Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Captain Cannon: Voyage of the Iris - Part 3

This is a continuation from the prior post.

          On September 6, 1798, the log notes that 378 yams were used, a substantial increase over the usage over the prior three days.

         On September 13, 1798, the Iris was in small sails because of the weather and they saw a tornado south of them.

            On September 14, 1798, the log notes, “Slaves complaining”.

            On September 15, 1798, the crew were “unbending the cables and stowing the anchors.”

North America

            A public auction of the ship North America and its contents was held from September 13th to 15th, 1798 at the business of Stephen Gros, a merchant and agent. James Blake purchased the North America, including all of her riggings and a boat, for $1,600.00.  Blake was Consul for the United States in the City of Santo Domingo where he had lived for 18 months. In addition to his duties as consul, Blake carried on a business as a merchant and purchased the ship in his individual capacity. James Blake, new owner of the ship North America, soon hired William Burke, a resident of Baltimore and a U.S. citizen, as Master.  Between September 15 and October 28 a cargo of products from St. Domingo was put together for shipping on the North America, including 333 logs (66,454 feet) of mahogany (a dark colored hardwood, purchased at a cost of about £5,904), 1 1/8 tons of black ebony (a dense black wood, purchased at a cost of about £156), 6 tons of braziletto wood (a ruddy orange wood, purchased at a cost of about £390) and 168 pounds of braziletto gum (purchased at a cost of about £350), some of it brought in from other parts of the Island to the port at the City of Santo Domingo by a hired schooner. In addition to the costs above, shipping costs of £90, duties on the wood at the Custom House of £236 and a 5% commission of £340, totaling about £7,467, the costs presumably in Jamaican pounds, were also expended to obtain the cargo.

The cargo on the North America was owned by Dr. Edward Stevens, a resident of Philadelphia. Stevens was a Doctor of Physic. Years earlier he had been a resident of the Danish Island of St. Croix, but in 1793 he changed his residence to Philadelphia where he was domiciled and became a U.S. citizen. In 1798 an American East India ship, the New Jersey, was captured by the French and taken to Puerto Rico. The owners of the New Jersey persuaded Stevens to contact the French and see if he could get the ship and its valuable cargo back. For doing this, he was provided large credits in different parts of the West Indies. Stevens ended up going to the city of Santo Domingo where the tribunal for trial of French captures was located. There he found an opportunity to purchase mahogany, ebony, braziletto wood and gum through the use of the credits. He arranged for it to be shipped on the North America. He consigned the cargo to James Yard, a merchant in Philadelphia and a U.S. citizen, who was also his brother-in-law. Stevens directed Yard to obtain insurance, which he did through North America Insurance Company at Philadelphia. Yard was instructed that if he could not get into the Delaware River, he was to seek another port and dispose of it the cargo the best he could.  [The next entry for the North America is October 1, 1798]


On September 16, 1798, several slaves were complaining and the crew were making new main top gallant[1] and royal[2] masts or sails. 

            On September 17, 1798, the carpenter was repairing the anchor stocks and the two slaves were doing a little better.

The Law of Prizes

A book by Donald A. Petries called The Prize Game: Lawful Looting on the High Seas in the Days of Fighting Sail (Berkley Publishing Group, New York: 1999) provides a framework to help us understand some of the issues involved when a ship takes a prize and why events unfold the way they do. A summary of some prize issues follows.

The ship seeking a prize was known as the predator and the ship being sought as a prize was known as the chase. During times of war, ships were continually on the lookout for strange sail. This required discernment by both the predator and the chase, as a ship could fly any flag it wanted, or no flag at all, and ships were often deceptive in what flags they flew. Some ships also had sets of false papers and their officers lied when they spoke to other ships.[3]

As a predator closed in on a chase it would signal the chase (by firing a gun, by signal flag or by speaking trumpet) to bring her bow to the wind, come to a halt, and await inspection by an officer of the predator. This was known as “bringing the chase too.” If the chase came too voluntarily, the predator was not to get within cannon range. The predator was not to file a shot unless the chase had been asked to come too and refused. Further, the predator could not fire a gun until she had lowered any false colors and raised her national colors. Failure to abide by these rules could result in loss of the prize in a court proceeding.[4]

Once the chase came too, the predator lowered a boat and sent an officer to the chase for an inspection. Aside from the crew at the oars, only one other person could accompany the inspecting officer. The inspecting officer could: (a) examine the ship’s papers, including the registry, documents of origin, seapass, bills of lading, journals, logs, records of prior capture and condemnation, and muster roll; (b) interview people on board to determine whether their speech and their stories were consistent with the written record and the nationality claimed and to inquire if any of them had observed officers destroying papers or throwing them overboard; (c) have the muster roll called and each man accounted for; (d) inspect areas of the ship not closed, battened, or locked; and (e) bring the captain of the chase, and all of his papers, back to the predator for interrogation and inspection by the predator’s captain.[5]

If the captain of the predator determined that the chase was likely a neutral vessel carrying contraband or blockade running, or if the papers appeared to be fraudulent, he had probable cause to believe he had a good prize and could remove and bring to his own ship the crew of the chase and place a prize crew of his own men on the chase. The chase was sailed to a port of the predator’s nation for adjudication in a prize court. As part of that adjudication, the captain or mate and one or two crew members of the chase were required at the prize court so their testimony could be obtained independently of the captor. The testimony of the captain or mate of the chase was that most likely to be adverse to the captors and help the judge to determine the truth.[6]

The captain of the captor selected the prize court he wanted to use, which would be of the nation the captor belonged to. In doing so, the captain had to consider the convenience of the chase’s owners and cargo shippers who might need to appear in court, or risk loss of the prize.[7]

Half of the prize distribution went to the owners and the other half was divided among the officers and crew. Of the portion going to the officers and crew, boys, landsmen and ordinary seaman would get a half or a three-quarters share, an able seaman would get one share, and officers and tradesmen would get from two or three shares to seven or eight shares for senior officers and perhaps twice that many shares for the captain.[8] If multiple captors were involved, the distribution got more complicated. The chase’s lowering of her national flag was the sign of surrender. Where naval ships were the only captors, the prize court would divide the prize proceeds among the crews of all the captor vessels in sight at the time of surrender. The legal rationale was that the visible presence of the ships terrorized the chase, so apportionment was based on the relative force of each ship, which could be the size of the crew or the weight of the cannon balls it could fire. However, where privateers were claiming a piece of the prize proceeds, the officers and crew of the privateer had the burden of proving that they actually assisted in some way, not mere presence, to support their claim. This was because privateers were involved in a commercial venture, not sworn to war against the enemies of their nation.[9]


On September 20, 1798, at 1:30 p.m., they saw a ship that might be a potential prize and got the crew ready for an engagement. At 3:00 p.m., in accord with protocol,  they brought the ship too and sent a boat over with an officer to board her. They determined that she was a Portuguese ship that had been in Anguilla, a British island east of Puerto Rico, and was headed for Rio de Janeiro with slaves.

A letter dated September 20, 1798, from Ralph Fisher to Bland and Ratterthwaite in London: “Please get me insured on the Iris, [Captain] Spencer, at and from the River Bonny[,] £1,300 on goods.  Slaves valued at £ 45 p, Ivory £ 25 p___ Palm Oil £45 p ton, don’t give more than 15 P[er] C[en]t, the Iris is a very fast sailer[,] has 18 guns and had 40 men[;] get her done as low as you can”.

Uncle Toby

September 21, 1798, the ship Conquest of Italy,[10] an 18 gun brig[11] French Republican privateer, chased the Uncle Toby from about 7:00 a.m. until noon. The Uncle Toby “heave[d] to” and because there were other ships in sight during the chase, the French commander ordered Captain Cottrell to “stand” for nearly an hour. After the other vessels were out of sight from the deck, the French commander boarded the Uncle Toby “and took possession of her as a prize.” This was at latitude 31 or 32 north, longitude 39 degrees, 54 minutes west, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean (at about the same longitude of Savannah, Georgia). The Conquest was flying American colors, but Captain Cottrell of the Uncle Tobey knew she was French. The captain of the Conquest removed the Uncle Toby’s captain, Thomas Cottrel, the mate, the carpenter and four seaman. He allowed Henry Martin (seaman), John Royce (boy), Peter Bowen (cook), John Makins or Mickens (seaman), Daniel Haywood (seaman) and John Hill (seaman) of the Uncle Toby to remain.  He also removed spare sails from the Uncle Toby, including top sails, and cordage. Then he put nine men from the Conquest on the Uncle Toby as well as a prize master, all armed, and ordered the Uncle Toby to sail to Point Peter on the Island of Guadeloupe, a French possession, where it could go before a prize court and be condemned. The Conquest and the Uncle Toby sailed together the remainder of the afternoon and the next day.  The Conquest then “ran out of sight of the” Uncle Toby as it was sailing faster. The prize master on the Uncle Toby then altered the course for Puerto Rico, a Spanish possession. [The next entry for the Uncle Toby is October 9, 1798]


On September 21, 1798, at midnight they buried a male slave who died of a “vermicular Feavour.” Several more slaves were complaining and dangerously ill.

On September 24, 1798, the crew bent[12] a spritsail topsail[13] and brought the cables up for airing.

On September 25, 1798, the crew was “Making Sinnet Drawying yarns”[14] and the carpenter was caulking the main deck. Because it was a cold day, at the middle mess, the slaves were given bread and a dram of brandy.

On September 28, 1798, the crew were spinning spun yarn[15] and the carpenter was caulking the main deck.

On September 30, 1798, at 2:00 a.m. they saw a ship to the south and got ready for action, apparently thinking it may be a potential prize.

North America

On October 1, 1798, James Law, captain of the American Schooner Penelope, and John Sutting, his first mate, appeared before James Blake, U.S. consul living in the city of Santo Domingo, to file a protest against their captor, the French Armed Brig D’Italie Conquies. The Penelope previously sailed from Baltimore on July 6, 1798 to Bermuda where the Penelope discharged her cargo. The Penelope then sailed in ballast toward Alexandria, Virginia and was captured by the D’ Italie Conquies commanded by citizen Martin. The French stole $450 from Law and a quadrant[16] and some clothing from Sutting. Eight French seamen were put on board the Penelope and they were ordered to sail to Puerto Rico. Along the way “they fell in” with the Brig Rambler of Philadelphia and Law, Suttings and two of the crewmen from the Penelope were put on board the Rambler and taken to Santo Domingo where they arrived on September 30, 1798. This was where Law, who later became second mate on the North America, met Blake, who was owner of the ship North America. [The next entry for the North America is October 28, 1798]


On October 2, 1798, two slaves were “very thin and complaining.” The thin slaves were given a middle mess every day and liquor when cold or rainy.

On October 3, 1798, there were squalls with heavy rain. Five slaves were complaining.

On October 4, 1798, more squalls with thunder and lightning.

On October 6, 1798, more squalls with rain showers. A female slave died of a fever and was “burried,”  that is, her body was thrown into the sea.

[1] The topgallant sail was the third square sail up the mast above the deck, after the course sail and topsail. Topgallant also refers to the corresponding portion of the mast and yard.
[2] The royal sail was the fourth square sail up the mast above the deck, after the topgallant sail. Royal also refers to the corresponding portion of the mast and yard.
[3] Prize Game, p. 69, 147
[4] Prize Game, pp. 147-149
[5] Prize Game, pp. 148-149
[6] Prize Game, p. 124, 150-151
[7] Prize Game, pp. 154-155
[8] Sailors, p. 196; Prize Game, pp. 5-6.
[9] Prize Game, pp. 128, 152-153
[10] The crewman of the Uncle Toby gave the French predator ship different names. John Hill called it La Conquest and Henry Martin called it the Talla Kunkee. French Spoliation Claims list a French Privateer, Conquest of Italy, that captured the Uncle Toby on September 21, 1798 and the American Brig Sally on October 17, 1799. For purposes of this article, I am going to refer to the ship as the “Conquest.”
[11] A brig is a vessel with two masts, at least one of which is square rigged.
[12] Bend is the term for making the sail fast to the yard (by robands), which is the diagonal wood piece that connects to the mast.
[13] The spritsail is a maneuvering sail that connects to the bowsprit, the equivalent of a mast that extends off the front or bow of the ship.
[14] “Sinet” [sinnet/sennit] is “a flat cordage formed by plaiting five or seven rope yarns together. Manx Slave Traders, p. 95.
[15] Spunyarn is a cord formed by twisting together two or three rope-yarns.
[16] The quadrant was used by sailors to determine latitude. It consisted of a 90 degree graduated arc with a movable radius for measuring angles.

No comments:

Post a Comment