Stephen Gregory. According to an 1893 biography of Osmer Sherwood Burr, his maternal grandfather Stephen Gregory was an officer of the frigate Confederacy. If this statement is accurate, Stephen Gregory was born in Stratford, CT on 3 December 1751; one of fourteen children of Samuel Gregory (1727-1808) and Naomi Burritt (1728-1810). He married Rhoda Hall (1754-1833), daughter of Captain Abel and Rebecca Hall, in Easton, CT on 26 March 1772. Gregory died on 2 December 1817 in Weston, CT and is interred at the old cemetery in Easton. Their children included Naomi (1772-1845) who married Joseph Bennett, Abel (1775-1823) whose wife’s name was Lydia, Rhoda (1781-1831) who married Stephen A. Gregory, Stephen (1788-1832) whose wife’s name was Hulda and Alvah or Alva (1797-after 1845). According to the 1850 Census, sixty-nine year old widow Rhoda Gregory, was living with her daughter Hulda or Huldah Burr in Liberty, NY with Hulda’s husband William F. Burr and their one year old son Osmer Sherwood Burr. Stephen Gregory appears in the 1790 Census records for Weston and along with his son-in-law Stephen Gregory in the 1810 Census.
However, the primary evidence against the progeny claimed by Osmer Sherwood Burr is a letter in the collection of the American Philosophical Society written by Lieutenant Stephen Gregory himself to Benjamin Franklin dated Cherbourg (France) on 3 September 1781. In it Gregory states unequivocally “of my Been franchman Born” and having “saild out of amirica Near fifteen years”. This puts Continental Navy veteran Stephen Gregory first in the Colonies about 1766. According to James B. Hedges in “The Browns of Providence Plantation (1968), Gregory was employed by Nicholas Brown & Company of Providence RI as early as 1772.
Stephen Gregory was commissioned as Lieutenant on 4 August 1778. It is almost certain he served on the ill-fated voyage of the frigate Raleigh under Captain John Barry as John Kessler, Barry’s clerk on the Delaware and mate on the Alliance remembers, “It was said that Mr. Gregory had once been under the command of Captain Barry and could not but know that he would not be trifled with.” Gregory’s name also turns up on the frigate Confederacy’s Riggers Returns between November 1778 and early February 1779 along with others of the crew of the Raleigh which was lost shortly before on 28 September 1778. The frigate Confederacy papers in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania include an undated lodging bill from Samual Beldon to Major Joshua Huntington for a number of the Confederacy’s officers including Stephen Gregory for lodging and meals prior to her maiden voyage, presumably for the time between early February and late April 1779 when the officers were ready to go onboard the ship. According to the published crew list of the frigate Confederacy’s maiden cruise, Simon Gross is the 1st Lieutenant, Thomas Vaughan 2nd Lieutenant and Stephen Gregory 3rd Lieutenant. We next hear of Gregory in Kessler’s account of John Barry’s confrontation with his former junior officer on the Raleigh while in command of the Pennsylvania Navy brig Delaware, “At our arrival in the Delaware the pilot who came on board informed us that the Continental frigate Confederacy lay at Chester, and impressed the crews of the merchant vessels going up the river. This information very much alarmed the brig’s crew, and many desired to be put ashore. Captain Barry addressed them thus : ‘ My lads, if you have the spirit of freemen you will not desire to go ashore nor tamely submit against your wills to be taken away, although all the force of all the frigate’s boat’s crew were to attempt to exercise such a species of tyranny… This address satisfied them, and as it implied his consent to their defending themselves, they resolved to do it at all hazards, and for that purpose put themselves under the command and direction of the boatswain and armed themselves with muskets, pistols and boarding pikes, and thus we arrived within hailing distance of the Confederacy. When her commander ordered the brig’s main topsail to be hove to the mast Capt. Barry answered that he could not without getting his vessel ashore. The commander of the frigate ordered that the brig should come to anchor. Capt. Barry gave no answer, but continued on his way beating up with the tide of flood and wind ahead when a gun was fired from the frigate and a boat manned left her and came towards us… Captain Barry directed that the officers of the boat should be admitted on board, but as to the men with them we might do as we pleased. The boat soon arrived and two officers (armed) jumped on board and on the quarterdeck, ordering the main topsail halyards to be cast off, which was not, however, done. Captain Barry asked whether they were sent to take command of his vessel. The boat’s crew were then about entering when we presented ourselves and threatened instant death to all that entered. Their officers thereon, after trying to intimidate our boatswain by presenting their pistols at them, finding it, however, of no avail, they hastily sprang into their boats and left us…Another gun was then fired from the frigate, when Captain Barry ordered the guns to be cleaned and declared that if but a rope yard was injured by their firing he would give them a whole broadside. The third gun being fired from the frigate, Captain Barry hailed and asked the name of her commander. The answer was: ‘Lieut. Gregory.’ Captain Barry immediately thereon addressed him thus : ‘ Lieutenant Gregory, I advise you to desist from firing. This is the brig Delaware, belonging to Philadelphia, and my name is John Barry.’”
A deposition in the pension file #W-2503 of Cornelius Wells names Gross as 1st Lieutenant, Phipps as 2nd Lieutenant and Gregory as 3rd Lieutenant on the Confederacy’s final cruise to Cape Francois. Two men with his name appear on the prisoner list of the Jersey prison ship suggesting that Gregory might have been imprisoned in New York for a short time after his capture on the Confederacy in April 1781. Despite the official notation in HMS Roebuck’s Muster Book that Lieutenant Stephen Gregory was paroled on 30 April 1781 along with Captain Seth Harding, Lieutenants Simon Gross and David Phipps, Sailing Master John Tanner, Captain of Marines Samuel Holt ant Lieutenant of Marines Gurdon Bill; Gregory appears to have been singled out for surreptitious independent punishment. A letter in the collection of the American Philosophical Society from the recently freed or escaped Gregory to Benjamin Franklin dated from Cherbourg (France) on 3 September 1781 reads, “Sir, I hope your Exellency will Excuse the Neglect of Duty as a Continental officer for not writing to you Before, it was throu Ilness I Did not write, fore I kep room Ever since I Landed here from England, which it was 27th. of August Last. I’m a Lieut of the Confederacy fregate Seth Harding Esqr. Commandr Send home to England to be Confin’d; Likewise the Capt the Marines & one Lieut of marines, & greatest part of the Petit Officers, as for the Rest of Ships Lieut, were Exchang’d, as for my Been send away; was I think: Owing to that, of my Been franchman Born, for I Can’t account for any thing Ells, for I saild out of amirica Near fifteen Years, & have the honor of Been in the Cause of America Ever Since the first Shot was fired againt the king of england. I Propose to take the Rhod for paris & wait on your Exellency, soon as Ever I’m Able to Stir, I hope in the Main time, that Your Exellency will Remember a Commision’d Officer by Congress if their is any ship of war for the service of the united states of america Being the first one entitled if no officer older than me on the Spot. I Remain your Exellencys must Devoted Hble. Sert. Stephen Gregory Lieut”. This letter was followed by another from Le Chevalier de la Chambre to Franklin on 29 October 1781 commending Gregory as a Lieutenant of Marines. Benjamin Franklin returned Le Chevalier’s letter with an acknowledgment of receipt and confirmation of “the writer’s good opinion” of Lieutenant Gregory. Gregory again wrote to Franklin on 12 January 1782 with Samuel Rice and Robert D. Crow on behalf of American sailors imprisoned in England concerning their “miserable confinement” driving a number of men “by misery” to accept service with the English. In the letter, America is charged with treating her citizens like criminals and Franklin is exhorted to obtain their exchange.
Later in July 1782, Stephen Gregory was engaged by Beaumarchais to command the vessel Alexandre which was rented by the French arms dealer Carrier de Montieu and manned with an American crew. The ship was slow and sailed like a “tub full of holes” according to Captain Gregory. The Alexandre sailed from the mouth of the Gironde near Bordeaux with Beaumarchais’ other ships, the Menagere and the Aimable Eugene. The convoy was intercepted by British warships Mediator and Vainqueur, who were informed of their departure, armaments, cargo and destination, about fifty miles north of Spanish Cape Ortegal on the morning of 12 December 1782. The British perspective of the sea battle follows, “Captain James Luttrell, in the Mediator of 44 guns, being on a cruise in the Bay, at seven o’clock in the morning… discovered five sail of large vessels to leeward. He immediately bore up and gave chase. These vessels, on his approach, shortened sail, and stood under their topsails, formed in a line of battle ahead, waiting to receive the Mediator. The headmost was L’Eugene, frigate-built, of 36 guns, and 130 men, commanded by Mons. Le Capitaine Baudin, laden for the French king, and bound to Port-au-Prince. She lay with a French pendant and ensign flying ; next to her was an American brig, of 14 guns, and 70 men, with American colours; next to her a two-decked ship, the length of a 64, armed en flute, called the Menagere, French pendant and ensign flying, commanded by Mons. De Foligne, Capitaine de Brutot of the Department of Rochfort, mounting on her main deck 26 long twelve-pounders, and four six-pounders on her quarter-deck and forecastle, with a complement of 212 men, laden with gunpowder, naval stores, and bale goods, for the French king’s service, at Port-au- Prince. Next to her lay the Alexander, of 24 nine-pounders, and 102 men, with a French pendant and an American ensign flying, commanded by a Captain Gregory, who appears to have been an Irishman, but had a Congress commission, laden with stores, provisions, etc., for the French king’s use, at Port-au-Prince; next to her lay the Dauphin Royal, of 28 guns, and 120 men, bound to the East Indies, having a French pendant and ensign flying. Captain Luttrell, not intimidated by their formidable appearance, stood resolutely on till ten o’clock, when the enemy opened their fire as he passed along their line, which was returned from the Mediator with such steadiness and effect that in half-an-hour their line was broken. The three largest of the ships wore under an easy sail, and continued to engage the Mediator with much briskness till eleven, when, by a skilful manoeuvre, and superior fire, Captain Luttrell cut off the Alexander, and compelled her to strike. Her companions instantly went off under a crowd of sail before the wind. At half-past twelve, Captain Lutterell, having secured his prize, renewed the chase, upon which they separated. At five in the evening he got within gun-shot of the Menagere, and commenced a smart running fight, which continued until nine, when, having ranged close up alongside of her, she hauled down her colours. The next morning at daybreak the brig and Dauphin Royal were seen in the offing, but Captain Lutterell, being close in with the Spanish coast, and having on board 340 prisoners, with only 190 of his own men to guard them, judged it most prudent to steer for England with his prizes. In this action the Alexander had six men killed, and nine wounded; the Menagere four killed and eight wounded. The enemy having directed their fire chiefly at the masts and rigging of the Mediator, not a man was hurt.”
Gregory’s boldness of character is captured in the account of events two nights later on 14 December 1782 authored by Captain Luttrell; “Captain Stephen Gregory, of the Alexander, laid a plot to occasion the prisoners to rise, and hoped to have taken the Mediator from me, but through the indefatigable attention of Lieutenant Rankin, of the marines, in the disposal and regulation of sentries, etc., as a guard, and the lucky precaution we had taken of ordering the gratings of all the hatches in the lower gun deck to be battoned down with capstan-bars, leaving room for only one man at a time to come up abaft, where, in case of an alarm, we had fixed our rendezvous, the desperate scheme of Gregory was prevented, without bloodshed, the prisoners finding no passage where they could get up. The alarm he fixed on was to fire an eighteen-pounder in the gunroom, where he lay, for he messed with my lieutenants, and had received every friendly attention. At ten at night I felt a terrible shock from some explosion, and heard a cry of ‘fire!’ I was soon after informed that the leeport was blown away by the gun into the sea, and the water making in. As soon as I had wore ship on the other tack, to get the porthole covered with tarpaulins, and secured, I went down, found the gunroom on fire, and everything shattered that was near the explosion; Gregory, with his accomplices, dressed, though they had pretended to go to bed; and in their cot was found gunpowder, which they had provided to prime the gun with; and in short, every proof necessary for a conviction of Gregory’s having fired it for an alarm to make the prisoners rise. He had also endeavoured to provide himself with a sword, but being disappointed in his project, he begged his life. A cry of fire forwards was heard among the prisoners when the signal gun was fired; but all being discovered and settled, I ordered Gregory, together with those of his officers and men whom I suspected concerned in the plot, to be put in irons, and kept on bread and water.” Despite his capture, Gregory eventually made his way to the convoy’s destination of Port au Prince where the Lieutenant wrote to his friend John Barry at Philadelphia on 29 September 1784, “I never could learn what become of you until I got to Port au Prince, where I learned after inquiry by several masters of Philadelphia ships that you was resting at home after tedious war.” In the letter he also enlisted Barry’s aid in obtaining leave from Congressional service to enter the merchant service and “if anything heaves in my way to serve Captain Barry depend upon my doing it with gladful heart at any time or place I might be in he pleases to command me.”
By the fall of 1786, Stephen Gregory appears to have been employed as master of the Comte d’Artois by owner Constable, Rucker & Company making tobacco voyages out of Virginia to Bordeaux in fulfillment of Philadelphian Robert Morris’ tobacco contracts with Farmers General. Gregory may have served as master for previous owner of the ship Frances Delaville of Nantes, France or as mate on the same ship under Captain John Nicholson sometime between Spring 1783 when it was acquired by Robert Morris, Daniel Parker, John Holker and William Duer and its sale to the Frenchman in 1785. Nicholson, Barry and Morris were all well acquainted with Gregory as evidenced by a recently auctioned letter written on 16 January 1787 by Captain James Nicholson, brother of Stephen Gregory’s fellow Lieutenant John Nicholson, to Captain John Barry which reads; “I am now to acknowledge the receipt of yours of the 9th instant & observe what you say about Gregory’s diploma. I hope your signing in behalf of him will be sufficient. If so, you will please to call upon Mr. Andrew Petitt for the amount of his months pay. Enclosed you have an order for the purpose. Should you have any difficulty, further, in obtaining it, I hope you will exert yourself in removing it. I have now a pressing letter from Gregory upon the subject, before me. Myself and my family kindly accept your well wishes for our independent situation The petition you mention I apprehend has barely been taken into Consideration before it can be attended to, there must be more states represented which has not been the case for these many months. Whenever they have that number, I shall certainly take it up and have but little doubt of obtaining it. This I shall let you know, and if necessary, shall call upon you to come to give your assistance.” Former Continental Navy Lieutenant Stephen Gregory was also well acquainted with Thomas Jefferson who used the Comte d’Artois to transport wine to friends in America during this time. In a 26 May 1787 letter to Francis Eppes, Jefferson referred to Gregory as “a good humoured agreeable man” .
Apparently, Stephen Gregory was also attempting to enlist support in his Congressional attempt to argue that seamen excluded from postwar benefits first afforded to soldiers, be given equal rights. In the pension application of Cornelius Wells #W-2503, neighbor Timothy Crowley recalled that when both lived in the small town of Colchester in 1787, former Confederacy 3rd Lieutenant Gregory visited Wells. Gregory was then in command of the ship Commerce lying at the mouth of Quantico. It is presumed that Gregory was still affiliated with Morris in the tobacco trade when he visited George Washington at Mount Vernon bearing a letter from Robert Morris dated Richmond on 3 July 1788. “Sir, Capt. Stephen Gregory the bearer of these lines being called by business to Dumfries, cannot think of returning from thence without gratifying his earnest desire of paying his respects to Genl Washington, a gratification which he is very ambitious to obtain on proper terms, but which his modesty forbad him to seek without an introduction. Excuse me therefore my Good Sir for presenting to you, a Gentleman that has Served with Reputation as a Lieutenant in our late Infant Navy under Capt. Barry & others and who since the Peace has Commanded a Ship of mine & so Conducted himself as to induce me to give favourable testimony to his merit. With great respect I have the honor to be Dear Sir Your most obliged & obedient humble servt, Robt Morris”. Whether Gregory sought Washington’s support for the rights of his fellow mariners or a government posting, or both, their acquaintance continued into the following year when he posted a letter and gift of a ship’s model to Washington from Bordeaux dated 6 July 1789. “Mr fenwick (Joseph Fenwick of Fenwick, Mason & Company) is the Bearer of a Small two deck Ship which I Beg your Excellency to accept as a feable present this mignature will answer for a Chimney peace of Large Room Before a Looking Glass. Altho not Compleat in Every thing yet it is Neatly finish’d, I wish your Excellency health happiness & Success in Every of your Undertaking & in particular that of promoting the happiness of the people of america. I Remain Your Excellency’s most Devoted humble Sert Stepn Gregory” Gregory would follow his gift with a request for public appointment one month later on 12 August 1789.
However, despite his overtures, public employment did not follow. Based on newspaper shipping lists, it is supposed that Gregory’s commands included the Madara bound sloop NSSF de Madara in December 1790, the brig Rebecca traveling from Norfolk to London in January 1791 and the Queen of France cruising between Bilboa and Norfolk, VA in February 1792. On 4 March 1793, the Federal Intelligencer reported that the sloop Lucretia and her master Gregory bound from from St. Martins to Fairfield, CT fell in with the brig Retreive of Bermuda. The account states the Retrieve “ran down upon him till within pistol shot and then, without hailing or shewing any colors, fired into him a charge of grape shot and a ball, which did him considerable damage”. Gregory went onboard the Bermudian aggressor where the captain, “after treating him with much insolence and abuse, suffered him to depart.” Not willing to risk further engagement with the battle-tested veteran Gregory, the Retrieve’s captain sailed on in the company of his other two American prizes. A second West Indies cruise that year is recorded in the 7 November 1793 edition of the Columbia Gazetteer, which notes Gregory in command of the Lucretia just arrived from St. Croix. The sloop had departed from New London on this cruise in August 1793. He may also be the Gregory that a Philadelphia newspaper reports masters the sloop Buck on its arrival shortly thereafter in December 1793 via Chester and Wilmington. Shipping news dated 7 February 1795 indicates Gregory is again in command of the sloop Lucretia returning to Fairfield from a voyage to St. Martins. The sloop Rising Sun is reported as under the command of a master named Gregory from April to June 1797 sailing between St. Bartholomew and New York, as is the Rosetta in August 1798 sailing between New York and St. Martins. It is about this time that many shipping reports begin to outline the career of Captain Elisha Gregory sailing predominately between New York and Baltimore to the Carolinas.
Other evidence contradicting Osmer Sherwood Burr’s claim that the Stephen Gregory (1751-1817) of his ancestry is the Continental Navy Lieutenant, is found in a fascinating Marine Intelligence account dated 24 March 1793. The report announces, “Commerce, of Philadelphia, Capt. Gregory, spoke with off Madras, 4th August, bound to Calcutta, gave information of Capt. Gregory’s sudden death in going to Pondicherry (a French base in India) in his palanquin (sedan chair).” As noted, Timothy Crowley testified in Cornelius Well’s pension application that Gregory hired him onboard the Commerce in 1787. Also of note, Robert Morris and his partners William Bingham and Thomas Willing of Philadelphia were instrumental in breaking the East India Company trade monopoly and opening up the Asian trade markets to America in 1784 with the voyage of the United States, the first American ship to make port in India at Pondicherry. If this Gregory is the Continental Navy Lieutenant and the reports of his death in 1793 are accurate, then he clearly is not the Stephen Gregory from whom Osmer Sherwood Burr is descended.