Two Ships Named

Today's "H.M.S." Rose is a replica of a mid-eighteenth century Royal Navy frigate which figured in the Colonial and Revolutionary history of the United States. While she is a replica of a British Colonial era vessel, today's Rose is an American ship and she is documented or registered as such. Although she is sometimes referred to as "H.M.S." Rose, her official documented name is simply Rose. It is important to note that, in referring to today''s Rose, the initials (for 'His Majesty's Ship') are always enclosed in quotation marks to indicate that they represent more of a nickname than any official designation.

The original "H.M.S." Rose was built in Hull, England in 1757. At that period in naval history ships were divided by "rates," first rate being the largest with 100-110 guns carried on three individual gundecks. The original Rose was a sixth rate ship, the smallest class of ship that would be commanded by someone holding the rank of Captain. In size, she was about the modern day equivalent of a destroyer. She would not have participated in major fleet engagements except perhaps to relay messages. The job of the frigate was to operate as a scout ship for the fleet or to patrol the coasts of any belligerent country.

And that is primarily what the Rose did during the American Revolution. The original Rose was built to fight in the Seven Years War, known as the French & Indian War. At that time America was still happily a part of Great Britain and a young George Washington was employed as a soldier in the British Army. During the course of that war, Rose fought along the coast of France and in the Caribbean. In 1768 she was sent to the coast of America where things were beginning to heat up due to the imposition of new British taxes which were intended to recover some of the costs of defending North America during the recently concluded war with France. She patrolled the Northeast coast of America, "impressing," or conscripting, sailors from American merchant vessels whenever the opportunity arose and seeking out provisions for the British garrison at Boston.

In 1774 the Rose, under the command of James Wallace, was sent to Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island to put an end to the lucrative smuggling which had made Newport the fourth wealthiest city in America. At this time Rhode Island enjoyed a very liberal charter of self-government dating back to the time of King Charles, a charter so liberal that Rhode Island was the only colony permitted to appoint its own customs agents. The combination of this lax customs arrangement and the natural protection of Narragansett Bay allowed Rhode Island merchants to broker the best trade deals in the Colonies. Even during the French & Indian war, products from the French West Indies flowed through Newport. Since the Rose was much larger than any American vessel of the time, and Wallace was very efficient at his job (the Rhode Islanders considered him to be a brutal pirate) smuggling soon came to a relative standstill. This so decimated the economy of Newport, that four-fifths of the population fled inland. Rhode Island's powerful merchants petitioned their colonial legislature (which had relocated to Providence from Newport) to create a navy to deal with Wallace. They backed up their petitions with money by refitting a merchant vessel, the square tops'l sloop Katy, for naval service. This vessel was commissioned the Sloop of War Providence. Within a year or so Providence became the first naval command of John Paul Jones. Rhode Island also initiated the Declaration of Independence by declaring its own independence from Britain on May 4th, 1776, two full months before the rest of the colonies. And by petitioning Congress to form a Continental Navy to rid Narragansett Bay of the Rose, the creation of the United States Navy may be directly attributed to the presence of the "H.M.S." Rose.

In July of 1776 the Rose played a large part in the British invasion of New York, shelling the land-based fortification and making forays far up the Hudson. James Wallace was knighted for his actions in helping to drive Washington and his troops from the city. Rose finally met her end in 1779 in Savannah, Georgia. At that time the British occupied the city and the French, who were now fighting on the side of the Americans, sent a fleet up the Savannah River to attack the British from the riverfront while Americans aided by Poles and other allies continued an assault from the rear. The British scuttled the Rose in a narrow part of the channel, effectively turning her into an aquatic roadblock. Consequently, the French fleet was unable to approach to within Range and Savannah remained in British hands until the war's end. After the war Rose was destroyed to clear the channel. Only a few artifacts, brought up in dredging operations over the years, remain from what was once the British frigate "H.M.S." Rose.

The replica "H.M.S." Rose was built in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia in 1970 by Newport Historian John Fitzhugh Millar, using original construction drawings from 1757 which were obtained from the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England. He intended her as a project to celebrate the forthcoming Bicentennial, but from the start the ship was undercapitalized. She spent the first ten years of her life in Newport, Rhode Island, largely as a dockside attraction. In 1985, already in serious disrepair, she was purchased by Kaye Williams and brought to Bridgeport, Connecticut. Mr. Williams formed the "H.M.S." Rose Foundation, a private, nonprofit group to restore and administer the ship. After extensive rebuilding, the ship is once again in sailing condition. In 1990 she toured the Great Lakes and in 1991 sailed the East Coast from Maine to Florida while displaying Rhode Island's original draft of the Bill of Rights. In September of 1991 Rose was certified as America's first Class-A size Sailing School Vessel by the US Coast Guard, making her the largest Sailing School Vessel in the United States.

In 2001 Rose began a new mission: playing HMS Surprise in the upcoming film Far Side of the World. It's fully expected she'll return to her sail training mission once her Hollywood adventure is wrapped up.

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All photos and text copyright © 1996-2002 H.M.S. Rose Foundation. Used with permission only.