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Letter from Commodore Hopkins to Stephen Hopkins



Providence, June 8, 1776.

DEAR BROTHER: I received your kind letter of the 31st May, and observe the contents; and as for the Southern Colonies being uneasy, it is no more than, from the circumstances of things, I before apprehended; but it was not in my power to prevent it; but if they think I am partial in favour of the Northern Colonies, they are greatly mistaken.

When I went to the southward, I intended to go from New-Providence to Georgia, had I not received intelligence, three or four days before I sailed, that a frigate of twenty-eight guns had arrived there, which made the force, in my opinion, too strong for us. At Virginia they were likewise too strong. In Delaware and New-York it would not do to attempt. Rhode-Island, I was sensible, was stronger than we, but the force there was nearer equal than any where else, which was the reason of my attempting there, which answered no other end than the British naval force quitting the Government.


When I attempted the fleet at Rhode-Island, had all the commanders behaved as well as I expected they would, I should have had it in my power long before this to have relieved most of the Southern Governments from their present difficulties; but as the case was, it was lucky we did not fall in with their whole strength at first. I was not deceived in the strength of the enemy, but greatly in our own resolution; and perhaps I was wrong in not giving my sentiments fully at first, the reason of which was, I was in hopes then of some further action, and that we might retrieve the character of the fleet. But the inattention to business of most of the officers, and an expectation of getting higher stations in the new ships, has, as I think, been some hinderance to getting the fleet ready to sail so soon as otherwise it might. I had no apprehension of the cannon being wanted more any where else, which was the reason of my delivering them to Governours Cooke and Trumbull.

The very great sickness which then was, and still is, amongst the seamen of the fleet, rendered it impossible to undertake any enterprise for the relief of any Colony, although in ever so much distress. All that I have been able to do was, to send the two brigs on a cruise, which I acquainted them with.

I did not know it was necessary to send a copy of my orders to the Marine Committee, but shall now do it immediately. I conceived it was, by the regulations, the business of the several Captains to transmit muster-rolls of the men under their command, both names and condition, monthly; but since I find they have not done it, shall see that they do it as soon as possible.

There has been, by my direction, two Courts-Martial; a copy of their proceedings, as far as they were transmitted to me, I sent to the President. I am very sensible that every officer has his friends, and that has had so much weight with me as not to order a Court-Martial, although ever so necessary, but when the complaint came in writing, and that from the principal officers of the fleet. I wish to God, and for the good of my country, that no officer in the fleet depended on any friend but his own merit.

As for the division of the plunder, it gives me no concern; and I take notice that those that are most clamorous about that matter, least deserve it.

As for the officers of the fleet, I believe my son will not take the command of any vessel, without he might cruise single, and I have no other friend to recommend; but I wish, with all my heart, it was in my power to recommend such as would fight when it was absolutely necessary.

I am greatly obliged to you for the kind wish of my prudence, judgment, and bravery — the honesty you might have left out. On the whole, I am very sensible there are many men more able to serve the common cause than I am, at these years, in the difficult department I am placed in; and if it is in the Committee' s power to get one of them willing to serve in my stead, he shall have all the assistance in my power to give, and I will still continue to serve my country in such a way as I think will be most for her advantage. The several difficulties that attend the Navy are too many to mention, and perhaps imprudent to name. It is too much for my capacity to surmount; and if you will be so kind as to use your interest to get a good man in my room, although you have done me many favours, it is not in your power to do me more or greater service at present. The Columbus is near ready to sail; when I shall order her to cruise, have not yet determined. The Fly goes down to Newport to-morrow, to take the cannon ordered from thence to Philadelphia. The Columbus will take near all the well people, save officers, belonging to the fleet.

If I can, shall get the Providence on a cruise soon, as she now is commanded by Lieutenant Jones, of the Alfred, as he was the oldest Lieutenant. Lieutenant Hacker, of the Cabot, has had the command of the Fly ever since we took her into the service, and I think has behaved so well that he deserves to be appointed Captain of her.

I am your friend and brother,


To the Honourable Stephen Hopkins, Esq˙, at Philadelphia.

P˙ S. If you please, you may make publick all or such part of the above letter, or not, as your judgment shall suggest.