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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Documents Referencing Jacob Nutter

About 3 years ago as I did a google search on Jacob Nutter's name combined with Benjamin Franklin's name, I made a typo and spelled Nutter as Nuter.  To my extreme surprise I came across a hit in the search that was quite remarkable.  Here is the result of that search:

"Calendar of the papers of Benjamin Franklin in the library of the ... - Google Books Result by University of Pennsylvania. Library, Arthur ... - 1908 - Biography & Autobiography - 5 pages

From Jacob Nuter, et al., of the crew of the " Alliance." 1780. April 14. L'Orient. Petition to have their wages and prize-money paid in France, ... - "

I was astonished to see a letter from Jacob Nuter, et al, of the crew " Alliance".  I was not sure what was contained in the letter, but I quickly contacted the University of Penssylvania Libary and they very kindly offered to send me a photocopy of the entire letter.  Here is a bit of the letter, including Jacob Nutter's signature.

Note: Waiting for Permission from UPENN Library to Publish the image of the letter.

Here is the top of the letter:

Note: Waiting for Permission from UPENN Library to Publish the image of the letter.

This is the full text of the letter:
To His Excellency Benjamin Franklin Esq.

We are informed that the Private Men that formerly belonged the Ship Bon Homme Richard are to receive their Wages and Prize Money in France for their Services on board said Ship. Now Sir as many of us have been absent from our Wives and Families a long Time and some of us have been Confined in Prison a great While and we have been flattered with those words that we were to receive our Wages and all our Prize money before we sailed and now we understand that only the Bon Homme Richard’s Company are to be paid and as we one and all of us have engaged in the same Cause as those Men that were in the Bon Homme Richard we think it very hard that we cannot enjoy the same Priviledges as those in the aforesaid Ship. The Reason that we are very desirous to have our Dues at this present Time is because that we are inclined to assist those our unhappy Countrymen who are just relieved from Prison and also to furnish ourselves with such Neccesaries as we greatly stand in Need of. We humbly beg that your Honour would take this Matter into your Consideration and send us an Answer as soon as possible that we may all gain Satisfaction and Contentment is the earnest Desire of your most Obedient and most Humble Servants the Private Men belonging to the Continental Ship Alliance.

On Board the Alliance at L’Orient Apr. 14th 1780.

Jacob Nuter
Thomas Chase
John Simson
Daniel Knight
Ebenezer Brown
Kirtlan Griffing...
and 88 others.

The Remainder of the Ships Company are Imployed upon the Ships Duty and cannot attend to Sign but they gave their Consent that it may be sent in behalf of the whole.

NB. It is the desire of the Ships Company that your Excellency would be pleased to direct your Answer to Benjamin Pierce Gunner of the Continental Frigate Alliance L’Orient.

After reading the letter, I don't believe that Jacob Nutter actually penned it (instead it was probably Benjamin Pierce, Ship's Gunner to whom all correspondence was to be directed), but he was the first to make his complaint to Benjamin Franklin concerning the poor conditions on board Alliance and the crew's desire to go home as soon as possible, especially since many of them had been in prison and away from home for over three years.

At the time the letter was written the American members of the crew of the, now sunk Bonhomme Richard and the Alliance crew were all together on the Alliance at L'Orient.  There were very hard feelings between the Richards and the Alliances with the Richards accusing Captain Landais and the Alliance crew of firing on the Bonhomme Richard rather than the Serapis, killing a number of men.  The Alliance crew denied that this was the case and felt unfairly treated and were concerned the Richards would receive thier prize money but the Alliances would not.

Most of the crew, including the Richards, were nearly destitute and had threatened to mutiny against John Paul Jones while he was commaning the ship during a cruise in the earlier part of the year.  Many of the Alliance crew had been at Mill Prison and had purposely enlisted on the Alliance a year earlier thinking that she would be quickly making her way back to America with supplies for the war effort, but instead Benjamin Franklin reassigned her to John Paul Jones' flotilla delaying by more than a year any hope of making it home. 

Benjamin Franklin being one of the American Commissioners or representatives to the Court of Louis the XVI was also responsible for all American naval activities in Europe and therefore the crew petitioned him for assistance.  Franklin did not respond to this letter since the crew sent a second one on the first of June using more forceful language than this first one.  More on that letter in the next post.

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