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Connecticut Navy Schooner Spy




Spy

(1) Captain Robert Niles

Schooner

14 August 1775-27 September 1777

Connecticut Navy Schooner

(2) Lieutenant Zebediah Smith
15 October 1777-May 1778
(3) Captain Robert Niles
May 1778-29 August 1778


Commissioned/First Date:

14 August 1775

Out of Service/Cause:

29 August 1778/captured by British Privateer Ship Beezly


Tonnage:

48, 50


Battery:

Date Reported: [September] 1775

Number/Caliber  Weight        Broadside

4/

Total: 4 cannon/

Broadside: 2 cannon/

Swivels:


Date Reported: 1 January 1776

Number/Caliber  Weight        Broadside

4/

Total: 4 cannon/

Broadside: 2 cannon/

Swivels:


Date Reported: [20] September 1776

Number/Caliber  Weight        Broadside

10/

Total: 10 cannon/

Broadside: 5 cannon/

Swivels:


Date Reported: 21 April 1778

Number/Caliber  Weight        Broadside

6/4-pounder        24 pounds 12 pounds

Total: 6 cannon/24 pounds

Broadside: 3 cannon/12 pounds

Swivels:


Crew:

(1) 25 September 1775: 9 [total]
(2) 8 June 1776: 28 [total]
(3) 14 August 1776: 36 [total]
(4) 1 September 1776: 44 [total]
(5) 1 October 1776: 34 [total]
(6) 8 January 1776: 28 [total]
(7) 8 January 1777: 4 [total]
(8) 1 February 1777: 5 [total]
(9) 1 March 1777: 6 [total]
(10) 1 April 1777: 14 [total]
(11) 14 May 1777: 10 [total]
(12) 1 November 1777: 5 [total]
(13) 1 December 1777: 15 [total]
(14) 1 January 1778: 16 [total]
(15) 1 February 1778: 16 [total]
(16) 1 March 1778: 2 [total]
(17) 21 April 1778: 30 [total]


Description:


Officers:

(1) First Lieutenant Timothy Parker, 8 June 1776-4 September 1776; (2) First Lieutenant Asahel Smith, 3 November 1777-27 February 1778; (3) Second Lieutenant Zebediah Smith, 8 June 1776-15 October 1777; (4) Master Benjamin Mortimore, 20 October 1777-20 February 1778, May 1778-29 August 1778; (5) Pilot William Cove, 8 June 1776-


Cruises:

(1) Stonington, Connecticut to Norwich, Connecticut, [20] August 1775-[20] August 1775

(2) Norwich Connecticut to New London, Connecticut, 7 October 1775-8 October 1775

(3) New London, Connecticut to Norwich, Connecticut, 9 October 1775-11 October 1775

(4) Norwich, Connecticut to Norwich, Connecticut, 12 October 1775-16 October 1775

(5) Cruises in Long Island Sound, from Norwich and New London, December 1775

(6) New London, Connecticut to New London, Connecticut, with the Continental Fleet, 15 April 1776

(7) New London, Connecticut to Newport, Rhode Island, with the Continental Fleet, 21 April 1776-23 April 1776

(8) Newport, Rhode Island to New London, Connecticut, 28 April 1776-29 April 1776

(9) New London, Connecticut to New London, Connecticut, 29 May 1776-29 May 1776, with Continental Navy Sloop Providence and Connecticut Privateer Sloop Gamecock

(10) Cruises in Long Island Sound, from Norwich and New London, June-July 1776

(11) New London, Connecticut to New London, Connecticut, 14 August 1776-12 September 1776

(12) New London, Connecticut to New London, Connecticut, [20] September 1776-[22] September 1776, with numerous other vessels [expedition to Long Island]

(13) New London, Connecticut to New London, Connecticut, [8] December 1776-

(14) New London, Connecticut to various ports and return, [10] January 1777-[20] January 1777

(15) New London, Connecticut, to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, [25] March 1777-5 April 1777

(16) Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to New London, Connecticut, [8] April 1777-[12] April 1777

(17) New London, Connecticut to Bedford, Massachusetts, [25] April 1777-28 April 1777

(18) Bedford, Massachusetts to New London, Connecticut, [5] May 1777-[10] May 1777

(19) New London, Connecticut, to New London, Connecticut, [1] July 1777-[15] July 1777

(20) New London, Connecticut, to New London, Connecticut, 20 July 1777-[30] July 1777

(21) New London, Connecticut, to New London, Connecticut, September 1777-September 1777

(22) New London, Connecticut to Fairfield, Connecticut, 29 November 1777-29 November 1777, with Continental Army Sloop General Schuyler

(23) Fairfield, Connecticut to Fairfield, Connecticut, 8 December 1776-9 December 1776, with numerous other vessels [Long Island Expedition]

(24) New London, Connecticut to Brest, France, 12 June 1778-3 July 1778

(25) Brest, France to Paimboeuf, France, 3 August 1778-3 August 1778

(26) Nantes (Paimboeuf), France to sea, 28 August 1778-29 August 1778


Prizes:

(1) Ship Peggy (William Barron), 8 October 1775, off Stonington, Connecticut

(2) Schooner Hannah and Elizabeth (Ronald Bruce), 22 August 1776

(3) Ship Hope (Quince), 27 August 1776

(4) Sloop Ferguson, 27 July 1777

(5) Sloop [unknown], July 1777

(6) Sloop Dolphin, 10 September 1777


Actions:

(1) Action off New London, 20 July 1777


Comments:


The first action the Connecticut government made towards creating a navy was toward the end of the session of the Connecticut Assembly, which was meeting at Hartford, in July 1775. On 1 July the Assembly resolved


“that two vessels of a suitable burthen be immediately fitted out and armed with a proper number of cannon, swivel guns & small arms and furnished with necessary warlike stores and well officered and manned for the defence of the sea coasts in this colony under the care and direction of his Honr the Governor and Committee of Council appointed to assist him in the recess of the General Assembly, who are hereby authorized and directed to procure, furnish and employ the same accordingly.”1


On 2 August 1775 the Committee of Safety (which was Governor Jonathan Trumbull and his Council) met to discuss the naval preparations of the colony. The Committee of Safety decided “to charter and improve some one vessel of small burden and a fast sailer, of about 20, 25, or 30 tons and to fix her with such warlike furniture as may be proper; to be improved chiefly as a spy vessel to run and course from place to place to discover the enemy and carry intelligence &c.” Robert Niles of Norwich, Connecticut was appointed as Captain of the smaller vessel, thus becoming the senior Captain of the Connecticut Navy. The Council appointed Benjamin Huntington and Captain John Deshon as a committee to fit out the smaller vessel.2


On 7 August Huntington, one of the committee for fitting out the vessels, and also a member of the Council, reported that the committee had not found a proper vessels for the “runner and cutter”. After “much discourse about the matter, the arming the same &c. he, with the other committee were directed to make further inquiry and report.”3


Huntington reported to the Committee of Safety again on 14 August. The committee had still not found a proper vessel for rental for the second vessel, but they had found one for sale,


“belonging to one Hancox of Stonington, but not to be chartered but may be bought at £200. as the lowest sum &c. Her sails and rigging not fit for the service ; and the question is whether she shall be purchased, and was largely considered; . . . and they judged the vessel cheap and that if and when needless she may be probably sold,  perhaps without loss, and the hire, saved &c. are of opinion that sd vessel or schooner called the “Britania” be purchased by the Colony, and Benj. Huntington, Capt. Jno. Deshon & Capt Robert Niles are appointed a committee to make sd purchase at not exceeding £200. &c. And also to take care of and cause her to be rigged and :fitted out with every necessary for said purpose as soon as may be. And this Council do appoint Robert Niles of Norwich to be Capt. and commander of her. And sd committee are also desired to look out and recommend proper persons for the other officers on board her and report make to the next meeting.”4


To further the fitting out of the two vessels, the Committee of Safety ordered Deshon


“be directed forthwith to put the cannon, small arms, pistols, and every warlike implement now at N. London, suitable and proper :for armed vessels, into proper order and condition for immediate use, and on receiving advice from Capt Hall of the larger armed vessel fitting at Middletown, shall be at or near Saybrook ready to receive them, to send them to him there and deliver on board his Brig. But if it shall appear there is not a sufficient quantity for both vessels, that they be properly proportioned between them.”5


Huntington and Deshon proceeded to Stonington, Connecticut and purchased the smaller vessel from Edward Hancox and John Denison “5th”. On 14 August the Governor and Council ordered them reimbursed for the £ 200 purchase price of the Britania, which now officially became the Connecticut Navy Schooner Spy.6


Spy was brought around to Norwich, Connecticut for fitting out as a warship. When a small vessel, captured at Stonington by HM Frigate Rose, was driven into New London by bad weather, was re-captured, she had a prize crew of three slaves and a petty officer aboard. The slaves belonged to Deputy Governor Nicholas Cooke of Rhode Island. The Committee of Safety ordered them delivered to Niles on 4 September 1775, and put to work on refitting the Spy.7 On 8 September the Committee of Safety ordered Colonel Jabez Huntington to inquire about purchasing twelve blunderbusses, recently imported by Nathaniel Shaw, for the use of the schooner. The Committee of Safety also authorized the payment of £ 100 to Niles for crew wages and other expenses in fitting out the Spy.8 A few days later, on 14 September, the Committee of Safety directed that 150 pounds of gunpowder be delivered to Niles.9 A bill for the cartage of four cannon for delivery to the Spy belongs to this period, although paid much later.10


On 25 September Niles reported to Governor Trumbull that he had received the money, but that it was not enough for the current and projected costs. He thought about £ 300 more was needed. He had enlisted a few men but needed more money to pay the advance wages. His sailcloth had arrived and the sails were being made. He thought he might get to sea for a short cruise on 27 or 28 September, but couldn’t go far as he only had nine men aboard. The commissions for the officers would be needed before sailing.11


Governor Trumbull, on 29 September, asked Jabez, Benjamin or Samuel Huntington to advise him concerning these expenses.12 The next day Benjamin Huntington looked at Niles’s estimates and concurred in the estimate. He dispatched a messenger to Trumbull to obtain the funds, noting that Niles could not recruit even one more man without more money.13 The other two men thought that the minimum necessary was £ 150, which was sent on 2 October 1775.14 An additional £ 150 was drawn on 9 October.15


Meanwhile, on 7 October, the ship Peggy (William Barron), with a cargo of flour, had run aground on some rocks off Stonington, Connecticut.16 The Committee of Safety, learning of this, ordered Niles to go out and secure the Peggy, and bring her to Norwich.17 The Committee of Safety surely was reminded of this ship’s recent history.


Ship Peggy was built in 1773 and registered at Newport on 1 October of that year. She was owned by Christopher Champlin of Newport, who had a contract to supply provisions to Royal Navy vessels stationed at Newport. She had loaded a cargo of corn, flour, pig iron, and staves at Annapolis, Maryland in April 1775, cleared out for Cork, Ireland on 2 May 1775, and turned up in Newport, Rhode Island, on 27 May, where she was “captured” by HM Frigate Rose. She was sent to Boston, Massachusetts on 2 June 1775, and was subsequently released.18


Peggy sailed down to Baltimore, Maryland, loaded a cargo of wheat, then sailed up to New York, and cleared out there for Falmouth, England. Peggy sailed on 419 or 5 September 1775,  and suffered badly in a storm on 1020 or 11 September, being dismasted and heavily damaged.21 Barron put about and steered for Newport. Peggy ran on a reef on 7 October 1775, off Stonington, Connecticut.22 Soon the Connecticut Navy Sloop Spy (Captain Robert Niles) came out and got alongside her. Niles took charge and began unloading the flour. After lightening the ship and getting her off the reef, Spy escorted her to New London, Connecticut23 on 8 October. At New London she was said to have been from Virginia, with a cargo of wheat and dismasted in the storm of 2 September.24 She was subsequently escorted to the bar of the Connecticut River by the Spy, on 11 October, which then departed on patrol.25


The Committee of Safety at Norwich took charge of the vessel. They learned that she was the same ship “captured” by the British earlier and sent into Boston, where her cargo was taken for the use of the soldiers. She was then released.26 It was suspected that another cargo was now designed to be “captured” and sent to Boston.27 The Norwich Committee of Safety interviewed the mate and crew (Barron was gone to Newport, Rhode Island) and determined that the Peggy seemed to be on a legitimate voyage. However she was in an exposed position. The Norwich Committee of Safety ordered two merchants, Christopher Leffingwell and William Coit, to obtain lighters and bring her cargo, and then the ship, up to Norwich. The owner and freighters of the cargo were notified of this action.28


Niles put into Norwich from his cruise on 16 October and met the freighters on the docks. “ . . . the Latter informd he had Orders from your Excellency & the Committee of Safety to Bring her up to the Barr & No farther until further Orders - however as the Owners were Desirous of having her brought up to the Landing to Repair the Vessel, as the Inconvenience Could happen if She proves to be on a Smuggling Voyage - We have advised to her Coming up Agreeable to the Vote of the Committee & Wait Your Excellency further order -” The suggestion was made to the Committee of Safety that the cargo be sold to Connecticut for the use of its army.29


The subject of the Peggy worked its way up to the Continental Congress, which resolved on 15 November 1775 to allow the Peggy to proceed on her voyage, provided she was given a new master (one approved by the Norwich committee), which committee was also to approve her sailing route. Congress noted that Barron had been master when Peggy was captured by the British and thought he would not be too unhappy to be captured again. Champlin was criticized for keeping Barron employed after the first incident.30 On 5 December 1775 Champlin was in Norwich, where he appointed Seth Harding to be Peggy’s new master and requested the Committee of Norwich to allow her to be reloaded and proceed on her voyage, as called for in the Congressional resolution.31


Meanwhile, on 9 October Governor Trumbull ordered Captain Jeremiah Wadsworth to provision and store the Connecticut Navy Brig Minerva for a mission. He was to furnish necessary stores for a six month cruise, purchasing what was needed if necessary, and borrowing shot from the supplies for the Spy, if that was necessary.32


An estimate of the expenses incurred by the colony for the Spy was drawn up on 18 November 1775. In this document she is listed as a sloop, purchased for £200, with £ 400 provided to Niles for crew expenses and other costs.33


Some time before 23 November Niles heard of a vessel loading with provisions at Sag Harbor on Long Lsland, New York. She was said to be bound for Nantucket, but had no “proper” permit and was suspected “to be designed for the use of the ministerial troops . . .” Niles informed John Deshon, who introduced the information into the Committee of Safety, with the request that Niles sought instructions concerning the vessel, “whether he should prevent her sailing, &c.” The Committee of Safety ordered “That a copy of a resolve of the Continental Congress, respecting the exportation of provisions from any of the United Colonies &c. pass’d about the 6th of Nov. inst.,’ be sent to said Niles for his direction.”34


Niles had the Spy at sea soon after this. He heard a report of a British armed brig being in Long Island Sound and sent the information to the Committee of Safety. The Committee of Safety ordered the Connecticut Navy Brig Minerva (Captain Giles Hall) out to sea to search for the brig. On 9 December 1775 the Spy spoke the Minerva, a little east of New Haven, Connecticut. Niles informed Hall that the rumored armed brig was now reported to have left the area and returned to New York. Hall put into New Haven to seek further orders.35 The Spy returned to port by mid-December.


On 22 December the Committee of Safety ordered that Niles be paid £ 100 for the wages of the crew, and the settlement of his account.36


In a letter to George Washington dated 1 January 1776, which mentioned the state of the Connecticut Navy, Governor Jonathan Trumbull noted that the Spy was armed with four guns.37


Silas Deane, one of the Connecticut Delegates to the Continental Congress, and a member of the Naval Committee of the Congress, had written to Governor Trumbull requesting that the Spy be used to transport recruits for the new Continental Navy from New London to Philadelphia. At a Committee of Safety meeting on 5 January the Committee determined that this was not feasible, for “we cannot properly and safely permit him to be absent so long.” At the same meeting Niles was authorized to enlist a new crew (the old crew’s enlistments having expired in December). He was to enlist twenty men for one year, unless sooner discharged. Able seamen were to be paid 48 shillings per month, others were to be paid forty shillings per month.38


About this time the Continental Army was organizing an expedition to occupy New York City. The Spy was used to support the collection of militia and troops. On 15 January Trumbull informed Washington that “to prevent difficulty for want of ammunition, have ordered Captain Niles, commander of our armed schooner, Spy, to take on board half a ton of powder, and transport four hundred pounds to New-Haven, two hundred pounds to Norwalk, and four hundred pounds to Stamford, with orders to him to follow such directions as Major-General Lee may give for the service he is employed in, and to execute the same until dismissed by him, or further orders from me . . .”39


On 15 April 1776 the Committee of Safety approved the payment of £ 400 to Niles to settle his account and pay the wages of his crew.40


About this time the Continental Navy fleet under Commodore Hopkins, then at New London, Connecticut, was preparing for sea. He asked the Committee of Safety for the use of the Connecticut Navy Brig Defence (Captain Seth Harding) and the Spy during the cruise. The Committee of Safety ordered both vessels, on 15 April, to join the Continental fleet. Niles was instructed to follow Hopkins’s orders, until the Commodore had no further need of his vessel, and then follow his original orders.41


At 1000 that day, in clear breezy weather, the fleet weighed anchor and sailed down the Thames River. Alfred, Columbus, Andrew Doria, Providence, Fly, and Connecticut Navy vessels Defence and Spy were present. Several merchant vessels were also present, under escort, including five sailing for the Secret Committee. None sailed far however, for Alfred ran aground at 1200, on submerged rocks near Fisher’s Island. The whole fleet hove to while Saltonstall tried to get unstuck. Alfred’s water was pumped out, and then her guns removed. Finally, at 1700, she was off the rocks. It was now too late and too risky to sail, so the fleet returned to harbor.42


Hopkins probably had sent  Connecticut chooner Spy out scouting as well, while he prepared to sail again. He was well manned (“much better Mann’d now than we ever have been”) and wanted to try the British fleet at Rhode Island if it was not too much stronger than his own.43


Hopkins sailed again on 25 April, leading Alfred, Columbus, Providence, Fly, and Connecticut brig Defence to sea. The Andrew Doria was left behind to clean and refit, with orders to take ballast out of Bolton if necessary. She was to convoy merchant shipping out of the harbor when ready to sail, and then report to Hopkins at Providence, Rhode Island. The fleet arrived at Newport on 26 April, and passed up to Providence. Connecticut brig Defence was dismissed there, after being loaded with shells and one mortar for Washington’s army. Defence was to call at New London for Governor Trumbull’s orders. Spy was loaded with munitions for Washington’s Army and dismissed on 28 April.44


Near the end of May 1776, Spy was in New London Harbor. Continental Navy Sloop Providence (Captain John Paul Jones) was also there. On 29 May these two, joined by Connecticut Privateer Sloop Gamecock (Commander Lemuel Brooks), sailed from New London to cruise together. Between Montauk Point, on Long Island in New York, and Block Island, they were sighted and chased by HM Frigate Cerberus. Cerberus centered her attentions on the Spy. The other two American vessels got into Newport, but Cerberus chased Spy all the way to the Race, where she broke off the chase. In the pursuit Niles lost his topmast, but got safely into New London.45


During the period of the British naval concentration off New York, Niles made numerous short cruises in Long Island Sound and near Montauk Point and Block Island, scouting for British cruisers. Spy arrived at New London from one such cruise on 20 June 1776. He had stopped at Montauk Point and visited a Captain Davis, who commanded a company of “observation” posted there. Extracts of Davis’s journal were published in the New London paper. Niles reported stopping one vessel from New London, under Bulkley, and warning her of the British cruisers. Bulkley, who turned back, nevertheless seemed to have been captured. In Niles’s opinion “ it is almost impossible for any vessel to get in or out without falling into their hands.”46


The Connecticut Council of Safety was moved by these reports. On 4 July 1776, the Council resolved that


“Whereas this Board are informed that vessels loaded with provisions frequently pass down the Sound, to go out to Sea, and in this critical time when the coasts are lined with ships of our enemies, who are in great need of our provisions, and without which they cannot carry on their hostile designs against us, and very many of our provision vessels having already fallen into their hands, and much of their support having been received and derived that way, and the danger at this time of their being taken being greater than ever . . . That Cap. Niles of the Colony’s armed schooner Spy, now lying in the harbour of New London, or the commander of any other armed vessel belonging to this Colony, be and they are hereby directed, to seize and bring into port any such provision vessel or vessels which he or they may be able to discover and take, in or about said harbour, offing or sound, bound to sea, and the same hold and detain, and make report of the circumstances, cargo, and destination of such vessel or vessels, the master’s name, place of abode, owners names, the licence by which they have sailed &c., to his Honor the Governor, and take his directions relative to the proceeding or further detention of such vessel.”47


The Council made an immediate exception for vessels operating under the control or account of the Continental Congress. It also ordered the newly commissioned Connecticut Navy Galley Shark (Captain Theodore Stanton) to perform the same duty at Stonington. Stanton was to accept orders and directions from Captain Seth Harding of the Connecticut Navy Brig Defence or from Captain Niles, if they should give him such directions.48


When Niles received this resolution he applied to the Council of Safety for more detailed and specific instructions. The Council complied and issued these orders on 6 July:


“You are hereby instructed carefully and diligently to attend the duty of your station and department, to keep a careful watch and look-out for any and every hostile ship or vessel which may be hovering about our coasts, take any that you can, give every signal and intelligence of and concerning them in your power and for the advantage of the trade and friends of the country. You are also to take care and prevent, as far as lies in your power, any smuggling trade and clandestine management contrary to the laws and embargos of this Colony and any prohibitions of the Hono. Continental Congress, for which and every faithful exertion for the good of the Colonies and he support of the laws, this shall be your sufficient warrant.”49


On 9 July the Council of Safety voted to allow Niles one and a half per cent of the funds he handled for the Spy as a commission.50 The next day Niles was paid £ 477 for his past expenses and to settle his accounts, and issued a further £ 200 for future expenses.51


About 14 July, following his orders, Niles detained a ship loaded with provisions, which had sailed from New York.52 When her master, Mygatt, appealed to the Council of Safety for permission to sail, on 16 July, he was turned down.53  Since this vessel was bound from another state, it was incumbent upon Governor Trumbull to explain why she had been detained On 17 July Niles made a deposition concerning the trafficking with the enemy and the operation of enemy cruisers off the entrance to Long Island Sound. Other depositions were taken in support of Niles’s statements54 Trumbull wrote to the New York Provincial Convention on the same day, notifying it of the detention and the reasons for it, and enclosing copies of the depositions. The New York Provincial Convention approved the action. George Washington had also been notified55 concerning the British activity around Long Island Sound and strongly approved of the Connecticut actions.56


Spy was back at sea shortly after the deposition, once again probing around the entrance to Long Island Sound. She returned to New London on 24 July, having visited Captain Davis’s observation post at Montauk Point. Once again the local newspaper published extracts of Davis’s journal.57


Following the operations with the Continental fleet, about 11 May 1776, the Connecticut General Assembly had recommended to Governor Trumbull that the Spy and Defence be sent on a cruise to the eastward, wherever he should direct.58 Trumbull was unable to follow that suggestion at the time, but remembered it and the Council of Safety sent the Spy and Defence to sea in August. Spy was at New London on 10 August 1776, when Niles drew powder and musket shot from Connecticut’s agent there, Nathaniel Shaw, Jr.,59 as part of the preparation for this cruise.


As part of the preparations for the voyage the crew of the Spy was expanded. On 3 August 1776 Niles made a visit to “Old Town,” for which he charged the state a total of 12s10d, for the purpose of recruiting.60 The trip was successful, for, on 13 August, seven sailors and a Marine entered aboard the Spy, along with Pilot William Cove.61


Niles sailed very shortly after, perhaps about 14 August. There were thirty-six men aboard when Spy sailed on her cruise, including First Lieutenant Timothy Parker, Second Lieutenant Zebediah Smith, Marine Officer [Sergeant] William Goldsmith and Pilot William Cove. There were twenty-six sailors and five Marines aboard.62


On 22 August 177663 Spy captured the 4564 or 60-ton65 schooner Hannah and Elizabeth66 [Elizabeth and Hannah;67 Mary and Elizabeth]68 (Ronald Bruce),69 from Barbados in the British West Indies to Halifax, Nova Scotia with rum and sugar. She was sent off to New London,70 under Second Lieutenant Zebediah Smith.71 Five sailors from the Hannah and Elizabeth entered the crew on 22 August, and three more on 25 August, boosting the crew to forty-four, less those detached in the prize crew.72


On 27 August Spy captured the 27073 or 300-ton74 ship Hope (Quince), bound from St. Vincent’s in the British West Indies to London, England, with a cargo of sugar, rum, molasses, cocoa and coffee. She was ordered in to New London,75 with First Lieutenant Timothy Parker assigned as her prize master.76 Hope never made port, however. On 4 September 1776, HM Frigate Galatea (Captain Thomas Jordan) was about 330 miles to the southeast of Sandy Hook, New Jersey, in moderate weather and cloudy skies overhead. A sail was sighted to the northwest and Galatea commenced chasing. At 1730 the frigate stopped the stranger and discovered she was the ship Hope, captured by the Spy.77


Following the capture of the Hope, at 38°N, 65°W Niles sighted five large ships, which he thought were transports, escorted by a warship. The warship chased the Spy for a time, but the little schooner eluded her. Niles sighted some other vessels but bad weather prevented him from making more captures. Spy turned toward home. On 6 September 1776, Niles spoke the Connecticut Navy Brig Defence (Captain Seth Harding) and Packwood. Spy returned to New London on 12 September.78 Three days later he traveled to Lebanon, Connecticut to report to the Governor.79


Meanwhile the Hannah and Elizabeth had arrived at Newport. On 9 September the Committee of Safety ordered Zebediah Smith, prize master of the schooner, to bring the prize to New London, and then to Norwich, at the first good opportunity. Smith was to procure her legal condemnation at Norwich.80 Hannah and Elizabeth had arrived at Norwich by 15 September.81 Hannah and Elizabeth was libeled on 21 September. Her trial was to be held on 6 November 1776.82 On 8 October the Council of Safety ordered John Deshon to take up the Hannah and Elizabeth for the use of the state in a plan to import salt. He was to have her appraised.83 Hannah and Elizabeth was condemned on 2 December 1776, and sold (to the state, presumably) for £ 3584.84


On 8 October 1776 the Council of Safety ordered that the Spy was to be prepared “with all possible dispatch and to cruise in the Sound betwixt Montack Point and Stamford, in order to watch the movements of our enemies and to give intelligence in the easiest and best manner for the security of the navigation belonging to the United States and of the towns upon the Sound and to annoy our enemies, until further orders.”85


A muster roll for the Spy exists, covering the period from 8 June 1776 to 8 October 1776. Beginning on 8 June, Spy had a crew of twenty-eight men aboard. With the officers deducted, the crew consisted of of twenty sailors and four Marines. Before the cruise to the east the crew was augmented by enlisting a pilot, along with six more sailors and a Marine (on 13 August). There were thirty-six men aboard when Spy sailed on her cruise. Five sailors from the Hannah and Elizabeth entered the crew on 22 August, and three more on 25 August, boosting the crew to forty-four. Following the return to port, the new men were discharged or left: one on 8 September, two on 9 September, one on 14 September, three on 18 September and three on 19 September. Thirty-four remained on 8 October. The total payroll was £ 419.86


 

Detail from a modern painting of the Spy from a stamp issued by the British Virgin Islands for the American Bicentennial. Although frequently referred to as a sloop, as shown here, she was a schooner. Waddington Studios. From Ships on Stamps.

After returning from her cruise, Spy served as an escort on one raid on Long Island. On the night of [20] September Spy sailed from New Haven, escorting an American force in sixty whaleboats that was heading for Setauket, on Long Island. The Americans were after a company of Loyalists that was stationed there. The weather was bad for open boats, with a heavy wind from the northwest. The Americans arrived about 2300 and landed. Christopher Vail, on the expedition, reported that the Americans “ . . . divided our force so as to take their whole force by surrounding their Guard house and Head Quarters at the same time. On our arrival at the Guard house numbers fled to Head Quarters where the whole was taken. We killed 13 of the Enemy and brought off 40 prisoners and made prizes of two Sloops - we had one man killed, none wounded, and the day following we returned to New Haven.” Vail noted that Spy had ten guns.87


On 7 December Governor Jonathan Trumbull ordered Captain Ephraim Bill, at Norwich, to ship certain West India goods to the Connecticut troops in the Continental Army. These were to be shipped aboard the Spy, and sent as far to the west as was safe. Niles was to land the goods and take receipts.88


Meanwhile, the prize crew of the Hope was suffering in New York. On 9 December 1776 Lieutenant Parker and five other men of the Spy wrote to Governor Trumbull, pleading for exchange. Parker reported they were confined aboard the Whitby at New York. He described their treatment:


“That our present Situation is most wretched your Honr need not dou’bt, which I Likewise hope you will Soon be assured of from men of Undoubted Veracity - There are more than two Hundred and fifty prisoners of us on board this Ship (Some of which are Sick and without the least assistance from Physician, Drugg, or Medicine) all fed on two thirds allowance of Salt provisions and all Crouded promiscuously togeather, without Distinction or Respect, to person office or Colour, in the Small Room of a Ships Between Decks, allowed only to walk the main Deck from about Sun Riseing, till Sun Sett, at which time we are Ordered below Deck - and Suffered only two at once to come on deck to do what Nature requires, and Sometimes we have Been even Denied that, and been obliged to make use of tubbs & Bucketts Below deck to the great offence of every Delicate Cleanly person as well as to great prejudice of all our healths - These Sir with many other Miserable Circumstances too lengthy and tedious to Enumerate, are the Just portraits of our present Situation - In Short Sir we have no prospect before our Eyes hut a kind of Lingering Inevitable death Unless we obtain a timely and Seasonable Release.”89


On 8 January 1777 Niles submitted a second payroll for the schooner. Zebediah Smith is now listed as the Master. Parker is still listed on the payroll. One sailor was discharged on 18 November, one on 29 November, and one on 8 December. A Marine was discharged on 26 December. Twenty-eight men were in the crew on 8 January, including four Marines. Parker, and perhaps others on the payroll, were in prison at New York.90


Spy was known to be at New London on 27 February 1777. Niles had landed some pig iron, which was sold by the state.91


On 7 March Niles was given a $1000 bill of exchange and ordered to sail to Virginia or Maryland to purchase a cargo of flour, bread, tar and turpentine for the use of the state. Niles drew a few supplies from Captains Ephraim Bill and John Deshon.92  Niles probably sailed about 25 March93 but could not get into Virginia because of the British warships in Chesapeake Bay. He turned up at Philadelphia on 5 April 1777, where a cargo of flour was purchased. Niles did not have enough money with him, but Connecticut Delegate Roger Sherman managed to get Congress to loan $1000 to Connecticut, of which $750 was given to Niles.94 Niles was probably back in Connecticut by 12 April.95


On 25 April the Spy was ordered to sail to Bedford, Massachusetts, to assist Nathaniel Shaw in transhipping the cargo of the valuable prize Lydia, and removing it to Connecticut.96 Niles performed this mission.97


Spy had a very small crew. Besides Niles, there was First Mate Nathaniel Barns, who apparently entered on 25 March 1777 and Second Mate Thomas Rice, who entered on 12 March 1777 and was presumably gone after 12 April. There were twelve sailors listed on the payroll. Three of these were on the schooner with Niles on 8 January 1777. Another was enlisted on 1 February, and another on 28 February. In March, four were recruited on the 5th, Rice and another sailor on the 12th, and one sailor on the 15th, for a total crew of thirteen. Barns was apparently recruited just before Spy sailed, on 25 March. The men began leaving in April: Rice on the 12th, one on the 18th, one on the 20th, one on the 21st, and one on the 28th, leaving ten men aboard on 14 May 1777.98


On 16 May Niles and the Spy were ordered to assist Captain Seth Harding in Connecticut Navy Ship Oliver Cromwell, during his proposed expedition to Long Island Sound to intercept a ship and a  sloop.99


The Committee of Safety, on 19 May, ordered Shaw to fit out the Spy for a cruise and enlist a crew to serve until 1 January 1778. Shaw was advanced £300 for this purpose. On 1 June 1777, the Committee of Safety ordered Samuel Eliot, the Connecticut Agent at Bedford, Massachusetts, to deliver two cannon to Niles for the Spy. By 30 June Spy was back at New London, now armed with six guns.100


An advertisement for the recovery of a deserter from the Spy appeared in the Norwich newspaper on 28 June. A $5 reward was offered for Jonathan Rudd, who had deserted on 23 June.101


On 24 June 1777 the Continental troops for the upcoming Northern campaign were collecting at New Haven. Six days later Governor Trumbull urged Shaw to send all whale boats to New Haven, and send Continental Army Sloop General Schuyler and Continental Army Schooner General Mifflin to cruise off New Haven and to the westward to scout the British. Connecticut Navy Schooner Spy (Niles) was ordered out on the same service. Trumbull thought it was essential to have early warning of any British moves and to screen the troops.102 Orders were now sent by the Committee of Safety for the Spy to proceed on a cruise to New Haven, Connecticut, and as far west as may be “prudent, and toward Long Island, to annoy the enemy and to gain intelligence of any interesting discovery he may make or intelligence of the designs of the enemy he may get.”103


Niles sailed at once. On 3 July 1777 he was back with five prisoners aboard. He reported these to the Governor, and the Committee of Safety, which ordered their dispositions to various places.104


Niles was at New London on 20 July when twenty-four sail of British vessels went up Long Island Sound. As they appeared off Fairfield they seemed to stand in for the town, as if about to disgorge troops, and then sailed away. The same maneuver was repeated at other places. Niles and the Spy were sent out to reconnoiter, but he was driven back into new London, several broadsides and random shots being fired at the Spy. The pursuit lasted until the British ships approached New London lighthouse. At Newport, two ships and three or four schooners peeled off and went into that port. The rest continued out to sea. The ships were transports with sick and wounded aboard, bound to England.105


Niles was back at sea by late July. On 27 July she captured the sloop Ferguson (Allen). Another small un-named sloop was also captured.106


On 10 September 1777 Niles was again at sea. He fell in with and captured a fine 80-ton sloop, with a cargo of wood, the Dolphin.107 On 15 September 1777 Niles libeled against an unnamed sloop and her cargo. Her trial was set for 7 October 1777.108 This was presumptively the sloop Dolphin, known to have been captured by Niles and the Spy. She was sold for £1006, of which the captor’s share was £490. On 29 November 1777 the Connecticut Council of Safety directed that amount be paid to the agent for the crew. The state had purchased the sloop.109


This purchase had been intended for some time. Niles opened a payroll for the Dolphin, as her captain, on 27 September 1777.110 At the same time a payroll for the Spy was submitted, from 8 May 1777 to 26 September 1777. This has twenty-four names on it, including Lieutenant Smith. William Harris is shown as Master, and Michael Pepper as First Mate. One man is shown as “deserted.” Only one Marine was shown on the roll.111


On 15 October the Connecticut Council of Safety met and approved a number of measures. Niles was ordered to borrow a mast for the sloop Dolphin from Major Joshua Huntington; Connecticut would replace the mast later. The governor was asked to give Niles a £5000 letter-of-credit “to purchase articles for the use of this State, agreeable to such instructions as shall be given said Niles for that purpose.” The Council also ordered the state to reimburse Roger Sherman for the $750 he loaned to Niles on 5 April 1777, to purchase flour at Philadelphia for the state. Benjamin Huntington was ordered to fit out the Spy for sea, and Zebediah Smith of Norwich was appointed “Lieutenant and Commander” of the Spy. He was to enlist a crew suitable for cruising in Long Island Sound, and proceed on a cruise until a captain was appointed.112


Lieutenant Smith entered into his duties immediately after his appointment. His first mission was to enlist a crew for the Spy.  On 20 October Smith obtained Master Benjamin Mortimore, a gunner and a boatswain. A cook was enlisted on 31 October.113 The Connecticut Council of Safety ordered various supplies delivered to Huntington for the Spy and approved the payment of £100 to Huntington to be used for advance wages for the men recruited to man the schooner, also on 20 October.114 Lieutenant Asahel Smith joined the Spy on 3 November.115


Smith enlisted two men on 3 November and three more on 12 November.116 On 17 November 1777, Brigadier General Samuel H. Parsons, writing to Shaw from Maroneck, stated that he had Major General Putnam’s order to request that Shaw immediately send Spy and Continental Army Sloop General Schuyler to him “as they are wanted on a Business of the greatest importance before the End of the Week.” Parsons particularly noted that a chemical compound made by Lieutenant John Jones of the General Schuyler, a fire accelerant, was of “absolute necessity to be forwarded immediately.”117


Spy was then laying at New London, and Smith, on 21 November, was at Norwich. Thomas Shaw reported to Governor Trumbull that Smith would probably arrive at New London today and that the schooner was nearly ready for sea, but she was not manned. If orders from Trumbull were received per the request from Putnam, Shaw would get him away as quickly as possible.118


Trumbull issued orders to Smith on 23 November, through Nathaniel Shaw. Smith was directed to take charge of the Spy, sail to Fairfield or Norwalk, and report to the commanding officer there or to General Parsons, and follow such orders as were given.119 Similar orders were given to Lieutenant Kerr of the General Schuyler the same day.120


On 24 November Shaw reported to Parsons that both Spy and General Schuyler would sail on the morrow.121 The two sailed at 0500 on 29 November and arrived at Fairfield early in the evening of the same day. Kerr sent off an express rider to inform Parsons that the warships had arrived. At 0700 on 3 December the two warships weighed anchor and sailed up to Norwalk.122


Spy was still considerably undermanned. A boatswain’s mate was enlisted on 22 November, and three more men were recruited by 24 November.123 When Spy sailed on her voyage she had only fourteen men in her crew.


At Norwalk Kerr found that the General Schuyler and the Spy were to be used as an escort force for a large scale raid on Long Island,124 led by Brigadier General Samuel Parsons. The objects of the raid were several: (1) to destroy timber and lumber located in a dump at the east end of the island,125 near Setauket,126  which was to be used for barracks at New York. (2) in addition there was a flotilla of wood collecting vessels from Rhode Island near the same location,127 at Southold,128 which was to be attacked; (3) further military objectives were to attack a regiment stationed eight miles east of Jamaica and (4) generally beat up and destroy public stores found on the island. Colonel Return Jonathan Meigs was to land at Hempstead Harbor and attack the regiment; Colonel Samuel B. Webb was to land near Huntington, to support Meigs, to send aid to the division to the east, and to destroy stores collected in Suffolk County; the eastern division (with Parsons) was to land at Aquebogue, about forty miles from the east end of the island, to destroy the shipping and timber dump.129


While laying at Norwalk Smith enlisted one more man, Spy’s only Marine, who joined the schooner on 30 November.130


On 8 December Colonel John Ely of Connecticut militia, embarked on the General Schuyler, with some of his men.131 On the evening of 9 December Colonel Samuel B. Webb, commanding the center raiding force, boarded the General Schuyler, with several of his soldiers.132 Other soldiers boarded two smaller vessels, and the General Mifflin and the Spy. From aboard the General Schuyler Webb issued his orders. The General Schuyler would lead the way; no vessel was to be out of hailing range ahead.133 Both divisions sailed from Norwalk that evening.134 All together two battalions embarked,135 about 400 soldiers, in three other vessels,136 convoyed by the General Schuyler and the Continental Army Schooner General Mifflin and the Connecticut Navy Schooner Spy.137


The night was windy and with a high chop, and quite dark.138 The little party had a hard time in crossing. So bad was the weather that Colonel Meigs’ force never crossed, being given only open boats for transport.139 The General Schuyler parted company with the other vessels,140 “through the Inattention of the Skipper.”141 Never the less, by dawn 10 December General Schuyler142 and the two small sloops were close to Setauket.143


As daylight broadened the horizon Kerr’s crew discovered a most unwelcome sight: a 14-gun British sloop-of-war was within gunshot of the General Schuyler,144 two miles to windward and crowding on sail to chase.145 There was nothing to do but run for it. Falcon outsailed the sloop and Kerr headed for the shore.146 In doing so she struck a reef three miles east of Setauket,147 about 200 yards from the shore,148 at the entrance to Old Man’s Harbor.149 The boat was hoisted out but “before we could get her from the Vessel the Surf ran so amazeing high that she fill’d and Sunk. Webb climbed back aboard the sloop “with much difficulty.”150 Webb was nearly drowned.151 The ship anchored within a half a mile and was firing her broadside,152 keeping an “incessant fire” on the sloop.153 The Americans struck in this “cruel Situation.”154


This meeting was entirely accidental. On the morning of 10 December, HM Sloop Falcon (Master and Commander Harry Harmood) was sailing up the Sound en route to Newport, Rhode Island. At 0530 Falcon sighted a sloop to the north and chased her. At 0630 the sloop bore away for Old Man’s Harbor,155 about seven miles east of Setauket.156 At 0800, trying to get into that place and near the entrance, the sloop ran ashore. Falcon anchored, brought her broadside to bear, and fired four 6-pounders at the hapless sloop, which then surrendered.  Falcon discovered that the General Schuyler was armed with six 4-pounder guns and had no less than seventy-three men aboard, not including the master and four men who managed to escape. Falcon got the prisoners aboard.157 The next day, at 0900, Falcon got the sloop afloat, manned her with two petty officers and eight men, and sailed at 1300 with the prize,158 for Newport. Falcon and General Schuyler arrived there at 1700 on 12 December.159 From there the sloop and the prisoners were sent to New York, arriving on 23 December. She was libeled on 24 December and condemned at New York on 16 January 1778.160


The two smaller vessels ran into a harbor called Stoney Brook, four miles to the west of Setauket and ran aground. Two hundred  men landed, marched to Setauket and returned the same evening to get their shipping off. Their efforts proved useless and the next day the whole force marched down the island. At 1200 they passed Wading River, about eighteen miles from their landing place.161


Parsons said they were “more Unfortunate than guilty of any criminal Neglect . . .” Meeting Falcon was purely accidental, for no British warships were stationed within miles of the place.162


The eastern division landed successfully and found that most of the wood vessels had sailed: four remained, accompanied by HM Sloops Swan and Harlem. One wood sloop was loaded with timber; the other three were empty. The three empty ones hauled into the bay, under cover of the two sloops-of-war. The loaded sloop was captured and all the timber and boards destroyed, as was a dump of firewood prepared for another wood fleet from Rhode Island.163


Captain John Hart’s company of forty men,164 on 11 December, marched on Southold. They found Captain Ayscough of the Swan and about twenty of his crew in a house at Southold. The British, learning of the American approach, fled for their boats, chased by Hart’s men. Clambering in to the boats the British pushed off just as the Americans got to the shore.165 The British were within twenty yards and Hart called on them to surrender. When they refused the Americans opened fire, sending several well directed volleys at them. Ayscough had his thigh broken, two other officers were badly wounded, eight sailors were killed and about eight wounded. The two sloops-of-war began a constant but ineffective fire, and, after retrieving their men and boats, sailed for Newport.166 Seven Marines and sailors were captured.167


The log of the Swan admits only six wounded and four captured in this incident, including Ayscough. Swan records over fifty shots fired at the Americans ashore. After retrieving her boats at 1600, Swan ran farther out in the harbor, waiting for the wood sloops to come down the bay.168


The troops were soon safely returned to the Connecticut shore, bringing about twenty prisoners with them.169 Spy returned safely to Connecticut from this mission.


Following the return from this expedition, Smith enlisted a clerk, on 20 December 1777. In February 1778, with no other immediate activity in view, the crew began to leave the schooner. Master Mortimore and the single Marine were discharged on 20 February; seven men, including the clerk, on 22 February; one sailor on the 24th; Lieutenant Asahel Smith and two sailors on the 27th; and one sailor on the 28th. Lieutenant Smith stayed on the muster roll until 24 March 1778.170   


Meanwhile the state prepared to send the Dolphin on her on a trading voyage to the West Indies. On 20 April 1778 it was voted “that Capts. Niles and Smith do immediately refit the Dolphin and Spy, lately under their respective commands.” Niles was appointed to the command of the Dolphin, and directed to “immediately refit and prepare her for the sea in a suitable manner and engage sea-men necessary to man her for a merchant voyage to the West Indies, and in order to take in such loading as may be prepared therefor.” Smith received similar orders, and both vessels were loaded with staves and hoops, for the voyage to the West Indies.171 However, it seems the West India voyage did not take place.


 On 21 April 1778 Niles was officially appointed to command the Dolphin. The Spy, under Smith, was to accompany the Dolphin on this voyage. However, a request from the Marine Committee arrived, asking Connecticut to provide a fast packet vessel to carry dispatches to France. [5 May, see Outletters] In May 1778 the Connecticut General Assembly ordered Governor Trumbull to send the Spy on that mission. Niles was reassigned to the Spy. The schooner was now said to be 50 tons, armed with six 4-pounders, and to have a crew of thirty men.172


Trumbull wrote a letter of introduction to Benjamin Franklin for Niles on 29 May. He asked Franklin to help in obtaining a cargo of lead for the Spy, and to assist in paying Niles’s expenses while in France.173 The next day, in another letter, Trumbull added an interesting side mission for Niles: “The Bearer has by our permission engaged to procure a small Font of Letters for the use of Some Printers in this State, and he is recommended to your direction in procuring them. As the Letters founded in France is designed for printing in the French Language, it is uncertain whether, in their Fonts, the number of each particulare Letter is proportioned for the printing of the English Language. Your advice and direction in this affair would advance the interests of a usefull Art in America.”174


Spy sailed with her dispatches about 12 June 1778, and arrived at Brest on the morning of 3 July 1778.175 From there Niles traveled to Paris with the dispatches and delivered them to the American Commissioners. He returned to the Spy at Brest to move her down the coast to Paimboeuf, France.


On 22 July, 1778 the American Commissioners in France wrote to Trumbull and acknowledged receipt of his letter of 29 May. They advised Trumbull that Niles “had a short Passage of 22 Days, and brought us the agreable News of the Ratification of the Treaties and of their being universally pleasing to our Country. We shall order some Lead to be shipt on board his Vessel, and have furnished him with the Money you mention, in ready Compliance with your Request.”176 The same day the American Commissioners ordered their Agent, Schweighauser, to put “fourteen or fifteen Tons of Lead, which you will be so good as to order on board his Vessell, and if he should request any other Articles to make up a Cargo for the united States you will please to order them on board . . .” Schweighauser was also directed to pay Spy’s expenses at Brest, with the American Commissioners reimbursing him.177


Spy arrived at Paimboeuf, France on 3 August 1778. From there Niles informed Franklin of his arrival and forwarded a bill for the purchase of the types (£ 1364).178


Spy sailed from Nantes, France on the morning of 28 August 1778, accompanied by the Continental Navy Schooner Dispatch (Captain Corbin Barnes). The next morning as dawn was breaking Niles encountered the British Privateer Ship Beezly (Noah Gautier). Beezly was based in Jersey, in the Channel Isles. Beezly began chasing the Spy which ran as fast as possible. The “Wind blowing very fresh and The Sea high,” which favored the bigger vessel, Gautier caught up with the Spy after a seven hour chase. As the Beezly closed in, “My mail With all the letters I Commited to the Sea,” said Niles. The Spy, unable to drive off her pursuer, then surrendered. The crews were exchanged and Gautier sent off the Spy for Jersey.179


As for Barnes, he sailed from Paimboeuf the day after the Spy, with Peter Collas and Richard Grinnell aboard as passengers. On 1 September 1778, Dispatch was captured by a British privateer (Abraham Bushall) out of Guernsey in the Channel Isles. Barnes had thrown his papers overboard before her capture. On the way into port the prisoners fell in with the Spy, with Niles still aboard. At Guernsey, Grinnell was set ashore, but Barnes was kept on the privateer. On 15 September Grinnell managed to get a letter to Franklin confirming both vessels were captured, but both sets of dispatches were destroyed.180


Gautier treated Niles well: “I have been Treated much better than I expected. The Capt. has Been so kind as to put me With two of my people on board Of a dutch Vessel bound here. All the other people Were put on board the Seaford Ship of War and ordered To do duty.” Niles was at Bordeaux, France by 27 October 1778. From there he wrote Franklin: “I Shall be oblidged to Make application to Mr. Bonfield for Some money to Defray my Charges here and get me out of the Country Which I hope your honour Will not disaprove of as I am Moneyless.”181 Franklin readily approved the payment of money to Niles, and wished him good luck in getting home.182


While at Guernsey Niles learned an interesting fact. One of the members of the American “group” at Nantes was a Mr. Dobr£ e. Dobr£ e was married to a daughter of the American agent at Nantes, Schweighauser. Dobr£ e was from Guernsey in the Channel Isles. While at Guernsey, one de Lagarde, commanding the British Privateer Cutter Mars, “accidentally” informed Niles that the older Dobr£ e was among the owners of the privateer. Niles told de Lagarde that he would “acquaint the commissioners of this as soon as I arrived in France.”183


Niles was still at Nantes on 22 January 1779.184


Spy was eventually tried in the High Court of Admiralty in England, and condemned. The was also known as L’Espion to the court, and was listed as an American merchant vessel.185 About the same time the Dispatch (or La Dépêche) was tried in the same court, where she is listed as an American merchant ship, sailing under Continental colors with a letter-of-marque. She was also condemned.186


Spy’s crew was imprisoned in England. Since the United States had borrowed the schooner, the United States later reimbursed Connecticut for the expenses. A portion of the crew expenses survives, and shows six men on the list, including Niles. Michael Pepper is on the list, presumably serving as Second Mate.187 Pepper was committed to Forton Prison on 18 February 1779 and was pardoned for exchange on 11 December 1779.188


The Master aboard on this voyage was Mortimore. He was also imprisoned in England, but signed aboard a vessel in England bound for New York. He was in a convoy which arrived in New York early in April 1779. Within a week Mortimore had escaped and arrived at New London.189


Niles finally returned to Connecticut on 17 July 1779. He called on the Council of Safety on 20 July. The minutes relate his report: “Cap. Niles came in, having arriv’d home last Saturday after having been twice captured, etc.—gave an account of his voyage, etc.—arrived at Paris in 27 days after he sail’d, which was beginning June 1778, and delivered his mail to Dr. Franklin, containing the ratification by Congress of the Treaty with France, being the first account he had received of that event, which was greatly satisfactory to him and the French ministry and nation in general, etc.”190


With the return of Niles and certain knowledge of the schooner’s capture, one Mrs. Michael Pepper came forward, armed with a power of attorney from her husband. On 17 July Mrs. Pepper was given “an order on the Pay-Table for wages due to her said

husband, Michael Pepper, a sailor on board the Spy, Captain Niles, to the 25th of September, 1778, deducting two months’ pay, he having received one month’s pay at Norwich, and the other in France. The above Pepper was taken in the Spy, Capt. Robt. Niles, on his passage from France.”191


Niles made a personal request on 30 July. He asked “to have a barrel of pork belonging to this State, etc., in consideration of his misfortune in being twice taken, etc., on continental service to France, and deprived of opportunity to supply his family.”192


On 28 August Niles was given an order for £800 for the wages of the crew of the Spy. On 20 December 1779 Mrs. Pepper was given an order for his wages to 4 July 1779.193


In mid 1781, Connecticut attempted to settle the Spy’s last account with the United States. After being examined the Board of Treasury rejected the account. The Board’s report, dated 19 June 1781, is interesting:


“The Board of Treasury have examined the Account exhibitted by the State of Connecticut for the Schooner Spy, Robert Niles masr. and also considered the Report of the Commissioners of Accounts and that of the Auditor General passing the same for 1863 dollars and 46/90 and 1/8 specie value. The Board differing in Opinion from the Commissioners and Auditors afsd submit the following state of Facts with the papers relative thereto.”


“Robert Niles afsd. charges the wages of his men up to the 25th of Decr. 1778--whereas it appears by this Letter to his Excellency Govr Trumbull, that he was captured on the 29 of August preceeding and no account of any of his men having returned to demand their Wages, nor any Proof that the State has actually made the Payment charged.”


“Captain Niles Charge of 308 dollars and 61/90 Specie for his Expences while in Europe is also exceptionable having no Vouchers to support it nor are there any Vouchers to support his Charge of £180 Lawful Money for his Expences from Nantucket to his Place of Residence, except his Affidavit made at Lebanon in Connecticut the first of Sepr. 1779. By a Letter from the Honorable Mr. Lovell to the Commissioners of Accounts it appears there were Expences Paid in France on Capt Niles Vessel--this may be the whole or part of the monies he credits in his Accounts said to have been received from the Commissioners at Bourdeaux, Calais and Paris in November and December 1778 and Janry 1779 but as these Dates are long after his Sailing from France in the Schooner Spy, the Board are induced to believe that the money credited as afsd is what he acknowledges to have received in his Letter afsd. to Govr. Trumbull and not what has been advanced on his Vessel.”


“It doth also appear to the Board, that the account No 1 for the Outfit of the Schooner afsd. and her Stores are very exceptionable Charges amounting to £474:7:6: and that no part thereof ought to be allowed, except the Provisions and Stores for the voyage--a very principal Part of this account is for Wages to Labourers and Tradesmen and for Matterials for fitting the afsd shooner for her voyage on all which outfit, the Captain afsd. Charges a Commission of five per cent altho in publick Employ and on Wages; after which fitting it Clearly appears her Valuation took place, the letter from Govr. Trumbull of the 29th of August 1779 to Mesr. Perkins and McBreed clearly stew that her Appraisement was after she was fitted, his words, are, "as she was worth at the Time of her sailing for France." The Certificate of Appraisement also expresses, that her Value was ascertained "at the Time of her sailing for France" and it doth also appear, that sundry of the articles charged in the account afsd No 1 are actually in the Inventory and afterwards appraised--wherefore this Board conceive, that Captain Niles has charged the Public in the first Instance with all the repairs and outfit of the afsd Schooner, and then has her valued to the Public as she was ready for Sea by which management two Payments are made for the same thing. Whereupon the Board submit the following Resolution:”


“Ordered, That the accounts of the schooner Spy, Robert Niles, be referred to the commissioners of accounts at Hartford in Connecticut, for settlement, accompanied with the report of the Board of Treasury and other reports made thereon.”194



1 Middlebrook, History of Maritime Connecticut, I, 15-16

2 Middlebrook, History of Maritime Connecticut, I, 17

3 Middlebrook, History of Maritime Connecticut, I, 19

4 Middlebrook, History of Maritime Connecticut, I, 19-20

5 Middlebrook, History of Maritime Connecticut, I, 20

6 Middlebrook, History of Maritime Connecticut, I, 20-21

7 NDAR, "Minutes of the Connecticut Committee of Safety," II, 12

8 NDAR, "Minutes of the Connecticut Committee of Safety," II, 48

9 NDAR, "Minutes of the Connecticut Committee of Safety," II, 97

10 NDAR, “Journal of the Connecticut Council of Safety,” V, 910-911

11 NDAR, “Captain Robert Niles to  Jonathan Trumbull,” II, 203 and note

12 NDAR, “Jonathan Trumbull to Jabez, Benjamin and Samuel Huntingtom,” II, 239

13 NDAR, “Benjamin Huntington to Jonathan Trumbull,” II, 254 and note

14 NDAR, “Jabez and Samuel Huntington to Jonathan Trumbull,” II, 271 and note; “Jonathan Trumbull to the Committee of the Pay Table,” II, 270-271

15 NDAR, “Minutes of the Connecticut Committee of Safety,” II, 379

16 NDAR, “News Item from Norwich, Connecticut,” II, 378

17 NDAR, “Christopher Leffingwell and William Coit to Jonathan Trumbull,” II, 477-478

18 Various references in NDAR, vol. I. For details see “American Prize List for October 1775.”

19 NDAR, “Joshua T. De St. Croix to Christopher Champlin,” II, 49 and note

20 NDAR, “Connecticut Courant, Monday, October 16, 1775,” II, 440 and note

21 NDAR, “Pennsylvania Gazette, Wednesday, October 11, 1775,” II, 408 and note

22 NDAR, “News Item from Norwich, Connecticut,” II, 378

23 NDAR, “Connecticut Courant, Monday, October 16, 1775,” II, 440 and note

24 NDAR, “Connecticut Journal, Wednesday, October 11, 1775,” II, 401 and note

25 NDAR, “Christopher Leffingwell and William Coit to Jonathan Trumbull,” II, 477-478

26 NDAR, “Christopher Leffingwell and William Coit to Jonathan Trumbull,” II, 477-478

27 NDAR, “News Item from Norwich, Connecticut,” II, 378

28 NDAR, “Christopher Leffingwell and William Coit to Jonathan Trumbull,” II, 477-478

29 NDAR, “Christopher Leffingwell and William Coit to Jonathan Trumbull,” II, 477-478

30 NDAR, “Journal of the Continental Congress,” II, 1035

31 NDAR, “Christopher Champlin to the Norwich, Connecticut, Committee,” II, 1291-1292

32 Middlebrook, History of Maritime Connecticur,  I, 23. The letter is dated 7 October. This is either a transcription error, or the letter was received in Connecticut two days after it was written in Philadelphia, which seems very unlikely. Further, both the minutes of the Committee of Safety and Governor Trumbull state that Hancock’s letter was received 9 October, and the instructions to Wadsworth were issued the same day.

33 NDAR, “Cost of Fitting Out Connecticut Armed Vessels,” II, 1066-1067

34 NDAR, “Minutes of the Connecticut Committee of Safety,” II, 1107-1108

35 NDAR, “Captain Giles Hall to Jonathan Trumbull,” III, 88 and note

36 NDAR, “Minutes of the Connecticut Committee of Safety,” III, 205

37 NDAR, “Governor Jonathan Trumbull to George Washington,” III, 557

38 NDAR, “Minutes of the Connecticut Committee of Safety,” III, 634

39 Letter, Trumbull to Washington, 15 January 1776, in Force, American Archives, Series IV, 4:683

40 NDAR, “Minutes of the Connecticut Committee of Safety,” IV, 832-834

41 NDAR, “Minutes of the Connecticut Committee of Safety,” IV, 832-834; “Governor Jonathan Trumbull to Commodore Esek Hopkins,” IV, 834

42 NDAR, “Journal of Continental Brig Andrew Doria, Captain Nicholas Biddle,” IV, 1163; “Commodore Esek Hopkins to Stephen Hopkins, Philadelphia,” IV, 1185

43 NDAR, “Commodore Esek Hopkins to Stephen Hopkins, Philadelphia,” IV, 1185

44 NDAR, “Commodore Esek Hopkins to Governor Jonathan Trumbull, Lebanon,” IV, 1295

45 NDAR, “Connecticut Gazette, Friday, May 31, 1776,” V, 316 and note

46 NDAR, “Connecticut Gazette, Friday, June 21, 1776,” V, 660

47 NDAR, “Journal of the Connecticut Council of Safety,” V, 910-911

48 NDAR, “Journal of the Connecticut Council of Safety,” V, 910-911

49 NDAR, “Journal of the Connecticut Council of Safety,” V, 946

50 NDAR, “Journal of the Connecticut Council of Safety,” V, 987

51 NDAR, “Order on the Connecticut Committee of the Pay Table in Favor of Captain Robert Niles,” V, 1007

52 NDAR, “Journal of the New York Provincial Convention,” V, 1240-1244

53 NDAR, “Journal of the Connecticut Council of Safety,” V, 1099

54 NDAR, “Deposition of Captain Robert Niles,” V, 1115

55 NDAR, “Governor Jonathan Trumbull to George Washington,” V, 1113 and notes

56 NDAR, “Journal of the New York Provincial Convention,” V, 1240-1244

57 NDAR, “Connecticut Gazette, Friday, July 26, 1776,” V, 1231

58 NDAR, “Journal of the Connecticut General Assembly,” V, 47

59 NDAR, “Nathaniel Shaw, Jr.’s Account Against the Connecticut State Schooner Spy,” VI, 139

60 NDAR, “Disbursements Made by Captain Robert Niles of the Conecticut Schooner Spy,” VI, 1162

61 NDAR, “Muster Roll of the Connecticut State Schooner Spy,” VI,  1160-1161

62 NDAR, “Muster Roll of the Connecticut State Schooner Spy,” VI,  1160-1161

63 NDAR, “A List of Prizes taken brought in & Condemned in the County of New London in the State of Connecticutt,” VI,  1100-1101

64 NDAR “Libel Against the British Prize Schooner Hannah and Elizabeth,” VI, 925

65 NDAR, “Jabez Huntington to Captain Joshua Huntington,” VI, 837

66 NDAR “Libel Against the British Prize Schooner Hannah and Elizabeth,” VI, 925

67 NDAR, “Journal of the Connecticut Council of Safety,” VI, 759-760

68 NDAR, “Connecticut Gazette, Friday, September 13, 1776,” VI, 804 and note

69 NDAR “Libel Against the British Prize Schooner Hannah and Elizabeth,” VI, 925

70 NDAR, “Connecticut Gazette, Friday, September 13, 1776,” VI, 804 and note

71 NDAR, “Journal of the Connecticut Council of Safety,” VI, 759-760

72 NDAR, “Muster Roll of the Connecticut State Schooner Spy,” VI,  1160-1161

73 NDAR, “Connecticut Gazette, Friday, September 13, 1776,” VI, 804 and note

74 NDAR, “Jabez Huntington to Captain Joshua Huntington,” VI, 837

75 NDAR, “Connecticut Gazette, Friday, September 13, 1776,” VI, 804 and note

76 NDAR, “Timothy Parkr and Others to Governor Jonathan Trumbull,” VII, 421 and note

77 NDAR, “Journal of H. M. S. Galatea, Captain Thomas Jordan,” VI, 680 and note

78 NDAR, “Connecticut Gazette, Friday, September 13, 1776,” VI, 804 and note

79 NDAR, “Disbursements Made by Captain Robert Niles of the Conecticut Schooner Spy,” VI, 1162

80 NDAR, “Journal of the Connecticut Council of Safety,” VI, 759-760

81 NDAR, “Jabez Huntington to Captain Joshua Huntington,” VI, 837

82 NDAR “Libel Against the British Prize Schooner Hannah and Elizabeth,” VI, 925

83 NDAR, “Journal of the Connecticut Council of Safety,” VI, 1099

84 NDAR, “A List of Prizes taken brought in & Condemned in the County of New London in the State of Connecticutt,” VI,  1100-1101

85 NDAR, “Journal of the Connecticut Council of Safety,” VI, 1099

86 NDAR, “Muster Roll of the Connecticut State Schooner Spy,” VI,  1160-1161

87 NDAR, “Diary of Christopher Vail,” VI, 733 and notes. This raid is mis-dated in the NDAR to 6/7 September. Spy was still at sea on that date. See NDAR, VI, 983 for an expanded account of the military activities.

88 NDAR, “Governor Jonathan Trumbull to Captain Ephraim Bill, Norwich,” VII, 401

89 NDAR, “Timothy Parker and Others to Governor Jonathan Trumbull,” VII, 421 and note

90 NDAR, “Schooner Spy - Disbursements - Jan 8th 1777,” VII, 894-895

91 NDAR, “Nathaniel Shaw, Jr., to Governor Jonathan Trumbull,” VII, 1307

92 NDAR, “Governor Jonathun Trumbull to Captain Robert Niles,” VIII, 53

93 NDAR, “Pay Roll of Connecticut Navy Schooner Spy,” VIII, 964-965

94 NDAR, “Roger Sherman to Governor Jonathan Trumbull,” VIII, 306

95 NDAR, “Pay Roll of Connecticut Navy Schooner Spy,” 8, 964-965

96 NDAR, “Governor Jonathan Trumbull to Nathaniel Shaw, Jr.,” VIII, 426 and note

97 NDAR, “Cargoes of Prizes, Bark Lydia and Schooner Anna,” VIII, 993

98 NDAR, “Pay Roll of Connecticut Navy Schooner Spy,” VIII, 964-965

99 NDAR, “Governor Jonathan Trumbull to Captain Seth Harding,” VIII, 978-979

100 Middlebrook, History of Maritime Connecticut, I, 31

101 The Norwich Packet and the Connecticut, Massachusetts, New-Hampshire, and Rhode-Island Weekly Advertiser, Monday, July 14, to Monday, July 21, 1777

102 NDAR, “Governor Jonathan Trumbull to Nathaniel Shaw, Jr.,” IX, 190-191 and 191 note

103 Middlebrook, History of Maritime Connecticut, I, 31

104 Middlebrook, History of Maritime Connecticut, I, 31

105 NDAR, “Governor Jonathan Trumbull to George Washington,” IX, 331

106 Middlebrook, History of Maritime Connecticut, I, 31

107 Middlebrook, History of Maritime Connecticut, I, 31

108 NDAR, “Connecticut Courant, Friday, October 3, 1777,” X, 23

109 NDAR, “Journal of the Connecticut Council of Safety,” X, 630-631

110 Middlebrook, History of Maritime Connecticut, I, 33

111 Middlebrook, History of Maritime Connecticut, I, 39

112 NDAR, “Journal of the Connecticut Council of Safety,” X, 171-172

113 NDAR, “Pay Roll of the Connecticut Navy Schooner Spy,” XI, 773

114 NDAR, “Journal of the Connecticut Council of Safety,” X, 221

115 NDAR, “Pay Roll of the Connecticut Navy Schooner Spy,” XI, 773. Perhaps the name is “Asabel.”

116 NDAR, “Pay Roll of the Connecticut Navy Schooner Spy,” XI, 773

117 NDAR, “Brigadier General Samuel H. Parsons to Nathaniel Shaw, Jr.,” X, 518 and note

118 NDAR, “Thomas Shaw to Governor Jonathan Trumbull,” X, 557 and note. Smith was a Lieutenant, not a Captain as stated in the note,

119 NDAR, “Nathaniel Shaw, Jr. to Captain Zebediah Smith,” X, 575

120 NDAR, “Nathaniel Shaw, Jr., to Lieutenant John Kerr,” X, 576

121 NDAR, “Nathaniel Shaw, Jr., to Brigadier General Samuel H. Parsons,” X, 591

122 NDAR, “Lieutenant John Kerr to Nathaniel Shaw, Jr.,” X, 657

123 NDAR, “Pay Roll of the Connecticut Navy Schooner Spy,” XI, 773. Perhaps the name is “Asabel.”

124 NDAR, “Colonel Samuel B. Webb’s Orders,” X, 688

125 NDAR, “Brigadier General Samuel H. Parsons to George Washington,” X, 823-824 and 824 note

126 NDAR, “Connecticut Gazette, Friday, December 19, 1777,” X, 756 and notes

127 NDAR, “Brigadier General Samuel H. Parsons to George Washington,” X, 823-824 and 824 note

128 NDAR, “Connecticut Gazette, Friday, December 19, 1777,” X, 756 and notes

129 NDAR, “Brigadier General Samuel H. Parsons to George Washington,” X, 823-824 and 824 note

130 NDAR, “Pay Roll of the Connecticut Navy Schooner Spy,” XI, 773. Perhaps the name is “Asabel.”

131 NDAR, “Colonel John Ely to Thomas Mumford and Nathaniel Shaw, Jr,,” X, 734

132 NDAR, “Colonel Samuel B. Webb’s Orders,” X, 688; “Providence Gazette, Saturday. December 20, 1777,” X, 761-762 and 762 notes; “Brigadier General Samuel H. Parsons to George Washington,” X, 823-824 and 824 note

133 NDAR, “Colonel Samuel B. Webb’s Orders,” X, 688

134 NDAR, “Brigadier General Samuel H. Parsons to George Washington,” X, 823-824 and 824 note

135 NDAR, “Providence Gazette, Saturday. December 20, 1777,” X, 761-762 and 762 notes

136 NDAR, “Colonel Samuel B. Webb to Major General William Heath,” X, 745 and note

137 NDAR, “Providence Gazette, Saturday. December 20, 1777,” X, 761-762 and 762 notes

138 NDAR, “Colonel Samuel B. Webb to Major General William Heath,” X, 745 and note

139 NDAR, “Brigadier General Samuel H. Parsons to George Washington,” X, 823-824 and 824 note

140 NDAR,  “Colonel Samuel B. Webb to Major General William Heath,” X, 745 and note; “Providence Gazette, Saturday. December 20, 1777,” X, 761-762 and 762 notes

141 NDAR,  “Providence Gazette, Saturday. December 20, 1777,” X, 761-762 and 762 notes

142 NDAR, “Colonel Samuel B. Webb to Major General William Heath,” X, 745 and note

143 NDAR, “Providence Gazette, Saturday. December 20, 1777,” X, 761-762 and 762 notes

144 NDAR, “Providence Gazette, Saturday. December 20, 1777,” X, 761-762 and 762 notes

145 NDAR, “Colonel Samuel B. Webb to Major General William Heath,” X, 745 and note

146 NDAR, “Colonel Samuel B. Webb to Major General William Heath,” X, 745 and note; “Providence Gazette, Saturday. December 20, 1777,” X, 761-762 and 762 notes

147 NDAR, “Providence Gazette, Saturday. December 20, 1777,” X, 761-762 and 762 notes

148 NDAR, “Colonel Samuel B. Webb to Major General William Heath,” X, 745 and note

149 NDAR, “Providence Gazette, Saturday. December 20, 1777,” X, 761-762 and 762 notes

150 NDAR, “Colonel Samuel B. Webb to Major General William Heath,” X, 745 and note

151 NDAR, “Colonel John Ely to Thomas Mumford and Nathaniel Shaw, Jr,,” X, 734

152 NDAR, “Colonel Samuel B. Webb to Major General William Heath,” X, 745 and note

153 NDAR, “Providence Gazette, Saturday. December 20, 1777,” X, 761-762 and 762 notes

154 NDAR, “Colonel Samuel B. Webb to Major General William Heath,” X, 745 and note

155 NDAR, “Journal of H.M. Sloop Falcon, Commander Harry Harmood,” X, 699 and notes

156 NDAR, “New-York Gazette, Monday, December 15, 1777,” X, 739 and note

157 NDAR, “Journal of H.M. Sloop Falcon, Commander Harry Harmood,” X, 699 and notes

158 NDAR, “Journal of H.M. Sloop Falcon, Commander Harry Harmood,” X, 707-708 and 708 note

159 NDAR, “Master’s Journal of H.M.S. Chatham, Captain Toby Caulfield,” X, 712 and note

160 NDAR, “Journal of H.M. Sloop Falcon, Commander Harry Harmood,” X, 699 and notes

161 NDAR,  “Providence Gazette, Saturday. December 20, 1777,” X, 761-762 and 762 notes; “New-York Gazette, Monday, December 15, 1777,” X, 739 and note

162 NDAR, “Brigadier General Samuel H. Parsons to George Washington,” X, 823-824 and 824 note

163 NDAR, “Brigadier General Samuel H. Parsons to George Washington,” X, 823-824 and 824 note

164 NDAR, “Brigadier General Samuel H. Parsons to George Washington,” X, 823-824 and 824 note

165 NDAR, “Providence Gazette, Saturday. December 20, 1777,” X, 761-762 and 762 notes

166 NDAR, “Brigadier General Samuel H. Parsons to George Washington,” X, 823-824 and 824 note

167 NDAR, “Providence Gazette, Saturday. December 20, 1777,” X, 761-762 and 762 notes

168 NDAR, “Journal of H.M. Sloop Swan, Commander James Ayscough,” X, 713 and notes; “Master’s Journal of H.M. Sloop Haerlem, Lieutenant John Knight,” X, 712 and 713 notes

169 NDAR, “Brigadier General Samuel H. Parsons to George Washington,” X, 823-824 and 824 note

170 NDAR, “Pay Roll of the Connecticut Navy Schooner Spy,” XI, 773. Perhaps the name is “Asabel.”

171 Miner, Edna Rogers, “A Connecticut Treaty Bearer,” in Daughters of the American Revolution Magazine, February 1919, vol 53. Nr. 2, 80-85

172 Middlebrook, History of Maritime Connecticut, I, 32

173 Letter, Trumbull to the American Commissioners in France, 29 May 1778 at franklinpapers.org/franklin

174 Letter, Trumbull to the American Commissioners in France, 30 May 1778 at franklinpapers.org/franklin

175 Letter, Thomas Simpson to the American Commissioners in France, 3 July 1778, at franklinpapers.org/franklin

176 Letter, American Commissioners in France to Trumbull, 22 July 1778, at franklinpapers.org/franklin

177 Letter, American Commissioners in France to Schweighauser, 22 July 1778, franklinpapers.org/franklin

178 Letter, Niles to Franklin, 3 August 1778, at franklinpapers.org/franklin

179 Letter, Niles to Franklin, 27 October 1778, at franklinpapers.org/franklin

180 Letter, Grinnell to Franklin, 15 September 1778, at franklinpapers.org/franklin

181 Letter, Niles to Franklin, 27 October 1778, at franklinpapers.org/franklin

182 Franklin to Niles, 3 November 1778, at franklinpapers.org/franklin

183 Letter, Niles to American Commissioners in France, 22 January 1779 at franklinpapers.org/franklin

184 Letter, Niles to American Commissioners in France, 22 January 1779 at franklinpapers.org/franklin

185 HCA 32/455/6/1-11

186 HCA 32/308/1/1-11

187 Middlebrook, History of Maritime Connecticut, I, 39

188 Kaminkow, Mariners of the American Revolution, 150

189 The Connecticut Journal [New London], Wednesday, April 21, 1779

190 Miner, “A Connecticut Treaty Bearer”

191 Miner, “A Connecticut Treaty Bearer”

192 Miner, “A Connecticut Treaty Bearer”

193 Miner, “A Connecticut Treaty Bearer”

194 JCC, 20:684-686

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