The British admiral Richard Howe, Earl Howe (1726-1799), commanded England's naval forces during the early years of the American Revolution and won the "First of June" victory over the French in 1794.
Richard Howe was born on March 8, 1726, in London. He entered the British navy at the age of 13 and saw service in the South Atlantic and the West Indies. By 1745 he had received his first command. In June 1755 he captured a French vessel off the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, thus firing the first formal exchange of the French and Indian War. On the death of his older brother in 1758, he became Viscount Howe in the Irish peerage. He served on the Admiralty Board and as treasurer of the navy. On the eve of the American Revolution, in 1775, he was advanced to the rank of vice admiral.
Howe and his younger brother, Gen. William Howe, played important parts in the American Revolution. They had a difficult mission: they were to crush the rebels militarily but also negotiate restoration of peace. The British armies, under William Howe, were generally successful in the summer and fall of 1776, but they failed to crush the colonial army. And the colonists, having declared independence in 1776, refused to negotiate on terms that implied willingness to submit to British control.
In 1776 and 1777 Richard Howe's fleet was limited to transporting and supplying the army under his brother's command. The admiral's only notable contribution came in August 1778, when his forces roughed up several French vessels, thus helping prevent a cooperative Franco-American attack on the British forces at Newport, R.I.
Frustrated by continuing American resistance, irked by criticism at home, and feeling he had not received adequate support, Richard Howe resigned his command in October 1778. In the succeeding months a pamphlet war over the American Revolution was waged in England, culminating in an inconclusive parliamentary investigation. Meanwhile, Howe refused to serve under the existing ministry.
In 1782 Howe was granted a new command, promoted in rank, and made a British peer—Viscount Howe of Langar. These signs of confidence were justified by his relief of Gibraltar in October in the face of superior French numbers. From 1783 to 1788 he served as first lord of the Admiralty. He was created Earl Howe in 1788.
In 1793, after the start of the French Revolutionary Wars, Howe was put in command of the Channel fleet. The following year, when a French fleet attempted to prevent him from intercepting a convoy of provisions headed toward Brest from the United States, there occurred the series of high-sea engagements off Ushant collectively known as the "Battle of the Glorious First of June." The British victory, though not total, was great and caught the imagination of the public.
Howe helped negotiate a settlement in a naval mutiny at Spithead in 1797. He died on Aug. 5, 1799, in London.
The most thorough study of Howe in America is Troyer S. Anderson, The Command of the Howe Brothers during the American Revolution (1936). Most of the family papers were destroyed by fire.