Yesterday I left Capt. Nicholasson Broughton and Capt. John Selman, the first officers to command schooners for Gen. George Washington, on their way to confront the commander-in-chief about their voyage north in the fall of 1775. They had captured seven ships, spiked the guns in the fort at Charlottetown, and brought back two royal officials from that town.
Yet Washington saw nothing but headaches in those actions. On 7 December he wrote to John Hancock, President of the Continental Congress:
My fears that Broughton and Selman would not effect any good purpose were too well founded: they are returned and brought with them three of the principal inhabitants from the Island of St. John’s [now Prince Edward Island]. Mr. [Philip] Callbeck is President of the Council and acted as Governour. They brought the Governour’s commission, the Province seal, &c. As the captains acted without any warrant for such conduct I have thought it but justice to discharge these gentlemen, whose families were left in the utmost distress.Twelve days later the commander’s secretary made a terse note of a message to Jonathan Glover, Continental Army agent for the port of Marblehead: “Ordered to deliver up the vessels sent into Marblehead by Broughton and Selman to their owners.” (Jonathan Glover was brother of Col. John Glover, who commanded the regiment that the captains came from.)
Broughton and Selman felt they and their crews had served the American cause, and probably wanted to make their case to the commander-in-chief. In addition, their commissions were due to run out at the end of December, so they needed to know if they were going on other naval missions. This is how Selman remembered the discussion many years later:
This year being nearly up Commodore Broughton and myself went to Head-Quarters at Cambridge to see the General,—he met us on the steps of the door—we let his Excellency understand we had called to see him touching the cruise,Funny thing is, when a general has a difference of opinion with a captain (or even with two captains), the general gets to decide.
he appeared not pleased—he wanted not to hear anything about it and broke off abruptly to me, Sir, says he will you stand again in Col. Glover’s Regiment [i.e., return to the army, with no chance of the privateering profits, or the independence of commanding your own ship]—
my answer to him was, I will not, sir.
He then accosted Commodore Broughton—You sir—have said that you would stand;
Com. Broughton said, I will not stand,
thus ended the matter relative to the cruise.
(Photo of Washington’s headquarters in winter by j-fi, available through Flickr under a Creative Commons license.)