Ford was commissioned lieutenant on 7 April 1761 and promoted commander on 28 October 1772. After commanding the sloop Hazard 8 from November 1772 and participating in the Spithead Review of 1773 he was posted captain on 25 June 1773, retaining his command through to the end of 1775.
He commissioned the Unicorn 20 in April 1776 and sailed from Plymouth for North America in July with a troop convoy, taking a number of privateers thereafter. In company with the Experiment 50, Captain Sir James Wallace, he gave chase to the American frigate Raleigh 32 in thick weather off Boston on 26 September 1778. After gamely tackling her larger opponent the next day and bringing down her fore and mizzen topmasts the Unicorn was obliged to stand off, somewhat damaged aloft. Her gallantry had nevertheless enabled the Experiment to come into play, forcing the Americans to try and run their ship ashore and burn her. In the event the British boats were able to board the grounded rebel and bring her off on 28 September.
The Unicorn returned home to take part in the action in Cancale Bay on 13 May 1779 which saw a squadron under the command of Captain Sir James Wallace thwart a French attempt on the Channel Islands. In company with the Quebec 32, Captain George Farmer, and Cabot 14, Commander Henry Cromwell, the Unicorn was responsible for the destruction of the greater part of forty-nine enemy vessels when a French convoy was driven ashore when trying to reach Morlaix on 5 July. She was paid off shortly afterwards.
Ford immediately joined the new Brilliant 36 for service in the Channel, being active in the relief of Guernsey in September and later serving in Commodore George Johnstone’s squadron off Portugal in the early part of the following year. During May he took news of the sailing of a Spanish fleet out to Admiral Sir George Rodney in the Leeward Islands, and whilst returning to Lisbon on 2 June 1780 Commodore Thomas Collingwood died aboard the Brilliant having suffered a mental disintegration following the Battle of Martinique in April..
Ford next commissioned the recently captured French frigate Nymphe 32 and went out to Jamaica in August 1780. After convoy duty and sailing for North America with Rear-Admiral Sir Samuel Hood’s squadron he was present at the Battle of the Chesapeake on 5 September 1781. In October he assisted the Amphion 32, Captain John Bazely in the capture of the rebel privateers Racoon, Royal Louis 22 and Rambler, and thereafter he returned with Hood to the Leeward Islands. Unfortunately his frigate collided with the Alfred 74, Captain William Bayne, prior to the Battle of St. Kitts on 25/26 January 1782 and thereby scuppered Hood’s plan to attack the French in their anchorage. The Nymphe was later present but not in the action at the Battle of the Saintes on 12 April.
In December 1782 Ford joined the Polyphemus 64, going out to the Leeward Islands with Rear-Admiral Sir Richard Hughes’ squadron, and eventually paying her off at Chatham in June 1783.
From 1789-92 he commanded the Carnatic 74 at Plymouth, and later in 1792 raised his commodore’s broad pennant aboard the Europa 50, Captain George Gregory, as the commander-in-chief at Jamaica, the ship sailing out in October.
At the start of the French Revolutionary War Ford had nine small vessels including three frigates in addition to his flagship at Jamaica. Having been asked to assist French Royalists on the island of San Domingo he sailed on 9 September 1793 in company with the Goelan 14, Commander Thomas Wolley and schooner Flying Fish 4, Lieutenant James Prevost. After occupying parts of the island from 19 to 21 September he installed a royalist government and spent the rest of the year reducing the main towns on the island. During September his force captured the French vessel Convention Nationale 10 off San Domingo.
Early in 1794 he began a blockade of Port au Prince, on 3 February captured Cape Tiburon, and on 11 April took Aoul. Now commanding four sail of the line, three frigates and three sloops, he conveyed nearly fifteen hundred troops under the command of Brigadier-General White to Port au Prince, and despite the arrival of a ferocious tropical storm he quickly took Fort Brissoton. After bombardments over the next three days Port au Prince capitulated on 4 June. He eventually vacated his command and returned home with Captain Thomas Surridge as his flag-captain in July 1795.
On 12 April 1794 Ford had been promoted rear-admiral, and on 1 June 1795 vice-admiral. He died on 14 September 1796 at Kensington after what was described as a long and painful illness.
Ford was described as ‘austere’.