James Madison Papers

Board of Admiralty to Nathaniel Shaw, Jr., 9 May 1780

Board of Admiralty to Nathaniel Shaw, Jr.

FC (NA: PCC, Marine Committee Letter Book, fol. 283).

May 9th 1780


The Board have this day received your letter of the 26th ultimo announcing the arrival of a Polacca laden with Wine & fruits, Prize to the Deane frigate Captain Nicholson.2

You are directed to cause the Cargo to be divided and the Continental Moiety reserved until the farther orders of this Board;3 but should the fruit from its present state be liable to perish soon, we would in that case have the fruit sold, unless you could procure a small fast sailing Vessel to bring it round to this port on freight. As Anchors, Cables and other Cordage are much wanted for the Navy, if any such can be spared from the Polacca we would advise the selling them seperate from the vessel, and purchased for the Navy. If it be practicable, we wish you to send to General Washington about a dozen Boxes Lemons which we shall inform him of by Post. You will also inform the Board by the first opportunity with an exact Invoice of the Polacca’s Cargo & condition of the Vessel. We are sir Your Hble serts.

1Nathaniel Shaw, Jr. (1735–1782), was continental agent at New London, Conn. For an amendment of the orders in this letter, see Board of Admiralty to Shaw, 22 May 1780.

2Samuel Nicholson (1743–1811) of Maryland, the commander of the U.S. frigate “Deane,” was a brother of Captain James Nicholson. A polacca or polacre usually had two or three masts, square-rigged.

3If a U.S. naval ship captured an enemy privateer or man-of-war, its captain and crew owned the prize completely. On the other hand, if the prize was a transport, storeship, or, as in this instance, a merchantman, one-half of the vessel and cargo, or of the money realized from their sale, belonged to the United States. Because the United States was entitled to no return from captures made by privateers, the Continental Congress was seriously handicapped in recruiting officers and crew to man the ships of its navy (Journals of the Continental Congress, VI, 913).

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