A Missed Opportunity

Sir Guy Carleton’s fleet was composed of the eighteen-gun, three masted (which was something new), Inflexible. Inflexible was being built in Quebec, but wanting the ship for his fleet, Carleton ordered the half-built ship dismantled, transported to St. John’s and rebuilt. Just the rebuilding of this ship occupied the British from September 2nd to September 30th. If Carleton had attacked the Lake instead of waiting for the construction of the Inflexible, he could have caught the rebels off guard and seized control of the lake, from where he had planned to later launch a land force to meet General Howe at the Hudson River and cut off the Northern colonies. By the time the Inflexible was completed however, it was too late in the campaign season to complete these plans. The rest of Carleton’s fleet was composed of the fourteen gun schooner Lady Maria which had sailed from England, the 12-gun schooner Carleton of which the key parts were brought from England in the holds of fourteen gunboats. Lt. Schanke had prepared capstans and rollers to transport these two ships to St. John’s from Chambly. Due to bad weather however, the rollers became stuck in the mud, thus blocking the supply route. After weeks of delay, Sir Guy ordered the ships dismantled and carried piecemeal to St. John’s, where they would be rebuilt. Carleton also had the 18 gun scow Thunderer, a seven gun gondola Loyal Convert (which was named the American Convert until captured by the British in June of 1774), and twenty 1-gun boats commonly referred to as bateaux. Carleton’s fleet was built in the St. Lawrence shipyards, and taken up the Richelieu River to Chambly. From there, they were broken down, carried around the rapids, and rebuilt at St. Johns. [6]

The differences between the two fleets were important. The fact that each colonial ship had two or more different types of guns caused confusion among the loaders and decreased overall efficiency. Also, the hulls of the British ships were twice as thick (at two inches) as those of the colonial fleet. Furthermore, the British fleet was manned by 1000 men who more or less were members of the Royal Navy, Artillery and Hessian soldiers, while the 700 men of the colonial fleet were drafts from the Northern Army of which only seventy had any sea experience. Arnold reported to General Schuyler that “we have a wretched motley crew in the fleet; the marines the refuse of every regiment and the seamen few of them ever wet with salt water.” [7] The overall morale of the rebels was low so soon after Gen. Washington was driven from New York City. Arnold had the only position from which to thwart a British invasion from Canada The building and transport of ships and wilderness transport of supplies were slowed because Gates was in the Congress complaining about Gen. Schuyler. Arnold also had some dissension in the ranks. He had General Wynkoop arrested because of a dispute over Arnold’s authority. Overall, the British force was about three times as strong as Arnold and his men. At the time however, the rebels had no idea of the British numbers or motives until they saw them. [8]