George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Joshua Wentworth, 26 August 1776

From Joshua Wentworth

Portsmouth [N.H.] Augt 26. 1776


I have the pleasure to advise the arrival at this Port a Prize Ship named the Nelly Frigate, (Lyonel Bradstreet mastr) from the Bay of Honduras, for London, Lading with a Cargo, of 120,000 feet Mahogany Logs and Forty Tons chip’t & unchipt Logwood, sent in by the Hancock Capn Tucker & the Franklyn Capt. Skimmer, in the Service of the United Colonies the Vessel & Cargo the property of Inhabitants of Great Brittian, I have Libled her & shall persue to Trial &ca.1

The Trial on the recapture of the Brigt. Elizabeth, taken by Comr Manly & others in the service of the Continent & bound for Halifax, ended the 22d Inst.2 The Jury acquited her & Cargo, which appearing so directly Contarary to the resolves of Congress & the Law of this Colony; That I conceiv’d it my Duty to appeal; in Justice to the Continent & Captors, which I hope Your Excellency will approbate, part of the Claimants (notwithstanding the verdict is in their favor) are desireous of compromiseing with the Captors, and offer them their full Quota, of Salvage Which is, the one third of half the Value of Vessel & Cargo, we havg establish’d that the Enemy were in Possession more than ninty six hours,3 but the flagrant error in the Jury, forbid my conceedg to any compromise, for the Captors, as in that Case I must have surrender’d the Just Claim of the Continents, added to which there was taken with the said Brigt. a Mr Jackson, a Mr Keighley & Mr Newton, passengers, with their Effects, & Those Effects are Intended, (as the resolves of Congress expressd) to supply the enemy, & become forfited—yet they were releas’d with the rest of the Cargo. Each Claim is seperate, shou’d Your Excellency recommend my compromissg with those Claimants who are Esteem’d friendly, I shall Comport with it, but as your last favor desired my persuing the line of Duty pointed out by the Laws of the Continent,4 I shall steedily attend toe them, unless otherways directed—From a principle of Humanity I cou’d wish the suffering Claimants cou’d be releived, but I think it out of the line of my Duty to help them—In a few days I shall forward the appeal to the Secretary of Congress and fully advise him thereon, and shou’d he think it necessary Shall attend the Trial at Philadelphia or elswhere that may be appointed.5

The Nelly Frigate, is a Ship of 305 Tons mounts 2 three pounders & 4 Two pounders.

This Eastern Country are anxiously concern’d for Your Excellencys Success in the Important Battle, expected to have taken place ’ere this; which God Grant has Terminated in favor of this Distress’d Country. remain’g with due respect Yr Excellencys Most obt & Very hume Servt

Josh. Wentworth

I shd not have troubled your Excellency wt. this business, cou’d I devine where my friend Mr Moylans residence is, un’til wch Yr Excellency will excuse me.


1The Nelly Frigate was captured east of the Virginia capes on 6 Aug., and a prize crew was directed to take it to Boston. Adverse winds and the necessity of avoiding British cruisers caused the Nelly Frigate to put into Portsmouth on 20 Aug., and before the ship could proceed to Boston, Wentworth brought suit in the New Hampshire admiralty court to have it and its cargo sold there, an action that angered John Bradford, the prize agent for Massachusetts, who wanted the sale to occur at Boston where he would collect a commission on it (see Clark, George Washington’s Navy description begins William Bell Clark. George Washington’s Navy; Being an Account of His Excellency’s Fleet in New England Waters. Baton Rouge, La., 1960. description ends , 178–79). Bradford about this time sent Capt. Samuel Tucker and a crew to bring the Nelly Frigate to Boston, but they returned without the ship (see Bradford to Hancock, 29 Aug., 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 , 6:346). The Nelly Frigate and its cargo were sold at Portsmouth before 6 Nov. (see John Langdon to Hancock, that date, ibid., 7:58–59).

2For the capture and recapture of the Elizabeth and the dispute over its disposal, see Winthrop Sargent to GW, 7 April, and note 1; GW to Hancock, 25–26 April, and note 10; and GW to Wentworth, 15 June 1776, and note 1.

3Congress resolved on 5 Dec. 1775 that in cases of recaptured vessels, the prize money was to be one-half of the value of the vessel and cargo if it had been in enemy hands for more than ninety-six hours. The prize money was reduced proportionately for shorter periods of enemy control. One-third of the prize money was allotted to the officers and crewmen who made the recapture, and the balance went to the owner of their vessel, in this case the Continental government (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 , 3:374–75, 407).

5Robert Hanson Harrison replied to Wentworth on 10 Sept.: “Removed at such a distance as his Excellency is, and Involved in a multiplicity of Important business, It is impossible for him to give directions about or to pay attention to the Continental Armed Vessels at the Eastward—Therefore, at the same time that he doubts not but your conduct is right respecting the Appeal, he apprehends you should correspond with the Marine Committee appointed by Congress in all matters that may occur in your department, presuming that they were appointed & are intended for that purpose. His Excellency can only repeat what he has already said, that the Laws prescribed by Congress, are the only Rules by which you can conduct yourself—It is not his wish nor in his power to give any orders or advice authorizing a deviation or departure from them—If in any instances hardships of a peculiar nature cast up—Congress & Congress alone have it in their power to releive, on proper representation being made” (DLC:GW). On 14 Oct. 1776 Congress reversed the decision of the New Hampshire admiralty court but ruled that the owners need pay the United States and the recaptors only one-twelfth of the value of the ship and cargo. The United States’ share of the prize money was remitted to the owners of the goods, leaving them to pay one-thirty-sixth of the value of the ship and cargo to the recaptors (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 , 6:870–73).

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