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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Feb 13. 1777
We are moved from the Torbay to the Burford, 70 guns, Capt. George Bowyer. also laying at moorings at Homoaz. Capt. Bowyer shows us much consideration in comparison to our previous circumstances. He is greatly surprised to learn of our earlier treatment by Capt. Fitzherbert and promises us better conditions and has ordered bedding and clothing for all of our people who are in need. Mr. Cutler our ship's clerk believes these items are ordered at Capt. Bowyer's own expense. We are very greatful for his compassion. We are also allowed much more space to move about on the Burford than our little pen on the Torbay as there are only a few officers and crew on board at present.

Monday, February 27, 2006


Feb 12. 1777
This day our captors brought a newspaper telling of a bill presented before parliament by Lord Germain on Feb 6th.

A Bill to empower his Majesty to secure and detain Persons charged with, or suspected of, the Crime of High Treason committed to North America, or on the High Seas, or the Crime of Piracy.

One of the Torbay’s officers explained to us that we are considered to be pirates and this act will authorize the King to detain us indefinitely without need of trial. We will not be offered the same consideration as common English thieves.

Many of our people are now very sick. There has been snow these past few days and we find our pen is continually wet and cold. Most of us have no blankets or coats to keep warm.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Feb. 7 1777
Today we are moved from the Bellisle to the Torbay, 74 guns, Capt. St. Johns Esq. We are told the Bellisle will be sailing very soon. We are moved by boat to the Torbay which is laying at her moorings at Hamoaz. We dropped south from Plymouth Harbor into Plymouth Sound coming round past the Citadel to our starboard side, running west past an area called the Hoe and Millbay also on our starboard side and coming round to the north to enter Hamoaz where lies many of His Majesties naval ships. Plymouth Dock is a large port town that resides on the slopes running down to Hamoaz. The crew of the Torbay tell us Plymouth Dock provides much of the services needed by the Navy for provisioning and maintaining the fleet. When viewing the might of the King’s navy sitting at anchor here I wonder that America should ever survive this war.

We are confined in an area between decks that has been constructed in a manner like a sheep pen. Apparently they miscalculated the size necessary for there is not enough room for all of us to lay out straight to sleep. We ought to be thankful for the presence of two ports that allow in fresh air, but thankfullness is not in our hearts. We are hearing rumors that prisons on shore are being repaired to accept the many American sailors that are being captured and that a number of other Americans are held captive on other ships here at Plymouth and the number is growing everyday.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Feb. 6 1777
We learn today that we are not the only people held against our will aboard this ship. The press gangs have brought 100 unwilling volunteers from the local district to serve in the King’s Navy on the Bellisle. Some of them look to be picked up from the local ale houses, others look like poor farmers plucked directly from their fields. Althogether they make a sorry picture and can only be rated as landsmen at best. Before coming here we had no idea that England had such trouble recruiting sailors for their Navy. There is rumor floating among our people that we also shall be pressed into the British Navy. Some of our people express an interest in this possibility if it is offered rather than await an uncertain fate and possible execution. These are mostly men who were born in the old country or some of our more impatient boys and young men. We find many Colonials serving the King, having been pressed into service when taken from American merchant ships. I myself could not abide serving in the British Navy against my own country and would sooner face the gallows.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Feb. 5 1777
Today is payday for the Bellisle crew. They are not allowed on shore for fear that many will desert once they reach Plymouth. In consequence Captain Brooks has allowed a great market to be held on board ship today. Many local merchants have come out by boat carrying goods and food such as fresh roasted mutton, beef, chicken, bread and drink. Groups of us are sent on deck to take air as usual but we are not allowed to purchase goods at the market, and most of us could not for lack of money. We are confined to the after part of the quarterdeck. Some generous sailors give donations of food which are much appreciated but not nearly enough to fill the holes in our stomachs, a result of partial rations of ships food for more than one month. Along with the merchants have come wives and friends of the crew. It has become a regular party above and below decks. There are also many women from the local brothels dressed in bright colors and painted faces come on board to sell their wares. We are much the spectacle to these people from town; dirty, unshaven Colonials, our clothes are ragged and some of us now half naked. Despite our lowly state some of these women try to offer us their services but are put off by the sentries. This display shocks the pious sensibilities of some of our younger New England men and boys, although there are not a few of our people who would accept these offers but for the restraint of the sentries and want of a shilling in their pocket.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Feb 1. 1777
Nothing exceptional today. Thick weather, blustery and cold with rain showers. Until this day the weather has been unseasonably warm compared to our New England winter. I cannot account for the weather being so warm in this more northerly latitude. I imagine the snow is drifted against the back of my house in Kittery now. It is near to maple sugar season, the sap will be running soon in the trees up the hill behind my house.

The cable tier offers us little room to move about. The air remains foul. I am not used to this inaction and I can do nothing to relieve this situation. For the first time in my life I find I am not my own master. We are each greatly infested with lice and many suffer from the itch. All of us are quite bored and dull now. In the dim light we cannot easily read. I have just enough light to scratch out these notes. One of our few amusements is to tell stories and tall tales.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


Jan 30. 1777
This day Capt. Brown of the Sloop Charming Sally, of New Haven was brought to this ship with several others. They inform us that they were taken by the None-Such, 64 guns, Capt. Griffis after a chase of nearly six hours. They sailed from Martha’s Vineyard on November 27th. 1776, and Dartmouth on November 28th with a crew of 70. The Charming Sally had more success than the Dolton having made prizes of the Schooner Betsy and the Brig Hannah before striking to the None-Such on January 19th. Most of their crew was moved to the None-Such while the Charming Sally was manned by 30 English hands. They arrived at Plymouth on January 20th. They have met with rather better usage than we since their capture, being allowed a full ration of food and retention of their clothing and personal belongings. We asked them for news of home but they were at sea as long as we and could offer us nothing new. After captivity of more than one month it is good to see some other Americans. By comparison the Dolton’s crew now appears more more ragged than these new faces. Our people are becoming sickly, many with colds and coughs. Even our trouble makers are laid low and quiet. Some of our men begin to trade clothing for extra rations.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Jan 19. 1777
This day we are moved from the Raisonable to the Bellisle, Capt. Brooks, 64 guns. We find a little better treatment here than on the Raisonable. We remain quartered in the cable tier of this ship but we are provided boards to lie on. We were moved between ships on boats in groups of 12 guarded by armed marines. During our move between ships I had opportunity to survey our surroundings. Our temporary prison ships lay at moorings in Plymouth Harbor. Plymouth Town lays to the north with a citadel protecting the harbor laying to our west. Plymouth Sound lays to our south with the English Channel beyond. This harbor is quite active. There are a number of ships at anchor in this harbor, many of them warships making preparations to sail. Yesterday was the Queen’s birthday and these ships saluted her with a 21 gun salute. Never did I think that I would see England.

Monday, February 20, 2006


Jan 16. 1777
Yesterday our officers were brought back on board the Raisonable after questioning by the British. Rumors circulate every day that we soon will be tried and hanged for treason but we know nothing about the truth of these rumors. We have not yet been able to speak to our officers to learn what they know about our fate. Troubling news also arrived yesterday that Fort Washington on the Hudson River north of New York was taken with the loss of many Americans. Although we are not allowed newspapers our captors were happy to share this news with us. This is a blow for our American cause and drives our spirits to new depths.

I lament our present situation and the circumstances that have brought us here. We were certain that our captain’s plan would work to our advantage and put us in a better situation upon return to our homes. It seemed a better choice than sitting at the coastal defensive works at Kittery Point or Pierce’s Island as I had done these past months since the war started with the only the tide to watch and no hope of inflicting any real damage on the British from that vantage. I reflect on the choices that have brought me here and I cannot but think there was very little other option. I could not support my family on my meager militia pay and I am a sailor not a soldier ny trade and by nature.

My thoughts often return to Rebecca and our children including my youngest child Jacob whom I have hardly seen since his birth last year. I worry about their welfare yet Rebecca is strong in spirit and our family and friends will help to support her. I wish to send word to her that we are still alive but we are not afforded this luxury by the British. I will make every attempt to do so if there is opportunity.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Jan 15. 1777
We are now held captive on board HMS Raisonable, 64 guns, Capt. Fitzherbert at Plymouth England. We are poorly treated, most of us having been turned down into the cable tier since our capture on Dec. 24th. The weather is continued warm and the air here is stifling and nearly unbearable with stench from the ship’s cables and the close confinement of our people for three weeks. We are forced to lie directly on the bare cables making a very uncomfortable bed. We are allowed but a short period of time each day to take fresh air on the quarter deck. There are several sentinels that watch over us every watch. Our food rations have been very meager and we are become weak for lack of nourishment. I have been unable to write since our capture until this day when some of our people obtained pen, ink and paper from one of the Raisonable’s crew that showed some compassion for us. This compassionate treatment is unusual. All of our belongings but what we had on our persons when captured has been stolen from us contrary to the promises made to us by Captain Fitzherert at the time the Dolton was taken.

We were taken on Dec. 24th at about 10 P.M. The Raisonable had been in chase since early afternoon. After evening fell it was clear we had little hope for escape. The moon was near full and the weather clear. The Raisonable approached and fired a gun. She then spoke us warning that we should be sunk if we did not let her board us to check our papers. Their first lieutenant with a compliment of marines boarded the Dolton with swords drawn. He demanded of Captain Johnston to see the Dolton’s papers. They went to the Captain’s cabin for some time and when they came out the Raisonable’s lieutenant declared that we were American pirates, traitors to the crown and should be taken immediately into custody despite the letter of marque issued by the Honorable Continental Congress. Several boats from the Raisonable were employed to take us off the Dolton and bring an English crew to man the Dolton. We had no time to collect our personal possessions and were assured they would be returned to us once on board.

Charles Herbert, one of our young Newbury men reported the Raisonable crew informed him we had missed by one day the opportunity to approach a poorly protected convoy of English transports bound for America. If we had sailed from Portsmouth on our originally appointed day we should have had our pick of prizes. But we were delayed by the misconduct of the gang from Newburyport. Instead we are now held prisoner and we know not when or if we shall ever see our families and home again.

Dolton taken by HMS Raisonnable

Friday, February 17, 2006


Dec 24. 1776Today we are near our planned cruising station being about 300 miles west of Cape Finistre. Weather fair, continued warm with light breezes from the south. At about 2 o’clock in the afternoon our lookout at the masthead spied a large 3 masted ship to the south, on a northerly course. At the first we could not make out whether she was a merchantman or a man o’ war. After a short while she altered course in our direction. We soon ascertained that she was a man ‘o war and had taken up chase after us. We have been running all afternoon to the N.W. but she continues to gain on us having significant advantage in sail in these light breezes. Our prospects are growing dim as there is no sign of a change in weather. Also to our disadvantage is a near full moon this evening. Captain Johnston ordered that we all eat a good meal for supper as we know not when we will have opportunity again. We are about to be beat to quarters and I will take up station with my crew at the great gun. Captain Johnston has been in the maintop with his glass and informs us the ship is a 2 decker warship showing the British ensign. . Unless Providence sees fit to intercede in our behalf I fear we shall be captured or dead by morning.

Thursday, February 16, 2006


Dec 23. 1776
The weather has turned unseasonably mild by comparison to New England in December. Light breezes from the south and fair sky. We are nearing our final destination off the Spanish coast and we are now in the shipping lanes. We have seen several sail today and chased a snow but found her to be a Dutch snow. Spirits good and expectations are high.

Dec 12. 1776
This day our lookout spied a brig. After a chase our first lieutenant Mr. Knapp and our clerk Mr. Cutler went aboard the brig and found her to be French. It caused some excitement among the people but in the end they were disappointed.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


Dec 8. 1776
Clear weather and making good headway on our course to the east. The men are in a sour mood and grumbling about the lack of prizes. It is nearly two weeks since we sailed from Portsmouth and we have only seen one sail. Most of the men and boys have never been to sea before and become easily discouraged. I have the greatest confidence that our cruise will be successful. I also have faith in Captain Johnston and his officers and the Dolton is a fast well built sailer. Our plan is a good one and I look forward to taking the war to the British doorsteps. It is good to be on the ocean again. My only regret is leaving Rebecca on bad terms, having promised her that I would sail no more. But I really had no choice. The British blockade has ruined our local business and I must feed my family. I am sure she will see the wisdom in my decision when we return home.

Tonight Captain Boardman one of our prize masters from Newburyport came into the main cabin just after our watch had finished eating, with the intention of raising the crew’s spirits. He sat down and called out to the men present, How many of you have ever been on a privateer before? One or two replied with Hear, Hear. Well, I wager I have commanded the smallest privateer in the history of the world. This got our attention. Would you like to hear about it? The young boys crowded around him but the older gentlemen also pulled their benches and chests a little closer. He then related to us how during the previous spring he commanded three whaleboats and captured a British merchantman that had mistaken Newburyport for Boston. This brought a round laughter from everyone in the cabin.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Dec 6. 1776
Today the storm continues with snow, gales coming from the N. and N.W. We have large following seas and some cross seas. Ice fouls the rigging making it treacherous for the men that must go aloft. We all continue at the pumps. Lieutenant Buntin says the glass has begun to rise and that we should expect clearing weather tomorrow. The helmsman I replaced yesterday broke his arm when the wheel got away from him and I have replaced him on my watch. We are all very tired and wet.

T.B confronted me today thinking to threaten me in payment for his treatment aboard my brother’s vessel while at Antigua. I reminded him of the outcome at that time and that he should keep his threats to himself. While at Antigua we caught him stealing from a crew member on board and as punishment we tied him to the grate and flogged him. Several days later he repeated his offense and Henry decided to put him off the ship at that port. Unfortunately Captain Johnston could not be so discriminating when accepting crew for this cruise and I must tolerate T.B. for the next two months. I take no regard for his threats for the man is a meer weasel.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Dec 5. 1776
This day dawned with the wind shifting to the N.E. overcast and squally. By midafternoon we were in a fair tempest with water breaking on the deck. We have all taken our turn at the pumps. We got down the topgallant masts and have taken in all but the fore top sail. Several men suffer injuries and are now with the surgeon. One of these men was a helmsman in my watch. Our Master knowing my sea going experience has asked me to take over this station. The storm shows no sign of breaking and we shall have a long night.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Dec 3. 1776
The sloop we chased on the 28th is the only sail to be seen since departing Portsmouth. We continue to exercise at our action stations each day and practice boarding and handling of small arms and other weapons. This activity is good because the men are becoming impatient for a prize and they need to be kept busy. I find there are several trouble makers on board including one I had the misfortune of confronting during a cruise to the Indies several years ago on board my brother Henry’s ship. They are a gang from Newburyport that caused a disturbance while the ship lay at anchor in Pepperell Cove and delayed our sailing by a day.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Nov 29. 1776
Yesterday the weather cleared with a stiff northwest gale. Course continued E.N.E. Just after meridian Capt. Johnston called all hands to the quarter deck. He stood upon the capstan the better to speak to us all. Now that we have been sailing a couple of days and you are settled into your watches, I can share with you our mission. I know you are all anxious to learn where we shall cruise, he said. There has been some rumor running throughout the Dolton that we shall cruise off Halifax. This is not true. Mr. Hooper the Dolton’s owner has given us orders to take the Dolton to the merchant shipping lanes off the coast of Spain. We should find fat British plumbs there with no convoy protection. At this there was some considerable excitement and murmuring among the crew. Some of the crew were surprised as they expected to cruise near the New England coast or in the Indies and were none too happy at this news. Others expressed approval by setting up a round of huzzahs. He continued. We shall sail for about one month to reach the Spanish coast. We then shall take up station there and hunt for British merchant vessels for one month. Prizes we capture will be sent to our agents in France for condemnation. God willing we will return to New England in February or March. I know of several other privateers with similar plans. If successful the British may be forced to pull some of their blockaders from the New England coast to protect their ships near to home.

He then gave orders that we begin exercises at our stations. We were beat to quarters by the drummer. There was some general confusion as many of those on board needed to learn to use their new weapons. The marine sharp shooters climbed into the top and lined the side of the ship practicing with their muskets. Sailors were given pikes and instructed how to board another ship under arms. I took up station with my crew at our gun. We practiced running the gun in and out without firing. We practiced loading and firing. At the lieutenant’s orders we sent the boys to the hold to fetch powder cartridges so that we could practice live firing. My crew profitted by the practice but one of the boys did not heed my warning and was injured by the recoil of the gun and was sent to the surgeon for treatment.

Late afternoon just before dark the lookout saw a sail bearing E.S.E. We took up chase and came close enough to her to see that she was a sloop. Evening came and we gave up the chase.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Nov. 27 1776
Course continues today E.N.E. Captain Johnston has not yet revealed his plan for our cruise. There is much talk among the crew that we will make our way to Nova Scotia to capture British prizes either entering our departing Halifax. Several of our other New England privateers have found this most profitable. The weather continues squally and cold but we keep quite warm tending to our regular duties. The captain was unable to shoot the sun today at meridian because of the poor weather. Many of our crew are young or have never been to sea and are rated as landsmen and must learn the ropes. Mr. Buntin our second lieutenant informs us that Captain Johnston will begin exercising us at our stations tomorrow weather permitting.

Thursday, February 09, 2006





Nov. 26 1776
This day we sailed from Portsmouth New Hampshire aboard the privateer brig Dolton from Newburyport, Captain Eleazer Johnston. We sailed upon the ebb tide from Pepperell Cove with a crew of 120 men. More than 40 of us from the Piscataqua region joined the Dolton as prize crews. I am rated able seaman and as I served as a matrosse at Fort Washington I am given command of a great gun crew. We are enlisted for three months and hope to bring pain to the British by taking many prizes. Captain Johnston has not yet told us to where we will cruise. In the afternoon fresh gales and snow squalls. We cleared the Isle O Shoals without sign of a British blockader, then set course E.N.E. God willing we will return in three months time to these shores and our families with pockets full. I pray that God watch over my wife and children while I am gone.

Doltan Preparing for Sea at Pepperell Cove