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Letter from Captain John Paul Jones to Robert Morris



Providence Sloop-of-War, at Newport, Rhode-Island,

October 17, 1776.

HONOURED SIR: I wrote to you at sea 4th ultimo, by the brigantine Sea-Nymph, my second prize. I have taken sixteen sail, manned and sent in eight prizes, and sunk, burned, or destroyed the rest. The list of prizes is as follows:

Manned and sent in.

1. The brigantine Britannia, a whaler.
2. The brigantine Sea-Nymph, West-Indiaman.
3. The brigantine Favourite, do.
4. The ship Alexander, Jersey, Newfoundlandman.
5. The brigantine Success, do.
6. The brigantine Kingston Packet, Jamaica.
7. The brigantirie Defiance, Jersey, do.
8. The sloop Portland, whaler.

Burnt or destroyed.

1. The ship Adventure, of Jersey. 2. The brigantine Friendship, Jersey
. 3. The schooner John, London.
4. The schooner Betsey, Jersey.
5. The schooner Betsey, Halifax.
6. The schooner Sea-Flower, Cariso.
7. The schooner Ebenezer, do.
8. The schooner Hope, do.

I have written from time to time to the Marine Board, and furnished them with particular accounts of all my proceedings, and I now send copies of my former letters. I arrived here 7th current, and I would not have lost a day without writing to you and to the Board, had not the Commodore proposed to me to take command of an expedition, with the Alfred, Providence, and Hambden, to destroy the fishery of Newfoundland, but principally to relieve an hundred of our fellow-citizens, who are detained as prisoners and slaves in the coal-pits of Cape Breton. All my humanity was awakened and called up to action by this laudable proposal, and I have been successfully employed in refitting and getting the Providence in readiness, but am under the greatest apprehension that the expedition will fall to nothing, as the Alfred is greatly short of men. I found her with only about thirty men, and we have with much ado, inlisted thirty more; but it seems the privateers entice them away as fast as they receive their monthly pay.

It is to the last degree distressing to contemplate the state and establishment of our navy. The common class of mankind are actuated by no nobler principle than that of self-interest; this, and this only, determines all adventurers in privateers, the owners as well as those they employ. And while this is the case, unless the private enrollment of individuals in our navy is made superiour to that in privateers, it never can become respectable, it never will become formidable; and without a respectable navy, alas America! In the present critical situation of affairs, human wisdom can suggest no more than one infallible expedient: inlist the seamen during pleasure, and give them all the prizes. What is the paltry emolument of two-thirds of prizes to the finances of this vast Continent? If such a poor resource isessential to its independency, in sober sadness we are involved in a woful predicament, and our ruin is fast approaching. The situation of America is new in the annals of mankind;


her affairs cry haste, and speed must answer them. Trifles, therefore, ought to be wholly disregarded, as being, in the old vulgar proverb, "penny wise and pound foolish." If our enemies, with the best-established and most formidable navy in the universe, have found it expedient to assign all prizes to the captors, how much more is such policy essential to our infant fleet. But I need use no arguments to convince you of the necessity of making the emoluments of our navy equal, if not superiour, to theirs. We have had proof that a navy may be officered almost on any terms; but we are not so sure the officers are equal to their commissions; nor will the Congress ever obtain such certainty, until they in their wisdom see proper to appoint a Board of Admiralty competent to determine impartially the respective merits and abilities of their officers, and to superintend, regulate, and point out all the motions and operations of the navy

Governour Hopkins tells me, he apprehends I am appointed to the Andrew Doria. She is a good cruiser, and would, in my judgment, answer much better were she mounted with twelve six-pounders, than as she is at present with fourteen fours.

An expedition of importance may be effected this winter on the coast of Africa with part of the original fleet; either the Alfred or Columbus, with the Andrew Doria and Providence, would, I am persuaded, carry all before them, and give a blow to the English African trade, which would not soon be recovered, by riot leaving them a mast standing on that coast. This expedition would be attended with no great expense; besides, the ships and vessels mentioned are unfit for service on a winter coast, which is not the case with the new frigates. The small squadron for this service ought to sail early, that the prizes may reach our ports in March or April.

If I do not succeed in manning the Alfred, so as to proceed to the eastward in course of this week, the season will be lost; the coal fleet will be gone to Halifax, and the fishermen to Europe. I will not, however, remain inactive, but proceed to cruise in the sloop near Sandy-Hook. Three of my prizes are arrived here, and one or two more to the eastward.

I am, &c.

Alfred, October 30, 1776.

I did not conclude my letter till I was enabled to give you a satisfactory account of the present expedition. I took command here the 22d, and finding that we could not man the ship and two vessels without wasting too much time, I concluded to leave the Providence, and proceed with the Alfred and Hamden. I took the men out of the Providence and her prizes, which made up my muster roll here to one hundred and forty or upwards. When I was ready to proceed on the 27th, the Hamden was run upon a sunken ledge, which knocked off her false keel, and she hath since continued to make so much water, that we concluded her unfit for sea, and therefore have shifted her men into the Providence. I am once more in readiness to take my leave of Rhode-Island to-morrow morning. I am, however, duly sensible that the expedition cannot but fall greatly short of what it might have effected had I been enabled to proceed a fortnight sooner. I hope the Andrew Doria will be included in the next expedition wherein I am concerned.

If Mr˙ Hewes is in Philadelphia, I must thank you to make my apology for not writing; and if you please, show him this and my former letter.

I have the honour to be, with great esteem and respect, sir, your very obliged, and very obedient, humble servant,


To Hon˙ Robert Morris.