Roderick Mather

The Royal Navy Advice Boat Swift and the Potential of Unrated Warships.

(Under the direction of William N. Still, Jr.) Department of History, November 1990.

In general, maritime historians have ignored the Royal Navy's smallest or unrated warships. Although in some ways larger vessels appear more attractive, and information about them is certainly more accessible, unrated warships are no less historically significant.

In an attempt to demonstrate the historical potential of unrated warships this study presents an analysis of the Royal Navy advice boat Swift. She was built in Arundel, West Sussex, in 1697, and designed ostensibly to carry messages and dispatches. Shortly after her construction, the Swift was sent to Chesapeake Bay to enforce the 1696 Navigation Act. Unfortunately, she was lost on the Outer Banks of North Carolina before starting this tour of duty. The Swift was selected for study partly because of her relative obscurity. Little, if anything, was known of her duties, construction, rig, history, or fate. If the importance of this vessel could be demonstrated then other unrated warships would surely merit attention.

The historical significance of the Swift is presented to three sections of the historical profession - technical maritime historians, history enthusiasts, and members of the mainstream historical community. It is argued that the details of the Swift's rig, construction, history, and functions, render her important to all three groups. Much of this study, however, is directed towards convincing scholars of the mainstream historical community. This represents a philosophical outlook. Too frequently, maritime specialists have focused narrowly upon the technical details of naval architecture, or dramatic seafaring sagas, and not demonstrated the importance of their studies in relation to broad historical issues. In doing so they have deprived the profession of key interpretations on a multitude of issues. If maritime history is to be recognized for its worth, the students must address issues with broader vision. In this study it is argued that an examination of the Swift's functions can help re-interpret the workings of the customs service in colonial America and ultimately the very nature of the first British Empire.