HISTORY OF NEW LONDON COUNTY, CONNECTICUT,
WITH BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES OF MANY OF ITS PIONEERS AND PROMINENT MEN.
COMPILED UNDER THE SUPERVISION OF D. HAMILTON HURD
J. W. LEWIS & CO., PHILADELPHIA, 1882
PRESS OF J. B. LIPPINCOTT & CO., PHILADELPHIA
[transcribed by Janece Streig]
Pages 181 - 192
WAR OF THE REVOLUTION.
Privateering--Sea-Captains-The Schooner "Spy"-Brig "Defiance"-"Old Defiance"-The "Oliver Cromwell"-Brig "Resistance"-The "Hancock"-The Privateer "Governor Trumbull"-Ship "Confederacy"-The "Deane"--The "Putnam"-Continental Ship "Trumbull"-Benedict ARNOLD-He Marches on New London-Flight of the Inhabitants-Burning of the Town-ARNOLD's Official Account-Estimate of the Loss-List of New London Sufferers-WASHINGTON's Visit to New London.
"While humanity, reason, and religion concur in deprecating the whole practice of war, and look forward with ardent aspiration to the time when other modes of accommodating the difficulties of nations shall prevail, we must not withhold from the brave soldier and adventurous seaman that species of fame and merit which is their due. If we would write history faithfully we must go back to the era and live and breathe the scenes described. We must not look at the war of the Revolution by that light which has but just began to dawn on the Christian world in regard to the folly and iniquity of war. Men fought under an exalted impulse for their homes and firesides, their liberties and their alters. It was the way in which the age manifested its devotion to truth, freedom, law, and religion. Yet blessed will be the period when these sacred principles shall find a holier expression.
"It has been customary to make a distinction between the regular navy of the country and those private armed vessels called letters-of-marque, or privateers, as if the former were an honorable service and the latter but little removed from piracy. The distinction is unjust, one was as fair and lawful as the other; both were sanctioned by the custom of nations, the object of each was the same. The Continental vessels no less than the privateers seized upon peaceful merchantmen, and as much historical credit should be awarded to the brave privateersman as to the commissioned officer.
"It is a fact also that has not been sufficiently noticed in respect to the seaman of the Revolution that often with undaunted spirit they went into battle against fearful odds, and in these unequal combats were not unfrequently successful, such power has Providence given to those who manfully content for the right.
"The British, after gaining possession of New York, fitted out a host of privateers from that port and from Long Island that infested the Sound and the whole New England coast, and in the course of a few months nearly every packet, coaster, and fishing smack belonging to New London was captured or destroyed. The inhabitants were driven in self-defense to build privateers and to arm as cruisers whatever craft they had left or could seize in their turn from the enemy and set them afloat to defend their property.
"Aggression, leading to retaliation, and swaying back and forth over an increasing space with accelerated fury, is the diagram of war.
"A place whose great and almost sole advantage consists in commercial aptitude is necessarily dependent upon peace for prosperity. From the beginning to the close of the Revolutionary contest a cloud of depressing gloom hung over New London. Her mariners and artisans were deprived of employment; her shopmen and merchants were impoverished or bankrupt; religion, education, and morals were at a low ebb, and the shadows grew deeper from year to year.
"It may be doubted whether any two places in New England exhibited a greater contract in these respects than those near neighbors, but by no means intimate friends, Norwich and New London. Norwich suffered in her commerce as well as New London, but she was not kept in continual jeopardy; extraordinary inroads excepted, she was safe from invasion. Her growth was scarcely checked by the war, and, setting aside the suffering from scarcity in the first years of the conflict and the family privations resulting from the drain on the male population for the army, her prosperity was but little diminished. It was a place of refuge for many families from Boston, Newport, and the other exposed situations on the coast, and this influx of residents kept her currency easy. With a wise foresight and a prompt enterprise, favored by her situation and natural advantages, she early turned her attention to manufactures. These came into fill the vacuum occasioned by her lost commerce.
"New London had no such wholesome resource. The privateering business very naturally stepped in. and, as far as bustle and excitement went, filled the void, but as path to gain it was fraught with hazard and uncertainty. Neither merchants nor adventurers acquired wealth by privateering. Even the most fortunate commanders barely obtained a competent livelihood for the time being for their families. The history of the most successful is comprehended in two or three profitable voyages, a few brilliant exploits, and then capture and imprisonment.
"The alternations in this warfare succeeded each other like cloud and sunshine on an April day. The excitement of hazardous undertakings and the sudden changes continually taking place gave to life a romantic and vivid interest. Often when the Sound was apparently pervaded by British vessels a letter-of-marque would seize a favorable opportunity, push out of port, and return with a prize. As connected with New London, sea skirmishes and naval disasters were prominent features of the war. A band of sea-captains, prompt, valiant, experiences, and danger-loving, had their rendezvous in this port. Some were natives of the town, others belonged in Groton, Norwich, Middletown, and Saybrook.
"Capt. Elisha HINMAN was the youngest of here brothers who came from Woodbury, Conn., before or about 1760 and established themselves in New London. He was a veteran of the sea before the commencement of the Revolutions, and took an early part in the contest. He commanded the 'Cabot.' A Continental brig in the squadron of Commodore HOPKINS, and afterwards succeeded Paul JONES in the ship 'Alfred,' which he was unfortunately obliged to surrender to the 'Ariadne' and 'Ceres,' on a return voyage from France, March 9, 1778. Being carried a prisoner to England, after a short confinement he found friends who aided his escape to France, from whence he returned home, and engaged for a time in private adventures. In 1779 he went out in the privateer sloop 'Hancock,' owned by Thomas MUMFORD, and had a run of brilliant, dashing success. In 1780 he took command of the armed ship 'Deane.'
"Peter RICHARDS, Charles BUCKLEY, and John WELSH, the lieutenants of Capt. HINMAN in the 'Alfred,' were confined in England for several months in Fortune prison, near Portsmouth, from whence they escaped by digging under the outward wall, and reaching the coast of France in safety, returned home in the spring of 1779. These all went out subsequently in private armed vessels.
"William HAVENS, Nicoll FOSDICK, Samuel and Lodowich CHAMPLIN, William LEEDS, Daniel DESHON, Nathaniel SALTONSTALL, seamen more brave and skillful than these to harass an enemy or defend a coast cannot be found at any period of our country's history. The merchant service was not wholly abandoned during the war. Several of the commanders that have been named and others made occasional voyages to French ports, though in general with some armature. Capt. William ROGERS made a safe voyage to France and back again in 1779. Several cases occurred in which vessels that sailed before the war unarmed were long detained in foreign ports, and even laid up till the return of peace. Capt. John LAMB, sent by Nathaniel SHAW in the ship 'America' to Gibraltar in 1774, was absent three years, the owner in the mean time receiving no remittances. 1 [1. "LAMB arrived at Boston form Martinico in December, 1777, in a brig called the 'Irish Gimblet.' Among his lading were seventeen brass cannon, with other warlike stores, for Congress shipped by William BINGHAM, of St. Peter's, Martinico.] Capt. James ROGERS, arrested by the war in a foreign port, suffered a detention of six years, but arrived in safety with his vessel in September, 1781.
"New London Harbor was the recruiting-ground of the State schooner 'Spy,' Capt. Robert NILES, a fortunate vessel with a skillful commander, which performed good service during the whole war, and closed her accounts in neat and beautiful style by carrying safely to France the first copy of the ratified treaty of peace. This vessel was of fifty tons burden, carried six guns (four-pounders), and from twenty to thirty men. Her cruises were short, but she was continually upon the lookout, ever ready, ever serviceable, alert in discovering smugglers, intercepting unlawful communications, taking prizes, and giving notice of the movements of the enemy. She sailed from Stonington with a copy of the ratified treaty, and arrived at Brest in twenty-one days, having passed undiscovered through a British fleet that lay off that port, owing her safety, probably, to her diminutive size, which prevented her character from being suspected.
"The brig 'Defence,' fourteen guns, built by the State in 1775 at the ship-yard of Capt. Uriah HAYDEN, in Connecticut River, was brought around to New London to be equipped and to enlist her crew of one hundred and twenty men. She sailed on her first cruise in May, 1776, under Capt. Seth HARDING, and in the course of it took two transport-ships and a brig, all bringing Highland recruits to the British army. The 'Defence' enjoyed a couple of years of prosperity, often dropping into New London Harbor to recruit. Three of her lieutenants, LEEDS, ANGEL, and BILLINGS, had been sea-captains, sailing from the Thames. In 1778 this vessel was altered into a ship at Boston, and the command given to Capt. Samuel SMEDLEY; but her career was closed March 10, 1779, on Goshen Reef, within sight of New London. She struck, bilged, overset, and went to pieces as she was about to enter the harbor from a successful cruise. Several of her crew perished in the hold.
"Another State brig, called the 'Old Defence,' under the command of Capt. Daniel DESHON, was taken in January, 1778 by the enemy and carried into Jamaica.
"The 'Oliver Cromwell,' a twenty-gun ship, built at Saybrook in 1776 by the State, was also fitted out from New London. Her first commander was Capt. William COIT, and she was expected to sail in October, but difficulties existed among her people, and the British kept a constant watch over the harbor, so that she was detained through the winter. The next spring Capt. HARDING was transferred to her from the 'Defence,' and she succeeded in getting out in May, 1777. 2 [2. "In March, 1777, on the day of the marriage of Capt. Elisha HINMAN, the officers of the 'Oliver Cromwell' ordered a complimentary salute to be fired from the ship. Some mischief-lover among the crew charged the cannon with a hand-grenade, which 'whistled through the town the like was never known.' The terrified inhabitants caused the offender to be arrested and put in irons.] In June she took a merchant brig, called the 'Medway,' and in July the brigantine 'Honor,' which sold, with her cargo, for £10,692. In September she captured the 'Weymouth Packet,' a brig of fifteen guns, which was fitted up for a cruiser and called the 'Hancock.' The 'Cromwell,' after two and a half years of faithful republican service, was destined to pass into the ranks of royalty. She sailed from New London in May, 1779, in command of Capt. Timothy PARKER, of Norwich, a seaman of tried gallantry and experience. She was absent twelve days, sent in four prizes, two f them armed vessels, and touched in herself to land her prisoners. She sailed again the 1st of June, and on the 5th, off Sandy Hook, had a sharp engagement with the British frigate 'Daphne.' Her mainmast being shot away, three men killed, and another ship coming up to the aid of the 'Daphne,' Capt. PARKER surrendered his ship. She was soon cruising again under the royal ensign, and bearing the new name of 'Restoration.' 3 [3. "From a New York 9royalist0 paper of July 24, 1779: "The frigate "Restoration" (formerly the "Oliver Cromwell") is now fitting for sea, and will be ready in six days to join the associated refugee fleet lying in Huntington Harbor, and intending soon to pay a visit to the rebel coast.']
"The Continental armed brig 'Resistance,' ten guns (fours), Capt. Samuel CHEW, was fitted out at New London at the suggestions and under the orders of Nathaniel SHAW. 4 [4. "It gives me pleasure to hear of Capt. CHEW's success, as the fitting him out was a plan of my own." Letter to the Marine Committee of Congress, Feb. 2, 1778 (MS.).] The officers were mostly New London men. On the 4th of March, 1778, in a desperate conflict in the West India seas with a letter-of-marque carrying twenty guns, Capt. CHEW and Lieut. George CHAMPLIN, of New London, were killed. 5 [5. "Capt. CHEW was a brave and skillful officer, an emigrant from Virginia to New London, and brother of Joseph CHEW, heretofore mentioned. The two brothers, like many others in that day of divisions, took opposite sides in the contest. Joseph CHEW had been obliged to leave the place on account of his adherence to the royal cause.] The two vessels parted, and the brig was carried into Boston by Lieut. LEEDS. She was taken by the British in November and burnt.
"The 'Governor Trumbull,' a privateer ship of twenty guns, built in Norwich by Howland and Coit, was considered a very fine vessel. She went to sea on her first cruise in March, 1778, Capt. Henry BILLINGS commander, and left the harbor for the last time in December of the same year. In March, 1779, while cruising in the West Indies, she was captured by the 'Venus' frigate, which had formerly belonged to Massachusetts, and was originally called the 'Bunker Hill.'
"Early in 1779 three privateers lying in New London Harbor determined to attempt the capture of the brig 'Ranger,' a refugee privateer of twelve guns that infested the Sound and had taken many prizes and plundered the coast in some instances. The brig 'Middletown' and sloops 'Beaver' and 'Eagle,' under Capts. SAGE, HAVENS, and CONKLING, fell upon her as she lay by the wharf at Sag Harbor, cut her out, and came back with her in triumph. This was on the 31st of January. The next day the same associated made a bold but unsuccessful attack on seven vessels which had put into Sag Harbor. In this affair the 'Middletown' grounded and was abandoned to the enemy.
"May 27, 1779, Capt. Richard MCCARTY, of New London, in a sloop bound for the West Indies, was wrecked in a snow-storm on Plum Island, and himself and crew, six persons, all lost.
"The 'Confederacy,' a Continental ship of thirty-two guns, built on the Thames, near Norwich, and equipped at New London, sailed on her first cruise May 1, 1779, under Capt. Seth HARDING. This ship was popularly said to have been built of Tory timber. Most of the wood for her hull was cut in Salem, Conn., on the confiscated estate of Mr. BROWN, a royalist, and the trunnels of the ship were from locust-trees that grew on land near the harbor's mouth, New London, which had belonged to Capt. OLIVER, a former officer of the king's customs. To make up the complement of men for her crew it was necessary to have recourse to the odious practice of impressments. 1 [1. "Monday night last, about fifty seamen and landsmen were pressed by a gang from the ship 'Confederacy,' now lying in the harbor, and carried on board; a part of them have been since released." Green's Gazette of April 29th.] Able-bodied men were becoming scarce upon the coast through the constant drain for army and navy. The call for 'gentlemen volunteers,' which was the customary soothing address of the recruiting-officer, had been so frequently reiterated that it had ceased to be answered with alacrity. 2 [2. "The last advertisement of the 'Oliver Cromwell' will serve a specimen of this alluring style: "'The ship "Oliver Cromwell," Timothy PARKER, commander, ready for a cruise against the enemies of the United Independent States. All gentlemen volunteers that have a mind to make their fortunes are desired to repair immediately on board said ship in the port of New London, where they will meet good encouragement.']
"The privateering business was at no time so active, so daring in exploit and brilliant in success as in 1779. Both parties, the patriots and the refugees, pursued it with eager rivalry. Between the 1st of March and 13th of June nine New York or Tory privateers were captured and brought into New London. One of them, the 'Lady Erskine,' a brig of ten guns, was taken within sight of the harbor by the sloops 'Hancock' and 'Beaver,' Capts. HINMAN and HAVENS, who cut her off from a fleet of twenty-one sail which was passing towards Rhode Island under convoy of the 'Thames' frigate of thirty-six guns.