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, April 12, 2021

Joseph Dobel “very unfavorably represented”

Capt. Joseph Dobel, veteran of a Boston riot, the Continental Navy, and the East India trade, was discussed at the highest levels of the U.S. government in 1799.

President John Adams was then beefing up the United States Navy. Having had the U.S.S. Constitution built in Boston, the federal government appointed Silas Talbot (1751-1813, shown here), a former officer in both the Continental Army and the Continental Navy and a former Congressman, to command it.

As with the Continental Navy, commissioning officers who could work together on board proved to be a challenge. On 17 June, the first U.S. Secretary of the Navy, Benjamin Stoddert, wrote to President Adams about two candidates to serve under Talbot on the Constitution:
Capt. Peleg Talmen, and Capt. Dobell were both in service last war—The latter I have seen, and he appears to be a well qualified man—The former lost an arm in an action, in which he distinguished himself. They are both recommended from Boston, in strong terms—and I beleive they will both be wanted by Talbott—and perhaps [Samuel] Parker, who was lately appointed, also.

I enclose Letters, enclosing Commissions for these Gentlemen—to be forwarded to them, should they meet with your Approbation—
The President wrote back on 28 June:
I yesterday sent to the post office your letter to Capt Talman, of whose intelligence, activity, bravery & property I receive very handsome accounts. The letter to Capt Dobell I have not yet sent. In truth I have not yet heard a good character of him. On the contrary he is very unfavorably represented.
The next day, before receiving that Presidential message, Stoddert repeated his endorsement: “Doble I saw—He appeared to be a fit man to be a Lt.—and he also has had experience on board of armed Ships.”

On 3 July Capt. Silas Talbot weighed in from the Constitution itself, writing to President Adams:
In obedience to what I conceived to be your wish, when last I had the honor of seeing you, I have made such enquiry— with respect to the Characters of Captain’s Tallman, and Double, as my circumstances would admit of—

Being closely confined to the Ship, I have not had that oportunity to gain a very general knowledge respecting them. But from all I have learned; I was confident that they would not suit me, or be usefull as Officers on board the Ship I now command—

Capt. [George] Little of the Boston informed me, (but somewhat confidentially) that he was most perfectly acquainted with Capt. Tallman and says that he possesses the worst of dispositions, tho’ at first acquaintance he seems pleasing: that no man ever carried worse command, or made more confusion with a crew than he did in common on board his own Ship. That he could had him as a sailing Master, on board the Boston—But knowing him well, he did not choose to have him, and said that he lost his Arm last War, when he was a Midshipman, and that he was never higher in rank.

And that as to Doble he knew nothing.—

Captain [James] Sever informed me that he knew Doble personally, and that by common report he was a very dissipated man, that he was lately mate of an India-man, commanded by Capt. [John] Kithcart in the employ of Tommy Russel deced., that the Capt. died outward bound: and the business of the Voyage devolved on Double, who spent nearly the whole Cargo, and ruin’d the Voyage.—

Something like the same information, I have had from others, respecting Capt Double these accounts from so good Authority, made such an impression on my mind, that I did not wish to have them on board the Ship with me
On 7 September, Secretary Stoddert gave Lt. Talman permission to resign his commission if “your private business compels your absence for six or eight months.” Talman left the navy on 20 September.

As for Joseph Dobel, he never received the U.S. Navy commission that Stoddert had written out for President Adams to sign. He probably never got another big merchant vessel to command, either, given his reputation in Massachusetts.

Capt. Dobel lived in Boston until 1810, dying on 19 March at the age of seventy-one. His second wife Susanna had died the previous year. He was buried in the Copp’s Hill Burying-Ground under the same stone as his first wife with the inscription:
Here rest the dead, from sin and sorrow free
They are gone to heaven, O God, we trust to thee,
Their bright examples may we make our own,
in Christ as they themselves were known.
COMING UP: Back to Owen Richards’s lawsuits.


Charles Bahne said...

A minor correction, John — USS Constitution was built at Edmund Hartt's shipyard in Boston, just across the river from Charlestown. The shipyard site, in the North End, is now part of the U. S. Coast Guard base. The Navy didn't have a presence in Charlestown until the Navy Yard opened there in 1806.

Thanks for all your great work over the years!

J. L. Bell said...

Thanks, Charlie! I corrected that detail and appreciate all your work in return.

I’ve kept away from the U.S.S. Constitution, trying to preserve its status as a post-Revolutionary artifact with its own proud history. I don’t even have a label for it in the right-hand column. So when it turned out Joseph Dobel’s story connected him to that ship, I was suddenly in unfamiliar waters.

Charles Bahne said...

And my own correction, I'm afraid: the Charlestown Navy Yard opened in 1800, not 1806. Sorry.