David M. Miller
The Logistical Impact of Prize Capture on Armies at the Siege of Boston, 1775-1776.
(Under the direction of Dr. Michael Palmer) Department of History, April 2005
The goal of this thesis is to demonstrate the significance of colonial prize captures during the siege of Boston. The siege has been largely minimalized by many historians and presented as an introduction to the Revolutionary War with little depth of its own. In fact, events at the siege influenced the course of the war. The Americans forced the British under General Sir William Howe to evacuate Boston and sail to Nova Scotia instead of New York as British strategy dictated. While the fortification of Dorchester Heights caused the early British retreat, logistical concerns forced the move to Canada. Because of American incursions on supply ships, Howe lacked the supplies and transports necessary to move his army to begin campaigning in New York.
Upon arrival in Boston, George Washington noted immediately that success in Boston depended on organizing and supplying his army while depriving the British of as many supplies as possible. For the task, he commissioned several schooners from Massachusetts and manned them with Army personnel of maritime background. Throughout the siege, these and other colonial vessels raided British transports and supply ships. The British, cut off from traditional sources on land and dependent entirely on maritime supply suffered prodigiously as a result of these prize seizures.In cases where the Army was in short supply, Washington had the cargo from captured ships sent directly to his army before prize adjudication, as permitted by a directive of the Continental Congress. Particularly during the winter of 1776, the cargoes carried by supply ships became critical to both armies.
In this thesis, I have outlined the history of the siege of Boston, the needs of the opposing armies, and the prize captures. When possible, I have listed the cargoes and based on contemporary ration amounts, calculated the number of men the captured cargoes theoretically supplied. The numbers are large and demonstrate that successful prize captures had a direct impact on the siege of Boston. Because logistical concerns dictated British strategy, and a shortage forced that strategy to change, prize captures by colonials influenced the course of the American Revolution.