Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Christopher Mason Letter Book, 1780-1783; 1794-1795

Finding aid created by
Philip Heslip, October 2010

Summary Information
Title: Christopher Mason letter book
Creator: Mason, Christopher, 1734-1802
Inclusive dates: 1780-1783, 1794-1795
Extent: 1 volume
The Christopher Mason letter book contains copied incoming and outgoing letters of a British navy officer who fought in America during the Revolutionary War. The volume covers communications from three of Mason's commands: HMS Delaware (1780), HMS Quebec (1781-1783) and HMS Zealous (1794-1795).
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:

1931. M-132 .

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:

Christopher Mason Letter Book, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


This volume contains two series of copied letters: Mason's incoming letters span pages 1-88, which begin at the front of the book. Mason's responses span pages 1a-55a and begin at the back. Incoming letters are ordered by arrival date and are not in chronological order.


Christopher Mason (1734-1802), son of Christopher Mason (1689-1759) and Anne Buckle (b.1709), was a British navy officer who fought in the American Revolution. The navy commissioned him third lieutenant on the HMS Somerset in 1762 and gave him his first command in 1776. He captained the Delaware beginning in 1780 and later commanded the 32-gun frigate Quebec , which participated in the Battle of Delaware Bay (April 1782) and helped capture the American navy ships the South Carolina and the Constance (December 1782). After the war, he patrolled the English Channel in the HMS Zealous (1794-1795). He was promoted to rear admiral in 1795 and vice admiral in 1799. For a list of Mason's navy commissions see "Additional Descriptive Data."

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Christopher Mason letter book (143 pages, 124 letters) contains copied incoming and outgoing letters of a British navy officer who fought in America during the Revolutionary War. The volume covers communications from three of Mason's commands: the HMS Delaware (1780), the HMS Quebec (1781-1783), and the HMS Zealous (1794-1795). The volume contains 79 incoming letters, an index for the 1794-1795 incoming items, and 43 outgoing letters. These include Mason's contact with the British Navy Board and with fellow officers serving during the Revolution.

The inscription on the front cover of the book reads: "Letters Relating to the War in America. Movements of Ships & Men, Information regarding the Enemy, Convoys, Lists of Rebel Ships, Victualling & Refitting, Exchange of Prisoners, List of Prizes taken, ETC."

Pages 1-49 and 1a-22a cover Mason's time on board the Delaware while it was stationed in Halifax Harbor and during its patrol of the coast of Maine (April 3-December 24, 1780). These letters contain details on the naval operations in the northern theater of the war. Topics include the conditions and activities of the British army and navy in Nova Scotia, the French and American navies, the Americans' use of whale boats to attack the British scouting ships, coal mining in Nova Scotia, and conflicts near Spanish River (Sydney, Nova Scotia), Penobscot River, St. Lawrence, and the Bay of Fundy.

Entries of note:

  • June 12, 1780, page 1a: Warren 's acknowledgement of control of the British fleet from Captain Cosby.
  • June 20, 1780, page 4a: News that the Nautilus was burned by the rebels.
  • July 9, 1780, page 37: Intelligence on conflicts with the French Fleet and rumors that George Washington had disappeared from the army for three weeks and might not return.
  • July 20, 1780, pages 14-19: A long letter from Peter Aplin describing enemy activities near Halifax. This item contains a list of rebel ships in the area and was delivered by two Native Americans.
  • July 27, 1780, page 13: Intelligence on the American ships the America , Thorn , and Brutus .
  • August 9, 1780, page 9a and August 11, 1780, page 24: A description of the condition of the Delaware , which had many rotten boards and was infested with rats. On September 16, 1780, page 13a, Warren "smoked" the ship to kill the rats.
  • September 11, 1780, page 48: News that General Horatio Gates was defeated in North Carolina by Cornwallis.
  • September 16, 1780, pages 14a-15a: A list of officers serving under Mason in Nova Scotia (name, office, ship, and reason for promotion), and a list of prizes seized or destroyed under Mason.

Pages 58-60 and 29a-34a document Warren's service patrolling the Delaware River and the North River (Hudson River) in the HMS Quebec (October 27, 1781-September 19, 1783). These communications are primarily between Warren and the admiralty office.

Entries of note:

  • October 27, 1781, page 30a: A list of convoy ships under Mason.
  • July 30, 1782, page 58: Complaints against Lieutenant Piers of the Argo for "Molesting the Inhabitants, turning cattle into their grounds, taking their wood without paying for it &ca. &ca. &ca."
  • December 23, 1782, page 31a: An account of taking the American ship the South Carolina and bringing the ship to New York.
  • January 2, 1783, page 32a: Rumors that peace has been settled and concern by Warren that this will decrease the value of the prize ship South Carolina .

Pages 62-88 and 41a-55a cover Warren's time when he was patrolling the British Channel and while he was stationed at Spithead and Plymouth in the HMS Zealous (May 17, 1794-April 24, 1795). Communications are largely to and from officers in the Admiralty Office, Navy Office, Office of Ordnance, and the Vitualling Office. These letters concern supplying ships with ammunition, cannons, and other provisions; disciplining and discharging sailors, and securing bounty owed to his crew on board the Zealous .

Entries of note:

  • November 21, 1794, page 44a: A report that failure to follow anchoring signals at sea caused damages to ships.
  • January 9, 1795, page 51a and January 15, 1783, page 83: Reports of Greek sailors replacing sick seamen on Warren's ship.
Subject Terms

    • Albany (Ship)
    • Allegiance (Ship)
    • America (Ship)
    • Argo (Ship)
    • Bonetta (Ship)
    • Boston (Mass.)
    • Brutus (Ship)
    • Camilla (Ship)
    • Catherine (Ship)
    • Charlestown (Ship)
    • Cork Harbour (Ireland)
    • Delaware (Ship)
    • Delight (Ship)
    • Eagle (Ship)
    • Eolus (ship)
    • Gardiners Bay (N.Y.)
    • Golden Pippen (Ship)
    • Great Britain--History, Naval--18th century.
    • Great Britain. Navy Board.
    • Great Britain. Navy. Coastal forces. .
    • Great Britain. Royal Navy--History--Revolution, 1775-1783.
    • Great Britain. Royal Navy--Sea life.
    • Halifax (N.S.)
    • Hermione (Frigate)
    • Hudson River (N.Y. and N.J.)
    • Jane (Ship)
    • Malignant (Ship)
    • Margaretta (Ship)
    • Mercury (Ship)
    • Molly (Ship)
    • Nautilus (Ship)
    • Naval battles--Great Britain.
    • New York (N.Y.)
    • Observer (Ship)
    • Otter (Ship)
    • Penobscot Bay (Me.)
    • Plymouth (England)
    • Prince (Ship)
    • Protector (Ship)
    • Quebec (Ship)
    • Rainbow (Ship)
    • Rambler (Ship)
    • Sailing ships.
    • St. Helier (Channel Islands)
    • Saint Lawrence River.
    • Ships--Nova Scotia--History.
    • Sophia (Ship)
    • South Carolina (Ship)
    • Spithead Channel (England)
    • Surprize (Ship)
    • Swift (Ship)
    • Sydney (N.S.)
    • Thorn (Ship)
    • United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Naval operations--American.
    • United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Naval operations--British.
    • Vengeance (Ship)
    • Victory (Ship)
    • Warwick (Ship)
    • Young William (Ship)
    • Zealous (Ship)
    • Aplin, Peter, 1753–1817.
    • Arbuthnot, Marriott, 1711?-1794.
    • Digby, Robert, 1732-1815.
    • Frederick, Thomas, Sir, 1731-1770.
    • Hood, Samuel, Sir, 1762-1814.
    • Mason, Christopher, 1734-1802.
    • Mowat, Henry, 1734-1798.
    • Nepean, Evan, Sir, 1751-1822.
    • Stephens, Philip, Sir, 1725-1809.
    Genre Terms:
    • Letter books.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Volume   1  
    Christopher Mason letter book [series]
    Pages   1-88  
    Incoming letters,  June 10, 1780-April 24, 1795 [subseries]
    Pages   Pages 1a-55a  
    Outgoing letters,  June 12, 1780-June 24, 1795 [subseries]
    Additional Descriptive Data

    Christopher Mason's Commissions

    • Third Lieutenant: HMS Somerset , 28 December 1762
    • Fourth Lieutenant and Lieutenant at Arms: HMS Somerset , 10 February 1763
    • Lieutenant: HMS Flamborough , 2 May 1763
    • Second Lieutenant and Lieutenant at Arms: HMS Boreas , 24 October 1766
    • First Lieutenant: HMS Panther , 25 February 1772
    • First Lieutenant: HMS Chatham , 26 July 1775
    • Commander: H.M. Sloop Tamar , 7 June 1776
    • Commander: H.M. Sloop Dispatch , 4 February 1777
    • Captain: HMS Delaware , 22 April 1778
    • Captain: HMS Delaware , 12 December 1780
    • Captain: HMS Quebec , 17 May 1781
    • Captain: HMS Zealous , 24 May 1794
    • Rear-Admiral of the White: 1 June 1795
    • Vice-Admiral of the Blue: 14 February 1799
    • Vice-Admiral of the White: 1 January 1801


    • Aitcheson, Robert
    • Aplin, Peter
    • Arbuthnot, Marriot
    • Chamberlayne, Charles
    • Cosby, Phillips
    • Creighton, John
    • Crew, R. H.
    • Dickson, James
    • Digby, Robert
    • Evans, Henry Francis
    • Frederick, Thomas Lenox
    • Great Britain Navy Vitualling Office
    • Great Britain Navy Board
    • Hastings, G.
    • Hood, Sir Samuel, 1st viscount
    • Hopkins, John
    • Hughes, Sir Richard
    • Inglis, John
    • Loader, John
    • McLean, Francis
    • Mason, Chistopher
    • Mowat, Henry
    • Nepean, Sir Evan, 1st bart.
    • Phips, David
    • Stephens, Sir Philip, 1st bart.
    • Taffery, S. W.
    • Thomson, Alexander
    Related Materials

    Below are two 18th century British Navy logbooks at the Clements Library:


    Christopher Mason's commissions are located in the Buckle papers at the West Sussex Records Office, British National Archives.