Joshua Mersereau's pension application, "The Pension Application of Joshua Mersereau S7224", is lengthy and very detailed. If all that he states in this application is true then he "...entered the service of the United States in the month of August 1775..." and served faithfully "...until peace was ratified by treaty in 1784." This is an incredible time to serve and he experienced much and met many great personalities in the duration of the war. In order to provide proof of his various different services, he frequently lists the names of individual commanders he either knew or served under. He served both in the army and naval forces of the United States. He participated in battles and clandestine operations aimed at the kidnapping of enemy officers. His application indicates that at different points in his service, he was engaged in the gathering of intelligence.
Towards the end of his pension application, Mersereau states that " In May 1782, the ship South Carolina having arrived at Philadelphia from Holland under Commodore Gilland [sic, Alexander Gillon], John Joiner [sic, John Joyner] Capt., I was engaged as a carpenter on board of this ship at the time above stated & performed the duties of such stationed until she was repaired, which was in December of the same year. I was one of the crew of the ship when she sailed which was on or about 21st of December same year, we were chased by 3 British Ships, the Diomede, the Aystrich [sic, Astrea] and the Quebec, we were captured, and in the battle I received a wound in my leg which has never since healed, I was conveyed with the rest of the crew of the South Carolina, to New York, and put on board the Scorpion prison Ship. On or about the last of January I was permitted to retire on parole and remained a prisoner in that situation until peace was ratified by treaty in 1784."
(Note: That Joshua Mersereau received a wound in this last battle of the frigate South Carolina is somewhat remarkable in that there were very few casualties on either side during this engagement. The British claim to have lost no men at all - just some damage to sails and cut rigging. The Americans claim to have lost 6-8 men killed and a like number wounded. So, if Joshua Mersereau was one of these wounded, then he was rather unlucky in this engagement. It may be that this claim was made in order to prejudice the members of the pension commission in favor of awarding a pension to Joshua Mersereau.)
A supporting affidavit filed by John L. Mersereau on May 15, 1840, confirmed that "...said Joshua also informed said Deponent that said Joshua had been wounded in the leg on board the South Carolina and which wound said Deponent knows to have been very troublesome to the said Joshua ever since. And also that said wound has been a calls of lameness to him ever since and further saith not." As stated above, at this point in time, Joshua Mersereau would have been 80 years old. Later, a W.E. Kennaugh appeared before the court and stated that "Joshua Mersereau, now 97 years old, being blind, and unable to sign his name, or appeared in Court, gives the following, in addition to his former declaration:..." The addition goes on to list in great detail those who served in the earlier Commissary of Prisoners with Joshua Mersereau. Then it goes on to say that, "He also gives the following List of persons who served with him on board the Continental Ship South Carolina, and taken prisoner in 1782."
List of Officers of the Ship South Carolina in May, 1782
Capt. John Joiner
___ Marston, 1st Lieut.
Wm White, 2nd do
___ Fitzgerald, 3d do
___ Bull, 4th do
Thos. Aldrich, Sailing Master
___ Robinson, do Master Mate
___ Hicks, 1st Mate
___ Hamilton, 2d do
Abijah Hunt, Midshipman
John Laborte, do
Wm White, do
___ Dana, do
___ Langdon, Gunner
___ Pounder, Boatswain
___ Marshall, 2nd do
___ McFarland, 3d Surgeon's Mate
W.E. Kennaugh certifies that "...the foregoing dates and names to be a correct List as detailed by Joshua Mersereau in July 1854, in conversation with him concerning his Commissary service, and also his sea service;..." He goes on to state that "His extreme age prevents his attendance at the Court in order to make this at addition to his former declaration." Joshua Mersereau made this list in conversation with W.E. Kennaugh when he was over 93 years old. In many places, he could not remember the first names of individuals who served on board the frigate South Carolina with him but, he could still recall their surnames with great accuracy even after the passage of so many, many years.
Of course, the list prominently includes Commodore Alexander Gillon and states that all of these officers served aboard the frigate South Carolina and were taken prisoner in December 1782 when the ship was captured off the Capes of the Delaware. Commodore Gillon was certainly not aboard the South Carolina when she was captured in December 1782. He was indeed aboard her when she docked in Philadelphia in May 1782 but, had turned the command of the ship over to Capt. John Joyner well before she set sail for her final, short cruise in December 1782. Also, Joshua Mersereau incorrectly identifies the South Carolina as a "Continental Ship" when in reality she as in the state service of South Carolina. Yet, still Joshua Mersereau can be excused of these small errors after the passage of so many decades.
(Note: Once again, a specific name appears twice in this list of crew members of the South Carolina - William White. The first one mentioned is the 2nd Lieutenant on board the frigate and the second one listed is a midshipman. This could be for two reasons. First, there could have indeed been two individuals of the same name on board the ship at the same time, though it is a little strange that they were both officers. Still, this is not impossible. Second, this may be the same individual who began as a midshipman and was later promoted to a Lieutenant rank. It could be that on a ship carrying this number of personnel - around 550 - Mersereau may have become confused and listed the same person twice.)
Another resident of the middle colonies who filed a pension application claiming service on board the frigate South Carolina was Abijah Hunt. Initially, Hunt's pension application, "The Pension Application of Abijah Hunt S23271" gives no indication of where he was born and does give indication that the town he was residing in at the time he filed his application, Sterling, NY, was certainly not his birthplace. This is indicated by the fact that he claims to have resided before Sterling, NY in Albany, NY and earlier than that in Morristown, NJ. Later, in his pension application, he states that he was born in Newton, NJ on March 17, 1762. Thus, he is indeed a New Jerseyan and not a New Yorker.
Abijah Hunt served as a member of the crew on board the frigate South Carolina only after it had docked in Philadelphia, PA. Abijah Hunt is one of those men who served long and well during the course of the American Revolution. He states that initially he enlisted in the 5th NJ Regiment some time in 1776 and also served under Washington at Valley Forge, PA during the famous encampment there. He then served on board a "letter of marque" (privateer) where he and the rest of the crew were captured and incarcerated in Limerick, Ireland and lastly Mill Prison in England until he was exchanged as a prisoner of war until after the capture of Cornwallis and his army at Yorktown. He filed his first pension application on January 23, 1833 when he was 70 years old. I will let his own words pick up the story line here: "...the Declare[r] with other American prisoners were suffered to be exchanged, and sailed in a Cartill [sic, cartel], and arrived at Philadelphia after an absence of one year and 9 months. --That Soon, or within a few weeks thereafter, he the Declarer shipped himself on board the Frigate South Carolina of 40 guns & 783 men Commanded by Capt. John Joiner as a midshipman of the first Class Capable of Navigating a vessel of the first Class into any port, and lay at the port of Philadelphia, and in the River, about 2 months and then put to sea on a cruise, and after being out about 20 hours, the South Carolina was captured by a 56 gun Ship and 2 British frigates, and sent into the port of New York, -- where the prisoners were put on board the Prison Ship and there confined, until paroled, and continued on parole until peace was declared. That this declarer's pay on board the South Carolina was $30 as he understood per month; and that the length of his Service on board her and Prisoner was 15 months and upwards." He closes his pension application with a much-heard line of "...he has no Record of his age nor documentary Evidence of his Services."
(Note: His pension application has two supporting affidavits attached to it - one by a David Currie who was a clergyman and the other by John McFadden. On Joshua Mersereau's list given above a " ___ McFarland" appears and is listed as the 3rd Surgeon's Mate. The roster of the crew members of the frigate South Carolina given as an appendix in Dr. Lewis's book, Neptune's Militia (page 157), lists the 3rd Surgeon's Mate's name as McFarland also (no given first name). Thus, the John McFadden listed as having filed a supporting affidavit for Abijah Hunt's pension application most probably did not serve on board the South Carolina with Abijah Hunt and had his name improperly recorded by Hunt as "McFadden" rather than "McFarland".)
On November 19, 1833, Abijah Hunt filed another pension application that contains the same information as the first pension application but, also adds in extra information not found in the first one. I will add only the information pertinent to the frigate South Carolina: "This declarer further deposeth and saith that on or about the first of July in the year 1782 he shipped himself on Board the Frigate South Carolina of 40 guns Commanded by Capt. John Joiner as a midshipman of the first Class capable of navigating a ship of the first-class then lying in the River at Philadelphia fitting out for a Voyage or cruise, that the South Carolina sailed in the latter part of September or first of October and having put to sea was captured by a 56-gun ship and carried into New York and the crew put on board the Prison ship at the Wallabout [Wallabout Bay] -- and continued about a month and the prisoners were then paroled, does not recollect the date of his parole, thinks he received nothing but a pass to carry him through the British lines into New Jersey, that the Jersey agent Mr. Rorison made the arrangements for paroling and releasing the prisoners from the Prison Ship on which he was confined and by his parole, was bound not to take up arms against Great Britain until Exchanged or the Definitive treaty signed and Ratified. -- He further saith that he understood that the number of men on board the South Carolina was 783, that the Marines were divided into 37 messages 6 privates to a mess making 222, exclusive of Marine officers that there Marines were Hessians who were captured at Saratoga with General Burgoyne and cannot positively say he had so many men only by Reputation, he was so informed and so believes."
This portion of Abijah Hunt's pension application provides several interesting details, some of them inaccurate, that have never appeared in other pension applications up to this point int he narrative. He never mentions Commodore Alexander Gillon in any relation to the frigate South Carolina, much less as the commander of the vessel. He only refers to Captain John Joiner as commander of the frigate South Carolina in both of the dated depositions. This may be that Commodore Gillon had left the ship by the time that Hunt signed onto the frigate. It was Commodore Gillon who had signed the agreement with the Chevalier de Luxembourg who actually owned the South Carolina and entailed his personal fortune as collateral for any misuse or other use of the frigate while it was in the service of the state of South Carolina. Gillon realized that he himself presented a hindrance to the vessel getting to sea again and capturing any prizes, so he voluntarily left the vessel during the early summer of 1782 and turned over command to Captain John Joiner. Commodore Gillon had then returned to South Carolina by other means. Thus, Abijah Hunt's references to serving under only Captain John Joiner and not Commodore Gillon.
In Abijah Hunt's second pension application of November 19, 1833, he mentions for the first time in any of the pension applications seen so far in this blog that the marines recruited in Philadelphia were at least in part recruited from among Hessian prisoners. He specifically states "...that there (their) Marines were Hessians who were captured at Saratoga with General Burgoyne..." Dr. Lewis, in his book, Neptune's Militia , indicates that these men came from at least three distinct regiments of German troops captured at Saratoga and held in captivity until approached by recruiting officers for the South Carolina. There is some evidence that this recruiting officer may well have been Commodore Gillon himself. He spoke German fluently as well as Dutch, French and English. Thus, he was uniquely fitted to persuade the captive Germans to sign on with the South Carolina because their princes in Europe had abandoned them after so long a period of time. They had been in captivity since October 1777 - almost five years at the time they were approached by Gillon.
Abijah Hunt inaccurately estimates the number of crew members on board the frigate South Carolina for her final, short voyage . Every other source that this writer has encountered states that the vessel had a capacity of around 550 men. Dr. Lewis, in his work - Neptune's Militia , actually breaks this figure down into the total number of sailors and marines - 250 and 300, respectively. Still it was large compliment of crew members and marines. Hunt gives the extraordinary number of 783 as the total crew size. Hunt gives no evidence of from where he got this figure, only that "...he was so informed and so believes." Dr. Lewis states in his book that when the South Carolina left the Texel in Holland for the colonies, there were 550 men on board her and that this large number made for some unusual situations such as men having to alternate their sleeping arrangements due to a shortage of hammocks and sleeping spaces. Of the 783 crew members he assigns to the South Carolina for her last voyage, he even breaks down into individual "messages" into 6 privates to a mess and 37 messages overall for a total marine contingent of 222, excluding officers of the marines.
Before either of the aforementioned pension applications were even filed by Abijah Hunt, Joshua Mersereau, the same individual mentioned above, filed a sworn deposition supporting Hunt's application for a pension. It states "...that in the year 1782 some time about the month of June or July Capt. Abijah Hunt came to Philadlephia and to the best of the recollection of this deponent came in company of this deponent's father who introduced him to Commodore Gillard [sic, Alexander Gillon] and recommended him, the said Hunt as a suitable person to fill the office of Midshipman on board the Frigate South Carolina commanded by John Joyner, and that Commodore Gillon engaged the said Hunt in that birth (berth) or office. This deponent having previously been engaged as Carpenter of said ship and having frequent occasion to call on the Commodore by his special desire, to make reports to him, gave him this deponent an opportunity of free conversation particularly from his kind attention to this deponent, that Capt, Hunt was on board said ship in the River and that on or about the 20th of December they sailed out to sea, and was soon attacked by 3 British ships of war and taken off the Cape of Delaware -- And further that on the 2nd day after we were captured the weather being hazy and one convoy not to be seen a plan was projected by & among the prisoners to raise en masse & retake the ship & fight our way into some port, and that this deponent personally put the question to the said Hunt whether he was capable of navigating the ship if the said prisoners succeeded in retaking her to which he replied he was -- the prisoners already had an arms chest at their command and this deponent requested said Hunt to stand by & take charge of said arms chest and hand out the arms when the word was given to raise, for which purpose this deponent was to go on deck & see if all was clear and give the signal & attack the officer near the companion [way] which would make the way clear for the prisoners to rush on the quarter deck where the contest was to take place, that this deponent was on the quarter deck & supposed the proper time had arrived when another officer came running towards the deponent from the cabin with a pistol in each hand, & threatening to blow him through, ordered him below. He instantly shut the companion leaf [?]. They had by some means discovered the intended attack, the prisoners were instantly ordered into the ward room & to be quiet. The ship soon arrived at New York the prisoners remained several days on board the said ship in that situation this deponent saw several of his friends by whom he gave information to his father and General Washington of his & the said Hunt's situation who with the rest of the prisoners were transferred on board of the Scorpion prison ship Here their sufferings were severe being plundered of their blankets and clothing and without fire and on short allowance of provisions of the poorest quality -- But agreeably to the information that this deponent had given to his friends they procured from the British commissary a parole of honor for this deponent & the said Hunt. They then returned to Jersey and continued on parole until the definitive treaty was approved of which released them from their obligations."
It is a known fact that the recently captured crew of the South Carolina did indeed attempt to retake the ship while she was in route to New York harbor. But, as related above by Joshua Mersereau, the British either became suspicious of some attempt or were "tipped off" by some one on board, either a captive crew member of the South Carolina or someone else. Not only were there German ex-prisoners on board but, there were at least a handful of former British soldiers who had taken the opportunity to escape the rigors of prison camp by signing on to the South Carolina. Possibly, one of them spoke out to the British captors and caused the seizure of the ship by her captive crew to fail. We will most likely never know for sure. Mersereau's account of this attempted seizure of the vessel is the only relation of this event in any of these pension applications that this writer has seen so far. Yet, this event did take place as related by Joshua Mersereau in this supporting statement for the pension application of Abijah Hunt.