William Sturgess, Chaplain

William Sturgess. A statement of distribution of prize money in the amount of $948.17 prepared by the Secretary of the Treasury on 3 January 1862 in response to a 29 July 1861 resolution of the United States Senate in relation to payment due under an Act of Congress passed 28 March 1848 to the heirs of John Paul Jones and others who served under him; represents the only evidence that William Sturgess served as Chaplain of the Bonhomme Richard under Jones. None of the crew lists examined to date identify any individual as chaplain. It is well known from a letter written on 12 July 1778 by John Paul Jones in Passy, France to Mr. Henry Grand in Paris and quoted in the Life and Character of the Chevalier John Paul Jones by John Henry Sherburne (1825) that the captain had definite opinions concerning a chaplain for the ship Ranger. “I could wish him to be a man of reading and of letters, who understands, speaks, and writes the French and English with elegance and propriety: for political reasons it would be well if he were a clergyman of the Protestant profession, whose sanctity of manners, and happy natural principles, would diffuse unanimity and cheerfulness through the ship. And if to these essentials is added the talent of writing fast and in fair characters, such a man would necessarily be worthy the highest confidence, and might, therefore, assure himself of my esteem and friendship; he should always have a place at my table, the regulation whereof would be entirely under his direction.” There was an Irish-born William Sturgess (aka Sturges, Sturgis, Sturgiss) who entered on the Bonhomme Richard at Brest on 2 March 1779 and is rated on the List of Officers and Men of the ship dated 26 July 1779 as Armourer. The minutes of a court martial dated just days later on 29 July 1779; presided over by Captain of the frigate Alliance Peter Landais, Bonhomme Richard Midshipman Beaumont Groube serving as Judge Advocate and twelve other peers; indicate that the petty officer was found guilty of disobedience- the lesser of charges usually associated with insubordination associated with conspiratorial activity. According to John Paul Jones: A Sailor’s Biography by Samuel Eliot Morison (1999), William Lawrence Sturgess was released by the court, having already been confined for six weeks in “the Cashoe,” or the brig. A typewritten transcript of A Log Book from the Ship Bon Homme Richard, the Honorable John Paul Jones commander, begun at L’Orient Saturday 8th of May 1779 in the Navy Department Library of an original purported to be in possession of the Selkirk family at St. Mary’s Isle includes an entry dated Friday 30 July 1779, “at 10 in the Morning there were four Men Flogged, and two sent on board the Pallace (frigate Pallas), namely William Sturges and James Cameril.” Interestingly, Cameril is not listed with the ship’s crew on the roll drafted shortly before. The redeemed Armourer apparently participated in the bloody sea battle with the Serapis on 23 September 1779, escaping injury to appear on the 1 August 1785 manuscript list of officers and men of the Bonhomme Richard, Pallas and Vengeance due shares of prize money. Nothing more has been found to shed light on William Sturgess- the Armourer or the Chaplain. It is known that a Rev. William Sturgess was rector of Christ Church in Philadelphia twenty-four years earlier when the cleric officiated over the marriage of merchant John Hobart and Hannah Pratt on 3 May 1755. It is also known that a Captain Sturgiss of the Brig Bee was captured off the coast of France and was put off the ship at Nantes in November 1778, five months before the Bonhomme Richard’s new Armourer stepped aboard. No connection has been found to either party to date.

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