Nelson in Quebec, the West Indies and the Caribbean
Captain of Albemarle
Nelson received orders on 23 October 1781 to take the newly refitted Albemarle to sea. He was instructed to collect an inbound convoy of the Russia Company at Elsinore, and escort them back to Britain. For this operation, the Admiralty placed the frigates HMS Argo and HMS Enterprise under his command. Nelson successfully organized the convoy and escorted it into British waters. He then left the convoy to return to port, but severe storms hampered him. Gales almost wrecked Albemarle as she was a poorly designed ship and an earlier accident had left her damaged, but Nelson eventually brought her into Portsmouth in February 1782. There the Admiralty ordered him to fit Albemarle for sea and join the escort for a convoy collecting at Cork in Ireland to sail for Quebec in Canada. Nelson arrived off Newfoundland with the convoy in late May, then detached on a cruise to hunt American privateers. Nelson was generally unsuccessful; he succeeded only in retaking several captured British merchant ships and capturing a number of small fishing boats and assorted craft.
In August he had a narrow escape from a far superior French force under Louis-Philippe de Vaudreuil, only evading them after a prolonged chase. Nelson arrived at Quebec on 18 September. He sailed again as part of the escort for a convoy to New York. He arrived in mid-November and reported to Admiral Samuel Hood, commander of the New York station. At Nelson's request, Hood transferred him to his fleet and Albemarle sailed in company with Hood, bound for the West Indies. On their arrival, the British fleet took up position off Jamaica to await the arrival of de Vaudreuil's force. Nelson and the Albemarle were ordered to scout the numerous passages for signs of the enemy, but it became clear by early 1783 that the French had eluded Hood. During his scouting operations, Nelson had developed a plan to assault the French garrison of the Turks Islands. Commanding a small flotilla of frigates and smaller vessels, he landed a force of 167 seamen and marines early on the morning of 8 March under a supporting bombardment. The French were found to be heavily entrenched and after several hours Nelson called off the assault. Several of the officers involved criticized Nelson, but Hood does not appear to have reprimanded him. Nelson spent the rest of the war cruising in the West Indies, where he captured a number of French and Spanish prizes. After news of the peace reached Hood, Nelson returned to Britain in late June 1783.
The Island of Nevis and Marriage
Nelson visited France in late 1783, stayed with acquaintances at Saint-Omer, and briefly attempted to learn French. He returned to England in January 1784, and attended court as part of Lord Hood's entourage. Influenced by the factional politics of the time, he contemplated standing for Parliament as a supporter of William Pitt, but was unable to find a seat.
In 1784 he received command of the frigate HMS Boreas with the assignment to enforce the Navigation Acts in the vicinity of Antigua. The Acts were unpopular with both the Americans and the colonies. Nelson served on the station under Admiral Sir Richard Hughes, and often came into conflict with his superior officer over their differing interpretation of the Acts. The captains of the American vessels Nelson had seized sued him for illegal seizure. Because the merchants of the nearby island of Nevis supported the American claim, Nelson was in peril of imprisonment; he remained sequestered on Boreas for eight months, until the courts ruled in his favour.
In the interim, Nelson met Frances "Fanny" Nisbet, a young widow from a Nevis plantation family. Nelson developed an affection for her and her uncle, John Herbert, offered him a massive dowry and both uncle and niece hid the fact that the famed riches were a fiction, and that Fanny was infertile and also rather nervous. Once engaged, Herbert offered nowhere near the money he had promised. Breaking an engagement was dishonourable, so Nelson and Nisbet were married at Montpelier Estate (Montpelier House) on the island of Nevis on 11 March 1787, shortly before the end of his tour of duty in the Caribbean. The marriage was registered at Fig Tree Church in St John's Parish on Nevis. Nelson returned to England in July, with Fanny following later.
During the Peace
Nelson remained with Boreas until she was paid off in November that year. He and Fanny then divided their time between Bath and London, occasionally visiting Nelson's relations in Norfolk. In 1788, they settled at Nelson's childhood home at Burnham Thorpe. Now in reserve on half pay, he attempted to persuade the Admiralty and other senior figures he was acquainted with, such as Hood, to provide him with a command. He was unsuccessful as there were too few ships in the peacetime navy and Hood did not intercede on his behalf. Nelson spent his time trying to find employment for former crew members, attending to family affairs, and cajoling contacts in the navy for a posting. In 1792 the French revolutionary government annexed the Austrian Netherlands (modern Belgium), which were traditionally preserved as a buffer state. The Admiralty recalled Nelson to service and gave him command of the 64-gun HMS Agamemnon in January 1793. On 1 February France declared war.