Continental Navy Brig Dispatch


Captain Peter Parker

Trading.Dispatch Vessel

10 July 1776-21 July 1776

Continental Navy Brig

Commissioned/First Date:

[June] 1776/10 July 1776

Out of Service/Cause:

21 July 1776/captured by HM Frigate Orpheus



Date Reported:

Number/Caliber  Weight      Broadside







Fine new brig.



(1) Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to sea, 20 July 1776-21 July 1776




The Continental Navy Brig Dispatch was a vessel taken up by the Continental Congress’s Committee of Secret Correspondence. She was described as a “fine New Brigt” by a member of that committee.  Dispatch’s intended purpose was to provide a regular packet service between the United States and France, to ensure timely communication between the American diplomats in France and the Continental Congress.1

On 10 July 1776 the Committee of Secret Correspondence wrote to the new captain of the Dispatch: “The Brigt Dispatch of which you are hereby Appointed Commander in the Service of this United States of America, being now ready for Sea, You are to proceeed immediately on board said Brigantine for Port of Bourdeaux in France . . .” Parker had been given a packet of dispatches for Samuel & J. H. Delap of that city. Parker was instructed to regard these papers as “very important” and was ro deliver them personally. At sea he was instructed to keep them ready to drop overboard if capture appeared imminent. To avoid the danger of capture, however, Parker was to run from every vessel sighted at sea. As the brig was “well found with plenty of Sails, rigging Stores & Materials You will therefore make good use of them and endeavour to make a short passage by a dilligent attention to Winds and Weather carrying at all times as much Sail as is proper.”2

The cargo aboard the Dispatch was to be delivered to the Delaps. When this was done Parker was to set about arming the Dispatch. He was to “immediately Set about Arming the Brigt with Eight or Ten four pounder Cannon, as many Swivels Blunderbusses, Cohorns, Howitzer & Muskets as you think proper, but take care that the Cannon &c are of the best & handsomest, fit for ships use. You may if you think proper fit her with Close quarters & mount some Guns in the Cabin Steerage and Fore Castle, or you may Mount the whole on Deck and if she will bear more than Ten Cannon you may buy them, You must procure a suitable quantity of Powder & Ball for the Cannon, Arms with Cartridges Cartridge Paper & all necessary apparatus thereto. You will Compleat this business with Expedition and procure the best advice 8. assistance in doing it.” The Delaps would assist in finding the right people for this task and would pay the bills.3

As for the crew, the Committee thought that Parker “must Ship as many Seamen as you can possibly get, especially American Seamen or those that have been much connected in this Country but you are not to Confine yourself to those alone We are in Want of Seamen and You may bring People of all Countrys or Nations that are willing to enter into the American Service, You must make it known in the best manner you can that great Wages & encouragement is now given to Seamen in every part of America both for the Publick & for Merchant Service, You are therefore to bring over not only sufficient for your own Complement which as an armed Vessel1 might be Thirty or forty, but as many as you can Conveniently give Ship room to and you may Contract with them for such reasonable Wages as may be satisfactory to them If any Masters or Mates Want passages home you are to Accomodate them free of any Charge to them You must lay in sufficient of Provisions and allow each man plenty but suffer no Waste.”4

For the return voyage, Parker was to receive any goods the Delaps wished to ship, and those goods of other persons with the Delaps prior approval. Parker was to receive their return dispatches. The Committee was unable to suggest a safe port, but finally did suggest Egg Harbor or Cape May, New Jersey. Finally, Parker was delivered his commission, “a list of Agents for Prizes” (the Continental Agents) and “the Resolves of Congress respecting Captures.” Parker was cautioned that his business was “not to Cruize but to make quick passage but if you meet any prizes on your return so much the better provided you do not loose time in sacking them and in Case of Capture you must send them in to some of the Agents, who will do the needful1 for all Concerned.” When he had returned he was to immediately contact the Committee.5

In a separate letter to the Delaps, the Committee advised them of the Dispatch’s mission and asked them to assist Parker in the execution of his orders. Any money from the sale of the cargo that was not used in fitting out the Dispatch, or recruiting sailors, was to be invested in arms, munitions, or items suitable for the American military effort. These were to be shipped in the Dispatch to the “address of the Committee of Secret Correspondence on Account & Risque of the United States of America.” However the immediate object of this voyage was to obtain the American agent Silas Deane’s reports to Congress. Therefore “if Mr Deane is not at Bourdeaux you will please to keep him informed when the Brigt will be ready to return & the Moment his dispatches come to your hands deliver them to Capt Parker with an injunction to Sail immediately for this Coast agreable to his orders Should Mr Deane be in Bourdeaux Capt Parker must be directed by him entirely in all his proceedings and, if Mr Deane desires any Goods to be shipped onboard the dispatch they must be received onboard in short the Captain is ordered to receive onbd all Goods you recommend therefore you'l please to Ship any you may have or that Mr Deane may order & inform Mr John Dan1 Schweighauser of Nantes that he may Ship any he has for account of this Continent.”6

On 20 or 21 July Dispatch sailed from Delaware Bay with several other merchant vessels. Outside the bay were two patrolling British warships: HM Sloop Kingsfisher and HM Frigate Orpheus (Captain Charles Hudson). Orpheus was about fifty-five miles southeast of Cape Henlopen on 21 July. At 0400 the frigate sighted three sail to the southwest and began chasing. Two vessels had been captured by 0900. At 1000 Orpheus was still chasing the last vessel, a brig. This was the Dispatch.  The wind fell off in the afternoon and Hudson sent off his barge to the brig. The barge returned at 1800 with the brig. Orpheus’s log reported she was nound to the West Indies with flour. 7 Parker did destroy his dispatches before capture.8

Robert Morris reported the loss of the brig and her cargo, and the a letter  to Silas Deane on 12 September 1776. According to Morris the Dispatch had been carried in to New York, New York with the British fleet.9 Dispatch was tried and condemned in the New York Vice-Admiralty Court in 1777.10

1 NDAR, “Robert Morris to Silas Deane,” VI, 793-196 and 796 note

2 NDAR, “Committee of Secret Correspondence of the Continental Congress to Captain Peter Parker,” V, 1014-1016

3 NDAR, “Committee of Secret Correspondence of the Continental Congress to Captain Peter Parker,” V, 1014-1016

4 NDAR, “Committee of Secret Correspondence of the Continental Congress to Captain Peter Parker,” V, 1014-1016

5 NDAR, “Committee of Secret Correspondence of the Continental Congress to Captain Peter Parker,” V, 1014-1016

6 NDAR, “Committee of Secret Correspondence of the Continental Congress to Samuel and J. H. Delap, Bordeaux Merchants,” V, 1016-1017

7 NDAR, “Journal of H.M.S. Orpheus, Captain Charles Hudson,” V, 1182-1183 and 1183 note

8 NDAR, “Committee of Secret Correspondence of the Continental Congress to Silas Deane,” VI, 102-103 and 103 note; “Robert Morris to Silas Deane,” VI, 793-196 and 796 note

9 NDAR, “Robert Morris to Silas Deane,” VI, 793-196 and 796 note

10 HCA 32/308/5/1-4

Posted 6 March 2015 ©