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Saturday, November 28, 2009

More From the Record - A Curious Reference

The Alliance sailed from L'Orient in late June of 1780, bound for America. To hear Captain Landais tell it, he was taking her to Philadelphia, but to hear the officers and crew tell it, Landais had promised them that their destination was Boston. Boston certainly suited most of the crew as a majority of them were New Englanders. The officers and crew enthusiastically supported Landais when he took back control of Alliance at L'Orient in early June while Jones was at Paris. But, things went sour soon after setting sail. The first mutinous incident occurred on August 5th, a fine day with light breezes and the ship was under easy sail and apparently not making all haste for America, the crew decided on their own to set more sail. Their was a confrontation between Landais and the crew, while the officers pretty much stood by to watch. Rather than force the issue Landais went below and allowed the ship to sail that day.

The next day Alliance struck soundings in "35 fathom" on the Banks of Newfoundland. It was traditional for a vessel after a cross-Atlantic passage to deal out fishing tackle for the the crew to fish, allowing them some fresh food after a month or more of ship's rations. In the morning of the 5th Alliance hove to and the officers distributed fishing tackle to the crew and they set about to make their catch.

3 large fish had been caught when Landais, who had been below in his cabin, noticed the ship was not making way. He went upon the quarter deck and ordered the officers to stop fishing and set sail again. The surgeon argued that there were a number of sick on board and that food with real substance would do them good. Landais responded that the sooner they sail for America, the sooner everyone would have what they wanted and that loitering on the banks would consume more stores than they would gain by fishing. The surgeon said this was ridiculous as it would only take a couple of hours to catch all they needed as they were in prime fishing ground. Landais prevailed and the ship filled away again.

Here is Landais' account from his Court Martial Proceedings:
"Next morning at six o'clock seeing the color of the water changed I ordered to steer WNW. At 9AM Mr. Buckley came to acquaint me we had bottom by 35 fathoms. I ordered him to fill again and to steer W by N but looking at my compass I saw they kept the ship bearing to the left of them. I went on the Qtr deck, seeing no officer there I told the men at the wheel which to put the helm a weather. I suppose Mr. Buckley was fishing as the rest, but seeing him soon after on the gangway. I told him to order let fall the fore sail, etc. I think staying for fishing was no more necessary in the course we were in than rigging a lightening rod and those who had initiated the first revolt might entice a second one and though inconsistent with their wishes to go to Philadelphia, to stay there. Some pretend it would be useful for the sick people. None have shown they thought so, even the officers who ought to know the meaning of an article of Congress resolve which is that no body is to have fish caught till the sick people have their sufficiency of it, but the said officers kept them fish for themselves..."

In the evening of the same day, Landais was in his cabin and I think he was probably dining with Mr. Arthur Lee, one of the former commissioners to France, headed for home. According to testimony given by Steven Waters, Captain's Steward, during Landais Court Martial proceedings, at dinner Jacob Nutter sent in to the cabin one of the fish. Who had requested it was not known, but Landais suspected it was Arthur Lee, who he imagined was colluding with the officers and crew to work against him. Landais claimed that he had ordered the fish to be given to the sick and had not ordered any for his cabin. Here is some of the testimony:

Question (from Landais): Who sent the fish for the cabin? Did you tell me who sent for the fish?

Answer (by Waters): Mr. Nutter sent them. Who sent for them I don't know.

Was this a malicious act by crew trying to antagonize the Captain? What was Jacob Nutter's role in all of this? I don't know.

This court martial testimony comes from original documents now recorded on microfiche. I purchased a copy of the microfiche from the National Archives and Records Administration. Here is a portion of the page with reference to Jacob Nutter...  (you may click on the image for a better view)

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