The Cruise to Canada
October-December 1775

-North Atlantic Ocean:-

The Cruise to Canada

“. . . I will have you hung to the yard arm.”

Canso to St. Johns Island

1. Improper Prizes, 22 October-17 November 1775

Early in the morning of 22 October 1775, Franklin and Hancock bravely sailed out of Marblehead to seek the rumored transports off the St. Lawrence River. Both vessels had about seventy men in the crew. Hancock was armed with six 4-pounders and ten swivels, Franklin with two 4-pounders and 4 2-pounders and ten swivels. They flew the pine tree flag as they set out.

Broughton shaped course to pass off Nova Scotia. By 29 October the Franklin had managed to run herself aground on Brown Bank, a long shoal off the southeastern coast of Nova Scotia. While stuck, a large wave had been shipped which set the schooner leaking. The two commanders put into Country Harbor, Nova Scotia, where emergency repairs were made. This place was north of Halifax and thus avoided the concentration of British shipping located there, When they entered the harbor they found the two schooners Prince William and Mary in the harbor.1

Both these schooners were boarded and examined, The Prince William (William Standley), and the Mary (Thomas Russell), both with cargoes of salt, were made prizes. Russell was a resident of Marblehead and it seems that both American commanders pretended to believe these schooners were trading with the enemy. Both schooners were plundered of a few small articles and dispatched back to Salem, Massachusetts, the Prince William under Second Lieutenant John Devereux of the Hancock and the Mary under Second Lieutenant Edward Homan of the Franklin.2

The wind being from the east, and therefore favorable, the raiders sailed on 30 October. By the 31st they were off White Head Harbor, fifteen miles west of Canso Nova Scotia. The wind had turned unfavorable and a storm was making up. A sail was sighted standing to the northward, and the American vessels chased her. Wind and sea were making up into a gale, so the quarry ran into White Head Harbor, and the Americans followed her in. She proved to be the sloop Phoebe (James Hawkins), owned by Enoch Rust of Boston, with a cargo of fish and oil. Phoebe was cleared out from Louisburg to the West Indies.  Rust had transferred operations to Nova Scotia early in the year. Broughton decided to hold the master and send the sloop in as a prize. In his report to Washington, Broughton tried to paint the sloop as a transport involved in taking supplies to Boston (the only type of vessel Broughton was legally empowered to seize). After plundering some supplies from Phoebe, she was sent off on 2 November 1775, destination Beverly, with Sergeant Benjamin Doak as prizemaster.3

Hawkins had informed Broughton that there were workers mining coal at Spanish River and a transport was loading there for Boston. Broughton decided to pay a visit to Spanish River, but the wind came up contrary, followed by a heavy sea and a storm. Unable to get around the North Cape, the two Americans ran into the Gut of Canso to weather the storm. While waiting there, about 4 November, a vessel was seen to come in and anchor. Broughton ordered Franklin to go down and examine her, which was done. In the process Franklin’s mainmast was carried away. While Broughton examined the master, the crews of the schooners went ashore, into the swampy woods, to cut and install a new mainmast in Franklin. After five trees were cut, the right one was found.4

The prize was the sloop Warren (John Denny), master and owner. Denny was en route from Gaspee, Nova Scotia to Nantucket, Massachusetts with a passenger, one Buddington, aboard, When first interviewed by Broughton and Selman, those worthies pretended to be loyalists, then revealed their true attitudes. This procedure naturally produced confused reactions from Denny and Buddington, which was enough to convince Broughton to send her in as a prize. Broughton took Denny and Buddington aboard Hancock, and put Hawkins aboard the Warren before sending her off about 6 November. The season was now getting late and provisions growing short. The captains had not approached the St. Lawrence. It might be noted here that the much sought after munition brigs arrived at Quebec under escort of HMS Lizard on 5 November 1775.5

The first news of Broughton and Selman’s exploits had reached Washington by the prizes Prince William and Mary, which had arrived at Marblehead sometime before 9 November The prize agent at Marblehead, Jonathan Glover was ordered to allow the crews their liberty in Marblehead and the vessels laid up pending Washington’s decision on what to do with them, On 8 November, the Phoebe had arrived at Beverly, and similar orders were issued to agent William Bartlett on the 10th. On 11 November, the Prince William and the Mary were at Beverly, where their cargo was landed.6

Meanwhile the two schooners were still making prizes with an ever decreasing ghost of legality.  On 13 November., they ran down and captured the sloop Speedwell (Frances Corey), and sent her off to Cape Ann, after removing some provisions from her.7

By 19 November Washington was wondering where Broughton and Selman were. He had received no “late accounts.” When he finally did hear from them, he might well have wished he had not.8

2. Improper Raid: St, John’s Island, 17 November 1775

Next to fall into the hands of the two schooners were two Jerseymen one of which was the Unity (Chevalier). After stopping and boarding these two vessels, which had cargoes of lumber, and therefore not very valuable, Broughton and Selman took stock. The season was getting late, and provisions were running low. The crews were already on short allowance The masters of the Jerseymen informed the two Americans that there was recruiting going on at St. Johns Island for the British military in Canada. Furthermore, there was a fortress there with many cannon. This was enough information for the two to call a council of war of their officers. A raid on the island was agreed upon as an “essential service.”9

St. John's Island showing it's relation to Cape Breton Island. From a Des Barres chart of 1780.


Broughton and Selman removed the pilots from the Jersey vessels and then released them to proceed on their voyage. The pilots were told to take the schooners to Charlottetown on St. Johns Island. The pilots were further told that if they ran the schooners ashore, they would be put to death immediately. The wind now came up from the south, and the Americans set sail. The weather was a little rough, but the pilots conned Franklin and Hancock and into Charlottetown Harbor by the lead line and they dropped anchor a mile and a half off shore on the morning of 17 November 1775.10


Area of the future Charlottetown on St. John's Island. The area of the raid. From a Des Barres chart of 1780.



Each schooner lowered its boat, Hancock’s proceeding south and west to shore, with Broughton and cix men, Franklin’s going north with Selman and six men including the pilot. The inhabitants, naturally curious about the strangers, assembled on the shore. As the Franklin’s boat grounded and the men tumbled out, the pilot pointed out the acting governor, Philip Callbeck. Callbeck advanced to meet Selman, who promptly secured Callbeck, and ordered him aboard the Franklin. When Callbeck protested and asked permission to go to his home a sailor stopped forward and struck Callbeck. He and one of his clerks were hustled aboard the Franklin.11

The Americans now ranged over the town. Broughton soon sent aboard the Franklin to Callbeck. He wanted to receive the keys to Callbeck’s store houses, office, and house. Callbeck sent the keys with the clerk, but Broughton dismissed the clerk. Even with the keys in hand, it proved easier to break down the doors. A warehouse full of valuable woolen goos was soon found. Broughton wanted to secure these goods and take them to Massachusetts. He called a council of war to discuss whether these goods were legal prize goods, The officers, who all had a personal interest in the prize money, readily agreed that these goods were legal prize goods, if they were for the recruiting service. Accordingly, the boats were used to transfer these goods to the two schooners.12

Next was Callbeck’s house which was thoroughly rummaged. His food stocks, wine cellar, closets, private papers, and anything else found were gone through and pilfered. Mrs. Callbeck’s private letters were read, and her bed and bedding, rings, bracelets, buckles, trinkets, and some clothing stolen. The curtains, looking glasses, carpets and several items of silverplate were taken. Last but not least, every item in the wine cellar was removed, except one cask, which was dunk at the scene.13

At Callbeck’s office the scene was repeated. Doors broken, every kind of private paper examined and thrown about, two trunks of goods removed, a clerk’s desk, and the silver seal of the province. After the office was done with Governor Patterson’s house was broken into (Patterson was absent in England) and subjected to the same treatment as Callbeck’s. More liquor was drunk.14

About this time, someone in the American party remembered the ostensible reasons for the visit to St. Johns Island. The gentlemen doing the swearing in of recruits was Judge Wright, a member of the Council and Justice of the Peace. Selman and a few men set out to arrest him. They found him at his home, with his wife and sister. As the Americans entered the house to arrest Wright, Selman “insultingly smiled at the Tears and Lamentations” of the ladies. Wright was sent aboard the Franklin.15

Soon after this Broughton and Selman boarded the Franklin to interview Wright and Callbeck. When Callbeck and Wright protested their treatment asserting that they were confident the Americans had no orders to act as they had done, Broughton and Selman then produced Washington’s orders and read them. Callbeck and Wright could hardly believe their hearing was correct: Washington’s orders specifically required private property to be respected. They tried to convince the Americans of the impropriety of their actions. Finally they asked to be released, since they would surely be dismissed when they arrived at Cambridge but there they would be six hundred miles from home in the dead of winter, and very unlikely to return home by spring. The two captains being still determined to take then away, they asked to be allowed to go to their families ashore. The two promised to return in the morning. Broughton finally gave in and released them for the night: Selman objected to this conduct, as “giving them the advantage.” Selman was amazed when in “the morning they came, on board.”16

While this was going on, the inhabitants had become quite alarmed, and expresses were sent over the island. As to the cannon in the fortress, the American captains discovered that their boats, while big enough to load valuable woolen goods, were far too small to load heavy, cumbersome cannon. With the countryside alarmed the cannon were spiked. When Callbeck and Wright reported aboard, the schooners sailed.17

Coming from St. Johns Island, the two raiders returned to the Gut of Canso and entered Canso Harbor on 20 November. Here they found the schooner Lively (Johnson), which was awaiting a fair wind to sail to St Johns, and had a full passenger list. She was owned by one Higgins and was en route from Charlottetown to Halifax. The schooner was promptly scooped up as a prize. Lively was considered fair prize because she had forty tubs of butter aboard which the Americans claimed was for the British at Boston. When one passenger, John Russell Spence, applied for his and his family’s release, it was granted. Unknown to Broughton and Selman Spence was a member of the Royal Council for St. Johns, and the acting governor since Callbeck was a prisoner.18

Their were several other vessels in Canso Harbor, and the Americans proceeded to call all the masters aboard and examined them as to their lading and destinations. Among the vessels examined was the schooner Polly (Christopher Basset), with a cargo of dry fish, owned by Thomas, James and William Cochrans of Liverpool, Nova Scotia.19 The boarding party decided not to detain the schooner, but told the master that a 22-gun ship was with them laying between Canso and St. Johns Island, that they had made prize of the Lively for taking butter for the King’s troops at Boston aboard, and that the New England privateers had captured twenty-two sail.20

This lie had an expected result. The schooner ran for Halifax. On 8 December Liverpool, Nova Scotia heard of the raid, in almost exactly the words that the Americans had used in dismissing the vessels at Canso. The schooner that was captured and released had reported to Halifax that a schooner of twelve guns and a ship of twenty-four guns were in Canso and that twenty-two prizes had been captured by the Americans.21 On 15 December, Governor Legge reported that the two raiders were both large schooners, armed with eight carriage guns and swivels, and manned with eighty men each.22

After this incident, Callbeck and Wright again begged to be allowed to return to their homes. The two pointed out that nowhere in the instructions from Washington was the seizing and kidnapping of British officials sanctioned. This discussion raised Selman’s ire: he said he would never consent to their return. This, in turn, provoked Judge Wright: “. . .if we come acrost a British Frigate I will have you hung to the yard arm.” Selman snapped back that that was a risk he would take and added “. . .take care you are not hanged.”23

After two days or so, the American schooners sailed, taking a sweep out to sea to avoid the Halifax traffic and swinging back in to Nova Scotia at Barrington, where they put in on 26 November. Here they found the brig Kingston Packet (Samuel Ingersoll), laden with fish, for the West Indies. The brig was added to the prizes, and all (Franklin, Hancock, prize Lively, and prize Kingston Packet) sailed on 27 November, and were seen to be steering westward.24

3. Homecoming, 29 November 1775-1 January 1776

The schooners steered across the lower part of the Bay of Fundy with the two prizes. About 29 or 30 November they arrived at Winter Harbor, Massachusetts [now Fortune’s Rock, Maine, between Cape Porpoise and Biddeford Pool]. Here two officers were landed and dispatched’ to headquarters. The next day twenty-two prisoners were sent off under the care of John Lewis of the Hancock. The two prizes were left in the harbor. By 2 December the officers passed through Portsmouth, and the next day the prisoners passed through the town. Joshua Wentworth, the prize agent at Portsmouth, immediately became concerned because of the exposed condition of the prizes, and recommended they be brought up to Portsmouth for security. Meanwhile, Franklin and Hancock sailed for Beverly, arriving home on 5 December 1775.25

Callback and Wright were at camp by about 5 December. They promptly drew up a petition to Washington recounting their misadventure. He, as promptly, ordered their release. Broughton and Selman arrived in Beverly about the same time, with their holds stuffed with Callbeck’s merchandise.26

Washington was far from pleased. There were delicate political currents in Nova Scotia, and this raid contributed greatly to alarming that province. Washington, in a letter to Hancock on 7 December, stated “My fears that Broughton & Sillman wou’ld not effect any good purpose were too well founded, they are returned & brought with them three of the principal Inhabitants from the Island of St. Johns. . .As the Captains Acted without an Warrant for such Conduct I have thought it but Justice to discharge these Gentlemen whose Famillys were Left in the utmost distress.”27

There remained the disposition of the various prizes. Since there were no admiralty courts established as yet, Washington handled these matters himself, at least in the matter of determining whether to release or hold the vessels. The sloop Phoebe had already been released. Her true owner was one James Aborn of Rhode Island, who obtained the assistance of Deputy Governor Nicholas Cooke (a very substantial patriot and a chief support of Washington). After an investigation, the Phoebe was delivered up to Aborn on 5 December. After examining the papers of the Mary and the Prince William, these schooners were ordered released on 19 December.28

The case of the Speedwell was even more quickly settled. When she arrived at Cape Ann on 20 November, she was run aground getting into the harbor and somewhat damaged. A look at her papers showed her to be owned by Jacob Greene & Company of Rhode Island. The most familiar member of that firm to Washington was Brigadier General Nathaniel Greene, who commanded the Rhode Island brigade in the Continental Army. On 4 December, Washington rendered his decision: he did “. . .not consider the sloop at Cape Anne sent in by Captn Broughton, to be a prize,” and did “. . .not wish to have any thing to do with her.” And yet Washington must have something yet to do with her, for the bill for damages was presented on 29 December. Greene & Company had asked the Committee of Safety to examine the vessel and audit the account. When the bill was presented, the Committee suggested the captors pay it. The amount was in excess of £100.29

The propriety of the capture of the stoop Warren, which had been taken into Stonington, Connecticut, was referred to the Committee of Safety of that port on 27 November. The Committee conducted a full hearing, questioning neighbors of Denny and Buddington, examined the crew, looked at the papers, and reported on 8 January 1776 that there was no evidence or cause to hold the vessel, except the fact of possessing a British clearance. The Committee made inquiry of Washington as to whether that was sufficient grounds. On 20 January, Washington referred the decision back to the Committee, and they ordered the vessel released, Denny paying the charges against the sloop.30

The Lively and the Kingston Packet at Winter Harbor had to be determined separately. The Lively was ordered released on 14 December, and since Callbeck, Wright, and Higgins had come in it, they could return in it. Callbeck’s goods were ordered to be restored to him. The schooner sailed after 24 December and arrived at Halifax on 25 December.31

The Kingston Packet was seized with the notion that she was breaking the Continental Association. This brig should have been very familiar to Broughton and Selman for she was owned by Richard Derby, Jr of Salem Massachusetts. When Washington looked at her papers he sent them off to the Salem Committee of Safety on 5 December. His secretary commented that “His Excellency cannot be a Competant judge of such matters, if he was, he has not time to attend to them.” The Committee was asked to decide the matter, Now this was a bit of a ticklish matter for the Committee of Safety. Many merchants had used their vessels to trade between non-Associating colonies and the West Indies and England. The Committee preferred not to judge the case, wishing rather that “Judges whose Jurisdiction is General” should consider it. Accordingly, they declined to render a decision on 7 December. The Committee did observe to the owner that there appeared no reason for the capture. The next day Washington ordered the brig released. Moylan passed on some acid comments to the agent, John Glover: “Whether she is to proceed on her intended voyage to the West Indies or not, the General Cannot himself determine that is the business of Committees of Safety-the General is determined to have no further trouble with this vessel you will therefore Sir, Manage the matter, so as Head Quarters may hear no more of her.” On 9 December, Derby publicly apologized for any distress in Salem, and remarked that this brig returning to Nova Scotia was the most “Distant Thought” In his mind.32

4. Finale

As the year approached its end and Broughton and Selman’s time was running out, they went up to headquarters to see Washington. Washington met them on the steps to the headquarters building. With that cold iciness reserved for special occasions and particular people, he greeted the pair cooly. They explained that they had called to discuss the late cruise, which was not a topic Washington cared to discuss as he had no doubt, heard quite enough already: “he appeared not pleased-he wanted not to hear anything about it.” According to Selman, Washington interrupted Selman, and asked “Sir, will you stand again in Col. Glover’s Regiment?” Selman answered “. . .1 will not, sir.” Washington turned to Broughton “You sir, have said you would stand.” It was now Broughton’s turn to say “I will not stand.” And with that, Washington returned to his office and Washington’s Fleet needed two captains.33

1 NDAR, “Narrative of John Selman,” II, 633

2 NDAR, “Certificate of Lieutenant John Devereux,” II, 978 and note; “Certificate of Lieutenant Edward Homan,” II, 978 and note; “Extract of a Letter from the Camp at Roxbury, Nov. 10, 1775,” II, 967 and note

3 NDAR, “Captain Nicholson Broughton to George Washington,” II, 850; “Order to Sergeant Benjamin Doak,” II, 850

4 NDAR, “Captain Nicholson Broughton to George Washington,” II, 850; “Captains Nicholson Broughton and John Selman to George Washington,” II, 899-900 and 900 note

5 NDAR, “Captains Nicholson Broughton and John Selman to George Washington,” II, 899-900 and 900 note

6 NDAR, “Stephen Moylan to Jonathan Glover, Marblehead,” II, 944-945 and 945 note; “Extract of a Letter from the Camp at Roxbury, Nov 10, 1775,” II, 967 and note; “Memorandum of a Letter from Stephen Moylan to William Bartlett,” II, 965 and note; “Certificate of Lieutenant John Devereux,” II, 978 and note; “Certificate of Lieutenant Edward Homan,” II, 978 and note

7 NDAR, “List of Items Taken by Captain Nicholson Broughton,” II, 1008 and note

8 NDAR, “George Washington to JohnHancock,” II, 1071

9 NDAR, “John Budd to Lord Dartmouth,” II, 1125 and 1125-1126 note; “London Chronicle, Thursday, January 4 to Saturday, January 6, 1775,” III, 479 and note

10 NDAR, “John Budd to Lord Dartmouth,” II, 1125 and 1125-1126 note

11 NDAR, “John Budd to Lord Dartmouth,” II, 1125 and 1125-1126 note; “Petition of Philip Callbeck and Thomas Wright,” II, 1319-1322

12 NDAR, “John Budd to Lord Dartmouth,” II, 1125 and 1125-1126 note; “Petition of Philip Callbeck and Thomas Wright,” II, 1319-1322

13 NDAR, “Petition of Philip Callbeck and Thomas Wright,” II, 1319-1322

14 NDAR, “Petition of Philip Callbeck and Thomas Wright,” II, 1319-1322

15 NDAR, “Petition of Philip Callbeck and Thomas Wright,” II, 1319-1322

16 NDAR, “John Budd to Lord Dartmouth,” II, 1125 and 1125-1126 note; “Petition of Philip Callbeck and Thomas Wright,” II, 1319-1322

17 NDAR, “John Budd to Lord Dartmouth,” II, 1125 and 1125-1126 note; “Petition of Philip Callbeck and Thomas Wright,” II, 1319-1322

18 NDAR, “John Russell Spence to Lord Dartmouth,” II, 1105 and note; “Commodore Marriot Arbuthnot to Vice Admiral Samuel Graves,” II, 1216 and note

19 NDAR, “Diary of Simeon Perkins, Liverpool, Nova Scotia,” III, 3 and note

20 NDAR, “Minutes of the Royal Council of Nova Scotia,” II, 1198 and note; “Commodore Marriot Arbuthnot to Vice Admiral Samuel Graves,” II, 1216 and note

21 NDAR, “Diary of Simeon Perkins, Liverpool, Nova Scotia,” III, 3 and note

22 NDAR, “Governor Francis Legge to Vice Admiral Samuel Graves,” III, 109 and note

23 NDAR, “Minutes of the Royal Council of Nova Scotia,” II, 1198 and note

24 NDAR, “Commodore Marriot Arbuthnot to Vice Admiral Samuel Graves,” II, 1216 and note

25 NDAR, “Joshua Wentworth to Stephen Moylan,” II, 1244 and note; “New Hampshire Gazette, Tuesday, December 5, 1775,” II, 1282 and note; “Bills for Outfitting Washington’s Four Schooners at Beverly,” II, 1379-1385

26 NDAR, “George Washington to John Hancock,” II, 1322 and note

27 NDAR, “George Washington to John Hancock,” II, 1322 and note

28 NDAR, “Nicholas Cooke to George Washington,” II, 1204 and note; “Stephen Moylan to William Bartlett,” II, 1229 and note; “George Washington to Nicholas Cooke,” II, 1302-1303 and 1302 note; “Memorandum of a Letter to Jonathan Glover,” III, 165

29 NDAR, “Robert Hanson Harrison to William Bartlett,” II, 1259 and note; “Account of Loss of Cargo and Damage to Sloop Speedwell,” III, 290-291; “Winthrop Sargent to George Washington,” III, 290

30 NDAR, “Memorandum of a Letter from Stephen Moylan to the Stonington Committee of Safety,” II, 1153 and note; “Joseph Denison to George Washington,” III, 679 and note; “Robert Hanson Harrison to Joseph Denison,” III, 874 and note

31 NDAR, “Stephen Moylan to Colonel John Glover,” III, 6 and note; “Governor Francis Legge to Lord Dartmouth,” III, 288 and note; “Thomas Wright to Lord Dartmouth,” III, 288-290 and 290 note; “Job Prince to a Friend in London,” III, 298-299 and 299 note; Clark, George Washington’s Navy, 231-232

32 NDAR, “Stephen Moylan to the Salem Committee of Safety,” III, 1284 and note; “John Pickering, Jr. to Stephen Moylan,” III, 1316-1317 and 1317 note; “Richard Derby, Jr. to Stephen Moylan,” III, 1317; “Stephen Moylan to Colonel John Glover,” III, 6 and note; “Richard Derby, Jr. to the Salem Committee of Safety,” III, 17-19

33 NDAR, “George Washington to John Hancock,” II, 1322 and note

Revised 6 August 2014 ©