Privateer General Israel Putnam

width="436"On August 13th,1779, Captain Daniel Waters and his crew abandoned the ship General Putnam along the Penobscot River and then set her ablaze.  Once ashore, they began the long journey over land back to Boston.  Putnam was part of a 44 ship flotilla tasked with driving the British from the Penobscot Peninsula in what is present day Maine.  In a disastrous defeat, the American fleet was forced to flee four British frigates.  One by one the American ships were either captured, destroyed, or abandoned and burned. Waters, a native of Charlestown, Massachusetts, was a seasoned military officer.  Waters began service for his country as a Minuteman.  One of the many who was roused by Paul Revere Lexington and Concord.

During the siege of Boston he commanded a small gunboat, and then was appointed the captain of the schooner Lee  by George Washington in 1776.  The General assisted Waters again a year later when he appointed the Charlestown man a captain the the Continental Navy.  In the following years Waters captained the frigate Fox and the sloop General Gates. In 1779 Waters was given the Putnam after the ship had been pressed into service by the Sherifff of Suffolk County Massachusetts.

Dudley Saltonstall was the commodore of the fleet for the Penobscot expedition.  In addition to the flotilla was a force of 1,200 men both marines and militia an, and 100 artillerymen under the command of Lt. Col. Paul Revere.  Such was the failure of the expedition, but Saltonstall and Revere were tried before a court martial. Saltonstall was tried for ineptitude and declared incompetent.  Paul Revere faced a number of charges, but was only asked to resign his command.  His reputation smeared, Revere continued to ask for a full Court martial to clear his name.  That finally occurred in September of 1783.  The court convened and cleared the patriot’s name. 

The lack of action was felt keenly by the all the forces during the expedition. Many of the officers complained to Saltonstall about his caution in moving the fleet.  Even men aboard the ships chafed at the caution.  A letter from the Putnam was sent to Saltonstall asking him to engage the enemy in polite and flowery terms.  However of the 150 crew, the letter was only signed by the First Lieutenant and thirty others.  Nor did Waters’ signature appear.  The offensive dragged on until the reinforcements the British were waiting for arrived. August 12th 1779, found Waters fleeing from the British.  Unable to escape after a day of sailing, the captain chose to abandon his ship and, burn the General Putnam to keep her from the enemy.

Two years prior to the disaster at Penobscot, Nathaniel Shaw Jr., began construction of a new ship at Windthrop’s neck in New London.  She was a good sized vessel meant to carry a crew of 150.  Shaw outfitted his newest privateer with 20 cannon, 9 pounders purchased in Norwich Connecticut. When she finally rolled down her stays, the General Putnam cost 50 thousand pounds to build.  In 2020 that is approximately 8.25 million dollars. She was commissioned on April 23 1778, and got underway for her first voyage in May of the same year. 

Thomas Allen of New London, a partner in the $10,000 bond for Putnam, was made captain for her maiden voyage. Shaw provided Allen with the following orders.


Sir New London [Conn.] May 24. 1778 You are now Commander of the Privat[eer] Ship of Warr General Putnam, fitted & Man’d for a Cruize of Six Months against the Enimies of the United States, & now lying at Anchor in this Port, and our Orders to you are, That you Sail on a Cruize the first fair wind (after your Men are on board) a

nd Cruize where you think it will best Answere the desirable purpose viz. to take as many British Merchantmen Ships as you can Man, and send into the most convenient Port of the United States in America, should prefer New London, but if they fall into Bedford1 let the Prize Master apply to Joseph Russell Junr., if to the Eastward of that Port to Col Josiah Waters at Boston If to the Westward, Newbern to John W. Stanley,2 to the Westward of that to such Gen- tlemen as you think are Men of Honesty & Interest & that you can recomend as Such, & desire them to write me immediately, & dispose of Vessels & Cargo & let me know to what Amo. the prizes may have sold for, that we may draw on them for that sum We 

wish you a Good Cruize and Safe Return to your Friends & OwnersNathel. Shaw Junr & Co. 

A True Copy of the Original Thos. Allen”

It made sense that Shaw sent Allen to Boston, because the Captain had lived in the city prior to marrying a woman from New London.  Allen cruised for 5 months and captured a total of 6 english brigs before returning to New London.  Allen did not return to sea, but went back to managing his public house in the city.

Putnam sailed out of New London Harbor again in May of 1779 under the command of Nathaniel Saltonstall, brother of Dudley Saltonstall.  Once again the privateer sailed the waters off the coast of Massachusetts.  This time, however,  Shaw gave orders that all captures were to be sent to New London and not to the port of Boston.   Putnam captured three ships before encountering foul weather on the 26th of June, forcing her to anchor in Boston Harbor. Unfortunately on the 16th of June the British had landed a force to settle an area in Massachusetts on the Penobscot River. In addition to being a new settlement, New Ireland was to be haven for loyalists fleeing the colonies.  In response to this incursion, The Massachusetts General Assembly appointed a Council of War to mount an expedition to drive the British from the Penobscot Peninsula.  On July 2nd, 1779 the Council ordered the Sheriff of Suffolk County to press the ship Putnam into service. 

Nathiel Shaw Jr. did not see any compensation for the seizure and destruction of the ship he had built.  After arriving in Boston, Nathaniel Saltonstall was asked to give the ship over to the expedition. He declined feeling he did not have the right without the consent of the owners.  The matter was decided by the Massachusetts Assembly. After the legislature authorized the pressing of the ship, Saltonstall was asked to assess her value.  Again he declined.  The Assembly appointed three captains to assess the ship.  They determined her value value to be £10,000 sterling, with an estimate of future value at £100,000 paper money.  It took until 1783 for the General Court to settle the matter.  A year after Nathaniel Shaw Jr. died, the state of Massachusetts paid the Shaw company the sum of £10,133. 6s. 8d. in compensation for the loss of the privateer ship General Putnam.


Lt. Col. Thomas Wheeler: The Evidence of Service


In our collection are a selection of military artifacts owned by Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Wheeler of North Stonington. Thomas was born into the prominent Wheeler family in 1760 and was a cavalry officer in the Connecticut State Militia. He was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the Third Regiment in 1796 and, following subsequent promotions, ended up in command the regiment by 1805. It does not appear that Thomas Wheeler served during wartime, either in the Revolution or the War of 1812.

Thomas Wheeler owned two matching brass, flintlock pistols. They were manufactured by Ketland and Co., a gun maker founded in Birmingham, England. Engravings and proof marks show that the metal fittings were manufactured and certified in London, likely in the 1760s. The handles are made of walnut, although it is unknown whether the wood is American or English, since gun parts were often shipped across the Atlantic to be assembled later in the Colonies. 

Both feature half-octagonal brass barrels, a popular feature of many contemporary pistol designs. This was largely decorative, although the flat top would have assisted with sighting and the design would have provided extra reinforcement around the firing chamber. Additionally, an engraving of a rose decorates the bottom of both trigger guards, and just fore of these are two acorn-shaped finials. Both are common features on late 18th-century flintlocks, although any specific meaning of these markings has not been uncovered. Included in the collection are two fitted leather holsters for both firearms.

Thomas Wheeler carved his initials along the bottom of both barrels. However, Thomas was not their only owner, nor their first; both thumb plates are engraved with the initials “WW”. Our provenance notes for these artifacts do not list someone with these initials as an owner, so we must make an educated guess as to who the original owner likely was. 

Thomas had a brother named William, who was a soldier in the Revolution. William Wheeler was a private in the 5th Connecticut Line Regiment and he died in service in February of 1778, likely at Valley Forge. However, as a private, it is unlikely that he carried two matched firearms of this craftsmanship. 

On the Wheeler side, Thomas did not have any other direct relatives with the initials “WW”, but his mother had been born Martha Williams, of the Stonington Williams family. Thus, Thomas Wheeler had a grandfather, an uncle, and a cousin all named William Williams, and all three are possible owners. The latter is an interesting possibility; Major-General William Williams III was the Connecticut militia officer in command at the Battle of Stonington during the War of 1812. Thomas alternately may have acquired the pistols from another unknown source.

Another item of Lt. Col. Thomas Wheeler’s in our collection is his cavalry saber. The saber lacks any ornamentation or maker’s marks, but this Mameluke-style sword appears to be in the style of the British Pattern 1796 Light Cavalry Sabre, which would have been a fashionable choice for a new cavalry officer in the 1790s. Additionally, a set of Thomas Wheeler’s spurs are in our collection.

One interesting historical note for these artifacts comes from “The Stonington Battle Centennial”. It is mentioned that during the 1914 celebration of the Battle of Stonington, Benjamin Pomeroy Wheeler, Thomas Wheeler’s great-grandson, rode in the parade “carrying [an] old sword and pistols”. B.P. Wheeler left this name on a piece of tape on one of the flintlocks, and the sword mentioned is almost certainly Thomas Wheeler’s saber. This additional connection to the Battle of Stonington is an interesting correlation to the theory that Thomas’ cousin, Maj.-Gen. William Williams, had owned these pistols. Benjamin may have worn these to honor not only Thomas’ service, but also to reflect a family story that was not passed on when these items were donated in 1970.

These artifacts and their beautiful craftsmanship provide a window into the material culture of life and military service in Connecticut’s early statehood, and they draw questions about how family and those who had served were honored. Photo galleries of the two pistols, the saber, the spurs, and four military commissions, each signed by two governors of Connecticut – Oliver Wolcott and Jonathan Trumbull Jr. – can be viewed on the NLCHS website by following the link below.


Photo Gallery: Lt. Col. Thomas Wheeler’s Military Artifacts

150th Anniversary on the Horizon

With New London County Historical Society’s 150th Anniversary on the horizon, the board began considering the role of NLCHS within our community.

Founded in 1870, NLCHS is the oldest historical organization in eastern Connecticut and one of the oldest in the region. Headquartered out of the historic Shaw Mansion, NLCHS serves as stewards to a vast collection of cultural artifacts and archives.

With the next 150 years in mind, we are pleased to present our members and the community we serve with our new logo. This logo symbolizes our mission to preserve and share New London County’s rich history.

The logo represents two sides of NLCHS, our past and our future. As a nod to our forebearers, the blue and gold coloring are in honor of the Shaw family. The Shaw family were the original owners of the mansion, which has served as our headquarters since 1907. Blue and gold are the primary colors on the Shaw family crest, which hangs in our entry way. Secondly, the 13 starts represent the 13 original colonies, while the three larger star configuration in the center is another nod to the Shaw family crest.

Looking at the future of our organization the words Preserve, Educate, and Partner represent the three pillars of NLCHS. Through preservation, education and partnership with community-based organizations, NLCHS will continue to strengthen its ties within our community, and the region.

We’ve enjoyed serving our community over the last 150 years and look forward to the next 150.

Caesar Shaw: Freeman & Sailor

By: Sam Urban

Caesar Shaw was born a slave in New London on the 10th of February, 1760. He was owned by Nathaniel Shaw Jr, so he likely lived in the third floor servants’ quarters of the Shaw Mansion. At Nathaniel Shaw Jr’s untimely death in 1782 he was freed in the will that Nathaniel dictated on his deathbed. Nathaniel Shaw Jr.’s will also bequeathed him ten pounds in silver coins annually for the rest of his life; as long as he lived in New London. Ten pounds in 1782 was about $2,100 dollars in today’s money when adjusted for inflation.

It is likely that Caesar was sent to sea by his master, like many slaves in New London were at the time. The records from the late 18th century and early 19th century when Caesar was a sailor are often incomplete so we only know of two specific voyages that Caesar participated in. The first voyage was in 1795 to the West Indies on the sloop Betsey. A notarized certificate that says Caesar is a free man and an American citizen protected Caesar from runaway slave catchers and British impressment on his journey. Caesar’s second voyage to the West Indies was on the Brig Cordellia where he was employed as a cook. Caesar’s occupation as a cook tells us that at 44 years old, he was no longer capable of doing the hard work of a sailor. Caesar was on the Brig Cordellia with a crew of ten men, including one other sailor described as having ‘black’ complexion, and one having ‘copper’ complexion. It was common for 30% of the crew of a vessel to be black at this time, as sailing was a common profession for free black men, especially for ships sailing from New London.

Caesar owned two pieces of land, both in New London. One was purchased in 1792 for the price of thirty pounds, the other in 1794 from Thomas Shaw for the price of one hundred pounds. In 1779 Caesar married his first wife, Eader Deshon, whom he had three children with. Caesar outlived his first wife and all of the children from his first marriage. His son, Caesar Shaw Jr., died at the age of 31 in 1819. His wife, Eader, died in 1809. Caesar remarried within a few months to Jane Freeman. With his second wife he had four more children.

Caesar died in 1827 at the age of 68. We have more records on him than we would have on most African-Americans at the time because he was a land owner and owned by a powerful and rich family. Unfortunately we still know very little of his life or the details of his relationships and we can only infer based on what we do have. Regardless of how much information we have, his story and the story of other African-Americans in Connecticut is a part of our cultural history and a story worth telling. His obituary, in the Connecticut Gazette, reads simply, “Ceasar Shaw, a respectable man of colour, aged 68.”

Benedict Arnold’s Privateering Past

By: Steve Manuel

From Benedict Arnold to Nathaniel Shaw Jr. on August 10, 1780.

“Dear Sir,
I have taken the liberty of enclosing sundry letters, bills sale etc.; by which it appears that Capt Joseph Packwood in August 1778 sold to Capt Thomas Truxton one fourth part of the sloop John with her cargo. Amounting to £1070, lawful money, for which amount Capt. Truxton drew on me (then in Philadelphia) which draught I stood ready to honor when presented; it also appears by Capt. Packwood’s letter that he had no doubt of the draughts being honored. It also appears by the papers that the sloop made one voyage and returned safe from the West Indies in March 1779 with a cargo of rum, sugar, & Molasses; — How many voyages she has made since, or what has become of her, I have never heard. Capt. Truxton informs me that Capt. Packwood wrote him some time since, requesting him to draw two thousand pounds lawful money, part of the profits of the Voyage, and at the same time objected to his sharing in full proportion alleging for reasons, that the sloop was not paid for when bought and that the money had greatly depreciated; This is an objection that Capt. Packwood has no right to make as it was his own neglect (not the owners) that he did not present the draught and receive the money, which lay ready for him, and Capt. Packwood has had the neat profits of the voyage in his hands, as well as the vessel seventeen months. It appears to me but just after deducting the prime cost of the vessel and cargo, the balance of the proceeds should be accounted for by Capt. Packwood, and as he has had the vessel and balance in his hands and to his use since her arrival in March of 1779 or since the sales of her cargo, without advising us that we might draw for the same it is but reasonable he should make good the depreciation.

Neither Capt. Truxton or myself know if the vessel has been sold or is still running on our account I am requested by him and the other owners to beg the favor of you to inquire into the matter and make a settlement with Capt. Packwood which you think just & reasonable. If you should differ in sentiment with him I beg you will submit the affair to arbitration which I conceive he can have no reasonable objection to.— It is the wish of the owners if the vessel is in being, and not sold, to have their quarter part sold, the account closed and the balance remitted to me at this place by post or any safe private conveyance,
Your compliance will be esteemed a very particular favor done

Dr. Sir
Your most Obedient Humble Servant
B. Arnold”

Benedict Arnold was corresponding with Nathaniel Shaw Jr. in his capacity as the Navy Agent for the Continental Congress and the Colony of Connecticut. The Arnold/Shaw relationship started several months prior when Shaw invited Arnold to purchase a share of the General Putnam, a ship Shaw had built to engage in privateering. While the initial offer was appealing to Arnold, he had to decline because the cost rose to an amount he found unacceptable. In the letter above, we see that Arnold did invest in other types of voyages. Arnold now wrote to Shaw as the Navy Agent for the colony of Connecticut.

The sloop John was engaged in typical maritime trade. However Packwood sailed for Shaw a number of privateering mission, and Packwood may have been privateering after the run to the West Indies. As Arnold noted in his letter, he did not know anything of the ship’s activities after she returned with her cargo. While acting as a privateer any cargo taken by the John was subject to the congressional regulations. Shaw was responsible for ensuring the rules of the Marine Committee were followed concerning any privateer capture. Arnold had a share in the sloop and was due any profits generated by the vessel as long as he was an owner. Arnold, as owner, had a right know the activities of the John, and the right to contest the actions of Packwood in arbitration.

Shaw with his maritime background was familiar with maritime law and interacting with the courts. Prior to the Revolution, such arbitration was the province of Vice Admiralty Court. When the colonies broke away from Britain, Vice Admiralty Court was no longer available for mediating maritime disputes. While the Marine Committee provided the rules for privateering and the method for dividing profit shares among all those involved, they made no provision for the judicial process of declaring a capture legal. When the issue of maritime dispute was taken up by the Congress, it was decided to allow individual colonies to decide. Connecticut was quick to act. Unlike Massachusetts and Rhode Island, the colony did not set up an admiralty court, but appointed three county courts to hear maritime cases. As the Navy Agent Shaw worked with these courts to determine if prizes taken by privateers were legal. It was this court which would arbitrate Arnold’s complaint.

Arnold wrote this letter in August of 1780, and while there is a record of a copy being submitted to George Washington, there is no correspondence from Shaw to Arnold answering his request to send the matter to arbitration. Forty-three days later Major Andre was captured and the the entire situation was made moot.

Joshua Hempstead Diary Update

By: Patricia M. Schaefer

In April of last year I wrote an article for the newsletter about the upcoming new edition of The Diary of Joshua Hempstead 1711-1758. It is still upcoming, but there has been progress. I have finished the proofreading, Dan Connors has formatted the entire diary so that we have page numbers, and I’m mostly finished checking name index errors and additions.

This means there are two major tasks remaining: changing the page numbers in the index to match the page numbers in the new edition; and getting the diary printed. The new edition is seventeen pages longer than the last one, partly because of formatting changes, but mostly because of added content. There were a few entries added that had been suppressed by the Victorian transcribers, but most of the added content is a line here, and another one there. Most of these were simply missed, being at the end of an entry, squeezed between two other lines, or at the bottom of a page. They add up. There are a number of diary entries that make much more sense with the added line. For instance:
Tuesd 15. fair Cloudy. Samll Hide in Town. I was at home & in Town. I pd Ms Pygan 40s on Mr Winthrops accot & I Recd of him 40s 0d to buy Malt & oatmeal. Wee Mowed the orchard & Meadow. finished al in the lot at home.
The words in italics had been omitted in the previous editions.

It is difficult to find someone to do the re-numbering for a couple of reasons. It is not regular indexing work, where the indexer decides what to include and how to categorize subjects. The current index is 68 pages long (two columns), so it will take quite a while to do. And probably most importantly, we have no money to pay this person.

At the moment, the Hempstead diary fund balance is a bit over $2,500. The estimate Dan received from a printer was $4,000 for 200 copies. This is far greater than the printing costs for the 1999 edition—no surprise, given the way everything else has gone up—and grants for publishing have pretty much vanished.

All this is to say we need your help in two ways. One, of course, is financial. A donation (or a second donation) to the Hempstead diary project would be both helpful and greatly appreciated.

The other need is for help with re-numbering the pages of the index entries. The task would be more manageable in smaller chunks, say A-C, D-F, etc. If several people (who are willing to be careful and not too proud to ask for help with questions) each took one section, it might be possible to get the index done in the foreseeable future, before the price of publishing goes up again.
Patricia M. Schaefer