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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Friday, August 30, 2019

“I am as Inocent of Destroying the Sloop as Either of you”

In 1933, the New London County Historical Society published the second volume of its collections, titled Connecticut’s Naval Office at New London During the War of the American Revolution.

The Continental agent in that port was Nathaniel Shaw, Jr. (1735-1782). As an addendum to the collection of public papers, the society’s editor and honorary president, Ernest E. Rogers, included a transcript of Shaw’s letterbox as a merchant in the years before the war.

That source from Shaw’s own hand confirms his connection to the ships involved in the Liberty riots in Newport, Rhode Island, and New London, Connecticut.

On 12 June 1769, Shaw wrote to a man he called Theopulas Backe: “Sir, Inclosed is a letter from Capt. Joseph Packwood which he desir’d might be forwarded to you. He is now in the West Indias, and when he will Return is Uncertain.” Packwood returned to Long Island Sound with Haitian sugar and molasses the next month.

Eight days later, Shaw wrote to his regular trading partners in Philadelphia, Thomas and Isaac Wharton:
I wrote you ye 16 Inst. by Capt. Edwd. Tinker ye Sloop Sally who had on Board 121 Casks of Melasses, who was to Proceed to N. York & in Case ye price of Melasses was not Equal to what you wrote [me?] by the Post, I gave him Orders to Proceed to Philadelphia & deliver his Cargoe to you.
The Customs sloop Liberty seized Tinker’s Sally and Packwood’s Thames in July. Shaw and Packwood went to Newport to get them back. And one riot later, they went home.

As I reported yesterday, in September the New London Customs office seized the Sally again.

Here’s what Nathaniel Shaw had to say about that situation in a 14 Sept 1769 letter to John and George Erving of Boston:
Gentlemen, I Received yours of the 28th Ulto. and am very much Oblig’d to you for your Advise in Regard to the Prosecution that is Intended Against me.

Att Present I Cant Conceive on what Accott. they Intend to trouble me, as I am as Inocent of Destroying the Sloop [Liberty] as Either of you, and can make it Appear so to the Sattisfaction of any Court or Jury in this Colony, and I am of the Opinion if I can do that, it will be Suffecient and In Case they are Determined to have the Matter try’d in Boston att a Court of Admiralty, should be glad you would Inform me in your next what method they are to take to Oblige Either Packwood or me to Appear their or if it goes Against us by Default what Plan they are to Persue to get the Money. Att Present we have no Judge of ye Admiralty in this Colony and I beleive no Person hear would att this time Except of it.

Mr. [Duncan] Stewart has Seiz’d a Sloop which he Suspects is the Sloop that was Carried of[f] att N Port the Night the Liberty was Destroy’d. It is now Seventeen days Since the Seizure was made and he has done nothing towards having her Libel’d. Neither can he git any advise from the Commisoners what steps to take with her, he has no Evidence hear to Prove this to be the Sloop, nor Cant have any, unless Capt. [William] Read or some of his People should come hear, & I beleive it will not be Convenient for them to make their appearence very Soon and haveing the Sloop detain’d so long must Consequently Create an Expense which must fall some where,

I Proposed to Mr. Stewart to have ye Sloop Appriz’d as she now is & give him Security for ye Vallue In Case she be Finally Condemn’d, that we might go on with her Repairs as she wants much before she is in a Condition for the Seas, I should be glad you would Consult some Person who can Advise me in this matter, what steps to take for I Suppose Mr. Stewart will not do any thing untill he has Orders from ye Commisoners.
Shaw’s letterbook doesn’t tell us directly whether Collector Stuart accepted his proposal. But he must have gotten his sloop back because on 17 May 1771 he wrote to the Wharton brothers again:
I have by the bearer Capt. Edwd. Tinker in the Sloop Sally, Shipt you seventy four hogsheads of Melasses, and thirteen hogsheads Sugar, which dispose of for my Accott.
Shaw insisted he was innocent of destroying the Liberty, that the Customs sloop hadn’t caught his Sally, and by extension that he wasn’t in the business of smuggling molasses.

TOMORROW: What Shaw’s other letters have to say about that.

[The photo above, courtesy of Historic Buildings of Connecticut, is Nathaniel Shaw’s house, now owned by the New London County Historical Society.]

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