George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Jonathan Jackson, 16 January 1776

From Jonathan Jackson

Newburyport [Mass.] 16th Jany 1776.


The day before yesterday two Enemies Vessels happen’d to be taken in this Bay & brought in here—one a Ship from London laden for Government Service, the other a Brig from Cork laden with Provisions both bound for Boston—in the latter were two Passengers Leiutenant Hill of Lord Percy’s Regt & a Mr Gray of Boston—our Committee here have sent both these Gentn & the Masters of both the Vessels by this Conveyance to the Order of the Council at Watertown, with the papers of a public nature that were found in either Vessel—This morning was discovered in a concealed part of the Ship several papers esteemed to be of some Moment in a political View—the Committee had before directed me (who happen’d to act as their Chairman) to write to the Council a Detail of this Matter & send the papers of public Concern to them—but while the Committee were together, it was not thought of, to furnish you with Copies of the most material—several of the members afterwards mention’d to me there wou’d be a propriety in so doing, & in the Committee’s Behalf I have presum’d to furnish you with Copies of the concealed Papers found this morning, & which are inclosed.1

For any Enquiries you may please to make I refer you to the Bearer Mr Marsh (who is a Member of the Committee here)2 and begging pardon for the Freedom I have taken, Am most respectfully your Excellency’s very obedient Servt

Jona. Jackson


Robert Hanson Harrison replied to Jackson on 20 Jan.: “His Excellency desires thro you Sir, to return the Committee of Newberry port his sincere thanks for their great politeness in this Instance & wishes that these prizes may be Succeeded by others” (DLC:GW).

Jonathan Jackson (1743–1810), a prominent merchant in Newburyport, was named to the committee of safety in September 1774 and September 1775. He served in the General Court from 1776 to 1777, the state constitutional convention in 1779, and the Continental Congress in 1782. With his business partners Jackson became actively involved in privateering and the West Indies trade during the war and sustained considerable maritime losses.

1Both vessels were taken by an American privateer. In the letter that Jackson wrote to the president of the Massachusetts council on this date, he says that the captures occurred “Yesterday Forenoon.” Jackson further reports that “the Ship was from London eleven weeks since & is named the Freinds Archibald Bowie Master Burthen about 200 tons laden with Coals, Porter pickled Cabbage, Vinegar live Hogs &c these were for Government Service—the Ship was to enter at Boston as a Transport—the Brig was from Cork about ten weeks since & is named the Sukey Madatt Engs Master Burthen about 90 Tons laden with Beef Pork Butter Hams Tongues Potatoes &c owned by Lewis Gray of Boston—both these Vessels were bound to Boston—There were two Passengers in the Brig vizt Lieutenant Hill of Earl Percy’s Regiment, & Mr John Gray Son of Harrison Gray Esqr—We thought it best to forward the two Masters & these two Passengers to the honble Council to dispose of them as they may think fit, & to make what Enquiries they may chuse—Mr Marsh & Mr Mullikin of this Town (& the first Gentleman of this Committee) have undertaken to see them safe to Watertown—they bring with them all the Papers of public Concern were found in both Vessels—We wou’d observe to their Honours that there is besides a number of Letters to Officers & Soldiers in Boston, a Book of military Orders or Regulations, we did not know but might be a Matter of Curiosity if not of Service at Head Quarters which you’ll present to the General if you please—Mr Hill begs a Return of it to him finally” (Clark, Naval Documents description begins William Bell Clark et al., eds. Naval Documents of the American Revolution. 11 vols. to date. Washington, D.C., 1964—. description ends , 3:810).

The copies of the concealed papers that Jackson enclosed to GW have not been identified. Benjamin Hill was commissioned a lieutenant in the 5th Regiment of Foot, commanded by Lord Hugh Percy, on 12 July 1775. Hill had previously served as an ensign in the 62d Regiment. John and Lewis Gray were both sons of Harrison Gray (1711–1794), who had been treasurer and receiver general of Massachusetts since 1753. John Gray was returning from a voyage to Ireland where he had procured provisions for Boston. For the disposal of the prisoners, see the Massachusetts Council to GW, 20 Jan., and GW to Hancock, 24 Jan. 1776.

2Jonathan Marsh (1735–1825) served on the committee of safety from 1775 to 1776. He was also a town selectman in 1776 and represented Newburyport in the General Court from 1788 to 1791 and from 1799 to 1805.

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