Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Contraband Man

A quick note: my name is Mike Romero, and I'm a Historic Interpreter at Colonial Williamsburg.  The postings I make on this site are my own personal opinions and research, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Colonial Williamsburg.  With that said, enjoy the read!

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John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore,
Virginia's last Royal Governor.
After fleeing the capital city of Williamsburg in the summer of 1775, Virginia's erstwhile Royal Governor, Lord Dunmore assembles a flotilla of small vessels to serve as a refuge for loyal British subjects and to strike back at the increasingly rebellious colonists.  In early 1776, Dunmore writes to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lord Germaine describing some new recruits:

"I had frequent occasion to mention a Family of the name of Goodrich, natives of this Colony, this is a Spirited, Active, industrious Family, and it has cost me much trouble and pains (knowing the Service they would be of to which ever Party they joined) to secure them in His Majesty's Service...I have now five of their Vessels employed constantly running up the Rivers, where they have orders to Seize, burn, or destroy every thing that is Water born, that they can get at."

Dunmore's "trouble and pains" certainly pay off, as the "Spirited, Active, industrious Family" would prove quite troublesome on the waters of Virginia and the other soon-to-be United States throughout the American Revolution.

By the outbreak of the American Revolution, the family of John Goodrich, Sr. had been in Virginia for nearly 150 years.  John himself owned a house in Portsmouth and a plantation in Nansemond County.  He was well-known as a merchant, shipowner, and mariner with a penchant for smuggling.  When it is discovered that a shipment of vital gunpowder has been imported to St. Eustatius by May 1775, revolutionary Virginians hope to put Goodrich's services to use.  Writing from Philadelphia, Richard Henry Lee suggests his compatriots "employ a Mr. Goodrich...a famous Contraband Man to send immediately some swift sailing Pilot Boats for 20 or 30,000 weight [of gunpowder] to supply the Countries."  Goodrich employs two of his seven sons, William and Bartlett, to carry out the mission; they are entrusted with some 5000 pounds sterling in colonial bills of exchange and sent to the West Indies.  By October, the Goodriches successfully return with between 4000 and 5000 pounds of gunpowder with which to support the cause of liberty.

And that's when they run into trouble.

Lord Dunmore is understandably leery of the Virginia rebels supplying themselves of military stores.  Intercepted correspondence leads him to suspect the Goodrich family in the smuggling of gunpowder.  John Goodrich, Sr. and his brother-in-law are apprehended and brought before Dunmore.  Under questioning, they reveal that William Goodrich had already returned with the first load of powder, but apparently more awaited the Virginia patriots in St. Eustatius.  In an audience with the governor, Goodrich, Sr. insists that his family undertook the mission out of the prospect of "good freight" for his family vessels rather than disloyalty.  He offers to travel to St. Eustatius himself to retrieve surplus bills of exchange and the remainder of the gunpowder, so long as William is "arrested" for his own protection.  Goodrich, Sr. is granted a writ of safe passage by Dunmore, but doesn't get far offshore before he is stopped by the HMS Kingfisher (who refuse to honor the safe passage) and sent back to the governor's custody.  William himself is sent to St. Eustatius aboard HMS Otter, and succeeds in returning with 500 pounds in colonial bills of exchange.  Father and son are released on parole with instructions to report aboard Dunmore's ship every ten days.

James Barron, Captain of the armed
schooner Liberty and eventually
Commodore of the Virginia Navy.
Sometime before January 16, 1776,
Barron seizes the sloop Dorothy,
captained by Bartlett Goodrich.
Goodrich's so-called "good freight" gets him in trouble with the patriots as well.  Apparently while on the gunpowder mission, William Goodrich met with a British merchantman from Liverpool, and took aboard a multitude of items, "consisting of checks, cotton, ginghams, striped Holland, jeans, Scotch thread, printed linens, Irish linens, white lead, and linseed oil."  All of these items were banned by the Acts of Association who refused to import goods from Great Britain until colonial grievances had been addressed.  Knowing the foibles of the Association, William altered numerous manufacturer's marks, packaged the items in rum puncheons, and carried them back to Virginia where his father attempted to sell the cargo as "Dutch goods."  When questioned by the Committee of Safety and later the Virginia Convention, the Goodriches later claim they were forced to take on the British goods in order to secure the gunpowder.  Not buying it, the Virginia Convention declares that the Goodriches had intentionally violated the Association.

Faced with the erstwhile Royal Governor on one side and angry patriots on the other, the Goodriches were forced to choose a side.  John Sr. remarked that he was "so harassed on both sides that he did not value his life."  That being said, Goodrich and his sons (five of whom had reached adulthood) sided with Lord Dunmore.  From that point forward, armed vessels commanded by the Goodrich family would prey on patriot plantations and shipping from Newfoundland down to Charleston.

The Goodriches begin by raiding rebel held plantations along Virginia's waterways (stealing provisions for Dunmore's forces) and capturing rebel shipping.  During the summer 1776 campaign for Gwynn's Island, Bridges Goodrich is in command of one of Lord Dunmore's armed tenders.  John Sr. is given command of the privateer sloop Lilly, and expands operations to North Carolina.  On April 14, Lilly is off Ocracoke Island when she meets the North Carolina schooner Polly loaded with corn and staves for the island of Madeira.  Goodrich himself is known by the people of North Carolina, though his new loyalties come as a surprise; Polly's captain is invited aboard only to discover that his ship is being seized for King George.  Not taking the event lying down, that night four whale boats full of North Carolina patriots manage to board Lilly, capture Goodrich, and retake the Polly.  Goodrich is sent back to Virginia, where he is found guilty of "bearing arms against the Colony and aiding and assisting the Enemy," and is promptly imprisoned in far-off Albemarle County.  Bartlett will join him in captivity, but both Goodriches will escape by the end of 1778 where they are found in active service of the British.

Detail of a painting by Nowland Van Powell depicting an American privateer battling a British vessel.

For the next several years, the Goodriches will act as British privateers up and down the Atlantic coast, calling for direct responses from Virginia and Continental forces alike:

In the spring of 1778, the Virginia ships Tartar, Dragon, and Southampton are dispatched on commerce protection duty.  They sail with orders to cruise "backwards & forwards within the Limits of a few Leagues North of Cape Charles keeping always within fifty Leagues of the land and using their utmost diligence to capture the Enemys Cruisers, particularly those Commanded by the Goodriches."  On June 29, the North Carolina Executive is informed that a Goodrich vessel supported by a brig drove two patriot vessels ashore at Hunting Quarter.  By November, the Naval Committee of Congress is writes, "At present we consider it an Object of Importance to destroy the infamous Goodrich, who has much infested our coast, cruising with a squadron of 4, 5, or 6 armed vessels, from 16 guns downward from Egg Harbor to Cape Fear, North Carolina."

On May 16, 1779, approximately 30 British vessels under the command of Commodore Sir George Collier entered Chesapeake Bay.  For the remainder of the month, Collier's ships cruised the waters of southeast Virginia, taking and destroying nearly every bit of patriot property they found afloat and ashore.  1800 British troops under General Mathew destroyed the town of Suffolk, raided Portsmouth, and burned the shipbuilding facilities at Gosport.  Among the forces at Collier's disposal were four privateer vessels commanded by the Goodriches.  Following Collier's withdrawal, the Goodriches remained behind to plunder plantations, burn warehouses, and attack shipping with support of the 16-gun HMS Otter and the 12-gun HMS Harlem.  Among their victims was the galley Protector of the Virginia Navy: the Goodriches came upon the vessel as she was careened in the Great Wicomico River for repairs; the crew put up what resistance they could with musket fire, but were soon driven off and their vessel burned.

Towards the end of June, Richard Henry Lee described the ongoing depredations to a prominent Continental officer, and included a suggestion of what to do about it: "The Confederacy & the Boston can with infinite ease destroy the enemies vessels that are doing us so much injury, causing us so much expense by frequent calls for Militia – They have already burnt several private houses and one public warehouse with between 2 & 300 hhds of Tobo. and carried off such plunder & many negroes – Soon as they see the Militia gathering they embark and go to another unguarded place.  They have 6 vessels, Otter 16, Harlem 12 Guns Kings Vessels – Dunmore 16, Schooner Hammond 14, Lord North 12 Guns & Fin Castle 2 three pounders, The 4 last are Guntridges [Goodrich’s] Pirates." 

In October 1780, Virginia would be invaded again, this time by a squadron under Commodore Clark Gayton supporting a land force commanded by Major General Leslie.  Once again, the remnants of Virginia's naval force would either be swept aside or sent scurrying into shallow creeks for shelter from the British.  Included in Gayton's order of battle is the 20-gun privateer Arbuthnot commanded by John Goodrich, Sr., who had apparently joined the expedition following Sir Henry Clinton's agreement to appoint a vessel for the removal of Goodrich's wife and the family of one of his sons, all of whom had remained in Virginia since the start of the war.

I haven't found any direct references to the Goodriches beyond 1780, but given their past record, I imagine they remained active in the King's service until the ratification of the Treaty of Paris in 1783.  The Goodriches were not the only people to place their loyalty to King George over an extensive family history in Virginia, but their efforts on the water set them apart.  Aside from a relatively brief period of captivity for two of them, it seems that the Goodriches made it through the war relatively unscathed.  One wonders if they were ever rewarded for their dedication to King and Country...

1.  Cross, Charles Brinson.  A Navy For Virginia: A Colony's Fleet in the Revolution.  (Virginia Independence Bicentennial Commission, 1981).
2.  Stewart, Robert Armistead.  The History of Virginia's Navy of the Revolution.  (Richmond, Mitchell, & Hotchkiss, 1934).
3.  Tormey, James.  The Virginia Navy in the Revolution: Hampton's Commodore James Barron and His Fleet.  (The History Press, 2016).

Friday, January 12, 2018

A Letter From Mr. Midshipman Whipple

A quick note: my name is Mike Romero, and I'm a Historic Interpreter at Colonial Williamsburg.  The postings I make on this site are my own personal opinions and research, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Colonial Williamsburg.  With that said, enjoy the read!

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A page from Midshipman Whipple's letterbook detailing a
cruise of USS Constitution in early 1815.
(Samuel Eliot Morison Memorial Library - Boston, MA)
Most anyone who has read the historic fiction of C.S. Forester, Patrick O'Brian, and the others of their ilk can likely relate at least a half dozen amusing anecdotes of life at sea.  From Wellington's sister interrupting the captain's morning walk on the quarterdeck, to two castaways being rescued by a tribe of rebellious Polynesian women, these random occurrences somehow make the stories seem more real.  Imagine my surprise and delight when I came across multiple instances of these random "plot twists" in a real narrative from the early United States Navy.

In July 2016, I was fortunate to travel to the USS Constitution Museum in Boston on a research trip funded by Colonial Williamsburg.  Part of my time there was spent at the Samuel Eliot Morison Memorial Library, where Matthew Brenckle allowed me to examine the letterbook of Pardon Mawney Whipple, a young officer in the USN.  In addition to time aboard Constitution, Whipple serves aboard USS Washington (one of America's first ships-of-the-line), USS Spark, and USS Colombus throughout his career and rises to the rank of lieutenant in 1820.

Whipple's first sea duty begins as a midshipman aboard Constitution in 1813, while the frigate is being repaired following her engagement with HMS Java.  Many of Whipple's letters are written to a female identified only as "My Dear Friend," the first of which begins with Whipple's pride at securing a berth aboard Constitution, and his eagerness to "join the worthy sons of Neptune to share in a perilous war on his wide domain," and adds, "Should I be so fortunate as to prove serviceable to my country I shall be in the zenith of my glory."

One of my favorite letters from the collection (a full transcript is available from the museum website, see the link in my source list below) details Constitution's cruise in early 1815, her last before the War of 1812 ended.  Ever since Napoleon had abdicated and been exiled to Elba (though we would soon discover this was not a permanent arrangement) in the spring of 1814, the military might of Great Britain had been turned on the United States quite effectively.  The Royal Navy had attempted to blockade American ports since the beginning of the war, and with additional resources freed from European campaigns, these blockades grew even tighter.

However, it seems this proved only a minor impediment to Constitution.  Midshipman Whipple writes, "We left Boston under circumstances very similar to our former cruise, both times we run out in the night & eluded the enemy who were blockading us – our first prize was made about a week out – her name being the Lord Nelson seemed ominous among the sailors, who said that if we captured a Lord so soon, our cruise would be successful --"  It may not be whistling to encourage the wind, but it makes for some good luck nonetheless.

"We next made a capture on the coast of Portugal which we man’d & sent in & have now just reaped the golden fruit, which is much the sweetest part of Warfare,  unfortunately  however not without the ruin of a fellow being, who was a jolly scotchman, & got most gloriously drunk the night after the capture & consoled himself with the common remark that it was the fortune of war – on board of this vessel we found two fine young Tigers, which had been in some measure domesticated & were of great amusement to the Sailors."  Early in the cruise, Constitution has taken two prizes (one of them a "peer"), partied with a Scot merchant skipper, and taken in some new mascots.  Whipple's letter will soon take a more serious turn.

On February 20, 1815, Constitution is two hundred miles ENE of Madeira when she fell in with two British men-of-war, the 34-gun HMS Cyane and the 20-gun HMS Levant.  The armament of both vessels consisted primarily of carronades, able to fire a combined broadside of 804 pounds, albeit at short range.  Constitution at the time had a broadside weight of 704 pounds, more than half of which were the long 24-pound cannon that had served her so well earlier in the war.  Midshipman Whipple includes sections of the log recorded by Captain Charles Stewart to "give you a better idea of the result of this discovery."

The British vessels were approximately ten miles apart when they were first sighted between 1:00 and 2:00 PM, and are able to join by 5:45.  They form a line with Levant in the lead, and a separation of about 100 yards between them.  Constitution draws up on Cyane's weather side at a distance of three hundred yards around 6:00 PM.  Five minutes later, the action begins and continues for about fifteen minutes.  As the British fire slackens, Stewart holds fire to allow the smoke to lift; he finds that Constitution is now abreast of Levant with the Cyane astern and trying for his port quarter.  Constitution fires her port battery on Levant, then took after sails aback to renew fire against Cyane.  After another ten minutes, the British fire slackens again, and Levant is seen bearing up before the wind.  Stewart makes sail ahead and is able to rake Levant from astern twice with the port guns.  Cyane is seen in the process of wearing, leading Constitution to immediately wear as well; the heavy frigate catches Cyane halfway through the maneuver and is able to rake her with the starboard battery.  At 6:50, Cyane strikes, and Stewart hurriedly dispatches a prize crew before making sail after the fleeing Levant.  By 8:30, Levant is met returning to the conflict.  Around 8:50, the two ships exchange broadsides on opposite tacks, at which point Constitution is able to come under Levant's stern and rakes her again.  No match for Constitution on her own, Levant attempts to flee again, only to be overtaken and compelled to surrender by 10:00 PM.

As reported by Captain Stewart, Constitution suffers three killed and twelve wounded, Cyane suffers twelve killed and twenty-six wounded, and Levant suffers twenty-three killed and sixteen wounded.  In his log and report, Captain Stewart alludes to the British holding an advantage of slightly superior combined weight of metal carried by a divided force, but Alfred Thayer Mahan finds himself unable to recognize what this advantage actually was.  He does however describe Stewart's management of the Constitution in action as "strikingly clever and prompt."

Following the battle, Midshipman Whipple is put in charge of one of the boats ferrying prisoners from the captured ships.  The young man who once looked forward to being at the zenith of his glory has this to say of the battle's aftermath, "Their spars & rigging were very much cut to pieces, particularly the Levant, whose mizenmast & all the appendant spars were wounded or carried away –several shots between wind & water;  this being the first action I was ever in, you can imagine to yourself what were my feelings to hear the horrid groans of the wounded & dying, & the scene that presented itself the next morning at daylight on board of the Levant, the quarter deck seemed to have the appearance of a slaughter house, the wheel having been carried away by a shot – killed & wounded all around it, the mizenmast for several feet was covered with brains & blood; pieces of bones, fingers, & large pieces of flesh were picked up from off the deck T’was a long time before I could familiarize myself to these & if possible more horrible scenes that I witnessed, In a few days we were enabled to get our prize in tolerable good repair under Lieut. Shubrick –"

"Capture of H.M. Ships Cyane and Levant, by the U.S. Frigate Constitution," by Thomas Birch

"In consequence of the strict blockade of the whole of our coast," Whipple explains, "It was thought there would be too great risk to proceed directly for the United States however anxious we were to get our prizes into port,  to our universal regret therefore, Captain Stewart concluded it would be more prudent to proceed to some of the neutral Islands & land the prisoners, at the expiration of which time, peace between the governments would probably take place, & we should by that means stand a good chance of saving our prizes, Fate ordered it otherwise, we steered for the Cape de Verds, where we arrived on 11th of March."  The next day, a sizable British squadron consisting of the razees HMS Leander and New Castle along with the heavy frigate HMS Acasta is seen making for the port.  Constitution and her charges attempt to flee, reasonably not eager to face a much heavier force with a pair of prizes stringing along behind..  Cyane goes unmolested, but Levant is recaptured under the guns of Port Praya.  Whipple suggests this was a violation of Portuguese neutrality, and objects strenuously when the American ships are fired upon by the Portuguese attempting to return to port and land prisoners...he suggests the Portuguese feared that Constitution would break neutrality herself by attempting to take Levant a second time.  Following this episode, Constitution and Cyane cruise to the coast of Brazil where they're finally able to land the majority of their prisoners.

Whipple concludes his letter with Constitution's crew learning of the end of the war, "St. Louis de Maranham = We here succeeded in landing our prisoners much to the satisfaction of all on board  after remaining here about ten days, we took our departure for the U. States, touched at the port St. Johns Island of Porto Rico, where we got American papers, here we learnt to a certainty that the treaty of peace had been signed, the most unwelcome news that I ever received, here we first heard of the battle of New Orleans – we arrived in this port yesterday in high health & spirits  I assure you, happy to tread once more on the shores of Freedom how shall I apologize to you for the length of this letter, the subject was of such a nature that it was impossible to curtail it therefore I shall send it without any alteration & run the risk of its meeting with your approbation."

Some of Whipple's other exploits in the line of duty include taking command of a cartel ship earlier in the war and facing a tense situation with British officials in Barbados, visiting a multitude of "curiosities" in Greece and Italy (including the ruins of Pompeii and the King's Garden at Naples), and cruising off Algiers not long after Commodore Stephen Decatur and Britain's Lord Exmouth would gather some of the final laurels of their careers.  Even though he never rises to prominence himself (he leaves the service due to declining health in 1824 and dies three years later from tuberculosis), Pardon Mawney Whipple is but one of many everyday sailors who helped the United States Navy take its first steps onto the world stage.

1. USS Constitution Museum.  Pardon Mawney Whipple's Letterbook,  (Transcribed 2014).
2.  Mahan, Alfred Thayer.  Sea Power in its Relations to the War of 1812, Volume 2. (Amazon Digital Services, 2011).