Allen, Gardner Weld. Massachusetts Privateers of the Revolution, (originally published Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1927; republished by Heritage Books , Inc., 2010.)
Howe, Octavius Thorndike, M.D., Beverly Privateers in the American Revolution, (Cambridge, The University Press, 1922.)
Kellow, Ken. "American War of Independence at Sea", entry for "Officers: Hugh Hill", (www.awiatsea.com, last modified - August 05, 2014.)
Lewis, James A. Neptune's Militia: The Frigate South Carolina during the American Revolution, (The Kent State University Press, 1999.)
Wikipedia. article for "Letter of marque", (wikipedia.org, last modified - August 14, 2016.)
Almost immediately after the conclusion of the post below, more information regarding the Massachusetts privateer "ship" Cicero and her famous captain, Hugh Hill, was located. This information introduces additional insights into the actual patriot privateer "ship-of-war" and the personality of the captain himself. Specifically, more information concerning the construction and history of the Massachusetts privateer "ship" Cicero as well as a physical description and certain anecdotal stories concerning Captain Hugh Hill are also presented. Also, the actual situation by which the disgruntled "passengers" of the frigate South Carolina departed the frigate for the Massachusetts privateer Cicero. These serve to fill out the picture of the patriot ship-of-war and her intrepid and famous captain as she was encountered in the harbor of Corunna, Spain by Commodore Alexander Gillon and the frigate South Carolina as she was making her way to America. Most of this new information is taken from Howe's work, Beverly Privateers in the American Revolution.
The first piece of relevant information concerns the building of the privateer "ship" Cicero and her sister "ship" Commerce, both commissioned on January 16, 1781. According to Howe's work, Beverly Privateers, page 379, the background of the story is as follows:
"The year 1780 had been a hard one for the merchants of New England, privateering had been unprofitable, food and fuel scarce, and the cost of fitting out vessels almost prohibitive. Few men had the courage or means to risk new ventures in 1781, but the house of Cabot was an exception and they began the year by commissioning two vessels on the same day, the Commerce and the Cicero. The story of the Commerce was a short one, for she proved as unfortunate as the Cicero was fortunate. She was a ship of 200 tons, carrying 6 nine- and 8 four- pound guns, and a crew of 50 men. On January 16, 1781, Stephen Webb of Beverly was commissioned master and on her first voyage, a few days out, she was taken by an English cruiser.".
This ends the story of the Massachusetts privateer "ship" Commerce. The brief information concerning the "ship" Commerce provided on page 407 of the same work describes her as being a "...letter of marque..." ship-of-war. The individual who issued the petition on January 16, 1781 that resulted in Stephen Webb being commissioned as master of the Commerce was Andrew Cabot.
It would be the Massachusetts privateer "ship" Cicero under Captain Hugh Hill that would go on to achieve great things and take numerous prizes for the Cabot's of Beverly, MA and bring great wealth to that maritime merchant family. Howe's work, Beverly Privateers, page 379, gives a thorough description of the physical appearance of the "ship" Cicero:
"The Cicero was a new ship of 200 tons, armed with 10 nine- and 6 four-pound guns and carried a crew of 100 men. Her heavy armament, large crew and the captain chosen to command her, Hugh Hill, showed that despite her letter of marque commission, she was really a privateer. She was commissioned January 16, 1781...".
It is quite clear from the actual construction of the ship-of-war that the intended purpose of the "ship" Cicero was to carry on aggressive privateering against the shipping of Great Britain - to her home waters, if necessary. Rather than being pressed into service of the fledgling patriot naval forces as a "letter of marque" ship, the Cicero was specifically built to carry on warlike activities against the naval forces of the enemy. She was also given a equally aggressive commanding officer in the form of the Irish-born Hugh Hill of Beverly, Massachusetts.
(Note: the writer of this blog has wondered if there is indeed a difference between the terms "privateer" and "letter of marque" or if these two terms could be used interchangeably. The actual difference might be in the intended use of the ship as seen through its construction. The following distinction is taken from the Wikipedia article "Letter of marque" (last modified - 08/14/2016). According to this article, page 1, the term "...'letter of marque' was sometimes used to describe the vessel used: a 'letter of marque' generally refers to a lumbering square-rigged cargo carrier that might pick up a prize if the opportunity arose. A 'privateer' was a fast and weatherly fore-and-aft rigged vessel heavily armed and heavily crewed, intended exclusively for fighting.". So, a "letter of marque" vessel was one previously built for a purpose other than fighting but, pressed into military service once a war had broken out. A "letter of marque" vessel might be armed to defend itself in a world ripped by war but, also "...if the opportunity arose..." to make a prize of a slower-moving, unarmed vessel carrying a valuable cargo. A "privateer" was, from the outset, constructed, armed, crewed and captained to be a fighting ship-of-war, acting in an offensive manner against an enemy at sea. The Massachusetts privateer Cicero was this latter type of "ship".)
From the very beginning, the voyages of the Massachusetts privateer "ship" Cicero proved profitable for the Cabot family and eventful for Captain Hugh Hill and his crew. The recitation of these cruises of the Cicero against British shipping on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean prove out that Captain Hugh Hill was the right choice as captain of the newly-minted privateer. According to Howe's work, Beverly Privateers, page 379:
"...her first voyage was to the West Indies, where she took on a cargo of sugar and cocoa, and sailed for Cadiz, arriving there April 17, 1781. On the voyage she took several prizes and while waiting for her return cargo went on a cruize and was again very successful. One of her prizes, taken June 23rd, , was the ship Mercury, Captain Dillon, of 16 guns, running as a packet to Cadiz. The Mercury, besides a valuable cargo including 15,000 pounds sterling in gold, carried a considerable passenger list, and on their arrival at Cadiz the passengers published a letter speaking in the highest terms of Captain Hill and the treatment they received on board the Cicero.".
According to Allen's work, Massachusetts Privateers, page 99, this published letter took the form of a "letter to the editor" which appeared in the December 31, 1781 issue of the Boston Gazette and reads as follows:
"The passengers of both sexes, who were on board the Mercury packet, from Lisbon to Falmouth, prize to the Cicero privateer, of Salem in New England, Hugh Hill, commander, desire us to be the instruments of their gratitude, in publishing that as well from the captain and officers as the crew, they have received the most civil, humane, and even noble treatment.".
At some point after she moored in Cadiz harbor but, prior to the arrival of the frigate South Carolina in Corunna, Spain harbor on September 24, 1781, the Massachusetts privateer ship Cicero moved from Cadiz harbor to Corunna, which is where the frigate South Carolina found her when she arrived on the date mentioned previously. Thus, Howe's work, Beverly Privateers in the Revolution, page 380, clearly states that the Massachusetts privateer ship Cicero already lay in the harbor at Corunna, Spain when the frigate South Carolina arrived there and implies that her prize ship, the Mercury packet, was also with her in that specific harbor. So, in direct contrast to the assumptions of the writer of this blog and stated in the previous post above, the disgruntled "passengers" would not have had to find out that she was some 300 miles away in Bilbao, Spain and preparing to journey home to America. They would have simply had to search that specific harbor's environs for an American vessel about to make the return journey to some port in America. They readily found such a vessel in the Massachusetts privateer "ship" Cicero. According to Howe's work, Beverly Privateers, page 380, the narrative is as follows:
"Here [Corunna, Spain] they found the Cicero of 20 guns belonging to Mr. Cabot. As the Cicero was about to sail for Bilbao several of the passengers on the [South] Carolina obtained permission from Captain Hill to make the voyage with him and transferred their luggage to the Cicero. Besides John Trumbull of Connecticut, Captain Hill's passengers included Charles Adams, son of John Adams of Massachusetts, Major Johnson [Jackson], and the celebrated Joshua Barney. The last had been taken from a prison ship in New York harbor and carried with 78 other American officers to England and confined in [Old] Mill Prison. He had escaped from [Old] Mill Prison and made his way to Amsterdam, where he took passage on the [South] Carolina for America.".
A curious incident occurred as the Massachusetts privateer "ship" Cicero journeyed from Corunna to Bilbao, Spain, a distance of about three hundred miles eastwards along the northern coast of Spain. Since the following passage refers to the presence of the Cicero's prize vessel, the Mercury, it is to be assumed that the prize vessel was still accompanying her captor. According to Howe's work, Beverly Privateers, page 380, the following narrative appears:
"On the voyage to Bilbao the Cicero, accompanied by the prize Mercury, had an unfortunate encounter with a Spanish vessel which she mistook for English in the darkness, and soon after her arrival at Bilbao, she was libelled by the owners of the Spanish ship and deprived of rudder and sails. Damages were placed at $7000 and it was only after Gardoqui & Sons, Mr. Cabot's agents, had given bonds to that amount that the Cicero was allowed to sail. Captain Hill and his passengers left Bilbao December 10, 1781, and after an uneventful passage of six weeks sighted the Blue Hills of Milton. That night, writes Trumbull, '...we found we were close upon the rocks of Cape Ann...', and the next morning '...we were safe in the port of Beverly, where we found eleven other ships, all larger and finer vessels than the Cicero -- all belonging to the same owners, the brothers Cabot -- laid up for the winter.".
The passage cited from Allen's work, Massachusetts Privateers, page 99, in the form of the article from the Boston Gazette, issue of January 28, 1782 and contained in the previous post dated "09/21/2016" concerning the initial information located on Captain Hugh Hill and the Massachusetts privateer "ship" Cicero corroborates the identical arrival date for the Cicero in Beverly, Massachusetts harbor. But, in this particular textual passage, many of the above details cited in Howe's work, Beverly Privateers, page 380, were left out altogether.
This passage provides a date of departure for the Massachusetts privateer "ship" Cicero from the harbor of Bilbao, Spain, bound for America, specifically for the port city of Beverly, Massachusetts. All references to the passage of the Cicero across the Atlantic Ocean state that the privateer "ship" took six weeks to make the passage, arriving about three weeks after the frigate South Carolina arrived off the coast of South Carolina, which was still occupied by forces of His Most Britannic Majesty. The date provided in the above passage is December 10, 1781 which is exactly six weeks from the arrival date of the privateer "ship" Cicero in the port of Beverly, Massachusetts given in the previous post - January 21, 1782. Thus, the date of departure is almost certain to have occurred around this specific time. In this previous post, the writer of this blog stated that he did not know the exact date of the departure of the Massachusetts privateer "ship" Cicero from Bilbao, Spain but, it appears to have been accurately provided by this source.
There exist a few other bits of information concerning Captain Hugh Hill. According to Howe's work, Beverly Privateers, page 349, the following characterization of Hugh Hill exists, along with a brief description of his physical appearance as well as some "peculiar" personality traits. The passage concludes with an assessment by Dr. Howe of Hugh Hill as a captain:
"Hugh Hill... was the beau ideal of a privateer captain. Born at Carrickfergus, Ireland, in 1741 he had come to this country when a young man, settling in Marblehead. He was of good family, a cousin of Andrew Jackson, the future president of the United States, and an enthusiast in the cause of American liberty. Of immense size, muscular beyond the common, courageous almost to rashness, courteous to the fair sex and not burdened with scruples, he had all the characteristics which might have made him a famous captain in the days of Drake.".
Possibly, an over-romanticized description of Captain Hugh Hill but, also well within the realm of possibility as qualities demonstrated by a real human being towards others. One, final, possibly apocryphal story exists in which Captain Hugh Hill is the central figure. The first story was related in the previous post shared immediately prior to this post and dealt with Captain Hugh Hill at sea. The story that follows also addresses the personality of Captain Hugh Hill but, this time in France. According to Howe's work, Beverly Privateers, page 349, the story is as follows:
"...on one occasion while in L'Orient, France, a French gentleman in a cabaret felt himself insulted by some word or action of the reckless privateers-man. "I will send my seconds to you in the morning," said the Frenchman. "What is the matter with here and now?" said Hugh Hill, drawing two pistols from his belt and offering one to the Frenchman. There was no duel.".
Again, this is possibly just another story designed to accrue further aspects of bravado, swashbuckling, and dare-dashing to an already larger-than-life individual. But, as before, this is still well within the realm of possibility for a foreign-born, sea-faring man from New England who had all the qualities of a lover of liberty and freedom, especially if those same liberties and freedoms were threatened by the British.
This purely chance encounter between two patriot ships-of-war from different colonies in the Spanish harbor of Corunna, Spain constitutes the only encounter between the Massachusetts privateer "ship" Cicero and the South Carolina Navy frigate South Carolina known to have occurred. It consisted of the Cicero receiving "passengers" from the frigate South Carolina and carrying these same "passengers" home to America. Chronologically, though, the frigate South Carolina would arrive in North American waters before the Massachusetts privateer "ship" Cicero by almost three weeks.
There are numerous similarities between the Massachusetts privateer "ship" Cicero and the South Carolina Navy frigate South Carolina. Both of these "ships-of-war" were specifically designed and built as naval vessels to carry the fight to the enemy. Both of these vessels operated for a significant period of time in European waters, each taking prizes and carrying them into friendly ports. Both of them were heavily armed and crewed for their size, which belied their nature and intended function. Both were captained by intrepid, foreign-born mariners who had long experience with the sea. And, both of them ended up in the same harbor in Spain - Corunna - at the same time during the American Revolution. But, what is not known is whether or not the two brave sea captains actually ever met or if they even knew of each other. It is also ironic that both of these patriot ships-of-war would slip from the scene of human existence and disappear into the mists of time. It can be assumed from information shared in previous posts that the frigate South Carolina was taken to England and possibly sold their to a private third-party. Likewise, the Massachusetts privateer "ship" Cicero simply seemed to slip from the discernible history of mortals into the proverbial "mists of time" and was lost to our sight. It is the opinion of the writer of this blog that ships too have souls in their own fashion. These souls develop over time as men cross their decks and struggle with enemies and forces in their endevours to achieve their goals. So, too, the loss of a ship to the pages of history is as the loss of significant individuals also and should be mourned as keenly as the loss of a human life to those same pages. Thus, it may be fitting, in some fashion, that both of these patriot ships-of-war should so end - in mystery and embraced within the "mists of time".