1777: The US Navy & The Battle Of Wreck Hill

April 8, 2012

On August 14, 1775, a group of Bermudians led by Colonel Henry Tucker  collaborated with Benjamin Franklin and other patriots in the rebellious American colonies, coordinating the audacious theft of gunpowder from the British Magazine in St. George’s which was then shipped to George Washington’s Continental Army.

In the immediate aftermath of Bermuda’s Gunpowder Plot, the British dispatched HMS “Scorpion” to the island to remove a number of artillery pieces fearing the Americans would return to seize the ordnance.

And in 1776 two Royal Navy sloops of war, HMS “Nautilus” and “Galatea”, were dispatched to Bermuda with the task of preventing illicit trade between Bermuda and the 13 rebellious Colonies.

But the increased British military presence did not prevent a brief invasion of the West End of the island by American forces in 1777 as the Revolutionary War continued to rage.

British soldiers had been stationed at the 17th century battery near Wreck Hill in Somerset because although the fort was antiquated, it was strategically located — guarding the West End Channel, one of the few passages through Bermuda’s treacherous ring of reefs.

The soldiers fired on two armed warships which advanced in a threatening manner despite the fact they flew British colours.

The ships responded with broadsides from their cannon, lowered the British ensigns and flew the red-and-white barred US Naval jack from their bowsprits. The two ships then sent landing parties to Wreck Hill.

The British troops retreated, and over the course of several days the Americans spiked the fort’s guns and destroyed its walls. They withdrew themselves when a reinforced British contingent approached.

The brief West End skirmish — one of the few times in the island’s history that Bermuda has been the scene of a battle — factored into British Board of Admiralty plans to reinforce the island as a major naval outpost. Although the British had lost nothing but face at Wreck Hill, the fact two US warships had approached the island and landed men demonstrated Bermuda’s vulnerability to invasion.

After the American Revolutionary War,  Bermuda was now considered vital to maintaining the British colonial empire in the Atlantic and work began on a definitive nine year survey of the island’s waters, a project  legendary mariner Pilot James [Jemmy] Darrell participated in .

After the completion of the survey, the Royal Navy began to improve Bermuda’s harbours and in 1811 commenced work on the large dockyard on Ireland Island to serve as its principal naval base guarding the western Atlantic Ocean shipping lanes.

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