George Washington Papers

To George Washington from William Watson, 15 January 1776

From William Watson

Plymouth [Mass.] 15. January 1776


Your Excellency’s favour, of the 3d instant came to hand, annexed to which are the resolves of the grand Contineltal Congress, respecting captures made, by contineltal armed vessels & others1—In complyance with which, and in obedience to your Excellencys Command, I have Libeled all the Vessels which have been bro’t into this port, by the Harrison armed ⟨Sco⟩onr & which are now in my care, Viz. one Sloop, one Scooner, & one fishing boat of about 15 tons, & shall use my best endeavours, that these vessels be brought to tryal, as soon as may be.2

The Scooner Harrison lately Comman[d]ed by Capt. Coit, I find, by strict enquiry, (tho she be not very well accomodated for the officers) is an excellent Sailer; & is sufficiently strong—The Continent has been at considerable expence, in fitting this vessel for the service, & sho’d she be put out, & another taken into the service, £100 will necessarily be sunk to the Continent, by the Transfer. for these reasons I have thought it prudent to continue the Harrison in the service, and have, agreeable to your Excellencys Permission, nominated Capt. Charles Dyar to the Command. This Dyar was with Capt. Coit, his last cruize & can give the character of the Scooner more perfectly.3

Capt. Dyar the bearer of this, wont at first interview appear to your Excellency, to advantage, he is no orator & seems rather softly, but his character is high as a good officer, & as an active, smart sailor. Capt. Coit has recommended him in high t⟨erms, &⟩ will give your Excellency his true Character.

We shall have no difficul[t]y in geting as fine a cre⟨w⟩ as any on the Continent, provided they can be enlisted for six months only, or for so long a time as Capt. Dyar shall continue to command—Our people are very fond of knowing their officers, & the best of them are unwiling to engage for a longer time, than their officers engage for. Capt. Dyar will wait on your Excy & will receive every necessary direction. I am your Excellys most obedient & very Huml servant

William Watson

N. B. Your Excellency will please to direct me, whether I am to Libel the two vessels taken by Major Tupper & carried into Dartmouth.4


2The Harrison’s prizes were the sloop Polly and the the schooner Industry both captured on 5 Nov. (see Ephraim Bowen, Jr., to GW, 6 Nov. 1775) and a nameless fishing schooner that was captured on 29 Nov. 1775. Robert Hanson Harrison replied to Watson on 20 Jan.: “His Excellency is glad to hear of the Vessels being libelled & doubts not of your assiduity to have the legality of the Captures determined as soon as It shall be in your power” (DLC:GW). In admiralty courts libeling is the process by which condemnation suits are initiated. Because of discrepancies in the Massachusetts law governing prizes, these vessels had to be libeled again on 25 Mar. 1776. They were brought to trial on 15 April.

3Stephen Moylan wrote to Watson on 7 Jan. ordering him “to examine into the Condition of Captn Coits Schooner—if fit to be Continued in the Service to Look out for Some person qualifyed to take Comand of her[,] appoint officers & raise men for that purpose[.] If unfit & that a Clever Set of Officers & Men Can be got—allso a Schooner remarkable for Sailing, to remove the guns amunition &a from on board the one into the other &a” (memorandum in letter book, DLC:GW). For previous complaints about the condition of the Harrison, see Watson to GW, 30 Oct., n.2, 6 Nov., 29 Nov., n.3, and Ephraim Bowen, Jr., to GW, 6 Nov. 1775, n.3. On 20 Jan. Robert Hanson Harrison informed Watson: “His Excellency is well pleased that the Schooner Harrison is yet good & fit for service, & from the Character you have given Captn Dyar, is willing that you should give him the command of her, & to Indulge such men as may offer their service to Inlist only for Six months—The Captain thinks that a square Sail & some other small Sails will be of great advantage to her—This his Excellency leaves to your Judgement: If they are necessary in your opinion, and the expence will not be out of proportion to the benefit likely to be derived from them, you will please to provide them—You will immediately dispatch the Captain upon a cruize with such Sails as he has, If they will Answer, those he wants may be made while he is out” (DLC:GW; see also Instructions to Dyar, 20 Jan. 1776). The Harrison apparently sailed from Plymouth in early February, but after two short voyages the vessel was in such disrepair that it was taken out of commission (see Watson to GW, 23, 29–30 Jan., 22 Feb. 1776, and Stephen Moylan to Watson, 24 Feb., quoted in Watson to GW, 22 Feb. 1776, n.2).

4For Benjamin Tupper’s capture of a brig and a schooner at Martha’s Vineyard the previous October, see GW to Tupper, 20 Oct., and Watson to GW, 30 Oct. 1775. “As to the Vessels taken & carried into Dartmouth by Major Tupper,” Robert Hanson Harrison wrote to Watson on 20 Jan., “his Excellency thinks they ought to be Libelled” (DLC:GW).

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