Annual Appeal

History Matters as does your continued support for the New London County Historical Society. We strive to preserve, educate, and serve our community, your membership and donations play a vital role in fulfilling our mission of preservation, education, and community service.

In 1870, Henry Haven embarked on a journey to safeguard the complex history of New London County. This vision evolved into a remarkable archive containing thousands of historical documents and artifacts housed in The Shaw Mansion. Within these hallowed walls, you’ll find correspondence from George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and Jonathan Trumbull, alongside whaling journals, the Goddard Townsend mahogany tea table and a Flag of the United States made in 1776. The significance of our collection is important not just locally but globally, reminding us why History Matters.

Our commitment to education extends far and wide, with publications, lectures, and programs designed to reach the diverse community in New London County and beyond. Works like both the Histories of New London and Norwich by Frances Manwaring Caulkins and “Black Roots in Southeastern Connecticut” stand as valuable resources for historians and genealogists alike. Our family records reach beyond borders, assisting professional and amateur researchers alike in tracing family histories and genealogies. Our lectures delve into key periods of New London history like whaling, the middle passage, and privateering. Each lecture is meticulously researched to illuminate the hidden stories found within our archives, because every facet of our history matters.

Partnerships form the cornerstone of our mission. Our internship program, drawing students locally and internationally, empowers future leaders with skills in archive management, marketing, and education. The collaboration with the New London Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club fosters a summer program that teaches young minds from low-income backgrounds the importance of their history within New London County. These partnerships underscore the significance of every narrative within our community’s history, reinforcing the fact that History Matters.

In these challenging times, the wisdom of our past guides our future. The preservation of our archive, along with the restoration of the historic Shaw Mansion, are essential to our continued service to the community. Your renewed membership and contribution to this year’s annual fund will empower us to move forward with strength and purpose. Our goal for the 2023 annual fund drive is $30,000, and we have reached just $6,000 of that target. We invite you to help us reach our goal and, if your membership has lapsed, to renew it. Your unwavering support is a testament to the history of our community, because, without a doubt, our history matters.

Please renew your membership today and make a donation to our annual fund on the support page. Your dedication keeps our mission alive and ensures that History Matters for generations to come.

Thank you for being an essential part of our journey.

Warm regards

Steven Manuel

Executive Director

Hiring a Part Time Development Manager

Part Time Development Manager

Reports to the Executive Director.

The NLCHS seeks a detail-oriented and forward-thinking individual to join a team to help establish and grow the organization’s Development Department. The Development Manager will assist the Executive Director in grant writing and research. Additionally the Development Manager will assist in increasing membership and soliciting donors to support the institution. The position offers flexible work hours, and a hybrid work environment. Currently, the position is grant funded for one year. The successful candidate will increase income to support a permanent full time salaried position. Applicants should submit a CV or resume and, a cover letter via email to executivedirector@nlchs.org. Please include “Development Manager” in the subject line.

Job Responsibilities

  • Working with the Executive Director and the Development Committee Chair the Development Manager will:
  • Participate in development strategic planning to cultivate sponsorships, donors, members, and grant awards.
  • Research grant opportunities to address preservation, programming, and administrative goals.
  • Write, submit, and track grant requests.
  • Work with Executive Director to coordinate funding reports for federal, state, city government grant applications as well as private foundation and corporate funding opportunities.
  • Maintain records of contributors and prospects in PastPefect database efficiently and accurately.
  • Ensure all donor and prospect information is entered on a regular basis.
  • Process all gifts received; process mail edits, which includes researching bad addresses and completing changes of address on returned mail.
  • Assist in membership management
  • Co-lead with the Executive Director the planning and implementation of fundraising events

Qualifications

Bachelor’s degree a plus

Proficiency in Google applications

Two or more years of related professional experience in development at a not-for-profit organization

Strong technology skills and general computer literacy

Excellent verbal and written communication skills

Strong analytical and problems solving skills

Ability to meet competing deadlines on time, while working independently and exercising thoughtful prioritization

Excellent organizational skills and attention to detail

Privateering out of New London


Nathaniel Shaw Jr. Continental (Naval) Agent Appointment Letter

As you enter Shaw Mansion you may see a plaque next to the door stating that the Shaw Mansion served as the U.S. Naval Office during the American Revolution. The meaning of this simple statement is a bit complex.
The Continental Navy was officially established on October 13, 1775. However this did not mean the country would be building ships which flew the a United States flag. Any new navy needs regulations and clear chain of command. The arduous task of composing the regulations fell Congress. Esek Hopkins was appointed to command the Continental Fleet consisting of six ships, a mere fraction of the overall navy of the Revolution. When the Continental Navy needed more ships, they asked governors of various states to loan vessels from the state navies. The he U. S. Naval Office in New London had little to do with the Continental Navy.

On March 23, 1776, Congress approved a maritime act allowing for general reprisal and the use of letters of marque against British vessels. The legislation was the first step to instituting the practice of privateering in the revolutionary war. “Resolved that all Ships &c. belonging to any Inhabitants of Great Britain as aforesaid, which shall be taken by any Vessel of War, fitted out by and at the Expense of any of the United Colonies, shall be deemed forfeited, and divided, after deducting and paying the Wages of Seamen and Mariners as aforesaid, in such manner and proportions as the Assembly or Convention of such Colony shall direct.” British ships were now legally available to privateers as prizes for the taking.

Privateering is often erroneously defined as legalized piracy. However, that definition is quite inaccurate. There are some significant differences between pirates and privateers. Pirates were individuals who chose to leave institutionalized maritime activity to be free of laws and regulations. Their activity at sea was often democratic. They elected their captain and voted on their destination. The captain was only allowed to be in command during battle. That notion is quite different from traditional ships where the captain is the sole authority aboard the vessel. When a ship was taken by pirates, the money associated with that capture was divided by the agreement of the crew. Conversely, privateers had to obey laws, their course was determined by the ship’s captain or owners, captures were determined legal through the courts, and prize money awarded was apportioned using strict guidelines authored by Congress.

On April 3rd 1776 Congress issued the articles under which privateers were to sail. Additionally crew conduct was assured by owners posting a surety pound bond with the naval agents. A letter of marque issued by the naval agent was required by anyone who wished to engage in privateering.
A letter of marque is document which provided protections to the privateer, as it declared the privateer was a military combatant. As such the captured privateer was treated as a prisoner of war. Without the letter of marque, the privateer was subject to piracy laws, thus available to be charged and tried for piracy. Prisoners of war enjoyed rights of decent treatment, available for prisoner exchange, and a guaranteed safe return home after a treaty was signed. Pirates were typically hung.

Naval agents were appointed administer the continental navy in each state, but the larges portion of their job involved organizing the privateering effort. The agent’s job was arduous. They were required to keep all the administrative records of all individuals and ships engaged in the activity. Most colonies had agents, in some instances there were two, in the case of Virginia there were none. In Connecticut, Nathaniel Shaw Jr was appointed the Navy Agent on April 17, 1776. Shaw not only served as the agent for the Continental Congress, he also served as agent for the colony of Connecticut. He became the sole administrator for all warships entering and exiting the port of New London.

After a privateer captured an enemy vessel, the process for receiving prize money was lengthy. The law stated that any captured ship was to be brought to the closest colonial port. Once there the ship was inventoried and written accounts of her capture were collected. The inventories and accounts were then sent a state county court to be reviewed, and the court declared whether the capture was legal. Then the courts awarded prize money. Everyone involved in the capture, crewmen, officers, captain, naval agent, investors, state government, and the Colonial government was allocated a percentage of the money earned from every sale of captured ships.

There are different estimates concerning number of ships taken by privateers and brought into the ports of Connecticut. Several sources record that 500 ships were taken, while others state 600 ships. The confusion for the numbers is two fold. What constituted an official prize coupled with the records destroyed when Arnold burned New London in 1781. The privateering effort of New London, for all of the colonies was significant at least in an economic standpoint. British shipping to the colonies became quite hazardous, and the insurance rates for such voyages rose to be prohibitive. Privateering during the Revolution was quite lucrative. Men motivated by the prospect of a 150% pay increase signed aboard privateers taking advantage of the opportunity to profit. That opportunity was responsible for the largest fleet of American ships sailing during the Revolution.

Forgotten Patriots: Captain Robert Niles

Document authorizing back pay to the crew of the Spy for her service on the Paris mission.

Captain Robert Niles filled the canvas bag with his orders and correspondence, then added some lead shot and cast it into the sea. For seven hours Niles and his schooner Spy, attempted to elude the Channel Island privateer brig Bazley commanded by Noah Gautier. Bazley appeared on the horizon off the coast of France on the morning of August 29, 1778, and Niles ordered his smaller Connecticut vessel to flee. Sadly high seas and a favorable wind gave Bazley the advantage and Spy was captured. The only solace for Niles was his capture came after he delivered two ratified treaties, the Treaty of Amity and Commerce and the Treaty of Alliance, to the American commissioners in France.
Instead of being imprisoned, Niles and two of his crew mates were placed aboard a Dutch ship which delivered them to a French port. Once there they awaited any vessel bound for the United States to take them home. Some historians believe Niles bribed Gautier for this special treatment, but there is no evidence to support that theory. As for the remainder of his crew, they were pressed into the service of His Majesty as sailors on the frigate HMS Seaford. Gautier placed a prize crew aboard the Spy with orders to sail her back to the Jersey Islands where she met the fate of all privateer captured vessels. Spy and her cargo were sold at auction, and the money earned was divided into shares for the Bazley’s crew, captain, ship owners, and voyage investors.

Born in Groton on September 2, 1734, Niles spent his early life on the family farm. At the outbreak of the French and Indian War, Niles enlisted in militia service as a clerk and rose to the rank of Lieutenant. After the war he relocated to Norwich with his wife and children to begin a career commanding merchant ships. Niles proved to be a talented captain, making him much sought after by local merchants. However, he was most often employed by Nathaniel Shaw Jr, and his friend Christopher Leffingwell. Both Shaw and Leffingwell were heavily involved in the naval war effort during the American Revolution. Shaw was the Continental Agent and Leffingwell was an assistant agent. Considering his maritime prowess, coupled with influential friends and prior military service, it is not surprising that Niles was offered a command when Trumbull ordered the formation of a state navy.

For his part, Niles was not considering naval service. At the outbreak of the war, Niles and forty seven Norwich residents petitioned the Connecticut Assembly to form the Norwich Light Guard Militia, however the Assembly rejected the request. Colonel Edward Mott at Fort Ticonderoga wrote Governor Trumbull asking that Niles command a gunboat on Lake George to defend the fort. Trumbull denied that request. Instead, at the urging of Christopher Leffingwell, Niles was tasked with the capture the brig Nancy. Nancy was a loyalist merchant ship that drifted into Stonington harbor. An armed sloop was placed under his command and Niles took the vessel with ease. When the Nancy struck her colors she became the first British ship captured by an American vessel. Nancy held 19,000 gallons of molasses which, along with the ship, were sold at auction. The money was used to support the Continental Army.

In 1775, under the direction of the Governor and the Connecticut Council of Safety, the schooner Britannia was purchased in Stonington and renamed Spy. The Spy was sailed to Norwich and fitted out for service, with Niles as the uncontested choice to be her captain. As the captain, it was his responsibility to see Spy ready for service. In Norwich she was properly rigged and armed with a dozen blunderbusses purchased from Nathaniel Shaw Jr., and Niles was given £100 to provision and crew her. A few days prior to her departure, half a dozen four pound canon were put in place and 150 pounds of powder was loaded aboard. During the process of outfitting Spy, Niles twice wrote Governor Trumbull asking for more money. Trumbull agreed and provided £300 more to ensure Spy was ready for duty.
Niles’ orders were simple. He was directed, “to seize and bring into port any provision vessel or vessels which she may be able to discover and take, in or about the harbor of New London, offing, or sound, bound to sea and the same hold or detain,” Additionally Spy was to gather intelligence during her cruises and report findings to the Continental Congress. In October of 1775 Spy was sent to capture the Loyalist
ship Peggy out of New York bound for Falmouth, laden with pig iron, staves, and wheat. Niles succeeded in his mission and Peggy was sailed to Norwich to keep her from the enemy.

Over her entire career the Spy captured eight enemy vessels, gathered a vast amount of intelligence on British ship movements in Long Island Sound, obtained goods and materials for use by the state of Connecticut, and delivered supplies to the Continental Army. Her sphere of operations expanded from New London harbor and Long Island Sound to include the coastal waters of Maryland and Virginia. Niles excelled at every mission assigned to him. Unlike other Connecticut ship captains, he decided against commanding privateers. He preferred supporting the war effort in Connecticut state navy.
The last ship captured by the Spy with Niles as captain was the Dolphin. After this prize was deemed legal, the state of Connecticut purchased Dolphin and put her into service with Niles in command. Zebediah Smith, first mate of the Spy, was promoted to captain, and both ships were ordered to the West Indies where they were to trade ivory for iron. Prior to departure, however, Governor Trumbull received a request from the Continental congress. The Treaty of Amity and Commerce and the Treaty of Alliance with France had been ratified. The Governor was asked to provide a vessel to carry Congressional dispatches and copies of the treaties to the American commissioners in France. Trumbull agreed and the Marine Committee returned Niles to the Spy and gave him the mission.

Early in June of 1778 the Spy left Stonington harbor and sailed for France. Niles managed to elude British ships and made the difficult crossing to in twenty-two days. However his arrival in Brest was just the beginning. The American commissioners were in Paris and that meant three hundred and sixty miles stood between the captain and the completion of his mission. Niles left the Spy and journeyed south. Five days later congressional dispatches and copies of the ratified treaties were in the hands of the American commissioners. After discharging his duty, Niles met with other dignitaries where he was charged with their letters and gifts to deliver home. When he returned to Brest, he began loading Spy with cargo purchased to support the war effort and made ready to be underway.

In a letter to Benjamin Franklin, dated August 6th, Niles announced is intent to depart immediately. The next letter Franklin received came on October 27th. In it Captain Niles detailed the capture of his ship, his interrogation by the Admiralty Court on the Jersey Islands, and his release to Bordeaux France. Franklin used his influence to provide Niles with the means to secure funds for a return trip home. The captain managed to find passage on a Merchant ship bound for the United States. Ironically that ship also fell victim to privateers.

Once again Niles was detained on the Jersey Islands. While under arrest, he was not imprisoned, but appeared to have parole to move about the island. In his correspondence, Niles describes how well he was treated by his captors. As before, he managed to affect a transfer to France in January of 1779. This time he found himself in Nantes, were he resided until he obtained the funds to pay for a trip home. Franklin continued to work on Niles’ behalf and with the help of a French banker, the captain was given the money and arrived home on the 17th of July.

The mission to France was the last military mission he undertook. Captain Niles returned to the sea and merchant vessels after the war. The last command of his career was the Juno A packet carrying mail and passengers between Connecticut and New York. He was active in Norwich as a selectmen and retired from the maritime world in 1800, a man of 65 years suffering from all the infirmities obtained from a life at sea.
When his service in the navy was complete, he returned to Norwich to manage his affairs. Unfortunately while he was stranded in France he accrued significant debts. That coupled with his father’s death left him in difficult financial straits. He managed to collect the money owed to him by the state of Connecticut and the Continental Congress for his naval service. However it took three years and did little to alleviate his financial woes. In addition to money troubles, Niles saw much hardship with his family over the next few years.

A year after his return his oldest son Robert was lost at sea. Four years later his youngest son Frederick died. His daughter Mary was wed in 1786 and died shortly after in February of 1787. Then in 1796 Niles lost his wife Abigail, however the captain persevered amid all his loss.
A year after his wife’s death, Robert Niles married Polly Fitch of Norwich. Sadly Polly died in 1799. By 1802 Niles had married once again. This time it was Hannah Brown, the widowed sister of Polly Fitch. Hannah had children of her own, and Niles took them into his home. At the age 71 Niles became the father of a baby girl who was called for her mother Hannah, bringing him some joy in his later life.
Sadly Captain Niles did not enjoy a prosperous retirement. His meager savings was depleted when he loaned his step son the money to open a carriage factory. Illness and economic downturns closed that business by 1808. Niles was responsible for debts due and was forced to petition for bankruptcy. His petition was granted in 1809. His wife died a year later and Robert moved in with his daughter where he lived for the remainder of his days.

 

Forgotten Patriots is a Series of articles written by Steve Manuel, our Executive Director.