"The Painful Task of Thinking Belongs To Me:" Rethinking Royal Navy Signal Reform during the American War of Independence


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Virginia Tech


This thesis examines the context and causes of signal reform in the British Royal Navy during the American War of Independence. It argues that changes in the ethos of the officer corps before and during the American War of Independence led to a complex period of signal reform. The original system was tied to the General Printed Sailing and Fighting Instructions, more often referred to as the Fighting Instructions. For around a century (ca. 1690 to ca. 1790), the Royal Navy utilized the Fighting Instructions as its main system of communication. During the American War for Independence, however, some sea officers began to question the system and devise new methods of signaling. This change was brought on by changes within the officer corps. Among the changes were trends of centralization and the influence of Enlightenment ideals. Both of these shifts helped to inspire the signal reformers, while also creating the environment to sustain signal reforms. This thesis examines the signal reforms of the three principal signal reformers of the war: Richard Howe, Richard Kempenfelt, and George Rodney.



British History, Royal Navy, Naval History, Signals, Fighting Instructions, American War of Independence, Eighteenth Century