Letter to George Washington and Congress

June 15, 1789

Letter to George Washington and Congress

June 15, 1789

On June 15, 1789, Abraham Whipple wrote a letter to George Washington, the United States Senate and the House of Representatives.

A complete transcript of a copy of that letter (made two months later) follows:

Providence Aug.14th 1789


I beg leave with sentiments of the greatest deference and respect to your Excellency and the Honorable Senate; and House of Representatives of the United States to Submit the under written Transcript from my Memorial laid before the Honorable Congress of the United States in June 1786 to wit.

On the Fifteenth of June 1775 while Sir James Wallace with the Rose British Ship of War and a number of tenders lay in Naraganset Bay, I was appointed by the Legislature of the Colony of Rhode Island to the command of a Sloop of 12 Guns and a tender of Six, in order to clear the Bay of the Enemys Tenders and open a Communication to the Sea for the numerous Vessels which had long been block'd up in our Harbour and River. By my exertions, on the first day of my command, I had the good Fortune to take one of the British Tenders and clear'd the Bay of the remainder, whereby the principal part of our home ward bound Vessels arrived Safe without Opposition, and the Day became memorable for the first shot that was fired on the Water in Defiance of the British Flag, which I Ventured to do at no small Hazard, from a sense of my Country wrong'd and at a time when no other Man in the Colony would under- take the Hazardous Business lest he should be destined to the threatened Cord [Hangman's Rope].

I continued cruising in our Bay and Rivers until the 12th of September 1775 during which period I had a number of Actions with Vessels of superior Force, which were productive of advantages to America, and served to convince our Enemies that her Sons wanted not Spirit to defend their just Rights even against a very formidable Power, and under almost every discouragement. I was then ordered by the Colony to go to the Island of Bermuda in order to seize on the Gunpowder in the British Magazines there, but although it had been carried off previous to our arrival, I ran great risque of being Captured, there being at the time two British Ships of War at that Island. On the 9th of October I returned to Rhode Island, and continued cruising in the Rivers and Bay until the 9th of December when I received orders from Congress to proceed with the Sloop under my immediate command to Philadelphia. On my arrival Congress Honored me with the Command of the Ship Columbus and placed me under the orders of Commodore Hopkins. On the 17th of February after having been froze up in the Delaware we sailed on an Expedition against New Providence. Soon after our arrival there in March, we invaded and took the Fort. (the circumstances attending which are well known.) possessing Ourselves of 450 Tons of Cannon Shot and Shells; articles then much wanted for the defence of this Country, which were applied to its use and were of Signal Service on various occasions. On my return from the Expedition I took several of the Enemys Vessels, amongst which was a schooner of Twelve Guns; Here permit me to remark that I have never received a Farthing of Prize Money either for Artillery Ammunition etc. or Vessels taken on the Expedition, Although our Success did not answer my wishes and expectations yet I was happy after the closed investigation at Philadelphia, that my Conduct was so far approved that Congress directed me to resume the Command of their Ship.

On the 10th of August following, I ran the gauntlet amidst the Enemy got to Sea and soon after took five Sugar Ships two of which arrived at Boston and Portsmouth the other three were retaken. On my return to Providence on the 8th of October I found that Congress had further distinguished me with the Command of the Providence Frigate then fitting for Sea at Newport.

On the 7th of December the British Fleet and Army arrived at Newport, a circumstance which obliged me for the Preservation of the Ship, to run up the River, where we lay part of the time completely Man'd until March 20th 1778. I then received orders to fit and proceed to Sea, to carry Dispatches to France. On the 30th of April at Night, got under Sail, and ran out of the Bay in a Shattered condition having not only had a Severe Conflict with the Lark British Frigate, which had been fitted and manned purposely to take me in which. I disabled her, but sustained part of the Fire from seven other Ships of War which I was obliged to pass. After narrowly escaping a British Ship of the Line the next day at Sea. I arrived at Nantz, the port of my destination in 26 Days carrying in with me a British Brig laden with Wine. Having delivered the Dispatches of Congress to their Commissioners at the Court of France, I received their orders to repair my Ship and to take in Copper, Arms, Ammunition, and cloathing, and then to proceed to Brest, there take under my command the Boston Frigate, and the Ranger Sloop of War, which I did accordingly. And by their orders Sailed the 26 Day of August for Boston, where we arrived most seasonably for the Continent on the 13th of October, having captured three Prizes on the Passage.

The 9th of March 1779 I received orders from the Navy Board in the Eastern Department to cruise in Boston Bay for the Safety of the Navigation, and in quest of the Enemys cruisers, and returned the 4th of April Following, there lay until the 23rd of June, when I again received orders from the same Board to proceed on a cruise with the Ranger, and Queen of France under my command. On the 24th of July we fell in with, and followed the Jamaica Fleet, and by various Maneuvers took Ten of them having on board 6000 lbs. of Sugar and Rum, bailed Ginger, Pimento, and Cotton. Eight of these Prizes (mounting 118 Guns) we carried into Boston. On the 23 of November the three Ships being repaired I received orders from Congress to proceed to Charleston in South Carolina, for the purpose of Co'operating with General Lincoln in the defense of that Capitol. The Season being tempestuous the Squadron under my Command (consisting of 4 Ships) arrived considerably damaged on the 18th of December.

On the 20th of January 1780 by the consent of General Lincoln, I sailed on a Cruise of observation, fell in with the Enemy Fleet from New York, and took four of them. Being chased into the Harbor by four British Ships of War, we then sent our whole force and strained every nerve for the defense of the Town. The particulars of the Siege with the Struggles and Sufferings of the Army and Navy need not be restated, they must be well known to Congress as they are to the World. I Shall only observe, that I faithfully exerted myself on this interesting occasion to promote the interest and honor of my Country and tho the town was surrendered, American Honor triumphant. My men having been Shipped for a Six Month Cruise in a warm climate and my Vessel destitute of cloathing, these unfortunate fellows were reduced to the greatest distress from the ferocity of the memorable inclement Winter of 1780. Feeling for their Misery which I have not the language to describe I purchased cloathing and necessary Stores for the Several Ships and delivered the same to the respective Persons, the people were by this means relieved at my expense, and the whole amount of what they received was stopped out of their Wages. Yet I have never been reimbursed a single farthing. On the 12th of May the Capitulation took place and we all became Prisoners of War, I agreed with the British Admiral for all our Parole engaging that the Seamen and Marines should be exchanged. The last of June we arrived at Chester Pennsylvania, great Numbers of my People languishing under the Small Pox and a variety of other diseases, I hired a house for their reception and accommodation at my own particular Expense, whereby I am persuaded many usefull lives were preserved to this Country. I remained Two Years, and Seven Months as a Prisoner when I was at last exchanged for Captain Gayton of the Romulus a 44 Gun Ship, during which Time as I was deprived of the power of doing business for my support, I suffered heavily in my Finance which in addition to my dispersements for my Country, in the cause of Justice and Humanity, became very scanty and precarious opening a gloomy prospect of their entire Dissolution without leaving a Wreck behind.

Thus having exhausted the means of supporting myself and Family, I was reduced to the sad necessity of Mortgaging my little Farm, the Remnant I had left, to obtain money for a temporary subsistence. This little Farm is now gone having been sued out of Possession, and turned into the World with my Wife and Children, destitute of a House or Home, that I can call my own or have the means of living. This calamity has arisen from these two Causes, First from my disbursing large sums in France and Charlestown for the service of the United States.

In France I expended to the amount of 360 French Guineas, a large part of that sum was appropriated to the pay of a company of Marines, the other part for sea stores to accommodate a number of Gentleman Passengers sent on board by the commissioner, to take passage for America for which I have never been recompensed. And secondly my having served the United States from the 15th of June 1775 to December 1782 without having received a Farthing of Wages or subsistence since Dec. 1776. My advances in France and Charlestown Amount to near 7000 dollars in Specie exclusive of interest the repayment of which, or a part of it might be the happy means of regaining the Farm I have been obliged to give up, and snatch my Family from Misery and Ruin.

And further that in June of 1786 I wrote fully to Congress on the subject requesting a speedy settlement which they forthwith directed and thus was found due to me the sum of Eight Thousand Three Hundred and twenty Dollars which I received in final settlement and from necessity for the support of my Family have since Disposed of the greater part of them at the rate of 2/6 on the pound, where by I realized but one Eight part of what was due to me from the States for my service and expenditures in their Behalf, and am at present out of Business and in no way of supporting myself and Family but by exhausting the small Remainder of my Property, in which case I must be intered destitute in some future period when the Debilities of old age may render me unfit for business, and myself and Family become the Victims of Poverty and Distress.

To prevent which as well as to serve my Country on every occasion I earnestly wish some Appointment in the Naval Department under the new Government of the United States, in which case I doubt not of giving such satisfaction as shall gain the approbation of the Authority under whom I may hold such an appointment. And altho at present I am an Inhabitant of a State who has not as yet acceeded to the new Constitution of the States, I consider myself not a citizen of any particular State but as a Citizen of the States at large and Sincerely wish for the Good of the particular State in which I at present reside that they would as speedily as possible Join in Union with the Sister States.

And Altho this State does not at present approve of the present Federal Government, yet this is not the case with every individual in the State. It may not be improper for me just to observe that from an inviolable attachment to my Country and my wishes for its prosperity and Dignity, I have ever been friendly to the Principles on which the present Government is founded, And am conseiory that the Consideration of its salutary consequences to the Country will be a Sufficient Inducement to cause my utmost exertion in its behalf, and should there be a necessity of a Naval Establishment of any kind, I should think myself happy in receiving an Appointment there in which would be gratefully Accepted by your Excellencys very. Respectful and Devoted Humble Servant

Abraham Whipple
Copy of a Letter sent to your Excellency June 15 1789

His Excellency George Washington President of the United States

The following links are to facsimiles of most of the eleven pages of a copy of a letter made two months earlier. (Submitted to the Whipple Website by Ralph W. Lange [valnal@frontier.com].)