarpaulin Cove and hinder any Cattle, live Stock or Hay upon the Islands removed for use by the rebels“.
05 May 1775: Ordered to “convey a parcel of sheep to Boston as provision for the garrison”, FALCON seized two small sloops at [New] Bedford, Massachusetts to use as transports. The people of Bedford sailed out the next day and retrieved both sloops, killing two of the English sailors and capturing the rest. The thirteen prisoners were jailed at Taunton, Mass.
11 May 1775: At Holmes’ Hole, Rhode Island, FALCON impounded a schooner and sloop that lacked the proper papers and seized the sloop Champion, lading one thousand barrels of wheat and flour. Later that afternoon, a lumber sloop was detained in Vineyard Sound and Linzee learned from her crew that a vessel from the West Indies had recently arrived at Fairhaven, Dartmouth with a cargo of provisions.
12 May 1775: A prize crew of 14 men under the command of Midshipman Richard Lucas was put aboard the lumber sloop and sent to Dartmouth to seize the West Indiaman. FALCON remained on station and captured two schooners, Hawke and Doctor’s Box, both lading fish and oysters. Both were sent to Boston for deposition.
13 May 1775: The prize crew took the West Indiaman at Dartmouth without incident, but were themselves captured the next day by the Massachusetts privateer Success, commanded by Captain Daniel Egery. Both prizes returned to Dartmouth and the prisoners jailed at Cambridge, Massachusetts.
17 May 1775: Chased and captured the sloop Three Friends, lading lumber and cattle, at Tarpaulin Cove.
22 May 1775: The purser’s steward and two marines deserted ship at Boston. Captain Linzee requested that additional men be sent to fill out the ship’s complement,
25 May 1775: Chased and captured a schooner out of St. Vincent lading rum, sugar, and molasses.
29 May 1775: Ordered to purchase or, if necessary, commandeer supplies to support the Boston garrison, Captain Linzee procured livestock from the farms located on the Elizabeth Islands near Martha’s Vineyard. He also had all boats belonging to the inhabitants destroyed to prevent their use by the rebels.
17 June 1775: After receiving twenty men from SOMERSET  to augment the crew, FALCON sailed from her position in Gallows Creek to take station with the sixth-rate LIVELY  off Moulton’s Point at Boston. They began firing at 10:00 in the forenoon with “round shot, grape, and small arms” on the rebel fortifications on Breed’s Hill, and continued to fire until 4:00 in the afternoon to give support for troop landings. FALCON’s boats were sent to Charles Towne to transport the wounded from this “Battle of Bunker Hill” to hospitals in Boston.
18 June 1775: Boston shipyard workers quit work on an English brig under construction. Captain Linzee took command of four press gangs and rounded up approximately three hundred artificers and seamen. The sailors were taken to serve in the King’s Navy and the workers imprisoned until they agreed to return to work.
21 June 1775: Sailed with the transport RESOLUTION for the Piscataqua River, New Hampshire with orders to assist the crew of SCARBOROUGH  in removing the cannon and artillery stores from Fort William and Mary to keep them from being taken by the rebels. The stores arrived at Boston on 01 July.
07 July 1775: Due to reports of an planned attack on Boston, FALCON was stationed between Peddock’s Island and Hull Point with orders to capture or sink all suspected rebel transports and privateers that approached the town.
17 July 75: Ordered to cruise between Cape Cod and Cape Ann to “interrupt rebel trade and destroy any pirates.” Two boatloads of rebel troops were detained on 19 July and imprisoned.
25 July 1775: Seized the schooner Industry, lading rum and sugar
29 July 1775: Ordered to convoy the transport RUSSIA MERCHANT twenty leagues to the east of Cape Cod, then return to station between Cape Ann, Massachusetts and the Isle of Shoals off Maine.
01 August 1775: Chased and captured the sloop Byfield, lading rum and sugar, off Cape Ann.
03 August 1775: Chased and captured the sloop Deborah, lading rum, sugar, shingles, and lumber.
05 August 1775: A detail was sent ashore at Coffin’s Beach to seize cattle and sheep for the Boston garrison. They were ambushed by the local militia, but retreated without injury.
08 August 1775: Gave chase to two schooners off Cape Ann. One was taken while the other escaped into the harbor at Gloucester. With her prize in tow, FALCON followed and sent in three armed boats under the command of Lieutenant Edward Thornbrough to seize the fugitive. As they boarded the grounded schooner, they were fired upon from the shore. The lieutenant was wounded and sent back to the ship while the prize crews continued the fight. The second prize was quickly armed and sent in for relief, but was overwhelmed and both schooners were captured. Captain Linzee ordered his gunners to bombard the town and landed a shore detail to set it on fire, but both efforts failed and FALCON was forced to withdraw. Among the 30 prisoners from FALCON that were jailed at Taunton, Massachusetts were her sailing master, two midshipmen, gunner, sail maker, steward, and seven marines.
05 September 1775: FALCON was sent to the Bahamas with two transports to ferry ordnance and artillery stores from the fort at Nassau, New Providence to Boston. Upon arrival, Captain Linzee was informed that the guns were needed for “defense against the rebel pirates that threatened the islands” and would not be released. Having no recourse, Linzee set course for Boston and FALCON arrived 18 October, “with her sails and rigging in ruins, having had much blowing weather in passage” and “with her sails and rigging in ruins.” Admiral Graves reported that she was also “twenty men short of her complement with as many sick on board and at Hospital“. She hauled deep into Gallows Creek for repair and, by 22 October, “all the sailmakers that could be got are now employed in making sails for the FALCON “. (The artillery stores at New Providence were eventually sent to Governor Patrick Tonyn for the defense of St. Augustine, East Florida).
08 December 1775: At Boston, the captains of CEREBUS , PRESTON, and FALCON brought their carpenters to survey the captured rebel brig Washington for sea-worthiness. The brig proved to be in such poor condition that was condemned and burned to salvage the iron fittings.
03 January 1776: The day is spent “unraveling old rope to make junk, make and mend“.
15 January 1776: Captain Linzee received orders to “await upon Rear Admiral Shuldham for his dispatches to carry to the Southward“, then to sail for Cape Fear, North Carolina to join a special squadron led by Commodore Sir Peter Parker that was to support and encourage the local Loyalists. FALCON sailed on 19 January with three infantry transports.
23 January 1776: Seized the brig Hibernia, lading molasses, sugar, and coffee, off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.
11 February 1776: Entered the mouth of the Cape Fear River and anchored near the sloop CRUIZER  near Fort Johnson at Brunswick Town, North Carolina.
25 February 1776: Chased and captured the brig Two Friends in ballast (empty).
27 February 1776: Word arrived that the rebels were using Brunswick Town as a refuge. Linzee led an armed detail ashore to burn the town, but decided it would serve little purpose to do so.
08 March 1776: Seized the sloop Adventure, lading rice, indigo, and hides.
14 April 1776: Chased and captured the schooner Martha, lading salt, at Oak Island off Cape Fear.
21 April 1776: FALCON, along with her tender, GENERAL CLINTON (formerly the rebel brig Hetty), gave chase to the South Carolina navy brig Comet , commanded by Captain Joseph Turpin, and her newly-captured English prize, the ST. JAMES, lading rum and sugar. Both ships fled into Charleston harbor with FALCON in hot pursuit. The Comet escaped, but ST. JAMES ran aground three miles northeast of Fort Johnson. Turpin ordered her to be set on fire and abandoned.
22 April 1776: The GENERAL CLINTON was captured by Comet as she sailed off Cape Fear with pilots looking out for the expected arrival of Sir Peter Parker’s fleet.
16 May 1776: Rebel troops fired on FALCON from the abandoned ruins of Fort Johnson on the Cape Fear River and received round and grape shot in reply.
17 May 1776: Linzee led a well-armed shore party to dislodge rebel troops from the Newtown Ferry House.
06 September 1776: Twenty men and two officers from FALCON joined other men from the squadron ashore on Bald Head Island off Cape Fear to build “Fort George”, a fortified position to provide protection for the watering details. The rebels got wind of the plan and attacked, but were driven off. Deciding that it was too dangerous to continue, Parker ordered the fort to be burned. The CRUIZER sloop was determined to be in poor condition and was also burned and her stores, ordnance, and crew distributed throughout the fleet. FALCON sailed for New York with some of the officers, crew, and warrant officer’s stores. They arrived on 19 October.
23 November 1776: Chased and captured the schooner Vanace, lading flour, soap, and candles, off New Jersey.
07 December 1776: Ordered to proceed in convoy with ROEBUCK  and the sixth-rates PERSEUS  and CAMILLA  to a position off the lighthouse at Cape Henlopen, Delaware, arriving 08 December. FALCON’s recognition signal was a white pennant at the foretop masthead.
18 December 1776: An armed detail was sent to board a sloop spotted aground at Cape May, New Jersey but was forced to withdraw under heavy fire from rebel troops ashore. The grounded sloop was taken the next day after a sharp action and found to be laden with whale oil.
20 December 1776: Sighted a brig and a snow and gave chase. The brig soon hoisted rebel colors and ran for it, but the snow, Le Jolly Coer, lading rum, sugar, and molasses, was taken. She had previously been captured by the PERSEUS, but had broken away.
29 December 1776: Assisted ROEBUCK in taking the brig New York.
31 December 1776: The brig Kitty was taken, lading molasses, rum, and dry goods.
01 January 1777: Ordered to escort a prize convoy of two brigs and a schooner to New York. One brig escaped in a storm, but the others were delivered to Sandy Hook, New Jersey, on 09 January.
19 January 1777: Chased and captured a ship, but it was found to be in ballast (empty). That afternoon, the crew of the Kitty was sent ashore at Sandy Hook, New Jersey. Upon returning to station, orders arrived that directed FALCON to set immediately course for the Navy yard at English Harbour, Antigua for much needed repairs.
22 January 1777: Captured the schooner Sea Flower, lading tea, molasses, salt, cordage, canvas, and dry goods.
31 January 1777: Gave chase to “a Rebel brig of force, with a figure-head, stern painted black and yellow, black sides and white bottom” off Desirade, Bahamas, but was outdistanced.
11 February 1777: Engaged a rebel 10-gun brig and 22-gun ship. After a brief exchange of gunfire, they turned and ran, leaving FALCON with many wounded. She arrived at Antigua without further incident.
16 February 1777: Vice Admiral James Young, commander on the West Indies Station, promoted Linzee to Post Captain of CAMILLA and put Commander The Honorable Thomas Windsor, formerly first lieutenant of the fourth-rate PORTLAND  in command of FALCON.
10 March 1777: Careened and refitted at English Harbor, Antigua.
02 April 1777: Captured a vessel from St. Lucia lading coffee and molasses.
18 April 1777: Ordered to proceed to St. Johns Road, Antigua and accompany the transports HENRIETTA and NATHANIEL to Old Road, St. Christophers, there to take on water and pick up additional transports, then to proceed “with all due haste” to New York Harbor to join Howe’s command. They arrived on 02 May.
03 May 1777: Vice Admiral (“Black Dick”) Richard, Lord Howe, perceiving Admiral Young’s list of promotions as an affront to his authority, removed Windsor from command and sent him back to Antigua within a month. Captain Linzee returned to command of FALCON.
10 May 1777: Captured the brig Charter Street, lading dry goods and salt.
21 May 1777: Howe reconsidered and assigned Linzee to command of the fifth-rate PEARL . Commander Harry Harmood assumed command of FALCON.
16 October 1777: Gave chase to a schooner and a sloop, but both escaped into Connecticut’s New Haven Harbor.
10 December 1777: Sighted an armed sloop off Crane Neck, New York at 5:30 in the morning and gave chase. By 8:00 in the forenoon, the quarry went aground near Old Mans Harbor and opened fire, only to surrender after FALCON fired four rounds of grape into her. She proved to be the Continental sloop Schuyler , commanded by Lt. John Kerr, with a crew of ten and carrying 63 officers and men of the Connecticut Militia and the Continental Army. The Schuyler was refloated the next morning and taken to Newport, Rhode Island for deposition.
16 April 1778: Assisted in the capture of the brig Polly “in company with several others of His Majesty’s ships”.
16 May 1778: The Connecticut 6-gun privateer sloop Mehitabel (D. Jackson commanding) and the Rhode Island privateer sloop General Arnold (P. Cartwright, commanding), accompanied by five armed whaleboats, crossed Long Island Sound to capture an English brig at Huntingdon Harbor. They were bringing the prize into Stamford Harbor, Connecticut, when they were attacked by seventeen/eighteen armed boats from HM frigate CERBERUS, HM sloop FALCON, and HM brig HALIFAX  and led in by HM brig DILIGENT . A “smart Engagement of several Hours” followed. The prize was recaptured and both privateers were taken, along with three of the five whaleboats. The Americans lost twenty four men, of which five or six were “supposed” to be killed or wounded. Both privateers were condemned in Admiralty Court at New York.
29 July 1778: Falcon was on station in Newport Harbor, Rhode Island when a French fleet appeared off Point Judith. The French rounded the point and sealed off the harbor entrance.
05 August 1778: In an effort to halt the French advance, Vice Admiral Howe ordered all English ships then in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island to be stripped and sunk in the main channels to keep the French from entering and landing troops at Newport. All crews, guns and stores were sent ashore and FALCON was scuttled in shallow water off Goat Island. The naval crews, numbering more a thousand seamen and officers, were employed during the siege in repulsing the French assaults and in attacking them in return. The seige failed and, after the French left, the surviving members of FALCON’s crew were sent aboard LEVIATHAN  for the passage to England. They arrived safely at Portsmouth early in 1779. FALCON was raised in late November and was soon in service again under Commander Richard Lock.
11 July 1779: On station as a guard ship at Halifax, Nova Scotia. Ships entering the harbor with supplies for the naval base were tempting targets for French and American privateers and FALCON was kept busy.
10 August 1779: Chased and captured the brig Three Sisters in Penobscot Bay.
22 August 1779: FALCON sailed from Halifax in squadron with the third-rate ROBUST , LICORNE , ADAMANT , ST. LAWRENCE  sloops, and a 14-gun privateer to protect a convoy of ships sail to the relief of the besieged army garrison of Fort George at Bagaduce (present-day Castine), Maine.
30 August 1779: As the squadron entered Penobscot Bay, a heavy wind blew up and tossed FALCON onto her beam ends. She foundered and was lost with all hands.
– ACKNOWLEGEMENTS –
The majority of listings in this document were taken from the following sources:
- “Naval Documents of the American Revolution”, Vols. 1 – 10, Ed. by W. B. Clark, U. S. Navy Press, Washington DC, 1966.
- The kindly people at the Gloucester, Massachusetts Historical Society.
- The Massachusetts Historical Society.
- The National Archives, Kew, U.K. http://yourarchives.nationalarchives.gov.uk/index.php?title=HMS_Falcon_%281771%
- “The Journal of Rear-Admiral Bartholomew James, 1752-1828”, the Navy Records Society, 1896.
- “The Diary of John Rowe, 1762 – 1797” at Google Books.
- “The Wooden World: An Anatomy of the Georgian Navy”, by N. A. M. Rodger, W. W. Norton & Co., 1996.
- “Frigates and Foremasts: The North American Squadron in Nova Scotia Waters, 1745-1815”, by Julian Gwyn, UBC Press, 2004.
- ”British Warships in the age of sail; 1714 – 1792″, by Rif Winfield, Seaforth Publishing,2007.
- The London Gazette. http://www.gazettes-online.co.uk
- The Virginia Gazette. http://research.history.org/DigitalLibrary/VirginiaGazette/VGPPIndex.cfm
- “American War of Independence at Sea” – http://www.awiatsea.com/
- “Three Decks: War at Sea in the Age of Sail: – http://www.threedecks.org/
A British sloop-of-war