Howe continued in the Magnanime attached to the grand fleet in the Bay of Biscay and for some time as commodore in was landed for the capture of Philadelphia. It was afterwards occupied, during October and November, in clearing the passage up Basque roads. In 1762, on Prince Edward, then Duke of York and rear-admiral, hoisting his flag on board the Princess Amelia, Howe, at his special request, was appointed his flag-captain (22 June). The Princess Amelia was paid off at the peace, and Howe accepted a seat at the admiralty under Lord Sandwich, and afterwards under Lord Egmont, until August 1765, when he was appointed treasurer of the navy, an office then held to be extremely lucrative, from the large sums of money passing through his hands, and of which he had the use, sometimes for several years (Parliamentary Papers, 1731-1800, vol. x. Fourth Report of the Commissioners appointed to inquire into fees…at Public Offices). The practice was sanctioned by custom, but it is implied that Howe considered it irregular, and refused toprofit by it, and that 'the balance was regularly brought up' (Barrow, p.77). He resigned the office on his promotion to the rank of rear-admiral, on 18 Oct. 1770, and in the following month, consequent on the dispute with Spain concerning the Falkland Islands [see Farmer, George], was appointed commander-in-chief in the Mediterranean. The appointment was, however, annulled on the Spanish quarrel being peacefully settled.
On 7 Dec. 1775 Howe was promoted to be vice-admiral; in the following February he was appointed commander-in-chief in North America, and received a commission, jointly with his younger brother, General Sir William Howe, who was already there in command of the army, 'to treat with the revolted Americans, and to take measures for the restoration of peace with the colonies.' Already, in 1774, Howe had made the acquaintance of Franklin, then residing in London, and had often conversed with him on the colonists' grievances. It was therefore supposed that he was peculiarly fit to bear a conciliatory message. But he did not arrive in America till after the declaration of independence on 4 July 1776, from which congress would not go back and which he could not accept. Official negotiation was consequently impossible, while both Franklin and Washington refused private discussion. It only remained to prosecute the war; but as the colonists had no fleet, the work of the navy was limited to supporting and cooperating with the army in the reduction of Long Island and of New York in August and September 1776; and again, in the summer of 1777, in the expedition up Chesapeake Bay to the Head of Elk, where the army was landed for the capture of Philadelphia. It was afterwords occupied, during October and November, in clearing the passage up the Delaware, which the Americans had obstructed by so-called 'chevaux de frise,' frames of solid timber bristling with iron spikes, devised, it was said, by Franklin. These, flanked by heavy batteries on shore, proved formidable obstacles, and the work of removing them was one of both difficulty and danger (Beatson, v. 125,261-73). The water-way once opened, the store-ships and transports moved up to Philadelphia, and lay alongside the quays till the evacuation of the city in the following June. Howe, with several of the men-of-war, also remained at Philadelphia till, on news of the probability of war with France, he ordered the ships to collect off the mouth of the Delaware; and, after transporting the troops across the river, he, with the shipping, returned to Sandy Hook, where he learned that the Toulon fleet had sailed under the command of M. d'Estaing, and that Vice-admiral John Byron [q.v.] was on his way to join him with strong reinforcement. On 5 July he had intelligence of the French fleet on the coast of Virginia; on the 11th it came in sight and took up a position about four miles off.
Howe had meantime been busy stationing his small force to the best advantage. He in person examined the soundings and studied the set of currents at different times of the tide. A line of seven ships was anchored, with springs on their cables, across the channel, and was supported at the southern end by a battery on the island, and at the northern by three smaller ships commanding the bar. The rest of his force formed a reserve. D'Estaing's force was vastly superior, not so much in number as in the size of his ships; but the English position was strong, and d'Estaing was easily persuaded that there was not sufficient depth of water for his large ships. After lying off Shrewsbury inlet for eleven days he weighed anchor on 22 July and came off the entrance of the channel, but after some hours of apparent indecision, stood away to the southward. His departure was just in time to allow a safe entrance to the scattered reinforcement which came to Howe within the next few days. So strengthened, Howe put to sea, hoping to defend Rhode Island. He was off the entrance to the harbour on 9 Aug., but D'Estaing had occupied it two days before, and on the 10th came out with his whole fleet as though to give battle, which Howe, with a very inferior force, was unwilling to accept. The fleets remained in presence of each other till the evening of the 11th, when they were