Peter Aplin logbooks (1769-1778)

Collection processed and finding aid created by Philip Heslp, January 2010
Manuscripts Division, William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan

Summary Information

Title: Peter Aplin logbooks
Creator: Aplin, Peter, 1753–1817
Inclusive dates: 1769-1778
Extent: 5 volumes
The Peter Aplin logbooks document Aplin's voyages on the British Navy ships Savage , Niger , Prudent , Strombolo , and Roebuck . The books detail travel between England, the Mediterranean, Africa, and India, and describe participation in naval battles and blockades in Revolutionary-era North America.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use

Acquisition Information

1982. M-2009.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown

Processing Information

Cataloging funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the "We the People" project.

Preferred Citation

Peter Aplin Logbooks, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


Peter Aplin (1753--1817), Admiral in the Royal Navy, began his naval career on the William and Mary as a captain's servant. Other early posts were on the Guernsey , Savage , Niger , and Prudent . While he was a midshipman aboard the Roebuck , First Lieutenant Leek was killed during the British attempt to break the rebel blockade at the mouth of the Hudson River, and Aplin was promoted to Leek's post. This was the first of a series of promotions throughout the Revolutionary War. On April 23, 1778, he received command of the Strombolo , and a year later was appointed master and commander of the sloop Swift . By November 1780, he became post captain of the 24-gun frigate Fowey . Aplin commanded the Fowey during the British defense of Yorktown, and lost his ship to French fire from Saint-Simon's attack during the night of October 10-11, 1781, after which Aplin and his crew joined the land forces under Cornwallis. He did not return to sea duty until 1797, when he commanded the Hector , a 74-gun frigate, in a battle off Cape St. Vincent. Two years later, he was promoted to flag rank, and, although never again taking sea duty, rose to the rank of vice admiral of the white shortly before his death at his home in Charlton Kings, Cheltenham, England, on April 17, 1817. Two of his sons, Benjamin Aplin and John George Aplin, also had distinguished careers in the Royal Navy.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The five Peter Aplin logbooks (276 pages total) document his voyages on the British navy's ships Savage , Niger , Prudent , Strombolo , and Roebuck , from 1769 to 1777. The books detail travel to England, the Mediterranean, Africa, and India, and describe his participation in naval battles and blockades in Revolutionary-era North America. Entries typically note the ships’ daily location, the weather conditions, and other ship-related matters such as repairs, discipline, rations, and interactions with other ships. The bulk of the information about the crews on these voyages concerns discipline or death on board the ships. The Aplin logs do not, however, contain personal details. The first two volumes are in Peter Aplin's hand, while volumes 3, 4, and 5, are written by various anonymous crew members.

Volume 1 (91 pages) covers two voyages, the first being from Ireland to Northern Canada on board His Majesty's Sloop Savage , commanded by Andrew Snape Hammond, from March 6 to November 23, 1769. Entries are typically 2-5 sentences long and are full of technical details on how the crew maneuvered the ship and kept it afloat during a rough voyage, as well as disciplinary actions such as lashing and confinement. Starting off from Ireland's Blasket Islands, the Savage encountered many days of "hard gale," which forced the crew to throw the guns overboard to stop the ship from foundering (v.1, p.5). During this crisis, half the crew were needed at the pumps and even with that effort the "Main Deck was Constanly full of Water" (v.1, p.7). Finally, by April 15, after a turbulent trip along the south coast of England, the Savage moored at Portsmouth Harbor, where it was repaired and provisioned until May 28 (p.13-17). The Savage then set off across the northern Atlantic and arrived at St. John's Harbor in Newfoundland on July 29. The log offers few clues on the purpose for the voyage but notes that, once anchored, the ship bottom was scrubbed, the rigging set up fore and aft, and James Cunningham was confined "for Leaving [the] boat & getting Drunk" (p.26). On August 11, the Savage headed southward and moored at Bull Bay two days later. It made stops at Cape Broyle (August 24), and Capeling Bay, Newfoundland, (August 25), before returning to St. John's Harbor (September 12-18). It arrived back at Portsmouth Harbor in late September, where it stayed till the end of the Journal on November 23, 1769.

The second voyage in volume 1 is on board the HMS Niger , commanded by Francis Bankes, from April 1, 1770 to January 18, 1771. It left from Portsmouth, England, and traveled through the Mediterranean Sea with stops at Gibraltar, Cadiz, Genoa, and Smyrna. The entries are similar to the previous voyage’s log, noting interactions with foreign ships; on board activities while sailing and mooring; and disciplinary actions for negligence of duties, selling their clothes, and gambling. A few days after unmooring from Spithead, England (May 9, 1770), the Niger had a brief encounter with an unfriendly crew on another vessel. They "fired a Shot at a French Sloop for not paying proper respect to his Maj[esty's] Ship." (p.53) The Niger headed south past France and as they approached the waters of Portugal they fired three more shots at a Dutch ship, again, for not paying respect to the English Flag (May 20th). They reached Gibraltar on May 28th and moored at Cádiz Bay, Spain, from June 11-26. From July 20 to August 6, they moored at River Tagus near Lisbon, and continued further east, stopping at Greek and Turkish Islands, such as Smyrna Castle (in November) and Milo Harbor (in early December). The ship sailed west for the next month and on January 11, 1771, had arrived back at Gibraltar to restock food and supplies. The log ends on January 18th.

Volume 2 (85 pages) is a log for the ship Prudent , commanded by Sir Jonathan Clerke, for its journey from Spithead, England, to India by way of Madeira, Madagascar, Bombay, Trincomalee (Sri Lanka), and Madras (now Chennai), from April 9, 1772 to October 27, 1774. The ship left England on April 13, and arrived at Madeira, their first stop, on April 27 (p.5). The next leg took them to St. Augustine's Bay, Madagascar, where they stayed from August 15 to September 5, 1772 (p.15-17). They reached Bombay Harbor on October 29th, where they moored. During their long stay in Bombay, Aplin continued to take notes on weather, daily activities, and crew discipline, and also described their contact with other British naval officers and crews stationed there. Also during this period, the ship made several short trips to Trincomalee Harbor, Sri Lanka, and Madras, often accompanied by a larger fleet of British ships, including the Sloop Dolphin . The last dated entry of the journal was October 28, 1774, when the Prudent was on its way southeast from India. Notable events during the ship’s voyage include the death of a crew member on May 5th, "Departed this life of accident Robt. Libson" (p.7), and a court marital for Thomas Fennel and Pat Mahon for attempted mutiny, attended by all captains stationed at Madras; the penalty was 400 lashes (p.43).

Volume 3 (47 pages plus 14 blank pages) is the logbook of the Roebuck , commanded by Andrew Hammond during the British blockade of the American Atlantic coast, October 5, 1776 to July 14, 1777. Several entries mention “the Enemy” and describe various cannon discharges and chases of foreign ships trying to get past the British blockade. Other notable events include a "Divine service" given on board the Roebuck on Sunday, October 6, 1776 (p.5); accidents at sea, such as a man falling overboard on April 27, 1777 (p.33); and a crew member dying at the mast on May 18, 1777 (p.37). The journal begins with the Roebuck stationed near the mouth of the Hudson River near Manhattan in the days leading up to the British capture of Fort Washington. On October 9, the logbook notes that guns at Fort Lee and Fort Washington fired upon their fleet but they ceased firing when the ships got past the battery. The ships then anchored at Merlin's Landing, but one of the cutters was badly damaged in the encounter and was cut adrift. The Roebuck sustained damages and fatalities, and for days after the battle, between the 10th and the 16th, many men were "Committed…to the Deep" (p.5-7). On October 21, the ship was anchored at Haverstraw, New York, on the Hudson (South of Fort Montgomery) and over the next weeks, the log’s writer made note of when shots were fired, what ships they encountered, and where the ships were stationed, though they do not record any further battles. In December 1776 and January 1777 the Roebuck was part of the British blockade on the lookout for foreign ships. Many entries describe "giving chase," with some pursuits lasting two days. They let most of the ships go, though on some occasions Aplin mentions taking prisoners (p.17). Most of the vessels were headed to Boston, Virginia, and Philadelphia, with some coming from Cape Nichola Mola, such as a schooner captured on January 2, 1777, carrying sugar and molasses (p.17). At the end of January, the Roebuck headed north and on March 12, 1777, they arrived at St. John's Harbor, Newfoundland, where they worked on the ship, "Scrubbing Hammocks and wash'd between Decks" (p.29). The entries between pages 27-45 are in a different hand. The remainder of the journal records the ship patrolling off the coast of Delaware. On April 9th it was anchored at Fenwick Island (p.31) and over the next weeks, the ship visited Cape May and Bombay Hooks, where the crew occasionally carried out small arms exercises and observed fellow British ships returning with captured vessels.

Volume 4 (35 pages and 49 blank pages) contains logs for two ships: the Roebuck , commanded by Andrew Hammond, at ports along the southern and western coasts of England, July 14-September 30, 1775, and the Strombolo , commanded by Peter Aplin, anchored off Sandy Hook, July 14-September 21, 1778. For the first 9 pages of the log, the Roebuck was docked at Chatham, England (July 14-August 3, 1775). The ship was next moored near the North Shore of Sheerness, England, from August 4-22 where two men were received from the hospital (p. 9) and another was punished for thieving (p.11). The Roebuck cruised the south coast of England for the next 10 days, anchoring off the North Foreland (August 23), near Downs (August 24); at Spithead (August 27), near Yarmouth (September 5); at the Isle of Portland (September 10); and at Guernsey (September 14-30). The logbook for the Strombolo begins on page 20 with the ship anchored off Sandy Hook from July 14-September 21, 1778 (p. 20-25). At this time, the Strombolo was stationed with the British fleet and they received daily signals from Admiral Howe. The superior French fleet had gathered near Rhode Island and occasionally approached the British to try to engage them in a large-scale conflict. On July 17th, Aplin described a skirmish between the HMS Vigilant and some French vessels. After a few days of hard gales, the British fleet sailed north on August 8th (p.25) from Sandy Hook to the vicinity of Block Island. For the next six weeks, they sailed to Block Island, Cape Cod, Sandy Hook, and Montauk, along with British ships including the HMS St. Albans , Renoun , Ardent , Experiment , Emerald , Ariel , Delaware , Vigilant , Raisonnable , Phoenix and the Apollo (August 15-18). Aplin's ship and the HMS Richmond left the fleet on September 3, 1778.

Volume 5 (18 pages) contains hand-written copies of entries from the Roebuck voyages of Volume 3, covering the log entries of October 5 to December 18, 1776, and from May 17 to July 14, 1777.

Subject Terms

  • Atlantic Coast (Del.)
  • Blasket Islands (Ireland)
  • Block Island (R.I. : Island)
  • Blockade.
  • Bombay (India)
  • Cadiz (Spain)
  • Cape Cod (Mass.)
  • Cape May (N.J.)
  • Clerke, Jonathan.
  • Fenwick Island (Del.)
  • Fort Washington (New York, N.Y.)--Capture, 1776.
  • Genoa (Italy)
  • Gibraltar.
  • Great Britain--History, Naval--18th century.
  • Great Britain. Royal Navy--History--18th century.
  • Great Britain. Royal Navy--History--Revolution, 1775-1783.
  • Great Britain. Royal Navy--Sea life.
  • Guernsey (Channel Islands)
  • Hammond, Andrew Snape, Sir, 1738-1828.
  • Harbors--India--Bombay.
  • Haverstraw (N.Y.)
  • Hudson River (N.Y. and N.J.)
  • Indian Ocean.
  • Izmir (Turkey)
  • Naval battles--Great Britain.
  • Naval discipline--Great Britain.
  • Niger (Ship)
  • Madagascar.
  • Madeira (Madeira Islands)
  • Madras (India)
  • Mediterranean Region.
  • Montauk (N.Y.)
  • Portland (England)
  • Portsmouth (England)
  • Prudent (Ship)
  • Roebuck (Ship)
  • Sailing ships.
  • Sandy Hook (N.Y.)
  • Savage (Sloop)
  • Seafaring life.
  • Sheerness (England)
  • Ship handling.
  • Spithead Channel (England)
  • St. John’s (N.L.)
  • Strombolo (Sloop)
  • Tagus River (Spain and Portugal)
  • Trincomalee (Sri Lanka)
  • United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Naval operations, British.
  • Voyages and travels.
  • Yarmouth (England)
Genre Terms:
  • Logs (records)
  • Ships' logs.

Contents List (Request Materials)

Request materials for use in the Clements Library
Container / Location Title
Peter Aplin logbooks [series]
Box   1  
Volume 1: Logbook of the Savage , from Ireland to Northern Canada and back to England,   March 6-November 23, 1769
Volume 1: Logbook of the Niger , from England to Africa,   April 1, 1770-January 18, 1771
Volume 2: Logbook of the Prudent , from England to India,   April 9, 1772-October 27, 1774
Volume 3: Logbook of the Roebuck , during British blockade of Eastern American coast,   October 5, 1776-July 14, 1777
Volume 4: Logbook of the Roebuck , while moored at Chatham until it left Guernsey for America,   July 14-September 30, 1775
Volume 4: Logbook of the Strombolo , Peter Aplin, Commander, off Sandy Hook,   July 14-September 21, 1778
Volume 5: Copies of entries from Volume 3 for the Roebuck ,   October 5-December 18, 1776 and   May 17-July 14, 1777

Additional Descriptive Data

Related Materials

The Clements Library has a copy of a letter from Peter Aplin to Christopher Mason (July 28, 1780) in the Christopher Mason letterbook.

The British National Archives holds a letter from Peter Aplin to General Cornwallis, which acknowledges Cornwallis' commendation of Aplin and his crew's conduct in battle (Charles Cornwallis papers, July 16, 1781)


Laughton, J. K. and Cock, Randolph. "Aplin, Peter (1753--1817)."Oxford Dictionary of National Biography , Oxford University Press, 2004; online ed., Jan 2008.