John MacBride was born in Scotland around 1735 as one of three children to Robert MacBride (born 1686, died 1759), a presbyterian minister, of Ballymoney (Ballymena), County Antrim, Ireland and his wife (nee Boyd) of Killabeg, County Down. They then resided in Ireland shortly after John’s birth.
MacBride served first in the merchant service.
He entered navy service as an able bodied seaman on the Garland of 24 guns in the West Indies. He became a midshipman and a master’s mate.
He transferred to the newly launched Norfolk of 74 guns, a flagship in the Downs.
On the Grampus of 14 guns, he escorted the Iceland trade ships north of Aberdeen and saw action against le Duc d’Aumont, a 16-gun privateer, and captured it.
MacBride passed the lieutenants exam.
The navy promoted him to lieutenant.
He commanded the Grace, a 16-gun cutter.
During a raid on Dunkirk, MacBride discovered a French privateer at anchor off Dunkirk. Requesting four manned boats from the Maidstone in his squadron, he approached the privateer at night with muffled oars. When the privateer’s captain aimed a cannon at his boats, MacBride shot and killed him. After boarding the vessel, he forced it to surrender with little loss of life.
He was promoted to master and commander of the fireship Grampus of 16 guns.
He was posted on the Vulture of 14 guns.
In Woolwich, he was appointed to the Cruiser, an 8-gun sloop on the home station.
In London, he wrote to the admiralty requesting to fit the Cruiser as a snow with middle staysail and top gallant studding sail.
He moved the Cruiser to Galleon’s Reach for a portrait.
He was ordered to carry men to Plymouth for the squadron fitting out there.
On the Cruiser, MacBride suppressed smuggling between Portsmouth and the Downs.
His cutter was sunk while boarding a smuggler’s cutter during a storm. He put in for a new cutter at Deal so he could protect herring fishermen off Yarmouth.
The Cruiser lost its anchor and cable (recovered and taken to Deal later). His Cruiser sprung its main yard and a carpenter was sent aboard to install a royal stick.
On the Cruiser, he was then stationed at Harwich.
McBride became post captain of the frigate Renown of 30 guns. The Renown was laid up out of commission at Woolwich.
He was assigned as captain of the Jason of 32 guns.
In command of the frigate Jason, he arrived at the Falkland Islands, with two other ships. Declaring the islands now British controlled, the French governor rejected the claim, nearly leading to conflict. There he surveyed the western side of the islands, mapped them, and also recorded climatological data. He then built a blockhouse, gardens, houses, and a wharf with gun emplacements.
He became the Military Administrator of the British Settlement of Port Egmont in the Falkland Islands. The French sold their claim to the island to Spain, leading to tensions between England and Spain.
He transferred to the Seaford of 20 guns and returned to England to give a report on his expedition to the Falklands. He was assigned to Channel duty.
MacBride wrote a book on wind and weather.
His book Journal of the Winds and Weather was published in London.
He took command of the Arethusa of 32 guns.
He became captain of the Southampton of 32 guns.
MacBride commanded the frigate Copenhagen, transporting Queen Caroline Matilda of Denmark and Norway, sister of King George III from Harwich, England to the Scheldt river in Belgium. The squadron included the Southhampton, the Cruiser, and the Seaford. Then he returned to the Southampton.
He was promoted to the Orpheus of 32 guns for service on the home station.
He married Ursula Folkes, eldest daughter of William Folkes of Hillington Hall, Norfolk.
He was appointed to command the Beinfaisant of 64 guns at the outbreak of the American War of Independence.
On Beinfaisant, MacBride took part in the Battle of Ushant under Admiral Keppel. He later became a prime defense witness in favor of the Commander-in-Chief Keppel in a politically motivated court martial of Sir Palliser. The outcome of the indecisive battle created a rift between the political parties and even in the admiralty, demoralizing the navy.
He sailed with Admiral George Rodney for the relief of Gibraltar.
On passage near Cape Finisterre, MacBride fell in against a Spanish squadron and convoy going from San Sebastian to Cadiz, and captured the Guipuscoana of 64 guns. The engagement was in the midst of a tremendous storm that dispersed the fleet after capturing the convoy.
He was in command on the Beinfaisant of 64 guns during the Moonlight Battle south of Cape St. Vincent off Portugal. His ship fought the Spanish San Domingo of 74 guns. The Spanish ship blew up during the engagement and only the rain kept his ship from catching fire from the flaming debris falling. After arriving late to the fight with the Fénix, the 80-gun flagship of the Spanish admiral Don Juan de Langara, MacBride joined the fight against her and shot away the mainmast and received her surrender. Shortly after, small pox broke out on the Bienfaisant and MacBride quarantined his ship and the prize crew from the other ships in the fleet. All the ships and prizes at length arrived at Gibraltar. He then returned to London.
He was on patrol along with the Charon of 44 guns after he learned that the French privateer Comte d’Artois, a 40-gun frigate was near Ireland and began searching for her.
His Beinfaisant chased a distant sail and got within speaking range of the British flagged ship off Old Head of Kinsale, Ireland. When the ship proved to be the Spanish privateer, he engaged the Comte d’Artois, first with musket fire and then with cannon after moving away enough from her. After an hour of battle she was captured as the Charon, and two British frigates joined in the last few minutes of the fight.
He was appointed as captain to a different captured French ship named Artois and watched the Dutch squadron preparing to depart in the Texel. He was present at the battle between the Dutch and Vice Admiral Parker’s squadron off the Dogger Bank.
On the Artois, he saw action against the Dutch in the Battle of Dogger Bank when a Dutch convoy of 70 merchantmen left the Texel escorted by eleven ship-of-the-line plus some frigates and smaller vessels. Poor tactics kept some British ships away from the battle which was fought very close. After much damage to both fleets, they separated and the Dutch returned to port. He took command of the Princess Amelia of 80 guns whose captain had been killed, then he returned to the Artois after reaching port.
He captured two Dutch privateers, the Hercules of 24 guns and Mars of 24 guns in the North Sea.
In the English Channel, MacBride scouted ahead for a French fleet which he spotted heading for the West Indies and reported it to the main fleet which intercepted and captured half of the convoy.
He was stationed in Plymouth on the Artois for Channel service. Then he was stationed in Ireland regulating impressment duties.
He took command of the Druid of 32 guns, newly launched.
He left the navy and was elected to parliament as a member for Plymouth.
In parliament while on a commission, he voted against a proposal to consider increasing fortifications for Portsmouth and Plymouth. He spoke on naval matters a number of times.
He entered the navy again and was appointed commander of the Cumberland of 74 guns, a guardship at Plymouth.
He was promoted to rear-admiral and was commander-in-chief of a frigate squadron in the Downs station. His flagship was the Quebec a 32-gun frigate.
When the French retreated from Ostend in Belgium, he occupied the port.
MacBride carried reinforcements to defend Dunkirk for General Sir Charles Grey.
He departed Portsmouth on his flagship, the Flora of 36 guns, and his frigate squadron, transporting an army to support French royalists in Brittany and Normandy. He patrolled his fleet off Brest and also off Normandy. He attempted to create a diversion on behalf of the French royalists.
He continued to command the frigate squadron off of Brest with his flagship Flora.
He patrolled the Western Approaches with the Echo, a 70-gun as his flagship and later, the Scepter of 64 guns, and the Minotaur of 74 guns.
He was promoted to rear-admiral of the red.
He was promoted to vice-admiral of the blue on his flagship, the Minotaur of 74 guns.
He was promoted to vice admiral of the white.
On his flagship the Russell of 74 guns, he commanded a squadron in the North Sea and patrolled against the Dutch fleet in the Texel.
MacBride attained the rank of admiral of the blue.
MacBride died of a stroke in the Spring Garden Coffee House in London.
His first wife was the daughter of a naval officer but presumably died. His second wife Ursula survived him with their son, John David McBride, who became a principal of Magdalen Hall at Oxford. His daughter Charlotte MacBride married Admiral Willoughby Lake in 1795.