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HMS Romney

compiled and edited by Michael R. Burch

In 1767 the British Empire dispatched a warship of the Royal Navy to New England to enforce its right of taxation over American colonists. The name of that warship was the HMS Romney, a fourth-rate Man of War.

In March 1767, operating under the command of Captain John Corner and Admiral Samuel Hood, the Romney entered Boston Harbor to support the royal tax commissioners who had asked Hood for help in enforcing the Townshend Acts. ("Shend" means to shame, injure or destroy.) Being short of men, Captain Corner began to corner and impress Massachusetts seamen. This was understandably unpopular with the locals, who began attacking the cornering gangs. Hostilities escalated when the royal tax commissioners ordered the seizure of the merchant vessel Liberty, which belonged to John Hancock. When sailors and marines from the Romney attempted to seize the Liberty, the American colonists turned on the royal tax commissioners, who then took refuge aboard the Romney before transferring to Castle William. These incidents heightened tensions that would eventually lead to the Boston Massacre in 1770. The underlined names are interesting, to say the least. Albert Einstein once said the God reveals himself through coincidence.

The Romney acted like a floating Al Queda base in Boston Harbor, terrorizing the good citizens of Boston with kidnapping, extortion and grand theft for nine long years, including the eleven-month siege of Boston which was broken by the heroic capture and transport of cannon from Fort Ticonderoga in New York to Dorchester Heights in March of 1776. That event is celebrated as Evacuation Day every year on March 17th.

Ironically, another American ship called the Liberty was attacked and almost sunk by Israel, the nation to which Mitt Romney has pledged eternal, unquestioning fealty and support. Even more ironically, the Romney was built by a shipwright named Israel Pownoll. According to an online Pownoll Genealogy, other famous Pownoll relatives include Jane Bastard, William Rodney and the Rev. Philemon Pownoll Bastard. One bearer of the Pownoll/Pownall surname was Thomas Pownall (1722-1805), who was nominated governor of Massachusetts in 1757, and who published his famous work on The Administration of the Colonies in 1764. The first recorded spelling of the family name is that of Robert de Pownall, which was dated 1328, in the Medieval Records of Cheshire, during the reign of King Edward 111, known as "The Father of the Navy", 1327-1377.

The HMS Romney was paid off in March 1771 and repaired and refitted at Deptford (which sounds like Debt Ford) between 1773 and 1775.

After the Revolutionary War, the HMS Romney was laid up under repair for most of the subsequent years of peace, but returned to active service to attack European ships. The Romney was lost when it ran aground and broke up after attempts to float her off failed.

Samuel Adams wrote about the seizing of the Liberty in a pamphlet titled (and this is the abbreviated version of the title, mind you): An Appeal to the World; or a Vindication of the Town of Boston, from Many false and malicious Aspersions. In it, Adams quotes "his Majesty's Council after two Days Enquiry and Consideration":

With Regard to the said Disorders, it is to be observed that they were occasioned by the making a Seizure (in a Manner unprecedented) in the Town of Boston on the said 10th of June, a little before Sunset, when a Vessel was seized by several of the Officers of the Customs; and immediately after, on a Signal given by one of the said Officers, in Consequence of a preconceived Plan, several armed Boats from the Romney Man of War took Possession of her, cut her Fasts, and carried her from the Wharff where she lay, into the Harbour, along side the Romney; which occasioned a Number of People to be collected, some of whom, from the Violence and Unprecedentedness of the Procedure with Regard to the taking away of the said Vessel, and the Reflection thereby implied upon the Inhabitants of the Town as disposed to rescue any Seizure that might be made, took Occasion to insult and abuse the said Officers, and afterwards to break some of the Windows of their Dwelling-Houses, and to commit other Disorders. Now, tho' the Board have the utmost Abhorrence of all such disorderly Proceedings, and would by no Means attempt to justify them, they are obliged to mention the Occasion of them, in order to shew, that however culpable the said disorderly Persons were, the Officers who seized, or those by whose Orders such unusual and violent Measures as were pursued in seizing and taking away the said Vessel, were not faultless: It being highly probable that no such Disorders would have been committed, if the Vessel had not been with an armed Force, and with many Circumstances of Insult and Threats, carried away from the Wharff.

Adams blithely dismisses the actions of the crowd elsewhere in this pamphlet: "It was not a numerous Mob; nor was it of long Continuance, neither was there much Mischief done." But it was frightening enough that the Customs officials wound up fleeing to the military garrison in town, or back to the Romney herself for protection.

Later, the Admiralty Board (the tribunal for such maritime matters) upheld the seizure of Hancock's ship, but dismissed the charges of smuggling (because the evidence was found to be dubious). The whole affair likely happened because Hancock was no friend of the authorities and they were looking for a way to take him down a peg. This also was likely the reason the Customs officials were so belligerent in their method of seizing the ship, which is what enraged the dockside crowd so much.

The British navy tried to use the ship as a Customs enforcement vessel, and sent it to Rhode Island, where the fun-loving inhabitants welcomed it by promptly burning it to the waterline in protest. Three years later, the merry Rhode Islanders would likewise torch the H.M.S. Gaspée, an event still celebrated yearly in America's smallest state.

The entire incident of the seizure (and fiery end) of the Liberty was but a small footnote in the story of the American Revolution. I am unaware of any link between the H.M.S. Romney and the ex-governor of Massachusetts who is running for president. In other words, I have no larger point to make, here. It is merely a coincidence that one of the hated British war vessels in the center of revolutionary Boston bore the same name as Mitt Romney.

But it might help explain why, on the Declaration of Independence, John Hancock made sure nobody would miss his signature. For him, it was personal. The British had taken his Liberty, and with his signature he took his own "liberty" back.

The local colonists and American Natives fought off the HMS Romney keeping the ship from entering the Harbour until Samual Adams drafted the Massachusetts Circular Letter and introduced it on the house floor for the vote, it passed without opposition. The HMS Romney sustained critical damages by the colonists and natives and returned to a British friendly waters for repair.

Then the British dispatched the HMS Romney and ordered the seizure of the Liberty Merchant Vessel owned by John Hancock in the same Harbour. The conflict between the HMS Romney and the Liberty Merchant Vessel was the beginning of what we know today as the Boston Massacre.

Royal Commissioners would hide out on it to avoid patriots. So it became an “offshore tax haven” of sorts.

The Romney was also “downsized.”

Still seeking additional revenue, Parliament passed the Townshend Acts in June 1767. These placed indirect taxes on various commodities such as lead, paper, paint, glass, and tea. Again citing taxation without representation, the Massachusetts legislature sent a circular letter to their counterparts in the other colonies asking them to join in resisting the new taxes.

Romney was joined that fall by four infantry regiments which were dispatched to the city by General Thomas Gage. While two were withdrawn the following year, the 14th and 29th Regiments of Foot remained in 1770. As military forces began to occupy Boston, colonial leaders organized boycotts of the taxed goods in an effort to resist the Townshend Acts.

The tensions with British troops and tax collectors stationed in Boston eventually led to the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party.

Customs officials fled to Castle William (named after King William III) for protection. Under William III the British Royal Navy, augmented by the Dutch navy, became the most powerful navy on the planet.

Tensions rose after Christopher Seider, "a young lad about eleven Years of Age", was killed by a customs employee on February 22, 1770.

The Boston Massacre took place soon thereafter, on March 5, 1770, when soldiers guarding the Customs House fired shots into a crowd that had been taunting and throwing snowballs at them.

To keep the peace, the royal authorities agreed to remove all troops to a fort on Castle Island in Boston Harbor.

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