William Blodget. Son of Dr. Benjamin Blodget (1717-1781) and his first wife Mary Slatterlee, William Blodget (or Blodgett) was born 8 June 1754 in Stonington, CT and named after his oldest sibling who had apparently died sometime during the previous ten years. William’s thirty-two year old mother Mary died shortly after his birth on 26 August 1754, followed in death within weeks by his older siblings Benjamin and Anna. William’s father Dr. Benjamin Blodget was quickly remarried to Abigail Swan on 20 March 1755 at Stonington by Rev. Joseph Fish, the same minister who had married his parents eleven years earlier. In addition to William and his surviving sister Mary, the doctor’s household included seven children by his second wife. A talented William Blodget first appears on the Rhode Island arts stage in the summer of his eighteenth year. The 29 August 1772 edition of the Providence Gazette announces “A grand CONCERT of Vocal and Instrumental MUSIC” performed “for the BENEFIT of Mr. BLODGET…on Wednesday Evening, the Second of September, at Mr. HACKER’S Hall.” The venue for this event, where the advertisement notes “Mr. Blodget will be assisted by a Number of Masters from Boston,” was Joshua Hacker’s Hall located at 220 South Main Street midway between Power and Planet Streets, a popular site for public entertainment at the time. According to “Connecticut Historical Society: Volumes 27-28″ (1961), Blodget’s musical gifts are confirmed in two of the teenager’s earliest letters dating to January 1773 and located in the William L. Clements Library at Ann Arbor, MI. “Rhode Island History: Volumes 1-4 ” published by the Rhode Island Historical Society (1942), reveal that the young “Mr. Bloget” also possessed a talent for acting, appearing in a play known as the “unhappy Orphan.” The Providence Gazette of 29 May 1773 reports “on Monday and Tuesday Evening’s Otway’s Tragedy of the Orphan, or unhappy Marriage, with Miss in her Teens, was performed at Mr. Hacker’s Hall, by some young Gentlemen of the town, who were honoured with the Applause of sensible and crowded Assemblies.” Written almost a century earlier, the play was Thomas Otway’s first and most famous tragedy. Blodget appeared in the production in the supporting role of Shamont with Thomas Halsey and a Mr. Harris as twin brothers Polydore and Castalio. Joseph Russell appeared as the protagonist Monimia, a tragic young girl at the center of affection of both brothers. Precursor to real events unfolding in the lives of these young men, the context of “the Orphan” is a world at war whose privileged sons are encouraged to remain safely at home in the study of art and politics while avoiding the company of women. The young musician and actor is revealed to be gifted in all areas of the performing arts as evidenced by his 23 April 1774 Providence Gazette advertisement, “WILLIAM BLODGET Acquaints the Public, THAT on Wednesday next, at Three o’Clock at Mr. Hacker’s Hall, he proposes to open a DANCING SCHOOL. Those Gentlemen and Ladies who choose to favour him with the Tuition of their Children may rely on the greatest Fidelity and Care, from their most obedient humble Servant.” Later that same year on 11 December, twenty-year old William Blodget was married to Ann Phillis Chace in the simple wooden sanctuary of King’s Church, later known as St. John’s Church, at Providence, RI by the Rev. John Graves. Just over a year later, controversy over Grave’s refusal to omit prayers for the king would result in schism for the congregation and the shuttering of the church’s doors until after the American Revolution in 1785. Daughter of Providence’s first postmaster Samuel Chace, Esq. (1722-1802) and Freelove Lippitt (1720-1801) of Boston, Ann (or Anne) Chase was born on 16 February 1754. Conceived just about the time Blodget’s dancing school was opened and well before their marriage vows, the oldest of the couple’s two sons William Blodget, Jr. was born at Providence on 6 January 1775, the day following publication of the couple’s marriage announcement in the Massachusetts Spy. About this same time, William Blodget executed at least three pastel portraits now on display at the Rhode Island Historical Society, demonstrating a competency in the fine arts complementing his talent in the performing arts. The subjects include his wife’s sister Rosabella Angell Chace, her husband- William’s new brother-in-law Samuel Chace, Jr. and Continental Army chaplain Rev. Dr. Enos Hitchcock, future pastor of the First Congregational Church of Providence.
By his own testimony given in a series of communications with Commissioner of Army Accounts John Pierce after the war, William Blodget first entered service as a volunteer in the beginning of May 1775. In response to news concerning the Battles of Lexington and Concord during the previous month, the Rhode Island General Assembly voted to form an “Army of Observation.” Blodget was attached to the regiment of Colonel Daniel Hitchcock, a thirty-five year old lawyer, and was appointed Ensign. Hitchcock’s infantry regiment was one of three which along with a train of artillery, comprised Brigadier-General Nathanael Greene’s Rhode Island Brigade. William Blodget “accompanied General Greene from Providence to the Camp at Roxbury” in Boston later that same month. Hitchcock’s unit was under fire at the Battle of Breed’s Hill on 17 June 1775 but was not engaged in the fight. Also that June, all Rhode Island troops were taken into Continental pay and service under General George Washington and Blodget was appointed by the Assembly as Secretary to the Rhode Island Brigade under General Greene at the pay rate of fifteen dollars per month. On 22 July 1775, Greene took command of Prospect Hill for the siege of Boston, presumably with William Blodget at his side. According to the “Life and Correspondence of the Rev. William Smith D.D.- Volume 2” (1880), in October 1775 when the Continental Army was camped at Cambridge, Major William Blodget in company with his friend and relative Samuel Blodget, Jr. “went to the quarters of General Washington to complain of the ruinous state of the colleges from the conduct of the militia quartered therein.” In conversation, the military men conceived the idea of a national university which became the latter Blodget’s driving passion in life. At the end of December 1775, the enlistments of the Rhode Island troops expired and Blodget’s unit dissolved. On 1 January 1776, William Bodget was commissioned 2nd Lieutenant in Captain Jeremiah Olney’s Company of Col. Hitchcock’s 11th Regiment of Continental Infantry, a unit made up of the remnants of all three Rhode Island regiments willing to re-enlist in Continental service for one year. Lieutenant Blodget’s original commission signed by John Hancock is included with his post-war claim for payment in the “Papers of the Continental Congress 1774-1789.” General Greene took command of Continental forces in Boston after the British evacuation on 20 March 1776. After the enemy abandoned Boston, beginning about 1 April Blodget’s regiment marched to New York where they built earthworks on Long Island, arriving about 17 April. Nathanael Greene assumed command on Long Island on 29 April 1776.
According to his own post-war testimony, Lieutenant Blodget continued to be attached to the 11th Regiment until 15 August 1776 when he was appointed aide-de-camp to Greene upon his promotion to major general. Greene’s need for clerical assistance is rationalized in his correspondence to General Washington, “I must beg leave to recommend to your Excellency’s consideration the appointing an officer to write and sign the necessary passes. The person I should wish to appoint is Lieutenant Blodget. If it was put in general orders that passes signed by him should be deemed authentic as if signed by me, it would leave me at liberty to pursue the more important employments of my station. I hope your Excellency will not think this application results from a lazy habit, or a desire to free myself from business, – far from it: I am never more happy than when I am honorably or usefully employed. If your Excellency thinks I can promote the service as much in this employment as in any other, I shall cheerfully execute the business without the least murmur.” Just two weeks before the Continental Army’s catastrophic defeat and miraculous escape at the Battle of Brooklyn Heights, thirty-four year old Nathanael Greene’s promotion was announced to his troops on 12 August 1776. One of the perks associated with higher rank was an entitlement to appoint two such assistants. On 15 August Greene writes to Washington, “I have made choice of Mr. William Blodget and Major William Livingston for my aides-de-camp. Should it meet with your approbation, you will please to signify it in orders.” A Congressional resolution of one month earlier directed that all aide-de-camps be awarded the rank of major. The day after his appointment as assistant to Greene, Blodget writes to General Washington from Long Island on 16 August 1776 advising him of enemy troop movements by water, “Colonel Hand reports that thirteen or fourteen vessels entered the Narrows from the fleet before in New Utrecht Bay; that the officer of the Ferry guard says they were all transports; that there were some red-coats on board.” On 18 August, Blodget eases Washington’s concerns with news that “Colonel Hand’s report mentions no uncommon movements of the enemy. The General desires me to acquaint your Excellency that he finds himself considerably better this morning than he was yesterday, and is in hopes in a few days to be able to go abroad, though still very weak.” Two days afterward and still ill, Nathanael Greene was replaced in his command of the Long Island troops by General John Sullivan and removed to the home of John Inglis at Sailor’s Snug Harbor in Manhattan where he remained sick in bed for the entire duration of the battle. The Battle of Long Island, also known as the Battle of Brooklyn Heights, was the first major battle in the American Revolutionary War and the largest of the entire conflict. After his defeat of the British at the Siege of Boston on 17 March 1776, General George Washington assembled the Continental Army at New York City, where he established defenses and waited for the enemy to attack. British forces began massing on Staten Island in July and on 22 August 1776 crossed the Narrows and landed on Long Island. Five days later on 27 August, the British Army attacked American defenses on the Gowanus Heights while executing a covert flanking movement which decisively drove the Continental troops from the field. When the British dug in for a siege rather than press their victory, Washington’s go-to guy, Marblehead native Col. John Glover and his regiment of Massachusetts fishermen and sailors evacuated the entire army across the East River without a single loss of material or men. Some historians speculate that a healthy Greene may have prevented the defeat and loss of New York.
His health restored and Blodget at his side, General Nathanael Greene arrived at Fort Lee, also known as Fort Constitution, on 19 September 1776 to take command of Continental forces in New Jersey. Back in command and writing to his wife Catharine from Fort Lee on 2 November 1776, General Greene brings her up to date on recent personal and military matters, “I am now very hearty and business enough. I am separated from the grand Army and can have no communication without going near seventy miles. We had a little action on York Island on Sunday last. We drove the Enemy away and gave one of their Ships a severe drubbing. There was an Engagement in the grand army of one Brigade. Our Loss amounted to about 400 kild wounded and taken Prisoners. The Enemies unknown but it is Judged near as many again as ours…I hold all the ground on York Island in spight of the Enemy.” Greene adds on a lighter note, “Major Blodget is quite fat, and laughs all day. Common Sense and Colonel Snarl, or Corn well, are perpetually wrangling about mathematical problems. Major (William) Livingston is sick, and gone home. I wish you well and happy, and am affectionately yours.” Common Sense and Colonel Snarl were Nathanael Greene’s nicknames for his staffers, author of the best-selling pamphlet Thomas Paine and Ezekiel Cornell. The trusted aide William Blodget’s gregarious nature and good humor, well documented by many in the Greene ‘staff family’ circle, is probably best summarized by Gerald M. Carbone in “Nathanael Greene: A Biography of the American Revolution” (2010). “Blodget, a heavyset fellow, was a natural comedian who had been an actor before the war.” In “The Life of Nathanael Greene, Volume 1” (1867), the general’s grandson and biographer George Washington Greene describes the major, “But liveliest, wittiest, merriest of all the group was young William Blodget, of Providence; first Greene’s secretary and then his aid, too amiable not to be loved, too volatile to love himself wisely, but whose laugh always rang out fresh and clear, and who was always ready with his pen to sketch figures and groups, and make his companions laugh by a kind of hieroglyphics of his own, in which part of the words were written out, and part symbolized by figures and objects.” Also a practical joker, Craig Nelson in “Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations” (2007) relates the story about a time when Blodget “carefully hid Paine’s boots and wig and then called out an alarm in the middle of the night so that everyone could watch the fun.” Only six days after Greene posted the letter to his young wife poking fun of Blodget and his compatriots, another of the general’s aides Major John Clark, Jr. reveals yet more personal details in a letter to his superior dated 8 November 1776, “I’ve ordered a fisherman to catch a few pike; hope to have the pleasure of presenting you with a mess very soon. I thank you for your good advice in reminding me of my duty, and hope I won’t depart from it, when I send you the fish and the service not injured. Pray tell Major Blodget there is a fine pond to employ his angling in, and that I think an exercise of this kind will be conducive to his health.”
On 16 November 1776, Greene and Blodget witnessed the fall of Fort Washington, located directly across the Hudson River opposite Ft. Lee in New York. Four days later, the evacuation of Fort Lee commenced. In early December 1776, General Nathanael Greene and his aides were taking lodging at a house near Peter Burdett’s ferry landing at Edgewater, NJ; the Hudson River approach to his troops evacuating Fort Lee on the heights above. Of course by this time, Major William Blodget had been assigned as aide-de-camp to Greene since August. Paymaster records indicate he was paid on 24 December 1776 for two months service in that capacity and also three more times through 14 September 1777, $370 for eleven months of duty in total. During this same period, the Continental Army engaged the British enemy in the Battle of Trenton on 26 December 1776, the Battle of Princeton on 2 January 1777 and the Battle of Brandywine on 11 September 1777. The British occupied Philadelphia on 26 September 1777 and the two armies clashed again eight days later in the Battle of Germantown. Greene and his men spent late November in New Jersey unsuccessfully attempting to protect the garrison at Red Bank before joining the balance of Continental troops setting up Winter camp at Valley Forge in late December 1777. General Nathanael Greene’s twenty-three year old wife Caty, short for Catharine, left the “elegant country house” of Abraham and Gertrude Lott in New Jersey to join her husband at camp on 5 January 1778. She had been living at Beverwyck with the wealthy New York merchant’s family since early June 1777 having left their two young children with Greene’s brother Jacob in Rhode Island. In addition to his military duties as aide-de-camp, William Blodget was involved in handling many of Greene’s personal affairs as well, often dealing with the domestic matters of his wife and friends. A 3 June 1777 letter from Lucy Knox to her husband General Henry Knox indicates that Blodget was at the center of a mission to secure scarves fancied by both Mrs. Knox and Mrs. Greene. The posting of this letter from Boston suggests Major Blodget was sent to accompany Caty, also known as Kitty, to New Jersey.
Major William Blodget’s activities during the first half of 1778 are only hinted at. During that time, General Greene was appointed Quartermaster General of the Continental Army in March, Philadelphia was evacuated by the British on 18 June and ten days later both armies were engaged on the battlefield at Monmouth. In a letter to his wife written on 4 June 1778 and published in “The Life of Nathanael Greene,” the general notes “Blodget is still at Yorktown, dunning the Congress for money. Major Burnet is not yet arrived.” This mission may have included the commandeering of a sulky from Col. George Gibson. Fifteen months later at the command of Greene, George Olney writes to Blodget requesting details of the borrowed sulky which obviously did not make it home to its owner who was belatedly seeking recompense. Just a few weeks after receiving news that the French fleet of Count d’Estaing has arrived off the New York coast, on 28 July 1778 George Washington ordered General Greene and his men to Rhode Island. Accompanied by staff that included William Blodget and Robert Burnet, Nathanael Greene returned to his beloved hometown of Coventry, RI “a little past sundown” two days later. With Layfayette, Greene prepared for an assault to evict the British from Newport in mid-August. It was during these preparations that Col. Israel Angell wrote in his diary on 25 August 1778, “necessity required it Major Blodget came to Camp to day from the westward but brought nothing new I sent off my marque and went and took quarters with Col. Livingston and Major Huntingdon.” Within two weeks of the 29 August Battle of Rhode Island, Greene rejoined Washington’s army at Fredericksburg, NY. Late in November of 1778, General Nathanael Greene led his Continental Army troops to Middlebrook, NJ where during the first week of December he issued orders concerning the construction of winter quarters, making the most of hard lessons learned earlier at Valley Forge. His headquarters established at nearby Van Veghten House, by mid-December 1778 Greene’s wife traveled again from Rhode Island to New Jersey arriving at the familiar Beverwyck, this time with their son George. In late December, the Greene’s sojourned at the home of John Cox in Trenton prior to the general’s five weeks of meetings with the Continental Congress commencing on New Year’s Day 1779. Caty and son George joined Greene at Philadelphia in mid-January, the entourage returning to Camp Middlebrook on 9 February 1779.
Documentary evidence sheds light on the serious duties assigned to William Blodget during the spring of 1779 while the troops recovered from the particularly harsh winter season. The “Family Letters of Samuel Blachley Webb, 1764-1807- Volume 1” edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford includes a 15 March 1779 letter from William Blodget to Col. Samuel B. Webb from Rariton noting; “The letter which accompanies this contains everything you could wish in regard to the invitation of Miss Bancker and Miss Vanzandt to the hop tomorrow evening. I have mentioned that we will be with them by 12 or 1 o’clock tomorrow, and expect they will be in readiness.” One wonders how much of her junior officer husband’s duties were communicated to Blodget’s twenty-five year old wife at home in Rhode Island. A month later in a 14 April letter to Jeremiah Wadsworth, Nathanael Greene writes, “Mrs. Greene is gone to Trenton to a Tea frolick given by Betsey Pettit. Mr. Lott, Cornelia, Major Blodget and Burnet are all gone. There is to be a number of ladies from Philadelphia, and some members of Congress.” No doubt some of the aides’ conversation with the ladies turned to matters of theology as suggested by Theodore Thayer in “Nathanael Greene, Strategist Of The American Revolution” (1960). Writing of an incident two years earlier when the men were boarded at nearby Morristown, Thayer writes, “with William Blodget, John Clark, and one or two other aides, Greene found lodging at the home of a gentleman named Hoffman, a person of doubtful loyalty in Greene’s opinion, but withal a most excellent and good-natured host. His wife was ‘a great lover of the clergy,’ and Major Clark, to the amusement of all, found much pleasure in ‘perplexing her with doubts and difficulties respecting the purity of manners and principles of the Church of England’.”
Major Blodget served in the capacity of aide-de-camp until May 1779, when his “health greatly injured by service” and “at the instigation and advice of General Greene,” traveled to Philadelphia. According to his post-war testimony, Blodget was directed by Greene to assist Charles Pettit in dealing with some paperwork in the Quartermaster Department while he recovered. With the urging of Washington at Valley Forge the previous year, Nathanael Greene had reluctantly accepted the post of Quartermaster General. Mr. Pettit, a lawyer and accountant, served as his deputy charged with keeping the account books and cash. Greene apparently dispatched Blodget to Philadelphia in response to Pettit’s 13 May 1779 appeal to his superior describing a number of issues concluding with his wish that “Col. Blodgett might be spared to him” in a letter now in the collection of the American Philosophical Society. Quartermaster General Greene had earlier been in Philadelphia for personal consultations with the Continental Congress to address oversight issues for five weeks in January and early February 1779. Greene returned again for a week in late April, presumably to address pressing concerns in the Quartermaster Department that led Congress to appoint a special committee on 28 May 1779 to investigate and correct certain abuses. Immediately prior to this new assignment, Major Blodget was at Morristown, NJ where he posted a 5 May 1779 letter to Gertrude Lott, today in the Connecticut Historical Society collection, referring to a recent review of the troops there by General Washington and the Minister of France.
William Blodget seems not to have been in a particular hurry to get to Philadelphia. A letter to Greene dated 18 May 1779 from merchant John Cox, the general’s other deputy in the Quartermaster Department, who was charged with purchasing and monitoring stores reported “Maj. Blodget weather-bound at Bloomsbury, diverting the ladies on the spinet.” Within the week however, Blodget arrived at Philadelphia, already with an eye towards a different assignment. Reporting directly to his superior in a 24 May 1779 letter in the American Philosophical Society collection, Major Blodget writes, “Mrs. Greene’s phaeton to be repaired by Saturday.” This detail was of importance to the general as his wife was to depart camp for their Rhode Island home just one week later on 31 May. Blodget’s letter continues however, “Finds upon inquiry that the most advantageous opening for himself is a captain of marines on board the Dean Friday. Expects to drink tea with the Governor that afternoon and will present Gen. Greene’s compliments. The city in commotion owing to a publication threatening vengeance on monopolizing speculators unless prices are reduced to what they were the Christmas before. Various arrests made. Inhabitants to hold a probably stormy meeting at the State-house.” The vacancy that Blodget hoped to fill arose due to the tragic accidental death of Maryland native John Elliott reported in the Independent Chronicle of 13 May 1779, “the Deane frigate, lately arrived at Philadelphia from Martinico, brought dispatches for Congress. Being prevented by weather from going up the Delaware when she arrived at the mouth of it, the dispatches were sent up to the city in a Packet boat, with the Capt. of Marines, who in the passage being covered with the sail, and asleep, by some accident rolled overboard and was drowned.” At General Greene’s solicitation, George Washington wrote to the Marine Committee from Middlebrook on 1 June 1779 recommending Major William Blodget as Captain of Marines on the frigate Deane. According to “The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, Vol 2” (1961) edited by Harold Coffin Syrett and Jacob Cooke, the letter now in the George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress is written by the hand of Alexander Hamilton, a budding friend of Greene. The Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Forces states, “Gentlemen: This will be delivered you by Major Blodget who has served with reputation in the Army since the commencement of the war in the capacities of Brigade Major and Aide de Camp to General Greene. The late arrangement of the army, unavoidably places the Gentlemen in this line, of former appointment on a footing comparatively so disadvantageous as in addition to other motives to have determined Major Blodget to leave the army. He is still anxious to be useful in the military line, if he can be more agreeably and has signified to me that there is a vacancy for a captain of marines on board the Dean frigate, which would be glad to fill. In justice to this Gentleman’s early zeal and meritorious conduct in the service I take the liberty to recommend him to the Committee, as one who deserves encouragement and who, I have every reason to believe will justify the trust, if circumstances permit its being reposed him. I have the honor, etc.” Not neglectful of his original assignment, William Blodget’s immediate assessment of the situation at the Quartermaster’s Department must not have been entirely flattering as suggested by General Greene’s soothing letter to Charles Pettit dated 9 June 1779 from Smith’s Cove, NY sharing his thinking that ‘Major Blodget’s remarks concerning the destruction of the vouchers are without foundation.” Eschewing the convenient assignment arranged by General Greene and “not receiving that Salutary Affect which he expected,” Major William Blodget “made application to the Board of Warr” to enter service on the frigate Deane then docked at Philadelphia.
The 24-gun Continental Navy ship of 550 tons was built at Nantes, France and sailed to America in May 1778. Under the command of Captain Samuel Nicholson, the Deane sailed from Boston on 14 January 1779 on a cruise to the West Indies in company with the frigate Alliance, capturing the privateer Viper on 24 January 1779. After sailing to Martinico and back, the frigate came into Philadelphia on 15 April 1779, spending her May in the Delaware with the Continental frigates Confederacy and Boston. Included in the documents sent by William Blodget to Commissioner of Army Accounts John Pierce after the war attempting to substantiate his full term of Continental Army service is Major Blodget’s orders from Richard Peters on behalf of the Board of Warr. Dated 14 June 1779, Peters addresses the officer’s concerns regarding his leave of absence to be attached to the Navy and signifies the Board of War “cheerfully consent to your proposed Voyage in the Deane Frigate, and are of opinion your absence will rather recommend you to the Notice of Congress, than be of disservice.” Army Major William Blodget was evidently not able to secure a commission with the Navy as Captain of Marines but nevertheless entered on board the Deane as chaplain instead, presumably valued by Captain Nicholson more for his military expertise and clerical gifts rather than experience as a cleric. His own post-war testimony reveals “During my being on board of the Ship, I never receiv’d any pay or rations- the Cap’t with the consent of the Officers allowe’d me the share of a Warrant Officer in prize money; but I never suppos’d myself entitled to wages, as I held myself bound to the Army.” While Blodget was working an angle to position himself on the outbound vessel, Captain Samuel Nicholson received orders from the Marine Committee dated 12 June 1779. “The frigate Deane which you command being now ready for Sea, you are hereby directed to proceed with her on a Cruize on this coast from the Latitude of 40 to 35 degrees, and to take, burn, sink or destroy as many of the enemies Ships or vessels of every kind as may be in your power… As we have received intelligence that a number of the enemys Privateers is cruizing to the Southward near the Latitude of 36 in expectation of intercepting the Merchant vessels bound from the West Indies to Chesapeake Bay and this Port, you are to use your endeavours to frustrate the Designs of our enemies, by Capturing or destroying as many of those Privateers as may be in your power and by Affording every aid and assistance to the inward bound vessels…” The orders commanded the Deane’s return to the Delaware Capes by 1 July 1779 and is not known with certainty if William Blodget secured his place on the Deane prior to her departure on this short cruise. We do know that the Deane was still anchored in the Delaware when on 6 June 1779, the frigates Boston and Confederacy engaged two enemy warships and captured three prizes, the schooner Patsey, sloop William and most notably the 24-gun British frigate Pole. On 25 June 1779, Nicholson and the Deane were “directed to proceed in company with the Frigate Boston from the Capes of Delaware into Chesapeake Bay and on your arrival there, at Hampton or any Other way, endeavour to Obtain the best intelligence if any of the enemies Ships of war or Privateers are in the Bay, and if you find there are and of such force as you are able to encounter, you are to proceed up and attack them . . . taking or destroying as many of the said Vessels as may be in your power.” The orders continued, “you are to Choose such Station as you think will be best to Accomplish the double purpose of intercepting the enemies outward bound Transports for New York from Great Britain and Ireland and the homeward bound West India Ships. We are of Opinion that between the Latitudes of 36 and 41, and 100 Leagues to the Eastward of the Island of Bermuda will be your best Cruizing ground, but in this we do not mean to restrict you, leaving you to exercise your own Judgment, which probably may be assisted by information Obtained in your Cruise.” The cruise was to continue until the middle of September, or longer if provisions lasted, and then return to Boston. Subsequently in late June or early July 1779, William Blodget sailed with the Continental ship as chaplain. Several sources incorrectly state Blodget served on board the frigate Deane as chaplain for four years between 1779 and 1783. Clearly the Army major served only as late as 1781, followed on the Deane in that capacity by George Richards who joined the ship under Captain Samuel Nicholson beginning 2 November 1781. Richards served continuously as chaplain thereafter on the frigate renamed Hague until August 1783.
On the day the Deane sailed from Hampton Roads, Nicholson apparently wrote the Marine Committee advising them of his plans. His next letter to the committee, posted from Falmouth, MA on 3 September 1779 and widely published, detailed the events of Blodget’s first cruise of significance with the ship. On 29 July 1779, the frigate Deane under Captain Samuel Nicholson and the 24-gun frigate Boston under Captain Samuel Tucker “Left the capes with two Virginia State ships, their tender, and 13 sail of merchantmen. The State ships and tender quitted us soon after the cape.” Four days later the Continental ships sighted two sail and gave chase capturing two privateers out of New York, the 10-gun vessels Flying Fish and schooner Tryall. After sending both prizes into Philadelphia, the frigates took the 20-gun privateer Glencairn bound with goods from Glasgow to New York a week later on 9 August 1779. Three days later, the 16-gun packet Sandwich and her 60 men under Captain Hill bound from New York to Falmouth were captured. In addition to valuable dispatches, the vessel was also carrying a number of British officers including Lt. Col. McPherson, Major Gardner, Capt. Ross and several Naval officers who were later exchanged for American prisoners of war. On 23 August, the two American frigates chased and took the brigantine Venture bound from Madeira to New York with her cargo of wine. This prize was sent into Boston under frigate Boston midshipman Day. Two days later, the duo completed their highly successful cruise with the capture of the 18-gun sloop-of-war Thorn. Bound from Portsmouth, England to New York under Capt. Wardlaw and carrying 135 men, the prize was sent in to Boston under Lieutenant Hopley Yeaton. On 6 September 1779 both frigates arrived at Boston loaded with two hundred and fifty prisoners, chaplain William Blodget on the Deane and chaplain Benjamin Balch on the Boston.
Included in the documents sent by William Blodget to Commissioner of Army Accounts John Pierce after the war is a letter penned by General Nathanael Greene to Blodget from West Point dated 9 October 1779, “I have only time to acknowledge your long letter and to congratulate you upon your safe arrival. I am happy to hear of your success, but I am sorry you lost your most capital prize.” Greene continues, “I have never appointed another and since you left me Col. Morris lives with me in the character of volunteer and should you continue in the Navy Department, he will fill your place.” The general closes the letter with “compliments to Mrs. Blodget.” One surmises the prize vessel mentioned in Blodget’s letter to Greene is the 20-gun privateer Glencairn, retaken by the 40-gun British warship Ramilles while under the command of prizemaster Captain Chub. The major’s long letter to his former commander also likely included Blodget’s response to George Olney’s letter, earlier referenced, concerning the disposition of a sulky lent him in June 1778 by Col. George Gibson. While still attached to the frigate Deane, William Blodget appears to have enjoyed about a six month respite from the rigors of military duty. In his post-war explanation for the leave of absence from his commission of lieutenancy in the Army, Blodget testified “I continued till she returned to Philadelphia sometime in 1780, previous to General Greene’s going to the Southward.” Upon her return from cruising, the Deane was briefly used in September 1779 for the court martial of Commodore Dudley Saltonstall for his lack of leadership in the Penobscot Expedition. While the frigate was ordered to be fit out as quickly as possible for “important service” in Charleston, SC; her delay in being made ready prevented the Deane from sailing with her compatriots Providence, Boston, Queen of France and Ranger on 23 November 1779 to their appointed end at that city in May of the following year. Between December 1779 and January 1780, William Blodget was clearly at home in Providence with his family celebrating his fifth wedding anniversary and birthday of son William, Jr. It was during this time when Ann Blodget became pregnant with her second son. Chaplain Blodget was no doubt called back to the ship when the Marine Committee ordered the Deane to the Chesapeake on 20 January 1780 due to the lack of bread for provisioning. Although, the committee ordered the garrison at Williamsburg on 31 January to be prepared to supply the frigate when she arrived, both orders were countermanded on 11 February 1780 when adequate bread was secured at Boston. The vessel finally sailed again from Boston in late February 1780 for a nine week cruise. A few days after sailing, the frigate Deane captured an enemy ship carrying rum from Jamaica to New York. Sending her into Boston, the prize arrived on 21 March 1780. After her first capture, the Deane next took a 14-gun privateer, the copper-bottomed snow being bound from London. This second success was followed by the taking of another 14-gun privateer, this one a new brigantine bound from Liverpool. Finally in early April 1780, the frigate Deane captured a “pulakie” or “polaere” bound from Lisbon with wine. About 10 April 1780 the two ships parted company, the Spanish privateer taken to New London by prizemaster John Fanning, arriving on 22 April 1780. The frigate arrived at Nantasket Road about 18 April but didn’t make port at Boston until 1 May 1780, probably due to her number of enemy prisoners “among whom a virulent fever prevailed.” Within two weeks of her arrival, on 12 May the Marine Committee ordered the Deane to be fitted out as soon as possible and to “be in Delaware Bay” by the end of June.
William Blodget grabbed this opportunity to take leave for another short visit with his son and pregnant wife as evidenced by a letter posted from Providence from the major to General Greene dated 15 May 1780. On 5 June 1780, then lying at Boston harbor, the Deane advertised for additional crew stating she “will sail in 14 days.” Again on 16 June 1780, the Marine Committee ordered the vessel to “be on the Delaware” by the end of June, this time with Continental rum. Three weeks later, the committee revised the Deane’s orders indicating they “would like them to sail in concert to the Delaware” with other Continental ships. Yet another month went by before Captain James Nicholson of the frigate Trumbull was advised on 11 August 1780 that the Deane and Saratoga “will sail with you.” The consort must have left immediately as the frigates Deane and Trumbull are at Chester by 16 August 1780. On 22 August, both ships are at Philadelphia, reported safely arrived in the River. Eight days later on 30 August 1780, William Blodget’s twenty-six year old wife Ann gave birth to the couple’s second son Samuel Chace Blodget. According to his post-war deposition, “Immediately on my arrival,” Blodget reported to General Greene who was then quartered at Morristown, NJ. Just one month earlier, Nathanael Greene resigned his unwanted position as Quartermaster General and although Congress unwillingly accepted the resignation in early August, Greene was still performing quartermaster duties “immediately relative to the Army.” During the first week of October 1780, General Greene was appointed by Washington commander of West Point. It is presumed that Major Blodget attended his former commander at West Point until Greene left for Philadelphia during the third week of October to confer with Congress concerning his new command. His absence from Philadelphia during this period is evidenced by the the inclusion of Major William Blodget’s name on a published list of letters remaining at the post office there on 5 October 1780. Ordered by General Washington to take command of the Southern Army after Horatio Gates’ defeat at the Battle of Camden, General Greene returned to Philadelphia to meet with Congress on 27 October 1780, his appointment confirmed three days later. Blodget testifies in his post-war affidavit to John Pierce that he came back to Philadelphia with Greene as he traveled to South Carolina. Conversation between Blodget and the general on the return trip obviously led to the former expressing his desire to return to Army service in Greene’s “staff family” and the latter’s rebuff. According to the post-war record, the major turned chaplain “was by him (General Greene) advised to continue the Sea.” Soon afterward, General Nathanael Greene departed Philadelphia on a trip that would end with his taking command of the Southern Army exactly one month later at Charlotte, NC. The finality of the decision is captured by Theodore Thayer in “Nathanael Greene: Strategist Of The American Revolution” (1960), “As Greene and his party left Philadelphia on November 2nd and rode toward Chester talk turned to all that had happened in the city and the prospects ahead. Blodget was no longer one of Greene’s aides, having retired in June to become chaplain on the frigate Deane. His place was taken by Lewis Morris, a talented young man and scion of the famous New York family.”
Not prepared to give up hope of regaining his lieutenancy in the Army, Blodget writes in November 1780, “I apply’d to the Board of Warr for admission in the new establishment of 1781.” Apparently unsuccessful, William Blodget continues “accordingly I went again in the ship to Boston.” It is not yet determined precisely when Chaplain Blodget left with the Deane on his last cruise with the ship but late November or early December 1780 is likely as she sailed that winter in concert with the Saratoga and the frigate Confederacy which left Philadelphia on 5 December 1780. While the chaplain had been on leave to visit General Greene, the Deane was reported on 5 September leaving with the frigate Trumbull on a short cruise the previous week. This is supported by a 2 September 1780 complaint by the rebel privateers Fair American and Holker concerning the Deane’s impressment of 21 sailors while in the Delaware. The brigantine Little William, a prize from their their brief cruise, is advertised for sale on 10 October 1780. In February 1781, the frigate Deane is reported cruising with the vessel Protector several hundred miles off Antigua. Her West Indies cruise took the Deane into Cape Francois from whence she departed about 20 March 1781 in company with a French frigate and a large convoy of American and French merchantman. The frigate Deane with Blodget apparently on board arrived at Boston on 17 April 1781 after a 25 day transit from Cape Francois. Three days earlier the frigate Confederacy under Captain Seth Harding was surrendered without a fight off the Delaware Capes to the British warships Roebuck and Orpheus along with several other ships of the convoy. After separating from her consorts, the Saratoga was never seen again and all hands presumed lost at sea. William Blodget left the frigate Deane and naval service at Boston in April 1781, returning home to his family at Providence which now included eight month old Samuel.
Blodget’s activities immediately after the close of his naval service is not known with certainty other than he was at Providence on 5 September 1781 when he wrote to Jeremiah Wadsworth in Hartford. Advertisements in the Providence Gazette suggest he may have partnered with brother-in-law Dr. Henry Malcolm in the operation of a clothing and fabrics store. Surgeon on the Continental ships Columbus and Andrew Doria, Henry Malcolm served with both the Navy and Army during the war like the chaplain. Malcolm had been wedded to Austice Chace, the sister of Ann Chace Blodget, until her death at age 22 on 19 January 1779 after less than three years of marriage. Ads for Blodget and Malcolm clothing goods first appear in late July 1781. Other fabric goods are added in August and by October 1781 lines of crockery ware appear with Blodget and Malcolm offering both wholesale and retail sales. There appears to be a break in advertising between 3 November 1781 and their final ad placed on 29 June 1782 when in addition to clothing, fabric and crockery; the partnership advertises “They have also for Sale, a fast-sailing Virginia PILOT-BOAT, about 12 Tons Burthen.” This hiatus is congruent with William Blodget’s escort of his former commander’s young wife Caty Greene traveling to visit her husband in the Carolinas. The entourage which included the general’s six year old son George Washington Greene left Rhode Island in the middle of November and arrived in Philadelphia by December 1781, stopping for a visit at Beverwyck on the way. Mrs. Greene planned to leave Philadelphia in December but her departure was delayed by a severe snowstorm and bitter weather until February. Leaving her son in the care of Col. Charles Pettit, Caty left Blodget there also, riding off in her two-horse phaeton accompanied by Major Robert Burnet for the second half of the southbound journey. William Blodget’s presence in Philadelphia on 1 December 1781 is confirmed by the post of a letter from there to Mr. John Jeffrey at Col. Wadsworth’s. One wonders if Blodget didn’t sail the Virginia pilot boat home to Providence with an eye to making a profit off the venture.
Tragedy unexpectedly struck the Blodget household on 18 May 1784 when Ann Chace Blodget died at Providence leaving two young boys; nine year old William Jr. and three year old Samuel. Her mortuary notice was published in the U.S. Chronicle two days later, “Died- Mrs. Blodget, consort of Mr. William Blodget.” Within six months of the death of his twenty-nine year old wife, Blodget relocated to Bennington, VT where he opened a general store. The 8 November 1784 edition of the Vermont Gazette advertises “arrived in the last vessels from EUROPE, a fresh ASSORTMENT of FALL and WINTER goods, Which are now selling at a low Advance, at the house of Mr. David Fay, in Bennington, by WILLIAM BLODGET…Store open at all hours of the day, and every favour gratefully acknowledged.” Almost immediately, Blodget went to work establishing an iron forge at North Street on the Walloomsac River as evidenced in a 14 March 1785 advertisement in the same newspaper soliciting help and donations “to be able to get the works ready for forging, in the course of three or four months.” William Blodget recognized a synergy between the two businesses as suggested by an ad in the Vermont Gazette on 3 July 1786, “A small assortment of DRY GOODS, INDIGO and SALT. Any of the above articles will be given for good Coal, Ore, or Pot Metal delivered at the Forge.” At the same time he was incubating the Bennington business enterprises, William Boldget was investigating land claims for his old friend Col. Samuel B. Webb near Crown Point, NY as evidenced in a 6 June 1785 letter. Beginning 22 April 1786, William Blodget also initiated correspondence with Commissioner of Army Accounts John Pierce in order to seek confirmation of his rank and term of service with the Continental Army during the war prior to the August 1786 expiration of public adjustments for wartime pay. Blodget enlisted the help of fellow aide-de-camp to General Greene Col. William L. Livingston, who incidentally was married to Abraham and Gertrude Lott’s daughter Catharine, to press his claims in Washington “as I have a number of workmen in a branch of business that requires my constant attendance.” The back and forth correspondence located in the “Papers of the Continental Congress 1774-1789” offers important details concerning Blodget’s Army and Naval service. In his return letter of 31 May 1786, Pierce questioned Blodget’s length and continuity of service inquiring why the former major believed “leaving the General’s family can entitle you to the privileges of an aide-de-camp in service on the 21 February 1780 and make you an officer in the line of the army.” Pierce further argued that Greene employed his full compliment of aides after Blodget left for Philadelphia and that the 14 June 1779 letter from the Board of Warr letter produced by William Blodget to support his case actually indicated to Pierce that the major left Army service “without the expectation of returning to it.” Pierce concluded his review of Blodget’s claims ruling all issues concerning rank and service must be addressed by either the Secretary of War or Congress prior to further consideration of a settlement. As a result, former Major William Blodget first petitioned Congress and President Washington from his home in Bennington on 22 August 1787. Two years later his petition to Congress for war remunerations was still unresolved.
The Massachusetts Gazette of 8 September 1786 reported news from Bennington dated 21 August that “splendid entertainment given by Majors Blodget & Fay” in celebration of the ninth anniversary of the Battle of Bennington on 16 August 1777 included the discharge of cannon. Today a Vermont state holiday, Bennington Battle Day is still celebrated with the firing of the Molly Stark cannon, reputedly the oldest cannon in America, cast in Paris in 1743 and surrendered to victorious General John Stark at Bennington in 1777. A year later the Vermont Gazette of 5 March 1787 reported Revolutionary War Army and Naval veteran Major William Blodget was awarded the rank of Lt. Colonel in the Vermont Militia under the command of his old friend Adjutant General Joseph Fay. From this time on, Blodget was alternately referred to as major or colonel and references to father and son, also a colonel, are often confused. Always the entrepreneur, William Blodget’s business interests appear to veer away from retail and manufacturing as evidenced by an advertisement in the Vermont Gazette on 28 April 1788, “just published, and now selling at the land office, near the meeting house, in Bennington, A NEW AND CORRECT TABLE, Whereby the superficial Contents of Glass, Boards, etc. may be accurately determined, on sight.” Blodget’s next career is well documented by Phyllis Kihn in the article “William Blodgett, Map Maker 1754-1809” published in the Connecticut Historical Society Bulletin of April 1962. In 1789, Amos Doolittle published “A Topographical Map of the State of Vermont” depicting townships, roads, meeting-houses, forts, mills, iron works and other physical features “Engrav’d and Printed for William Blodget.” The work was “Most Humbly Dedicated to his Excellency Thomas Chittenden, Esqr. Governor and Commander in Chief; The Honorable the Council and the Honorable the Representatives of said State; By their Most Obedient and Devoted Humble Servant, William Blodget.” Ezra Stiles logs his private preview of the map in a 25 August 1788 entry in his diary edited by Franklin Bowditch Dexter published in 1901, “Col. Blodget shewed me his elegant Ms. Map of Vermont.” Blodget was in New Haven at the time, supervising the engraving at Doolittle’s shop.
After completing the Vermont map, William wrote to his old client Samuel B. Webb on 19 June 1790 cleaning up loose ends regarding the land claims he pursued for five years, “Having given up the Idea of remaining in Vermont, and received my papers from there, I enclose you all the documents you delivered me relative to your Lands, & wish on receipt of them you would deliver the bearer my obligation for them. I am sorry that Every Exertion of mine was ineffectual to do you the service you requested but I did not spare Either pain, post, or enquiry to effectuate your wishes. It must, as I have reiterated to you rest on the Decision of Congress in the Event of the Recognition of that Territory as a separate State, and it hath ever been my opinion that Lands under your Claims must be compensated for. The applications to me have been so numerous from various quarters to Act as an Agent where the Field may be opened, that I am induced from my knowledge as to the Ancient Locations of that Country, to give every assistance in my power to Claimants How ever dangerous the task. I am, Sir, With Esteem, your obd t Servt, WM. BLODGET. P. S. In the Execution of this business I went once myself & sent my Clerk at another time to terminate the business. What I actually did, and Expended in this business (abstracted from my Fees of office) was $30, L. M. As nothing Effectual could be done, I leave it with you to give me what reward you think proper for my writing, &c., &c., &c. The distance from Bennington is about 90 miles, but some other business relation to another Claim in Addison, lessened your expense.” Blodget’s quitting of Vermont was accompanied by a new project, the mapping of Connecticut. After first soliciting a questionnaire response and a draft map of Hartford from Jeremiah Wadsworth to be sent to Josiah Meigs of New Haven, William Blodget completed the map in 1792. Joel Allen printed 301 impressions of “A New and Correct Map of the State of Connecticut one of the United States of North America from actual survey” for William Blodget at Middleton between March and July 1792. It was “Humbly Dedicated by permission, to His Excellency Samuel Huntington Esquire Governor and Commander in Chief of said state.”
Subsequent to his dabbling in cartography, William Blodget appears to have directed his creative energies back into the arts. Blodget’s availability for providing lessons in “MUSICK and DRAWING” at Worcester, MA is advertised in the Massachusetts Spy of 10 June 1795. “THE suscriber proposes (if suitable encouragement is given) to instruct the ORGAN, HARPSICHORD, VIOLIN, and GUITAR. Also, DRAWING, in its various branches, PAINTING and FROSTING, on Tiffany, Silk & Specimens of his Scholars’ performances may be seen, and terms known, by applying to him at Capt. John Lyon. A very excellent toned GUITAR for Sale, apply as above. Portraits taken in Oil or Crayons.” A Tuesday 6 September 1796 article in the Salem Gazette announces that Blodget will perform on the organ at St. Peter’s Church “tomorrow evening” at six o’clock. “TICKETS…may be had at the Post-Office, at Major Buffington’s, and at the Sun-Tavern.” According to “The Narragansett Church” by Wilkins Updike (1907), William Blodget also served as organist for several years at St. John’s Church in Providence, the church in which he was married. Later in life, Blodget continued his call to perform as organist in Hartford, CT. “The Records of Christ Church, Poughkeepsie, NY” by F.B. Howard (1911) indicate that “Colonel William Blodgett” traveled from Hartford to Poughkeepsie in 1808 accompanying a new organ manufactured by John Meacham, Jr. of Hartford in order to demonstrate its high quality and offer lessons to local organists. Enclosed with Meacham’s recommendation of the instrument dated 16 August 1808 was Blodget’endorsement, “To whom it may concern- At the request of Mr. John Meachum to examine an Organ which he has for disposal, and informed by him that application had been made for one by a Gentelman of Poughkeepsie, I did examine an Organ which he has, and deem it a good one of its size, containing three stops – Viz Stop Diapason – Principle and Twelfth, all in good order. These stops are the most used for Church Music, and are encased very handsomely with ornimental pipes in front, a good sett of Keys, and registers, and the bellows and pedal are also good. Its height is about eight feet, and its breadth four feet and four inches, embellished on the top with four gilt urns and the case well imitated mahogany, with doors to communicate to any part which may at any time need a repair or for tuning. Its appearance will embellish any Church. I have repeatedly performed on this Organ, and was ever well pleased with it, as has been many others who are good judges, and masters of music. William Blodgett.”
Within six months of submitting his 1 May 1809 final invoice to the folks in Poughkeepsie “for playing the organ in Church” and “for tuition for (nine year old future church organist Abel) Gunn and others”; William Blodget died at the age of 57 in Hartford, CT on 10 October 1809. His mortuary notice appeared in the Providence Gazette of 14 October 1809, “At Hartford, on Tuesday last, COL. WILLIAM BLODGET, of the late revolutionary army, and formerly a respectable social citizen of this town. Clues concerning Blodget’s health and death are likely to be found at the Connecticut Historical Society where the patient record books of Hartford resident Dr. Mason Fitch Cogswell are preserved. One entry apparently refers to Blodget’s treatment for a leg injury reportedly sustained during the war and mentioned in a letter to General Henry Knox in 1787. The oldest son of Ann Phillis Chace and William Blodget, Providence merchant William Blodget, Jr. was married on 30 April 1800 to Miss Mary Ann Power, daughter of Captain Nicholas Power, by the Rev. Abraham L. Clarke in King’s Church- the same sanctuary his parents were married twenty-five years earlier. Major Blodget’s membership in the Rhode Island Society of Cincinnati was assumed by his son Colonel William Blodget in 1817 and eventually by his grandson William Blodget of Boston. William Blodget, Jr. died at Providence on 24 June 1847. According to one genealogical source, his younger brother Samuel Chace Blodget died in England on 30 May 1855. A waist length primitive oil painting of Chaplain William Blodget reportedly hangs in the Connecticut Historical Society.