J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, February 22, 2010

“Not yet satiated with wanton depredations”

Last week I quoted Gen. George Washington’s orders to schooner commander Capt. Nicholasson Broughton to intercept two British supply ships headed for the St. Lawrence River, as a way of gaining more ordnance for the Continental Army around Boston and supporting the American march on Montréal and Québec.

On their voyage Broughton and his colleague, Capt. John Selman, started seizing private cargo ships, an effort that involved less danger and more potential for personal profit. They never got to the mouth of the St. Lawrence.

Instead, on 17 Nov 1775 Broughton and Selman landed at Charlottetown, the main town on St. John’s Island, now called Prince Edward. The highest official on the island came to meet them: Attorney General Philip Callbeck, a royal appointee. Selman arrested Callbeck and ordered him onto his ship.

On 24 December, Callbeck and another island official, Surveyor General Thomas Wright, were still detained in Massachusetts. They wrote a complaint to Gen. George Washington about what the Marblehead captains had done in Charlottetown:

That as soon as Mr. Callbeck was conveyed on board he received a message from Selman to send the keys of his house, stores, &c., otherwise he would break the doors open. On receipt of the message, Mr. Callbeck sent the keys with one of his clerks (who was detained a prisoner). . . .

That Broughton and Selman with their party immediately proceeded to a store in which there was a very large and valuable assortment of goods, all of which, except some very insignificant articles, they sent on board Selman’s vessel. After which, although they had the keys of the doors they broke open two other stores, out of which they took the most valuable articles, together with the entire stock of provisions that Mr. Callbeck had provided for his family’s Winter support and the inhabitants immediately about him.

That they next went into Mr. Callbeck’s dwelling-house, where they examined all his private papers, broke the bed chambers, closets and cellar doors open. In Mrs. Callbeck’s bedroom they broke open her drawers and trunks, scattered her clothes about, read her letters from her mother and sisters, took the bed and window curtains, bed and bedding, Mrs. Callbeck’s rings, bracelets and trinkets, also some of her clothes. They then took the parlour window curtains, looking glasses, carpets, and several articles of plate and household furniture, &c., &c.: also all the porter, rum, Geneva and wine (except one cask which they stove the head into and drank the whole out).

At the same time they plundered the whole of Mrs. Callbeck’s little stores of vinegar, oil, candles, fruit, sweetmeats, bacon, hams &c. Not yet satiated with wanton depredations they next went to Mr. Callbeck’s office from which they took some of his clothes &c., the Province silver seal Governour Patterson’s commission, two trunks full of goods, his clerk’s desk and wearing apparel; opened Mr. Callbeck’s bureau and desks, read all his papers, some of which were of great importance in his private connections.

That after they had ravaged Mr. Callbeck’s house and out-houses, they broke into Governour Patterson’s house (in which no person resided) out of which they took the window curtains, carpets, looking glasses, cases of knives and forks, silver spoons, table linen, sheets, bedding, his wearing apparel, and the church furniture which was deposited in his house, &c., &c., broke a quantity of his china and drank what liquors were in the house.

That after they had accomplished thus far of their cruelty, they made Mr. Wright a prisoner, and with insulting language laughed at the tears of his wife and sister who were in the greatest agony of distress at so cruel a separation from their husband and brother…
All in all, this sounds like those early scenes in Pirates of the Caribbean when the crew of the Black Pearl invades the island. Except the temperature was probably lower.

On Selman’s ship, Callbeck and Wright demanded to know under what authority the captains were acting. Broughton and Selman read them Washington’s orders. The officials pointed out that the general hadn’t written anything about invading Charlottetown. To be sure, Washington hadn’t written anything about not invading settlements, but he had told Broughton how to treat Canadian cargo ships:
Should you meet with any vessel, the property of the inhabitants of Canada, not employed in any respect in the service of the Ministerial Army, you are to treat such vessel with all kindness, and by no means suffer them to be injured or molested.
Washington was trying to conquer the British army and royal officials in Canada, and to do that he wanted to win over the Canadian people, or at least keep them neutral.

TOMORROW: So what were Broughton and Selman thinking?

(Photo of Prince Edward Island by Mark Hodder on Flickr, through a Creative Commons license.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Once again, there is sometimes a very fine line between insurgency and piracy.