March 3rd, 1776

battle-of-nassauMonfort Browne, Lieutenant Governor of the Bahamas, was still dressed in his nightshirt when he rushed from Government House to order the alarm sound. The cannons would ring in the air, alerting the militia of the imminent attack. The American fleet had been spotted off of the coast of Nassau and it was only a matter of time now before the raid commenced.

The sound in the distance would be a disappointment to Commodore Esek Hopkins. He had ignored orders. Told by the Continental Congress to patrol the shores of Virginia, and North and South Carolina, conducting raids on British forces spotted off their coasts, he chose instead to set sail for Nassau. It was no secret that John Murray, Lord Dunmore, the Colonial Governor of Virginia, had ordered the removal of British stockpiles of weapons and gunpowder, sending them to New Providence in the Bahamas to keep these stores from being captured by Colonial Rebels. Now Dunmore was using those weapons to launch his own assaults, particularly off the coast of Virginia. Dangerously low on munitions, the Continental Congress planned a raid on Nassau but Hopkins orders, at least his known orders, didn’t include sailing further than Abaco. Now, with over 200 Continental Marines under the command of Samuel Nicholas, Captain of the Marines, his fleet anchored offshore planning their next move, knowing that it had to be a careful one. Familiar enough with the government seat, he knew that a dangerous bar lay just off from the entrance to the harbor. At the west Fort Nassau, though perpetually in disrepair, and at the east Fort Montague protected the opening. Gale force winds had already separated the Fly and the Hornet from the remainder of the fleet, sending the Hornet back to port for repairs. Though two British merchant ships would be captured on their way to Nassau and pressed into service, he still relied on the idea that this was to be a surprise attack. Those plans now had fallen to the wayside and the first attempt at an assault would be quickly aborted.

Yet Hopkins would not be so easily deterred. Planning a new attack from the east he would dispatch Captain Nicholas and his Marines as the Wasp and the Providence covered their landing.

At approximately 12:00pm on March 3rd, 1776 the United States Continental Marines lead by Captain Nicholas, accompanied by 50 sailors under the command of Lieutenant Thomas Weaver of the Cabot would come ashore at the east near Fort Montague. Barely four months old, it would be the first amphibious landing of the US Marine Corp. The British cannons would open fire, but it would only be a slight resistance. Even as Governor Browne arrived with an additional 80 militiamen they were severely outnumbered, perhaps more than Browne had initially imagined, because he would almost immediately order the withdrawal of troops from Montague, yielding the ground to the Marines. Resolved to the fate that he had lost the moment those troops took to the shore, the militia would return home rather than mount a resistance, and Browne himself would retire to Government House to plan his next move.

Here Commodore Hopkins would make his strategic blunder. As Nicholas took the evening to chart his course for the next day, as he took the time to strategically plan his next move with his troops, Browne would order over three quarters of the gun powder, 162 of the 200 barrels stockpiled, be loaded on the Mississippi Packet and the HMS St. John and sent to St. Augustine. Anchored off Hanover Sound, Hopkins had neglected to station any ships to guard Nassau Harbor. Though the fleet might then have been safely out of range of the British guns, the majority of the gunpowder desperately needed by General George Washington made its way from their hands, slipping just out of their grasp as, without trouble or incident, those ships set sail.

Regardless, the next day, as Captain Nicholas marched on Fort Nassau, he would do so without a shot fired. Having received word that, at most 200 militia, inhabitants of the town, constituted the only defense Hopkins penned an open letter declaring “The reasons of my landing an armed force on the island is in order to take possession of the powder and warlike stores belonging to the Crown and if I am not opposed in putting my design in execution the persons and property of the inhabitants shall be safe. Neither shall they be suffered to be hurt in case they make no resistance.” Taken at his word, the response was telling. As Nicholas approached the town he was met by resident. They were ready to surrender, abandoning the Nassau and the Governor to the Americans.

Once it had been discovered that Browne had successfully denied the American’s those desperately needed barrels of gunpowder, he would put in irons. Arrested, he was confined to the brig of Hopkins flagship the Alfred. Yet when the Commodore would return to America with the 30 plus barrels he could take hold off, as well as the 103 cannons and other munitions, it would not be Browne who would take the brunt of the blame, but the American commander himself.

Though initially praised for the attack he would eventually be court martialed. It would be the first disgrace in a downward spiral that would see to it that he was eventually forced from the Navy two years later. Browne would be, likewise, treated with scorn once he was traded back to the British for General William Alexander, captured during the Battle of Long Island. His actions and motives for those actions would be perpetually questioned by British Circles and in British Court. Captain Nicholas, commended for his actions, would be promoted to Major. Eventually he would be placed in a role similar to that of later Commandant of the Marines, his heart would be elsewhere. Seeking once more to be put back in the field he would be frustrated, finding that the Continental Congress had other designs for him. He would serve until the Continental Marines were disbanded at the end of the Revolution.


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