Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Captain Cannon: Voyage of the Ship Iris - Part 4

This is a continuation from the prior post.

October 7, 1798, a number of slaves were complaining.

On October 8, 1798, squalls with heavy rain. “Several Slaves [were] Complaining of the gripes [occasioned] By the weather.”

On October 9, 1798, more squalls with rain showers and some rain and lightning. The slaves were in good spirits and those that had been complaining are doing better as they were getting a mid-day mess and liquor.

More Prize Law

When a chase and its cargo captured as a prize were recaptured by someone of the chase’s nation, the owners of the chase and the cargo had their rights restored. However, those who recaptured the chase, known as salvors, were entitled to salvage, which was a judicially determined payment of a share of the value of the chase and cargo. In determining the payments, the court took into account the labor performed and the risks taken by the salvors. Salvage could also be earned by “rescue” where prisoners aboard the prize have an uprising, overthrow the captors and bring the ship to a home port. Where salvors did so by rescue, they did not have to have Letters of Marque or a naval commission to be entitled to salvage.[1] This unusual aspect of prize law comes into play as the Uncle Toby is retaken by her crew, as follows. Much later, we will look at a court case where the Uncle Toby crew seeks proper compensation from the Uncle Toby owners.

Uncle Toby

On October 9, 1798,[2] about 3:00 p.m., “dreading the treatment which they might receive either in a French or Spanish prison,” Henry Martin leading with a small hatchet, John Royce with an iron bolt, Peter Bowen with an axe, Daniel Haywood with an iron bolt, and John Makins with an iron bolt, attacked the prize master and nine men who had small side arms. John Hill refused to assist.[3] After a ten minute struggle, in which 5 of the French sailors were killed, Martin, Royce, Bowen, Haywood and Makins regained possession of the Uncle Toby. The rest of the French sailors, including the prize master, surrendered and “cried for quarters.”  The French prize master figured they were within 45 or 50 miles of St. Thomas, a Danish possession, and he asked for a boat that he and the rest of his French crew could use to go there. Being short of provisions, the request was granted, and the Uncle Toby shifted its course toward Tortola, a British possession. Henry Martin, leader of the uprising, figured that by rationing provisions for 14 days, they could each have three pints of wheat and bran each day. Before the capture, the Uncle Toby rations were a pound of meat a day and about five pounds of bread a week for each man and at the time of capture there were provisions for about 20 or 30 days at that level. They encountered very heavy seas and the wind pushed them off course, too far north of Tortola. So they tacked ship and decided to head toward Jamaica.

Lloyd’s List, dated January 22, 1799, indicates that the Uncle Toby, with Captain Law, from St. Ube’s bound to New York, was “retaken by the Crew” and taken to Jamaica. The fact that a Captain Law was named instead of Captain Cottrell is not unusual as Lloyd’s List often has captains from earlier voyages listed, among other common errors. Listing the arrival in Jamaica, without other intervening events, is another error that is revealed a little later. [The next entry for the Uncle Toby is October 28, 1798]


On October 10, 1798, nine slaves were complaining, occasioned by the weather. The crew paid attention to keep the slaves’ feet dry.

On October 11, 1798, the crew were spinning spunyarn, painting and repairing the pinnace,[4] one of the boats. A male slave died and was “burried” at sea. Two of the slaves were observed to have sore eyes.

On October 12, 1798, some slaves were complaining of sore eyes and two had sore mouths and throats.

On October 13, 1798, the crew were serving and bending the starter cable. One slave was dangerously ill and four were complaining of sore eyes.

On October 14, 1798, the crew were painting the sides of the ship and one slave was dangerously ill.

On October 18, 1798, the slaves are getting a middle mess of bread every day.

On October 19, 1798, one slave was dangerously ill and several others were complaining.

On October 21, 1798, the slaves were in good spirits.

On October 24, 1798, several slaves were complaining of sore eyes.

            Sometime before October 26, 1798, the Iris, or perhaps the Martha, landed in St. Vincent’s from Africa, then headed toward Jamaica.[5]

            On October 26, 1798, per the logbook, the men on the Iris saw the Island of Barbuda[6] and sailed between St. Kitts[7] and St. Eustatius.[8]

North America

On October 28, 1798, Captain William Burke and the North America left the city of Santo Domingo, just six weeks after it was purchased by James Blake at auction. There were 12 men on board. At least five were U.S. citizens, one an English negroe, two Spaniards, one of them black, and the supercargo, Theady McCarthy, was a naturalized Dane. McCarthy was born in Cork, Ireland, then spent three years on the Island of Santa Cruz, a Danish possession, where he was naturalized, then had resided in the West Indies for the past seven years. James Law, a U.S. citizen, was his second mate [see the entry for October 1, 1798]. The North America had a cargo of wood and gum, it had no mounted guns, arms or ammunition that belonged to the ship and it was flying under U.S. colors. It was going to stop in Port Royal, Jamaica, for provisions, then sail with a convoy to Philadelphia.

North America and Uncle Toby

On October 28th or shortly after,[9] the Uncle Toby connected with Captain William Burke of the North America. The North America agreed to accompany the Uncle Toby to Jamaica and supplied them with a barrel of bread, two pigs, water and three bottles of rum. The North America also transferred to the Uncle Toby a man that was a passenger, apparently the navigator.

More Prize Law

The initiation of a prize case was called a “libel” and when the ship and/or cargo were deemed legally seized, it was called a “condemnation.” In England, the High Court of Admiralty had exclusive jurisdiction over prize cases. Overseas, in the British colonies, the vice-admiralty courts had jurisdiction over prize cases. Appeals of prize cases, including those in the British colonies, went to the Lords Commissioners of Appeals in Prize Causes located in London. Opinions in prize cases and prize appeals were not published for hundreds of years. The first reporting began in 1799.[10]

The captor had to promptly initiate a libel against the chase. Because seamen were highly mobile and in and out of port quickly, the judicial process was designed to take quick testimony of members of the crew of both the predator and the chase and to make a decision as soon as possible. The judge of the prize court did not hear testimony. Rather, commissioners of the court obtained testimony by interrogatories and judicial questionnaires which were read aloud to the seamen and their answers recorded. There were separate hearing areas so that separate commissioners could interrogate different witnesses at the same time without them being influenced by each other. The ship papers revealed the ownership and nationality of the vessel, the nature and ownership of the cargo and the origin and destination of the ship and cargo. The interrogatories and ship papers were then submitted to the prize judge who made the decision based solely on the documents. If the documents submitted to the court raised serious issues, further evidence could be sought, usually in the form of sworn affidavits. If the judge found that the predator did not have probable cause, the chase was released and a judgment for damages was issued against the predator. If the judge found that the predator had probable cause, but did not condemn the chase, the chase was released, but no damages were awarded. If the chase was condemned, the ship and cargo were sold and the sale proceeds were held by the court for distribution, first to neutral claimants like cargo shippers, then for distribution among the owner and crew of the predator in accordance with established rules. Proceeds were held for a year and a day to allow claimants time to appear.[11]

An issue that often had to be decided was whether an owner or merchant was neutral or belonged to an enemy nation? The focus was on where the owner and merchant lived and to whose economy they contributed. Many owners and merchants established places of business in foreign ports and when war broke out, if they did not close down their businesses and leave, they ran the risk of losing their neutral status. If an owner or merchant remained in a nation that was at war, accepted its protection and contributed to its economy, he lost his neutral status and became a national of that country. Subterfuge was common and prize courts were regularly trying to look through false papers, quick title transfers and pretended neutrality as they tried to determine nationality.[12]

Iris and North America

Over the course of two days, November 1st and 2nd, 1798, the Iris took both the North America and the Uncle Toby as prizes. Information is conflicting and incomplete. For November 1st, the Iris logbook states, “At 6 A.M. Saw two Ships to Leeward Standing to the Westward;[13] At 11 A. M. Brought them too one of them prooved to bee the the North American British Built from St. Domingo Loaded with Mehogony and Brisetelo Bound to a Mexico”.  This occurred off the coast of Jacmel,[14] Haiti, and more specifically off of Altavella Rock.[15] The logbook says nothing more, other than that the North America was headed to Mexico. Captain Cannon claimed that the North America ship and cargo were Spanish property. The North America was flying American colors and had no mounted guns. At the time of the capture at least one of the crew claimed they were in sight of the armed brig Mary and the Uncle Toby. The crew claimed to be American and headed to Philadelphia. The North America was 219 tons burthen and carrying mahogany, ebony, braziletto wood and braziletto gum.

Iris and Uncle Toby

On November 2nd, the Iris logbook states, “At Meridian Borded the Ship uncle Toby  of Newyork from St. Ube’s[16] Bound to Philidelphia Loaded with S[alt.][17]   [O]ffered Mee 50 Joes to Convoy him In to Kingston[. T]he People all agreed to Give one Eighth only. [O]ne Man the[n] told Mee that the[y] were taking By the french and that the[y] Put them [the French] to Death; the[n] Both Ships Said the[y] were Bound to Kingston for Provisions; P[laced…] an  offecer and one Man on Bo[a]rd Eatch Ship[.] Expended 170 yams and remains 80 Bains and remains” This entry initially gave me the impression that both the North America and Uncle Toby were in dire straits and that the Iris agreed to help them for the price of 50 slaves.  However, in a statement signed by Captain Cannon and the crew of the Iris on November 9, 1798, they claimed that “two certain ships or vessels called the Uncle Toby and North America and the goods[,] wares[,] merchandize and effects on board them [were] taken and seized as good and lawful prizes on the high seas by the said ship Iris”.  John Hill of the Uncle Toby confirms it was November 2nd, and that two seamen were put on board the Uncle Toby from the Iris along with a copy of the Letter of Marque or Commission. Henry Martin of the Uncle Toby said that they were “brought too” by an English Letter of Marque, who took the North America as a prize and put two hands on board the Uncle Toby. Lloyd’s  List, dated March 12, 1799, indicates that the Uncle Toby was “retaken” and arrived in Jamaica. This appears to refer to the capture of the Uncle Toby by the Iris.

[1] Prize Game, pp. 156-158
[2] This date was given by John Hill. Henry Martin estimated 17 days after the Uncle Toby was captured, which would have made it October 8th. John Hill gave the coordinates as latitude 18 degrees north and longitude 14 degrees, 29 minutes west and these coordinates are incorrect as it puts it inside Africa.
[3] John Hill’s and Henry Martin’s accounts differ in some important points. Martin’s account is given above, with some non-conflicting details from Hill. Some of Hill’s conflicting details are: (a) Instead of refusing to assist, Hill participated and used a cutlass (this is part of the reason I find Martin’s account more credible – Hill had a reason to embellish the facts so that he didn’t look bad); (b) four of them had bolts, but Martin says three did and one had an axe; (c) The prize master was asleep on deck and the French seamen scattered in several places and the prize master and four other seamen were killed (Martin says five were killed, but has the prize master leading the surviving crew off the Uncle Toby); and (d) Hill says he was the most experienced seaman on board and took possession of the ship, which seems like an embellishment to make Hill sound like more of a participant.
[4] The pinnace was a light boat propelled by sails or oars.
[5] Lloyd’s List, December 28, 1798 says it was the Iris. However, I believe it may have been the ship Martha instead, as the Martha, the sister ship of the Iris, also owned by Ralph Fisher, had instructions to go to St. Vincent, while the Iris did not. See Ralph Fisher to David Miller of St. Vincent, to Captain Thomas Taylor care of David Miller in St. Vincent, and to Captain John Spencer, care of Lindo Lake & Co. of Jamaica, all dated June 10, 1798.
[6] Barbuda is an island in the Caribbean located north of Antigua and east of St. Kitts. (Wikipedia: Barbuda).
[7] The logbook references “St. Christophers.” St. Christopher is now known as St. Kitts and is an island located in the Leeward Islands of the Lesser Antilles. (Wikipedia:  Saint Kitts and Nevis and Leeward Islands).
[8] The logbook references “Steustatie”. This is likely a reference to St. Eustatius as the next day log references “St. Eustatia” which is also known as Statia and St. Kitts is 6 miles south of St. Eustatius and 2 miles north of Nevis.  (Wikipedia: Saint Kitts)
[9] Henry Martin says it was 10 days after the recapture that they met the North America, which would make it about October 19th. But the North America did not leave Santo Domingo until October 28th. John Hill says they met the North America at the east end of Saint Domino (another reference to Santo Domingo), so it was likely within a few days after the North America left. 
[10] Prize Game, pp. 6, 8 & 9, 130-131, n. 54 on p. 195
[11] Prize Game, pp. 123, 158-161
[12] Prize Game, p. 163
[13] One of the ships was the North America and the other was either the Uncle Toby or the Mary. It appears that only the North America was actually pulled over and boarded that day. The Captain of the Mary, which was armed, later made a claim for part of the prize proceeds based on the capture taking place within its sight. One North America crewman, Theady MacCarthy, stated that they were in sight of both the Mary and the Uncle Toby, an armed American ship, at the time of the capture.
[14] Jacmel, Haiti, is a city in southern Haiti founded in 1698. Its coordinates are 18.14.7 N. and 72.32.12 W. (Wikipedia “Jacmel”)
[15] Altavella Rock is latitude 17.30.0 and longitude 71.20.0. Fort St. Louis is right next to it in the table at latitude 18.14.30 and longitude 73.31.30. Also listed are St. Doming, or “Hayti” at latitude 18.30.0 and longitude 69.49.0, Port Royal, Jamaica at latitude 17.58.0 N and longitude 76.52.30 W and Kingston, Jamaica at latitude 18.0.30 and longitude 76.45.0  (Google Books has The Complete Mathematical and General Navigation Tables, including Every Table Necessary to be Used with the Nautical Almanac in finding the Latitude and Longitude: with their Description and Use, Comprising the Principles of their Construction, and their Direct Application to Plane and Spherical Trigonometry, Navigation, Nautical Astronomy, Dialling, Practical Gunnery, Mensuration, Guaging, &c.&c., by Thomas Kerigan, R.N. (in two volumes) (Baldwin and Cradock – London)
[16] St. Ubes (St. Yves in French) is now known as Setubal, Portugal, a seaport south of Lisbon. It is built on the north shore of a deep estuary formed by the rivers Sado, Marateca and Sao Martinho, which discharge their waters into the Bay of Setubal. [1911 Encyclopedia Britannica] “St. Ubes…contains five churches and nine religious houses; a large number in proportion to not much above 2000 houses…[T]he best trade of St. Ubes is in salt, which is taken principally by Danish and Swedish ships. The salt-pans lie in great numbers along the Sado and its branches, being called in portugueze marinhas. They are dug square, about three feet deep, and salt-water is introduced on one side from the sea, at flood, through canals which extend in innumerable branches, and are shut when the pans are full. The water is often previously collected in large reservoirs, called governos, from which it is afterwards distributed into the marinhas, where, being evaporated, the salt is collected in the month of June, and kept either in wooden sheds or in heaps, which are protected against the rain by rushes. Of this salt a considerable quantity seemed to be in store. It is large-grained, becomes but little moist in the air, and excels in purity the marine salt collected in other provinces of the south of Europe, or in other parts of Portugal.” [Henry Frederick Link, Travels in Portugal, and Through France and Spain. With a Dissertation on the Literature of Portugal, and the Spanish and Portugueze Languages, translated from the German by John Hinckley, Esq.  (T. N. Longman and O. Rees: London, 1801), pp. 258-259, copy in Google Books].
[17] James Laing and Daniel Steele estimated the value of the ship and cargo of salt, both in pretty good condition when they arrived in Jamaica, to be worth about $8,000 if sold at a public sale.

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