Log book of Commodore John Ford.

7th November 1792 - 31st July 1794, recording his time in the West Indies as Commander-in-Chief, Jamaica Station.

1792 - 1794 Stock Code: 128585
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Original manuscript log book of Commodore John Ford, kept during the Haitian Revolution

A conspicuous survival from a period of violent tumult in the Caribbean: the log book of the distinguished Royal Navy officer Commodore John Ford, kept while Commander-in-Chief, Jamaica Station. "At the start of the French Revolutionary War Ford d. 1796 had nine small vessels including three frigates in addition to his flagship at Jamaica. Having been asked to assist French Royalists on the island of San Domingo he sailed on 9 September 1793 in company with the Goelan 14 guns, Commander Thomas Wolley and schooner Flying Fish 4 guns, Lieutenant James Prevost. After occupying parts of the island from 19 to 21 September he installed a royalist government and spent the rest of the year reducing the main towns on the island. During September his force captured the French vessel Convention Nationale 10 guns off San Domingo. Early in 1794 he began a blockade of Port au Prince, on 3 February captured Cape Tiburon, and on 11 April took Aoul. Now commanding four sail of the line, three frigates and three sloops, he conveyed nearly fifteen hundred troops under the command of Brigadier-General Whyte to Port au Prince, and despite the arrival of a ferocious tropical storm he quickly took Fort Brissoton. After bombardments over the next three days Port au Prince capitulated on 4 June. He eventually vacated his command and returned home with Captain Thomas Surridge as his flag-captain in July 1795" (morethannelson.com). Ford is mentioned in Dudley Pope's The Black Ship (1963), his account of the 1797 mutiny, the bloodiest in British naval history, in which the frigate Hermione, under Ford's command on the Jamaica Station, was the main stage.

Apparently designed to demarcate his Jamaica service, the log commences on 7th November 1792: "On the 5th Day of October last I received a Commission from the Right Honble the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty appointing me Commander in Chief of His Majesty's Ships & Vessels employed at harbour, the Island of Jamaica, & the Bahama Islands, & this day at 11 AM hoisted my Broad Pendant on bd. His Majesty's Ship (50 Gun) Europa in Hamouze. Saluted Rr. Ad. Corby with 13 guns which was returned". Hamouze was the inlet at the mouth of the river Tamar at Plymouth that ran up country for some miles and housed both a wet and a dry dock. After his arrival in Jamaica on 4th Jan. 1793, there are no further entries until 10th September 1793, but the log does then record position, actions and signals of various squadrons and in various locations, including at the home base of Port Royal, taken on almost every subsequent day until 31st July 1794. Most significantly, this manuscript records in detail one of the most outstanding actions of Ford's career and indeed of the Jamaica Station itself: the September 1793 attack on the French colonies of Saint-Domingue and Jérémie which had been seized by slaves during the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804). In various actions at L'Islet, Flamande Bay, and Môle-Saint-Nicolas Ford's squadron captured French merchant and naval vessels; the shallow-draught schooner Flying Fish, conveying part of the 13th (1st Somersetshire) Regiment in a daring beach assault in support of French monarchists. The Môle-Saint-Nicolas itself is described by C. L. R. James as "the Gibraltar of the Caribbean Sea" (The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution, 1963, p. 31). The final significant action recorded before this log closes is the capture of Port au Prince, in concert with the ground forces of Brigadier-General John Whyte, on 8th June 1794. All of this is covered by Clowes in his magisterial history of the Royal Navy, where he describes Ford's assistance to French royalist forces as being "welcomed with joy" (vol. iv, p. 214).

John Ford was commissioned lieutenant in April 1761 and appointed to the sloop Swallow; in 1772-73 he was commander on the Hazard. Promoted post-captain in 1773 and given command of the Unicorn he was at two actions during the American Revolutionary War, the capture of the frigate Raleigh (1778) - in a seven-hour running battle off the Maine coast - and the action at Cancale Bay (1779). As captain he commanded the frigates Brilliant and Nymphe during the Anglo-French War of 1778-83 and was at Chesapeake Bay (1781) and, under Rodney and Hood in the West Indies, at Battle of the Saintes (1782). Following this he captained ships-of-the-line Polyphemus and Carnatic, before being appointed Commander-in-Chief, Jamaica Station, on the 50-gun Europa. In 1794 he was successively Rear-Admiral of the Blue and of the White and in the following year Vice-Admiral of the Blue. Ford's Letter Books (six volumes covering the years 1792-1795) kept while he was on the Jamaica Station, are held at the Admiralty Library, Portsmouth (MSS 179).

By its very nature a ship's log is a businesslike thing and this example is no exception. However, there is an urgency discernible in the hand during the rising tensions of imminent action, and wartime events spice the plain fare of log-keeping. Other matters punctuate the diurnal repetition of duties: on Saturday 21 September 1793, for instance, Ford notes the punishment of one "Josh. Treglome with 1 Dozen lashes for neglect of Duty" and two days later the death "in the T. Gt. Topgallant sails" of "Jno. McCullum". There is supplying of rum to garrisons, reading of the Articles of War, and the constant maintenance of the ship ("wash'd the Lower Deck" is regularly noted, an action more common in hot climes, for as the Naval and Military Magazine pointed out in 1827: "the lower deck should never be washed at all, excepting under the most favourable circumstances for drying it"). Among the regular ship's business for Wednesday 19 December 1792 - apparently while at anchor in Funchal Bay, Madeira - is the intriguing note, in a rather more florid hand, "Miss Ann Phelps Gardner of Hereford is at present at this house".

A remarkable log, covering the Jamaica Station at a time of historic turbulence, the pinnacle of Ford's career and the action for which he was promoted to vice-admiral and is best remembered.

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Square octavo (195 x 157 mm). Contemporary reversed calf, spine with five low raised bands, sides with blind roll tool foliate border. 122 ff., pre-printed log book grid.


Rubbed, some staining to boards, marks from wine glasses and spilled candle wax, upper joint cracked but firm on cords, fabric lifting from spine in places, occasional tears, portion of one leaf (for 7-8 December 1792) neatly excised, yet this remains in remarkably good condition.


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