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Letter from Walter Hatton to Nathaniel Coffin


Intercepted Letter transmitted to Congress by General Washington, with his Letter dated December 18, 1775.


Norfolk, November 21, 1775.

DEAR SIR: I herewith transmit my accounts and lists of shipping for the three last quarters, which I would rather have done at the close of each quarter, but had not an opportunity of so doing; and in these lawless times I think it would have been very unsafe to trust letters by indifferent hands, as it is now, and has been some time past, an established rule to break open all letters either going from or directed to any officer in the service of the Crown. It was with difficulty, I will assure you, that I now am able to transmit them, as my going from Accomack to this place was opposed by upwards of three hundred people of the County, who will not allow any vessel to come to this place, for fear of supplying the ships of war and other troops with provision; and I will assure you that I am doubtful whether I may not be obliged to take a shelter in some of the ships, or at least on this side the bay, as I expect, during the confused usurpation of power, that an officer of the customs, if he only acts with spirit, or as his duty and oath binds him, that he will immediately fall under the lash of the damned Committees, &c˙, who, on such occasion, will show them as little mercy as they themselves may expect in the future world; and as I have on sundry occasions opposed their measures, and strove to convince the deluded people of their error, I have, by that means, rendered myself obnoxious to them, and no doubt if ever in their power, shall have their whole weight of vengeance laid on me. But while I am acting in favour of Government and my own steady principles, I make no doubt but I shall be able, with half their number, to meet them in the field; as I hold it to be an established point that those who fight, or take up arms against Government, are always in dread, and fight to great disadvantage, knowing that they are fighting against their sovereign, by whom alone they can hope for assistance against their real enemies, and who, out of his grace and favour, has offered them protection from all their foes, and who would be glad to see them return to their duty, and embrace the proffered grace. They know that the halter is round their necks, and if taken, (which they can do no less than expect,) that they are liable to be trussed up without any delay. Whilst the favourers of Government know the goodness of their cause, and the support that may at any time be given from the friends thereof, to assist them against all enemies, they also, no doubt, are assured that if they fall in so glorious and good cause, that they have done their duty, and may expect their reward in a future life.

You will be glad, no doubt, to hear out of so many enemies to Government that there are some who have courage, even in these hazardous times, to confess the lenient measures used by those in power, and who have sworn allegiance to their lawful sovereign; amongst which the inhabitants of Norfolk, Town and County, Portsmouth, Nansemond, &c˙, stand recorded to, I believe, three thousand and upwards. The late engagement at Kemp' s, I believe, has been cause sufficient for numbers who have been constrained, to throw off the yoke and boldly to stand forth and confess themselves friends of Government; numbers having been forced to take up arms against their will, as has been proved since the late action. God send a happy conclusion to this bad beginning. How long I may stay among them here is uncertain, as I have a design to remove, and have a promise from those in power for a better place; I have reason to expect somewhat nearer you than this. My letters please direct to the care of Mr˙ Sprowle, Norfolk, (or Gosport rather,) who will forward them; and


what money you may have of mine in your hands, be pleased to send per bill of exchange. Be pleased to pay Mr˙ Hulton his account herewith transmitted, and let me hear all the news you conveniently can; and believe me to be, dear sir, your very humble servant,


Nathaniel Coffin, Esq˙, Receiver-General and Cashier of His Majesty' s Customs, Boston.