A STATED Meeting of the Society was held, at the invitation of Mr. Allyn B. Forbes, at No. 18 Traill Street, Cambridge, on Thursday, April 22, at half after eight o’clock in the evening, the President, Samuel Eliot Morison, in the chair.
The records of the last Stated Meeting were read and approved.
The Corresponding Secretary reported that letters had been received from Mr. Jerome Davis Greene and Dr. Henry Rouse Viets accepting Resident Membership in the Society.
Mr. Verner Winslow Crane, of Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Mr. James Alexander Williamson, of London, England, were elected Corresponding Members; and Mr. George Gregerson Wolkins, of Newton, was elected an Associate Member of the Society.
The President appointed the following committees in anticipation of the Annual Meeting:
To nominate candidates for the several offices,—Stephen Willard Phillips, Matt Bushnell Jones, and Stewart Mitchell.
To examine the Treasurer’s accounts,—Allston Burr, Bentley Wirt Warren.
Mr. Robert E. Peabody read a paper entitled:
A Voyage to the Mediterranean
during the Napoleonic Wars
AT the Essex Institute there are carefully preserved in scrapbooks many of the business papers and letters of Elias Hasket Derby of Salem, who was one of the leading American shipowners and merchants in the period directly following the Revolution. Among these papers are a series of letters written by Elias Hasket Derby, Jr., master of the ship Mt. Vernon, on a voyage to the Mediterranean in 1799 and 1800 during the period of the Napoleonic Wars, and these furnish such a good description of a typical voyage in those troublous times that they deserve a place in this Society’s Publications.
Carrying on a West Indies and Spanish business established by his father in colonial days, Elias Hasket Derby, Sr., engaged in privateering during the Revolution, and after the war extended his trading operations to China and the East Indies. His ships were well known in such distant places as Canton, Calcutta, Batavia, the Cape of Good Hope, St. Petersburg, and Hamburg, as well as in such nearer ports of the West Indies as Havana, Martinique, and Barbados. American vessels were then subject, not only to the ordinary perils of the sea, but also to the constant danger of capture by privateers in search of booty, or by men-of-war of the various European nations who maintained the right to seize any ships bound to an enemy port. Most of Derby’s ships were, therefore, fully armed to resist attack, and the commanders had to be navigator, trader, and naval officer all in one.
Although Derby’s business after the Revolution was principally with the East Indies, by 1799 the wars in Europe had caused prices so to rise that there were excellent opportunities for profitable trading ventures in that part of the world. In 1798, Derby had Retire Becket, the well-known Salem shipbuilder, construct for him a fine ship of 350 tons, 100 feet long and 28 foot beam, and in January, 1799, she was completed and named the Mt. Vernon. As she was the best in his fleet, he gave the command to his thirty-three-year-old son, Captain Elias Hasket Derby, Jr., who had already made several East India voyages as master of his father’s ships. Captain Derby had under him a crew of thirty-four, consisting of three mates, a gunner, a boatswain, two carpenters, a sailmaker, twenty-one seamen, a steward, two cooks, and two boys. The Mt. Vernon carried an armament of twenty guns and was thus in a position to resist attack from anything but a fully armed man-of-war. For her first voyage the elder Derby decided to send his new ship on a short trip to Cuba, which would give an opportunity for trying her out before sending her to more distant ports, and on February 21, 1799, the Mt. Vernon sailed from Salem for Havana practically empty, having in her holds only 200 barrels of flour, 28 casks of cheese, and 12 casks of sherry, the whole valued at $2,911. But Captain Derby took with him in his strong-box 32,000 gold dollars and 11,698 dollars in bills on Havana. On March 13, the Mt. Vernon arrived at Havana, where Captain Derby disposed of his small cargo and invested his specie and bills in a full cargo of sugar, and on April 26 she sailed again for Salem with 1,198 boxes of sugar and 400 sacks of coffee, the two items together valued at $49,448. The Mt. Vernon arrived in Salem on May 23, but apparently only a small part of her cargo was discharged as Mr. Derby decided that he could obtain a better market for the sugar in Europe.
At that particular time the United States was on unusually good terms with England, whereas our former ally, the French, had so harassed American commerce that the United States was almost at war with them. The various missions sent from this country to Paris to settle matters got but scant recognition from the constantly changing French authorities, whilst the English just at this period were extremely conciliatory to the Americans in order to gain their coöperation against Napoleon. The defeat of the French in the battles of the Nile and the Trebia and the English domination over the Kingdom of Naples made it look at that time as if Napoleon would be stopped in his ambitious programme. Mr. Derby accordingly decided to send the Mt. Vernon to Gibraltar, then, as now, a British stronghold, and to dispose of her cargo of sugar either there or in any other Mediterranean port where the ravages of war had created a demand for this commodity. Accordingly on July 11, 1799, the Mt. Vernon, still under command of his son, sailed from Salem for Gibraltar with a cargo of 800 boxes of sugar valued at $43,272. The voyage is best described by the following letter of Captain Derby to his father, written on his arrival at Gibraltar.
Gibraltar 1st August 1799
I think you must be surprised to find me here so early. I arrived at this port in 17½ days from the time my Brother left the Ship, in 8 days & 7 hours were up with Corvo & made Cape St Vincents in 16 days. The first of our passage was quite agreable—the later part light winds, calmes & Frenchmen constantly in sight for the 4 last days. The Frenchman we saw off of the Island of Terceira, a Lugger to the northd. Being uncertain of his force we stood by him to Leward on our course & soon left him. On the 28 July in the afternoon we found ourselves approaching a fleet of 50 Sail. Running direct for their center, at 4 oclock found ourselves directly in their half moon. Concluded it imposible that it should be any other than the English Fleet, determin’d to run for their center to avoid any appearance of a want of confidence in them. They soon dispatched an 18 Gun Ship from their center & two Frigates, one from the Van & one from their Reir, to beat towards us, we being to windd. On approaching under easy sail the center Ship, I fortunately bethought myself that it would be but common prudence to stear so far to windward of him as to be about a good grape shott’s distance from him, to observe his force & maneuvering. When we were abrest of him he fired a friendly Gun to leward & hoisted English Colours. We immediately bore down and went to pass under his Quarter between him & the Fleet, showing our American Colours. This movement disconcerted him & it appeared to me he conceived we were either an American Sloop of War or an English one in disguise, attempting to cut him off from the Fleet; for whilst we were in the act of wearing on his Beam, he hoisted French Colours & gave us his Broad side. We immediately brought our ship to the wind, stood I mile beyond, wore towards the center of the Fleet, hove about & crossed him on the other tack about half grape shot distance & received his Broad side, many of which fell on Board & cut our sails, & two round shot struck us without much damage. All hands were active in clearing Ship for action, for our surprise had been compleat. In about 10 minutes we commenced our stern chases & in 14 or 15 gave him our Broad side in such stile as evidently sickend him; for he immediately luffed in the wind, gave his lea Broad side, went in Stays in great confusion, wore his Ship in a large circle & renewed the chase at a mile & half distance, a menuvre calculated to keep up appearances with his Fleet and to distance our shott. We received 7 or 8 of his Broad sides & I was mortifyed at not having it in my power to return him an equal number without exposing myself to the rest of the Fleet, for I am satisfyed I should have had the pleasure of sending him home had he been separated from the Fleet. At 12 at Night we had distanced their chasing Rockets signals almost out of sight & soon left them.1220
We then kept ourselves in constant preperation till my arrivall here & indeade it has been requisite; for we have been in constant brushes ever since. The day after we left the Fleet were chased till night by 2 Frigates whom we lost in the dark. The next morning off of Cape St. Vincents in the Latitude of Cadiz were chased by a French Latteen rigged Vessel apparently of 10 or 12 guns one of them an 18 pounder, for whom we lay too. His Mettle was too heavy for ours & his position to windd, where he lay just in a situation to cast his shott over us, would not allow me to cut him off. We of course bore away & saluted him with our long Nines. He contd in chase till dark when we were near by Cadiz. At sun set he made a signal to his consort a large Lugger whome we had just made ahead with a strong Breese & over whome we were determined to pass our stern did not he make way for us. He thought prudent so to do & let us pass. At midnight we made the lights in Cadiz Town, but no English Fleet. After Laying too till daylight concluded that the French must have gained the ascendency in Cadiz & thought prudent to proceed to this place where we arrived at 12 o’clock popping at Frenchmen all the forenoon. At 10 o’clock off Algeceras Point was seriously attacked by a large Lattiner who had on board better than 100 men. He came so near to our Broadside as to allow our 6 pound grape to do execution. We gave it him handsomely, then bore away & gave him our 4 stern guns in a cool and deliberate manner, doing apparently great execution, our bars having cut his sails considerably. He was hove into a confusion & struck both his Ensigns & Pendant. I was then pusseled to know what to do with so many men, our ship was running large with all her steering sails, Ringtail & Water sail out so that we could not immediately bring her to the wind & we were directly off of Algeciras Point from whence I had reason to fear she might receive assistance & my port of Safty, the Rock of Gibralter, in full view were circumstances that induced me to give up the gratification of bringing him in. It was however a satisfaction to lick the rascle in full view of the English Fleet who were to Leward.
The risque of sending here is great indeed for any ship short of our force in men and guns but particularly in heavy guns. I have now whilst writing you two of our Countrymen from above in view who are prises to these Villins. Lord St. Vincents in a 50 Gun Ship bound for England is just this minute in the act of retaking one of them, the other goes into Algeciras without molestation. I finde that nothing is to be done here to advantage but the obtaining of information from above. I have been offered 30 Dollars to delliver my Sugar at Naples where I think I shall go, but rather expect to sell either at Venice, Constantinople or Genoa in case the French are driven from the last place. I have concluded to touch at Malaga in Compy with Capt. Young of Boston & obtain what information I can & I think I may direct Mr. White how to lay out the property in his hands against my return as I think it for your interest to have it out of Spain. You need have but little apprehensions for my safety as my crew are remarkably well trained & are perfectly disposed to defende themselves & I think after having cleared ourselves from the whole French Line in so handsome a manner you may well conclude that we can affect almost anything. If I should go to Constantinople it will be with a passport from Admiral Nelson to whome I carry a letter to Naples; but it is not imposible I may come directly home from Naples. The English Fleet left this on the 30 July in pursuit of the French. They have been unluckey in their winds or they must have had them. My crew as well as myself are in fine health & spirits, none of them have wounded though so many shotts came on board & there are but few shott marks on our Ship exceptg 6 went through the M. T. G. Sail. Were obliged to blow away our stern Boat in firing on the Enemy. You need not expect to hear of any trouble with Malaga for their shores are as clear of Frenchmen as are the coasts of America. Till my next I am your affectionate son,
Elias Hasket Derby, Junr.
Captain Derby was making preparations to continue his voyage to Naples when he met in Gibraltar one John Williams of Baltimore, who had just sold a cargo of brandy and was anxious to invest the proceeds in a new venture. It appears that Derby, Sr., also had a credit for some goods previously sold at the neighboring port of Malaga. Captain Derby accordingly joined with Williams in the charter of an American brig, the Three Friends, Captain Allen, which was then lying in port, and with their joint credits and notes on London they purchased a cargo of sugar, coffee, cocoa, and tobacco, with which they loaded her. On August 18, the Mt. Vernon and the Three Friends sailed for Naples in company with two other American ships, the four keeping together for mutual protection. The Three Friends, however, proved to be such a slow sailer that most of the way she was towed by the Mt. Vernon, but the log tells that even with “the brig in tow the Mt. Vernon sails 1/3 faster than the other ships.” On August 23, without meeting any hostile craft on the way, the little fleet arrived at Palermo. The markets at this port, however, were not encouraging, and after a week’s stop the four American ships once more got under way, and on September 2, anchored in the Bay of Naples.
For the past year Naples had been the scene of revolution and bloodshed. King Ferdinand and Queen Carolina of Naples had been much alarmed at the growing power that the French Republicans were exerting over Europe, and in 1798, with the hope of aid from England and Austria, they made so bold as to declare war on France. This resulted in the French turning on them, and in January, 1799, a French army, aided by the Neapolitan Republicans, captured Naples. The king and queen fled to Palermo where they set up their court. In the meantime, a few months earlier, Nelson, returning with his fleet from the Battle of the Nile, had stopped in at Naples where he had made the acquaintance of the famous Lady Hamilton, wife of the British minister to the Neapolitan court. Largely through her influence he was induced to espouse the cause of her friend, Queen Carolina, and to lend his aid in an attempt to regain Carolina’s capital. A Neapolitan army was organized throughout the kingdom, which, after much fighting, reached Naples in June, 1799, while Nelson, acting as a Neapolitan admiral, attacked the city from the sea with his British fleet. The Republicans were driven out, many of the captured being put to death. The king and queen and Sir William and Lady Hamilton returned to Naples, and Nelson and his fleet remained lying in the bay.
Such was the situation when, a few weeks later, the four American ships, headed by the Mt. Vernon, arrived in port. Owing to the almost continuous fighting of the past year, there was a great dearth of many necessities, and the cargoes of the Mt. Vernon and the chartered brig, the Three Friends, met with a ready market. On the twenty-ninth of October Captain Derby wrote his father from Naples as follows:
Naples, 29 Octr 1799
That this may find you in better health than when I left you is my sincear wish. It has been an unhappy circumstance in my voyage that I cannot bring it to a close agreeable to your wishes this fall without too great sacrifises. My manufactured Silks cannot be ready & the Red Wine of Port Iolo is not yet in season to Ship. My Sales have been handsome though not quite so great as I could have wished. I have been obliged to use a great deal of address & exersize all ray patience to effect them. They will amot to about 120 Thousand Dollars. I have bought 16 Brass Guns at 1/ Sterling pr pound expecting them to be as good a return as almost anything. Allso 65 Boxes Manna & 8770 lb Liquorice, 16 or 18 hundred Dollars in Ladys & Mens Gloves, the same sum in Ladies Shoes, which with an Invoice of Brushes & some other small matters, together with fifty Thousand Dolls contracted for principaly in Ormazine Silks, some Black, White & Coulrd Sattins, about seven Hundred Casks of Wine in 58 Galls French fashioned Casks at about 12 Dollars, I expect will compose the Mount Vernons cargo for America.
In the mean time whilst the Silks are in the Looms I have thought it for your Interest to purchase two Polacker riggd Ships of 290 & 310 Tons, both of them very fine Ships allmost new & great sailers. They are now ready to procede with the Mount Vernon for Manfredonia to take on your acct Cargoes of Wheat to Leghorn, which from the rising state of the Market I think will more than clear the Ships. The cost with all expences about 16 Thousand Dollars & By means of the Brass Guns & others bought with them they Mount 12 & 14 Sixes. Wages 9 Dolls pr Month. I think if I have the good fortune to bring them safe home you will allow either of them to eaqual the Mount Vernon. My present intentions is to make all the Dispatch in my power to return with the three Vessels to this place & load them with Wine for Salem, which will be in some preperation for them. I hope the arrangement will meet your approbation for I assure you I did not know how I should otherways invest my funds. Exchange on London besides the uncertainty of it is very disadvantageous. To invest 100 Thousand Dollars in Silks would not certainly do & to leave property in a disturbed Country where they Gillotine 6 a Day, 3 or 4 times a week would be madness. Mr. Bruce takes the Lucy & Mr. Dana the Nancy, named for my sister Pickman. They are both well off for Officers & I trust with Mr. Collins & others I shall do perfectly well. If we are fortunate I shall be here in two months or at furtherest I trust in 10 weeks to take my Manufactures & Wines for home, so that in March or April I may count on being home & I think with a good Voyage. We are in fine Health & Spirits.
The news in this Country is that Suvarov has beaten the French in Switzerland in a terrible Battle loosing himself 4000 horse & 10,000 Men, killing 15 Thousand French & 20 Thousand Prisoners. Buonapart has assumed the Turks, put on their Dress, married a Turkish Lady, calls himself Ali something else, is building a Mosk & declared himself the Chief of Cairo. His situation was desperate but tis said he is now successful. I am with many wishes for yours & the Familys Wellfare, Your Affectionate Son,
Elias Hasket Derby, junr.
P. S. The English Minister, Lord Nelson & Commodore Trobridge have been very polite to me.
While carrying on these profitable transactions at Naples, Captain Derby several times enjoyed the hospitality of Sir William Hamilton and of Lord Nelson. One of Captain Derby’s descendants thus describes an amusing incident that took place on the British flagship.
Mr. Derby was invited by Lord Nelson to dine with him and the officers of the fleet at Naples, and was called upon to relate his encounter with the French fleet, for which he was much commended. In the course of the evening, one of the English officers, becoming a little excited, began to inveigh against the ingratitude of the United States, in throwing off her allegiance to the mother country. Mr. Derby disarmed his opponent and restored the good-humor of the company by stating that they did not understand the true causes of the Revolution; that the colonists, like themselves, had a great fancy for punch and Madeira and were disturbed by a set of custom-house harpies, who were constantly seizing their wine and spoiling their lemons by running their rapiers through the boxes, and they fought, as any true Briton would, for their punch and their Madeira.
It is evident that both Nelson and Hamilton assisted Captain Derby considerably while he was at Naples. Nelson gave him a signed passport which is still one of the cherished heirlooms of the Derby family; and Captain Derby’s debt to these two men is further evidenced by a letter that he wrote on his arrival at Manfredonia to the English consul in Naples: “I take this opportunity of requesting you to return my most sincear acknowledgments to Sir William and Lady Hamilton for their polite attention to me and particularly to my Lord Nelson whose goodness will always be remembered with the utmost gratitude.”
On November 8, Captain Derby sailed in the Mt. Vernon from Naples for Manfredonia. This port is on the eastern coast of Italy, and a voyage there involved a trip around the bottom of Italy and up into the Adriatic. As mentioned in Captain Derby’s letter to his father, already quoted, he took with him the two polacca-rigged vessels which he had purchased at Naples. The little fleet had a most tempestuous voyage around the Italian coasts with head winds which badly buffeted the empty ships. On November 28, the Mt. Vernon and her convoy arrived at Manfredonia after a passage of three weeks, although overland from Naples to Manfredonia the distance is not more than one hundred miles. From Manfredonia Captain Derby wrote to his agents in Naples:
My wheat is all ready, and I hope in a fortnight to be able to proceed for Leghorn. We arrived here yesterday after a most tedious passage—thirteen days in sight of Corfu; were fired on by two Turkish polaccas, but on answering their shot they made off; one of them a 20-gun ship went after leaving us and anchored under Cape Coloma; the other of 18 or 20 guns was off Cape Otranto. They have succeeded in taking from what they tell me here eleven different polaccas.
Although Captain Derby anticipated only a fortnight’s stay at Manfredonia, it was a month before his three ships loaded their cargoes of wheat and sailed for Leghorn. This port is at the northern end of the western coast of Italy, and thus the little fleet had to retrace its course around the heel and toe of Italy and up into the Gulf of Genoa. They reached Leghorn early in February, 1800, and Captain Derby’s most sanguine expectations were realized when he sold all three cargoes at an excellent profit over and above the expenses of the expedition. He writes in one of his letters: “The two polacca-ships which I had bought with my own funds have cleared me near $30,000 in 2½ months.” Thus he had kept his ships profitably employed while his homeward cargo for America was in preparation at Naples. Moreover, in another letter he wrote: “I shall now decidedly be able to invest more than $160,000 home including the ships.” As the Mt. Vernon had sailed from Salem seven months before with a cargo invoiced at $43,000, Captain Derby had certainly every reason to be pleased with the success of his voyage thus far. But unfortunately Elias Hasket Derby, Sr., the owner of the ship and cargo, never knew of the success attendant on the Mt. Vernon’s voyage, for while his son was carrying on his transactions in Naples, the famous merchant had passed away at his home in Salem, although the sad news did not reach Captain Derby until his arrival in Leghorn. This event made Captain Derby all the more anxious to complete his voyage, and after discharging his wheat and finishing his affairs at Leghorn, he set sail with his three ships for Naples on March 8, and with a fair northerly wind anchored under the shadow of Vesuvius after a passage of forty hours.
On his return to Naples Captain Derby found that his father’s brig Cruger had recently arrived from Salem and had disposed of an American cargo, and that her captain was about to lay out the proceeds in a cargo for Salem. Thus four Derby ships were lying in the Bay of Naples at one time. It is evident that Captain Derby felt that four cargoes from Naples were too many to take home at one time. He accordingly sold one of the polacca-ships, and the other he loaded for Gibraltar, while the cargo for America, consisting of ormazine silks, various satins, and 700 casks of red wine, together with various lesser items, was loaded on board the Mt. Vernon and the Cruger. When about ready to sail, Captain Derby was approached by a young Italian artist, Michael Felice Corné, who, weary of his service in the Neapolitan army against the French, was anxious to get to America. Captain Derby gave him a passage in the Mt. Vernon, and thus there came to this country a man who established a reputation as one of the leading marine artists of the time. Many of his paintings are to be seen today in the Peabody Museum at Salem. The Mt. Vernon was his favorite subject, and his paintings of this ship in her engagement with the French fleet and with the French privateers off Gibraltar are among the best in the Peabody Museum.
In the latter part of April the Mt. Vernon, the Cruger, and the remaining polacca sailed from Naples and early in May arrived at Gibraltar. Here the polacca and her cargo were sold, and on May 28 the Mt. Vernon and Cruger sailed for Salem. The Mt. Vernon reached her home port on July 7, after a year’s absence, and the Cruger arrived three weeks later. The sale of their cargoes resulted in a net profit of about $100,000.
The Mt. Vernon’s was the last of the many great trading voyages undertaken by Elias Hasket Derby, Sr. His sons were left in such comfortable circumstances that none of them displayed the vigor of their father to carry on the business. The Mt. Vernon and the other ships were sold to settle the estate, and the Derby flag soon disappeared from the seas.
Mr. Samuel E. Morison presented the following paper:
The Letter-Book of Hugh Hall
Merchant of Barbados, 1716–1720
THE Harvard College Library has recently received as a loan the letter-book of Hugh Hall, merchant of Barbados, from 1716 to 1720. The letters are all written in a neat hand in a calf-bound blankbook of some 275 pages, the last few pages serving as an index. This book is owned by the writer’s descendant, Mrs. Jerome W. Coombs, of Scarsdale, New York. Some fifty years ago, three letters from it, written to Benning Wentworth, the future governor of New Hampshire, were printed,1221 but otherwise it does not seem to have been used.
Hugh Hall was born in Barbados about 1693, the son of Hugh Hall (1673–1732), merchant, judge of admiralty and councillor for Barbados. The elder Hall was engaged in trade with Boston, where he passed much of his time, and where he married three successive wives. Our Hugh was his son by the first wife, Lydia, daughter of Benjamin and Lydia (Scottow) Gibbs of Boston. She died when Hugh was a small boy; but her mother, who appears in the letter-book as “Mrs.” or “Madam” Colman, lived to a ripe old age, having married (2) Anthony Checkley, attorney-general of Massachusetts Bay, and (3) William Colman, father of the famous Reverend Benjamin Colman of the Brattle Square Church.
After the age of six or seven, Hugh lived in Boston under his grandmother Colman’s care. He graduated from Harvard at the head of the small Class of 1713, remained in residence after taking his bachelor’s degree, and delivered an oration at his master’s Commencement in 1716. A letter to President Leverett, written in February, 1717, indicates that he had “Inclinations … to a Pastoral Function,” which President Leverett encouraged, but his father discouraged. Even before he graduated, Hugh was selling consignments from his father in Boston, and he saved up so much from his allowance as to surprise his father and earn a bonus from the fond parent. This pointed to a business career, and business won. Our letter-book opens in November, 1716, with a letter from Hugh to Joseph Parsons, merchant in Boston, telling about his voyage home.1222
From this letter it appears that Hall sailed from Boston, October 11, 1716, suffered damage in a northeast storm and a southwest gale, “Entred ye Trade Winds” on the twenty-fourth, and arrived at Barbados, November 5. There he was greeted by his father, who took him into partnership. Although young Hall disliked “those Wooden Worlds called Ships; besides ye Profanity, Nonsense, & Anarchy, which is ones Continual Entertainment” on board, he did not care to remain in Barbados all his life; and in the spring of 1717 he made a voyage to London, with sundry adventures in goods and all the letters of introduction that he could obtain in Barbados or Boston.1223 The voyage lasted from April 6 to May 22, when Hall and the other impatient passengers were put ashore at Seaford, Sussex, from the ship which was becalmed. At London his “train of Recomendations” introduced him to “several Members of Parliament, & an Intimacy with men of bright Characters and good Figure.”1224 He writes to his college mate, Benning Wentworth, commenting on the ferocity of the Whig and Tory politicians and their ladies, and on the patches then worn on the face by fashionable ladies:
Another Remark I have made is that ye Female Furios of both Parties have lately made great Proficiency in the two Liberal Sciences of Astronomy & Geometry, & their Problems are Exactly Adapted to their Distinctions. The Tories of ye first Rank place their Patches in Parabolick, others Elliptick, & the Adorers of Ptolomey in Circular Orbs, & ye meaner Sort offer at ye Constellations, which very Appositely Answers their Character of high Flyers.—The Whiggish or Low Church Ladies have such profound Knowledge in Geometry that all ye Diagrams in Euclid are Exactly delineated in their faces, & they can as easily describe an Octaedrum in a given Cube, or acquaint You the Proportion ye Cone has to ye Cylinder of ye same Base & height; as to bisect a Right line, or raise a Perpendicular.
It soon appears that one purpose of Hall’s visit to London was to make connections in the highly respectable and remunerative “Guinea Busieness.” An obstacle was the “Barbarous Usage of several Gentlemen” in London “by some of our Barbadians,” said barbarity having nothing to do with the treatment of slaves, but with slow and short remittances for black goods received. Mr. J. Horagan, an Irish merchant resident at “Seralion,” is assured that any commands he may deliver to Hugh Hall in Barbados will be discharged with “Fidelity, Industry, & Integrity.” To President Leverett, Hall writes that he is sending to the college library, “as a small Testimony of ye Regard” he owes to alma mater (which he translated “my Beautiful Mother”) a copy of Bishop Beveridge’s Thesaurus Theologicus in four volumes,1225 together with “a Dissertation of Atheism.” Hall seems always to have kept up a certain interest in the college. In February, 1718, he writes from Barbados to his former chum, William Welsteed:
It is now nigh two Years since I left my Beautiful Mother of Cambridge, & have not yet had the Favour of one Line (either Salutatory of Congratulatory) from some of my Brethren, who seemingly Caress’d me with ye highest Affection, & made me Repeated Promises of a liberal Correspondence; but now like too great a part of ye World, can’t Spare a few Minutes of an Elemosinary Hour, to Entertain an Absent Friend with the Occurrences of his Country.… I should next have launch’t out into Satyr, but Methought I saw You spinning Conclusions of Your Neglect, & Promising an Atonement by an Imediate Apology; which if according to my Expect[at]ions, I Assure You I Intend to present You with several very Pleasant Observations I made while in England, & particularly my Speculations while at ye Two Famous Universities of Oxford & Cambridge, wth some other Entertaining Sketches in my Travells; & perhaps may let You know what sort of People we Hottentotts are, how Governed, what Curiosities of Art & Nature we boast of; what Proportion we are to ye seed of Cham here, An Account of the Nature of ye Air, Soil, Produce, & several Other things, which I Persuade my self will be well Accepted if only as Coming from,
Yor Quondam Chamber-Mate
H. Hall Junr
I hope You take this as one Continued Run of thought; & nothing Studied, or Affected.
Besides visiting Oxford and Cambridge and the country seats of merchants to whom he had letters of introduction, Hall selected dry goods for his father’s store and invested an adventure in citron-water, consigned to him by his mother, in “Gauze Scarves, Embroidered Aprons, Ribbonds,” and millinery wares. The Oxford Dictionary defines citron-water as “a liquor made from brandy flavoured with citron-or lemon-peel.” An example of this very year, 1718, describes a lady retiring “to her Citron Bottle, under the pretence of devotion.” Presumably the spirit in Barbadian citron-water was rum, and the fruit, lime. Hall sold the consignment in London for 10s a quart, which seems a good price, especially since he complains that it was full of specks and that the sugar had not made “flowers” in the liquor.1226
By January, 1718, Hall was back in Barbados, writing bread-and-butter letters to the merchants who had entertained him in London. His efforts to get in on the slave trade were evidently successful, for in February, 1718, he is writing to Samuel Betteress and Company of London about the disposal of a cargo of black ivory consigned to him in a sloop:
We have sold ye Number of Seventy one Negroes, of which Forty three are Men, seven Woemen, Fifteen Boys, & Six Girls; whose whole Amount is Nineteen Hundred & thirty five Pounds, which surmounts Twenty Seven Pounds per head, one wth Another, & question not but ye whole might have Come out at Twenty five or more per head, were it not for ye small Pox & Flux, which took several of them down badly, even after they were Landed; so that we were Oblig’d imediately to Return such on Board, to be with those of them that were Retained on ye like Occasion: as well to prevent Spreading ye Infection among ye rest, as to keep ye Misfortune from being known, whereby ye Sale would have been greatly Prejudiced.… But these are such Accidents that can’t be Prevented; & it was a great happiness Capta Longbottom had so fortunate a Passage hither, otherwise ye Voyage (to all humane Appearance) would have been Entirely Ruin’d, by two such Malignant Distempers, amongst ye Negroes, & at ye same time destitute of a Doctor.
One of the unfortunate articles in this consignment turned out to be blind, and some suffered from “a strange Distemper of sore Eyes,” which, according to Hall, was “oweing to their Feeding on Rice only.” The proceeds of this black cargo were invested in white sugar. Apparently there was great rivalry in Barbados to receive slave consignments, for Hall writes to Samuel Betteress on March 29, 1718:
I am Aprized that some Interlopers or Understroppers (Men of scarce Com̄on Probity) have Infused Unaccountable Notions of their sole Capacity of Acting in ye Guinea Busieness, & Amused Capta Longbotham with some Innuendo’s of their Gigantick Expectations from You, with some Insipid Ah Butts to our Agency thô at ye same time Acknowledging ye Extraordinary Sale we made of Your Negroes, & Unparrallel’d Dispatch of Your Sloop I mention these things only to Let You into ye Barbarous & Rascally Method some Guinea Factors here take to get into that Busieness, & not as any Vindication of our Character; for we can’t be Conscious of ye least Injustice in Your whole Affairs, having Acted according to that Innate Principle of doing as we would be done by:….
Messrs. Betteress were not satisfied with the proceeds of this adventure in human flesh, and threatened, to Hugh’s great grief, to send their next consignment to another factor. Apparently they made good this promise, for Hugh Hall handled no more Guinea cargoes, although we find him purchasing slaves from Guinea ships for his Virginia correspondents.
Hugh’s next voyage, in 1718, was to Boston, in order to put brother Richard in school, settle an “Hereditary Estate,” and make a little money. To Madam Mary Lascelles of Stoke Newington, near London, he addresses a “Solemn Reflection upon a Storm mett with at Sea,” composed by himself, and of which two stanzas will suffice as a sample:
1. To Those that Travell thrô the Seas,
the Lord is their Defence;
His Wisdom always is their Guide,
their Help Omnipotence.
2. In Foreign Realms & Lands Remote,
Supported by thy Care;
Thrô different Climes I’ve Pass’d in health,
Yet Breathed Malignant Air.
In an amusing letter from Boston to his friend John Timbs, at London, he confesses that he is also in search of a wife, and quotes Milton’s “Hail, Wedded Love!” to offset the Earl of Rochester’s satire on marriage.
A letter to his father on a dispute over the family estate may be of interest to historians of colonial law:
I perceive from ye Advice of my best Friends, as well as ye most Eminent Attorneys here, I am Foreclosed by an Act we have, for Determining Cases in Equity; which Allows but three Yeares after ye Mortgagee is in Possession for the Vender, Mortgager or his Heirs (without any Respect to Non-Age or Infancy) to bring a Suit of Redemption; & therefore they have Thought it ye most Prudent & Safe Way to make up Amicably with ye Legatees of Capta Richards, & rather Allow ye Interest of ye Execution, if they Insist on it, than Contend with them: After which Mr Valentine (our most Celebrated Lawyer) Advices me not to Assert my Property as Heir to my Grandfather Mr Gibbs, but to get Annext to ye Assignment of ye Execution a Bill of Sale,—which makes me a Purchaser; & since by ye Aforemention’d Act the Estate is theirs, it will Secure me against ye Attempts of Capta Checkleys Children, & he beleives Discourage them from Making any Claim.
Another letter to a London merchant shows that Hall brought with him from Barbados for sale in Boston some Russia linen, “German Rolls,” silk druggets, hunting saddles, and horn buttons, and disposed of them to good advantage. He also handled an adventure of his father’s and laid out the proceeds in fish, train oil, and “four boxes of Mold Wax Candles.” In the course of the summer he received from his father an “Adventure of Iron,”1227 and returned several hogsheads of oats and “Sixteen barrells of Onyons.” In the fall of 1718, after settling the estate, he returned to Barbados.
Another commission that Hugh had to perform in Boston was to see to the education of his younger brother and sister, Richard and Sarah. Dick lived with his Grandmother Colman, and was placed at “our best Gramar School” (the Boston Latin), under Nathaniel Williams,1228 who had to dismiss him in 1720; but eventually he entered Harvard and graduated in 1726. Little Sarah was a very modern “problem child.” At the age of eight she flounced out of Grandmother Colman’s with her personal maid because grandma refused to supply wine with her meals! Hugh ordered her to return, which she did; but he completely washed his hands of the little minx, so that our curiosity as to her later goings-on is not gratified.1229
By January, 1719, Hugh Hall was back in Barbados. Henceforth his letters are mainly of trade. To a London merchant he sent an order in 1719 which suggests that Samuel Sewall’s taste for gaudy funerals was equally prevalent in Barbados;
We are also of Opinion that a Compleat Sortment of all Species for the Supplying of Funeralls (such as black Lutestrings, broad & Narrow Alamodes, & white Sarcenetts, broad & narrow Love Crapes, & Italian Crapes, Black & white broad Taffety Ribbon, black Sham̄ey Gloves for Men, Woemen, Boys & Girls & ditto Shooes for Woemen. Mens & Woemens black Silk Hose, Mourning Fans, Girdles, & Buckles for Shooes & Girdles, black Sewing Silk & black thread, Silk & Worsted black Ferretts, black broad Cloath for Men & Woemen, black Rashes, Serges, Duroys, Poplins, & Perpetuana’s which on such Occasions do generally Sell off better than other Goods, & the Debts Contracted thereon (which is Unavoidable in all Traffick here) are not altogether so Precarious as in other Cases, & is for those very Reasons fully Intended to be Pursued on our own Accounts as soon as we shall have Fixt a Circular Method of Remittances hence to Virginia & Maryland, & thence by Bills to London.…
For “Colonel Samuel Brown, Esq. and Company” of Salem he sells lumber and fish; to several Virginia merchants—William Short, John Scott, Lewis Conner, William Edwards—he sends prices current and solicits business; from Henry and Nathaniel Harrison of Virginia he receives a sloop-load of pork and grain, and returns slaves, rum, and sugar. Mrs. Nathaniel Harrison sent a present to Mrs. Hall of a mocking bird, which did not survive the voyage. Among Hall’s mercantile correspondents are Messrs. Carroll1230 and Garrett of Annapolis, Maryland, who send him Irish salt beef and pork; “John Rogers at New Castle, N: England,” John Coit of Marblehead, Andrew Faneuil, John Carnes, John Binning, John Stevens, Daniel Oliver, Captain Thomas Burnton, and Francis Wilks of Boston. For Samuel Gerrish, bookseller of Boston, he purchases “part of an Old Library here at a Cheap Rate.” The greater part of his business appears to be handling peas, beans, oats, soap, candles, pork, beef, fish, lumber, and live sheep from New England; tobacco, grain, and meat from Virginia; the same and flour from Maryland; saddlery, clocks, and watches, dry goods and clothing from London; and wine from Madeira. The New Englanders took their returns chiefly in sugar, with some of the London goods; the Virginians in slaves, molasses, cocoa, limejuice, and sugar; and the London merchants in sugar and rum. Some Virginia tobacco and muscovado sugar is sent to Hall’s correspondent in Newfoundland, Joshua Winslow of Boston. Most of the adventures are very small—eight barrels of pork, for instance, the proceeds of which, perhaps with an additional credit, are invested in one tierce and one barrel of rum, and one barrel of sugar. On one occasion a certain Captain Cock “in Running down his Latitude Mist our Island & so went for Antegoa.” To his grandmother, Mrs. Colman, with whom he is in constant correspondence, Hall sends “a barrell of musco Sugar for Your own Use with a Cag of Tamerinds & two dozn of Coker-Nutts for your Self and Children, & by Capta Ellery who will Sail in three or four dayes I Intend You a Cask of Cocoa for Your own Chocolate.”
The last letter in the book is dated July 18, 1720. It was doubtless followed by a whole shelf of letter-books; for Hall eventually settled in Boston, became one of the most prominent merchants there, and lived until June 13, 1773. Yet he does not seem to have been happy either as a correspondent or as a merchant; imports are often complained of as of poor quality spoiled by ill stowage or leaky vessels, or arriving in a dull market; exports can only be purchased at a high price; rival merchants attempt to deprive him of business; shipmasters are careless, and seamen full of villainy. Correspondents are put off by excuses, and amused by sallies of macaroni-like wit rather than satisfied by solid remittances. Possibly this was the manner of speaking among Barbadian merchants at the time; but one receives the impression from this letter-book that Hugh Hall had been educated in a manner that made him feel superior to the sordid cares of business, and that he might have done better to follow his youthful inclination in college to enter the sacred ministry in New England.
from the Original Pastel by Copley
Nevertheless, Hugh had over half a century of mercantile life ahead of him when this letter-book closes. By 1723, he and his wife were living in Boston, where they produced eleven children, and he did a brisk business importing clocks, watches, rum, slaves, druggets, mulmuls, and other valuable commodities. On January 9, 1735/36, he was appointed justice of the peace and the quorum by Governor Belcher, which indicates that he had become a person of means and consequence.
The Editor, on behalf of Mr. Howard M. Chapin, presented by title a note on
Some Recently Found Flag Items
WHATEVER throws light upon American naval affairs of 1775, no matter how vague or fragmentary the data may be, is of interest and perhaps of importance to the historian. This was the period of the origin of our navy and also of the American flag, and the recorded information on both these subjects is scanty and unsatisfactory. That is why a few items added to our knowledge of the subject from time to time may eventually form a clearer picture of the activities of that parlous period.
Mr. Harrold E. Gillingham of Germantown recently called my attention to the charge-book or day-book of James Wharton, a Philadelphia ship chandler, which contains several suggestive references in regard to our early naval flags. The book is now in the library of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania at Philadelphia.
Taken by themselves, the items appear at first glance rather dull and routine in character and without much significance or importance. There are many items in regard to all sorts of ship supplies. Those dealing with flags are as follows:
August 15, 1775
- Committee of Safety, Dr.
- 1 white Ensign 8 ft by 13
- 1 Red do do
- dd Capt. White
- Committee of Safety, Dr.
- 1 Blew Ensign 8 by 13
- Committee of Safety, Dr.
- 3 ensigns 8 by 13
- 1 Dutch Jack 5 ft by 8
- 1 Danish do do.
- Committee of Safety for Bull Dog, Dr.
- Cash Dr 1 old Ensign 7/
- Committee of Safety for Capt. Hamilton
- 1 Pendant 20/6
- Cr Margaret Manny for making a Pendant 7/6
- Ship Alfred Dr.
49 yds. Broad Bunting @2/
52½ yds. Narrow do 1/
To making an Ensign canvas & Thd
Cr Margt Manny for making an Ensign
- Committee of Congress, Dr.
- Dd Capt. Allen Moore 1 Flagg Blew & White
- Ship Columbus, Dr.
- 1 Union Flag
- Committee of Congress, Dr.
- 1 Flag 5 feet by 7½
- amount £1 10 11
- Ship Alfred Dr.
145 yds. Broad Bunting @2/
8½ yds. Narrow do 1/
Making an Ensign, thread & oznabrigs
- Committee of Congress, Dr.
- 1 Pendant 10 inches 55 feet Long
- 1 Jack (Union) Red, Blew & White
- Committee of Congress, Dr.
- 1 Union Flagg, Green & Red 13 Stripes
- 3 Pendants, 1 Green, 1 White & 1 Red
- Ship Columbus, Dr.
- 1 Ensign 18 feet by 30
- Committee of Congress, Dr.
- 4 Union Pendants 55 feet long
Ship Alfred, Dr.
- Stores Deld the Master
- 20 yds Broad Red Buntg
- 20 yds Broad Blue
- 20 yds Do White
January 1, 1776
- Committee of Congress
- 2 Blue & White Flags
- 1 Green, Blue, White & Red Do.
- 1 Red-1 Green & 1 white Pendant
- 1 Jack & 1 Pendant blue, white & red
- Ship Alfred Dr.
- dd the master 1 Broad Pendant
These flag items offer several interesting problems without, however, supplying sufficient data for entirely satisfactory answers.
It is quite clear that the flags supplied to the Committee of Safety, the Committee of Congress, the ship Alfred, and the ship Columbus were for vessels in the Continental Navy. Of course these were not all the flags used by the fleet. Nevertheless one important point is that included among these flags are several that hitherto are not known thus to have been in use. These are: (1) the Danish Jack (September 6), a red flag with a white cross; (2) the blue and white flag (December 6 and January 1), evidently the British naval signal flag divided horizontally blue and white; (3) the “Union Flagg, Green & Red 13 Stripes” (December 20), a flag with a field of thirteen green and red stripes and with the union of the crosses in the canton;1231 (4) the green pendant (December 20 and January 1); (5) a green, blue, white, and red flag (January 1), presumably a flag divided vertically and horizontally into quarters, each of which was of a different color.
Of these flags numbers 1, 2, 4, and 5 were evidently designed for signal flags, but as these are not included in Hopkins’s code,1232 it seems probable that their use was discontinued. The purpose of flag number 3 is problematic. It may have been merely an alternate form of the ensign with the color of the stripes changed. Ensigns with stripes of various color combinations, such as white and yellow, black and yellow, red, white, and blue, and red and white, are recorded by Preble (pp. 243–244) as being in use in the early part of the Revolution. There is a flag with white and blue stripes, which dates from 1778 or earlier, in the museum of the Rhode Island Historical Society. Flag number 3 may have been made different from the regular ensign in order to be used as a divisional flag or as a commanding officer’s standard, in which latter case it would soon have been superseded by the so-called Gadsden flag.
It is not surprising to find that the fleet had at first a red ensign, a white ensign, and a blue ensign (August 15, August 16, September 6) doubtless exactly similar to the ones in use in the royal navy and intended as divisional flags.1233 The Union flag (December 12) made for the Columbus may well have been either the Grand Union flag or the red ensign.
The items of December 1 and December 2 showing that Mrs. Margaret Manny made an ensign for the Alfred are very interesting. It will be remembered that it was on December 3 that Hopkins took command and that John Paul Jones claimed to have raised the first American flag, by which he must have meant the Grand Union flag. These entries would seem to indicate that this ensign was the one made by Mrs. Manny. It might be said against this that if it were the Grand Union flag, the entry should have read “An ensign, union, and red and white stripes.” However, the only cases in which ensign-type flags are described are those in which more than one flag is charged to the purchaser, as in the case of the various flags charged to the Committee of Safety from August 15 to November 30, and to the Committee of Congress from December 19 to January 1. These descriptions were to aid the memory of the creditor in case of trouble over the charge, not for the purpose of recording historical data.
In the case of the ensign for the Alfred, the charge of December 2 was the first against the Alfred for a flag so that there was no need of describing the ensign. The word “ensign” was sufficient identification. A second ensign was made for the Alfred on December 13, but this was evidently a much larger flag as is shown by the quantity of bunting used. Similarly in the case of the Columbus, the flags charged on December 12 and December 22 were not described in detail; the size of the second flag, 18 by 30 feet, is given, thus serving for sufficient identification.
The ensigns made in August were 8 by 13 feet and the Jacks 5 by 8 feet. The ensign of December 2 and the Union flag of December 12 were probably also 8 by 13, but the ensigns charged on December 13 and December 22 were probably 18 by 30 feet. The flag 5 by 7½ feet charged on December 12 was probably a signal flag and was approximately the size of the Jacks of September 6, that is, only half a foot shorter.
Mr. Richard M. Gummere read a paper entitled:
in the Writings of James Wilson
EVEN a rapid glance through the speeches, pamphlets, and books of our American colonial leaders, from John Winthrop to the squire-statesmen of Virginia, will reveal their interest in Greek and Roman literary, historical, or legal tradition. This was the outward clothing of their thoughts and in many cases the very stuff of which their inner consciousness was composed. Men of prominence in politics, letters, and art strove for the grand style and deliberately patterned themselves upon the ancients. Josiah Quincy brought up his family on the Tusculan Disputations of Cicero and owned three editions of that author—one for the shelf, one for the table, and one for the pocket. He also maintained that he liked such reading, not so much for scholarly purposes as for their “noble patterns of behaviour.”1234 John Adams, who read Cicero’s De Senectute once a year, lived his subconscious life, if one may use that phrase, in such an atmosphere. When, in August, 1776, a committee of the Continental Congress were considering a gold medal to commemorate the evacuation of Boston, the French artist Du Simitière suggested “Liberty, with her spear and pileus [Roman cap], leaning on General Washington”; Franklin wished a sketch of the Egyptians being overwhelmed in the Red Sea; Jefferson pictured a medal with the Children of Israel on one side, Hengist and Horsa on the other; and our sturdy John Adams proposed the following:
The choice of Hercules, as engraved by Gribelin … The hero resting on his club. Virtue pointing to her rugged mountain on one hand, and persuading him to ascend. Sloth, glancing at her flowery paths of pleasure, wantonly reclining on the ground, displaying the charms both of her eloquence and person, to seduce him into vice.1235
William Penn was called a Lycurgus so often that one could wish he had stayed in his Province and failed to be a parallel to the Spartan lawgiver whose continued absence made his laws permanent. If the leaders alone had observed this habit of looking upward and backward to the ancients, we could simply ascribe it to their educational and social privileges. But the popular language ran along similar lines. Journalism, presumably for the man in the street, contained the same terminology. Samuel Adams stung Governor Bernard into a fury by continually calling him Verres, after the Roman tyrant-governor of Sicily.1236 The Independent Chronicle for December 8, 1779, laments the fate of André, contrasting his manly sacrifice with the treason of Benedict Arnold, for whom
Gorgonian Harpies whet their claws,
Cerberean hounds with hungry jaws.1237
And even slaves reflected this tendency in their names. On November 12, 1779, twenty slaves of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, sent to the State legislature a plea for freedom, stating that “the God of nature gave them life and freedom, upon the terms of most perfect equality with other men.” The signers included Nero Brewster, Pharaoh Rogers, Seneca Hall, Cato Newmarch, Caesar Gerrish. The matter was postponed “till a more convenient opportunity.”1238
Thus from legislative halls and assembly rooms to slave quarters, the tradition of Greece and Rome was ready to hand, either as a by-product of gossip and bombast or as an ingredient of laws, research, and literary creation. And it is especially in order to note the work of one who stamped this tradition upon the statesmanship of our early Republic as thoroughly, if not so dramatically, as did any of the protagonists whose names occur to us whenever we think of that experiment in democratic government.
James Wilson1239 was born at Carskerdo, near St. Andrews, Scotland, in 1742. A scholarship winner at St. Andrews University, then a migrant to Glasgow where Adam Smith was professor of moral philosophy, and finally to Edinburgh, the home of Adam Ferguson and his sound political creed, Wilson absorbed in these northern universities the idea of government according to law and consent which runs, at least theoretically, throughout his writings and speeches. These men upheld a theory, congenial to the framers of a liberal constitution, of free government checked only by the necessary regulations.
It is hard to classify Wilson, for though he was a good Scotchman, he fared badly in his personal finances; and though he held a determined course through the Revolutionary period, he disapproved of the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776 on the ground that it was too democratic, and helped to draft that of 1790 on a more conservative basis. His reputation was made in legal practice as a corporation counsel, and his nickname among the minority lampooners of the Convention of 1787 was “Jacobus de Caledonia,” or “James the Caledonian, lieutenant general of the myrmidons of power.”1240 Francis Hopkinson, however, in his allegorical skit “The New Roof,” affectionately recorded Wilson as “James the architect,” who “consulted the most celebrated authors in ancient and modern architecture,” and built a securely sound framework for the Federal Constitution.1241 It is probably most correct to say that Wilson’s underlying idea, foreshadowed more than a hundred years too early, was that of dominion status for all the colonies of Great Britain.
Emigrating in 1765, Wilson taught Latin at the College of Philadelphia for two years, lecturing at odd times on English literature, writing Addisonian essays in the Pennsylvania Chronicle, in collaboration with William White, under the assumed name of “The Visitant,” and studying law meanwhile in the office of another classics-lover, John Dickinson. This partnership was a congenial one; for both men popularized the essentially legal and common-sense arguments for colonial rights, and both advanced a campaign of intelligent persuasion rather than a radical sweep on emotional grounds. Dickinson, however, drew away from the noise of battle after 1776, while Wilson reasoned himself into the idea of independence. Soon prominent at the bar, Wilson took an active part in the Continental Congress. Later he played an important rôle in the Federal Convention and in the ratifying convention of his State. He was appointed in 1789 to the first professorship of law at the University of Pennsylvania, and in the same year to an associate justiceship of the Federal Supreme Court. All the while, due to land speculation, he was in financial hot water; and some of his enemies accused him of turning sharp corners. It is not probable that a longer life would have seen him in executive office. Yet one is tempted to speculate what might have happened if Wilson had not died at Edenton, North Carolina, in 1798 at the age of only fifty-six. He was twice married, and a son, Bird Wilson, edited his works in 1804. In 1906, his body was moved to Christ Church burying ground in Philadelphia, near the grave of Franklin.
It has not been until recently that Wilson has come into his own as an eighteenth-century statesman and thinker; and this article makes no pretence at settling the matter. But to a remarkable degree he was imbued with the classical tradition, and it is worth while to study the frequency in his writings and speeches of the precedents of Greece and Rome, together with their influence upon his thought and policies. Whether Bryce was overpraising Wilson when he remarked that Wilson, in comparison with Madison and Jefferson and Adams, had not received justice; or whether Theodore Roosevelt was too much under the spell of Republican enthusiasm when he praised Wilson at the dedication of the Pennsylvania State Capitol in 1906; or whether Governor Baldwin of Connecticut rates him too high in the category of masters of jurisprudence—it is just to say that he has now been recognized as the force he was in colonial history.1242
Francis Hopkinson wrote to Jefferson (then in Paris) on December 14, 1787: “Mr. Wilson exerted himself to the astonishment of all hearers. The powers of Demosthenes and Cicero seem to be united in this able orator.”1243 John Adams, in a letter written to Mrs. Adams on July 23, 1775, discussing the characters of the Pennsylvania delegation, refers to John Dickinson as one “whose abilities and virtues, formerly trumpeted so much in America, have been found wanting”; he commends, on the other hand, “a young gentleman from Pennsylvania, whose name is Wilson, whose fortitude, rectitude, and abilities too, greatly outshine his master’s.”1244 Wilson was never shy in putting himself forward. We have an interesting letter from his pen, written in January, 1777, to Robert Morris, calling attention to the need for an officer who, not a member of Congress, should superintend admiralty cases, conduct prosecutions, interpret the Law of Nations, and supervise treaties and foreign relations—a sort of combination of advocate and attorney-general. And he closes this letter with an offer to take the position himself and a request to Morris to bring the nomination before Congress.1245 However all this may be, we agree with a recent editor of Wilson’s writings who states: “Each fundamental principle is in every instance traced to its source, whether it be a principle enunciated by Socrates, Aristotle, Cicero, Gajus, Pufendorf, Locke, Grotius or Hobbes, Descartes or Hume, Vattel or Domat… the number of references to classical jurists, philosophers, or historians who have written on jurisprudence, is remarkable.”1246
The style of James Wilson is diffuse but clear, with a sort of modified Burkeian periodicity. The exposition is simple and logical, based upon his experience as a teacher and his legal practice throughout eastern Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland. Akin to this clarity seems to have been his reluctance to do things secretly, notwithstanding the sometimes dubious real estate and land company adventures which some critics have fastened upon as clouding his reputation. For when Congress went into secret session on August 20, 1776, in order to discuss confederation, Wilson moved in vain, along with John Adams, “that debates should be public, the doors opened, galleries erected, or an adjournment made to some public building where the people might be accommodated.”1247
In the use of language, apart from the fact that by Wilson’s time the craze for archaic eccentricity had passed away because of the Age of Reason and the straightforwardness of the eighteenth century, one finds few of the curious words and compounds which were used by such earlier writers as Nathaniel Ward or Cotton Mather. Phrases like “the perilous irritaments of carnal and spirituall enmity” and “nugiferous gentledame” have been discarded. The style is Ciceronian or Demosthenian, but highly intelligible to all educated hearers. One feels it to be merely an experiment, a tour de force, when Wilson “goes Johnsonian” on certain occasions: “our first executive magistrate is not obnubilated by counsellors,” or “the coacervation of sanguinary laws.”1248 “Imbecility” was still used in Wilson’s time to describe physical or structural rather than mental weakness; and “nervous,” in the sense of “vigorous,” was common. Similarly, when Wilson disagrees, on grounds of human consent, with the Tory legal maxim “no man can oblige himself,”1249 we must be careful to think of the Latin obligare. Such terms, also, as “judicials,” “intellectuals,” “prudentials,” occur in a form familiar to the earlier colonial days. But the abrupt picturesqueness of seventeenth-century style has been smoothed out into a clear and flowing medium of expression.
Wilson’s permanent and underlying interest was the law. As Spenser was called the “poet’s poet,” so might Wilson be described as the “lawyer’s lawyer.” This very trait might have been a handicap to him had it not been for the wide field to which he applied it. He grips hard to ideas which seem to him fundamental—the jury system, for example. He enlarges on a statement by Montesquieu to the effect that Rome, Sparta, and Carthage lost their liberties because they lacked the institution of trial by jury; he holds that the jury, with its impartial verdict, is a sort of institutional surgeon, quoting
ense recidendum est, ne pars sincera trahatur.1250
The motto of the law lectures which Wilson delivered, beginning in December, 1789, is Cicero’s lex fundamentum est libertatis qua fruimur. Legum omnes servi sumus, ut liberi esse possimus.1251 The schools, he maintained, or the parents of the pupils, should inculcate even at the early stages of childhood the elementary principles of law, even as Cicero himself regarded the Twelve Tables in the light of a necessarium carmen, “a piece of wisdom to be learned by heart,” and as Plato commended King Minos for doing.1252 In his essay On the Study of Law in the United States, Wilson advocates the value of academic instruction therein by calling to the attention of his readers the legal teaching of Coruncanius, Scaevola, Cato, and Brutus. Such study, he follows Cicero in declaring, is a decus et omamentum. Even women are advised, on the analogy of Laelia, the wife of Scaevola, Aurelia, the mother of Caesar, Attia, the mother of Augustus, and Cornelia, the mother of the Gracchi,1253 to encourage others in such a pursuit, for the daily speech of cultivated women will prepare children for efficient expression in civic life.
Thus an institution which has as its ultimate basis of study the fundamentals of custom and consent should be an early object of attention, as the child of today learns the Declaration of Independence by heart in his elementary school. Wilson calls Cicero as a witness to the principle that the ultimate origin of the law is God, and that for this reason its understanding must be cultivated spiritually no less than mentally, and at the earliest age possible. These intuitive truths are the axioms which start our reasoning processes: Mens et animus et consilium et sententia civitatis posita est in legibus;1254 and again quoting Cicero: Quae est enim gens, aut quod genus hominum, quod non habeat sine doctrina anticipationem quondam deorum?1255 And besides intuitive truths, the common experience of the common man counts for most valuable evidence. For example, says Wilson, neither opinion nor the courts, because of the communal trend in personal property, penalized a Spartan for larceny; the family, according to Tacitus’s account of the Germans, accepted a cash settlement for injury to its members; a man’s home is his sanctuary. As Cicero says: Quid sanctius, quid omni religione munitius, quam domus uniuscuiusque civium?1256 These things are primal, Wilson holds, and even Aristotle, who would “resolve all reasoning into its first elements,” did not always succeed in defining certain of the simplest things which language cannot express. “A shoemaker could point out to Apelles himself a defect in the picture of a shoe.”
If, then, there are communes notitiae, innate general ideas, even in the common run of mankind, how much more will these conceptions flourish and be susceptible of the highest development in a well-brought-up and well-educated child! They are notions which Epicurus himself, whom Wilson calls, in the Horatian phrase, “an inhabitant of the stye” and rates as inferior to “Plato and Tully,” defined to the entire approval of Cicero: Natura iuris a natura hominis repetenda est. One sees already, of course, why Wilson, the American colonial, is quoting such phraseology: it follows that the application as well as the source of the law is universal and that every citizen enjoys his inheritance therein. Mihi credite, maior hereditas venit unicuique vestrum in iisdem bonis a iure, a legibus, quam ab iis a quibus ilia ipsa bona relicta sunt.1257 And then Wilson turns to a modern jurist for final backing, using the words of Coke: “No man is superior in knowledge to the laws,” and “proofs must be self-evident, in other words clear and easy to understand.”
The climax to which Wilson’s remarks on the fundamentals of the law are directed is an essentially American principle: that of every man’s privilege to take a direct part in managing his community. While in our enthusiasm we should not ignore Saxon origins, we are thus given plenty of classical testimony with regard to the consent of the people, backed by custom, as the guiding force of any state. Even on grounds of taste alone this faith is justified, and Cicero again is called to witness that the “energy of nature” prompts even the most uncultivated mind to discern and understand: Cum in omni genere, turn in hoc ipso [i.e., the vulgus imperitorum] magna quaedam est vis incredibilisque naturae.1258
The importance of publicity at trials, the heliastic courts at Athens, Homeric causes pleaded at the city gates, Roman iudicia—all these are proofs of the universality of law and of its application to all men alike. Symbolism, superstition among early peoples, add further evidence: the Roman confarreatio, the divorced wife handing back the keys, emancipation of a slave by a slap, the clenched fist for a pledge, touching the ear of a witness, turf as symbol of real estate or citizenship—Wilson thinks of them all. As a converse illustration that it is unwise to ignore these truths, Wilson cites Hobbes, who recommended destroying the Greek and Latin authors on the ground that they always encouraged the people to think!1259
The Law of Nature, with its consequent development into the Law of Nations and its application to the doctrine of American independence, harks back to Aristotle, the Stoics, Cicero, Seneca, and Ulpian. All these sources were familiar to our Founding Fathers, and they harmonized with the humane rationalism of eighteenth-century Europe. Wilson recognizes the Aristotelian division of political justice into “natural” and “conventional,”—naturale and legale.1260 The second is man-made; the first we have already described. Scotchmen were trained in Roman Law; and it is assumed that Wilson was also acquainted with the theory of duality between pope and emperor which we find in Thomas Aquinas, applying somewhat the same criterion to the universal Federal powers and the more limited state functions which we find in the double category of revelation and reason, or theology and philosophy. Wilson likes Cicero’s definition of the Law of Nature, or Right Reason—“a true law, conformable to nature, diffused among all men, unchangeable, eternal.”1261 “A state of nature,” he says, “is a state of equality and liberty.” And it is not a mere raw affair, but a human privilege. Samuel Adams agreed with him: “All men have a right to remain in a State of Nature as long as they please.”1262
“All law flows originally from God,” say Wilson and Cicero: haud scio an, pietate adversus deos sublata, fides etiam et societas generis humani et una excellentissima virtus, iustitia, tollatur.1263 On this side the moral law shades gradually into the natural law. On the other side the natural law shades gradually into the Law of Nations, and then subdivides into civil, international, and other man-made legalities. Wilson was in sympathy with the statement of James Otis: “The supreme power in a state is, ius dicere only: ius dare, strictly speaking, belongs alone to God.” Ulpian’s phrase was circulated freely: quod ad ius naturale pertinet, omnes homines aequales sunt. Justinian’s “all men are free iure naturali” was quoted by everyone. Seneca’s Forty-Seventh Epistle emphasized the degradation of slavery: “He is a slave. But his soul is that of a freeman. Slaves! No, comrades!”1264
The word “nature” was, therefore, something to conjure with in the eighteenth century. It was seized upon in its classical connotations as eagerly as the conception of the Noble Savage was appropriated by the English writers of the same period.
But before the Law of Nature could be free to work as the leading element in colonial liberty, it had to be stripped of one interpretation which would spoil the whole process. And here is the stage where its champion, Wilson, attacked the classical point of view in order to make the application. The doctrine of “superior power” was the stumbling-block. Plato, of course, had routed the sophist Thrasymachus, who upheld the “might of the stronger” in the Republic. But Aristotle himself, though acknowledging that all power comes ultimately from the people, had assigned the privilege of mastery and domination to the man of “superior qualities.”1265 Cicero, usually the most collectively liberal of statesmen, and with more emphasis on the intellect, uses language similar to that of Aristotle: Ut enim guisgue maxime perspicit quid in re quaque verissimum sit, quique acutissime et celerrime potest et videre et explicare rationem, is prudentissimus et sapientissimus rite haberi solet.1266 But this is unsatisfactory to Wilson; and so is Pufendorf’s idea of prominence as the result of elective choice.1267 Even this is insufficient for the complete liberty which the colonials desired.
Wilson picks the ancient doctrine to pieces, whether it be the remark of the suppliants to the king in the play of Aeschylus: “Sir, you alone govern by your absolute commands”; the vae victis of Brennus in Livy; the proverb of Thucydides: “You may rule over any one whom you can dominate”; the definition of Dio of Halicarnassus: “The Law of Nature means that the stronger shall always control the weaker”; or, as a climax of tyranny, Caligula’s boast: “If I am only a man, my subjects are something less; if they are men, then I am something more!” Even the placid Marcus Aurelius needs modifying when he says: “Magistrates judge private persons; princes, magistrates; but God alone, princes.”1268
And yet there is some testimony to the collective principle and the doctrine of government by complete consent to be found in the ancient writers; and Wilson fastens upon these few instances to support his theories. Aristotle is approved when he declares: “In the perfect state the good man is absolutely the same as the good citizen”;1269 hence the opportunity for regarding legislation as a contract between willing parties, avoiding the undesirable thought:
sic volo, sic iubeo; stet pro rationc voluntas.1270
For, says the speaker to the colonial recalcitrants, in the constitution of Rome the dominium eminens “resided in the collective body of the people,”1271 which was really superior to the Senate—a fact which we may doubt after sifting the history of the patrician and plebeian controversy. If this is in general a sound argument, though not always accurate history, then most of the ancients are wrong, and so are Hobbes and Blackstone entirely, and Pufendorf partially. Any citizen may, in the old-style legal phrase, “oblige himself” and not have a burden put upon him by his superior. And Cicero gives golden testimony to this freedom when he says: ne quis invitus civitate mutetur, neve in civitate maneat invitus. The English legal maxim is wrong: nemo potest exuere patriam; but Cicero hits the nail on the head in his declaration of social independence: nihil est illi principi deo qui omnem mundum regit acceptius quam consilia coetusque hominurn iure sociati.1272
One who is interested in the mental attitude of these colonials may be justified in feeling that in this sort of argument and in this glorified game of hide-and-seek through the pages of classical antiquity, the function of the ancient writers is put right side up: the principle of freedom, the concrete need of 1776 and 1787, is the first consideration, and the natural medium of the scholars and statesmen of those days is used for argument and proof. It certainly served the modern purpose for which it was intended, even if sometimes the same author was invoked both for refutation and for confirmation, as in the case of Marcus Aurelius, who serves as the climax for a social and coöperative attitude: “He that prizes a soul which is rational, universal, and civic, no longer turns after anything else, but keeps his own soul rational and social, and to this end works conjointly with all that is akin to him.”1273
The final step in which these men were interested was the correlation of the God-made Law of Nature with the man-made Law of Nations. The second is the same as the first, only applied to states and sovereigns, as Wilson tells us. He disagrees with Grotius in feeling that their origin is identical: “an eternal and unchangeable law which binds men from all time, with God as the common master, governor, creator, and administrator thereof.”1274 This phrase of Cicero one finds often in pre-Revolutionary writings. The brute, says Cicero again, settles arguments by force, man, by reason. By correlating these two laws closely, the colonial statesman showed his shrewdness; for a general argument on international law would have degenerated into a cat-and-dog squabble, just as appeals to parliament instead of to the king would have provoked interminable debate. Cicero offers us quadruple testimony for the support of human compacts based on fundamental truths: 1. “Peace depends upon maintaining the collective society of mankind, in allowing everyone his due share, and in holding to one’s pledged agreements”; 2. There is no such thing as a “natural enemy,” for “it is more consonant to nature to undertake the greatest labors and to undergo the severest troubles for the preservation and advantage of all nations”; 3. “We are not born for ourselves alone; our country and our friends demand a part of our personalities, and, as the Stoics believe, we should bind together mankind in a mutually close alliance”; 4. “If some God were to remove us from the throng and set us anywhere in solitude, and take away the privilege of association with others, who would be such an Iron Man as to endure that type of life?”1275
Having established proofs of Wilson’s complete sympathy with the principles involved in the Law of Nature and the Law of Nations, we may consider his application of these principles to the problems of the type of the new American government and the details of the procedure involved in the setting up of the new state. Throughout his writings we find him naturally upholding the doctrine of complete representation. The good royal lawmaker is not enough. Deioces, for example, straightened out the disjointed government of the Medes after they had successfully revolted against the Assyrians; he created an excellent code and then retired. But as a result of later confusion they recalled him and made him king. These benevolent persons may be praised by such as Tacitus and commended by Cicero as bene morati reges;1276 they may have owed their standing to the art of persuasion; but in the end confusion resulted, and the only semblance of successful royalty was that which blended in a combination with aristocracy and democracy. The British system, when rightly applied, was a good one, and Cicero was in harmony with this threefold type: “a state,” says he, “is established on the soundest principles when it is blended in moderation of three varieties—royal, noble, and popular.” Tacitus had sighed for it, but had defined it as “easier to praise than to practise.”1277 But, claims Wilson, there are traces of successful democracy even in the Greek and Roman states: “in the small Grecian republics and in the first ages of the commonwealth of Rome, the people voted in their aggregate capacity.” This is, of course, open to question; it depends on what is meant by “the people.” But certainly the Germans of Tacitus were democratic: de minoribus consultant principes, de maioribus omnes.1278 And the system in Rome of voting by centuries, as well as the Athenian assembly, gives us some prototypes of what Wilson and his associates approved in the ancient tradition. The Locrian rule was grimly and democratically humorous—that a citizen who proposed a new law must appear in the assembly with a rope about his neck, and be strangled if the proposal was unconstitutional!
Examples from classical antiquity are ransacked in order to find the proper prescriptions for the new republic. Wilson commends Lord Baltimore, who “recommended to the legislature of Maryland a maxim which deserves to be written in letters of gold: ‘By concord a small colony may grow into a great and renowned nation; but by dissensions mighty and glorious kingdoms have declined and fallen into nothing,’”—a reference to the dictum of Augustus’s prime minister, Agrippa, as quoted in the Ninety-Fourth Epistle of Seneca, and mentioned also by John Dickinson when speaking of colonial cohesion. In order to attain such a desirable end, mere confederation is not enough. During the Convention proceedings Wilson disagreed with Madison over the use of the word “confederation,” holding that we should not be led astray by parallels with Swiss or Dutch or Germanic groups, or by the councils of the Achaean, Lycian, or Amphictyonic Leagues. The Amphictyons, he tells us, managed the games, certain religious rituals, and a specific type of private controversy. Members were excluded for violation of the rules. The Lycian confederacy, which lasted until the time of the Roman conquest, handled problems of war, peace, and alliances among the Lycians themselves: these peoples had more regard for custom than for written law. The Achaean League, interested especially in war, peace, and diplomacy, as well as in alliances, laid down rules for uniform money, weights, and laws. These organizations varied in strictness; they are not, as Wilson feels, the stuff of which a real republic is made. Nor is the system of the ancient Germans, as described by Tacitus, nor the large-scale European federation suggested by Henry of Navarre, nor that which William Penn envisaged. One would think that the best comparison of all would have been the independent colony of Roman citizens endowed practically with self-government and yet owing allegiance to the greater conception of the Republic or the Empire.
There must be more unity than is possible in a confederation. Treaties and matters of arbitration could not any longer be settled as in the days of small city states. There should be uniform public, and diverse private, laws, like the nymphs whom Ovid describes: “with features not identical, but of the same type, like sisters.”1279 There should be a unified “energy of sovereign power,” but it should not be unleashed except in matters of general importance, according to Horace’s rule for the drama: “Let no god intercede in the plot unless the knot demands a champion.”1280 Livy is called to witness in the arbitration of a suit between the Romans and the Samnites; the five Lacedaemonian umpires are remembered—those who were appointed, in a dispute between Athens and Megara, to settle the ownership of Salamis. This last is a dubious instance, and far more to the point is the arrangement made by Athens and Plataea under the patronage of King Cleomenes and the Spartans.1281
Wilson’s mind is thus essentially a legal one: doubtful laws are “Janus statutes.” As there must be general consent in view of the vital value of the Natural Law, so there must be a sense of justice in large-scale associations of men in line with the “equity” which Aristotle defines as “the correction of that in which the law is defective.” The family, called by Cicero the seminarium reipublicae, is essential at one end of the line; and at the other there must be imperium (authority), “without which the home, the city, the tribe, and the whole race cannot exist.”1282 And the property-owning farmer is the foundation of it all, as in the days when Cicero tells us that men “were called from the plow to be consuls.” Being a friend of the common-sense philosophy then prevalent in many quarters, Wilson attacks the theory of ideas, from Plato to Locke; and yet, with all his worship of the common man’s problems, he bursts into a panegyric of the Platonic ascent from visible forms to the abstract beauty in the soul. This he applies to the ideal lawgiver and his willing coöperators.
It is thus interesting to see an early American professor of law either challenging or calling to witness the classical authors in his desire to establish a democracy which might be a real result of popular control.