I'm researching an event which occurred between mid-1794 and early 1796, but probably 1795; the even happened at a major English port with American shipping and a Royal Navy ship repair yard.

I know that an American ship's planned departure was 11.00 in the evening; this would be on the ebb tide, shortly after high tide. Knowing the potential dates for each port will allow me to check shipping records only for those dates.

This information is extracted from a manuscript written in 1916, later typed:

enter image description here

This is the exciting beginning of a lengthy story, for which I have documented most of the following 20 years, after his arrival with a pregnant wife in Detroit in the fall of 1796. I'm hoping to discover his ship from this rather limited information, and from the ship records, his town of origin, and more on his family.

This is related to this earlier question: Battle of Queenston Heights, 13 Oct 1812: 23 American soldiers held as British deserters With the help of this community this question was answered in detail.

Departures at night: From "The New British Channel Pilot: Containing Sailing Directions from London-bridge to Liverpool, and from Ostend to Brest; Also for the Coast of Ireland, from the Tuskar Rock to Limerick: ... Compiled from the Late Surveys Made by ... Admiral Macbride, Mr. Mackenzie, and Mr. Samuel Clements, ... By Captain John Stephenson, Assisted by Many Experienced Pilots", (1799): an extract for Liverpool, the largest port after London, showing the locations of lights, &tc. Hoyle Lake would be the anchorage for ships arriving or departing.

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Thus I am looking for a resource which will aid in the construction of historic tide tables in order to whittle down my research into shipping records to manageable proportions. Or perhaps somebody knows where late 18th century tide tables can be found today!

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    Modern tools could be problematic, because back then they would have been on local time, not EST/EDT.
    – T.E.D.
    Jul 19, 2016 at 23:06
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    @PieterGeerkens: I tried to simplify to just what I need; I'm trying to find records for a deserter from the British navy, one of 40,000 or so in this time period. These records are indexed by the name of the ship, which I don't have; he stowed away on an American ship, which later made landfall at Halifax, Nova Scotia. I don't have the name of this ship either. Records begin in Detroit, where he arrived with a pregnant wife in the fall of 1796. I could include an image from the mss where the information originates. Jul 19, 2016 at 23:06
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    @T.E.D.: local solar time is recovered from UCT/GMT by adding a fixed offset based on the longitude of the docks. I learned celestial navigation long before computers were used onboard ships. Jul 19, 2016 at 23:10
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    How sure are you about the truth of this tale? I ask because there are several things about it that don't seem to ring true. First, it seems unusual that an impressed man would be given 30 days leave. Second, it says that after joining the American ship they "were soon missed by their own men", which seems strange since they were supposedly on 30 days leave. Finally, that they "only had three months longer to serve" seems odd too. Impressment wasn't for a fixed term, you were in until the ship you were mustered on was paid off. In war time this could literally be for years.
    – Steve Bird
    Jul 20, 2016 at 6:01
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    Also, the tale states that the American ship was leaving port at 11pm. Leaving a busy harbour at night in a sailing ship (without any modern sailing aids, such as radar) would have been tricky. It seems very unlikely that prior to departure, the ship's master would have allowed his crew to make merry in the town. I wouldn't want to set sail in the dark with a crew that "would not be in a condition to notice much". This all strikes me as a tale that has grown in the re-telling.
    – Steve Bird
    Jul 20, 2016 at 6:19

1 Answer 1


I found a few hits in Google Books, first by doing an "advanced search" for "tide table" by years from about 1790 to 1800, then by wandering around looking at the terminology.

Example from 1800: This is part of an "almanac" / "almanack", and it calls the table as a table of "time of high-water" (aka, not necessarily a tide table)

So another search, using the term "high-water" found this, for 1778 - 1799, explaining how to calculate high water times in that era.

Then 1795 "high water" found this:

"The use of the following table of the Moon's Southing, to find the time of High-Water, and the Hour of the Night, to find the time of high-water in most parts of England:"


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