Joseph Ferdinand, Seaman

Joseph Ferdinand. According to his pension application #S-34843, Mariner Joseph Ferdinand of Boston was sixty years old in June 1820 suggesting 1760 as the year of his birth. His mortuary notice suggests 1755, stating his age as eighty-six years old in May 1841. According to the application, Joseph Ferdinand first entered on the frigate Boston under Captain Tucker serving twelve months. Tucker replaced Hector McNeill as Captain of the Boston following McNeill’s Court Martial. The ship raided commerce off New England and in the North Atlantic during the Winter of 1777 prior to sailing from Massachusetts on 15 February 1778 with newly appointed minister to France John Adams and his son John Quincy on board. On the crossing twenty sailors were injured including one mortally when the Boston was almost dismasted in a lightning storm. The frigate also captured the British privateer Martha before landing her passengers at Bordeaux on 1 April 1778. The Boston cruised in European waters until the Fall capturing four more prizes before returning to Portsmouth on 15 October 1778. In his pension testimony, Joseph Ferdinand next served on the frigate Alliance for two years, first under Captain Landais and then under Commodore Barry, taking the British vessels Wild Cat and Atalanta. Ferdinand obviously sailed from Boston with the Alliance on her maiden voyage under Captain Peter Landais on 14 January 1779 with Lafayette on board, arriving in Brest on 6 February 1779. The Frenchman was returning home to rally support for the allied cause for which the frigate was named. Joseph Ferdinand appears in an undated List of Officers, Seamen, and Marines belonging to the Continental Ship of War the Alliance under the Command of Peter Landais Esq located in Box XI of the Benjamin Franklin Papers at the University of Pennsylvania. It is likely the list referenced in a letter from Landais to Franklin posted from Brest on 17 March 1779. Ferdinand is posted as a boy in this roll suggesting the 1760 birth date as more likely since his age at the time would have been nineteen rather than twenty-four. After some time, the ship sailed for L’Orient arriving on 14 May 1779. The frigate Alliance departed from L’Orient on 19 June 1779 in company with the Bonhomme Richard. After an incident at sea between the two vessels, the Alliance returned to L’Orient on 2 July 1779, sailing from there again in company with the Bonhomme Richard on 14 August 1779. After witnessing the celebrated 23 September 1779 sea battle between the Bonhomme Richard and the Serapis, the Alliance escorted the crippled Serapis and her new commander John Paul Jones on 2 October 1779 into Texel, the deepwater port of Amsterdam, Holland. A second extant list of officers and men of the Alliance was drawn up on 3 October 1779. Joseph Ferdinand does not appear on this list of 214 men published in the Life and character of the Chevalier John Paul Jones by John Henry Sherburne (1825). Careful examination of this list indicates no boys are included. Shortly after this roll was taken, Landais was relieved of his command by Jones who took the Alliance as his own vessel until his return to France, sailing from Texel on 27 December 1779. After a brief stop in Spain in January 1780, the Alliance returned to L’Orient in February 1780. Landais retook command of the vessel in June 1780 and eventually sailed from France on 7 July 1780. The frigate Alliance returned to Boston on 19 August 1780 with Lieutenant James Degge in charge, Landais having been stripped of his command and confined by mutinous officers and men of the crew. Soon after the Alliance’s return, Landais and Degge were both court martialed and Captain John Barry was placed in command. Both Gardiner Hammond and William Earl testified in Ferdinand’s pension application concerning their common service under Landais on the Alliance. Joseph Ferdinand sailed with the ship again on Alliance’s first cruise with Captain Barry in command, departing Boston on 11 February 1781 and arriving in France on 9 March 1781 with her three passengers including Thomas Paine. Sailing from France on the homeward bound leg of the cruise on 29 March 1781, the Alliance was engaged by the British warship Atalanta just before her arrival at Boston on 6 June 1781. According to the intriguing pension application testimony of Joseph Ferdinand in support of the widow of Purser Samuel Cooper who sailed with him aboard the frigate Alliance on the December 1780 to June 1781 cruise from Boston to L’Orient, Cooper “was Purser of the ship & sometimes on Sundays he read prayers to the men on the Quarterdeck.” In an addendum Ferdinand adds, “said Cooper on the Lord’s day read prayers on the Quarterdeck & at funerals he officiated as chaplain. He was always attentive to his duty as Purser & as Chaplain.” To further clarify his statement, Ferdinand notes “He was always called & known on board the ship as Purser.” It is not certain if the elderly Seaman is correctly remembering Samuel Cooper or confusing the Purser with his brother William Cooper, Captain’s Clerk and Chaplain of the frigate Boston on which Ferdinand also served. In addition to the Purser, Ferdinand testified on behalf of Thomas Balch’s pension application. For his services in the Continental Navy, Joseph Ferdinand received a pension of $8 per month commencing 4 Aug 1819 which continued until his death on 17 May 1841. In his pension application, Ferdinand answered none to the question of whether he owned any real estate or personal property or if he had any family. In response to occupation, he wrote “Seaman, but too old and infirm to follow the sea.” Three years prior to his death in 1838, Ferdinand was awarded $39.79 as his share of prize money owed to the officers and men of the Bonhomme Richard and Alliance earned in 1779 under John Paul Jones. Apparently, Jones paid Thomas Jefferson $50,000 in 1800 to be deposited in the U.S. Treasury for payment due his crew for prize money. The federal government held the funds in secrecy for thirty-eight years until Congress was compelled to pay the men, mostly deceased by that time, with no interest. The Boston Courier of 24 May 1841 records the interment of Joseph Ferdinand in the City of Boston on 17 May 1841.

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