[This article is included in the People in Portsmouth section of the website solely because Joseph Ames was listed as a Burgess of the Town in 1660. There is no evidence that he ever lived within the town or it's surroundings or indeed played any part in the history of the town, though doubtless he passed through it many times during his naval career.]
Joseph Ames was born in Great Yarmouth on the 5th March 1619, son of John Ames and Jane Hesson who had moved from Norwich. He married Margaret in Great Yarmouth in 1643. They had the following children; Joseph (b1644), Benjamin (b1646), Abigail (b1648), James & Nathaniel (1652?) and Mary 1654. Later the family lived in Middlegate, at the corner of Row 88.
The first mention of Joseph's naval career occurs in 1652 as Master (=commmander) of a merchant vessel, the Hart. In 1653, he commanded the hired merchantman Samuel Talbot (30 guns). At the Battle of the Gabbard, he was in Joseph Jordan's division. Joseph Jordan was Vice-Admiral of the Blue. He also fought at the Battle of Scheveningen. In 1653 he was captain of the hired merchantman, Samuel Talbot, which took part in the great battle against the Dutch off the Texel, the Battle of Scheveningen. Many merchant ships were hired by the state in this period to supplement the navy. Merchant ships generally carried guns as a matter of course (to fend off privateers, pirates and enemy warships), so it made more sense than it would today. For his part in this battle Joseph Ames was awarded a gold medal along with the other Captains from Parliament (this medal is now held by the British Musuem. From 1654 to 1660, he commanded the Winsby (50 guns). The Winsby was a 4th Rate that was renamed Happy Return after the Restoration. Joseph commanded the newly built Winsby from 1654 to 1660. She was a 4th rate - the backbone of the 1650s navy, big enough to take part in fleet actions but nimble enough for other kinds of service too - and carried 52-60 guns. She was built at Yarmouth and launched on 21 February 1654, and it is very likely that a substantial part of her crew were local men, who already knew Ames - that was often the pattern.
He was clearly trusted as a dependable and committed officer, and experienced commander. This was a senior appointment and a significant promotion, and the fact that he remained in command for six years suggests the trust was well deserved. “I did not find any complaints against him by his crew or by admiralty officials over the whole period- whereas a lot of commanders did face accusations of embezzling supplies, being too harsh or too weak in enforcing discipline, lax in obeying orders, and so on. I'd place him in the upper-middle of the naval officer corps”. (Professor Bernard Capp)
The Dutch war ended in spring 1654, so his next significant service was against Spain, after Cromwell went to war with them in 1655. Ames and the Winsby went on an expedition against Spain in 1656, with Admiral Blake. The Spanish fleet chose to stay in harbour, so no battle occurred, and the fleet was mainly engaged in a lengthy blockade. But in 1657 part of it sailed to the Canaries, on news that the Spanish Plate Fleet was there. Ames and the Winsby thus took part in the famous action at Santa Cruz, when the English force sailed into the harbour, under heavy fire from the shore batteries, and burned the Plate Fleet at anchor- one of the most celebrated naval actions of the 17th century.
In 1660 the Winsby was part of the fleet (under Admiral Edward Mountagu (soon to become earl of Sandwich) which brought Charles II back from exile. While still off the Dutch coast, the king ordered many of the ships to be renamed, and the Winsby became the Happy Return- probably not how Joseph Ames saw it, being a staunch supporter of the commonwealth (this incident is mentioned in Pepys Diary). Being a staunch supporter of the commonwealth he was soon to lose his command, for refusing to take the oaths of supremacy and allegiance - which underlines his commitment to the Commonwealth regime and its values. He was one of only a handful of Captains from hundreds who refused to do so.
Thereafter he went back into private life as a trader. There is a collection of manuscript letters from him in the British Library, Additional MS 57491, concerning his commercial activities between 1663 and 1674. He appears as part-owner of a ship, sometimes going with it as Master, engaged in voyages to La Rochelle in France, Leghorn and Venice, and more locally to Newcastle. Essentially, as the letters make clear, the ship went wherever it could find a cargo. In one letter he sends his kind regards to Mr Bridges, the old nonconformist minister of Yarmouth.
On retirement from the navy Ames set up a small brewery on the Denes, near Little Mount Gate (York Road). He died on the 1 December 1695 and the gate, part of the medieval town wall, according to his grandson Joseph Ames the antiquarian was subsequently named Ames Gate in his honour.
Cromwell's Navy (1992) Capp, Bernard
Time Gentleman Please: The Public Houses and Breweries of Great Yarmouth (2006) Tooke, Colin
Dictionary of National Biography: Volume 1. (2001)
Personal Correspondence with Professor Bernard Capp
[Thanks to John Ames for permission to publish this article]