"That in the year of our Lord 1779 he entered on board the Frigate Bon Homme Richard, commanded by Captain John Paul Jones as a volunteer in the Marine Department, in the port of L'Orient [Lorient] in France. That some time previous to the month of August in the said year he was advanced by Captain Jones to the rank of Cadet of Marines. That after leaving the port of L'Orient on a cruise when off the western Coast of Ireland it became necessary to tow the ships head from the land for which service a boats crew was ordered who whilst thus engaged in towing the ship seized the opportunity to effect their escape. The said Richard Wall with Cullen Lunt, Sailing Master and some of the crew were ordered to go in pursuit of the deserters and whilst engaged in performing this duty was captured by boats sent from the land to take them after in vain endeavoring to escape.The said Richard Wall was taken to Ireland from thence sent to England and then detained in Forton Prison near Portsmouth until the autumn of 1782, exposed to more than the usual hardships and privations a prisoner of war is usually compelled to submit to, being put on very short allowance and daily threatened with execution as a rebel and traitor to the British Government. After his discharge from prison the said Richard Wall entered on board the frigate South Carolina and served in the capacity of Midshipman - until she was captured. And the said Richard Wall declares that as Cadet aforesaid of Marines, he had the rank of a midshipman."
Wall entered this above cited declaration on December 19, 1832 in Charleston, SC. He was 78 years old at the time. It would appear from his application that Richard Wall first entered the service of his country as an enlisted man who had volunteered for the marine service but, was later "advanced" [promoted] by Captain Jones to the rank of Cadet of Marines..." Wall then goes on the state that a cadet had the rank of a midshipman. He was on board the frigate Bon Homme Richard for the cruise that ended with the epic battle with the HMS Serapis but, was captured prior to this engagement while in pursuit of deserters by boats that had set out from land after they themselves had been observed pursuing the deserters. Ultimately, he was incarcerated in Forton Prison where he stayed until the autumn of 1782. By his account, his imprisonment was harsh with constant threats from his jailers of execution for treason to the government. Next, he states that "...after his discharge from prison the said Richard Wall entered on board the frigate South Carolina and served in the capacity of Midshipman - until she was captured." Wall is careful in both instances to clearly indicate that he was always considered an officer in rank. He directly states that as a cadet of marines on board the Bon Homme Richard, he was considered to be a midshipman.
Less than a year later, on October 19, 1833, Richard Wall would appear before the same judge he appeared before the first time, the Honorable Thomas Lee (according to the pension application), and file yet another declaration. This second declaration differs only slightly in the overall information from the first declaration but, adds some rather significant details not included in the first declaration. It is as follows:
"...that he was born in the County of Limerick in Ireland on the 25th day of December 1754. That he has no original record of his age, the same having been lost with the Bon Homme Richard. That when called into service, he was living at L'Orient in France and from the termination of the Revolutionary War to the present time, he has been living in Charleston South Carolina, where he is well known, particularly to the Honorable William Johnson - Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States and to Honorable J.S. Richardson and E.H. Bay Associate Judges of the State Court of South Carolina. That he entered service in the Bon Homme Richard in April 1779 as Cadet of Marines with the pay of a Midshipman and from that time until he was exchanged in April 1783 was in actual service and in no civil employment whatever, making four years. That in this estimate he includes the time he was a prisoner of War to wit, three years, and until landed when exchanged as set forth in his former declaration, since all that time he was entitled to pay. That he never did receive and could not have received any discharge from the service because he was taken prisoner and continued so until his arrival at Philadelphia. That he did not receive any written Commission nor were any given out to any person whatever as far as he knows and believes. All the commission he ever received was a Breast plate given to him by John Paul Jones to be worn as an evidence of his authority and rank..."
It would appear from this second application that Richard Wall was by birth an Irishman and that he had moved from Ireland to L'Orient, France. This type of immigration was not uncommon for Irishmen for several hundred years before this. Many Irishmen who had a dislike for English domination had voluntarily exiled themselves from the Emerald Isles and sought employment elsewhere. Catholic France was a popular choice as was the French military as an employment. He states that all documents he had in his possession concerning his birth and age were lost when the Bon Homme Richard sank after its engagement with the HMS Serapis on September 23, 1779. He evidently emigrated to Charleston, SC at the end of the war and had been living there ever since. He cites three names of important people who he states he is well known to - all of them judges. His difficulty is that he never received an official commission from John Paul Jones and thus has no way of proving that he was indeed an officer. He does not have any official document proving that he was discharged from the service because he was a prisoner that whole time. He does state that the only item he was ever given in the way of a commission was "...a Breast plate given him by John Paul Jones to be worn as an evidence of his authority and rank." But, Wall is silent on what became of this breast plate and why it is no longer in his possession as proof of his rank on board the Bon Homme Richard.
It is interesting to writer of this blog that in his second declaration, Wall never mentions his service on board the frigate South Carolina, however brief that may have been. This could only have added weight to his plea for support from the new US government, especially since it led to his second capture and imprisonment. It is also interesting to this writer that Wall is at least the third officer who would have served on board the frigate South Carolina who had previously sailed under John Paul Jones on board the Bon Homme Richard. Certainly, Wall knew, and was known by, John Mayrant and Robert Coram from his earlier service on board the Bon Homme Richard. But, when he entered the frigate South Carolina, both of them may have already been discharged or left on detached duty for South Carolina, as in the case of Mayrant.
(Note: Richard Wall is interesting for another episode in his life that occurred after the Revolutionary War. After the capture of the frigate South Carolina and the formal end of the war in 1783, Richard and his brother, Gilbert, who had also served on board the South Carolina along with Richard, both decided to make Charleston, SC their permanent residence. The following information comes from the book, Charleston's Avery Center: From Education and Civil Rights to Preserving the African-American Experience , Edmund L. Drago, (The History Press: Charleston, SC, 2006). Evidently, at some point after he had permanently settled in Charleston, SC, Richard Wall married a woman named Amelia, a "free person of color" who was a representative of the elite free black community of Charleston, SC. It is stated in Charleston's Avery Center that "...the history of the Wall family illustrates the process whereby prosperous white immigrants chose mates from the elite free black community." The date of the marriage of Richard Wall and Amelia "... is impossible to determine but two of their sons, Lancelot and Edward, were baptized at St. Philip's (Church) between 1818 and 1830." The offspring of the Wall family would go on to become important elements in the city's elite free black community. Wall's marriage to an African-American woman "...did not diminish the Revolutionary War hero in the eyes of the city's white elite." The book records that "...in 1838, supporting Wall's unsuccessful effort to win prize money due him in the Revolution, Henry Laurens Pinckney, the mayor (of Charleston, SC), testified that Wall was 'a man of good character and of veracity unquestioned'." Even after the death of Wall in 1842 "...his son and executor, Edward, pursued the matter. In 1869 the estate was awarded the prize money due the father." Thus, 86 years after the end of the American Revolution and 27 years after the death of the man who deserved this prize money, the State of South Carolina made good its promises to one of her adopted, Irish-born sons who was a "...revolutionary war hero in the eyes of the city's white elite.")