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LETTER TO JOSEPH HEWES
[From autograph draft in the Library of Congress.]
[ALFRED, New London, April 14, 1776.] When I undertook to write you an account of our proceedings in the Fleet I did not imagine that I should have been so stinted in point of time-I owed you a much earlier account but since our arrival here the repairs and Business of the ship has required my Constant attention—I will endeavour to be more punctual hereafter-in the meanwhile hope you will excuse this omission 'till I can account for it personally. I pass over what was prior to our arrival at the Capes of Delaware—where we were met by the Hornet sloop & Wasp schooner from Maryland. On the 17th of Feby the Fleet put to sea with a smart North East Wind, In the Night of the nineteenth (the Gale having Increased) we lost Company with the Hornet and Fly Tender. We steered to the Southward without seeing a single sail or meeting with anything remarkable 'till the first of March, when we anchored at Abaco (one of the Bahamia Islands) having previously brought too a Couple of New Providence sloops to take pilots out of them. By these people we were informed that there was a large Quantity of Powder with a Number of Cannon in the two Forts of New Providence. In Consequence of this Intelligence the Marines and Landsmen to the number of 300 and upwards under the comm' of Capt" Nicholas were embarked in the two sloops. It was determined that they should keep below Deck 'till the sloops were got in Close to the Fort-and they were then to land Instantly & take possession before the Island could be alarmed. This, however, was rendered abortive, as the Forts Fired an alarm on the approach of our Fleet. We then ran in and anchored at a small Key 3 leagues to windward of the Town and from thence the Commodore dispatched the marines with the sloop Providence and schooner Wasp to Cover their Landing. They landed without opposition and soon took possession of the Eastern Garrison Ft. Montague which (after Firing a few shot) the Islanders abandoned. The Next morning the Marines marched for the Town and were met by a messenger from the Gov' who told Capt“ Nicholas that “the western Garrison (Ft. Nassau) was ready for his reception and that he might march his Force in as soon as he pleased.” This was effected without firing a gun on our Side—but the Gov" had sent off 150 barrels of Powder the Night before. Inclosed you have an Inventory of the Cannon, stores &c which we found, took if he would communicate for me. Admiral Evans replied that he would communicate and that any messages that I had to send should be sent through him. The lowa joined us off Cape Henry.
Off the entrance to Chesapeake Bay the Maine took a pilot and the column entered the bay. Inside Cape Henry the first division, under Admiral Evans, left the column and directed me to proceed to Annapolis with the second and third divisions. Admiral Evans stopped his division, and as the Brooklyn passed at slow speed each vessel of the first division fired a salute of 15 minute guns.
When the salute was completed, I re-formed my column, the second division leading, each division being in natural order. I directed Admiral Davis to lead and pilot up the bay, speed to knots, distance 300 yards. Admiral Evans's division proceeded to Hampton roads, and when my column was about 9 miles distant from Admiral Evans's column I half-masted the colors of my column, but, from the vessels of the third division only, hoisted the American national ensign at the fore and the French national ensign at the main.
Although during the whole expedition I had in my division the virtually untried Galveston, only recently commissioned, and the Tacoma and Chattanooga, also new vessels, we did not stop on the passage across nor on the return passage by reason of any defect of the engines or other mishap. I stopped the column once on the passage to Cherbourg, as already stated, to transfer some men from the Tacoma to the Brooklyn, and stopped once on reaching soundings southeast of Nantucket Shoals in order to get an up-and-down cast with the lead line and a sounding by wire and sounding tube, in order to compare the depth shown by the sounding tube with the actual depth shown by the line.
On the afternoon of the 22d I formed the two divisions of vessels in double column, distance 400 yards, interval 500 yards, my division on the left and Rear-Admiral Davis's division on the right, and in this formation I anchored the squadron below Thomas Point light-house and out of sight of Annapolis, also distant from Annapolis about 7 miles, at 7 p. m. The next morning, at half past 8, the squadron was got under way, and we steamed to Annapolis roads in the same formation. There we anchored at 9 a. m. in the same formation. We found there the French cruiser, Jurien de la Gravière, Captain Gervais. In order to distinguish my vessels as composing the division connected with the John Paul Jones expedition I had each of them fly the American ensign at the fore and the French ensign at the main. Visits were received and made between the French cruiser and our own vessels.
The next morning, after arrangement with Rear-Admiral Sands, in which he most considerately provided that I should be in general John Paul Jones Com memoration
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command of the cortége on shore, the body of John Paul Jones was landed, but without great ceremony on the water. At 9 o'clock the Standish came alongside the Brooklyn. The casket was placed on board, and I myself, with an escort of officers, went on board the Standish. The landing party, which included Captain Gervais and a party of officers and 50 men from the Jurien de la Gravière, had previously been landed. The Standish then passed up between the two columns of United States vessels, while all the vessels fired simultaneously a salute of 15 minute guns. The Standish then proceeded to the shore, where all arrangements had been made. Commander Nicholson, of the Tacoma, acting under my direction, arranged the cortége, assisted by Lieutenant Magruder, the flag lieutenant of Rear-Admiral Sands. I inclose herewith a copy of a memorandum provided me by Rear-Admiral Sands, marked “Inclosure G." It will serve to show his own admirable arrangements. Lieutenant-Commander George commanded the landing party from my vessels.
A temporary pavilion had been erected on the sea wall inside of the artificial basin. The casket was placed in a hearse and the cortége moved to the open ground in front of Blake row, where the different parties of men were disposed as provided for by Admiral Sands. In the center of the grassy space on which Blake row fronts a temporary and very appropriate brick vault had been erected. The casket was removed from the hearse and placed in the vault. The vault was then locked up and a company of marines fired three volleys, and a bugler sounded taps. I then thanked Admiral Sands and said that my duties were ended so far as I knew and subject only to any further orders he might have for me. Admiral Sands had no further orders to give me. The senior officers then proceeded to the residence of Rear-Admiral Sands, where luncheon was served. Other officers—and French officers were included in both cases-were entertained at the officers' mess.
After thanking Admiral Davis for his services I informed him that he was free to rejoin the flag of the commander in chief at Hampton roads. We then returned to our ships in Annapolis roads. Admiral Davis got his division under way at 1.30 p. m. on the 24th, the day of the ceremonies, and proceeded to Hampton roads.
That evening I entertained the captain and a delegation of officers from the Jurien de la Gravière at dinner on board my flagship. They returned to their ship at 10.45 p. m. At 11.15 p. m. I got the third division under way and proceeded down the bay for Tompkinsville. We passed out of the bay at about 9 a. m., and soon thereafter set a speed of 11 knots for the third division.
Perhaps I should mention that on the casket of John Paul Jones, when it was landed at Annapolis, I placed his sword, lent me for that purpose by Commander Nicholson, of the Tacoma. The sword had been passed down through various channels until it finally reached Commander Nicholson's father, Commodore Nicholson, U. S. Navy, by whom it was passed down to Commander Nicholson himself.
a Not printed.-COMPILER.
I beg to state that, notwithstanding various difficulties presented themselves from time to time during the expedition, all events passed off with great smoothness and harmony. Officers and men bore themselves with high credit to the service. The third division anchored at Tompkinsville at 11.45 a. m. July 26. Very respectfully,
C. D. SIGSBEE, Rear-Admiral, U. S. Navy, Commander in Chief. The SECRETARY OF THE NAVY,
Navy Department, Washington, D. C.