The Early Life of David Cobb
WHILE Major Jackson was in Europe, William Bingham did little to develop his lands in Maine, confident, apparently, that his agent would be successful in unloading a large portion of them on English or Dutch bankers. Though he continued to keep in touch with both General Knox and General Jackson, his correspondence with these two gentlemen falls off markedly during the period from the summer of 1793 to early in 1795. Quite obviously, he hoped that he would not be obliged to attempt the development of his lands without financial support from European capitalists; at any rate he was determined to await the outcome of Major Jackson’s mission, before proceeding further.
By 1795, however, it was reasonably clear that the Major had failed in his purpose. While Jackson’s letters remained sanguine, Bingham began to fear that he could not depend on help from Europe. Since money was scarce in the United States, and since the chances were therefore remote that he could get the support he needed in this country, he was faced with the necessity of acting alone, were his speculation to succeed. There seemed nothing to do but initiate a program of active development of the lands for sale at retail to actual settlers—in other words to attempt what has been called the “manufacture” of land.555 Such a program would entail a vigorous advertising campaign, the building of roads, the establishment of nuclear communities from which settlers could spread into undeveloped country—in short, a full-fledged operation to attract a “tide of emigration” to Maine. To what extent Bingham was influenced by the example of the activities of land companies in western New York must remain for the most part a matter of conjecture. He mentions frequently the Genesee lands as an example of successful promotion. In any event, it seems clear that with the failure of Major Jackson’s European mission becoming daily more apparent, he decided to attempt the “hothouse” system of land development which was attracting so much attention in western New York. If he were to initiate any system of this kind, one of the first requisites was the appointment of an agent who would actually reside on the lands and devote his entire attention to promoting settlement. With this object in view, Bingham therefore turned to a friend of Knox’s named David Cobb.
Since David Cobb occupies a prominent place in the story of Bingham’s land speculation in Maine, and since his papers form one of the most important sources of information on that endeavor, it is fitting to examine in some detail his early career, before proceeding to an account of his attempt to put into practice Bingham’s program for the development of the Maine Lands. Nor is a study of Cobb’s early life an unprofitable one; during the years before he joined forces with Bingham, he had already distinguished himself in an unusually wide variety of activities, and while he can in no sense be classified as a leader of first rank in the generation of the American Revolution, his part in the formation of the Republic was by no means an insignificant one.
David Cobb was born in Attleborough, Massachusetts, on 14 September 1748, the son of Thomas and Lydia Leonard Cobb.556 Both his parents came from families who had lived in Bristol County for several generations—solid Anglo-Saxon stock, with possibly a slight admixture of Welsh. On the paternal side of the family, the original ancestor was an obscure Austin or Augustine Cobb, whose son, Morgan, was David Cobb’s grandfather. Captain Thomas Cobb, the son of Morgan and father of David, had tried his hand at several occupations during his early years. He was first a sea captain and later a tavern-keeper before he finally entered the iron manufacturing business in 1737, as a partner of Captain James Leonard, his future father-in-law.557 A few years later he married the Captain’s daughter Lydia, acquiring in addition to a wife a share in the Leonard iron works in Attleborough, where he took up his residence sometime in the early 1740’s. For the next few years he was engaged in the manufacture of cannon balls and other equipment for use in the colonial wars. Shortly after his arrival in Attleborough he purchased a large octagonal house known as the “Chapel,” where various members of the Cobb family continued to reside until the outbreak of the Revolution.558 In 1760 Captain Cobb purchased from one Samuel Danforth, Jr., of Taunton, his new dwelling house on Taunton Green, together with a grist mill, a fulling mill, a dam, and some land along the river; and two years later he returned to Taunton to start a new iron manufacturing business of his own—an enterprise which occupied him until his death in 1779.559 In addition to carrying on his iron business, Thomas Cobb appears to have been a “magistrate and legislator,” presumably a reference to his having been a member of the General Court in 1753.560
David Cobb’s mother, Lydia Leonard, was the eldest daughter of James Leonard, the third of that name, whose grandfather had come to Taunton in 1652 as one of the first settlers. The Leonard family was a prominent one in Bristol County—John Adams could speak of that region as “the land of the Leonards”561—and thus, through his mother, David Cobb could claim as kinsfolk many of the leading citizens of Taunton, including Daniel Leonard, the Tory, his third cousin. Since the Cobb family was equally numerous, David was related, after the fashion of small-town society, to “the greater part of our [Taunton’s] inhabitants.”562
Thomas and Lydia Cobb’s five children were all born in Attleborough before the family moved to Taunton. The eldest daughter, Hannah, married the Reverend Josiah Crocker, then minister of Taunton, in 1761. The younger daughter, Sally, married Robert Treat Paine in 1770. Two older boys, Thomas and Jonathan, followed in their father’s footsteps as iron manufacturers in Taunton.563 David, apparently the youngest member of the family, has been described as “a favorite of his father,” but aside from that, the record of his early days in Attleborough is silent.564
Thomas Cobb determined to give his favorite son a liberal education and to that end David was sent to Master Joseph Marsh, then in charge of a private preparatory school in Braintree which he conducted in the old parsonage in that town. Marsh had been graduated from Harvard College in 1728 and during his schoolmastering career had achieved more than a merely local reputation as a pedagogue. John Adams had studied under Marsh and in his later years remembered his old teacher with respect and affection, though as a youth he had written in his diary of casting “sneers on Dr. Marsh for not knowing the value of old Greek and Roman authors.”565 After the necessary preparation, Cobb entered Harvard College as a member of the class of 1766. His career at Harvard was in no way a distinguished one. According to the faculty records, he received the usual Hebrew Grammar given to Freshmen, was ordered by the Faculty to bear one-half the cost of putting up a new “stove chimney” and shutters which he presumably had had a hand in dismembering, was fined one pound ten shillings for three-weeks’ absence beyond leave, later had this fine remitted, and finally was given permission to live outside the college during his last two years at the institution.566 Tradition has it that Cobb was held in particular regard by President Holyoke and that his closest friend at college was Charles Jarvis, the future Jeffersonian orator and physician, but there is no evidence to sustain these stories.567
There may have been a particular reason for young David’s request to live outside the college during his last two years. It may have been to enable him the better to pay court to a young lady named Eleanor Bradish, daughter of Ebenezer Bradish, the landlord of a famous Cambridge tavern of that period.568 In any event, shortly after his graduation, he married Miss Bradish, then just seventeen, and soon became the father of the first of his eleven children, Eleanor Bradish Cobb.569 Little is known about Cobb’s wife, nor does he refer to her often in his correspondence. Shortly after he had brought his young bride back to Taunton, an acquaintance wrote the following description of her:
Eleanor Cobb is a very amiable young lady; she not only possesses an outward dignity which instantaneously and warmly prepossesses all in her favor,—but what is infinitely greater,—she has a mind equivalent to each outward charm, grace in all her steps; heaven in her eyes; and in every gesture dignity and love.570
Yet there is reason to believe that Eleanor Cobb was never able to keep step with her husband. There are frequent references in family letters to her poor health, and more than a hint that she suffered from some kind of nervous affliction.571 She dutifully bore Cobb a large family of children,572 but beyond that she appears to have played little part in his life. During Cobb’s absences from home, first with the army, later in Philadelphia, and finally in Maine, Eleanor Cobb remained, for the most part, in Taunton, where she died in 1808.
From 1766, the year of his graduation from college, until the outbreak of the Revolution, David Cobb was engaged in the study and practice of medicine, his chosen profession. Though he did do a little doctoring after the war, it was during these youthful years that he concentrated on making a name for himself as a physician; thus it will be convenient, at this point, to discuss his medical career in its entirety. Cobb appears to have received most of his training from a certain Dr. Perkins573 and may have practiced for a short time in Boston before his father’s desire to have him at home led him to establish himself and his young bride in Taunton.574 He remained there, dosing the citizens, until the spring of 1776, when he left his small-town practice and returned to Boston, in hopes of bettering his position. “For the conveniency of getting along,” he wrote his brother-in-law, Robert Treat Paine, “I have taken a surgeon birth of one of the regiments stationed in this town, (I don’t mean ever to follow out of town).”575 For the next year the young physician tried to combine a private practice in Boston with his post in Colonel Thomas Marshall’s regiment, but without great success. He was away on a visit to Taunton when a general inoculation was ordered, and thus missed the chance of making a sizable sum of money.576 He busied himself with the problems of an army hospital and was placed in charge of a smallpox hospital on one of the islands in Boston harbor.577 But by the end of the year it was clear that his position in Boston would lead nowhere, and he returned to his family in Taunton.
The following spring, before he had actually joined the regular army, Cobb was placed in charge of the smallpox hospital at Taunton. Among his papers is a copy of the rules governing the hospital, a document which illustrates the methods used in those times in the handling of contagious diseases.578 Director Cobb himself was obliged to give the County Treasurer a bond of five hundred pounds to insure his adherence to the rules, and each patient was to give a bond of twenty pounds for the same purpose. The Director was to hire good “nurses, cleansers and tenders,” was to have charge of the bedding and articles of diet, and was empowered to make additional rules “to prevent the escape of the infection.” Any inhabitant of Taunton who got the smallpox “in the natural way” could gain admission to the hospital, but could not depart until the Director had pronounced him “cleansed.” The hospital limits were to be as small as was safe for the patients and for those on the outside, but no roads were to be blocked off; and the rules were to be posted in a “notorious place” as a warning to the uncontaminated townspeople. The patients were to pay twelve shillings a week for “diet, nursing, and washing,” twenty-eight shillings eightpence to the Director for medical care, and six shillings to the subscribers who built the hospital. Cobb’s term as Director must have been brief, for by summer he had determined to abandon medicine, at least temporarily, for a career as an officer in the 16th Massachusetts Regiment.
Cobb never really resumed his medical practice after the war, though he continued to take occasional cases. During his active years as a physician he appears to have been very skillful in midwifery and surgery, and, to a certain extent, a follower of the Brunonian system. Two anecdotes related about Dr. Cobb indicate that at least he was never hesitant about experimenting with his patients. On one occasion a gentleman of Taunton, suffering from dysentery with hiccough complications, had been given up by his own physician as a “goner.” As a last resort Cobb was called in, and after diagnosing the patient’s complaint as an acid stomach, effected a miraculous cure by having the afflicted man “chew and swallow the juice of tender beef-steaks” and follow it with a good shot of brandy. On another occasion Cobb cured a farmer’s wife who had made the mistake of mixing sour cider and brownbread, by “putting her on a more generous diet, with a slight infusion of brandy.” These two examples of his skill do not present Dr. Cobb as a medical scientist; and one wonders how many patients died under his dosings. But at least the sick people who came to him for help had the comfort of being well fortified with brandy while they were under his care.579
Among Cobb’s papers is an interesting memorandum on the effects of opium, a document which carefully classifies the various effects of the drug according to the observations of a certain Dr. Jones. When used in moderation, opium appears as a very delightful medicine, taking away “grief, fear, anxiety, peevishness, fretfulness,” and bringing on “a most agreeable pleasant and charming sensation about the region of the stomach”; but when used to excess, opium may “prevent hair to grow and cause the shedding thereof,” result in “inability to get up in the morning,” “gaiety of humor at first; sardonick laughter afterward,” “appearance of divers colors,” “swimmings in the head,” “cold breath,” and finally “death.” A second memorandum is noteworthy only because of a reference to Leeuwenhoek, with some of whose works Cobb must have been acquainted.580 Neither of these memoranda sheds much light on Cobb’s career as a doctor. He had made what was probably a creditable start on a medical career; he is said to have been particularly gifted at discovering hidden diseases usually susceptible to diagnosis only after a post-mortem; he cheered his patients with a pleasant bedside manner, having “much faith in the efficacy of hope.”581 But his inclusion in Williams’ American Medical Biography was certainly not justified on medical grounds; had it not been for the other phases of his career, he would have remained, as far as can be judged, an obscure country doctor.
When the series of crises which led to the outbreak of the Revolution began to arouse the people of Massachusetts, David Cobb early showed himself in complete sympathy with the patriot cause. His father, a man of property, advanced in years and conservative in principles, feared the results of hasty action; but the son appears to have had no doubts about the justice of the American position. The General Court, which had assembled on 26 May 1774, had been dissolved by General Gage on 17 June, and during the next few months, conventions met in a majority of the counties of the province to consider what was to be done. Meetings were held at Stockbridge in July, at Worcester and at Concord in August, and in several other counties in September. From these conventions came a series of resolutions, the most famous being the Suffolk Resolves, which declared that the punitive Acts of Parliament should not be obeyed.
On 28 and 29 September, under the chairmanship of Zephaniah Leonard, representatives from a majority of the towns of Bristol County met at the courthouse in Taunton “to consult upon proper measures to be taken at the present alarming crisis of our public affairs.”582 After the unpopular Coercive Acts, designed to bring Massachusetts to heel, had been read, the meeting listened to the Suffolk Resolves and to the resolutions drawn up by other county conventions. The convention then drew up a series of resolves of its own after approving in toto the already famous “spirited and noble” resolutions “of our brethren of the county of Suffolk.” David Cobb was clerk of this meeting and, in keeping the minutes, may have phrased some of the record. The preamble of the Bristol County resolutions is quite in the manner of those of Suffolk but more temperate and certainly superior in style. The opening lines have an almost Biblical quality:
Whereas our ancestors, of blessed memory, from a prudent care for themselves, and a tender concern for their descendants, did, through a series of unparalleled dangers and distresses, purchase a valuable inheritance in this western world, and carefully transmitted the same to us, their posterity…583
The convention was sensible of the importance of the steps it was taking, but preferred the evils “consequent upon a breach of that mutual affectation and confidence which has subsisted between Great Britain and her colonies” to submitting “to perpetual slavery.” The resolves which followed this preamble were couched in respectful, yet firm, terms: The convention would support George III as long as he protected them; the late Acts of Parliament were “contrary to reason and the spirit of the English Constitution”; civil officers attempting to enforce these acts should not be obeyed; the county should meet often to cooperate with Boston and with the Continental Congress; and finally, mobs and riots should be suppressed. The resolutions are briefer than those of most of the other conventions and give evidence of having been composed, after careful deliberation, by men fully aware of what they were doing. Just what contribution the clerk of the convention made to these resolves is impossible to determine; there is little in Cobb’s writings to indicate that he would have been capable of drafting the noble sentiments of the men of Bristol; and the chances are that he did no more than record what others had prepared. Yet it is, perhaps, significant that a young man of twenty-six should have been chosen one of the officers of the convention. And while there is no evidence that Cobb was present at the stirring event that took place on Taunton Green shortly after the convention, when the patriots of the town unfurled a banner with the motto “Liberty and Union; Union and Liberty,” it is difficult to believe that he was not a leader in this second act of defiance as well.
The need for a political organization which could work in concert with the Continental Congress was clearly seen by the patriot leaders of Massachusetts. On 1 September General Gage had called for a meeting of the General Court, to be held in Salem on 8 October; but the threat of revolt compelled him to withdraw the call on 28 September. On 5 October, however, ninety delegates met at Salem in defiance of Gage and proceeded to organize themselves into a Provincial Congress. Three days later the Congress adjourned to meet at Concord; and other towns, hitherto unrepresented, hastened to elect delegates. The result was the choice of over two hundred and fifty new representatives, among them many of the leading patriots. Taunton had responded to this development by sending Robert Treat Paine and his brother-in-law “Doct. David Cobb” to attend the Congress when it first met at Salem, and apparently these two were in constant attendance until April, 1775.584 Throughout his term as representative David Cobb seems to have avoided taking an active part in the work of the Congress, doubtless because of his youth. In December he was chosen the Bristol County representative to serve on a committee whose task it was to discover “a true state of the number of inhabitants and of the quantities of exports and imports of goods, wares, and merchandize and of the manufactures of all kinds,” the information to be collected for the use of the Massachusetts delegates to the next Continental Congress. Again, on 12 April 1775, while the Congress was still sitting at Concord, Cobb was chosen a member of the Bristol County committee to receive from the committees of correspondence of the various towns in the county information “with respect to their having executed the continental and provincial plans.” The committee was to report to the Provincial Congress at its next session so that any neglect on the part of the towns in executing the plans might be “speedily and effectually remedied.”585 Throughout his term, Cobb seems to have been recognized as one of the leaders of Bristol County, but his importance in the Congress never transcended county limits.
Early in April, 1775, Cobb returned to Taunton, where he plunged into local affairs connected with the Revolutionary cause,586 and for nearly two years busied himself with projects for the production of saltpeter and with his medical work, both in the army and out of it. Fortunately for the record of his career during this period, he wrote regularly to his brother-in-law, Paine, now a Massachusetts delegate at the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia. The letters which follow illuminate not only Cobb’s own activities but the whole course of the Revolution in Massachusetts during the years 1775 and 1776.
Cobb to Paine, Taunton, 4 April 1775587
Taunton April 4th 1775
The bearer hereof, Mr. Bishop of Attleboro,588 is come to the Congress with a request of the Committee of Inspection for the county relative to an order which has been sent to Brightman, Terry, Crane, Ezra Richmond, Esquire, and Colonel Bowers589 from General Gage, to provide for two hundred of His Majesties troops, which are hourly expected (Colonel Bowers was the person that inform’d us of it); and likewise respecting Colonel Gilbert’s590 behavior, which has so irritated the county that they would be glad of the Congress’s advice to take him and convey him to some secure place on the continent were he’ll give us less trouble than he does now. There are a number of particulars relative to Gilbert’s conduct, which I have not time to relate, that deserve notice. We suppose the reason why the troops are sent to Freetown is a tarring and feathering which was given to two of Gilbert’s company in Dighton sometime last week, by a number of hot headed fellows. Gilbert in consequence of it wrote to General Gage last Fryday and the order to the justices was return’d on Saturday. You’ll use your influence to forward the bearer with an answer from the Congress as soon as possible as we are in waiting, and return me an answer of what you are doing, if agreeable. Your family and friends are well.
I am, in haste, your sincere friend
12 o’clock at night at Mr. Harlow’s591
Cobb to Paine, Taunton, 9 April 1775592
Taunton Sunday Evening, 9 o’clock April 9th 1775
I have just time to inform you that their has been a mustering this evening with an intention, as I suppose, to go down to take Colonel Gilbert and carry him over to the Colony; I expect their will be broken heads and bloody noses, as the people are determined at all hazards to be no longer insulted by such a villain. We gave our opinion as committees not to injure Colonel G---t by any means, but they are determin’d to risk the consequence. Write when you have an oppertunity.
Cobb to Paine, Taunton, 12 May 1775593
Taunton May 12th 1775
Mr. Greenleaf594 this moment has call’d upon me, as he is going to Roxbury, to write to you, and as my hour is but short shall give you only a few crude lines. Your letter dated at Hartford I received last Sunday, and am happy in finding such instances of unanimity at the southward, and that your health is in any measure restor’d to you. Little as it is, may God long preserve it. Doctor Baylies595 return’d last week from Congress, by whom I am inform’d that they are now digesting a plan of government and mean to put it into exicution immediately without consent of the Congress at Philadelphia, which has given some little uneasiness to the moderate Wiggs of the provence, as they suppose the Provence Congress will be sufficient for all the purposes of government untill the Continental Congress had given their sanction to a form of government for us. The uneasiness just mentioned is not known out of doors. Our regiments are filling fast in every part of the provence. The most of the men from this part of the country are already march’d to their camp at Roxbury. General Gage still acts the villainous part with the inhabitants of Boston, few of which git out now and then but in general are oblig’d to leave every thing behind them, as is the case with Mr. Greenleaf and family who are now at your house. Doctor McKinstry596 has mov’d to Boston with all his family, in consequence of which the committee of this town shut up his shop, but suppose it will soon be open again; the Doctor has a quantity of pork, grain, etc. in his shop, which I believe the town will take and give him security, and as some of the committee knew that he was indebted to you they desir’d me to write whether you’d exchange the doctor’s security for the towns; you’ll inform me by your next. For the news of the day you must at present depend upon some better hands, our distance from head quarters being such, ’tho’ we have a plenty of news, that it is impossible to seperate truth from falsehood. I’ll write you a few days hence when I am more at leasure. Mr. Greenleaf is now in waiting, must therefore conclude. Your family are in good health and spirits, but abundantly encreas’d since your absence. Mr. Adams’s family, of Braintree, as I heard last evening, are well likewise. Write by the first oppertunity and by every one. Excuse bad pen, bad writing, bad spelling, bad everything.
I am yours affectionately,
Cobb to Paine, Taunton, 16 July 1775597
Taunton July 16th 1775 (Sunday)
My dear Sir:
That natural indolence of disposition with which I am curs’d, and those little unforeseen accidents of time which have depriv’d kingdoms of their purposes, have prevented me from writing ’till I begin sensible to feel what my parsons tell me every Sunday (or more properly once in a year) that the procrastinating any duty encreases the deficulty of performing it. That much for an excuse. Your four letters of the 28th May, 9th, 10th June and 5th July598 are safely come to hand, and as it gives me great pleasure to hear of such unanimity presiding in the Congress, so that pleasure, if possible, is encreas’d by knowing that your health and good spirits are still continued to you. It is so long since I wrote to you last, and the military operations since then being so numerous, that to particularize them wou’d take up more paper than you’d have patience to read and more time than I can conveniently spare; and as you must be inform’d of all the transactions of note, either by the public papers or by private intelligence, let it suffice for me to say that the Battles of Hog Island and Bunker’s Hill will eternize the memory of infant American soldiers. Dr. Warren is gone, Colonel Gardner is dead, and Colonel Parker,599 who was taken prisoner, has since died of his wounds in Boston. These are losses we shall feel for the present, but we’ll have the world to know that from their ashes will rise thousands of Warren’s, Gardner’s and Parker’s that shall carry, if need be, the American standard to the capital of the Empire.
Within this week past our army have burnt Brown’s,600 and the other houses adjacent on the Neck, which the regulars improv’d as guard houses, and plunder’d two guns, a drum, etc., without the loss of a man kill’d or wounded; soon after which they clear’d Long Island of the stock that was upon it, took about 14 prisoners and came off undiscover’d, but as they had not burnt the hay, barnes, houses, etc., a party of ’em were desirous of returning in the day time to do it, which they effected, but were oblig’d to return thro’ a heavy fire from the ships, arm’d boats, etc., with the loss only of one man kill’d and one missing. These are bold actions. Intrenchments are forming in diverse parts of Roxbury, and one was thro’d up on the marsh beyond Roxbury Burying Ground towards Boston, which the enemy in plane ground kept a constant fire, and not a man hurt. These little incidents serve to make our soldierry vastly bold and enterprizing. A great number of whale boats were, some time last week, bro’t to Roxbury and last Thursday were convey’d over to the North side of Roxbury Hill down towards the marsh, for what purpose we know not, but suspect hot work pretty soon. Thus much for camp intelligence. Now to come to our domestic affairs. At our last election for deligates, you was join’d with Colonel George and Deacon Simeon Williams;601 and last Monday we chose our representatives, when you and Colonel Williams602 were elected. Our friend George G---603 is develish mad that he can’t obtain his election, as he thinks himself a pretty good son now; but he must eat humble pye for two or three years yet for his past curs’d behavior. Old Father Baylies604 is as noisey as ever and the Doctor is as firm as Atlas, and almost as big. Your family are very well, your garden is in a fine scituation, your hay is in your barn and your oats are the finest in town. Mr. Greenleaf’s famliy are all at your house and live agreeable; he is most commonly at head quarters, engag’d either in the post office, trying experiments or some other trifling matter. The old gentleman605 and family are well, and desir’d to be remember’d. He by advancing from one degree of patriotism to another has at last arriv’d to the perfect man. John McWhorter,606 from a trifling incident that happened at the Weymouth alarm, in which I was oblig’d to take his gun by force, has wag’d an eternal war with the neighbourhood and now lives in a surly, morose, malicious, damn’d Scotch-looking manner without conversing with his family or friends.
Mr. Collins607 and company past thro’ this town last Fryday. We took all the notice of them that the shortness of their stay wou’d admit of. I am much pleas’d with his conversation. We are all, thank God, in high spirits, and want nothing more than to meet our enemies whenever the cause of our country shall call for it. Whenever such a good natured mood comes across me as has this evening, I shall write you again; such a mood, you are sensible, has not happen’d for this two months past, but the disorder not being periodical, I expect a return in about ten days, as I begin to perseive some symptoms of its approach. In the meantime, present my respectfull compliments to the deligates from this provence, and remember me to all friends, if I have any such, in Philadelphia, and believe me to be, what I always have been,
Your much obliged and sincere friend
Be so good as to purchase me a hanger, the price not to exceed a moidore, and a pair of horse pistols, if any such can be found in the city, likewise 3. cort. peruv. opt. [sic]608 as we have no good in this part of the world; if you can convey ’em to me safely, do it; if not let ’em rest ’till you come. I forgot to mention that I am now collecting materials for a salt petre works, and intend, by the blessing of God to produce 500 Ct. [sic] between this and next April. This is not reckoning the chickens before they are hatch’d, for I am positive I can make it. John Cobb,609 our ingenious gun smith, was kill’d by lightening last Tuesday, a great loss to us at this time.
Cobb to Paine, Taunton, 10 October 1775610
Taunton October 10th 1775
My dear Sir:
I have receiv’d your two letters from Philadelphia and am conscious of an omission in writing, but I dare say you’ll not impute to neglect when you are inform’d that I have had neither sleep to my eyes nor slumber to my eyelids since you left Taunton.
A number of men of war and transports appear’d off Bristol last Saturday and there demanded a quantity of cattle and sheep; upon refusal of the inhabitants (who, by the bye, where then very sickley), they cannon’d and bomber’d the town for three hours but happily without distroying any lives, except Parson Burt,611 who died thro’ fear, as is suppos’d, being found dead in his cornfield the next morning. The inhabitants being thus distress’d and terrified, desir’d the ships to stop their fireing and they wou’d accomidate the matter. Accordingly they consented to leave the town if they wou’d give ’em 40 sheep, which was accordingly comply’d with. Thus ended this pretty d---able affair—a fine precident for the future to git provisions. Our friends and families are at present all well. Little Charles612 soon after you went away was seiz’d with a dangerous sore throat, a disorder common to infants, which bro’t him to the gates, but by the skilfullness of his physician and good nursing he’s happily recover’d to a good state of health.
Your farming business is in a good situation—salt petre business I shall inform you more particular about hereafter. There is little or nothing done about, with us, at present. Our public affairs you must be better inform’d of than I can possibly do it. Doctor Church’s613 affair is the only topic of the day. How are the mighty fallen! I have wrote this letter in great haste in Father Adam’s614 shop, Colonel Williams being in waiting to convey it to head quarters. Please to send by every oppertunity news papers, etc. Particular please to send the Journal of the Congress. Remember me to the deligates of this provence. Your wife and family join in their love and regards to you. They mean to write by the next oppertunity.
I am sincerely, your friend and humble servant,
While I am writing this I receiv’d your letter from Hartford.
Cobb to Paine, Watertown, 19 November 1775615
Watertown, November 19th 1775
My dear Sir:
It is so long since I wrote you last that I am almost asham’d to call myself your correspondent; and not hearing from you for a long time past makes me doubt whether I am writing to the living or the dead; if to the former I know my sins of omission will be pardon’d, if to the latter, they require none. I am now here on my way to Brookfield where Mr. Greenleaf and myself are going to examine some sulphurious pyrites, agreeable to an order of the house. The army are in high spirits and remarkably healthy, but I am fearfull a disaffection will take place in consequence of the late appointment of officers for the next campaign. So great is the uneasiness that I am confident much the greatest part of the present army will return home at the expiration of their term, and the difficulty attending the getting together an army at this season will oblige the millitia of the provence to defend the lines. Privateers are fitting out from almost every seaport in the provence and we never pass a week without hearing of their success. Deserters are weekly coming from the Parliment Army; six came over last Thursday night, who give an account that they are badly victualled and worse paid, and that they intended to have taken possession of a hill in Chelsea last Wednesday night had it not been for the storms, in consequence of which our army mean to take possession of the same hill the first good night for it. I came from home last Tuesday and have been detain’d here ever since on account of bad weather; your family, when I left ’em, where all well and our friends in general hearty. Salt petre goes on very slow with us at present. I have made no experiments worth relating but having collected a quantity of tobacco storks [stalks?]; I mean to make a compost for next spring, intending to spend this winter in sulphur, it being more agreeable to the season. If you are alive, do write me something more than three lines in a letter and inform me what you are about, if consistant. Salt petre has been made at Watertown by Doctor Whiting616 and they are now imploy’d at Newbery Port, where they have a large works. I shall write you an account of our experiments at Brookfield as soon as they are compleated. In the mean time believe me to be your constant friend (tho’ unsteady correspondent) and most humble servant,
To the Honorable R. T. Paine, Esquire
Cobb to Paine, Bristol, 11 February 1776617
Bristol February 11th 1776
My dear Sir:
I have been here for this fortnight past erecting works for the salt petre business and have now a large quantity of materials collected and intend to begin boiling by the middle of this week. The affair of salt petre has had a rapid spread in this part of the continent, since the discovery made by the salt petre committee at Newbury port and I have been so envelop’d in the matter that I cou’d never persuade myself to write you ’till now, since the receipt of your letter of January 8th. Your former letter of December 31st has never come to hand.
Your inquiries relative to my sulphur tour and the salt petre business, I intended more particularly to have answer’d, had not Mr. Greenleaf, as he informs me, done it before. I shall therefore only mention a few circumstances, reserving the particulars ’till I see you. The town of Brookfield, the place were we went to try experiments, is fill’d with those rocks and stones commonly call’d the vitriolic pyrites and which undoubtedly contain large quantities of sulphur, alum and copperas. We try’d the several methods we cou’d with our apparatus, but we fail’d in every one except in sublimation of the pyrites, by which we obtain’d a small quantity only; but I am very possitive that with proper vessels, large quantities of sulphur might be obtain’d, and as to alum and copperas that town of Brookfield only will supply the demands of the continent for half a century. The making of salt petre, as I observ’d before, from the simplicity of the process has spread thro’ the province with the greatest rapidity, and their is now scarce a town in it but what has 3, 4 or more salt petre makers, who meet with great success from earth, taken from under old houses, etc. I have made 12 bushels of salt petre out of 15 bushells of earths that was taken from under our meeting house, and I suppose the whole of the earth that has been taken from thence has made not less than 60 bushels. The young Tisdales,618 Simeon and Joseph, have made an 100 bushels, and sundry other persons in Taunton are now imploy’d in the business. In fine, the process being so generally known, every person with half a grain of common sense can now make salt petre equal to the ablest chymist.
Taunton, February 24th 1776
I wrote the above at Bristol with an intention to send it by the post, but whilst I was writing Mr. Fales,619 who came from Taunton, inform’d me that you was daily expected home. I therefore laid aside my pen, expecting when I came home to have had the agreeable satisfaction of seeing you here, the disappointment of which was in some measure compensated by receiving your letters of December 31st and January 29th, which (more especially the scolding introduction of the last) induc’d me to write by the first oppertunity. I have enquir’d of my father relative to casting of canon, agreeable to your desire; he informs me that the fewell Sanderson620 made use of was wood, that he endeavour’d to cast as large as nine pounders and the reason of his failing arose from the cause Governor Hopkins621 assign’d, i.e., it came to Nature in such a manner as to distroy its fluidity.
Our General Court have order’d the several Courts of Sessions and Inferior Courts thro’ out the provence to proceed on business at their usual terms, and their has been a number of writs fill’d to our next March Court; but their is so much uneasiness among the people, spurr’d on by designing men (the man that goes by the name of West India Rum is very busy), that I am fearfull they will not effect it.
You’ll observe by the public papers that good old Elder French622 of Berkley is appointed to command the regiment of militia from this county, who are call’d in to assist the army ’till next April; this appointment, I am inform’d, was obtain’d by our Friend Godfrey’s influence. Great God thy ways are past finding out!
If such Men are by God appointed
The Devil may be the Lord’s anointed.
Our Court have lately made a Militia Act (which is undoubtedly a master peice in their proceedings and does ’em great honour) by which three major generals are appointed thro’ the provence and a brigadier general in every county that contains more than one regiment; Colonel Warren623 is one of the major generals, and Godfrey is a brigadier for this county. This puts a final stop at once to all military business here.
It has been observ’d by some gentlemen respecting our present General Court, that they have divided among themselves almost every post either in the civil or military way that has any profit or honour annex’d to it. I don’t mean to observe this out of any self views or any dislike to their proceedings in general; as my representatives, I mean to reverence them, and as such I have a right to speak my opinion of them freely; but when a body of men placed at the head of government, descend to the mean business of auctioneering the public post among themselves, they must and will be dispis’d.
The making of fire arms is follow’d by great numbers both in this provence and Rhode Island. They are made in this town (very badly tho’), Raynham, and Easton, but at Orrs in Bridgewater they have made above 500 stands.624 In short, dear sir, if we can keep peace among ourselves, if we can ward off the malicious shafts of wicked and designing men who are endeavouring our disunion, we certainly can have nothing to fear; for having every internal resorce for a great glorious empire, and trusting in that God, who has carefully conducted us along the precipice of danger, we shall finally be plac’d above dependances on the tyrant or the knave and bid defiance to the world.
Brother Baylies, i. pacis, is well and making salt petre. Our friends in general are well and disire to be remember’d to you, perticularly J. Russell, auctioneer.625 The bombardment of Boston takes place within twelve days from this, probably on the 5th of March, and I am as certain of the town’s being carry’d as I am of my own existance. Poor Devils—5,500 British troops in a strong fortified town, taken prisoners of war by a percel of undisciplin’d Yankees commanded by a Virginia Farmer. O! terrible—
I shall endeavour, very soon, to write you some perticulars to confute the several erroneous opinions concerning the quantity of alkaline ley [?] made use of in manufacturing salt petre.
In the mean time, I remain your steady
Friend and oblig’d humble servant,
To Robert T. Paine, Esquire
Cobb to Paine, Boston, 17 May 1776626
Boston May 17th 1776
My dear Sir:
Its probable before this that you have been acquainted of my removal from Taunton to this town, with an intention to persue the business of my profession. The reasons for this sudden manuvre I must give you at some future time, and mean to improve this oppertunity for a letter of intelligence, only observing that I am like the rest of old sinners, always beging pardon for past offences and promising reformation for the future. This morning one of the Continental privateers, commanded by one Muckford, took a large ship, 280 tons burthen, off the lighthouse, six weeks out from Cork, laiden with 75 tons of gunpowder, 1000 stands of carbines compleat and a large quantity of other military stores. The particulars I can’t inform you. As the ship was coming up, about noon, the back way, commonly call’d Broad Sound, she got aground on the flats at high water, since which all the boats of the town have been imploy’d in unlaiding her and most of the powder is now secure (11 o’clock at night) in the magazine back of the Common. She is guarded tonight by 4 privateers and 300 of the troops. The Kings ships lay in King Road within sight of the prize. We have turn’d our fast into a Thanksgiving—pray appoint another next month; we shall have more powder ships upon the coasts.627
The fortifycations around the harbour now go on grandly. We have a fine fort on Fort Hill almost finish’d, mounting 20 peices of cannon, another on Noddles Island mounting as many, a third on Dorchester Point with 12 peices of cannon, and they are now at work on the Castle where they have already 12 peices of cannon mounted. The inhabitants of the town have generously subscribed in work and money to the amount of 400 Johannes’s, by which means the works on Noddles Island have been cheifly erected.
Mr. Joseph Russell, with whom I at present live, wou’d be much oblig’d if you cou’d by your influence, either at the Congress or with the council of this provence, obtain any post for him in the way of his business as auctioneer, such as the marshall of the admiralty. He has wrote to Mr. Collins on the subject, who will speak to you about it. I desire it as a friend you wou’d not forget him.
I heard from Taunton yesterday when your family and friends were all well. Mr. Greenleaf and most of his family are come to town. Dr. Whitworth628 and son are in prison for Toryism and male practices.
As I have now the weekly oppertunity of the post I hope in some measure to compensate for my past neglect, but if I do not, you must still believe me to be your most sincere
Friend and obliged humble servant
To R. T. Paine, Esquire
I intended to have sent this letter by Mr. Glover of Philadelphia,629 but he went out of town sooner than I expected, which obliges me to improve the post.
Cobb to Paine, Boston, 20 May 1776630
Boston May 20th 1776
My dear Sir:
I sent a letter to the post office for you last Saturday, but a circumstance that happen’d last evening relative to our privateers, obliges me to write you again. As Captain Muckford (the same that took the prize ship on Fast Day) was going out on another cruize yesterday afternoon, being accompanied down the harbour by the Washington, privateer, Muckford got aground by Point Shirley; in this situation they were attack’d about 8 or 9 o’clock in the evening by 13 boats and 3 schooners belonging to the man of war. An engagement ensued in which the Americans, ever noted for their intrepedity, repuls’d the enemy with great loss, their boats and dead men being found in plenty on Deer Island shore this morning and the decks of the privateers where cover’d with the hands and fingers of the enemy. Our prize ship is at the wharf, unlaiding her cargo.631
You won’t forgit our friend Mr. Russell; if there can be such a post as auctioneer for the agents in this provence it wou’d be agreeable to him.
Do be so good as to send me your Philadelphia papers.
I am your sincere friend
To R. T. Paine, Esquire
Cobb to Paine, Boston, 27 May 1776632
Boston May 27th. 1776
My dear Sir:
I have this moment receiv’d your letter (without any date) per Winthrop,633 and as the post is just going out of town, I have only oppertunity to inform you that our public matters, in general, now go on well. Our powder mill at Andover turns out weekly 1,000 pounds of powder,634 another mill at Stoughtonham is just ready to work.635 The quantity of salt petre made and making is incredible, but the sulphur and lead business is at a stand with us at present; as their has been no incouragement, of consequence, for the refining of sulphur, it is not to be suppos’d that any cou’d be produc’d; but if their was a generous grant made to a gentleman or two of chymical abilities, I’ll warrant, from certain knowledge, that the refining of sulphur cou’d be bro’t to perfecting in four months. You’ll be suppriz’d to hear who our representatives are from Taunton—viz., old Major Godfrey and Nathaniel Leonard.636 Their popularity arose from their heading the mob when the courts were oppos’d. Pray be so good as to write every post; I shall do the same. I hear your family are well. I expect to go to Taunton next Saturday. If I shou’d, you must not expect a letter next post. I have a great many things to write you but have not time at present. If Major Miflin637 is coming here, as we are inform’d he is, do give him a letter to me.
I am, dear Sir, your friend and humble servant
To R. T. Paine, Esquire
Cobb to Paine, Boston, 10 June 1776638
Boston June 10th 1776
My dear Sir:
The succession of occurrences are so rapid in our hemisphere that it is difficult to relate what happen’d but six days since; I shall however endeavour to give you what I can at present recollect; and for the future you may expect a weekly journal, provided the endemical disease of my habit don’t prevent it. This day week was bro’t into Dartmouth [?] a Jamaican sugar ship containing 303 hogsheads of sugar, 90 punchions of rum, cotton etc; last Thursday another was bro’t was bro’t [sic] into Cape Ann with 150 hogsheads of sugar, 100 punchions of rum and 20,000 dollars in cash. The ships were taken sent out from Philadelphia, one command’d by Adams. Quere—whether the distinction between British and West India property can be determ’d [sic].639 I wish I was a Judge of Admiralty for their sakes, or rather I wish their was no distinction at all. Pray hasten that glorious day when we shall no longer continue one of the circulating orbs of the system, but like our predecessor, the sun, be fix’d in the center, shine with unborrow’d lustre and kindly defuse the rays of our influence upon the worlds around us. You have the unanimous consent of every town in this colony for independency. The Yankee Hero, a privateer brigg mounting 14 carriage guns, own’d by Tracy’s, Jackson, etc., of Newbury, was taken last Friday afternoon by the Milford, man of war, after an engagement of 3 glasses;640 the same afternoon two of our privateers bro’t into Marblehead a ship from Glasgow with 100 officers and soldiers of one of the Highland regiments; she mounted 4. 6 pounders but never fir’d a gun. Grand troops. Their was firing below in the Bay yesterday, but we have heard no perticulars. I receiv’d your letter last night and am surpriz’d you don’t know J. Russell, auctioneer, an old acquaintance of yours. I suppose he wants nothing more than the priviledge of venduing the Continental captures, etc. Their was great complaint last week at Beverly for want of a proper vendu master, were one Bond641 was employ’d by the agents for that purpose, in the sale of the cargo of one of the Continental prizes; a number of gentlemen went from this town as purchasers, who came home very much disgust’d from the method of his conducting the sale, so that I leave it with you whether a man of Mr. Russell’s known qualifications as an auctioneer, seperate from your inclination to serve him, it wou’d not be more for the intrest of the Continent to give him a commission for a joint agent or a Continental auctioneer to sell under their direction, and allow him such a commission for doing the business as shall be tho’t adequate to his services.
I return’d last Wednesday from my excursion to Taunton where our families and friends are all well. For the conveniency of getting along I have taken a surgeon birth of one of the regiments stationed in this town (I don’t mean ever to follow out of town), and if their is anything in my way, or any post of any kind that don’t oblige me to go out of town, that you can git for me, better than regimental surgeon, you’ll oblige me in doing it.
My friend, adieu
Cobb to Paine, Boston, 17 June 1776642
Boston June 17th 1776
My dear Sir:
Agreeable to promise in my last I now send you a journal of the last week, and hope to continue it in future.
- Monday, 10th. In the course of the afternoon sundry transports arriv’d to the ships below with the Highland troops on board, under the convoy of 2 men of war. Likewise arriv’d intelligence that two sugar ships were bro’t in to Providence and New London, and a Barbadoes rum vessel carried into Plymouth. The fortifycations going on with alacrity, but great uneasiness that we can’t remove the ships from below, for which we are now preparing.
- Tuesday, 11th. Leave was obtain’d to go, with a flagg, on board the commodore’s ship to endeavour the exchange of the prisoners of the Yankee Hero; the commodore treated the flagg with the greatest politeness and promis’d to use the utmost of his influence to obtain an exchange. The captain and 1st lieutenant and 14 privates of the brigg were wounded and 5 killed—a warm engagement. The whole crew consisted but of 36.
- Wednesday, 12th. Nothing material.
- Thursday, 13th. The town was guarded last night to prevent any communication to the ships, and it is intended tonight to take possession of three heights that surround the shiping, viz., The east head at Long Island, the east head at Pettick’s Island, and Nantaskett Hill; and parties of 500 men each are drafted for the seperate posts, exclusive of volunteers and militia. The town in great confusion from the beating of drums for volunteers, rattleing of cannon, etc., and my chamber pertakes of it in proportion, where you can’t have admission without asking liberty from bundles of raggs, surgeon’s instruments etc. My station, sir, is on Pettick’s Island, where, you must note, I attend in the rear.
- Fryday, 14th. We sett out from the Long Warf last night half after nine, but for want of wind, loosing our way etc., never arriv’d to our station ’till day. The Nantaskett party were in the same scituation. The party on Long Island only succeeded, where they erected a battery and by six in the morning began to play on the ships, and altho’ at a great distance yet the cannon were so well serv’d that they took the topmasts from two of the transports and a top gallant mast from a third, upon which the fleet immediately up Killeck643 [sic] and stood out to sea, the commodore now and then, in the fullness of his wrath, poping a gun at the people on Nantaskett as he pass’d, whilst they from the open hill were returning the compliment. We are now, thank God, intirely free from pyrates and in possession of the finest harbour in the world, which we are endeavouring to secure by fortifying the islands.
- Saturday, 15th. Lodg’d last night at Brigadier Palmers in Germaintown.644 The Brigadier and family desire their compliments. Return’d in the afternoon to Nantaskett. Soon after embark’d for Boston, but having a piece of artillery to take in from one of the islands, we were detain’d all night upon the water. Bad fair, but soldiers must never complain.
- Sunday, 16th. Return’d to Boston where we have the disagreeable report of General Thomas’s645 death by the smallpox, and the bad scituation of our army in Canada. May God soon grant a different aspect to our public affairs in the north. Firing in the Bay. A ship, two briggs and two schooners are seen off—the ship and one of the briggs suppos’d to be prizes.
- Monday morning. The above vessells are at Nantaskett, but have not receiv’d any intelligence who they are—but still suppose some of em to be prizes.
Your letter I receiv’d last Wednesday and shall endeavour the return of an answer by Wednesday’s post. Our friends at Taunton are well. Don’t forgit sending papers or pampletts that are usefull. If you have a proper conveyance, do be so good as to send me Cullen’s Materia Medica.646
We cou’d wish that a commander-in-cheif for this department might be without any connections in the provence.
I am, dear sir, your constant friend
To R. T. Paine, Esquire
Cobb to Paine, Boston, 15 July 1776647
Boston July 15th 1776
My dear Sir:
Being oblig’d to go to Taunton on the 23rd ultimo, at which place I was detain’d ‘till last Thursday, has occasioned not only the omission of my correspondence, but has depriv’d me of at least 400 guineas. An inoculation was allow’d of in my absence, when all my friends and acquaintance were oblig’d to employ other physicians. This is a part of the same good fortune that I have always enjoy’d in life but as I am determin’d no longer to court or caress her dame ship (being plac’d, thank God, above her) but to treat her with the contempt she deserves, I am confident from her known spirit of ambition, she must soon court my acquaintance. As my journal contains little else than accounts of the weather, I shall omit sending it; but from this time shall continue it as usual. Their is now in this harbour two fine prize ships sent in by Captain Johnson of this port,648 one from Jamaica for London, the other from Antigua for Halifax, the last of which beside 400 and odd hogsheads of rum has on board 17 hogsheads that were not mentioned in her papers, and which were mark’d on the outside yams [?] but contain English goods, such as pins, etc. We are fearful Captain Johnson is taken as he meant to come in with the ships, and ’tho’ the ships have been in port this week past we have heard nothing from him. The men that are to be rais’d in this colony for New York and Quebec are got with great difficulty, not altogether because they dislike that service, but they say the rich old farmers shall either take their turns or pay for it; and ’tho’ the colony have granted a bounty of 3 £ for New York and 7 £ for Quebec, yet the several towns have been oblig’d to increase that bounty, from 9 £ to 12 £ in the first and from 15 £ to 20 £ in the last, and still the men are not yet half rais’d; but hope soon to see it effected. Our General Court have granted liberty for every county to erect a hospital for the small pox; if our county shou’d erect one, I believe I shou’d take the care of it; if that shou’d be the case, you’d have no objection to your family’s having the small pox. I have receiv’d two letters from you since I wrote you, in the first of which you enquire respecting Hoberts casting of cannon.649 If it is he who undertook to cast ’em in an air furnace, he has fail’d in his undertaking; but cannon are cast in different places in this colony, ’tho’ none very large as I have heard. But at Providence they cast as large as 18 pounds. I shall enclose you Dr. Prices excellent pamplet on Civil Liberty.650 It must give us most sensible pleasure that a person of Dr. Prices literary character on that side of the water, shou’d in such a bold and ample manner support the rights of nature and of nature’s God in these much injur’d colonies. Your last letter came freight’d with the best of news from a far country. It gives general joy that at last we have got to a fix’d point. We now know what to do and how to do it; but before all was uncertain. We have no news from any quarter. Pray has Mr. Dean got back?651 How was he receiv’d and what does he say? If I am asking questions that we mortals have no business with, don’t answer ’em, but I should be very fond of knowing how matters go on. Your family are all very well. Our friends at Taunton in general are well. Jonathan’s wife has bro’t him another son. Charles Barstow652 has had the small pox in the natural way at Taunton.
Adieu, dear sir
To R. T. Paine, Esquire
Cobb to Paine, Boston, 22 July 1776653
Boston July 22d 1776
My dear Sir:
I shall now continue my weekly journal agreeable to my former plan.
- Monday, 15th. Arriv’d here an express from New York from General Washington, ordering the five Continental regiments that are now here to repair there immediately.
- Tuesday, 16th. News came to town from Halifax that Captain Johnson in the Yankee sloop (he that sent in here the two West India prizes, last week) was taken and carried in there.
- Wednesday, 17th. Letters from Generals Schyler and Gates mention the further retreat of our Northern Army to Ticonderoga, on account of great sickness in the camp. God send ’em relief and prosperity. Our General Court have order’d a regiment of Indians to be rais’d from the eastward.
- Thursday, 18th. This day at 10’clock was declar’d the independence of America, from the ballcony of the townhouse in the presence of thousands. A regiment of Continental Troops and our provincial train of artillery, in the firing of platoons and field peices, hail’d the rising empire, whilst the different fortresses in the harbour wafted the joyfull sound to Heaven to thunder, smoak and fire, emblimatical of its presivation. The day was clos’d with a bonfire made of all the ensign’s of royalty that cou’d be collected.
- Fryday, 19th. Yesterday was carried into Salem a ministerial privateer, mounting 8 carrage guns, 12 swivells and 40 men, commanded by Lieutenant Goodrich of the Navy. She was taken by one of our colonial privateers commanded by Captain Fisk. Captain Goodrich, his Lieutenant, and 4 or 5 men were kill’d and 6 wounded. Captain Fisk had one man kill’d and 2 wounded.654
- Saturday, 20th. I was down at the Castle to day, where I observ’d a 42 pounder, with its trunions beat off, mounted, which I think is not only more beautifull, but it is much more handy and convenient than it can possibly be with its trunions on; one man with a handspike can very easily elivate and depress a 42 pounder in this method, where in the old 3 men cou’d hardly do it.
- Sunday, 21 st. This morning very early came into our harbour a French schooner from Martinico, 20 days passage, having West India produce on board; she brings no news, but that a number of French vessells are now on their passage for this port. This afternoon came into Nantaskett a ship with provisions for General Howe and was taken by the fort; she has on board 1,500 barrels of beef and pork, 400 furkins of butter, peas and oats; she came out of Ireland last November and was blown off this coast last winter to Jamaica, from whence she sail’d the 4th of May for this place, where she is now safely moor’d. Altho’ they took a fishing boat belonging to Nantaskett, for the sake of a pilote, who told ’em that Boston was evacuated, yet the captain insisted on going to Boston as that was the place of his destination, and order’d the pilote to conduct him to the harbour’s mouth were ’twas probable he shou’d find a King’s ship. Accordingly when they came in sight of our fictitious commodore riding in Nantaskett road with his broad pendent, the pilote took to his boat and my gentleman from Ireland came into the trap without hesitation. This afternoon likewise there was carried into Salem a large Jamaica ship and a sloop loaded with English goods, both taken by a letter of mark that was going from Salem to the West India’s, own’d by H. Derby Junior. She mounted only 2 carrage guns and 4 swivells.655 Yesterday an Order of Council was issu’d commanding every 25th man in ten county’s of the alarm list and training band, immediately to march to Dorchester Heights to supply the places of those five regiments that are gone for New York; when this order is compleated, we shall have full one half of this colony in the Army or Navy.
Cobb to Paine, Boston, 29 July 1776656
Boston July 29th 1776
My dear Sir:
As there is a general stagnation of public news in this part of America, my journal this week can’t afford you but little entertainment; but as I mean to continue this method of writing, concluding that you must from it receive the best information of what is going on here, you will, I doubt not, be willing to take the bad with the good.
- Monday, 22d. The militia of this town were this day call’d forth to draft out every 25th man for the Northern Army.
- Tuesday, 23d. The Jamaica ship that was carried into Cape Ann came into this harbour to day for sale.
- Wednesday, 24th. Sundry of our prisoners that broke out of Halifax goal came to town last night; among ’em are Captain Martindale and his officers and Lieutenant Scott who was wounded and taken at Bunker’s Hill.657
- Thursday, 25th. News arriv’d by the way of Providence that General Lee had defeated General Clynton at South Carolina.658 We are doubtful of the truth of it.
- Fryday, 26th. The Jamaica ship taken by Derby’s letter of mark, that I mentioned last Sunday was not carried into Salem, but was yesterday retaken by a frigate as she was coming in, off Newbury in sight of land.
- Saturday, 27th. A confirmation, by the post, of General Lee’s engagement, receiv’d with great joy. But no letter from you—I much expected one.
- Sunday, 28th. Two of the Continental privateers have taken a ship from Halifax to New York laiden with English goods, provisions and Tories, and carried her, this morning, into Marblehead; among the Tories are Benjamin Davis and son659 and two semple Scotchmen. You’ll have a share of this cargo. Two transports of Germain troops have arriv’d at Halifax and are gone from thence to New York.
In the course of the week past we have had a number of our eastern wood vessells taken by a frigate and some arm’d vessells that are cruising on the eastern shore and in this bay; the frigate that took three of ’em, put all the crews aboard one of the vessells and sent ’em off, after saying that they must not blame them for taking their vessells as they were absolutely oblig’d to do it by their orders and damn’d very heartily both men and measures that oblig’d ’em to commit such pyracies on the Americans. We suffer amazingly for want of some heavy ships to guard our coasts. Do send me a letter weekly, if possible, if its nothing more than a newspaper inclos’d with R. T. P. at the bottom. Our powder mills are both at work, tho’ that at Stoughton is not yet compleated, but when it is, the master workman tells me, he’ll turn out at the rate of 600 pounds of powder per day; it will cost the province almost 3000 £ sterling.
Your family were all well when I heard from ’em last; but we have had little or no communication with the country for this week or two on account of our being pox’d.
I am, dear sir, your constant friend and much oblig’d servant
Just now the Tories were landed at the Long Wharf from Marblehead and were attended from thence to the prison by 2 thousand people, the women from the windows asking Davis whether he wanted any gingerbread, refering to his treatment of the little children when they were going out of town last year. I wish the Devil had ’em.
To R. T. Paine, Esquire
Cobb to Paine, Boston, 5 August 1776660
Boston August 5th 1776
My dear Sir:
It wou’d give me great pleasure and satisfaction to have a line now and then from Philadelphia so that I might peep into the secrets and mysteries of the Grand Book of Temporal Fate; but if I do not, my weekly journal will go on, such as it is, ’till eternal fate prevents it.
- Monday, 29th. Benjamin Davis and others that were taken yesterday, landed at the Long Wharf from Marblehead and from thence conducted to the prison; they have a number of women with them. The cargo of the ship consist of £1500 sterling in cash, a quantity of English goods, 200 tierces of beef, etc.
- Tuesday, 30th. Nothing.
- Wednesday, 31st. A schooner was bro’t into this port to day, taken by two whalemen; she is from Jamaica to Liverpool, Nova Scotia, laiden with rum and salt; she is said to be own’d by Derby of Salem and sail’d from thence above a year ago, when the captain had orders to make her Jamaica property; since which he has been trading from Jamaica to Nova Scotia. Her condemnation is uncertain. The Tory ship came from Marblehead to this port to day.
- Thursday, August 1st. A general fast—no particular occurrence.
- Fryday, 2d. A large Jamaica ship is arriv’d at Townsend at the eastward, sent in by one of our privateers.
- Saturday, 3d. The Juliana, a Jamaica prize ship, was tri’d at Salem yesterday, when the mate claim’d ⅛ of the ship and some of her cargo, as being Jamaica property; the evidence was so clear, that the jury were oblig’d to acquit the part claim’d. It gives some uneasiness. But I am just inform’d that the Congress have allow’d the seizure of all West India property, except Bermudas and the Bahamas, which I rejoice at.
- Sunday, 4th. Captain White of Derby’s privateer661 has arriv’d at Casco Bay with two very large Jamaica ships, having taken on this cruise no less than 4 or 5 of said ships. What grand fortunes will soon be amass’d.
The troops that were to march from this state to Canada are cheifly gone, as well as those for New York, and the militia are now marching down to take post on Dorchester Heights. We have had and now got the finest season that was ever known for grain. There will be the largest crop of corn that ever was since the colony was settled. God be thank’d for it.
The selectmen of this town were so kind as to appoint me last Saturday the care of the small pox hospital on one of the Islands, which I hope soon to fill with patients. Dear Sir, adieu; and in all your secret interviews whether with yourself or the Deity, remember me as your constant friend
To R. T. Paine, Esquire
Cobb to Paine, Boston, 19 August 1776662
Boston August 19th 1776
My dear Sir:
My necessary absence, last Monday, at my island hospital, prevented your having the weekly journal as usual. I shall now send you the whole.
No public occurrence of any kind in these days.
- Thursday, 8th. Receiv’d your letter of the 30th ultimo.
- Fryday, 9th. This afternoon arriv’d here a large prize ship from Granada, laiden with rum, sugar and a 130,000 pounds of cotton; she was taken by two letters of mark from New York. Likewise arriv’d this week at Portsmouth a large ship (she formerly mounted 20 guns) from Tortola having on board 790 hogsheads of sugar, a large quantity of cotton, rum etc. with 12 9-pounders, iron, and 6 6-pounders, brass, most of ’em mounted; she never fir’d a gun, supposing that an American privateer was invincible. She was right. She was taken by the Hancock, privateer.
- Saturday, 10th. Receiv’d sundry articles of intelligence, per post, together with your letter of the 3d. instant. Nothing new here.
- Sunday, 11th. Nothing remarkable.
- Monday, 12th. Two briggs were sent into Salem and Dartmouth by one of the colony arm’d vessells, both belonging to people of this colony and have been traiding from the West India’s to N. Scotia. I hope they’ll be condemn’d—villains.
- Tuesday, 13th. Jamaica cargoes have been selling off this week past; sugar is reduc’d to 32/ per hundredweight and the best Jamaica rum to 5/1 per gallon—grand effects of arm’d vessells. Their is now more sugar in the New England States, than they can consume in three years.
- Wednesday, 14th. This day was celebrated here with the usual ceremonies,663 firing of cannon etc. In the afternoon arriv’d a schooner from Hispaniola in 21 days. She brings no particular news.
- Thursday, 15th. Yesterday arriv’d at Newbury port a prize ship from Antigua, having 400 hogsheads sugar and 100 hogsheads rum. She was taken by the Hancock, privateer from Philadelphia.
- Fryday, 16th. A brigg from St. Augustine with indigo, furrs, deerskins, etc., was sent into Marblehead yesterday by two of the Continental cruizers. She has on board a recruiting party of the 14th Regiment that was going home commanded by a Lieutenant. The brigg came up to this port this afternoon. Likewise arriv’d this week at Portsmouth a schooner from Hispaniola with dry goods and West India produce.
- Saturday, 17th. A schooner arriv’d here to day from Martinico, with molasses, etc. She sail’d some time since from Salem.
- Sunday, 18th. Last Fryday was carried into Bedford, Dartmouth, a prize ship, with 300 hogsheads sugar and 300 hogsheads molasses. She is said to be own’d by Thomas Boylstone of this town; but is now cover’d under the name of Lane and Frazier, London.664
Do send me what ever is new and curious. Your family are well.
Your friend, etc.
Cobb to Paine, Boston, 26 August 1776665
Boston August 26th 1776
My dear Sir:
I have receiv’d since I wrote you, your letters of the 10th and 17th instant; and as my journal for the week is very barren, I shall endeavour to make you up a letter, chiefly of the small pox.
When leave was first obtain’d for inoculation in this town, the people of the country rush’d in with the greatest eagerness to receive the infection; and whether from the numbers that the physicians had prevented that attention that was necessary in the disorder, or whether it arose from bad matter that was us’d, I am not certain, but full 1/5 of the number first inoculated never receiv’d the infection, ’tho’ they had an eruption at the usual period, which the faculty suppos’d to be the small pox, and were accordingly sent out as free from the disorder, yet all of ’em afterwards had it in the natural way, and I suppose out of the number of those who where thus unhappily deceiv’d 1/40 have dy’d; this added to many that staid in town and refus’d inoculation from principles of conscience (hellish principles) has not only increas’d our bills of mortality, but has given rise to a common report, that a great number have dy’d by inoculation, when inoculation, upon those that receiv’d the infection, has been favourable as ever it was. The small pox hospital that I have care of is design’d altogether for the army, ’tho’ I inoculate privately any person that applies. Hospitals are establish’d in almost every county. There is four now in this (but two of ’em at present receive patients), one at Point Shirley, another at Dedham, a third at Sewell’s Point, up the river towards Cambridge, and a fourth at Medfield. There is likewise five appointed in the County of Worcester, and I am inform’d that the Court of Sessions for the County of Bristol are to meet to morrow with an intention to commission two for that county, one in Taunton, the other in Dartmouth. Thus much for small pox. My family still continue at Taunton, were Mrs. Cobb is now in the straw with another daughter,666 and if I shou’d not return to Taunton to take [care] of the hospital of the county, I shall remove my family into town in about a month. My time is cheafly taken up in the care of the army. Every other day I visit my small pox hospital on the island, and every day I am oblig’d to visit a military hospital at Dorchester and likewise a hospital in this town of the sick and wounded prisoners. My town practice is small. Thus you see I am in constant employ tho’ but little profit arising from it, occasion’d by that rigid parsimony that runs thro’ all our public proceedings. We have a private letter in town from St. Eustatia which gives the following intelligence, viz., that the Portuguese and Spaniards are arming themselves with the greatest expedition, that the latter have a fleet asea of 17 ships of the line, their destination unknown, that England has desir’d of the states of Holland the loan of their Scotch Dutch troops and 7 ships of the line, but were refus’d, in consequence of which an English frigate has taken two Dutch merchantmen, and the Dutch in return have taken off the prohibition on the exportation of arms and ammunition to America, have order’d 20 ships of the line immediately to sea, 50 more to be repair’d and built and have added 20 thousand men to their land army. If this is true—“O happy America, retir’d to the quiet Vale of Peace, remote from the confusion of a world in flames, were unmolested, she may enjoy the bounties of luxuriant nature, and bask an eternity in the halls of pleasure.”667 I have wrote to Mrs. Paine, desireing her that whenever she wrote to send it here, and as she has now almost a weekly oppertunity, its probable you’ll hear from your family oftener than heretofore. Their is no danger of any infection being communicated by letters that you may send here for Taunton. As to salt petre matters I’ll make an enquiry and give you an answer in my next. You know that we made 50 odd tun by 1st June last, and that our powder mills are at work and have been these two months past. Last Thursday was carried into Portsmouth a prize ship from the Bay of Honduras with logwood. Nothing come’s amiss, and another was carried to Marblehead last Saturday with sugars. She was chais’d in by the Milford, man of war, which is now in our Bay. I believe our counsel are contriving to put the guns of some of our fortresses on board the frigates at Newbury port with an intention to attack the Milford, for while she stays in our Bay their can be no safety to prize vessells, privateers or coasters coming in here. She must be taken or drove off if we do it with whale boats. I am just call’d upon to go to the island, shou’d otherwise have fill’d up the page; but what is wrote I believe will answer for a week. Dear sir, good bye—God bless you.
I am confident you have not receiv’d all the letters I have wrote, and believe I have not receiv’d all yours; to make the matter certain for the future we’ll number ’em.
Cobb to Paine, Boston, 9 September 1776668
Boston September 9th. 1776
My dear Sir:
I have been oblig’d to omit writing you in consequence of the great trouble and attention that I have had in gitting a military hospital properly establish’d; for the sick of a camp always being numerous at this season, and barracks but illy affording any conveniency for ’em, that I have always thought it the duty of authority to provide every necessary for hospitals when an army is first establish’d, but unhappily it was never tho’t of ’till the evil of it had come upon us, when our barracks were crowd’d with sick and infection communicated from one to a thousand; but at last, thro’ great fatigue, I have got it effect’d, and the sick rejoice with the conveniency of their scituation. It adds new life to the camp. I receiv’d your letter of the 24th ultimo with papers inclos’d, for which I am much oblig’d. I wrote you in my last a perticular account of the small pox which before this you must have receiv’d; the disorder here is almost stop’d and expect the town will be free from it by next week. The County of Bristol, always persueing measures in opposition to their good, have voted not to have a hospital in the county.
I receiv’d a letter, some day’s since, from Mrs. Paine by which she appears desirous of being inoculated if she cou’d have conveniences. As she is in no danger, I advis’d her to rest contented a little while when probably an oppertunity wou’d offer, where conveniences of every kind might be had; at present there is no such place open’d. A number of prizes have been sent into the different ports of New England since my last, 4 in at Bedford, one at Cape Ann, some at the eastward and a number at Providence, chiefly West Indiamen. The spirit for privateering is got to the highest pitch of enthusiasm, almost every vessell from 20 tons to 400 is fitting out here; they are in great want of guns, but with what they dig up on wharfs and at the corner’s of streets, they have made out heretofore very well. Small vessells are gone to Hispaniola for the cannon of 2, 24 gun ships that are now fitting for the sea; the owners have offer’d me 20 £ per month and 4 shairs, to take the surgeon’s birth on board one of ’em. The salt petre business is still persu’d with spirit, ’tho’ the quantity that has been bro’t in since June is but small, but when the farming business is over we shall have it in as great plenty as ever.
You must be better acquainted with the state of our Northern Army than we are, but least you may possibly be deceiv’d, I shall give the following intelligence, which was communicated to me by a gentleman who went to Ticonderoga with our troops and came from thence but a fortnight since, viz., that the army are very sickly indeed, numbers dieing daily, having neither medicines, oatmeal, Indian meal, barley, rice or sugar, that they are at an allowance of bread and pork, tho’ they have a plenty of fresh meat, on the broath of which the sick are oblig’d to live, that the old army that came out of Canada are very much dishartin’d, but have reviv’d a little from the numbers that have join’d them. I cou’d wish that every measure might be taken to supply that Northern Army with all possible necessaries consistent with their scituation, for their is nothing that can make the service so disagreeable as being badly nurs’d when sick and as badly cloath’d and victual’d when well. Mr. Barnum who was chaplain to Colonel Greaton’s Regiment, dy’d at Pittsfield on his return home. Thus we have lost our parson.669 I have just receiv’d your letter of the 31st ultimo. Do continue your favours. New York news we have here in plenty; the perticulars you must have long before us.
Your friends are all well as is perticularly your humble servant
R. T. Paine, Esquire
Cobb to Paine, Boston, 23 November 1776670
Boston November 23d 1776
My dear Friend:
From the various avocations of my business and the incessant entreaties of my relations and friends for my return to Taunton, has kept my mind in such a continued agitation that I have had no composure for writing you, or for doing any thing else for this long time past; but now having unburthen’d my mind by determining to return to Taunton (tho’ I am afear’d to my disadvantage), I take up my pen with great pleasure to compensate, if possible, for my long neglect. Governmental proceedings I know little or nothing about for since the Court have remov’d into town, their business has been cheafly relative to war, and having a number of foreigners around them, they have tho’t fit to shut their galleries; thence we know nothing of their proceedings but by the streams that issue from the fountain. Our old deligates for Congress are reelected with the addition of the Honorable Francis Dana and Master James Lovell.671 The Court are likewise making large preparations for the next campaign by purchasing of cloathing and ever[y] other necessary for the army. Our prizes are innumerable, sugars are a drugg but the price is still high. We have lately taken 1 ship and 2 briggs with English goods cheafly; and provision vessells from England are daily arriving at our ports. I long to see you that I may converse respecting governmental matters and other proceedings. I dare not trust my sentiments upon paper as the enemy are between us. I have no news from the northwards, but peace and quietness.
I was at Taunton twenty days since, where our families and friends were well. I expect to return to Taunton next week to take up my residence, where I shall continue, I suppose, the remainder of my days, unless the voice of my country calls me to the field. God knows I dispise danger in such a cause as this. I have lately receiv’d 2 or 3 letters from you, but as they contain’d nothing that requir’d a perticular answer, you’ll accept of this as an answer for the whole. Do let us see you by Christmas.
In the mean time, I am your much devoted friend and servant
To R. T. Paine, Esquire
By the end of 1776 young Dr. Cobb was back in Taunton, expecting to carry on his profession there “unless the voice of my country calls me to the field.” Apparently his country’s voice called sooner than he had expected, for less than two months after his return to his native town he was once again in the army. This time it was no staff position; on 1 February 1777 he was commissioned a lieutenant-colonel in the 16th Massachusetts Regiment, then commanded by Colonel Henry Jackson.672 Perhaps Robert Paine had helped him win his commission; perhaps he was already close to Henry Jackson, who was to be one of his most faithful friends for the remainder of Cobb’s life; there is no record of just how this military position was acquired. In any event, from now on he was to see active service in the Revolutionary Army, sharing, as one of his admirers puts it, “the perils and the glory of the camp.”673
The 16th Massachusetts Regiment did not distinguish itself during the war, nor did Colonel Cobb, as far as is known, perform any spectacular feats while serving under Jackson. The first engagement in which the regiment participated was the attempt made in 1778 to drive the British from their base at Newport, a position which they had occupied since 1776. This expedition, under the command of General John Sullivan of New Hampshire, was made up of a brigade under General Glover, a detachment of light infantry under Jackson, and a Connecticut brigade under General Varnum. The story of the failure of this campaign needs no retelling here; the 16th did nothing extraordinary, and Cobb’s only contribution seems to have been an attempt to delay with twenty men the progress of some Hessian cavalry.674 The regiment also took part in the battle of Monmouth but came off rather badly. It was engaged in the first part of the battle, but when General Lee failed to cut off the British during their retreat, Jackson, confused by conflicting orders, drew off his men too soon. To clear himself, Jackson requested that a court of inquiry examine into his conduct; but when nothing was found to justify court-martial proceedings, the matter was dropped. Cobb was with the regiment at this time, but there is no record of his having been in any way outstanding in what must have been at best an unfortunate occasion for the 16th.675 Later Cobb took part in the battle of Springfield, when the 16th aided in the repulse of a British advance toward the close of the battle.676 In short, neither Cobb nor his regiment distinguished themselves during this period of the war.
Late in 1779 Colonel Cobb was temporarily detached and sent to his native Massachusetts to recruit new troops, track down deserters, and settle some regimental matters with the General Court. A letter to Henry Jackson, written in the spring of 1780, shows that the Colonel had plenty to keep him occupied:
Cobb to Jackson, Boston, 26 April 1780677
Boston April 26th 1780
My old Friend:
I wrote you a little letter yesterday by Mr. Lovell, who proceeded on his journey in the afternoon. Soon after I receiv’d your letter per post from Mr. Lott’s,678 and another by Mr. Lamb679 and shall perticularly attend to their contents. The recruiting business is at present at an end. I have not a single man beside those I sent on under Mitchell,680 and out of the six that I did recruit, you’ll observe three are deserted, tho’ I have got some of our old deserters. I have not heard a word from Scott681 since I advanc’d him 600 dollars for recruiting. I hope he is dead. You must overlook [?] the outstaying of the furlough [illegible] in officers and men, as it has been impossible for them to comply with ’em, for the depreciation money, which the lads ought to receive, was not ready for ’em ’till after the expiration of their furloughs. Their is not one in ten of officers and soldiers in the Massachusetts line that went on ’till six weeks after their furloughs were expir’d, and General Howe, at North River, in consequence of it, has issued a pardon for those that have outstay’d their furloughs.682 I will endeavour to procure your notes, but I shall meet with difficulty in obtaining them unless you send an order on Henry Gardner,683 Esquire, for the amount of your depreciation money. Do tell Captain North684 to do the same, as it isnt in my power to receive a farthing without an order on the Treasurer from the person to whom the money is due. There will likewise be some difficulty in exchanging them. I’ll do my best however. There is not a farthings worth of cloathing with the Board of War, but as they yesterday receiv’d an order for purchasing, they tell me I shall be supplied next Monday. William Canady,685 who conducts the business for the Board, I am thick with, who tells me he’ll put aside every thing I want on me [?] giving him a bill accordingly. Shaw’s [?] waggon won’t go on these ten days yet. Brother Ned has put up a small cask of sugar for you, in which I have put 2 loaf’s of sugar a present to you from Captain Turner,686 an old friend of yours, that call’d to see you at Pautucett when he came from Rhode Island. The sugar, tents and other things I shall send by Shaw’s waggon.687 I shall git the small stores soon. I shall present a petition to morrow for your being taking into the line. I believe there will be some difficulty on the matter, as the Court will be unwilling to act without advice from the General or Congress; if you cou’d git General Washington to write two words on the matter, they wou’d do it immediately. I have seen [?] the members of influence, who are fond of it, but they want General’s advice. Nineteen day’s ago South Carolina was safe, General Linkon being perfectly secure having an army superior to that of the enemies;688 this news carries by a ship from there which arriv’d this moment. Huzza! French have 20 ships of the line, and a [illegible] number of frigates and troops in the West Indies [?]. This is true—a vessel arriv’d yesterday 20 day’s [?] from Martinico confirms it. We have a secret wispering that there is 6 or 8 ships of line to co-operate with this campaign. They say, they are now on their voyage for Charlestown. Adieu—God bless you. I am dancing on the clouds with so much good news. Tell the Major689 I’ll write by and by.
Old folks are well.
Yet Colonel Cobb must have had some qualities to set him apart from his fellow officers, for he served during the last years of the war as an aide to the Commander-in-Chief himself. Just how this appointment came about is something of a mystery. Cobb has been described as having “activity and talent and high military qualities”;690 he displayed also a conscientious attention to detail, dependability, and loyalty—all virtues which General Washington prized. In the summer of 1780, when the 16th Massachusetts was serving under Washington, Cobb’s name first appeared in the General Orders,691 and the following January he was transferred from the 16th to the Massachusetts 9th, possibly so that he might remain close to Headquarters.692 However it was that he attracted Washington’s attention, the General Order of 15 June 1781 announced his appointment as aide-de-camp, and he remained close to the Commander-in-Chief until late in 1783.693 From the first, Washington did not hesitate to entrust his new aide with important missions. On 27 June 1781 Cobb carried a message to Count Rochambeau,694 and on the 30th he was sent with an important letter to the French commanders—a mission which was “of very great importance” and one which required “the utmost secrecy in its communication.” Washington was planning to use the French troops in the Yorktown campaign, which would require their changing position more rapidly than had previously been decided upon. Cobb was to impress upon the French “the importance of their motions to support our operations.” Rochambeau was in a “very disaffected part of the country” and the Tories would be eager to discover Washington’s plans; thus, “Secrecy and dispatch must prove the soul of success to enterprise.”695
Until the fall of Yorktown, Cobb’s duties seem to have been of a similar nature—writing letters and orders for the Commander-in-Chief, carrying dispatches, and performing other secretarial tasks.696 He seems also to have been frequently chosen for what must have been the relatively pleasant duty of “entertaining and doing the honors to the French officers,” a task for which he was particularly suited, writes one eulogist, from the “gaiety and vivacity of his manners and his martial bearing.”697 After Yorktown, Washington could speak of him as “a very deserving officer”698 and throughout his term of service as aide, his faithful performance of duty does him nothing but credit.
Colonel Cobb accompanied the Commander-in-Chief throughout the Yorktown campaign and has left a brief diary descriptive of the last stages of the siege.699 He records succinctly the preparations for the final assault—the reconnoitring of the engineers, the arrival of the artillery and stores, the strengthening of the redoubts, and the breaking of ground for the first parallel. By 11 October the first parallel had been completed, and the second was started the next day in the face of an ever-increasing fire from the enemy. On 15 October a successful attack carried two of the British redoubts and enabled the Americans to bring their lines to within one hundred and fifty yards of the enemy.
Cobb’s entries for the 17th and 19th, the days of the surrender, are characteristically brief, to the point, and free from any unseemly show of emotion. On 17 October he writes: “Fair—rained last night with high wind—Lord Cornwallis sent a flag requesting a suspension of hostilities for 24 hours and that commissioners might be appointed to treat on terms for the surrendery of the British Army and Navy under his command. Two hours were granted, which finally bro’t on an intercourse of flags that ended in a cessation of arms for the night. His Lordship proposed surrendering prisoners; and some other terms that could not be granted.” And on 19 October Cobb adds: “This morning at 12, the Articles were signed; at 1 o’clock our troops took possession of some of the enemy’s works and they marched out at 2 o’clock. Most happy sight. Lord Cornwallis being unwell did not march with his troops. General O’Hara marched.”
Over a week later, Cobb finally got around to writing his brother-in-law an account of “the interesting event” which fills in some details omitted in the diary and explains plans for the future:
Cobb to Paine, Yorktown, 28 October 1781700
Headquarters near York, Virginia, October 28th 1781
My dear Sir:
My not writing you heretofore has not been owing to a want of an affectionate remembrance of you and your family, but to a proper oppertunity and a certain mode of conveyance.
You must be informed before this, of the interesting event that has taken place in this quarter, which I should have informed you of at the time, but the dispatches for Congress were sent so suddenly, that I had only a moment just to inform Governor Hancock. As Lord Cornwallis surrendered at least seven days sooner than we expected, I will give you some of the particulars of our operations. On the 8th instant, after great exertions and fatigue in bringing up our heavy artillery and stores, we opened our first batteries upon his Lordship; these required finishing; and putting our first parallel in a proper state of defence detained us ’till the evening of the 14th, when two of the enemy’s advanced redoubts, thro’ which we intended runing our second parallel, were stormed and carryed, and our second parallel together with all its communications were compleated by morning. Most of the two following days were employed in erecting batteries on our advanced parallel; soon after, they were compleated and we had opened sixty peices of artillery. His Lordship, on the morning of the 17th, sent a flag, which was the first that had passed, with proposals for the surrendery of the posts of York and Gloucester. Hostilities ceased after an interchange of flags by which the principles of the surrendery were explained. Commissioners were appointed on the 18th to settle the Articles, and on the 19th at 2 o’clock, a. [p.] m., the British Army marched out and grounded their arms. Most joy full day! Most of the officers are paroled for Europe, and their troops marched, three days after their captivity, for their lodgement at Winchester in this state. The British Army, including officers, is above 7,000, and a thousand naval prisoners. We have taken 2,000 suits of cloaths, 75 pieces of brass artillery and 141 iron, together with a quantity of powder and other military stores, not forgitting the military chest with 2,000 £ sterling in it, and 9,000 stands of arms—about 60 sail of vessels including a frigate and sloop of war, all which belong to the French; a 40 gun ship was burned by us, in the siege. This is the greatest blow our enemies have received during the war, more perticularly as it has happened in that part of the continent they tho’t themselves perfectly secure of, and must, with a continuance of our exertions, soon put us in possession of our wished for peace. Arrangements are now forming for the future disposal of the troops, and I suppose those troops that belong northward will soon march for their old position on the Hudson. His Excellency will return with them. General Greene will be reinforced, and Count Rochambeau with his army will perhaps remain in this state. Count de Grasse with the first fleet in the world will, if the British dare face him, give them another floging, and then persue the orders of his master. I can’t write you any more. Give my love to Mrs. Paine and family and remembrance to all friends. Don’t forgit honest Joe. You will probably hear from me again when I come a little nearer to you. At present I am out of the world. My best wishes attend you, and believe me ever
Your sincere friend
Let Mrs. Cobb know, if I don’t write her by this conveyance, that I love her still and am well.
Honorable Robert Treat Paine, Esquire
Cobb’s diary contains as well an account of the events succeeding the British surrender—the problem of the prisoners, the paroling of the officers for New York and Europe, a round of dinners for British and French military men, at some of which Cobb himself was present. On 5 November he left with Washington for the north, but when the death of John Parke Custis detained the Commander-in-Chief, Cobb was sent on alone with a letter for the Continental Congress. He passed a few days at Mt. Vernon, hoping that Washington might overtake him, before continuing his slow journey to Philadelphia. His letter delivered, the young Colonel journeyed on into New Jersey to General Heath’s headquarters, where he was happy to find old New England friends, among them his late commander Henry Jackson. The diary breaks off with the statement that Cobb was “still with the lads hutting in the mountains.”701
The decisive character of the battle of Yorktown, especially when viewed from a twentieth-century point of view, makes it easy to forget that it was a good two years before the American army was finally disbanded. During the whole of this period Colonel Cobb continued faithfully as a member of Washington’s “military family,” his service, as the Commander-in-Chief wrote later, terminating “with my own existence as an officer.”702 Though Cobb must have received his share of furloughs and visited his wife and family occasionally,703 he was at Washington’s side during most of the dramatic events that marked the final period of the war. A series of letters to Robert Treat Paine emphasize the uncertainties which faced Washington during this difficult time:
Cobb to Paine, Newburgh, 19 June 1782704
Headquarters, Newburgh, June 19th 1782
Every thing here is perfect quiet; and Sir Guy at New York seems equally undetermined respecting the future operations of the campaign. What they will be is very uncertain. Perhaps the flagillation our good friends have met with in the West Indies may prevent any thing great on our side, tho’ we will have to have another slap at ’em.705
Our army are now better cloathed than they have been during the war and make a most martial appearance, but our numbers will be greatly deficient if we are called seriously to action.
Public affairs feel very sensibly the want of compliance in the several states, in raising money for this year. Our contracts at this moment are supported on the future supplies of the states. I wish every exertion in our state, tho’ I know their poverty.
Inclosed you have an order on Mr. Shattuck and Co.706 for 20 dollars. More money will be sent by the first safe oppertunity. If my daughters have come to your house, I wish Mrs. Paine would, with your consent, supply them with all the little necessaries they may want. If Mrs. Paine cannot sell the silk at Hastings’s she may send it to, or get it made up for Mrs. Cobb. Whatever money you may expend for the girls shall be immediately repaid.
Give my love to your neighbour Russell, wife and family and sincere affection to Mrs. Paine, and believe me ever
Your friend and servant
Do write by the next post, so that I may know whether you are all alive.
Honorable Robert T. Paine, Esquire
Cobb to Paine, Newburgh, 28 August 1782707
Head Quarters, Newburgh, August 28th 1782
I have just received your favor of the 11th, which gave me very great pleasure, as it is the only information I have received of my family or relatives since I came on to camp, and am very happy to hear that my daughters have arrived at your house. Their future mode of schooling, I must beg to leave entirely with you and Mrs. Paine, and shall have no objection to any plan you persue, as you already know that the height of my ambition in their education is only to unite the usefull with the ornimental.
I have remitted 50 dollars more, which you will receive thro’ Mr. Nat. Tracey or Joseph Russell. This for the present will be the amount of my remittances. If the silk is not disposed of, give yourself no further trouble about it, but send it to Mrs. Cobb.
I hardly know what to give you as news. We have received nothing of a political nature, from Sir Guy Carleton, since his letter of the 2d August, which you have seen in the public papers.708 Our army will take the field next Saturday, but we have nothing more in view, at present, than to obtain forrage with greater ease and to procure a quantity of wood for our garrisons and posts against winter. The French army are on their march and will join us in the course of a month; what our object then will be must depend on the uncertainties of a month. The enemy’s views appear to be less inimical than ours. In fact, were we to judge from appearances, they mean not to continue with us. But they are a nation who have the faith of devils, and act only to deceive. This much is certain, they cannot take the field this year, as they have disposed of the public horses and waggons, and in every thing, if possible, they exceed us in œconomizing their expences. Sir Guy is anxiously waiting the arrival of the July packett, by which he expects his final orders for this campaign, and (pretends to believe) a confirmation of a general peace, which God grant us.
Let Mrs. Cobb know, with my best love to her and the beams, that you have heard from me, well and hearty, and let me hear from you whenever you please. I think there is a post once a week from Boston. All letters will come without expence. I am much obliged by Misses Nelly’s and Betsey’s709 kind remembrances of their Papa. Be good eno’ to return them my best love, hopeing that their future behavior will be a source of pleasure to me, as well as an orniment to their sex. My love to Mrs. Paine and family. In remembering me to my friends don’t forgit Jo. and family across the street.
I am, dear sir,
Your sincere friend and servant
Robert T. Paine, Esquire
Cobb to Paine, Verplanks Point, 4 September 1782710
Head Quarters, Verplanks Point, September 4th 1782
I wrote you by the last post, since which we have arrived at the place I mentioned. We came down the river in flat boats, forming one of the most agreeable views in the world, perhaps equal to Sir Jeffery’s move down the lakes last war. We have constant information by deserters, informants, and others that the British will move from New York by the 10th October. What credit must be given to this information, it will not do for me to say; some of the enemies movements are certainly in favor of this report, others are much against it. Upon the whole it will be best to suspend our opinions for a short time. You may see by a New York paper, which I have inclosed to Mr. Hastings,711 Postmaster, that Charlestown must be evacuated before this, and a letter addressed to the citizens, plainly to me, points out the plan that will be persued by all the refugees in America.
My best love to Mrs. Paine and my daughters and believe me ever your friend
Robert T. Paine, Esquire
Cobb to Paine, Verplanks Point, 10 September 1782712
Head Quarters, Verplanks Point, September 10th 1782
My dear Sir:
As one of our expresses is just going, I could not help informing you of our expectations and present state. The British fleet of 24 sail of the line have arrived at the Hook. Their views appear to be of very little consequence. Formerly there was some prospect that the fleet would take under their convoy the British garrisons from their various posts in the United States, but a change of ministers, probably, will make a change of measures, and that peace which we had the best reason to believe was not far of will not be so easily obtained. Sir Guy has received the July packet, but its contents, I suppose, are of such a nature as will prevent his communicating them. Our army are now engaged in wood cutting for the winter magazine. The French Army will join us next Saturday. A few weeks will carry us further down towards New York, by which we shall obtain a greater quantity of forage than at present. What else I cannot say. My best love to the family not forgitting my daughters
with haiste, I am, dear sir, your friend
R. T. Paine, Esquire
Cobb to Paine, Verplanks Point, 25 September 1782713
Head Quarters, Verplanks Point, September 25th 1782
Your letter I received some time since and should be very happy in your frequent communications, as these are the only means that can keep up a soldiers spirits in an inactive campaign.
From what has publicly appeared, it seems the British Cabinet are distracted with very contradictory sentiments, and what was evidently the modus agendi of the last administration, is damned by the present. This, however, I believe is nothing more than an excuse, in keeping matters suspended, for the events of the campaign, as the necessities of that court require an immediate peace. Mr. Grenville has undoubtedly acceeded to the absolute independence of America, which was in June last, and he has never been from Paris since.714 Perhaps the change of ministry has only smurthered [?] for a time, a measure that necessity will oblige the persuit. Don’t let this git into your papers. I have forgot whether I informed you of the junction of the French Army. They have joined more than a week since, and we have had nothing but parading and reviewing since. Our weather grows cold. I assure you it puts me in mind of a warmer habitation than the present cloath one. Tell Joseph Russell to write me, and that immediately. Give my love to him and family. My best love to Mrs. Paine, family, and my daughters and believe me ever
R. T. Paine, Esquire
Cobb to Paine, Verplanks Point, 2 October 1782715
Head Quarters, Verplanks Point, October 2d 1782
The commissioners who were appointed for settling a general cartel met last week, ours under letters patent with the great seal of the States, the British only with the authority of Sir Guy Carleton. Under such difference of authority, they soon found themselves unable to proceed and accordingly broke up after three days setting. The British seem very anxious for exchanging their soldiers for our seamen, while we on the contrary think their soldiers will be more advantageous to us than our seamen. The matter will rest in this way (unless we should sell some of their Germains to pay for keeping the rest), ’till all affairs are settled.
I thought some time ago that we should have the pleasure of seeing the inside of New York, this fall, but I am now convinced, we shall not, tho’ the enemy are still making every preparation for embarking troops, and stores. Some of the refugees have sailed, to take possession of their New World in the Bay of Fundy716—others probably will soon follow, and all the rubbish of the place will be cleared off in such manner that a few days only will be necessary to evacuate the place when ever orders for that purpose are received. This however will not take place ’till the spring. The British troops will probably go off with the fleet for the West Indies. Charlestown is or soon will be evacuated; we expect the certain information, momently.
Our campaign must soon be up. Whether we shall go further down now is I think very uncertain, especially when a great part of the troops must make their own barracks for the winter. The General has not determined his future movements. Adieu! My love to the family, my daughters and all friends.
The year 1783 brought peace, and with it the many difficult problems attendant upon the demobilization of the army. There are few records of Cobb’s activities during this his last year of military service; an occasional glimpse shows him busy arranging for the disposition of Massachusetts troops717 or explaining to Timothy Pickering the proper method of determining whether or not an officer was entitled to forage for his horse.718 Colonel Cobb was present at the famous “Newburgh incident,” though his elaborate account of that episode, written in 1825, is confused on several points.719 With the war finally over, officers and men continued to leave for home until by November only David Humphreys, Benjamin Walker, and Cobb himself—three of Washington’s most trusted aides—remained with the Commander-in-Chief. Writing to the Secretary of War in November, Washington spoke of these three as proposing “to honor me with their company to my home in Virginia,” and suggested that they needed pay.720 When the pay was not forthcoming, he advanced them each one hundred dollars out of his own pocket.721 When General Washington began his journey back to Virginia, Cobb was with him and must have been present at the Commander-in-Chief’s moving farewell to his staff at Fraunces’s Tavern in New York City.722 “On account of his domestic and other concerns,” Cobb accompanied Washington only as far as Philadelphia, where he took his leave and returned to Taunton.723 He was thus one of the very last to sever his connections with the Revolutionary Army.
Three anecdotes concerning Cobb’s career as an aide to General Washington do much to humanize the young officer. During the siege of Yorktown, Cobb, like many others in the army, was continually solicitous about Washington’s safety. On one occasion, when the Commander-in-Chief was directing the siege from an exposed position, Cobb urged him to step back a little to a safer place. “Colonel Cobb,” Washington is reported to have replied, “if you are afraid, you have liberty to step back.”724
According to another story, when Lord Cornwallis invaded Virginia, the British seized a beautiful and valuable horse named “Black-and-all-Black,” which belonged to one of the “back settlers.” After the fall of Yorktown, some French officers, admiring the beautiful mount, appropriated it and planned on taking it back with them to France. When the original owner of the animal, whose love for his horse was “like the love of an Arab,” heard of this plan, he came to Cobb “with streaming eyes” and asked him for an interview with General Washington. Cobb, realizing that the problem would be a most unpleasant one for the General to handle, very cannily supplied the luckless man with the most minute information as to where the horse was kept. The result, of course, was that the horse disappeared, much to the anger of the French officers, who believed the British responsible. Washington must have guessed what had happened, for a few days later, “with his peculiar, cold and significant smile,” he said to his aide: “Colonel Cobb, can you inform me where Black-and-all-Black is stabled?”725
As a member of General Washington’s staff, Colonel Cobb made several visits to Mount Vernon at the close of the war, where he came to know his chief’s family. “Lady Washington” he is reported to have described as his “beau-ideal of womanly grace and loveliness.”726. On one occasion Cobb is said to have accomplished the difficult feat of making Washington smile. The General had been expressing concern for the people of Massachusetts, remarking on the rigors of the climate and the sterility of the soil. He went on to speak of the happy situation in which Virginia was placed, but feared that stones and possibly a few onions were the best crop that Massachusetts could expect. At that, Cobb rose to the defense of his people with the punch line: “Sir, we have our heads and our hands.”727
Washington’s opinion of David Cobb was always a flattering one, and in later years he did what he could to advance his former aide’s fortunes. He recommended his whole “military family” to the attention of Congress;728 when he became President, he considered Cobb for Postmaster-General729 and later wrote Benjamin Lincoln to see if Cobb wanted a marshal’s post.730 When the crisis with France arose in 1798 and Washington reviewed the general officers in the country available for service, he wrote “very good” beside Cobb’s name, the most complimentary designation that he used for any.731 And later that same year, when he had learned that Generals Knox and Brooks would not be available, he wrote that he knew of no one in New England with “fairer pretensions” to be a brigadier- or even a major-general than Cobb.732 Though he was to hold other positions of honor and distinguish himself in other fields in the course of his long career, David Cobb must always have considered his two years with Washington as the proudest period of his life. Now, discharged as a brigadier-general by brevet, he was to return to his private affairs.733
When General Cobb returned to Taunton early in 1784, it was with no definite plans for his future. The war had interrupted his medical career, and he was faced with the problem of providing for a family which now included nine children. His pre-war experience must have convinced him that the practice of medicine in Taunton, in competition with other local physicians, could not supply his needs. As a result, from 1784 until 1795 he was ever on the lookout for an occupation which could provide some kind of financial security.
While Cobb did resume his medical practice in a desultory sort of way after his return to Taunton, he apparently tried to supplement his income by engaging in some mercantile ventures. Among his papers are references to a “shop,” bills from Boston merchants, and other documents which indicate that he may have run a kind of general store.734 In addition, in at least one instance, he acted as “agent and trustee” for a group of New York and Philadelphia merchants and was sued by their creditors for his trouble.735 None of the memoirs of his life mentions this phase of Cobb’s career, and it was doubtless a period that he was glad to forget.
Not long after his return he was called again into public life. Sometime in 1784 Governor John Hancock appointed Cobb to the bench of the Court of Common Pleas, a position which he was to hold until 1793.736 Except for his dramatic exploits as a judge during Shays’s rebellion, there is little to notice about Cobb’s judicial achievements. He had had, of course, no formal legal training, but he seems to have been able to unite common sense with firmness so as to give general satisfaction. The following year he was elected by the Massachusetts legislature commander of the 5th Division of the Massachusetts Militia, with the rank of major-general. Though he had little knowledge of his division or of what the position would entail, he accepted dutifully and wrote Governor Bowdoin: “However inadiquate my abilities are to the duties of the station yet government may depend on my best exertions in their service.”737 While these two positions of honor and trust undoubtedly advanced Cobb’s standing in Bristol County, they did little to ease his financial burdens, and the problem of providing for his family loomed as large as ever.
It was during the period of Shays’s rebellion that General Cobb made his reputation as a man who could deal with emergencies in a firm and cool manner. Indeed, for the rest of his life, Cobb was identified as the man who so courageously put down what might have been a serious outbreak in Bristol County. In the year 1786 conditions in that county were much the same as those which obtained in many other parts of the state—the same heavy taxes, the same scarcity of money, the same increase in the number of lawsuits, the same inability or unwillingness of the government to remedy the situation. The position of a judge was not a happy one in these times, for as the prosecution of suits threatened to ruin the debtor class, they attempted to prevent the courts from sitting, by this means hoping to escape, or at least postpone their troubles. Nor was the position of commanding officer of a division of militia any happier; it would be his responsibility to put down disturbances with men who only too often might be sympathetic with the unhappy farmers. In the fall of 1786 two attempts were made to interfere with the progress of justice at Taunton, and it was in his handling of the mob and his defense of the prerogative of the court that General Cobb won for himself a reputation as a “warrior judge.”
On 12 September 1786 a mob appeared on Taunton Green with the intention of preventing the Court of Common Pleas, including Judge Cobb from sitting. The events which followed are clearly explained in a letter which Cobb wrote Governor James Bowdoin, the day after the trouble:
Cobb to James Bowdoin, Taunton, 13 September 1786738
Taunton, September 13 1786
I have the honor of informing your Excellency that the Courts of Common Pleas and General Sessions of the Peace sett yesterday at the court house in this town. The detachments of militia from the brigades of Plimouth and Bristol, which had been ordered out agreeably to your Excellency’s directions of the 2d. instant, and at the request of the sheriff of this county, had arrived at this place, previous to the receipt of your Excellency’s letter of the 11th. directed to Mr. Sheriff Leonard.739 As the militia were here and in possession of the court house, and happily in numbers sufficient to support the civil authority in the execution of duty, and as very large numbers of people were assembled, many of whom were in arms, and all determined wickedly to oppose the authority of government, it was thought prudent and necessary, by the sheriff and court, that the troops should continue to protect them in their present session. But as general clamours and discontents had pervaded this part of the Commonwealth, and as the Court was now convened at the time and place appointed by law, in which the honor and dignity of government was compleatly supported, they conceive it to be their duty to have some regard to the alarming disturbances of the present day, and accordingly adjourned the business of this session to the 2d. Tuesday of December next. This measure, I am sure, gives great satisfaction to the friends as well as the enemies of government here, and I hope will meet your Excellency’s approbation. The mob shouted “a generous concession on the part of authority” and the militia retired in great order with the thanks of government for their generous firmness on this occasion.
I have the honor to be, with great esteem and respect,
Your Excellency’s most obedient servant
His Excellency Governor Bowdoin
This episode was by no means the end of the business. There had been no noticeable improvement in economic conditions when the time came for the Supreme Judicial Court to sit at Taunton in October, and the authorities had received intelligence that attempts would be made to prevent the session from being held. In a letter to Cobb written on 21 October, Governor Bowdoin warned the General of possible trouble and told him of the rumor that men from Worcester and Hampshire Counties were planning to join the malcontents of Bristol. Since the Court was to sit in three days, there was no time for elaborate preparations and the entire matter must therefore be left to Cobb’s discretion.740 As it happened, the Governor’s decision to leave everything to General Cobb proved a very fortunate one, as the following report shows:
Cobb to James Bowdoin, Taunton, 30 October 1786741
Taunton, October 30th 1786
As the honorable Supreme Court returned immediately from this town to Boston, Your Excellency must have been informed of the successful protection that government received here from the militia of this division. This information, with disbanding the troops and other consequent attentions, will, I hope, pardon my omission of an earlier communication.
On Sunday evening preceeding the setting of the Court, I took possession of the court house and the peice of artillery here, with a small company of volunteers from this town; on Monday morning this company were greatly encreased in number, and in the afternoon of the same day, were reinforced by the two full companies of militia from the faithful town of Raynham, and a small company of volunteers from Rehoboth.
Lieutenant-Colonel Orr742 with a detachment from the 3d. Regiment of the Plymouth Brigade arrived in the evening at the meeting house in this town. This body, by the active and spirited exertions of the commander, came to my assistance much sooner than was expected. The leaders of the insurgents during the day were traversing the county to collect their force, and frequently threatning “that thro’ slaughter they would possess themselves of the court house this night.” This gave me no uneasiness as I was secure of my numbers and I knew theirs to be trifling, but during the night and on Tuesday morning, a report prevailed, that a large number were coming from the County of Worcester to join the disaffected here. As it was possible this report might be true, I thought it prudent to call on three companies of the adjoining militia to reinforce by Wednesday morning. This day the insurgents collected their force and took up a rendezvous within a mile and half of this place, but finding their numbers insufficient for an attack they dispersed at sunsett with orders to assemble at the same place on the following morning. Their leaders in the course of the night were to ransack all parts of the county so as to collect every possible addition to their force; their numbers at this time were ninety eight in arms and forty three without.
On Wednesday forenoon those companies of militia that had been ordered the preceeding day joined me. These with what were on the ground before made the government troops three hundred seventy five rank and file. About 1 o’clock, being informed that the insurgents were on their march, I ordered the following disposition of the troops, viz.: Lieutenant-Colonel Orr with part of his detachment on the right, the two companies from Raynham on the left, the field peice743 with its company of volunteers in the center, composed the front line; the remainder of Colonel Orr’s detachment with the Rehoboth troops and two companies of militia formed the rear line; the other company of militia was posted at the door of the court house. Soon after this order was compleated, the insurgents came on the Green with military parade, and with more insolence than force formed their line directly in front of mine and not more than thirty yards distance. Their numbers now were one hundred forty eight in arms including officers, and thirty four without arms. That fire and rage with which they had alarmed the county for some days past appear’d to have vanished, and the sight of government in force made them as peaceable a sett of rioters, as ever, with so much impudence, advanced so near their enemy. They continued in the same situation almost three hours, and after presenting a petition to the Supreme Court and receiving their answer, they retired in the same manner they came on. Their commander744 wishing me a good night, as he went off the field, promised to return the next day with petitions that would be more agreeable to the honorable court, but before they had marched a mile he dismised them from any further services.
Altho’ the insurgents were dispersed, yet I conceiv’d it necessary to continue the troops during the remaining session of the court, and accordingly they were not discharged untill Fryday noon. The behaviour of both officers and men during their continuance here would have done honor to much older troops. They retired from the town without the least injury to persons or property.
Some of the militia that were call’d upon on this occasion turned out with activity and spirit, but the exertions of the little town of Raynham deserves every praise from government.
These proceedings will, I hope, meet the approbation of Your Excellency and the Honorable General Assembly.745
I have the honor to be, with great esteem and respect,
Your Excellency’s most obedient servant
His Excellency Governor Bowdoin
These reports from General Cobb’s own pen are certainly the most trustworthy existing accounts of the trouble at Taunton. With the passage of time, however, local tradition blurred Cobb’s testimony, added embellishments, and put a variety of heroic speeches into the General’s mouth. It is safe to assume that the “warrior judge,” at some point during each of these affrays, did deliver himself of some strong, if not profane, language to the rebels; but exactly what he did say is impossible to determine. According to one account, Cobb the Judge said to the rebels in September: “Away with your whining. I will hold this Court if I hold it in blood. I will sit as a judge or I will die as a general.” According to the same account, Cobb the Major-General faced Colonel Valentine, leader of the rebels during the October affair, drew a line on the ground with his sword, and then said: “Pass that line and I fire. The blood be on your own head.”746 A variation of the story of the September speech has Cobb delivering it to his brother Jonathan, after the General had returned to his home to don his uniform.747 Another writer has Cobb addressing his “sit as a judge or die as a general” remarks to Colonel Valentine in October.748 A later writer, after suggesting that these words were put into Cobb’s mouth by one of his eulogists many years later, sees the General as striding into his house and roaring out, “Mother, bring out my old regimentals. Damme, I’ll sit as a judge or die as a general.”749 The number of versions of what must originally have been the same story make it clear that Cobb must have given each group of rebels some kind of verbal dressing down, probably in sulphuric language.750 And the chances are that these harangues did contribute to the quelling of the riots.751
Apart from these uncertainties, General Cobb’s part in the Taunton uprisings, while perhaps less dramatic than some of his admirers would have one believe, was none the less creditable. On each occasion he had wisely called out his troops before the crisis was reached and was thus fully prepared to call the rebels’ bluff. His success was due to careful planning and executive ability, plus coolness and courage at the critical times. Despite the fact that Cobb’s troops outnumbered the insurgents on each occasion, a less collected man might have lost his head, and the General’s prompt and decisive action may well have saved Bristol County from serious disturbances. When rebellion broke out in earnest in the western part of the state a few months later, Cobb was ordered to raise men to help suppress it;752 but hardly had the order been issued than it was countermanded. Major-General Lincoln, wrote Israel Keith to Cobb, had “totally dispersed the insurgents,” and the men from Bristol County would not be needed.753 General Cobb was delighted with this news; he wrote Keith that he hoped the government would not cease until it had “totally eradicated even the sentiment of this cursed rebellion.”754 Though Cobb had no further trouble from the followers of Daniel Shays, the fame of his exploits spread far and wide and followed him for the rest of his days.
From 1789 to 1793 David Cobb was the sole representative of Taunton in the Massachusetts General Court. There had apparently been some talk of electing him to the First Congress of the United States, and he had discussed his chances with his late commander, Henry Jackson. General Jackson had conferred with Henry Knox, who urged Cobb to accept if the people should “chuse” him, “as well for your own interest as to promote the good of your country.”755 But the people did not choose him, and in May of the following year, he was elected by his fellow-townsmen to represent them at Boston.
No sooner had he arrived at the seat of the state government than he was elected Speaker of the House, a position which he held throughout his term of office.756 Aside from presiding over the House with grace and effectiveness,757 Cobb took little part in the business of the day. In 1790 he served as manager of a State lottery, designed to bring into the Treasury some ten thousand pounds.758 That same year he succeeded in obtaining for his own 5th Division of the Massachusetts Militia two new companies of cavalry.759 In 1791 he served on a committee appointed to dispose of the “western lands” owned by Massachusetts in New York State,760 and was also one of a committee of three appointed to meet with commissioners from Rhode Island to settle the boundary between the two states, a task which was brought to a successful conclusion late in 1792.761
Political activities of this nature might enhance General Cobb’s reputation in Massachusetts, but they did little for the family exchequer. It was only natural, therefore, that the Speaker of the House should search for more lucrative opportunities on the side. Late in 1790 he joined a group of prominent Bostonians—among them Henry Knox, Henry Jackson, Benjamin Hitchborn, and John Coffin Jones—in a project which aimed at the construction of a canal to connect Boston with the Connecticut River.762 Cobb’s part in the venture during its early days seems to have been primarily that of promoter and investigator. To him was assigned the task of estimating the canal’s probable income, of determining the best possible route, and of interesting men of means in the project.763 By the fall of 1791 he had made a good deal of progress for an amateur, as the following letter to Knox shows:
Cobb to Knox, Boston, 4 September 1791 [KP]764
Boston, September 4th 1791
My dear Sir:
I received your letter of the 27th. of July, and agreeably to your request therein, I have frequently convers’d with gentlemen in trade and others on the subject of the probable quantity of produce that would be conveyed on the canal from Connecticut River to this place in the course of the three first years after its completion. The result of these inquiries is, that from 28 to 30,000 tons would be the quantity, consider’d as bro’t from the extreem distance, and arising only from the eight following articles, viz., pot and pearl ashes, flax seed, flax and hemp, beef and pork salted, grain of all sorts, flour, timber and plank, hoops and staves. The smaller articles, which must be to great amount, were not taken into the calculations, but together with the returning cargo’s from this place, were consider’d as amounting to 15,000 tons. These calculations are undoubtedly far below the reality. The probable rate of toll has likewise been under consideration, and it is estimated at 12/ or 15/ per ton from the extreem distance and in proportion for a less. This however goes upon the idea that the canal enter the Connecticut by Millers River at Northfield, where you will have a compleat monopoly of the freightage; but if it enters by the Chicabee, Springfield will produce a competition, and consequently must be lower than the above calculation, as they at present freight to this port for a less sum. This consideration only, I think, must be sufficient to convince you that Chicabee cannot be the place, and especially when you consider that the greater part of the valuable articles come down the river from the states of Vermont and New Hampshire. On the calculation, however, of 12/ per ton, the preceeding estimate will produce 90,000 dollars per annum, which will give, agreeably to my calculation of the expense of the canal, a neat 10 per cent, on the capital. But I hope you will, from better information, produce such calculations as will be attended with more certainty than any of ours, and the event be such as will bring this business forward immediately.
I convers’d with Captain Hills765 at Milton. He appears to understand, perfectly, his business as an engineer, but he is no calculator. He is engaged by our government to survey the Cape Cod Canal on the first of October next. Let him, if agreeable to you, survey from Millers River into his present rout at Paxton, the extreem distance will not be more than 25 or 30 miles. The Connecticut at Millers River is some miles nearer Boston than at the Chicabee.
I have seen a paragraph of your letter to our friend Henry on the subject of Marshall. Whenever the President of the United States may think it prudent to comply with the Resolve of Congress of 1783 (for on the score of acquaintance or friendship I do not wish to ask it) and honor me with an appointment, I hope it will be such as will not only occupy all my time and small talents, but produce such returns as will be adequate to a decent living. The present office will not do it. I therefore cannot think of it.766
I did intend a tour to Philadelphia early this fall, but I am so entirely occupied in my little business that it must be postpon’d ‘till late, previous to which I expect the pleasure of seeing you here.
My sincere compliments to Mrs. Knox.
I am dear sir with esteem, your friend and obedient servant
In March of the following year the canal scheme achieved a legal respectability when it was chartered as the Massachusetts Canal Corporation. The proprietors were authorized to build a canal which was to run from the Connecticut River, somewhere north of Springfield, to Boston. To accomplish their purpose, they were given the right to take twenty-five feet of land on each side of the route. The justices of the Supreme Judicial Court were to decide disputes with individuals over the right of way and the right to build bridges. Once the canal had been constructed, it was to become the property of the proprietors forever, and to defray their expenses they were authorized to charge a toll of sixpence per mile.767 This much accomplished, the next step was to decide on the best route, and to that end David Cobb spent the summer, in company with Captain Hills, the engineer, making a detailed study of the country between Boston and the Connecticut. A journal which he kept on this tour, together with a report to his friend Henry Knox, shows how far the scheme had advanced by the end of the summer:
Journal on the Survey for a Canal [KP]768
On the 16th of July 1792, I arrived at Worcester, where Captain Hills, who is the surveyor, was waiting for me, he having arrived the week before. As our object was to connect this canal with the upper part of Connecticut River, and as the survey at present was to begin at Worcester, but eventually to be connected by the best communication with that river, it was necessary that this communication should be thoro’ly explor’d previous to commencing the survey from Worcester. Accordingly, Captain Hills and myself took horses at Worcester and proceeded to Major Beaman’s in Boylston,769 who lives on the western branch on the Nashua River, where we gain’d such information as to induce us to proceed up that branch. We pass’d thro’ Princetown and lodged at Westminster. In this town is a good pond of water which, by enquiry we found emptied into the northern branch of the Nashua and that none of the waters of that town pass’d to the westward or northward, but that they, with the waters of Princetown Pond, all pass’d into the northern or western branches of the Nashua, and that the last mentioned branch had its source in the western parts of the county. Likewise, that the northern branch proceeded from Ashburnham, and that the Millers River, which passes into the Connecticut, had its source somewhere in that neighbourhood. The next morning on this information, we proceeded to Ashburnham (a very ruff country). Mr. Cushing, the priest770 who had signified his wish to assist us, was absent. Upon enquiry we found this town to contain a number of ponds, that the northern branch of the Nashua came out of one, and that the Millers River had its source in another of those ponds. On viewing these waters we found the information to be true; and that the two ponds which are the sources of these rivers, are very near together, and their interspace very low land. This was a most charming discovery, as in my mind, it puts an end to that heretofore insurmountable barrier of happily uniting the waters that descend to the Connecticut and to Boston on the highest grounds. From Ashburnham we run down the northern branch of the Nashua, thro’ Fitchburg and Leominster into Lancaster where, uniting with the western branch, it takes a northern course and proceeds on to Dunstable where it empties into the Merrimack.
The connection of these waters has not only given me great pleasure, but entire satisfaction that this is the only rout to communicate with Boston from Connecticut River. It is the nearest, the most natural and easy, and above all, it takes the articles of commerce at the very point where we could wish. Let the canal enter the Connecticut at any place below this, and it is an useless undertaking, but at the mouth of Millers River, above all the Falls that are at present very injurious, you have a compleat monopoly of all the commerce of Vermont and New Hampshire, and that to an amount beyond any calculation that has heretofore been made on the subject. Indeed, I was surpriz’d at the information I receiv’d in that country of the immense productions that pass down the river for New York. Some idea of the quantity may be ascertained by mentioning one article among the rest—pot and pearl ashes. Of these articles no less than six hundred tons have passed down this spring, and this is only a part of the general freightage. Indeed, I am persuaded that near one third part of the commerce of New York depends on Vermont and New Hampshire—countries, that from nature, habit and every other principle, ought, and they wish’d to be connected with Boston, but the lengthy and expensive land carriage prevents, and in a very short time will totally distroy the little remaining connection with those states. Boston may continue its stupidity and sleep on, and like the cities of antiquity be deaf to the admonitions of its prophets, but unless the exertions of individuals should open this canal, she will sink for want of five righteous to save her.
On our return from Lancaster to Worcester, we call’d again on Major Beaman for some information in connecting Worcester with the Nashua, as it has ever been a favorite object to connect that town with the canal. We then proceeded to Worcester and began the survey on the 25th at the north end of the Long Pond in that town, tracing up a brook that empties there, into Sewall’s Pond and Spruce Pond, the last of which adjoins the high lands in Boylston that seperate the waters which fall into the western branch of the Nashua by a little brook just above Scar Bridge, which is seven miles from Worcester and eight from Lancaster. In passing over the high lands from Spruce Pond (up to which from the Long Pond the communication was good and plenty of water) we meet with great difficulty, for what appear’d at first view to be the fountain of the Scar Bridge brook, and seperated only by the high narrow road from the Spruce Pond, was found, on surveying, to be a deep bog pond surmounted with thick wood and high gravel hills, thro’ which the canal must be deeply cut near half a mile to communicate with the brook water on the other side. But as this was the most natural avenue, we continued the survey down the brook to the western branch, and from thence to the junction of the northern branch of the Nashua in Lancaster. In passing this western branch, about five miles from Lancaster, the banks of the river begin to be very mountainous and almost perpendicular, and continue so, at intervals, for two or three miles. This circumstance will make it extremely difficult, if not impracticable, to make any cutts on the sides of the river, if it should be found necessary to improve it.
The eastern side of the Nashua River, which flows in a deep hollow, is bounded by a continued ridge of the high land for near twenty miles in length, thro, or over which we must pass from thence to Boston. This ridge I reconoitr’d at different times when the surveyor was at work on his papers, and after viewing all the avenues for fifteen miles in length, I made choice of a little stream, call’d the Mill Brook that descends into the intervals of the Nashua almost opposite to the junction of its northern and western branches. After surveying a mile or more up the northern branch and down the Nashua after the junction of its branches, we began on the 10th of August to survey from the river across the intervals to the Mill Brook. Thence ascending very gradually for two miles, we came to the height of ground from whence in a small rivulet we descended eastward the Bolton Hills. This height of land was originally a swamp, and is now fill’d with springs, and such is its level that you can scarcely distinguish the seperation between the waters descending in different directions. As the water in this rout is too small in quantity for such an ascent, it will be necessary to make a large resevoir on this height. It is well fitt’d for the purpose, as the soil is very retentive and its springs with the descending hills around will ever keep it fill’d with water; and if it should be necessary, nature has pointed out two other places for resevoirs as you descend towards the Nashua, one of which has been a pond but is now drain’d. In passing down eastward the little Elsebeth771 River, so call’d, which has its rise by the small rivulet on the Bolton Hills, we are join’d by a brook coming from a deep pond, at a small distance, half a mile above which, to the westward, is a larger pond, which may be made with great ease to communicate with the other. These ponds lie about one mile and an half eastward of Bolton meeting house, upon elevated ground, and are sufficient to supply all the water that can be wanted there. We follow’d the rout of the Little Elsebeth thro’ Bolton into Stow, where a branch from Harvard unites with it, thence to the lower end of Stow, where it empties into the great Elsebeth River. The chief branch of this river, i.e., the great Elsibeth, rises in Westborough, coming down thro’ Marlborough, receiving other streams, passes on thro’ Stow and a part of Acton, and finally unites itself with the Sudbury River at the north and opposite to the town of Concord. I never reconnoitr’d this river above Stow, but I should suppose this would be the best rout, if practicable, by which to connect the town of Worcester by the waters on the south side of the Great or Long Pond. Into the Stow, or great Elsibeth River, about two miles above the entrance of the Little Elsibeth on the eastern side, enters a little stream that comes from Boon’s Pond. Still further east lies a large and very deep pond call’d White Pond, communicating with Boon’s Pond. From White Pond likewise issues a stream which running southward crosses the great Worcester road, about two miles west of Sudbury cross way, where mills stand, and empties itself into the Sudbury River near two miles above the said cross way. At some little distance above the entrance of this stream and on the eastern side of the Sudbury River, we may rize out of it by a brook that comes from a large pond in Framingham and from which we may communicate with the waters of Charles River, but as this rout would carry me further south than my present direct course with which I have been favor’d, and as the same difficulty would attend the passing down that river to Water-town that Hills meet with the last year, I conceiv’d it best to persue down the Great Elsibeth or Stow River to Concord, which is more direct to Boston than the other rout. Accordingly, on the 20th of August we continued the survey down the Great Elsibeth to Concord where we arrived on the 23d. This river is from 12 to 15 yards wide, shallow, and flows very gently—very rocky bed for near two miles, level banks in general, as is the face of the country. Cutts may be made on either side of the river, as is most convenient. It is like other rivers in irregular and uncultivated countries, subject to violent floods in the rainy seasons. It has three mill seats in the distance of five miles, but they raise no great height of water.
The town of Concord is built on very flat and level ground, fifteen or sixteen feet higher than the surface of its rivers, with extensive meadows on the south towards the towns of Lincoln and Weston, and continuing east as far as Lexington. On the west towards Acton and Stow, half a mile from the town, a large bridge crosses the Sudbury River, and one mile from thence on the same road, another bridge crosses the Stow or Great Elsibeth River. These two rivers, the last of which making a circuitous rout, finally unite on the north side of the town of Concord, as was before observ’d, and about one mile below where the bridge crosses the first mentioned river. After this junction it assumes the name of the Concord River, passes on to the north and empties into the Merrimack at Chelmsford. The general direction of the water here being to the north and Boston to east, it will be necessary to take out the water of Stow River, at the distance of one mile or more above the bridge which crosses that river on the west road from Concord, and conduct it thro’ the hollow way near a mile across to the Sudbury River, just above where Concord west bridge crosses it. Thence on an elevation of at least ten feet it crosses that river in an aqueduct bridge on to the plane of Concord where it meets a rivulet descending in a hollow from the plane to the river, about half a mile southwest from the town. This level is continued on the plane and extensive meadows before mentioned, thro’ Concord and part of the towns of Lincoln and Bedford to the borders of Lexington, where descending by a lock of six or eight feet you intersect and arrest a pretty stream, the main branch of Shawsheen River (the Shawsheen River rises in sundry little streams from the north side of the high lands of Lexington, and from the extensive meadows of Bedford, Lincoln and Lexington, descends northerly, passing thro’ Andover and empties there into the Merrimack), and pass on that level to Trask’s meadows, near two mile north of Lexington meeting house. If the water of Stow River which is bro’t across the Sudbury on to the plane and springy meadows of Concord is not sufficient for the supply of this beautifull level canal for near ten miles in length, the large pond in Lincoln which lies only one mile and an half south, elevated forty feet at least, and which runs into these meadows, will do it aboundently, even if the waters of the meadows, which are within one foot of their surface, and the innumerable little springs and brooks that flow from the high lands, were totally unimproved. In passing these meadows from Concord, just within the bounds of the town of Bedford, we may easily connect the canal with Concord River, by a cutt of half a mile only. By this communication the produce coming down the extensive Merrimack, the falls of which are now removing, will find a nearer and better markett, thro’ this canal to Boston than down the river to Newbury Port.
From Trask’s meadows, in the course of two miles south, we ascend near seventy feet, by a stream that issues from a pine swamp on the height of land, a little west of Lexington meeting house, by the road and on the right as you pass to Concord; from thence we cross the road into the adjoining meadow, and adown one of the little streams issuing therefrom, which recrosses the road half a mile east of the meeting house, and gently descends into meadows, which, with this brook, give rise to another branch of the Shawsheen, and from which, thro’ a small gravel bank of thirty feet in width and six or seven feet deep, we pass to the head of the stream that gently descends thro meadows, along the road, thro’ the lower part of Lexington, the upper part of Cambridge call’d Menotomy, into Mystick Pond, the source of Mystick River, and one mile west from the town of that name. Another rout may be persued from Trask’s meadows without ascending to the pine swamp near Lexington meeting house, and that is, by ascending the small stream that comes from the northeast into those meadows and crossing much less elevated ground than the pine swamp, into other streams that unite with the last mentioned branch of the Shawsheen, and by which we gently ascend to that little gravel bank that seperates the stream that empties into Mystick Pond, but this rout being more circuitous, at least four miles, than the other, I conceiv’d it would be more convenient and far less expensive to excavate the pine swamp for a resevoir, by which means that ascent may be sufficiently supplied with water, than to pass the other way. Another reason why this rout was prefer’d—after crossing the road from the pine swamp into the opposite meadow, one of the streams that rises there passes on to the south thro’ Waltham Pond, thence descending across Waltham plane, empties into the Charles River just above the town of Watertown; [so] that if Watertown is at present prefer’d to Mystick, altho’ at least three miles further, it may pass by this rout that way or if in any future time it is tho’t necessary, Watertown may easily communicate with the canal by this rout thro’ the pine swamp.
Cobb to Knox, Boston, 13 August 1792 [KP]772
Boston August 13th 1792
My dear Sir:
I arrived at Worcester on the 16th ultimo, where I join’d Captain Hills and with him proceeded to the northwestern part of this county to examine what connection could take place between Millers River and the waters running eastward. In a few days we came to the source of Millers River in Ashburnham (formerly Dorchester, Canada, and lying 30 miles northwest from Worcester), which is a large deep pond with a mill standing at the outlett; and within one hundred rods north, another pond, not so large, gives rise to the northern branch of the Nashua River, which passing by Lancaster, empties into the Merrimack by Dunstable. This circumstance of discovering two such large bodies of water on the highest grounds so near together, at the junction, as you may say, of the extreems of two such rivers, and the elevation of the intermediate space not exceeding twelve feet, has given me the most pleasing sensations. Indeed, nature appears evidently to have design’d this rout for a connection with Connecticut River, and however it may be conjectured, from the broken and mountainous appearance of the country, that such connection would be impossible, yet I am persuaded that no such natural and easy communication for sixty miles in length is to be found in any part of the United States. And what is an additional pleasure, it is the most direct rout, and now constantly improved, from New Hampshire, Vermont, and the upper part of the county of Hampshire, to Boston. After following down the Nashua, which runs eastward, from Ashburnham to Lancaster and where uniting with its western branch it takes a northern direction for the Merrimack, we returned to Worcester, and on the 25th commenc’d our survey from the north end of Worcester Pond, following up a small stream that rises from ponds and the high lands that seperate it from the waters of the western branch of the Nashua, thence down that branch to the junction of the northern branch at Lancaster. The object I had in view, in persuing this rout, was to connect the town of Worcester with the canal passing thro’ Lancaster, if in the course of the survey a better communication could not be found. We are now persuing our rout eastward from the Nashua, and the passage we have chosen over the high land on the east of that river, will naturally conduct to the Concord River, about four miles below Sudbury causeway, and if there we should be so fortunate as to rise out of that river, we shall have a direct course to Mystick.
I have likewise had another object in view, and that was, that as we are now running down the branches of the Stow River, which empties into the Concord, to persue any waters that come from the southward by which we may pass the Concord or Sudbury River in Framingham, or so high up as to be connected with the branches of the Charles River and then descend to Watertown; not that I have any predelection for that town, but that we might communicate with Worcester on the southern side, where the survey of the last year came down, and which, I conceive, may be done with more ease than on the northern into the Nashua, which we have now survey’d.
It is certainly of importance that Worcester should, in some way or other, be connected with the canal; but a question will naturely arise, whether this connection shall be at the expense of a direct rout from the Connecticut to Boston? From reflection I am rather convinc’d that the nearer we unite the two great objects, i.e., the Connecticut and Boston, the more advantageous will be the enterprize; and let it be a future consideration to send branches to Worcester, or any other place that may be tho’t of sufficient profit to the concern. The rout we are now upon is almost a strait line from Millers River to Boston, and the distance from the Connecticut to Boston, on the canal when finish’d, will not exceed one hundred and ten or twenty miles at most.
To morrow morning we shall persue the survey and by the end of the week we shall probably be in the neighbourhood of Concord or below it towards Boston. As I am necessitated to quit this business in the course of three weeks, at least for a fortnight, it is my wish to push Hills down as fast as possible, and if it can be [incomplete]
Unfortunately for Cobb, his labors in behalf of the Canal Corporation came to naught. Henry Knox was too busy to provide more than nominal leadership in the concern; he had many other speculative irons in the fire, and throughout, his interest was no more than perfunctory. The panic of 1792 dampened the enthusiasm of business men for ventures of this kind and probably would have made it impossible to raise the money necessary to begin construction. In any event the company was never organized, and Cobb’s hopes of getting in on the ground floor of a “get-rich-quick” scheme were dashed.
The only other matter in which Cobb appears to have made an original contribution while a member of the Massachusetts General Court was in connection with the improvement of educational facilities in his native town. On 30 June 1792, as a result of petition presented by Cobb himself, Bristol Academy was incorporated and received from the State a township of land in Hancock or Lincoln counties. The State cannily added the proviso that the income from this grant should never exceed six hundred pounds a year. Cobb and several other leading citizens of Taunton were made trustees, empowered to supervise the school and authorized to appoint instructors.773 This institution, started in large part through the influence of Cobb himself, flourished from the start and soon more than justified its founders’ hopes.774
As the time for elections to the Third Congress of the United States approached, General Cobb was urged by his friends to run for the office of representative. His position as Speaker of the Massachusetts House, his reputation as a Revolutionary officer, and his successful handling of the incipient outbreak at Taunton at the time of Shays’s rebellion all marked him as a man well qualified to represent the Old Bay State in national affairs. Cobb was persuaded to run, won the election handily, settled his affairs in Taunton and Boston, and late in 1793 set out for Philadelphia, in company with other members of the Massachusetts delegation.
Fortunately for the record, David Cobb wrote careful accounts of his experiences as a member of Congress. Not only did he correspond regularly with his friends in Massachusetts; he kept a diary of the greater part of his term of service at Philadelphia. The letters and diary which follow portray the life of a dutiful, if unoriginal, freshman Congressman of Federalist persuasion, in the early years of this Republic.
Cobb to Jackson, Philadelphia, 1 January 1794 [CP]
Philadelphia January 1st 1794
My dear Friend:
I arrived here in company with Mr. Cabot and wife,775 whom I fell in with at Providence, Mr. Sedgwick776 and some other gentlemen of Congress on the morning of the day of the setting of Congress. The various and very uncertain accounts of the state of the plague in this city,777 which we obtain’d on the way, made it necessary for us to enter it with some degree of caution. We accordingly came to it in the morning that we might have an oppertunity of consulting our friends previous to even taking our quarters at a public inn. I threw myself in on the God of War,778 and where, from the difficulty of obtaining quarters, I have remain’d ’till within a few days of the present. I am now at lodgings at No. 55 North 2d Street in company with Governor Bradford and the members from Rhode Island.779 Mr. Sedgwick and myself intended quartering together, but the ill health of his wife obliged him to leave us.
Congress have now been together [?] almost four weeks and little else has been done than reading the communications from the President and heads of departments some of which are public, others confidential. Those that contain the correspondence of our government with the French and English ministers now here, are to be published. The President’s speech and his message to Congress attending his communications, together with these publications will and must alter the state of politics at Boston, and indeed with every body else who think the independence and sovereignty of this country worth supporting. As if it was not enough that accumilated events placing this country in the most critical situation with France, Spain and England, but we must have superadded thereto, the infernal spirits of Algiers let loose upon our government. This event at this moment is peculiarly disagreeable as our friend Duke Humphreys is now on his way to negociate a peace or truce with those pirates.780
Our Congressional campaign is now just opening, and altho pressure of public danger appears at present to unite all parties, yet I find in discussing the mode of defence, the same old spirit of party discovers itself. It is impossible but that Virginia insolence and violence must be insulting to Yankee modesty and meekness. For three days past we have been engaged in divising measures against the Algerines. The appropriation of money for the redemption of our captives and to enable the President to make a peace or truce with those devils in addition to what has heretofore been granted, together with a few frigates, are the means proposed and now under discussion. These are opposed under an idea that commercial regulations will effect the remedy, especially against the British commerce, which nation is supposed to have influenced the present depridation by Algerines. The two first measures I think will eventually pass, and probably some regulations agreeably to the latter.
Inclos’d you will receive a draft for 200 dollars which please to pay to Mr. Davis, the Treasurer,781 and request our friend Hays782 to close his sales of coffee so that the proceeds may be in the Treasury by the sitting of the General Assembly.
Cobb to Eustis783 Philadelphia, 19 January 1794 [CP]
Philadelphia January 19th 1794
My dear Doctor:
I have sett down this morning, Sunday, to the good work of writing to beautifull wife and family and to you. Sometime since, after dining with the Speaker of the House at a public dinner, I had notice of R. G. Amory’s784 going for Boston on the following morning. By him I had only time to inclose you the French Minister’s correspondence and Secretary Jefferson’s report on commerce. The correspondence with the British Minister is now out, and you will receive a copy by some friendly conveance, the wait being too great for a frank per post.785
Your letter of the 29th ultimo gave me great pleasure; indeed, a single line from a friend in Boston affords more satisfaction than all the formal societies of this city. Quakerism, the avarice of trade and the lordly, rascally manners of the great have here totally destroy’d the social principles. I do not make these observations from any rebuffs or disappointments, for I am at ease in more good families, perhaps, than most of the gentlemen in the same station. I dine at Morris, Bingham’s, Breck’s, Knox’s, the best fellow of the whole, Dalton’s, Stewart’s786—any where—and I drink tea, form evening parties and frolic with the girls at all their houses. I bow to the President once a week at his levee, and once a week to Mrs. Washington and the ladies at her drawing room, but still it is not Boston. As I think I am too much of a philosopher to run riot with prejudice, there must be a difference of character in the people of these cities, and the frank generous and hospitable manners of Bostonia must have the palm. Altho I am an old fellow and for some time past have been absent from home, yet with these advantages on their side, I think the girls are not so beautifull here as they are with you.
The political situation of our country open’d up to view by the Presidents communications made to Congress in the early part of its session, was, to a mind accustom’d only to the police of a town or state, as time to eternity; and I am at a loss how to detail it to you in the compass of a letter. I will however begin. Some of these communications were public, others confidential. The public, are the correspondences between this and the Courts of Great Britain and France thro’ their ministers; the commission to and the report, journal wise, of the commissioners for making peace with the Western Indians, together with the correspondence of the Governor, and with the Agent for Indian Affairs in the Southwestern Territory. Some of these will be published. The confidential contains the authorities and directions given to our agents at the Court of Madrid, with their transactions at that court, and the commissions that have been given to different agents from time to time, to negociate with the Dey of Algiers and Emperor of Morocco, with communications from our ministers at the Courts of London and Lisbon relating thereto, and likewise the correspondence of the Spanish agents here with the Secretary of State and his answers. As the correspondences with the Courts of Great Britain and France are publish’d, and you will have the oppertunity of reading them, I shall only observe that the first appear not to have lost its colonial ideas of us and that the latter is mad. You are already acquainted with the conclusions of Friend Lincoln’s Indian Treaty.787 I am convinced that British influence alone prevented the success of that measure. The South Western Territory of the United States, under Governor Blount, with the frontiers of Georgia, have been depritated for eighteen months past, by savages from the Creek and Cherokee Nations, notoriously instigated by the Spanish Government. This however is now at an end by a Treaty of Peace having been concluded within a short time past with those savages. It seems that the Court of Madrid have always denied the right of Great Britain’s ceeding to the United States their southern boundary and the navigation of the Massisipie, they being at the time of the Treaty in possession of some military posts within that boundary and solely occupying the navigation of that river. These circumstances have given rise to most if not all the negociations that have past between that Court and the United States, and which induced their sending a minister here some years ago and now continues our agents there. The jealousy of the Spanish Court, arising from our contiguity of territory, is alive upon all occasions. If we attempt to concileate the affections of the savage nations on our southern frontier, they consider it as an officious, if not an hostile, interference of our government with their treaty, offensive and defensive, form’d with those nations in the year 1784, altho’ these tribes are within the acknowledged boundary of the United States—but they being sovereign nations have a right to form treaties with whom they please. The threats and declination of the people of the state of Kentuck and on the western waters for the Massissipie with the outrages of the Georgians committed on the allies of Spain, have bro’t us almost to open hostilities with that government. Threats have past from each court, with a firmness from ours that have done the Executive honor. Negociations however are still going on, and a treaty ascertaining the boundary of each nation is the ardent wish of both, but as the exclusive navigation of the Massissipi is the sine qua non, it is very easy to predict that a treaty is not very near. Our transactions with the Dey of Algiers have been perculiarly unfortunate, and altho the world have supposed that no measures have been taken with them Devils, yet the contrary is the fact and every exertion, with the ability of the government has been made, to liberate the unfortunate captives, to supply them there and to obtain a truce or peace with these pirates; but the exorbitant price of ransom, which if it had been possible to comply with, would have been a further stimulus to piracy, the sudden and unexpected deaths of two different agents appointed at different times to negociate with the Dey of Algiers, with the preventive arts of some of the European Courts not to say France formerly, who we were soliciting to assist us, have abortived [?] all our measures. Our friend Duke Humphreys, Minister at the Court of Portugal, is appointed to negociate with the Dey of Algiers and I suppose is now there. His secretary for this business is a Captain Cutting788 whom you know. He is likewise impower’d to renew our Treaty with the Emperor of Morocco, whenever it shall be determin’d who he is—the old Emperor with whom the Treaty was made is dead and the sons have been some years fighting to determine who shall succeed to the throne. Whomever of these cocks shall gain the empire, to him, as is the custom, 10,000 dollars at least must be paid for the renewal of the treaty. The Court of Portugal are on the most friendly terms. They are anxious for a commercial treaty, and I believe an advantageous one for us, but they will not admit our flour, as the estates of their nobles and gentry consists in mills. This circumstance at present prevents it.
This detail, united with the commercial policy of Great Britain, the present madness of France, and the jealousy of Spain, will give a fair view of our situation with the European nations. The present convulsions of Europe have thrown Spain into the arms of Great Britain, and an offensive treaty, lately concluded between those nations has been the consequence of this measure. From some parts of this treaty an explanation is given by the wise ones not very propitious to the future peace of America. If hereafter the tranquility of this country is to be disturbed, it must be by one or other those powers. The commercial and maritime compititions of the one and the territorial jealousies of the other will always be the most fruitfull sources of such event, but we are at present in peace, which may our God and the God of our Fathers long continue to us.
Our Congressional discussions are on a variety of subjects, the most of which you are inform’d of by the public papers, but the two important questions, that have again bro’t up the parties for which this government are fam’d, are an naval armiment against the Algerines and commercial regulations. The first has been thoroly investigated with clos’d galleries, and the select committee appointed for that purpose will report tomorrow the arming and equiping six ships of war, 4 of 44 guns and 2 20s, with the expense of the armiment and the ways and means to supply it. On a subject of this nature we should naturally have supposed, especially when viewing the pyratical deprivations on our commerce and the insults of petty arm’d vessels in our ports, that the greatest uninimity would have prevail’d; but not so, the additional power hereby given to the Executive was of more serious alarm than the loss of a few ships, which the merchant could well afford, the loss of revenue which only went to feed the holders of the public debt, or the loss of peace and order which was only advantageous to the rich, indeed that it was better the total distruction of the government should insue than any power should be given that might possibly be abused. From this specimen of political sentiments, I should think you will conclude that the southern parts of the United States are in the same state of improvement that some of the societies of mankind were about a century before the Christian Era. However advantageous a naval armiment may be to the commerce and honor of this country, I have my doubts whether eventually, it will be effected; it pass’d with no great majority in a Committee of the whole, and every art will be practic’d to prevent its finally passing.
Commercial regulations have been the subject of discussion thro’ the whole of last week and probably will not be decided for ten days to come. This measure has ever been, I am told, a favorite one with the late Secretary of State, Mr. Jefferson, whose hatred to the British nation and his affection for the French has ever induced him to wish a discrimination in favor of the latter. You’ll discover this principle in his report on commerce, and this is the intention of the resolutions now under consideration—that the commerce of Great Britain should be restricted in our ports and that of France open and free. This question, you may redily conceive, comes forward, at this time, with very popular features, when Great Britain is consider’d as unjustly holding our western posts and inciting the savage enemy, as letting loose the Algerines upon our commerce and distroying the principles of the arm’d neutrality, to which by the by she never was a party, that neutral bottoms should make neutral goods; when on the contrary the French, our only good friends and allies, surrounded by the minions of tyrants, fighting, desperatly fighting the battles of freedom and of mankind and to whom our gratitude is due even to the last shilling of our purses—can we hesitate which of these nations ought to be consider’d as our friends and treated as such, and which our enemies? Under such impressions the argumentum ad mob-bum must be forcible; but calm reason will tell us that this is a commercial war against Great Britain which she is able to, and will, retaliate to the ruin of a great part of our commerce and all our revinue, and that however amiable our partialities may be in domestic life, they are highly disgracefull to a nation. The subject is handled with ability on both sides, but without prejudice. The opponents have much the best understanding of the subject—a Virginian cannot view a measure commercially, more especially when it passes thro’ the mad medium of French politics.
The vessel that sail’d for France this last August with the Presidents dispatches on the subject of Mr. Genet, returned into this port the last week. By her, the President has announced that the Executive Department of France highly disapprove of the conduct of their minister and that he shall be recall’d. Inter nos, I have it thro’ a very private channel that if this vessel had been five days later in her arrival, Mr. Genet would have been denounced if not confin’d by the Executive of the United States.
If I write any more you may justly suppose my disease incurable. I shall be very happy if you do not already find it offensive—adieu, and let me hear from you weekly. It is my only pleasure. Present me affectionately to Mrs. Jones and to our friend on the hill with whom you frequently sing “Old Rose in the Gun room,” and particularly to Quaker Joe and his good wife.789 Tell them that their old friend is here in a garret moaning like a bird without his mate and cursing the miseries of a life seperated from female society. You nor Harry don’t understand this, but they will. Let the Treasurer know I am alive. Again, adieu and believe me ever your friend
Cobb to Eustis, Philadelphia, 15 February 1794 [CP]
Philadelphia February 15th 1794
The morning has again return’d, in the which I have proposed to myself weekly to communicate with you. The subject of frigates was debated untill Tuesday last, when the question was taken on that part of the committees report, and it passed in the affirmative 47 to 45.790 The ways and means part of this report will receive amendments, but the majority being so small I am still doubtful whether this measure eventually passes, tho’ I am decidedly of the opinion that something of this kind ought to take place, if it is only design’d to prevent insults arising from an arm’d whale boat in our harbours. The rest of the week has been employ’d on the post office and roads and a contested election from the state of Delaware, which was yesterday finish’d by turning out the member return’d and putting his opponent in his place. This circumstance is the more pleasing as your friend Doctor Latimer takes the place of a worse character.791
Last Wednesday evening our friends Gore and Russell792 arrived here, by whom I received your flattering report of the id instant.793 It gives me the greatest pleasure that you are pleas’d. These fellows, as you have observ’d have come on here only to play the devil. They are drinking in one house, frolicking in an other, and I suspect wh--ng in a third. Last evening they lost their hearts with Mrs. Bingham, having yesterday dined with her husband and went from thence drunk to Mrs. Washingtons drawing room and clos’d the evening at Mr. and Mrs. Morris’s. God only knows when or how they got to their quarters. They are already engaged to dine and spend the evening twice in every twenty four hours during their continuance here. Indeed, the whole city is in an uproar, and their conduct is such that I am fill’d with my fear that they will disgrace their families and their country. They certainly go to bed drunk if they git up sober. Do tell their good families, for whom I have an affectionate regard, that my example and precepts shall momently be impressed upon their husbands, so that if it is possible they may once more return to them in safety and honor.
The Marshall of Georgia is kill’d not hanged—a very natural event in a country that boasts itself of being govern’d by laws. They are a damnd sett, and if possible ought to be placed out of the protection of the Union. Kill’d, too, by a priest. What fellows must the laity be.794 Wayne has taken possession of the ground on which St. Clair was defeated and has forty fied it. A rumour is in circulation that the savages are better disposed for peace than last year.795
I should be very happy to hear from my old friend Harry.
Cobb’s Diary, 16 March to 2 June 1794 [CP]796
- Sunday, 16th. Attending to reports and reading in my chamber. After driving, walked to Kensington and spent the evening at Bricks. Fair and very summer like weather—like June. Wind S.W.
- Monday, 17th.
- Tuesday, 18th. With shut galleries—the subject of Embargo.797
- Wednesday, 19th.
- Thursday, 20th.
- Fryday, 21st. The question was taken whether embargo or not. Pass’d in the negative. Cloudy the morning, rain afternoon and evening. Wind N.E.
- Saturday, 22d. Writing to my friend Eustis—sent paper to Tillinhast.798 Cloudy the morning, the rest fair, very warm and pleasant. Wind S.W. The evening at Mrs. Knox’s.
- Sunday, 23d. At quarters all day reading and writing. Visited some families in the evening. Cloudy morning, fair the rest, warm and very pleasant. Wind S.W.
- Monday, 24th. Made the Militia Report. The propositions for force taken up and lost. Substitutes bro’t forwarded [sic] and committed, etc. The British spoliations daily increase the public inflamation. The temper of Congress thereby is hardly to be suppress’d, but it is not conceivable that the West India British conduct is the real measure of the Court. If it is, I swear—that will be unnessary [sic]. Fair, very beautifull day, hot weather. Wind W. Spent the evening at Casineau’s [?].799
- Tuesday, 25th. The subject of Embargo bro’t up again, and as it appear’d to be a measure of anxiety with the advocates, the opponents acquies’d. Pass’d for 30 days. Fair, very pleasant weather, colder than yesterday. Wind N.W.
- Wednesday, 26th. A Committee of Ways and Means without assistance from the Secretary of the Treasurer [sic], was appointed. On this subject a coalision of parties was propos’d, but not carried. Fair, pleasant as yesterday. Wind N.E. To the theatre, din’d at Moore’s.800
- Thursday, 27th. A motion for sequestering all British debts was made by Dayton801 and was oppos’d by the wise and good. Fair, pleasant weather. Wind N.E. Din’d with Governor Bradford and Rhode Islanders.
- Fryday, 28th. The motion of yesterday under debate. The arrival of the British Orders of the 8th January revoking and explaining those of the 6th November puts a better face of this business.802 Cloudy the morning, the rest fair, little colder. Wind N.E.
- Saturday, 29th. Wrote letters to Eustis, Padelford,803 Mrs. Cobb—inclos’d to son and Tillinghast. A report preval’d in town that the speech of the British King to his Parliament had arrived, and that it breath’d peace towards this country; but on enquiry it was found not to be true. Din’d with Mr. Dalton. Fair and cloudy at times, warmer than yesterday. Wind W. and S.W.
- Sunday, 30th. Breakfasted with General Knox, walk’d with him untill 11 o’clock. Walk’d with others through various parts of the city. Din’d with General Knox and spent the evening there. Fair beautiful weather. Wind W. and S.W.
- Monday, 31st. 1794. The subject of force, as reported by the Committee of 15, was taken up and discuss’d, but the Presidents being impower’d, on the event of war, to raise regiments was oppos’d in such manner as that the Committee roase [?] without the question. News from the packett that the British did not seriously intend war. Cloudy, rainy at times, thunder, warm. In the evening came round cold. Wind S. and N.W. Went to the theatre.—Grecian Daughter and Spoiled Child.804
- Tuesday, April 1st. The report of the Committee for Force. This finish’d in committee of the whole, and bill order’d. The Post Office Bill gone thro’ in committee and reported. Fair, cold. Brisk wind N.W. and W. Din’d at Wilson’s.805
- Wednesday, 2d. The Post Office Bill passed in the House to be engrossed, etc. Fair, still cool. Wind W. and N.W. The evening at Mrs. Ross.806 Inclos’d papers to son and Tillinghast. Wrote to Eustis.
- Thursday, 3d. The Bill for Recruiting the Army pass’d in committee. Making provision for ballances due the creditor states, likewise under debate. Rose without decision. Cloudy, thunder and rain towards evening. Wind W. and S.W. Company at our quarters to dine.
- Fryday, 4th. Receiv’d communications from the President, of letters from ministers in London and Lisbon, etc. Cloudy and fair, rain the afternoon. Wind W. and S.W. Went this evening to see the Automatons807 and pleas’d. Memorandum—Mrs. Talbot requests that the children of Captain Cook of Brookline would return her miniature picture, and she will send them their mothers—ask Miss Jackson about, when in Boston.808
- Saturday, 5th. Wrote to Eustis and friends at Taunton. Fair, pleasant.
- Wind W. Din’d at Mr. Anthony’s,809 spent the evening at Mrs. Knox’s.
- Sunday, 6th. Rode with General Knox and Mr. Izard810 on horseback around the city, visited the canal811 and returned to town at 3 o’clock. Din’d at Bingham’s. Fair the forenoon, cloudy. Wind W. and S.W.
- Monday, 7th. Variety of private business and the resolve carried in committee to provide for the ballances of creditor states. Fair, colder than yesterday. Wind W. and N.W. Went to theatre.
- Tuesday, 8th. Number of private bills pass’d to engrocing. Fair, cold. Din’d with General Knox. Wind N.W.
- Wednesday, 9th. The resolve for cutting off all commercial connections with Great Britain was under consideration, but came to no question. Amendments, by the Senate, to the Bill for Lost Certificates agreed to. Cloudy and rainy all day. Wind S.W. Went to theatre.
- Thursday, 10th. The same resolution as yesterday was again under discussion, and we rose without a question. A majority of the House are evidently in favor of this measure, and consequently of war, but without reflection. Artfull, interested views are unhappily combined with present irritations, and measures are to result which will involve the whole country, from personal satisfaction, private revenge or emolument. Unhappy country thus to be directed! Fair, afternoon thin clouds, chilly. Wind N.E.
- Fryday, 11th. Still the same resolution debated; and if reasoning can have influence on minds predetermined, numbers must have this day been convinced of the evils of this measure. We must see that “We are eating the fruit of the tree that has been water’d with the blood of our fathers. The canker worm of jealousy is now feeding on its foliage, and shall the hurricane of discord raise it from its root?” We do see it, but our interest and revenge must be gratified. “From whence do wars and fighting come, but from your lusts.” Fair, still chilly. Wind N.E. To the theatre with Mrs. Morris.
- Saturday, 12th. Writing to my friends, to Eustis, Padelford, Tillinghast, etc. Dined at General Knox’s. To the theatre with Bingham. Fair, pleasanter than yesterday. Wind N.E. and S.W.
- Sunday, 13th. At my quarters and walking with Mr. Brick. Spent the evening at his house. Fair, pleasant, cloudy towards night. Wind S.W.
- Monday, 14th. The resolution for interdicting the commerce of Great Britain was resumed and pass’d the committee. Fair, pleasant. Wind N.W. Theatre.
- Tuesday, 15th. The same resolution before the House. The previous question moved for, and after debate passed with a majority of 9. Fair, pleasant. Wind S.W. Din’d at General Knox’s. Communications from the President, of Mr. Pinckney’s letters and from the Court of Madrid. Mr. Pinckney’s were read.
- Wednesday, 16th. This morning writing to Dr. Eustis, Tommy, and Tillinghast. The communications from Spain were then read with clos’d galleries, from which it appears that Spain is not so inimically disposed as they have been, and that they are convinced that our proceedings with the Southern Indians are not hostile to the Spanish government; and if in future these tribes disturb our settlements, Spain will not protect them from our proper chastisement. Fair the forenoon, cloudy, chilly. Wind N.E. Theatre.
- Thursday, 17th. The embargo was this day taken up and the House agreed to its continuance untill the 25th May next, with proviso’s. Cloudy and misty the forenoon. Wind N.E. Din’d at the President’s. Spent evening at Major Moores.
- Fryday, 18th. Clark’s Resolution812 was again bro’t on—variety of amendments propos’d, but none agreed to. Rose without a question. Amendments by the Senate to the Embargo Act agreed to. Fair, warm, and pleasant. Wind S.W.
- Saturday, 19th. Wrote to Mr. Bayley,813 Eustis, inclos’d papers to Tom and Tillinghast. Spent evening at General Knox’s. Fair, very warm, and pleasant. Wind E.S.E.
- Sunday, 20th. At quarters forenoon. The afternoon walking the streets and seeing friends. Tea’d at Anthony’s and the evening. Arrived, a ship from London. Fair, very pleasant, and warm. Wind N.E.
- Monday, 21st. Clark’s Resolution with Madison’s amendment this day agreed to in the House and a Bill agreeably thereto order’d. This measure, if concur’d by the Senate, will absolutely defeat all our views in negociation, an object that must be the dearest in every point of view to the good people of this country—to the merchant that has lost, as well as to the agricultural happiness of the country. Din’d at Mr. Fouchet’s.814 At the theatre. The forenoon haizy; cloudy, and heavy rain in the evening. Wind N.E.
- Tuesday, 22d. The bills for 80 thousand militia and a corps of artillerists and engineers agreed to this day, and amendments to the Post Office Bill by Senate, consider’d. Cloudy and rainy. Wind N.E. The evening at Mrs. Morris and Mrs. Knox’s.
- Wednesday, 23d. Militia and Engineers’ Bills passed and the Report of Ways and Means under consideration. Cloudy forenoon, fair afterwards. Wind N.E. and N. Dined at General Knox’s. At the theatre and pleas’d.
- Thursday, 24th. Ways and Means under consideration. Opposition to insensible taxation,815 it being incompatible with free governments. As the people are to be the judges, they ought to feel the burthen of government and thence no other taxes should be leve’d than what they feel the payment of. A land tax therefore was the only one that free people should submit to. Monstrious doctrine—theory only. But reduced to practice and government ceases. Cloudy, rainy at times. Wind N.E.
- Fryday, 25th. A letter from Executive Council of France directed to Congress—complimentary. The President requested to make known to them our friendship and good will, he being the only organ thro’ which the government communicates with foreign nations, etc. Fair the morning, rainy the rest. Din’d with Colonel Hartley.816 Theatre. Wind S.E.
- Saturday, 26th. Attending in Congress on the contested election of Mr. Preston from Virginia.817 Wrote Dr. Eustis, Mr. Tillinghast, Hastings,818 and Tommy. Inclos’d 50 dollars. Fair, pleasantly cool. Wind W.
- Sunday, 27th. Visited some friends. Dined with Mr. Izard in large company—spent part of the evening there. The rest at Bricks. Arrivals further confirm the liberation of vessels in the West Indies and their fears of restitution. They must make it. Fair, pleasant. Fresh wind W. and S.E.
- Monday, 28th. Attending to Mr. Preston’s contested election, reading depositions. Fair, pleasant. Wind W. To the theatre.
- Tuesday, 29th. Still attending to the contested election. What is not usual with us, in subjects of this nature, the petitioner has a seat assigned to him to advocate his own charges against the setting member, and occasionally addresses the Speaker as if a member. The question taken, and Mr. Preston retains his seat. This election evinces the progress that the people of that country have made towards civilization, and their ideas of civil freedom; in which are traced the ignorance and violence of barbarism, and the feudal influence of the parties of the great. Such people may possibly enjoy savage freedom, but they cannot civil. Fair, pleasant and warm. Wind S.W.
- Wednesday, 30th. The subject of ways and means taken up and consider’d. An opposition to insensible taxation, and that all monies for public use should be drawn from such sources as will make the people sensible of the burthens of government. A land tax consequently to be prefer’d to all others. This is another instance, how far the influence of party and the principles of theoretic systems will distroy the plainest truths that have arisen from the experience of man. Fair, pleasant. Wind W. Din’d with Mr. Kean.819 To the theatre. Wrote to Eustis, Tillinghast, and Tommy and inclos’d 50 dollars.
- Thursday, May 1st. Still attending to ways and means, and some progress made—a very disagreeable subject, a choice of difficulties. Fair, warm, din’d with Mr. Hil.820 Wind W. and S.W.
- Fryday, May 2d. Ways and means still under debate and the sense of the House, ascertain’d by a good majority that insensible taxation is preferable to direct tax. Still fair and pleasant. Wind W. To the theatre.
- Saturday, 3d. Wrote my friends with inclosures. At my quarters ’till 1 o’clock. Afternoon, visited Mr. Sedgwick and wife and in the evening went with them, their daughter, and Mrs. Jackson821 to the theatre. Fair, very pleasant. Wind W. and S.W.
- Sunday, 4th. Rode with Mr. Brick to Schulkill Falls and there din’d with the Governor822 and spent the day. A very beautifull situation. This day very hot—86 degrees. Wind W. and S.E.
- Monday, 5th. Resolve passed, given liberty for vessels to pass out, the embargo notwithstanding, that are loaded and bound beyond the Cape of Good Hope. The rest of the day on ways and means, progressing. Din’d at Knox’s. At a tea party with Mrs. Bingham. Fair the day, cloudy at night. Wind N.E. Cool.
- Tuesday, 6th. Ways and means under consideration and progressing. Cloudy, cold, little mist. Wind N.E.
- Wednesday, 7th. The committee of the whole this day finish’d the ways and means and reported. Fair, cool, windy. Wind W. At the theatre.
- Thursday, 8th. The Report on Ways and Means taking up in the House and pass’d thro’ the amendments. Fair, cool, windy, very dry. Wind W. Wrote to friends.
- Fryday, 9th. Amendments propos’d to the Report on Ways and Means. Mostly negativ’d. Still advancing thro’ it. Fair, warm. Wind W. and S.W. To the theatre. Saturday, 10th. Finish’d the Report of the Committee of the Whole on the Ways and Means, and committed for a bill. Fair, warm, pleasant. Wind W. S.W. Din’d at General Knox’s. The evening at Mrs. Kean’s.
- Sunday, 11th.
- Monday, 12th.
- Tuesday, 13th.
- Wednesday, 14th.
- Thursday, 15th.
- Fryday, 16th.
- Saturday, 17th.
- Sunday, 18th. Fair, cold east wind. Din’d at Mrs. Ross’s in the country.
- Monday, 19th.
- Tuesday, 20th.
- Wednesday, 21st.
- Thursday, 22d.
- Fryday, 23d.
- Saturday, 24th.
- Sunday, 25th.
- Monday, 26th.
- Tuesday, 27th.
- Wednesday, 28th.
- Thursday, 29th.
- Fryday, 30th.
- Saturday, 31st.
- Sunday, June 1st. From a continued N.E. storm for eight days, without seeing the sun, and small intervals from raining, the sun appear’d this day and the clouds dispers’d. The wind, however, continues N.E. still.
- Monday, 2d. June 1794. Congress continued their session thro’ this week, bringing up all their unfinish’d business and whatever was necessary to compleat this session, or at least as much as could be done, to the honor, safety, and respectability of the United States; and on Monday the 9th they adjourn’d to the first Monday of November next. On Tuesday the 10th, I took passage in a stage in company with Colonels Wadsworth, Trumbull,823 etc., for New York. Very rainy middle of the day. Lodged the night at Kingston, New Jersey, and arrived at New York the nth in the afternoon, where I remain’d, for a passage to Taunton, with my friend Colonel Smith,824 untill Fryday afternoon, and then embark’d on board Captain Ingles for Taunton. Arrived at Newport Sunday morning, and at Taunton the next morning, happy in the sight of my family and friends after so long absence.
I remain’d at Taunton ’till the Monday preceeding the Commencement at Cambridge, when I visited [the diary breaks off abruptly at this point]
Cobb’s Diary, 13 December 1794 to 28 March 1795 [CP]825
Philadelphia, December 1794
- Saturday, 13th. Congress not this day in session. Wrote to my friends at Boston and Taunton. The city militia return’d to town from the westward and escorted in by the horse and other militia of the city.826 In my walk this day, I call’d upon sundry friends, and concluded it with General Knox at ½ past 3. Din’d at home and remain’d for the evening. Fair, mild, summer like weather. Wind W. and S.W.
- Sunday, 14th. Call’d upon a number of my city friends. Walk’d with Mrs. Moore, Mrs. Stewart, Mrs. Chew and Miss Allin.827 Din’d with Mr. Hammond with a small party and spent the evening there. Mr. Penn and his wife present.828 Very fine pleasant weather. Wind W.
- Monday, 15th. In Congress, various reports made. Others of no great consequence taken up in committee of the whole. Rose at three. Went to the theatre in the evening. Very pleasant weather, fair. Wind W.
- Tuesday, 16th. A variety of subjects before Congress. A report for ascertaining the damages sustain’d by officers of government and other citizens, in the late Rebellion, and on advance of money to them, was before the committee of the whole and agreed to. Din’d at Secretary of State’s. The evening at Bricks. Very fine and pleasant weather—too warm. Wind S., looking like rain.
- Wednesday, 17th. The most of this day was taking up in discussing the report of the committee of yesterday on the compensating damages of the sufferers in the Rebelion, after which confidential communications from the Secretary of War were read containing letters from General Wayne with inclosures, representing the situation of the skeleton of the legion under his command, the discharge of the Kentucky Volunteers, the peaceful disposition of the savages, when uninfluenc’d by British Agents, the establishment of two important posts in the enemies country, and the importance of filling up the army and continuing it for the protection of the country and the conquests, in preference to imploying militia, at a much greater expence, and those to [sic] upon whom no dependance can be plac’d in cases of necessity. It is peculiarly distressing when we reflect that certain characters in our public councils, influenc’d by the wildest theories, will prefer lavishing the public money on the inefficient operations of militia, when less than half of the expence would maintain a body of men adequate to all our wants, and upon whom we could depend on any occasion. It would seem as if they were determin’d to exhaust the Treasury, altho’ always declaiming in favor of œconomy, and thereby put an end to the existance of this government. It is the most farsical thing in nature that a people should adopt a system of government, and then send those to execute it, who intend to distroy it. Din’d with Mrs. Boudinot.829 Very pleasant mild weather. Wind W. Wrote Mrs. Cobb—30 dollars.
- Thursday, 18th. Congress persuing business. At 12 o’clock adjourn’d. Visited the Young Ladies Academy,830 hear’d their performances. Din’d with the President with very amiable company and very social. Spent the evening at Mr. Kean’s. Cloudy, warm. Wind N.E.
- Fryday, 19th. The subject of making allowance to the sufferings of officers and others by the Western Insurrection was before the House and finally agreed to so far as that a committee was appointed to bring in a bill for that purpose. Cloudy, misty at times, warm. Wind N.E.
- Saturday, 20th. No session of Congress this day. Wrote Mrs. Cobb and friends at Taunton and Doctor Eustis, Boston. Walk’d with General Knox. Rained very hard and all day. Wind N.E., towards night, S. Warm, fair the evening.
- Sunday, 21st. At quarters ’till one o’clock, then walk’d to General Knox’s, where I din’d and went with him in the afternoon to church at St. Peters.831 Cloudy, growing cold. Wind N.E., S., W. and N.W. Later part of the evening at Bricks.
- Monday, 22d. In Congress a bill passed the committee and accepted by the House, allowing the States having ballances due from the U.S. to transfer those ballances to their creditors. In Committee a bill for uniform naturilizition was consider’d and amendments propos’d. Rose without decision. This subject is acknowledg’d by all to be of the first consequence to the future happiness of the Union.
- Tuesday, 23. The report of a committee on a sinking fund was taking up, and most of the day spent on it. This is an important subject, and in discussing it, it was peculiarly pleasing to find the state of the public revinues to be such as to supply the vast expenditures of this year in fortifications, arsinals, Indian wars, navy, and above all the suppression of the insurrection, together with the maintainance of government, without any additional taxes on the people, and likewise to afford a surplusage on which to found a system for a sinking fund, which without any increase of revinue, and which will naturally arise from the progression of the country, will expunge the public debt in 22½ years. The probable increase of revenue will enable the government, if they please, to discharge it much sooner, provided no war or other expensive contingencies take place. Happy country! if we had reason enough to know it and enjoy it. Faction, the creature of ignorance and the poison of all fine [free?] governments, must be crush’d, and the people must establish a principle of confidence in those whom they deli-gate to conduct the government for them. Din’d at Bingham’s in large company. The evening at the assembly. Fine, fair, pleasant weather. Wind N.W.
- Wednesday, 24. A bill, before the committee of the whole, for ascertaining the boundary line between Virginia and the South Western Territory, was discussed. The committee rose and where discharged from it. This matter requires further evidence before a law can be passed. Afterwards, the committee of the whole again took up the report on the sinking fund, and the remainder of the day was spent on it. The chief question in dispute, this day, was whether the temporary taxes passed last winter should be made co-extensive with the debt, they being reported as parts of the sinking fund, or whether after the year 1801, the perpetual taxes would not be sufficient without them. Very pleasant fine weather. Wind W. and N.W. At theatre. Wrote to my friends at Taunton and Boston.
- Thursday, 25. Christmas. Congress did not sett this day. Very pleasant delightfull day, warm. Call’d upon a number of friends, din’d with Colonel Hartley. Rain’d a little at night. Wind S.W.
- Fryday, 26th. The report of a committee for appropriating certain loans in discharge of instalments coming due on foreign loans and of those of the bank was taking up in committee of the whole and agreed to. The Naturalization Report again in committee of the whole, which took up the remainder of the day and then reported progress. This subject is certainly of great importance. It is probable that eventually a bill will pass more restrictive of citizenship than the present law, but by no means so much so as the situation of our country absolutely demands. It must be easily discover’d that the liberty and happiness of this country will rest upon very uncertain grounds if citizenship is so easily to be obtain’d by the refuse of the world. One Rebellion has already arose from it and twenty more will be the consequence of it. It is unhappy that principles of party or locality of interests should prevent measures that are so important to the whole. It is certainly a difficult subject and time perhaps is necessary to perfect a system. Dined at Mr. Kean’s with a large company of gentlemen and ladies. Went in the evening to the drawing room. Pleasant weather. Wind N.W.
- Saturday, 27th. Congress not in session this day. I visited my friends, wrote letters to my friends at Boston and Taunton, visited the ruins of the large German Lutheran Church that was consum’d last evening by fire.832 Cloudy weather looking like a storm. Wind from S.W. to N.W. Din’d at Colonel Hamiltons in the family way with Sedgwick. At quarters in the evening.
- Sunday, 28th. At my quarters all day, at times writing on the subject of the manufactories of iron in the Colony of Plymouth, in reviewing of which, it is evident that the habits of that country, form’d by such length of time in the various workings of iron will enable them to establish and perfect those manufactures sooner than any other part of the U. S. I have no doubt that this would be soon effected if a capital adiquate to the object was employ’d there.833 Drank tea at Bricks. Fair but colder than has lately been. Wind N.W.
- Monday, 29th. Various subjects were before Congress this day—the Naturalization Bill again in committee of the whole, and reported progress. A bill for the payment of enstalments due to the bank and on foreign loans was order’d to be engross’d. Receiv’d letters from all my Taunton friends and from Eustis. Din’d with the Speaker at Oeller’s.834 Went to the theatre with Bricks family. Fair, cold but pleasant. Wind N.W.
- Tuesday, 30th. Amendments to the Appropriation Bill, as they came from Senate, were agreed to, as were those agreed to by the committee of conference on the Military Bill for the further protection of the frontiers. The committee of the whole again on the Naturalization Bill and reported progress. Cloudy. Small appearance of snow in the morning, slite [sleet?], rain and misty the rest of the day. Wind N.E.
- Wednesday, 31st. Communications from the Secretary of War of invalid pensioners, etc., were read and his report of the southern frontier. The committee of the whole again on the Naturalization Bill, which was reported with amendments. Cloudy, misty, dirty weather, chilly. Wind N.E. Part of the evening at Knox’s. Wrote my friends.
- Thursday, 1st. January 1795. Congress were this day chiefly taken up on the Naturalization Bill. After it rose, most of the members call’d on the President and offer’d the compliments of the season, eat his cake, drank his wine and came off. Cloudy and chilly. Wind N.E.
- Fryday, 2d. The subject as yesterday before Congress, and an amendment agreed to by yeas and nays, that those who have borne hereditary titles in other countries, shall, in addition to the other requisites, renounce those titles, before an admission to citizenship. This was so trivial and so far beneath the dignity of legislation, as the government is amply secur’d against any titles in this country, that we could not disgrace ourselves by voting for it. Any nobleman coming here is as compleatly divested of title as if he had gone out of the world—then why grim [?] persicution against a class of unfortunates? Is it not discending to imitate the late legislation of France? And is it not disgracing the great and good name of phylanthropists of which we have so much boasted? It is highly so. But I suppose the object of the proposition is obtain’d, by gitting our names in the negative, by means of which they will still be enabled to keep up the electioneering delusion of their constituents, that eastern men are for nobility and monarchy, and thereby secure their seats in another Congress. How unfortunate it is, that in any country the views of ambitious and designing men should so far opperate on the public mind, that light itself should not be permitted to enter, and to make us believe what is, not only, absolutely incredible, but contrary to every principle of nature or man. But such we are (the meer dupes of party) and such, I am unhappy in saying it, I fear we ever shall be. The time has been when I have tho’t otherwise, and indeed I cannot say yet, but that I hugh [sic] the idea too fondly to give it entirely up, but I fear, the past experience of man is too strong evidence against what may be the results of his future improvements. Little snow last night. Cloudy, fair towards night. Wind N.
- Saturday, 3d. Wrote letters to my friends. Attended a committee at 12 o’clock, afterwards walk’d and call’d upon our colleagues. Din’d at General Knox’s. Fair, cool, pleasant. Wind N.W.
- Sunday, 4th. At quarters ’till 1 o’clock. Call’d upon Bricks family. Din’d at Mr. Ross’s. Fair, brisk wind, cool. Wind W. and N.W.
- Monday, 5th. Congress on the subject of fortification of ports and harbors in committee of the whole. Rose and reported progress. Reported likewise a bill to compensate sufferers by the insurrection and agreed to a report on the cession of soil by the states to the U.S. for erecting light houses, etc. Fair, pleasantly cool. Wind N.W. At the theatre.
- Tuesday, 6th. A bill to compensate sufferers, etc., pass’d the House, as did the Drawback Bill. The Naturalization Bill in a new draft before the committee with the Supplementary Bill on Impost, etc., and reported. At the levee. Dined with Colonel Hamilton, tea’d and spent the evening with Cabot and wife. Fair the morning, cloudy rest of the day, chilly. Wind S.E.
- Wednesday, 7th. The bills reported yesterday by the committee of the whole where taken up in the House and pass’d to 3d reading. Sundry reports before the committee. Rain last night, cloudy the morning, rest fair. Muddy. Pleasantly cool. Wind N.W. At theatre. Wrote to friends and Mrs. Cobb—40 dollars.
- Thursday, 8th. The Supplementary Bill and the Naturalization Bill pass’d the House this day. In filling up the blanks of the last, to ascertain the time of residence of aliens prior to naturalization, a long discussion insued, in the course of which it appear’d that the provisions made in the Constitution of the several states, confering citizenship on aliens, were compleatly superceeded by the power given in the Constitution of the U.S. to Congress to determine an uniform system of naturalization, and as the citizen of any one state is a citizen of all the states, the uniformity would be compleatly distroy’d, and every state would make citizens for the United States. Just so would operate the power of expatriation in the states, which some of the states assum’d. It is plain that no state can have the power to say what shall make a alien a citizen, or to expatriate a citizen—the necessity of the case must place these powers in the general government. Fair the morning, the rest cloudy, chilly. Wind N.W. and N.E. Tea’d at Anthony’s. Evening at Bricks.
- Fryday, 9th. Sundry petitions and reports were read, and one on the subject of militia was taken up in committee of the whole. A discussion of some length ensued, and a question of a Constitutional nature was decided by a great majority of the committee, that Congress have the power of imposing fines and penalties on the non-performance of militia duty. The subject was then recommitted by the House for a bill. Din’d at General Knox’s and spent part of the evening there. Cloudy, misty weather. Wind N.E.
- Saturday, 10th. Wrote to my friend Eustis at Boston and my other friends at Taunton. Walk’d with General Knox. Drank tea with Goodhue,835 at my quarters the evening. Cloudy the forenoon. Fair after. Wind W. and N.W. Growing cold.
- Sunday, 11th. At quarters the forenoon, walk’d afterwards. Spent the evening at General Knox’s. Cloudy. Wind N.E. Looking like snow.
- Monday, 12th. A debate taken up, on the propriety of referring to the committee of the whole, the Presidents message of the 30 ultimo, together with the report of the Secretary of War on the subject of the defence of the South Western Territory inclos’d therewith. This is not new. There ever has been a party in Congress opposed to receiving any reports from the ministers of government altho’ the Constitution makes it the duty of the President to communicate to Congress all information on the subjects of government and to call upon these very ministers for such information. Such conduct is too rediculous for legislators, and in the end must make them dispised. The party in this instance, I believe were ashamed of the motion, for when the question was taken not a nay voice was heard. Small snow last night, cold, fair. Wind N.W.
- Tuesday, 13th. After reading petitions and reports, the House went into committee, on the more effectual distribution of the laws of the U.S. among the people thereof. Rose and the subject committed to a committee. Din’d with R. Bland Lee836 at quarters in the evening. Snow gently, the forenoon, the rest cloudy, cold. Wind S.E.
- Wednesday, 14th. A bill from the Senate creating the office of Purveyor of Supplies before the committee of the whole. Rose, the bill committed to a select committee. A report on Monsieur Deanary’s petition,837 to remit the tonnage of vessels which bro’t French prisoners from Halifax to Boston agreed to. Report on the petitions of snuff makers and refiners of sugar made and committed with sundry other reports. Fair, cold. Wind N.W. Spent the evening at Bricks. Wrote my friends at Boston and Taunton.
- Thursday, 15th. After reading petitions and reports the House went into committee on the report for Sinking Fund. A long discussion insued against continuing the excise taxes of the last session for a longer time than two years, affix’d at their passing. Rainy the morning, snow the rest and evening. Wind E. and N.E. Spent evening at Knox’s.
- Fryday, 16th. Still in committee on the sinking fund. No question taken. Lengthy and excellent speech from Ames, to show that taxes from excises are, from the experience of all countries, to be preferred to direct taxes, and that no objects of such a tax could be better chosen than loaf sugar and snuff, meer luxeries. But reasoning is lost when apply’d to minds that cannot or will not be open to conviction. The stale epithet, that excise is ruinous to liberty, has made such impressions on minds that will not reason that indeed reasoning is thrown away, and nothing but numbers can oppose direct taxes in opposition, when these people must know that this tax is equally abhorrent to their constituents. The fact is, we must not have any tax. Fair, cold. Wind N.W. Went to the drawing room—slaying.
- Saturday, 17th. Coldest morning, as yet, this year. Wrote to my friends at Taunton and Boston. Fair, cold but pleasant. Wind N.W.
- Sunday, 18th. At quarters all day. Spent the evening at General Knox’s. Very cold, the severest weather this season, fair. Wind N.W.
- Monday, 19th. This was chiefly imploy’d in reading the Secretary of the Treasury’s report on financial subjects. No observations made on the report. Spent the evening with Brick. Still very cold, fair. Wind N.W.
- Tuesday, 20th. The house in committee on certain principles respecting invalid pensions as reported by the Committee of Claims. Agreed to the report. Sundry reports were read and committeed. At the levee. The weather a little moderated, fair. Wind N.W.
- Wednesday, 21st. Two bills passed the committee of the whole, who likewise had under their consideration the Report on the Military Establishment of the United States. Rose and reported progress. The object of this report is to reduce the present establishment of this army. Perhaps a worse time could not have been assigned for this business—if at all necessary. At the moment of victory, and before any peace has been settled, to intimate the disbandment of the army is the surest mode to continue the war. It ought likewise to be consider’d whether our present establishment is more than sufficient to garrison the frontiers when peace does take place; for it is well known that large bodies of militia have always been call’d forth to co-operate with this army in the war, and at an immense expence, which expence we wish to avoid, by having an army strong enough without them—if peace is intended to be preserv’d. It is likewise necessary that a force should always be ready to chastize aggressions; by this mode only can peace be continued with Indians. Altho’ the present measure does not contemplate a reduction of the number of men now in service, but the regiments, yet it ought to be consider’d that all nations fight their enemy with fictitious numbers—it is one of the great arts of war; and if reduction at all is necessary, it ought to be an after consideration. Let your enemy be deceiv’d by your paper army untill a peace is obtain’d—the difference of expence is trifling. In the House, a long debate took place, on a motion to request the President to direct the proper officers to lay before the House a statement of the number of troops necessary to garrison the frontiers. This was propos’d, simple, for to obtain such information as was certainly necessary to guide the House in forming their arrangements, but it was objected to as giving up the independence of the House and throwing the most important legislative business into the hands of the executive, that by this mode of proceeding, we should soon be reduced to a body of no further consequence than to register the edicts of a despot—strange madness. But this is one of those subjects that cannot be reasoned upon here. It passed with a small majority. Weather milder, pleasant, fair. Wind N.W. Wrote to my friends Eustis, Jackson, Coney and Hodgdon838 at Boston and others at Taunton.
- Thursday, 22d. Sundry bills agreed to by the committee of the whole, reports read and committed. House rose after 3 o’clock. Cloudy, warm thawing weather. Wind N.E. Spent the evening at General Knox’s.
- Fryday, 23d. After passing some bills, one supplementary to the Act for Registry Coasting and Fishing Vessels, the House went into committee on the report respecting the Fortification of Ports and Harbours. Rose and reported progress. The report committed to a select committee. The variety of opinions on this subject evidently discover’d the incapability of this House to detail subjects of this nature—all we have to do, is to say whether fortresses shall be built, and whether of temporary or durable materials, and provide means accordingly, leaving it to the Executive to say where, with their size and construction. Fair the morning, the rest cloudy. Wind N.E. Warm and thawing, snow at night. Din’d at General Knox’s. At the drawing room.
- Saturday, 24th. At my quarters ’till 1 o’clock. Din’d at Mr. Breeds.839 Spent the evening at Knox’s. Rain’d very hard all day, warm. Wind N.E. Wrote to my friends at Boston and Taunton.
- Sunday, 25th. At quarters, forenoon. Din’d at Bricks and spent the evening there. Snow’d all last night and this day, towards night with rain, snow a foot deep, warm. Wind N.E.
- Monday, 26th. A bill supplimentary to the Act for Registering Ships, etc., passed the committee of the whole. Sundry reports from the same. Amendments by the Senate to the Naturalization Act concurred in the House, etc. After dinner walk’d with Knox and spent the evening with him. Fair. Pleasant, thawing, wett in the streets, snow a foot deep. Wind N.W.
- Tuesday, 27th. Sundry reports before the committee of the whole—various petitions read and committed. Din’d with Knox. Went the evening to Mrs. Moore’s ball. Fair, pleasant, very wet streets, thawing all day. Wind W. At the levee.
- Wednesday, 28th. The following before the committee of the whole—a bill for repealing a part of the law prohibiting the exportation of arms, etc.; a report on the judiciary of the N. Western Territory; and a report on the cession of the S. Western Territory by N. Carolina. By this last, it appears that prior to the cession, N. Carolina had located by sale to sundry individuals a part of the territory which since by treaty with the Indians has been reserved to them. These individuals now come and claim of the U.S. compensation for these lands, thus, as they say, ceeded to the Indians, and which were particularly reserved by the Act of Cession made by the state.840 Rose and reported progress. Fair, pleasant, thawing still, very sloppy. Wind W. At the theatre. Wrote my friends and Mrs. Cobb—30 dollars.
- Thursday, 29th. The committee of the whole again on the same subject of N. Carolina disagreed to the report—½ after 3 the House rose. Two days have been spent on this business which the Carolinians consider of the first consequence to them. It seems they have imbibed an idea that they are to be defrauded by the U.S. of the sum these lands sold for. They say that the certificates which these lands sold for were part of the debt due from the U.S. and that that government absorbed them by this sale. Now as they can neither fund them or have the land they are defrauded—but they ought to consider that the State has charg’d the whole amount of this paper to the U.S. and the account has been settled by the commissioners, and if the individuals who purchas’d these lands are bit, their only remedy is in a future treaty with the Indians, in which these lands may be ceeded. They will then have a right of enterance. But the U.S. must be threatened. If they do not make compensation, the purchasers intend to redress their own wrongs by taking possession of the lands and an Indian War with the Cherokees will be the consequence. This is one of the unhappy sources of trouble in this government, which arises from a disposition of the people of these states that border on the natives not to be subjected to the principles and laws of the general government. They will not surrender up their land speculations, but by the strong arm of the government—and they ought to feel it, and I conceive must, before any obedience can take place. I have no doubt that N. Carolina and Georgia will be near in rebellion against the U.S. Rain all day. Wind N.E. and S.E. Part of the evening at Bricks.
- Fryday, 30th. Most of the day in committee on the Report of the Committee of Claims on the Petition of Gilbert Dench of Massachusetts.841 Dench was a contractor in the late war with the D. Q. Master General at Boston, for the transport of articles from that place to the North River. The U.States not having money to pay for their contract, borrow’d of the State a sum for this purpose, which was in orders on a specie tax. These orders Dench says depreciated to his loss of 20 or 25 per cent, and now asks to be made good. The committee reported, that he had no demand against the U.S. as they credited the State for the amount they borrow’d as specie, and therefore he had leave to withdraw his petition. The members from N. Carolina very shamefully abus’d Massachusetts as a government which had defrauded the U.S. in all their accounts, and from thence arose the ballance due them. Their ignorance, which is profound, is the only apology for their impudence. Report accepted. Fair, moderate. Wind N.W. and W. Muddy streets. Forepart of the evening at Knox’s, rest at quarters.
- Saturday, 31st. After finishing my letters to Mrs. Cobb and my friends, I call’d upon acquaintance in town. Din’d at Bricks and spent part of the evening there. Fair, muddy. Wind W.
- Sunday, Ist. February. Worshipped at St. Peters Church the forenoon. Din’d with General Knox, spent the evening at Mr. Morris’s and Bricks. Fair, cool but pleasant. Wind N.W. and E.
- Monday, 2d. Communications from the Secretary of the Treasury and his reports were read. The Militia Bill reported and read, with pet[it]ions and other reports. The House then went into committee of the whole on the report of a select committee on the reduction of the military establishment. Disagreed to the report. The subject still before the House on a motion to compleat the present establishment. Fair, warm, muddy. Wind S. Receiv’d letters from Eustis and Swift. Drank tea at Judge Wilsons.
- Tuesday, 3d. The subject of compleating the present military establishment, in committee of the whole, and agreed to by a great majority—indeed the more this subject was discussed the more conviction pour’d upon the mind of the necessity of such forces—and I am certain that a less force than what is now employ’d by the U.S. will never be seen in my day. Go as far as we will, we shall still have a frontier and an extended one, and if not occupied by savages, it will be by somebody else, equally requiring a force to protect the citizens of this country; and if we have peace with the savages or others, a force will be always necessary to punish egression as well as to protect those with whom we are at peace from injury by our own citizens, so that an army must always be required, and one, in my opinion, equal at least to the present. Congress were generally convinced of the necessity of this measure. Rainy and snowy in the morning, clear’d up cold at noon. At the levee. Wind E. S.E. and W. Din’d with General Knox.
- Wednesday, 4th. Old ballances, a report of, was before the committee of the whole, and the resolutions, amended, agreed to. Cloudy and fair at times. Went with company to dine with Mrs. Hamilton’s, but was prevented by the ice from crossing the Sculkill. Return’d and din’d with the company at Oeller’s Hotel. To the theater. Wrote to friends at Boston and Taunton and Mrs. Cobb. Very cold. Wind W.
- Thursday, 5th. After reading sundry reports, the House went into committee of the whole on the report for reducing the public debt, the rest of the day spent therein. Rose Cloudy and fair at times, milder than yesterday. Wind W. Din’d at Binghams and spent the evening.
- Fryday, 6th. The committee of the whole again on the report for reducing the public debt, and half after three questions were taken on the different resolutions as reported, and passed by great majorities. This is a favorite subject and was discussed for a length of time; not that really there was any opposition to the general measure, but to the manner of obtaining the object. The great difficulty indeed was the prolonging the excise taxes of the last session to the year 1801, which otherwise would expire in 1797; and this arose from the manufactors of sugar and snuff objecting to a tax on those articles, and that, to, without any foundation, but being opposed to the general system of excises, or influenc’d by those in this State or in Congress who are, these prefer, in all cases, direct taxes to excises. But a majority of Congress, and a large one to, as I hope they always will, prefer’d the latter. When a community have sense enough to distinguish between names and things, they will always [adopt] that mode of laying public burthens, which will be least offensive to the citizen. Theories can never afford ease to one who is conscious of pain. Fair, pleasantly cool. Wind W. Dined with Mr. Meredith, the Treasurer of U.S.842 To the drawing room in the evening.
- Saturday, 7th. Wrote to my usual friends at Boston and Taunton. After 12 o’clock walk’d and call’d upon Mr. Anthony, Mr. Brick, etc. Din’d at home. Very pleasant day, fair, cloudy afternoon. Wind E. and N.E.
- Sunday, 8th. Cloudy all day. Wind N.E. At my quarters ’till night. Spent the evening at Knox’s.
- Monday, 9th. In Congress reports on different subjects read and committed. Bill empowering the President to appoint pro tern, officers, in case of vacancies in the Great Departments of Government passed, as did a bill on Post Office and Roads. Resolves appertaining to the sinking fund before the committee of the whole. Snow the forenoon, thawing, chilly. Wind N.E. At Anthony’s in the evening—a dance and supper.
- Tuesday, 10th. The committee of the whole again on the resolves appertaining to the sinking fund. Spent the day on them. Reported progress. Snow in the morning, the rest thawing and muddy. Wind N.E. and W. Spent the evening at Knox’s.
- Wednesday, 11th. The same resolves as yesterday before the committee of the whole and agreed to with amendments. These resolutions were the subject of the report of the Secretary of the Treasury, more effectually establishing the system of the sinking fund, and in which that subject was detail’d in such manner as to afford a view of the whole system necessary to be introduced into the bill. The amendments were to reduce the irredeemable part of the debt, as reported, to redeemable at the pleasure of the U.S. This is a mistaken principle, and experience will convince them of it, for adding an irredeemibility to a debt for a certain term of years, will enable the obtaining a loan at a reduced premium, and when it is consider’d that the ability of the finances will not be adiquate to redeeming any part of such a debt ’till after the term of its irredeemability has expired, why will we add an additional expence for the sake of a name? Because theory says it is incompatible with democracy. A bill empowering the President to borrow for foreign intercourse pass’d to 3d reading. Fair, pleasant, thawing and wett. Wind N.W. Din’d with Colonel Humphries at the Presidents. At the theatre and greatly pleas’d. Wrote letters to friends—to Dr. Hunt,843 Mr. Bradish, Mrs. Cobb.
- Thursday, 12th. The Bill for a loan for foreign intercourse passed. The Militia Bill before the committee of the whole. Reported progress. Din’d at the Presidents. At Bricks in the evening—large company, dance and supper. Fair, pleasant, thawing. Wind N.W. and W.
- Fryday, 13th. A Bill for the Military Establishment of the U.S. in committee of the whole, the day spent on it. Agreed to. The opposition did not succeed in any motion. Fair, pleasant, afternoon colder. Wind N.W. Call’d at General Knox’s in the evening and went with the ladies to the drawing room.
- Saturday, 14th. The Bill on the Military Establishment passed the House. A Bill on Old Ballances before the committee of the whole and agreed to. House rose at 4 o’clock. Fair, pleasant, cool. Wind N.W. Cloudy the evening which I spent at Knox’s. Wrote my friends at Taunton and Boston.
- Sunday, 15th. In my chamber ’till 12 o’clock when General Knox call’d me for a walk. Returned to quarters to dinner. Afterwards, call’d upon Colonel Humphries and spent the evening at Bricks. Fair, very cold sharp wind at N.W.
- Monday, 16th. A number of petitions and reports read. The bill empowering the President to call forth the militia to surpress insurrections, etc., before the committee of the whole. Reported progress. Other bills agreed to. Very cold last night and still continues. Fair. Wind N.W.
- Tuesday, 17th. The bill as yesterday, agreed to by the committee and reported. The Militia Bill then taken up in the committee. Reported progress. Communications from the President of the Acts of the State of Georgia for the sale of the lands between their present boundary and the Mississipi, and which now belongs to the Indians, the native inhabitants, together with the letters of the Governor of the South W. Territory on the subject of Indian War. This last was confidential and the House was clear’d. These letters contain an account of the Chickasaws making war against the Creeks, and that in so doing, they expected the assistance of the U.S., etc. It is very probable that the sale of the Georgia lands has influenced this war among the Indians. The speculators in this business have probably arranged matters in such way that the Chickasaws have been induced to make war upon the Creeks and thereby call out the force of the U.S., which they are by treaty obliged to do, and thus extirpate these poor Creeks who are in possession of the lands thus sold by the State—by which means the purchasers will be enabled to take possession of their lands thus purchased. But I am sure the U.S. will never patronize such wickedness. Georgia has no right to the land, and the purchasers will know it.844 Snow this morning, fair the rest. Wind N.E., S. and N.W. Come round cold. Spent the evening at Mr. Dickinsons.845
- Wednesday, 18th. The House taking up in the morning in reading Petitions and Reports. The Committee discharged from any further considering the Militia Bill. The Bill for reducing the Public Debt was then taken up in committee of the whole—reported progress. Sundry bills passed. Wrote to my friends, Mrs. Cobb—60 dollars. Fair, cold but pleasant. Wind N.W.
- Thursday, Thanksgiving. At church. Din’d at Knox’s. Milder than yesterday. Wind N.W.
- Fryday, 20th. A bill giving the daughters of the late Count de Grasse 4,000 dollars read 1st and 2d time and order’d for a 3d tomorrow. The bill for reducing the public debt before the committee reported progress. At the drawing room. Fair, mild, pleasant. Wind W.S.W. and N.W.
- Saturday, 21st. The bill for Miss de Grasse’s pass’d. The committee of the whole again on the bill as yesterday, and reported it with amendments. Wrote to friends. Din’d at Messrs. Philip and Co.846 air, pleasant spring like weather. Wind S.W. and W.
- Sunday, 22d. Walk’d with Knox and with the ladies visited Cheracca’s bursts,847 etc. Din’d with Knox, at Bricks in the evening. Warm summer like day, afternoon cloudy. Wind S.W.
- Monday, 23d. The Bill for Reducing the Public Debt passed. This bill is of the most essential service to the future prosperity of this country. The Presidents birthday. The House visited him at 12 o’clock, and return’d to the Hall. Din’d with Knox. At the ball in the evening. Cloudy, rainy and showery. Wind N.E.
- Tuesday, 24th. Appropriation Bill for the War Department before the committee and sundry reports agreed to. Cloudy and fair, at times growing cold. Wind N.E. and N.W. Wrote to friends and Mrs. Cobb.
- Wednesday, 25th. Report of the Georgia business before the committee of the whole, agreed to. Sundry bills passed. Din’d at Mr. Ross’s and spent the evening there. Very cold. Last night the coldest this year. Wind N.W.
- Thursday, 26th. The Georgia report before the House which created great difference of opinion and after long discussion was order’d to lie ’till to morrow. Sundry bills and amendments passed. Din’d with Blackstone848 at Oeller’s. Still very cold. Wind N.W. At Bricks in the evening.
- Fryday, 27th. Sundry bills passed and reports discussed. Din’d at Bingham’s. Still very cold, fair. Wind N.W.
- Saturday, 28th. Report for defence of the frontiers before the committee, amendments to bills from Senate, etc. Din’d with Mr. Vaughan.849 Cold, milder, fair. At Knox’s. Wind N.W. Wrote to friends.
- Sunday, 1st. March. Fair, pleasant. Din’d at Knox’s with Humphries. Tea’d with the President. Wind W.
- Monday, 2d. Congress mett at 10 o’clock, adjourn’d at 4. ’till 7 o’clock, and sett untill 10½ o’clock at night, clearing off the business for adjournment. Cloudy the morning, rest fair and pleasant. Wind W. and N.W.
- Tuesday, 3d. After sitting till 2 o’clock Congress adjourn’d to 5 o’clock, and at 7½. o’clock in the evening, they adjourn’d sine die. At the levee. In the evening at Mrs. Knox’s dance—very pleasant affair. Wind W.
- Wednesday, 4th. Walking with General Knox and conversing on the subject of Eastern Lands. Din’d with Bingham in company with James Swan850 and at the play with him. Our friends going off to their homes. Fair, very pleasant, summer like weather. Wind W.
- Thursday, 5th. Still conversing on my Eastern Project. Bingham acceeded to the proposals. Din’d with General Knox with Swan and Brick. Spent the evening there. Fair, very delightfull weather, warm. Wind S.W. and W.
- Fryday, 6th. The papers for my Eastern Contract are drafting—I wait with anxiety. At the drawing room with Swan. Fair, pleasant weather, colder than yesterday. Wind N.E. Fire this morning opposite to my friend Mr. Ross’s house, which was much scortch’d—windows melted, etc.
- Saturday, 7th. Wrote to D. Foster, Esquire, at Brookfield.851 The Eastern Land Agreement signed, which opens a new field of exertions for my abilities. Tho’ untried, I am determined to go thro’. Din’d at the Presidents with Humphries. Cloudy the morning, rain the rest. Wind E. and S.E. Came round in the night to N.W.
- Sunday, 8th. Fair, pleasant, but cold. Din’d at Bingham’s with company. Wind W.
- Monday, 9th. Fair and cloudy at times. Din’d at General Knox’s with Bingham, conversing on Eastern Land subjects. At the theatre in the evening. Cool. Wind N.W.
- Tuesday, 10th. At six o’clock this morning, left my old quarters at Philadelphia, and set off for N. York. Detain’d half a day in crossing the Delaware. Lodged at Trenton. Fair, cool. Wind N.W.
- Wednesday, nth. Persu’d our journey by day break, breakfasted at Princeton, din’d at Brunswick, and lodged at Woodbridge. Very bad roads. Fair, cold morning. Wind N.W.
- Thursday, 12th. On our journey—breakfasted at Elizabeth Town, and arrived at N. York at 3 o’clock, put up with Colonel Smith. Cold morning. Wind N.E. Heavy blow in the evening with snow and rain.
- Fryday, 13th. Rain and snow last night with heavy wind at N.E. and S.W. at night. Rainy and snowy all day. Din’d at Smith’s with company and spent the evening at Mr. Low’s852 with ladies and gentlemen.
- Saturday, 14th. Fair and cloudy at times. Wind S.W. and blowing. Engag’d a passage for Taunton. Call’d upon Flint, din’d at Mr. McCormicks,853 and spent the evening there. Cold.
- Sunday, 15th. Still blowing and cloudy at times. Wind W. Set sail from N. York at 12 o’clock, anchor’d at City Island at 2 o’clock, from thence sail’d again at 9 o’clock at night. Mild afternoon and evening. Wind W.
- Monday, 16th. In the Sound. On the morning off N. Haven. Fair. Gentle wind at W. and S.W., but came round at 12 o’clock to N.E. and cloudy. Stood in for and reach’d Sachem’s Head Harbour at night. A heavy blow in the evening with snow. Safe in harbour all night, thank God.
- Tuesday, 17th. This morning the wind came round to the W. Set sail from our harbour at 7 o’clock. Fair. Soon after, a brisk gale from S.W. Reach’d Dighton in Taunton River at 12 o’clock at night—a great run, 140 miles.
- Wednesday, 18th. Breakfasted at Mrs. Stutson’s at Dighton,854 and arrived at Taunton at 2 o’clock, happy in seeing my family and friends after five months absence. Fair, pleasant. Heavy wind N.W. Thursday, 19th. The wind at S.W. blew very hard last night. Fair, growing colder. Call’d upon my friends around the Green. Wind W. and N.W.
- Fryday, 20th. Cold this morning. Call upon friends and acquaintance.
- Din’d with Mr. McWhorter. Wind N.W.
- Saturday, 21st. Still cold, but growing warmer. Conversing with my acquaintance. Wind N.W. and S.W. Cloudy evening, looking like rain.
- Sunday, 22d. Cloudy, wind S.W., rain towards night. Worshipped with Parson Foster.855 Major Baylies with me the afternoon. Monday, 23d. Cloudy and fair at times. Wind S.W. Town Meeting,
- which gave me an oppertunity of seeing my friends in the town.
- Tuesday, 24th. Fair and pleasant. Wind W. and S.W. Fish came, and I had my first dinner of them with Swift and Sproat.856 Wednesday, 25th. Fair and very pleasant. Wind S.W. Visited young Babbett at Norton, who is very sick. Saw Dr. Parker. Return’d at night.857
- Thursday, 26th. Fair and cloudy, at times wind W. and N.E. General Jackson arrived at my house from Providence where he had been from Boston and stay’d with me the afternoon and night. Began to snow in the evening.
- Fryday, 27th. Severe snow storm. Wind N.E. After dinner General Jackson would go for Boston. The snowing had ceas’d, tho’ the roads were very bad and full of snow. In the evening snowing again commenc’d and continued with sleet and rain all night.
- Saturday, 28th. Still sleet and rain all day. Wind N.E. Warmer than yesterday. Din’d with Padleford.
An examination of the annals of the Third Congress reveals that Cobb played a very minor role indeed in the proceedings. He was appointed to serve on a committee which was to inquire into the need for an amendment to the Constitution to provide for a uniform militia in the United States;858 he helped prepare a bill to establish navigational buoys off the coast of Connecticut;859 and he helped to obtain governmental assistance for the relief of sick and disabled seamen.860 Doubtless because of his experience as Speaker of the Massachusetts House, he was frequently called on to preside over Congress when Frederick Muhlenberg needed a rest.861 Aside from these unimportant matters, there is no evidence that the new representative from Massachusetts did anything at all. He never made a speech, nor is his name associated with any piece of legislation. When it came to voting, General Cobb always voted at his party’s call and registered unswerving support to the Federalist faction. In all the votes recorded, he differed from Fisher Ames and Samuel Dexter on but one insignificant occasion. In short, he was a dutiful subordinate, content to follow rather than to lead.
As the end of the session and the time for re-elections approached, Cobb’s friends urged him to make a speech that would bring him before the public eye and aid him in the coming contest. Still no speech was given. Election time came, and though Cobb led the twelve candidates from his district, he failed to obtain the necessary majority, which made a run-off necessary. In the meantime, his friend William Eustis kept prodding him to speak in Congress:
Make your speech upon the general state of the nation, on the excise, which falls hard on the good Christians in New England who keep chaises for the laudable and sole use of riding to heaven, or make it about the English, the Spaniards, the Dutch, the Indians, the Negroes, or the very Irish—but make your speech or you never will have any character in Boston. Your enemies expect it, your friends desire it: and this thing is more spoken of than you would imagine, notwithstanding all your vanity. Make it about religion—there you shine….862
Again Eustis suggested speaking about “the black art, or cock fighting or Indian fighting, or the age of reason, or the age of insanity, anything but make a speech or I will forge one for you and hire some virtuous printer to make it yours.”863
Despite these urgings, the unwilling orator failed to open his mouth; and in the absence of other factors, it seems safe to assume that this must have contributed to his eventual defeat. Four by-elections had to be held in the Taunton district before George Leonard of Norton finally won the coveted place.864 Thus, as the close of the Third Congress approached, the freshman Congressman found himself jobless, a situation all the more uncomfortable in view of the large family which he had to support. These circumstances make it easier to understand why General Cobb should be willing to accept an offer from William Bingham to act as his agent in the wilds of Maine.