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, October 05, 2007

General Washington Negotiates for Flour

On the same day that Gen. George Washington was dealing with the fallout of Dr. Benjamin Church’s trial, he was still trying to make sure his troops were supplied. He wrote to the Committee of Safety at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on 5 Oct 1775:

I am to acknowledge the Receipt of your favor of the 2d Inst. [i.e., this month]; informing me that the Ship Prince George Capt. [Richard] Emms, from Bristol to Boston, with Flour for the Enemy, by a mistake of her Captain and the Spirited Conduct of some of the Inhabitants was now in your Possession.

I cannot but consider this as a most Providential Event, the State of this Army being alone defective in that Article, it would therefore highly Conduce to the Public Interest and to our relief, to forward it hither as soon as possible, which I apprehend may be done with Safety and ease by Water as far as Salem or Marblehead; in the mean time I will communicate the Matter to the Continental Congress for their Direction: as to the Compensation to be made the Captors and the determination of what Property arises by the Capture, and in whom Vested.

What ever Expenses may accrue in Complying with the above Request and whatever risque may be run by the Carriage by Water I will engage; but as I do not learn there are any of the Enemy's Ships on the Coast, I hope the Risque is very small.
There were 1,880 barrels and 24 half-barrels of flour on the Prince George. On the 10th, the New Hampshire Committee of Safety met again and decided the first thing to do with that flour was to supply its own troops. It ordered
George King, Esqr to take Charge of the Cargo of the Ship Prince George, & to deliver to Samuel Cutts, Esqr one hundred Bbls. [barrels] of Flour, at such Times & in such Quantities as he may need it to Supply the Soldiers at the Batteries in Piscataqua Harbour.
The next day, the committee wrote to Washington saying it had taken this step for “the Promotion of the Common Cause.” It also asked for approval to sell 500 barrels in Portsmouth, with the money held until the Continental Congress decided what to do with it. Finally, the committee said, “The Sailors appear to be pleased with the Capture, but are uneasy about their wages.”

On the 15th, Washington wrote:
I was yesterday favored with yours of the 11th Inst., wherein the Necessities of the Town of Portsmouth and the Garrison there, for some Part of the late Capture of Flour are represented; Had I known their Situation I should have made the Application unnecessary, by directing Mr. [Stephen] Moylan [muster master general] on the Subject, They have my Chearful Consent, to take what is necessary, but perhaps somewhat less than 600 Barrels may Answer the present Exigence; As our mutual Wants are now known to each other, I shall leave it to you to reserve what Quantity, you think indispensably Necessary.

I do not see any Impropriety in paying the Seamen their Wages, out of the Sales of some part of the Cargo and make no doubt it will be approved in the Settlement of this Affair.
Three days later the committee ordered King to sell up to 300 barrels of the flour at 20 shillings per hundredweight and
out of the money arising from the Sale, pay the Seamen of the Ship Prince George—Richard Emms, Master—the Wages that Shall appear due to them, agreeable to their original Contract.
Meanwhile, the commander-in-chief and the New Hampshire committee was still discussing the best way to move flour barrels from Portsmouth to Boston: a sailing ship was faster and cheaper, except that the Royal Navy might capture that ship and all its cargo. Should a ship go only as far as Ipswich? As Marblehead? This was the nitty-gritty of commanding an army.

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