John Ford

c1738-96. He was baptised in Shropshire.

On 7 April 1761 Ford was commissioned lieutenant of the sloop Swallow 10, Commander James Cranston, seeing employment off the French coast. After further service in home waters under Commanders Robert Brice and James Mackenzie, this vessel was paid off at the end of the Seven Years War in May 1763.

He was promoted commander of the sloop Hazard 8 on 28 October 1772, participating in the Spithead Fleet Review of 1773, as a reward for which he was posted captain at the King’s behest on 25 June. Retaining the Hazard, in June 1774 he escorted the yacht Augusta carrying the first lord of the Admiralty, Lord Sandwich, from the Downs to Portsmouth. Whilst engaged in the preventative service, his sloop seized a well-armed smuggling chaloupe and took her into Newcastle in April 1775, and in the following month she carried a cutter into Yarmouth. Ford left the Hazard in November of that year.

On 13 March 1776 he was appointed to the sixth rate Unicorn 20, which sailed from Portsmouth for North America on 29 July with a troop convoy under the orders of Captain Charles Fielding of the Diamond 32. Shortly after arriving on that station, his command captured the American privateer Wolf on 20 September. By Christmas Day she was off New York in company with a prize, the Hazard 24, which she had captured after an engagement of one hundred minutes, and which had been in passage from Brest to Boston with Frenchmen carrying incriminating papers. Remaining in America, the Unicorn captured a string of privateers including the sloop Nancy 6 on 1 July 1777, the brig Reprisal 10 sixteen days later, the schooner Warren on 9 September, the schooner McClary on 6 February 1778, and the Blaze Castle on 10 June.

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The Nymphe was present at the Battle of St. Kitts in 1782, even though she collided with a consort the day before, thereby foiling Rear-Admiral hood’s plan to attack the French in their anchorage.

Whilst cruising with the Experiment 50, Captain Sir James Wallace, the Unicorn 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, Ford’s command was obliged to stand off, being somewhat damaged aloft. Her gallantry had nevertheless enabled the Experiment to come into play, thereby forcing the Americans to try and run their frigate 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 participate in the Battle 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. She returned to Spithead on 20 May to report that she had seen a French fleet of twenty-two sail of the line with frigates and transports which appeared to be bound for North America. In company with the Quebec 32, Captain George Farmer, and the Cabot 14, Commander Henry Cromwell, the Unicorn was later responsible for the destruction of the greater part of forty-nine vessels when a French convoy was driven ashore when trying to reach Morlaix on 5 July. She was then paid off in the following month.

Ford was next appointed to the newly launched frigate Brilliant 36 on 10 July 1779, which he commissioned at Portsmouth for service in the Channel. After leaving harbour at the beginning of September, she was active in the relief of Guernsey later that month. During the early part of 1780 she served with Commodore George Johnstone’s squadron off Portugal, and in May she took news of the sailing of a Spanish fleet out to Admiral Sir George Rodney in the Leeward Islands. She departed Barbados for Lisbon on 2 June giving passage to Commodore Thomas Collingwood, who had suffered a mental disintegration following the Battle of Martinique two months earlier, but a day later this well-regarded officer died. The Brilliant reached Lisbon on 6 July to resume cruising with Johnstone’s squadron, and on 28 September she arrived at Spithead with the commodore’s pennant ship Romney 50, and with a captured French letter-of-marque in company.

On 23 November 1780 Ford was appointed to the recently captured French frigate Nymphe 32, which came out of dock at Portsmouth in early December having been coppered. She departed for Cork on 7 April 1781, from where she took a convoy out to the West Indies nineteen days later to arrive at Barbados on 21 June. After undertaking convoy duty, she sailed for North America with Rear-Admiral Sir Samuel Hood’s squadron, and she was present at the Battle of Chesapeake Bay on 5 September. During October she assisted the Amphion 32, Captain John Bazely, in the capture of the rebel privateers Racoon, Royal Louis 22, and Rambler, and thereafter she returned with Hood’s force to the Leeward Islands. Prior to the Battle of St. Kitts on 25/26 January 1782, the Nymphe collided with the Alfred 74, Captain William Bayne, thereby scuppering Hood’s plan to attack the French in their anchorage. She was later present but not in action at the Battle of the Saintes on 12 April, and she continued to serve thereafter with the Leeward Islands fleet.

On 25 December 1782 the new commander-in-chief in the Leeward Islands, Admiral Hugh Pigot, appointed Ford to the Polyphemus 64, which vessel had recently arrived on that station with Rear-Admiral Sir Richard Hughes’ squadron. She arrived back at Portsmouth on 9 June 1783 with other men-of-war to be paid off at Chatham at the end of June.

On 1 May 1789, after six years unemployment, Ford was appointed to the guardship Carnatic 74, flying Commodore Samuel Granston Goodall’s broad pennant at the King’s Naval Review on 18 August, and arriving at Plymouth from Portsmouth in late September. She subsequently joined the Grand Fleet during the Spanish Armament of 1790, and she went around to Spithead in April 1791 during the Russian Armament before returning to Plymouth in the late summer.

In September 1792 Ford raised a commodore’s broad pennant aboard the Europa 50, Captain George Gregory, as the commander-in-chief at Jamaica, sailing out in October and arriving at Port Royal by the turn of the year. Come the commencement of the French Revolutionary War in February 1793, he had nine small vessels including three frigates in addition to his flagship at Jamaica, and when these all went to sea he hoisted his flag aboard the discovery vessel Providence, which had recently arrived under the command of Captain William Bligh on his second, rather less dramatic, breadfruit expedition. Having been asked for help by French Royalists on the island of Saint-Domingue, Ford sailed on 9 September with seven hundred troops commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel John Whitelocke, and this force occupied parts of the island from 19 to 21 September, following which a royalist government was installed, and the British spent the rest of the year reducing the main towns on the island.

In the early part of 1794, Ford commenced a blockade of Port au Prince, on 3 February the British forces captured Cape Tiburon, and on 11 April they took Aoul. A day later, although he would not receive notification for some months, Ford was promoted rear-admiral. With four sail of the line, three frigates and three sloops now under his command, he conveyed nearly fifteen hundred troops under the command of Brigadier-General John Whyte to Port au Prince, and despite a ferocious tropical storm the important bastion of Fort Brissoton was soon taken. Following bombardments over the next three days Port au Prince capitulated on 4 June. The Europa arrived back at Kingston on 14 July but returned to St. Nicolas Mole on Saint-Domingue at the end of the year.

Ford was further promoted vice-admiral on 1 June 1795, and he vacated the Jamaica command and returned home with a large convoy in August, flying his flag aboard the Europa, Captain Thomas Surridge. After reaching England, he went up to the Admiralty in London before wintering in Bath.

Admiral Ford died on 14 September 1796 at his residence in Pitt’s Buildings, Kensington, after what was described as a long and painful illness which had been contacted in the West Indies.

He has been described as ‘austere’.