Kellow, Ken. "American War of Independence at Sea", entry for "Officers: Samuel Smedley", (awiatsea.com, last updated - 09/24/2015.)
Kuhl, Jackson. Samuel Smedley: Connecticut Privateer, (The History Press, 2011.)
Lewis, James A. Neptune's Militia: The Frigate South Carolina during the American Revolution, (The Kent State University Press, 1999.)
Middlebrook, Louis, F. Exploits of the Connecticut Ship Defence: Commanded by Captain Samuel Smedley of Fairfield, CT - Revolutionary War, (Hartford, Connecticut, 1922.)
Middlebrook, Louis F. Maritime History of Connecticut During the American Revolution, 1775-1783, (The Essex Institute, 1925.)
Nareen, et al. "Find a Grave Memorial - Samuel Smedley (1753-1812), (findagreavememorial.com, 03/13/2010.)
Letter - "Editorial Note on Promissory Note, 1781", (Founders Online, National Archives, last modified - 10/05/2016.)
Letter - "To Benjamin Franklin from Thomas Barclay, 11 April 1782", (Founders Online, National Archives, last modified - 10/05/2016.)
Letter - "To Benjamin Franklin from Thomas Barclay, 29 April 1782", (Founders Online, National Archives, last modified - 10/05/2016.)
Letter - "To John Adams from Thomas Barclay, 28 June 1782", (Founders Online, National Archives, last modified - 10/05/2016.)
Letter - "To John Adams from John Thaxter, 29 June 1782", (Founders Online, National Archives, last modified - 10/05/2016.)
Letter - "To John Adams from Wilhem & Jan Willink and Nicolaas & Jacob van Staphorst, 11 July 1782", (Founders Online, National Archives, last modified - 10/05/2016.)
Letter - "To John Adams from Wilhem & Jan Willink, Nicolaas & Jacob van Staphorst, and de la Lande & Fynje, 8 August 1782", (Founders Online, National Archives, last modified - 10/05/2016.)
Letter - "To Benjamin Franklin from Thomas Barclay, 8 October 1782", (Founders Online, National Archives, last modified - 10/05/2016.)
During the "life" of the frigate L'Indien/South Carolina, so many individuals crossed paths with the patriot ship-of-war or with her commanding officer, Commodore Alexander Gillon. Each of these individuals had a role to play, small or large, in the life of the frigate and her contributions to the patriot Cause. Some of these individuals were only vicariously or briefly associated with or connected to the frigate. But, occasionally, there appear individuals who enter the scene of the events concerning the frigate South Carolina and shortly slip out of sight only to reappear again at a later date, sometimes in a completely different geographical locale from the first occurrence. One of these individuals is Samuel Smedley of Fairfield, Connecticut, already a famous and intrepid New England sea captain when he first arrived in South Carolina in mid-1778. Yet, he would cross paths with both Commodore Alexander Gillon and the frigate South Carolina again later in the American Revolution in quite different circumstances and in waters on the European side of the Atlantic Ocean. Hopefully, this post will serve to illustrate both of these occurrences of Captain Samuel Smedley of Fairfield, Connecticut crossing paths with Commodore Alexander Gillon of South Carolina and the frigate South Carolina and demonstrate the qualities that made Samuel Smedley the kind of rebel sea captain that was a scourge of the British Empire during the American Revolution.
Some small amount of background information is in order concerning Samuel Smedley and his early life in Connecticut prior to the outbreak of the American Revolution. According to Middlebrook's work, Exploits of the Connecticut Ship Defence, page 16, the following brief account of his pre-Revolutionary War life is given:
"...Samuel Smedley was born at Fairfield, Connecticut in March, 1753, the son of Col. James and Mary (Burr) Smedley. His ancestors settled early in the town with many other families who came down from the Massachusetts Bay country. He married Esther Rowland, daughter of David Rowland, Esqr. of Fairfield. There were two children, Esther and Elizabeth, who evidently died young, as did his wife, as I find no mention or other record of them in his Will...".
(Note: It appears that not much information exists on the early life of Samuel Smedley, except that he grew up in Fairfield, CT in a fairly well-to-do family. His father, James Smedley, was a well respected member of the Fairfield, CT community who had fought and been wounded in the earlier French & Indian War, in which he rose to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. Samuel's mother, Mary, was his father's second wife and did not survive to see her son reach adulthood. Kuhl's work, Samuel Smedley: Connecticut Privateer, page 18, does provide more information on the early married life of Samuel Smedley. According to the text cited above, also on page 18, "Samuel Smedley was eighteen years old when he married into one of the most influential families in the town. Esther Rowland was the daughter of David Rowland: deputy justice, judge in both the county court and the Fairfield Probate Court. The text also confirms that the house Samuel and Esther Smedley lived in actually belonged to her. The following passage, also found on page 18 of the above cited text, addresses the young couples experiences with the births of their two daughters, Esther and Elizabeth:
"The colonel [Samuel Smedley's father] died the same night Samuel and Esther's first daughter was born in November 1771. The girl, named for her mother, may have been premature, born less than seven months after their marriage and living only a few days. The couple faced a similar heartbreak three years later when Elizabeth was born, only to pass soon after.".
This passage corroborates the information given above concerning the early deaths of Esther and Elizabeth due to neither of them being mentioned in Samuel Smedley's will.)
(Note: Nareen et al.'s entry in "Find a Grave Memorial", entry for "Samuel Smedley (1753-1812)" places Samuel Smedley's birth date as March 5, 1753 in the town of Fairfield, Fairfield County, Connecticut.)
Again according to Middlebrook's work, cited above, page 9, Samuel Smedley's upbringing in the community of Fairfield, Connecticut seems to be based more on conjecture and possibly local community or Smedley family lore rather than absolute fact. One can see this from the following account of Samuel Smedley's boyhood experiences in possibly acquiring his sea-faring education:
"The boy had been brought up locally and probably absorbed his nautical knowledge from those with whom he associated, including no doubt Captain Ebenezer Bartram, who became Executive Officer of the Defence, and who perhaps taught Smedley how to find latitude, do plain sailing, and who more than likely, trained him in the arts of seamanship.".
This is all that the writer of this blog has located on the youth and early life of Samuel Smedley. The information presented in the passage cited directly above, which is all we know of his youth, is, once again, conjectural in nature and apparently not founded upon substantiated fact.
With the beginning of the American Revolution, Samuel Smedley came to his "turning point" in his own personal destiny. According to Kellow's work, "American War of Independence at Sea", entry for "Officers - Samuel Smedley", Samuel Smedley "... on March 10, 1776....was commissioned as Second Lieutenant in the Connecticut Navy and assigned to the Connecticut Navy Brig Defence (Captain Seth Harding, commanding). Middlebrook's work, Exploits of the Connecticut Ship Defence, page 3, confirms that "...Samuel Smedley of Fairfield..." was indeed appointed to this position. Over the next several months but, before the end of the year 1776, according to this same work, page 4, there had been numerous position changes in the officers on board the ship Defence with the most significant being that "...Captain Harding himself, being in ill health, resigned his command and made request that Smedley be appointed as Captain...". Thus, by the next cruise of the Connecticut Navy Brig Defence in the spring of 1777, Samuel Smedley was listed as Captain of the brig.
Descriptive details of the Connecticut "ship" Defence are cited in Middlebrook's work, Exploits of the Connecticut Ship Defence, page 3, and state that "...the Defence first went into commission at New Haven [Connecticut] as a Brig...". In the same text, on page 4, it states that "...in the early part of 1778...the Defence was lengthened and made into a ship...". Evidently, the lengthening of the original design caused a third mast to be added to the vessel, turning it from a two-masted brig into a three-masted "ship". The war-like accouterments of the new ship-of-war were cited as a:
"...battery of sixteen carriage [mounted] 6-pounder guns..." as well as "...some swivels, nearly 100 muskets, 59 pistols, 51 cutlasses, 11 blunderbus "murthers", and two boarding grappling irons. She carried two barges and one yawl.".
According to Middlebrook's work, Exploits of the Connecticut Ship Defence, page 5, from the commissioning of the Defence as a brig in February 1776 until her final grounding, wrecking and sinking on the Goshen Reef just off New London, CT on March 10, 1779, the Connecticut ship-of-war would capture twelve prize vessels and a total of six hundred prisoners. For the capturing of the last seven prize vessels and the last two years of her nautical life, the Defence had Captain Samuel Smedley at her helm as commanding officer.
This brings us to the first encounter that Captain Samuel Smedley would have with Commodore Alexander Gillon. But, this encounter finds Alexander Gillon at a point in his naval career prior to his command of the frigate South Carolina. So, it is simply an encounter with the man himself and not the ship also. According to Middlebrooks' work, Exploits of the Connecticut Ship Defence, pages 25-26, after the capture of the prize ship Cyrus, with it being sent into Boston, MA harbor:
"Smedley had a leaky ship, some casualties among his men, and about fifty cases of small pox on board to contend with when he took this prize [Cyrus] according to his graphic latter sent in by his prize-master Lieutenant Pease, from Latitude 19 N. Long. 49 W. After this capture he cruised about, as far south as Barbadoes, inoculated his men, repaired his wounded hull and rigging, and sailed into Charleston, S. C. the last of May, 1778 to get fresh water, stores, and the news. And again on June 21st, 1778 notwithstanding the quarantine to which he had been subjected while at anchor at Charleston, he got up his anchor and started out for more -- fell in with three British privateers, captured two of them, the Tonyn's Revenge of 12 guns, and the Ranger of 8 guns, while the other one got away as he was getting in his prisoners in a heavy sea. These captures produced upwards of $80,000 alone.".
This is an accurate account of the actions and the travels of the Connecticut ship Defence from late May through late June 1778. But, it is not the complete story of the adventures of Captain Samuel Smedley or of the Defence while they were in South Carolina waters. According to Kuhl's work, Samuel Smedley, Connecticut Privateer, page 67, after cruising in the Caribbean Sea for a time, the Connecticut "ship" Defence headed north to Charleston, SC, entering that harbor on May 30, 1778, in company of another Connecticut "ship", the Oliver Cromwell. It appears from the text of the previously cited work that the Connecticut "ships" were to perform transport duty as merchant ships in order that commodities such as rice, indigo and linen could be safely transported to market and hopefully avoid seizure by either the British Royal Navy or by the numerous loyalists's privateers that infested the waters just off the southeastern coast of the colonies. As far as the outbreak of small pox is concerned, according to Kuhl's work, Samuel Smedley, Connecticut Privateer, page 62, once Captain Smedley had discovered small pox among his own crew of the Defence, early in the cruise after they had departed Boston, MA harbor, he had chosen to have the entire crew inoculated against further outbreaks of the dreaded disease. So, when he actually entered Charleston, SC harbor, his men were already recovering from their inoculations rather than being infected and spreading the disease. Still, the Captain Samuel Smedley and the crew of the Defence were required by port authorities to undergo quarantine for the disease. According to Kuhl's work, Samuel Smedley, Connecticut Privateer, page 68, the agents, Rose & Torrans of Charleston, SC, wrote:
"'Although they [Smedley and his crew] have been free from it [small pox] for near a month, She [the Defence] is obliged to perform quarantine. There is no time fixed but hope in 8 to 10 days that she will be allowed to come up to Town.' The sailors scraped the barnacles off as best they could -- 'the Ship being so foul' -- and waited for clearance, 'not withstanding the Repeated Promises I had of being Permitted Every Week.' They waited and waited. Permission did not come.".
Quite possibly, at this point in time, Captain Smedley made a command decision - rather than allow his crew and ship to remain idle and isolated from friendly human contact, he decided to take much needed action. An active, mentally-engaged though sickly crew was probably to be preferred over a physically and mentally inactive crew, dreading and expecting the onset of sickness. According to Kuhl's work, Samuel Smedley, Connecticut Privateer, page 68, he, evidently, had received information that certain British-Loyalist privateers were prowling the South Carolina coastline and impeding merchant shipping of the colony. Fortified with this local patriot intelligence, on June 19, 1778, Captain Smedley chose to take the Defence to sea in search of these enemy "ships-of-war". According to Kuhl's work, Samuel Smedley, Connecticut Privateer, page 68, "...on June 19,  Defence 'sailed over our Bar in quest of them,' accompanied by a French sloop named Volant, captained by Oliver Daniel.".
(Note: the Volant, captained by Oliver Daniels, is cited as "...a French sloop..." in the account above. But, other sources cite her as being from Connecticut and commanded by an American, Oliver Daniel. According to Kellow's site, "American War of Independence at Sea", entry for Officers, ------- Daniel", this ship-of-war is referenced as a "...Connecticut Privateer Sloop Volante...". Yet, this same above referenced work, under the entry of "Privateers, Volant", does not indicate that there was any privateer ship-of-war by this name sailing out of Connecticut. Some sources, such as Middlebrook's work, Exploits of the Connecticut Ship Defence, do not even mention the presence of the "...French sloop..." at all as taking part in this specific action against the British/Loyalist privateers off the coast of South Carolina.)
(Note: this leads into the second unusual circumstance regarding this incident - the issue of the actual identity and existence of Captain Daniel. The main reference in question here - his participation in the captures of the two British/Loyalist ships-of-war, the Governor Tonyn's Revenge and the Ranger - is the only reference to Oliver Daniel in the entirety of Kuhl's work, Samuel Smedley, Connecticut Privateer. This reference is contained on page 68 of the text. But, according to the index of the same work, there is no entry for "Daniel, Oliver" to be found in the index of that work. The writer of this blog has been unable to locate any further references to this individual in any of the other works which are all cited above in the bibliography of this specific post. The sole reference the writer of this blog has encountered is a brief citation in Kellow's site, "American War of Independence at Sea", entry for "Officers: -------Daniel" and is as follows:
------- Daniel, Connecticut Commander, Connecticut Privateers
Daniel commanded Connecticut Privateer Sloop Volante, at sea in June 1778. She captured
the sloop Ranger in that month. [Maclay, 116]
This source does not even give the first name of Captain Daniel but, only refers to him as "------- Daniel". Again, none of the other works cited above in the bibliography of this specific post cite a maritime individual by this name nor a ship-of-war by the name of Volant or Volante, sailing out of Connecticut. It is quite probable that if the "sloop of war" Volant or Volante did exist that it was a Connecticut ship-of-war that carried a somewhat Francophone name instead of a French vessel being crewed by Americans and that the sources do not mention it for some other reason.
The work cited as the source of the above quotation from Kellow's site, "American War of Independence at Sea" is Edgar Stanton Maclay's work, A History of American Privateers, page 116. The single reference to Captain Daniel is very brief and will be cited here in full. This citation is as follows:
In June 1778, the armed sloop Volante, Captain Daniel, of Connecticut, captured the sloop Ranger, carrying eight guns and thirty-five men.
Again, the given first name of Captain Daniel is not provided in this citation. The implication is that the "...armed sloop Volante is a Connecticut privateer ship-of-war and not French in origin. But, strangely enough, the presence of Captain Samuel Smedley and the Connecticut armed ship Defence is not even referred to in this brief passage. Nor, does the passage refer to the action taking place off the coast of South Carolina. Kuhl's work, Samuel Smedley, Connecticut Privateer is the only work that provides a first name for "Captain Daniel" - Oliver.)
Captain Samuel Smedley cruised the coastline of South Carolina until he spotted two sails and then, disguising herself as an unarmed merchantman and , according to Kuhl's work, page 68-69, captured them without a shot being fired. The two Loyalist privateers turned out to be "...the Governor Tonyn's Revenge, twelve carriage guns and seventy-two men, and Ranger, eight guns, thirty-five men, both privateers out of St. Augustine.".
So, the Governor Tonyn's Revenge and the Ranger were both made prize vessels of the Connecticut "ship" Defence. But, there was a third British privateer that was not captured that day due to the effects of the weather. This was the "...Active from Liverpool, twelve guns, seventy-five men...". Both Middlebrook's work, Exploits of the Connecticut Ship Defence, page 26, and Kuhl's work, Samuel Smedley, Connecticut Privateer, page 69, state that the Active escaped due to the approach of nightfall and the heavy weather existing at that time. Both of these accounts state that it was as the Defence was attempting to get her prisoners from the other two Loyalist privateers on board her in stormy weather, coupled with approaching darkness, that the Active made her escape. Ostensibly, she must have made for St. Augustine, FL but, this is only a supposition because the other two Crown privateers came from that port city. But, being that the Active hailed from Liverpool on the western coast of England, she may well have made for another friendly port city in the Caribbean Ocean or elsewhere in Florida or Georgia.
According to Kuhl's work, Samuel Smedley, Connecticut Privateer, page 69, the following reception greeted the victorious return to Charleston, SC of the patriot ships-of-war and their prizes:
"Defence and Volant, their two prizes accompanying them, returned to a hero's welcome in Charleston. 'We were saluted from Fort Sullivan and Fort Johnson', one crewmember recalled, ' and colours were hoisted from every gentleman's house, who was not a tory.' There was no longer a question of quarantine. 'Capt. Smedley has acquired great reputation on this occasion & has done an official service to the commercial interest of this state,' wrote Rose & Torrans.
For their part, the agents claimed half of each prize in Defence's name, 'which we will hope go a great way towards paying the expenses & outfit of the Oliver Cromwell & Defence.' The prizes sold for 'upwards of 80,000 pounds and were split three ways between Volant, Defence, and South Carolina.".
This rather lengthy account of a service provided to the state of South Carolina by Captain Samuel Smedley and the Connecticut "ship" Defence does indeed involve Commodore Alexander Gillon and represent the initial meeting of these two gentlemen -- the one a native of Connecticut and the other a relatively recent immigrant to South Carolina from Holland. According to Kuhl's work, Samuel Smedley, Connecticut Privateer, page 68, "...members of South Carolina's own navy, including captains Robeson and McQueen and even its commodore, Alexander Gillon, leapt to join the expedition.". This account of the men who were involved in the workings of the South Carolina State Navy accurately names three of the men whose names are associated with not only the navy of that state but, also with the frigate L'Indien/South Carolina. According to Lewis's work, Neptune's Militia, page 15, this specific naval incident is not mentioned nor is Captain Samuel Smedley or the Connecticut "ship" Defence ever mentioned in any account. All that is stated in the above referenced passage is that the two mentioned naval officers were "...gentlemen [who] had already shown their mettle at sea by clearing Charleston of marauding privateers during the summer of 1778 or by other deeds.". Yet, Kuhl's work seems to imply that these individuals had actually met one another, even if it was only through a reaction of a common enemy and their enemy's efforts in their home South Carolina waters.
The next, and as far as the writer of this blog knows the only other, chronological event in which Commodore Alexander Gillon of South Carolina and Captain Samuel Smedley of Connecticut would interact would occur on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. Yet, it would be a completely different set of events for each man that would lead to a meeting of the two men in France. According to Lewis's work, Neptune's Militia, page 17, Alexander Gillon, now with the rank of "Commodore of the South Carolina Navy" preceding his name, left for France in August 1778 with instructions to purchase three frigates from the French government for use in keeping the coastline of South Carolina safe from British or Loyalist marauders. Initially, he and his entourage stopped in Havana, Cuba and remained there for a period of time but, finally arrived in Brest, France in mid-January 1779. He would, either individually or in company of some other men from his adopted homeland, spend the next two and one-half years travelling back and forth across western and northern Europe seeking to accomplish his appointed task.
For Captain Samuel Smedley of Connecticut, it was a different story. He was the successful captain of the Connecticut "ship" Defence until she was "...wrecked...and bilged" on Goshen Reef off Waterford, CT on March 10, 1779. Afterwards, he became the commanding officer on board another Connecticut "ship" named the Recovery which was crewed mostly by Fairfield, CT men. According to Middlebrook's work, Exploits of the Connecticut Ship Defence, page 31, he set out on a cruise on February 18, 1780 that ended badly for Captain Smedley and the crew of the Recovery. The account of the occurrences of that fateful day are cited in the above referred to work, page 31, and are as follows:
"His cruise was of but short duration however, for he was overpowered off Newfoundland in Lat. 60 N. Long. 43 W. (according to a letter on file from Capt. Daniel Scovel dated March 20th, -- ) by one of Arbuthnot's British frigates, the Galatea Captain Rice, and a British cutter. The chase was of seven hours duration before he was overhauled and taken prisoner with all his men, and brought back to New York where he arrived on March 31st and was placed on a Prison Ship. Arrangements were made April 25th, 1780 between Governor Trumbull and Jabez Bowen of Providence, for Smedley's exchange for Lieutenant Locke of the British Navy, and in a letter dated May 11, 1780 from David Sprout, British Commissary of Prisoners at New York to Major William Ledyard of New London, it appears that Smedley was exchanged according to this arrangement...".
After his exchange, Captain Samuel Smedley immediately went to sea again in defiance of the naval power of Great Britain. According to Middlebrook's work, Exploits of the Connecticut Ship Defence, page 31, he was placed in command of "...another vessel called the Hibernia which carried 10 carriage guns...". The account continues in the same source and on pages 31-32 as follows:
"...and gathering his crew, he again set sail from New London on October 10th, 1780. Ill fortune again thwarted him, for he was captured on the high seas after being only fourteen days out and taken back to New York, and, by order of Admiral Rodney, was shipped as a naval prisoner of war, in March, 1781 to Old Mill Prison, Plymouth, England,where he remained for some time, notwithstanding Peace negotiations had practically terminated hostilities. It is interesting to remember however that this young son of Connecticut was but twenty-eight years old, and still physically able to take care of himself evidently, for records of Old Mill Prison tell us that Samuel Smedley of Connecticut escaped, whereabouts unknown.".
Thus, Samuel Smedley experienced two situations upon his capture as commanding officer of the Hibernia, one common to many patriot naval personnel of the American Revolution - capture and incarceration in England - and the other not so common, though frequently attempted by captured American naval personnel in English prisons - successful escape. According to Kaminkow's work, Mariners of the American Revolution, page 174, the entry for Captain Samuel Smedley of Connecticut is as follows:
Samuel Smedley - of Connecticut. He was the captain of the Hibernia. He was committed to Old Mill Prison in March 1781. He escaped on August 25, 1781.
Kaminkow's work also agrees that the Hibernia was captured in October 1780 and that Captain Samuel Smedley was indeed transported to Old Mill Prison near Plymouth, England and incarcerated there. This information corroborates with Middlebrook's work, Exploits of the Connecticut Ship Defence, page 31-32 for the capture date as well as the incarceration date of Captain Samuel Smedley in Old Mill Prison in March 1781. Both works also corroborate concerning Samuel Smedley's escape from Old Mill Prison though there is no date given for this event in Middlebrook's work.
Kuhl's work, Samuel Smedley, Connecticut Privateer provides more exact information concerning the capture of the Hibernia. According to this work, page 92, "...just two weeks after its [Hibernia's] commissioning, on October 25, Hibernia was chased and captured by HMS Hussar at thirty-three degrees north latitude, off the Carolinas...". The only piece of corroborating information contained within Middlebrook's work, Exploits of the Connecticut Ship Defence is the approximate capture date of the Hibernia. Middlebrook's work, page 31, states that "...he again set sail from New London on October 10th, 1780..." and that "...he was captured on the high seas after being only fourteen days out...". This would place the actual capture of the Hibernia around October 24, 1780 if the wording of the above passage is taken as literal. Thus, it would appear that the Hibernia was captured around October 24-25, 1780. Kellow's site, "American War of Independence at Sea", entry for "Hibernia", corroborates that the Hibernia was commissioned on October 10, 1780 and was captured by the HMS Hussar (a frigate) on October 25, 1780. Kellow's site adds that the captain of the HMS Hussar was Charles Morris Poole.
According to Kuhl's work, Samuel Smedley, Connecticut Privateer, page 95, the following account was given by Christopher Leffingwell, a Connecticut militia colonel, to Governor of Connecticut Trumbull in September 1781 concerning Samuel Smedley:
"Captain Smedley's lady received a letter from Him dated at Mill Prison, in Plymouth, England, May 25, 1781. He represents his condition very disagreeable, cruelly treated, half starved & half naked. She begs of me and her friends this way, to devise some means to procure his release, which I most heartily wish might be effected.".
This is the only reference to any correspondence from Captain Samuel Smedley to anyone here in American during the months of his incarceration in Old Mill Prison from March 1781 until his escape on August 25, 1781. All of the above cited sources are silent on the method of escape he employed but, more than likely, it involved a guard being bribed and willing to "look the other way" at the crucial moment of escape. Again, according to Kuhl's work, Samuel Smedley, Connecticut Privateer, page 96, "...his record from Mill Prison simply says 'Samuel Smedley of Connecticut ran away.'".
Samuel Smedley was now free from the bonds of prison but, what occurred immediately after his effecting his escape from Old Mill Prison remains somewhat of a mystery. According to Kaminkow's work, Mariners of the American Revolution, page 174, Captain Samuel Smedley of Connecticut escaped from Old Mill Prison on August 25, 1781, his subsequent whereabouts being unknown. Yet, according to Kuhl's work, Samuel Smedley, Connecticut Privateer, page 97, "...after wandering away from Mill Prison, Smedley reappeared in December 1781 in Brest, France...". A number of other American maritime prisoners of war, usually officers, had escaped from imprisonment in an English prison and made their way across the English Channel to France. This was usually effected through either disguise/dissembling or bribing a local English fisherman or other owner of a vessel to take them across the English Channel. We do not know neither how Captain Samuel Smedley effected his escape from Great Britain nor what happend to him during the time period between his escape from Old Mill Prison on August 25, 1781 and his reappearance in Brest, France in December 1781. Unless further documentation is located referring specifically to these particulars in the life of Samuel Smedley of Connecticut, we may never know how he actually escaped England nor why it took him almost five full months to "reappear" in Brest, France.
A plausible explanation would be that the earlier given date of "December 1781" for the reappearance of Captain Samuel Smedley of Connecticut at Brest, France is incorrect. Usually, if and when an escaped prisoner reached the shores of France, they would be in need of assistance of all kinds. The newly liberated prisoner could ask for assistance from one of the various different American emissaries in France. The reason for the presence of these individuals in France was that they were negotiating the continued assistance of the French government to the fledgling United States during the course of the war. But, they, almost by default, became nexus points for financial and other types of assistance to recently escaped American mariners who managed to reach France. Of course, the most well-known of these American emissaries in France was Benjamin Franklin. Franklin had a set of "promissory note forms", the supply of which he periodically had replenished. Recently escaped Americans who had made it safely to French shores, would seek out Franklin and ask for financial succor. Franklin would have them sign one of these promissory notes, stating that they would repay the forwarded loan whenever they could possibly do so. According to the Founders Online document, "Editorial Note on Promissory Notes, 1781":
"...in September , the number of applicants [for financial assistance] increased... Samuel Smedley (Franklin noted under his name, 'Capt. of the Province Ship of Connecticut')... received six louis on September 25 . Smedley had been captured on October 24, 1780, while commanding the Hibernia, originally a British war sloop that had been taken by the Americans earlier in the year. He was committed to Mill prison in March, 1781, and escaped on August 25 .".
Several pieces of information cited here corroborate with the previously supplied information from other sources. These include the date of his capture, the name of the ship he was in command of when he was captured, the date of his commitment to Old Mill Prison, as well as the date of his successful escape from the prison. This lends credence to the date of his application for a promissory note from Benjamin Franklin. Also, the very fact that this note appears among the papers of Benjamin Franklin, a primary source, lends even more credence to the belief that Captain Samuel Smedley of Connecticut had indeed reached France by September 25, 1781 and not in December 1781. This makes the length of time between his escape from Old Mill Prison on August 25, 1781 and his reappearance in Brest, France some time prior to September 25, 1781 completely plausible. A length of one month would be quite believable between an escape from a hostile country and reaching the safety of a nearby friendly country. Thus, it can be believed that Captain Samuel Smedley of Connecticut escaped from Old Mill Prison by some means and reached France after about a month by some means. It is these two "means" that will most probably remain unknown unless further information is located relative to these events in the life of Samuel Smedley of Connecticut.
Captain Samuel Smedley of Connecticut walked into an unusual situation that had already been in the making before he appeared on the scene in Brest, France. The senior American emissary in France, and the best known American on either side of the Atlantic Ocean at this point in time, was Benjamin Franklin. One of Franklin's chief tasks was procuring, purchasing and exporting military stores and supplies to America for the continuation of the fight for independence against Great Britain. Franklin also had the task of locating friendly ships bound for America to carry these supplies back to the United States. Thus, he took advantage of every circumstance and situation to have his procured, crucially needed military supplies placed aboard a ship outward bound from Europe for America.
Commodore Alexander Gillon provided one of those potential transports so desperately sought after by Benjamin Franklin. Significant parts of the story of Commodore Alexander Gillon's search for and procurement of the frigate South Carolina have already been shared in the course of this overall post. According to Kuhl's work, Samuel Smedley, Connecticut Privateer, pages 96-97:
"Gillon, in Europe in command of the state frigate South Carolina, had conceived of a plan to bring a fat load of needed commodities home to America. [Benjamin] Franklin, though 'having little confidence in Captain Gillon's management', feared that Gillon acting on his own would embarrass the United States and fray its tenuous alliances, so he extended 10,000 pounds sterling toward the enterprise, thereby hoping to maintain some control over it. Because there was still room in South Carolina's hold, Franklin authorized further purchases to fill the space. He was then shocked to receive bills tallying not 5000 pounds sterling, as he expected, but rather 50,000 pounds sterling. He first refused to pay them, but when he was told the goods were already onboard the ships and that unloading and selling them would incur further expense and humiliation, Franklin went fur hat in hand to the French ministers and begged for more money to pay for it all.
It got worse. The officers of South Carolina complained the ship as overburdened, too clumsy to fight with no room for provisions or sailors. So two other ships were hired to divide the cargo among them -- which Gillon promptly deserted to go take prizes in the Caribbean. Because the two ships had contracted to sail in convoy with South Carolina and because the Atlantic churned with English warships and privateers, the shipowners demanded Franklin either pay for additional gunners and marines to defend the ships or buy them outright. Franklin had no money to do either and refused to lose face again in front of the French. On top of everything else, Gillon had run up personal debts with the shipowners, and they held the cargo as collateral until these were repaid, notwithstanding the fact that the goods were owned by the States. 'This piece of business has been managed as ill as any that had been done for Congress in Europe', wrote [John] Adams. Franklin was more blunt: 'It has been, and will be, a villainous affair from beginning to end'.
Even if Franklin could disentangle the goods from their detention, he still faced another problem: how to ship them to America. What they needed was a responsible American sea captain, a merchant marine with battle experience who wouldn't flake on them like Gillon.".
(Note: It is quite clear that the author of the above passage thinks meanly of the man and the efforts of Commodore Alexander Gillon of South Carolina. He had arrived in France in 1778 and had spent his time traveling across the European continent, in search of a suitable warship, or trio of warships, to protect the coastline of his adopted homeland. His efforts resulted in the leasing of the French-built frigate L'Indien, which he promptly re-christened the South Carolina. If he was rather single-minded in his vision of obtaining the necessary ships-of-war in Europe, it was because his home state was threatened and he had been sent to Europe to find the means to alleviate the fears generated by those threats. Thus, his actions, whether related correctly in Jackson Kuhl's work, Samuel Smedley, Connecticut Privateer or not, need to be measured against his initial mission - the safety of the coastline of South Carolina.)
This was the situation as faced by Benjamin Franklin in late September 1781 when Captain Samuel Smedley of Connecticut appeared on the scene in Brest, France. As any escaped American colonial in France, he was searching for a means to effect his quick return to America. While in Brest, France, Samuel Smedley met and became acquainted with David Salisbury Franks. According to Kuhl's work, Samuel Smedley, Connecticut Privateer, page 97, Franks was "... a governmental officer who had couriered letters from America to John Jay [in Madrid, Spain] and Franklin [in Paris, France].". Both Captain Samuel Smedley and David Salisbury Franks had high hopes of obtaining passage on the St. James, which was to sail from L'Orient for America. But, Franks had referred to Captain Samuel Smedley in a letter to William Temple Franklin, the grandson and personal secretary of Benjamin Franklin. Again, according to Kuhl's work, page 97, both Samuel Smedley and David Salisbury Franks traveled from L'Orient to Nantes but, their paths diverged there with Franks continuing on to Spain and Samuel Smedley journeying on to Passy, there meeting the senior American emissary in France, Benjamin Franklin. Franklin must have been impressed with Captain Samuel Smedley because he entrusted him with a packet of letters addressed to American emissary John Adams in Amsterdam, Holland.
(Note: This David Salisbury Franks was the same man who was at the time a major in the Continental Army and had been a personal aide-de-camp to Brigadier General Benedict Arnold when the general committed his act of treason of attempting to betray the patriot fortifications at West Point to the British in September 1780. After the discovery of Arnold's plan, the flight of Arnold to the British, and in the subsequent courts-martial, Major ADC Franks was acquitted of all complicity. According to Boatner's work, Encyclopedia of the American Revolution, page 396, "... he remained on the army rolls as a Major and A.D.C. until retired on 1 January 1783, but in July 1781 he was sent by Robert Morris as a confidential courier to [John] Jay in Madrid and [Benjamin] Franklin in Paris.". It was in the later capacity as a confidential courier that David Salisbury Franks would have met Captain Samuel Smedley of Connecticut while in Brest, France.)
While these events were transpiring in France, other were happening in Holland. Evidently, according to Kuhl's work, Samuel Smedley, Connecticut Privateer, page 98, in the meanwhile:
"In Amsterdam, Thomas Barclay, the American Consul to France, engaged a ship from Ostend called Heer Adams, sixteen guns, which [Samuel] Smedley inspected in late April and found suitable. With the financial impediments resolved, ... the cargo was transferred from the two Dutch ships to Heer Adams and a ten-gun brigantine, General Green, which would sail in convoy to the United States. To man them, Barclay sent out a call to any escaped or exchanged American prisoners. And, so that [Samuel] Smedley might 'make prize of any of the Enemys vessells that possibly may fall in his way,' Barclay and Franklin commissioned him with a third letter of marque.
[Samuel] Smedley and Heer Adams would loiter in Amsterdam until late June, the cargo aboard but 'the Captains Sickness and want of hands made all kind of hurry useless'. He was still recovering from his imprisonment. On the twenty-seventh, Barclay informed Franklin that Heer Adams was over the sand banks at the river's mouth 'and will in a few days be able to put to Sea' after collecting a few more sailors.".
Beginning in mid-April 1782 and continuing to early October 1782, a series of letters passed between individuals who were closely connected with and much interested in the successful cruise of Captain Samuel Smedley of Connecticut and the Heer Adams as they both prepared to set out for and subsequently set sail for the distant shores of America. These letters can best tell their own story of this great endeavor as the end of the American Revolution neared:
April 11, 1782 - Thomas Barclay to Benjamin Franklin -
"... I wrote to Nantes to Engage Captain Smedley, who is every way qualified for the business, and who I am inform'd is on his way hither...".
April 29, 1782 - Thomas Barclay to Benjamin Franklin -
"We shall want a Commission to intitle Captain Samuel Smedley to make prize of any of the Enemys vessells that possibly may fall in his way, which I will be obliged to you to send and if it is Necessary to go through any forms here I shall do it. The ship is Now Called the Heer Adams, Burthen 250 Ton, American built, and will sail with Sixteen guns and about Sixty Men.".
June 28, 1782 - Thomas Barclay to John Adams -
"Captain Smedley will, I expect, Sail in about Six days, and if your Excellency had any Dispatches, or other Commands, he will be a good opportunity to Send them by.".
June 29, 1782 - John Thaxter to John Adams -
"[Samuel] Smedley and [Moses] Grinnel are both over the Pompus to their great Joy, and will be ready to go down to the Texel in eight or ten days.".
July 11, 1782 - Wilhem & Jan Willink and Nicolaas & Jacob van Staphorst to John Adams -
"We have well received the Second thousand obligations Signed by your Excellency, and Mr. Barclay handed us the three dispatches to Congress, together with two other copies of your letter, forwhch. we get two Similar dispatches ready, whch. shall serve for Quintuplicates to be Sent by different Vessels, so as we already practised with one by Captn: ------- and one by Capn. ------- in order to receive the ratification on time.".
(Note: The first of the blanked-out names of the two respective ship's captains would be that of Captain Samuel Smedley of Connecticut in command of the Heer Adams.)
August 8, 1782 - Wilhem & Jan Willink, Nicolaas & Jacob van Staphorst, and de la Lande & Fynje to John Adams -
"We have forwarded the letters, with the copies of the obligations to congress.
The original with Capn. Samuel Smedley bound for Philadelphia.
The duplicate With Capn. Moses Grinell bound to Boston.
The triplicate Sent to nantes, to be forwarded by the first Ship.
The quadruplicate with Capn. Shubael Spooner, bound for Philadelphia, (we say) Baltimore.
And the quintuplicate'll be Send by the very first Ship, whch. shall be ready.".
October 8, 1782 - Thomas Barclay to Benjamin Franklin -
"I have the pleasure to Inform your Excellency that Captain Grinnell arrived at Boston in 40(?) days from Amsterdam with about 2500 suits of Cloathing which I Shipped and as Smedley Sail'd at the Same time I hope we Shall Soon hear that he is arrived also --".
(Note: All of these pieces of correspondence can be found in the later portion of the bibliography at the beginning of this post. They are all cited under the "Letters" section cited at the end of the bibliography and can be accessed by chronologically comparing the dates and senders/recipients of each letter.)
The final piece of correspondence is quoted here in part only because it is not cited in the collection of the Founders Online from which the previously cited letters where all gathered. It is cited in Kuhl's work, Samuel Smedley, Connecticut Privateer, page 98, supposedly was written from Philadelphia, PA, and is as follows:
September 12, 1782 - Robert Livingston to John Jay -
"We yesterday received letters from Mr. Adams by Captain Smedley, who brought out the goods left by Commodore Gillon. These were the first advices that had reached us from Europe since your short note of the 14th of May. You will easily believe that this neglect is borne here with some degree of impatience, particularly at this interesting period, when we learn that a negotiation for peace has commenced...".
The same information is communicated in the following passage from Middlebrook's work, Maritime Connecticut During the American Revolution, Volume II, page 325, and is condensed and transcribed in the cited work as follows:
"On Sept. 12, 1782, Robert B. Livingston of Philadelphia wrote John Jay, Secretary of State (in France) acknowledging letters received from Mr. Adams by way of Captain Smedley, who brought back to the United States in the ship Heer Adams, from Holland, goods left there by Commodore Gillon of South Carolina.... This ship was evidently purchased in Holland by order of B. Franklin for this purpose.".
According to Volume I of this same Middlebrook's work, page 58, Captain Samuel Smedley of Fairfield, Connecticut did indeed arrive in Philadelphia, PA on September 12, 1782 with the cargo of military supplies left behind by Commodore Alexander Gillon of South Carolina when he set sail from Holland in the frigate South Carolina on August 4, 1781. According to Kuhl's work, Samuel Smedley, Connecticut Privateer, page 98, for the entirety of the homeward bound voyage, "...it was an uneventful crossing, no prizes taken. Smedley was probably grateful for it. He had had enough adventure to last a lifetime but at the cost of his health and his home and without laying eyes on his wife for almost a year.". Captain Samuel Smedley of Fairfield, Connecticut also returned to a land on the very edge of its independence and a bright future among the ranks of the nations of the world. In his own small way, he - Samuel Smedley - had helped achieve this great moment in the early life of the United States of America.
Samuel Smedley and Commodore Alexander Gillon could have certainly encountered each other for at least a brief period of time. But, we have no way of knowing whether or not they actually met in June 1778 during their mutual operation to clear the coastline of South Carolina of loyalist privateers. As far as the state of South Carolina and Alexander Gillon were concerned, the frigate that would eventually bear the name South Carolina was still unknown and in the future. When Captain Samuel Smedley of Connecticut escaped from Old Mill Prison in Plymouth, England on August 25, 1781, made his way to Brest, France, and came to the attention of the American emissaries there, Commodore Alexander Gillon had been departed from the Texel, Holland for almost seven weeks, though his purchased cargo of military stores had been partially left behind. It fell to Captain Samuel Smedley to insure that these important supplies reached the fledgling United States so that it could continue its struggle for independence from Great Britain. He performed his assigned task with the same dedication and devotion to duty that he had served through out his naval career and safely reached the port of Philadelphia, PA, delivering the needed military supplies to his country. The same feeling of service to his country must have actuated him to seek service positions after the cessation of hostilities with Great Britain. He sought and held the position of Collector of Customs for the port of Fairfield, CT for many years after the war ended. He died on June 13, 1812 and was buried in the Old Burial Grounds in Fairfield, CT. He was fifty-nine years old. Another intrepid New Englander ... who also had a supporting role in the story of the frigate South Carolina.