America Invades Whitehaven
During the War of Independence American naval forces disrupted British trade by attacking merchant shipping. One of the key figures in this campaign was John Paul Jones, born in Kirkbean near Dumfries. When hostilities began he was commissioned into the newly formed American Navy, but his earlier actions could well be regarded as those of a confirmed privateer.
On the night of April 22 1778, however, he carried out a military raid on the port of Whitehaven, significant in those days for the coal it shipped out and the goods from the West Indies it landed. His ship Ranger was moored off the port, and two boats of marines and sailors rowed to shore. There Jones himself led what turned out to be a bloodless attack on the fort, whose guns were soon spiked. The force moved on to set fire to several coal ships moored in the harbour, though not without first securing a strategically vital quayside pub where with no regard to their personal safety the men ensured little alcohol was left for the enemy.
Having taken prisoner two cabin boys guarding coal ships and a sea captain they found fishing the Ranger raiders rowed back to their craft and sailed into history. The townspeople prevented the ship-fires spreading (to be fair the crew baulked at damaging the property of ordinary people) so the impact on Whitehaven was limited. But the ease with which Jones had carried out his attack led to massive changes in British coastal defences.
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