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To the Hon'ble Joseph Warren, President of the Massachusetts Bay Congress, in Wartertown-to be communicated to s'd Congress. HON'D SIR, It appears to me and others that there is wanted in this Goverment sum Armed Vessells, to ward of the distressing Piraticull bloos, that without doubte will be struck by Adm'll Sam'll Graves's small Menawar and Tenders, by taking from us our inward bound Provisions, Molasses, and Solt Vessells, etc. etc; as they have don. Will allmost bring on a famin in our Armey, and on the Inhabitence; for this goverment allways was illable to support it selfe with Provisions, etc. etc; and now hes in it an Armey to feede which will soone be felt, and be distressing to itt's Inhabitence; and I feere will bring on discontent and Murmorings, which may be attended with bad consequences, to the disadvantig of our imbarkt in, ever to be Commended Common cause; so hope that by your Wise Counsells you will be inabled to gard against Every Evell that might otherwise befall us, if we ware not under the Gardeenship of Providence and your wise Counsells.

I here that there is a Ship allmost or quite ready to Lanch at Danvess, of about Three Hundred Tuns; that itt's Probable by information, will be a good saler and other convenyences; by strengthing her with sum hanging Knees, bulding a roundhous and a topgallant forecastell, etc, that would carey upwards of thurty guns and fight the Majer part of her men betwene decks, etc; and by inquiery's itt's quite Probable that there may be found prou'd good saling Vessells, now hawled up, that would in part answer our End for our defence and to bring Provisions from our southern Goverments for our support; and sum of them might be imply'd in bringing Powder and Guns from sum parts of the Spanish and French Kingdoms, and might smugell sum from other Powers, and solt Peeter, from Others, where we could not gitt it maid into Powder, and Make it here, which would be to our advantige to have it Manifactrid here. So wishing you the smyles of Heaven in all youre undertakings, in the defence of our Invaluble Libertys, etc. etc. and Remain. Hon'd Sir, Youre Most Humble, and Devoted Servent

S. L.1

For nearly two weeks this matter was before the Provincial Congress. Changes were made in the committee, its report (in the form of a resolve) was con1. Massachusetts Archives, 193, 277, 289.

sidered and debated from time to time, and on June 20 was finally disposed of in the following manner:

Resolved, That a Number of Armed Vessels not less than six, to mount from Eight to fourteen Carriage Guns and a proportionable Number of Swivels, etc., be with all possible dispatch provided, fixed and properly man'd to Cruise as the Committee of Safety or any other Person or Persons who shall be appointed by this Congress for that purpose shall from time to time order and direct, for the protection of our Trade and Sea Coasts against the depredations and Piracies of our Enemies and for their Annoyance and Capture or destruction.

Order'd to subside for the present.1

There seems to have been at this time a decided reluctance, on the part of many, to adopt radical legislation of the sort proposed. All but the more advanced still regarded themselves as loyal British subjects. In the words of a writer dealing with this period: “To grant letters of marque and reprisal is the prerogative of the sovereign and for a colony to authorize such an act against its sovereign was certainly rebellious if not treasonable." 2

No further action was taken by the Provincial Congress, which expired a month later upon the assembling of the Great and General Court on July 19. A petition dated the same day was submitted, but no report was made on it until August 18. Being one of the few contemporary documents preserved which indicate the trend of public opinion leading up to the legislation which followed, it is here given:

To the Honorable and Council and House of Representatives of the Colony of the Massachusetts Bay, in General Court Assembled, July 19, 1775.

Humbly sheweth your Petitioner, that he with the eastern Regiment in the County of Lincoln, on hearing that a Man of War

1. Mass. Archives, 138, 165.

2. Austin, Life of Elbridge Gerry, 93.

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with sundry other Vessels were come to the eastern Shore of said County, in order to supply the Regulars with Wood and Provisions, went down in order to prevent their Design, and had the good Fortune to take five Vessels in that Employ, which have since been disposed of by your Honors; one of which Vessels your honors have thot fit to put into my Care, a Schooner of about 70 Tons, well found and might easily be fitted and rendered very suitable to defend the Sea Coast. Your Petitioner would further inform your Honors, that said Regiment, before they destroyed Fort Pownal, took into their Possession a Quantity of Cannon, Ball and Langrage, the Property of this Colony, which is now on board said Schooner. Your Petitioner therefore prays your Honors, that as the eastern Shore of this Colony is most exposed to the Ravages of the Enemy, he may be allowed to fix said Schooner for a Privateer, make use of said Ball and Langrage taken from Fort Pownal, enlist Thirty Men to serve on board said Vessel, and Use and improve said Vesel for the Defence of the Sea Coasts in the eastern Part of this Colony, and your Petitioner as in Duty bound shall ever pray, etc.

Your Petitioner further humbly prays he may [be] allowed 100 lb. Powder to be used on board said Vessel for the Purposes aforesaid.


On September 28 it was "Ordered, That Col. Orne, Mr. Story, Mr. Cooper, Col. Thompson, Mr. Sullivan, Col. Grout, and Mr. Jewett be a Committee to consider the Expediency of fitting out a Number of Armed Vessels." The next day a committee was appointed "to wait on his Excellency General Washington and consult him on the Expediency of fitting out Armed Vessels and to enquire if any Powder can be spared for that Purpose.' On October 6 the name of Capt.

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Cutter was substituted for that of Mr. Sullivan on the committee.

Meanwhile, as a military measure to make more

1. Mass. Archives, 180, 103. Emerson was Lieut. Colonel in Colonel William Jones' (3d. Lincoln Co.) regiment of Massachusetts Militia. He is on a list of officers chosen by the House of Representatives, January 30, 1776, but rejected by the Council, February 8, 1776.

2. Journal of the Honorable House of Representatives.

effective the siege of Boston, Washington had adopted the policy of fitting out armed vessels, manned by the army, to cruise in Massachusetts Bay. The first of these vessels, the schooner Hannah, got to sea September 2. This little fleet took many prizes and brought in military stores and other property much needed by the British army in Boston and of great value to the poorly equipped American army.

The following report of the committee appointed September 28 and October 6 was taken into consideration October 9 and accepted:

Whereas the unnatural Enemies of these Colonies have infested the Sea-Coasts with armed Vessels, and are daily endeavouring to distress the Inhabitants, by plundering Live Stock, and making Captures of Provision and other Vessels, being the Property of said Inhabitants: And whereas the Grand CONGRESS of America, have resolved "That each Colony at their own Expence, make such Provision by armed Vessels or otherwise, as their respective Assemblies, Conventions, or Committees of Safety shall judge expedient, and suitable to their Circumstances and Situations, for the Protection of their Harbours and Navigation on the Sea-Coasts, against all unlawful Invasions, Attacks and Depredations, from Cutters and Ships of War:" And whereas it is the Duty and Interest of each Colony to exert itself as well for the Purpose of keeping Supplies from the Enemy, as for those mentioned in the Resolve just recited.

Therefore Resolved, That a Committee be now appointed to prepare and bring in a Bill for the Confiscation of all armed and other Vessels, that shall be taken and brought into this Colony, together with their Cargoes, Appurtenances, &c., which shall have been found making unlawful Invasions, Attacks or Depredations on our Sea Coasts or Navigation, or improved in supplying the Enemy with Provisions, &c., or employed by them in any other Respect whatever. And that Provision be made in said Bill for encouraging such of the Inhabitants of this Colony, as shall for this Purpose be recommended by the Committees of Correspondence and Safety of the Town in which they shall dwell, to fit out armed Vessels under such Regulations as the General Court shall order; and that all Vessels and Cargoes that shall be taken by said Inhabitants or others, properly authorized to take the same, and that shall be

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legally condemned in this Colony, shall be the Property of the Captors, they paying the Charges of Condemnation. Also that further Provision be made in said Bill for determining the Salvage that shall be allowed on such Vessels as shall be retaken from the Enemy before Condemnation; and for erecting a Court for the Trial and Condemnation of all Vessels, Cargoes, &c. as aforesaid, that shall be taken and brought into this Colony.

The bill was prepared by James Sullivan and Elbridge Gerry. In a letter to John Adams, written many years later, Gerry says:

This reminds me of an anecdote often told by the late governour Sullivan of an act, which was prepared by him and myself in the lobby of the Watertown meeting-house, where at that time the provincial congress [General Court] held its session, the lobby being a small apartment, with a window, under the belfry. The act was to authorize privateering. The governour agreed to draw the act on condition that I should prepare the preamble. This I grounded on the royal charter of the province, which authorized us to levy war against the common enemy of both countries. Such we considered the British nation, with the ships of war and armies employed against us; and we, accordingly, as loyal subjects, used all the power given us by the charter to capture and destroy them. The governour said the act and its preamble was printed in the London Magazine, as a political curiosity.1

This act, which was finally passed November 1, is sufficiently notable to be reproduced here without abridgment:

In the Sixteenth Year of the Reign of George the Third, King &c. An Act for Encouraging the Fixing out of Armed Vessells to defend the Sea Coast of America, and for Erecting a Court to Try and Condemn all Vessells that shall be found infesting the same.

Whereas the Present Administration of Great Britain, being divested of Justice and Humanity and Strangers to that Magnanimity and sacred Regard for Liberty which inspired their venerable Predecessors, have been endeavouring, thro' a Series of Years, to establish a System of Despotism over the American Colonies, and by their venal and corrupt Measures have so extended their Influence over the British Parliament that by a prostituted Ma1. Austin, Life of Gerry, 94; Warren-Adams, II, 378.

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