George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Hancock, 8 August 1776

From John Hancock

Philadelphia Aug. 8. 1776


Your letters of the 7 with the papers enclosed are received and now under consideration of Congress.

Enclosed I send you a resolution passed respecting lieutenant Josiah. He was first lieutenant of captain Nicholas Biddle & was taken in a ship capt. Biddle had made prize of, by the Cerberus frigate.1

By a letter which he found means to convey he informs that “he is used worse than he ever thought one englishman could use another—that he was sent before the mast with the rest, but upon refusing to do duty was given under the charge of three boatswains mates & expects the gangway soon as he is daily threatened.”2

An Order is this moment pass’d for calling general Lee from the Southward, & to morrow is appointed for electing a number of major generals & brigr generals. I am Sir Your very humbe Servt

John Hancock Presit

You will please to mention the matter of Lieut. Josiah as real information, but not discover that it was by Letter, as it may prove injurious, in case he is not exchang’d.

LS, DLC:GW. The postscript is in Hancock’s writing.

1The enclosed resolution of 7 Aug. directs GW “to propose to Lord Howe an exchange of lieutenant Josiah by offering in lieu of him a lieutenant of the navy of great Britain” and to “remonstrate to Lord Howe on the cruel treatment lieutenant Josiah has met with” (DLC:GW; see also JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 5:636). James Josiah (1751–1820), a shipmaster from Philadelphia, was appointed first lieutenant of the Pennsylvania row galley Chatham on 16 Nov. 1775, and a few weeks later he became first lieutenant of Continental brig Andrew Doria commanded by Capt. Nicholas Biddle. When the Andrew Doria captured the British transport Crawford on 29 May 1776, Biddle put Josiah aboard it as prize master. On 12 June, while sailing for an American port, the Crawford was recaptured by H.M.S. Cerberus, and Josiah was taken aboard the Cerberus as a prisoner. For GW’s subsequent efforts to obtain Josiah’s release, see GW to Hancock, 12, 21 Aug., GW to Lord Howe, 17 Aug., Lord Howe to GW, 19 Aug., and GW to Robert Morris, 25 Dec. 1776. In November Josiah was transferred to the prison ship Whitby in New York Harbor, and by 7 Jan. 1777 he was exchanged for Lt. George Ball of the Royal Navy (see the Congressional Executive Committee to GW, 7 Jan. 1777 in DLC:GW). Having been promoted to captain during his captivity, Josiah took command of the small Continental vessel Champion and served on the Delaware River until November 1777, when the Champion and the other American naval vessels on the river were burned to prevent their capture by the British. Josiah left the Continental navy a short time later. From 1778 to 1779 he commanded a Pennsylvania privateer, and during the later years of the war he was captain of several armed merchantmen. After the war Josiah had a long and profitable career as a merchant captain.

2Josiah means that he expects to be tied to a grating and flogged. For another account of Josiah’s treatment aboard the Cerberus, see his affidavit of 8 Feb. 1777, in Clark and Morgan, 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 , 7:1145.

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