Journal of a Privateersman

I.

THE following journal was written by the Captain’s Quartermaster on board the Sloop Revenge, of Newport, Rhode Island, on a cruise against the Spaniards in the year 1741. Rhode Island was famous at that time for the number and the success of her privateers. There was but little objection felt to the profession of privateering. Franklin had not yet roused by his effective protest the moral sentiment of the civilized world against it. The privateers that were fitted out in those days were intended for service against foreign enemies; they were not manned by rebels, with design to ruin their loyal fellow-citizens. England and Spain were at war, and the West Indian seas were white with the sails of national fleets and private armed vessels. Privateering afforded a vent for the active and restless spirits of the eolonies ; it was not without some creditable associations ; and the life of a privateersman was full of the charms of novelty, adventure, and risk. This journal shows something of its character.

A JOURNAL of all the transactions on board the sloop REVENGE, Benja Norton Comr by God's grace and under his protection, bound on a cruising voyage against the Spaniards. Begun June the 5th, 1741.

Friday, 5th. This day, at 4 A. M., the Cap1 went from Taylor’s wharf on board his sloop, which lay off of Connanicut, & at 6 o’clock Capt John Freebody [the chief owner] came off in the pinnace with several hands. We directly weighed anchor with 40 hands, officers included, bound to New York to get more hands, a Doctor, and some more provisions and other stores we stood in need of. The wind coming contrary, was obliged to put back. Came to an anchor again under Connanieut at 8 p. M.

Saturday, 6th. Weighed from under Connanieut at 4 A. M. with a small breeze of wind. Met several vessells bound to Newport and Boston. At 7 p. M. anchored under Block Island, over against the £ 10,000 Pear [pier ?]. Bought 10s. worth of Codfish for the people.

Sunday, 7th. About 4 A. M. weighed from Block Island, and Monday, the 8th instant, at 9 A. M., anchored in Huntington Bay.

Tuesday, 9th. Weighed from Huntington Bay at 3 P. M. At 11 came to the white stone. Fired a gun & beat the drum to let them know what we were. The Ferryboat came off & told us we could not get hands at York, for the sloops fitted by the country had got them all. At 12 came to anchor at the 2 Brothers. At 4 took an acet of all the provisions on board, with the cost; together with a list of all the people on board. Price, a hand that came with us from Rhode Island, askt leave to go to York to see his wife. Set a shilling crazy fellow ashore, not thinking him fit to proceed the Voyage, his name unknown to me.

Wednesday, 10th. This morning, about 5 A. M., Capt Freebody went up to York in the pinnace to get provisions and leave to beat about for more hands. At 1 p. M. the Pinnace returned and brought word to Capt Norton from Air. Freebody that lie had waited on his Honour the Govr, and that he would not give him leave to beat up for Volunteers. The chief reason he gave was that the City was thinned of hands by the 2 country sloops that were fitted out by the Council to cruise after the Spanish privateers on the coast, and that Lis Grace the Duke of Newcastle had wrote him word, that, if Admiral Vernon or Gen1 Wentworth should write for more recruits, to use his endeavors to get them, so that he could not give encouragement to any privateers to take their men away. Three of the hands that went up to York left us. At 4 P. M. Edward Sampford, our pilot, went ashore in a canoe with four more hands, without leave from the Capt. When he came on board again the Capt talked to him, & found that he was a mutinous, quarrelsome fellow, and so ordered him to bundle up his clothes & go ashore for good. He carried with him 5 more hands. After they were gone, I read the articles to those on board, who readily signed ; so hope we shall lead a peaceable life. Remain, out of the 41 hands that came with us from Rhode Island, 29 hands.

Friday, 12th. Went to York with a letter from the Capt to Mr. Freebody, who ordered the vessel up to York. Three of our hands left me to see some negroes burnt,1 took a pilot in to bring the vessel up, and so returned on board at 3 p. M.

saturday, 13th. At 5 A. M. weighed from the 2 Brothers and went to York. At 7 anchored off the town. Saluted it with 7 guns. Shipt 7 hands to proceed the voyage.

Sunday, 14th. Between 6 & 7 A. m. came in a brig from Aberdeen with 40 servants,2 but brings no news.

Thursday, 18th. At 11 A. M. our pilot came on board with 4 of our men that had left us when the Capt turned Edward Sampford ashore. At 2 p. M. the Capt ordered our gunner to deliver arms to them that had none. 25 hands fitted themselves. Great firing at our buoy, supposing him a Spaniard. I hope to God their courage may be as good, if ever they meet with any.

Saturday, 20th. At 10 A. M. there came in the Squirrel man of war, Capt Warren 3 Comr, from Jamaica, who informed us that Admiral Vernon had taken all the forts at Carthagena except one, and the town.4 We saluted him with 3 guns, having no more loaded. He returned us one, and we gave three cheers, which were returned by the ship. He further told the Captain, that, if he would come up to York, he would put him on a route which would be of service to his voyage.

Tuesday, 23d. Wrote a letter, by the Captain’s order, to get Davison to go as mate with us. Our Captain went to York to carry it to Capt. Potter. At 3 P. M. came in a sloop from Jamaica, in a 20 days passage, from which we learn that Admiral Vernon’s fleet was fitting out for Cuba.5 I wish them more success than what they got against Carthagena; for by all report they got more blows than honour. At 4 p. M. the Captain returned and brought a hand with him, John Watson, Clerk of a Dutch church.

Wednesday, 24th. About 10 A. M. the pilot came on board with a message from Capt Freebody, who was returned from Long Island, to agree with a Doctor who had offered to go with us. At 1 p. M. came in a sloop from Jamaica, a prize of Capt Warren, which had formerly been taken by the Spaniards. She belonged to Providence, and had been retaken by the Squirrel. At 6 P. M. Mr. Stone & the Doctor came on board to see the Captain, but, he being at York, they went there to see him.

Thursday, 25th. Nothing remarkable the fore part of the day, but quarreling not worth mentioning. At 1 P. M. a sloop came in from Jamaica, and brought for news that they had spoken an English man of war at Port Marant, by which they had been informed that a fresh war was daily expected; also that the Bay was entirely cut off by the Spaniards. No Doctor as yet, for he that the Captain went to agree with was a drunkard and an extortioner, so we are better without him than with him.

Friday, 26th. The most remarkabiest day this great while. All has been peace & quietness. Three ships came down the Narrows, one bound to London, another bound to Newfoundland, & the third to Ireland.

Saturday, 27th. This morning, about 10, the Capt went to York to take his leave of Capt Freebody, who was going to Rhode Island. At 2 p. M. he came on board & brought with him 2 bb of pork. At 3 came in a privateer from Bermudas, Capt Love Comr, who came here for provisions for himself & his consort, who waited for him there. This day we heard that the two country sloops were expected in by Wednesday next. Lord send it, for we only wait for them in hopes of getting a Doctor & some more hands to make up our complement.

Friday, July 3d. At 5 A. M. we saw three hands who had left us the day before on board the Humming Bird privateer, who had been enticed by some of the owners to leave us by making of them drunk. About 10 we saw their canoe going ashore with our hands in her, also Joseph Ferrow, whom we had brought from Rhode Island, and since given him clothes, but who had entered on board that sloop as boatswain. As soon as they had done watering, and were returning to the ship, we manned our pinnace, and, having boarded their canoe, took our three hands out of her, and brought them and Joseph Ferrow aboard. Some time after, the Humming Bird’s canoe coming alongside, Ferrow jumpt into it, and they put off. Our pinnace being hauled up in the tackles, we immediately let her down, but unfortunately the plug was out, and the hands which had jumped into her being raw, she almost filled with water, which caused such confusion that the canoe got on board before we got off. Our hands then went to demand Ferrow, but the privateersmen got out their arms and would not suffer us to board them. At 4 p. M. the Capt of the little Privateer came on board of us to know the reason of the disturbance between his people and ours. Our Captain told him the reason, and forbid him to carry that fellow away, lor, if he did, he might chance to hear of him in the West Indies, &, if he did, he would go 100 leagues to meet him, and take ten for one, and break up his voyage, & send him home to his owners, and give his people a good dressing. (I don’t doubt but be ’ll be as good as his word.) Opened a bbl of bread. Thunder and lightning with a great deal of rai n.

Saturday, 4th This morning, about 5 A. M., came in a ship from Marblehead bound to So Carolina. She bad lost her main mast, mizzen mast, & fore topmast. In Latitude 35 she met with a hard gale of wind which caused the disaster, and obliged her to put in to New York to refit. About 11 o'clock the Humming Bird weighed anchor for Philadelphia to get hands. At 4 P. M. the Lieut and 2 sergeants belonging to Capt Rigg’s Company came on board to look for some soldiers who were supposed to be on board the Humming Bird, which was lying off Coney Island, but, the wind and tide proving contrary, they were obliged to return. At 6 came in a ship from Lisbon, having made the passage in 6 weeks; also a sloop from Turks Island : both loaded with salt. The ship appearing to be a lofty vessel, our people were panic struck with tear, taking her for a 70 gun ship, and, as we had several deserters from the men at war, they desired the Capt to hoist the Jack and lower our pennant as a signal for our pinnace, which was then ashore, so that, if she proved to be a man of war, they might get ashore, and clear of the press. But it proved quite the contrary ; for the ship & sloop’s crew, taking us, by the signal we had made for our pinnace, for a tender of a man of war, laying there to press hands, quitted their vessels and ran ashore, as soon as they saw our pinnace manned, and made for the bushes. At night the Capt gave the people a pail of punch to recover them of their fright. Thunder & lightning all this day.

Sunday, 5th. At 5 A. M. shipped a hand. Our mate went ashore to get water. About 8 he returned, and informed us that the two country sloops lay at the Hook, and only waited for a pilot to bring them up, which I hope will prove true. We are all tired of staying here. At 2 P. M. weighed anchor and got nearer in shore, out of the current. Rainy, squally, windy weather. Here lie a brig bound to Newfoundland, a ship to Jamaica, and a sloop which at 6 p. M. weighed anchor, bound to Barbadoes, loaded with lumber and horses. This day being a month since we left our commission port, I have set down what quantity of provisions has been expended, viz., 9½ bb3 of beef, 1 bb of pork, 14 bb of Bread. Remaining, 49½ bb of beef, 29 bb of pork, 40 cwt of bread.

Monday, 6th. About 6 A. M. came in the two Country sloops so long waited for. They were fitted out to take a Spanish privateer that has been cruising on the coast, and has taken several of our English vessels. A ship from Newfoundland also came up, and also the Humming bird privateer, which had been to meet them to get bands. Capt Langden, Comr of one of the above sloops, as he came alongside, gave us three cheers, which we returned. The Cap1 went up to York to get a Doctor and some hands. One promised to give him an answer the next day. At 10 a hand came on board to list, but went away without signing.

Tuesday, 7th. This morning the Captain went up to York, and at last agreed with a Doctor who had been in the employ of Capt Cunningham, Comr of one of the Privateer Sloops that came in the day before. His name is William Blake. He is a young gentleman, and well recommended by the Gen1 of York. At 6 p. M. the Captain returned on board, and brought with him a chest of medicines, a Doctor’s box which cost 90£ York currency; also 10 pistols and cutlasses.

Tuesday, 14th. Weighed about 2 P. M. from the Hook with the wind at W.S.W. with a fresh gale, & by God’s leave and under his protection, bound on our cruise against the proud Dons, the Spaniards. The Captain ordered the people a pail of punch to drink to a good voyage. Opened a bb of beef & a tierce of bread. The people were put on allowance for the time, one pound of beef per man & 7 pounds of bread, per week.

Wednesday, 15th. At 3 p. M. set our shrouds up. There was a great, swelling sea. About 5 A. M. saw a sail under our bow, about a league distant. All hands were called upon deck, and got ready to receive her, should she prove an enemy. We fired one of our bow chasers & brought her to, and found that she was a sloop from Nantucket, Russell Master. He said he had met nothing since he had been out, which was 4 days. Our people returned to their statu quo, being all peaceable since they have got a Quartermaster to control them.

Tuesday, 28th. About 5 A. M. spied a sail under our lee bow, bore down on her, and when in gunshot fired one of our bow chasers. She immediately lowered all her sails, & went astern of us. We then ordered the master to send his boat aboard, which he did, and came himself with one hand. Upon examination, we found that she was a sloop belonging to some of the subjects of his Brittanick majesty, & was taken by a Spanish privateer. The sloop had been taken off of Obricock,6 near N. Carolina, and when taken by us was in Latitude 31° 59' N., Longitude 73° 6' W. The master, when he came aboard, brought three Spanish papers, which he declared to be, the first, a copy of his commission; the second, Instructions what signal to make when arrived at St Augustine, where she was to be condemned ; and the third paper was to let him know what route he was to steer. We sent our Lieut aboard, who reported that she was loaded with Pork, Beans, Live Hogs, &c., and a horse, & had on board 2 Englishmen ; the Master, who is a Frenchman born, but turned Spaniard ; 3 Spaniard slaves, & one negro. Upon examination, John Evergin, one of the owners, declared that he had been taken some time in April last by Don Pedro Estrado, Capt of the privateer that had taken this sloop, & that he forced him to list with them, and to pilot their vessel on the coast of N. Carolina, and that then they took this sloop at Obricock, on July 5th ; also 2 more sloops and a ship loaded with lumber & bound to S° Carolina; that the Capt of the privateer put him on board with the French master, and another Englishman, Saml Elderidge, to navigate the vessel to Augustine, and that they were making the best of their way to that place. We sent our Master on board to fetch all the papers & bring the prisoners as above mentioned. At 11 A. M. sent Jeremiah Harman & John Webb with four bands to take care of the prize, the first to be master & the other mate. The Captain gave the master & mate the following orders, viz., —

On Board the Revenge, July 28th 1741.

You, Jeremiah Harman, being appointed Master, & you, John Webb, mate, of a sloop taken by a Spanish privateer some time ago, belonging to some of the subjects of bis Brittanick Majesty, and retaken by me by virtue of a commission granted to me by the Honble Richard Ward, Esq., Govr in chief over Rhode Island & Providence plantations, &c., in New England, I order, that you keep company with my sloop, the Revenge, as long as weather will permit, & if by the Providence of God, by stormy weather, or some unforeseen accident, wo should part, I then order yon to proceed directly to the island of Providence, one of the Bahamia islands, and there to wait my arrival, and not to embezzle, diminish, waste, sell, or unload any part of her cargo till I am there present, under the penalty of the articles already signed by you. Upon your arrival at Providence, make a just report to his Honr the Govr of that place of the sloop & cargo, & what is on board, & how we came by her. 1 am yrs,

B. NORTON.

To Jeremiah Harman, Masr &

John Webb, mate.

For signal,

hoist your Dutch jack at mast head; if we hoist first, you answer us, & do not keep it up long.

Wednesday, 29th. About 4 P. M. saw a sloop. Gave chase, but, the weather being calm, was forced to get out our oars. Fired our bow chase to bring her to ; but as the people were in confusion, the ship tacking about, and the night coming on very foggy, we were unable to speak to her. By her course she was bound to the Northd. Lost sight of our prize. The two Englishmen, who were taken prisoners by the Spanish privateer, signed our articles to-day.

Saturday, Aug 1st. The prize still alongside of us. Ordered the Master to send us the negro prisoner, having been informed that he was Capt of a Compy of Indians, mulattoes, and negroes, that was at the retaking of the Fort at St Augustine, which had formerly been taken while under the command of that worthiest G—O—pe,7 who by his treachery suffered so many brave fellows to be mangled by those barbarians. The negro went under the name of Signior Capitano Francisco. Sent one of the mulattoes in his room on board the prize. Gave the people a pail of punch.

Sunday, 2nd. At 1 p. M. we examined the negro, who frankly owned that he was Capt of a Compy as aforesaid, & that his commission was on board the privateer ; that he was in the privateer in hopes of getting to the Havanah, & that there he might get a passage to Old Spain to get the reward of his brave actions. We then askt him if it was his compy that had used the English so barbarously, when taken at the fort, lie denied that it was his compy, but laid that cruel action to the Florida Indians, and nothing more could we get out of him. We then tied him to a gun & made the Doctor come with instruments, seemingly to treat him as they had served the English [prisoners], thinking by that means to get some confession out of him ; but he still denied it. We then tried a mulatto, one that was taken with him, to find out if he knew anything about the matter. We gave him a dozen of stripes, but he declared that he knew nothing more than that he [the negro] had been Capt of a Compy all that time. The other fellow on board the sloop, he said, knew all about it. We sent to him, & he declared the whole truth, that it was the Florida Indians who had committed the acts under his [the negro's] command, but did not know if he was consenting to it. However, to make sure, & to make him remember that he bore such a commission, we gave him 200 lashes, & having pickled him, left him to the care of the Doctor. Opened a tierce of bread and killed the 2 hogs.

Monday, 3d. Small breeze of wind. About 10 saw a schooner standing to N°ward. Gave her chase.

Tuesday, 4th. A fine breeze of wind. Still in chase of the schooner. At 5 P. M. gave her a gun, in hopes to bring her to and find out what she was; but she did not mind it, neither hoisted any colors. Then she bore down on us, tacked and bore away. We fired 10 shot, but all did not signify, for she hugged her wind, & it growing dark, and having a good pair of heels, she was soon lost sight of. We imagined she was an eastward schooner both by her build & course; but let her be what she will, she had a brave fellow for a Comr.

Wednesday, 5 th. Fine breeze of wind. The man at the mast head about 2 p. M. spied 5 sail of vessels steering to the westward. Gave them chase till 1 A. M. About 2 we could see them at a great distance to leeward of us. Lay to till 4, and then began the chase again, they having got almost out of sight.

Thursday, 6th. Still in chase of the 5 vessels. Set our spritsail, topsail & squaresail, with a fair breeze of wind. One of the ships brought to and fired a gun to wait for a sloop that was in Compy with her, & to wait for us. We took in all our small sails, bore down on her,

& hoisted our pennant. When alongside of her she fired 6 shot at us, but did us no damage. We still hedged upon her, and, having given her our broadside, stood off. The sloop tacked immediately and bore down on us, in hopes to get us between them to pepper us, as we supposed. At sight of this, we gave them three cheers. Our people were all agreed to fight them, & told the Captain, if he would venture his sloop, they would venture their lives; but he seemed unwilling, and gave for reason, that the prize would be of little profit, if taken, and perhaps would not make good a limb, if it was lost. He also said we had not hands sufficient to man them, and to bring them into Providence, & to carry them to the N°ward would be the breaking up of the voyage without profit. Nevertheless we let the sloop come alongside us, & received her shot. In return we gave her a broadside & a volley of small arms with three huzzas, and then bore down on the ship, which all this time had been pelting us with her shot, but to no purpose. As we passed, we gave her a broadside which did some damage, for she bore down to the sloop, and never fired another shot, but careened her over and let some men down the side to stop her holes, & sent some to repair the rigging and sails, which were full of shot holes. All the damage we got was one shot through our mainsail. The ship mounted 6 guns of a side, and the sloop eight. She was a Spanish privateer, bound on a cruize to the N°ward, & had taken 5 ships & the sloop which we had retaken some time before. It grieved us to think that the fellow should go off with those prizes, which he would not have done, had the Captain been as willing to fight as we. This battle took place in the Latitude 29° 26', Long. 74° 30' W. But no blood was shed on our side.

  1. Admiral Vernon (whose name is familiar to every American, — Mount Vernon was named in his honor) was in command of the British fleet in the Spanish Main. General Wentworth, an officer “ without experience, authority, or resolution,” had command of the land forces in the West Indies. All the North American colonies, except Georgia, which was too recently settled, and whose own borders were too much exposed, had been called upon to give aid to the expedition against the Spaniards, and a regiment thirty-six hundred strong was actually supplied by them. The war was one in which the colonists took an active interest.
  2. † This little, indifferent phrase refers to one of the most shocking and cruel incidents of the colonial history of New York, the result of a delusion “ less notorious,” says Mr. Hildreth, (Hist. of the United States, ii. 391,) “but not less lamentable, than the Salem witchcraft. The city of New York now contained some seven or eight thousand inhabitants, of whom twelve or fifteen hundred were slaves. Nine fires in rapid succession, most of them, however, merely the burning of chimneys, produced a perfect insanity of terror. An indented servant-woman purchased her liberty and secured a reward of one hundred pounds by pretending to give information of a plot formed by a low tavern-keeper, her master, and three negroes, to burn the city and murder the whites. This story was confirmed and amplified by an Irish prostitute convicted of a robbery, who, to recommend herself to mercy, reluctantly turned informer. Numerous arrests had been already made among the slaves and free blacks. Many others followed. The eight lawyers who then composed the bar of New York all assisted by turns in behalf of the prosecution. The prisoners, who had no counsel, were tried and convicted upon most insufficient evidence. Many confessed to save their lives, and then accused others. Thirteen unhappy convicts were burned at the stake, eighteen were hanged, and seventy-one transported.” Such are the panics of a slaveholding community !
  3. 8 General Oglethorpe, who was at this time the victim of unfavorable reports and calumnious stories, that had been spread by disaffected members of the infant settlements in Georgia, and by some of the officers who had served under him in his unsuccessful attempt to reduce the town of Saint Augustine in Florida. “ The fort at Saint Augustine,” to which the writer of this Journal refers, as having been taken while under the command of Oglethorpe, was Fort Moosa, three miles from Saint Augustine, where a detachment of one hundred and thirty-seven men, under Colonel Palmer of Carolina, had been attacked by a vastly superior force of Spaniards, negroes, and Indians, and had been cut off almost to a man. This misfortune seems to have been due to Colonel Palmer’s disregard of Oglethorpe’s orders, and Oglethorpe himself was in no way responsible for it, although the popular blame fell on his shoulders.
  4. At this time much of the agricultural and domestic labor in the colonies, especially south of New England, was performed by indented servants brought from Great Britain, Ireland, and Germany. They were generally an ill-used class. Their services were purchased of the captains who brought them over; the purchaser had a legal property in them during the time they were bound for, could sell or bequeath them, and, like other chattels, they were liable to be seized for debts.
  5. † Captain, afterward Sir Peter Warren, was a distinguished naval officer in his day. In he was made Rear-Admiral for his services at the siege of Louisbourg, He married in New York.
  6. The report of the taking of Carthagena was false, and the colonists were greatly disappointed at the failure of Vernon’s great enterprise.
  7. †Five hundred additional men were sent from Massachusetts to take part in this new expedition. It was a total failure, like the preceding one, and few of the colonial troops lived to return home.
  8. Perhaps a misspelling of Occacoke, an island on the coast of North Carolina.