The Revolutionary War story of the schooner Amity, Captain Thomas Palmer is told through the 25 documents and receipts representing the settled account of the vessel by John Langdon as the Continental agent of the Marine Committee and Navy Board sold at Northeast Auctions on 14 August 2015. According to the seller’s handwritten bill of sale, the 50-ton schooner with “all her Tackle & Apparrell” was purchased by Langdon “for Acco’t of the United States of America” for the sum of “nine hundred pounds Lawful Money” from Kittery shipwright Stephen Paul on 3 June 1778. This acquisition of the Amity for the use of the Continental Congress are confirmed in a letter from John Langdon to the Congressional Committee for Foreign Affairs posted from Portsmouth on 5 June 1778. This correspondence indicates that the schooner Amity, Captain Palmer, will sail shortly for France, where Palmer will deliver dispatches to the Commissioners at Paris.
Vendors performing work on the vessel in preparation for her impending voyage included; Henry Sherburne for “Iron work Done for ye Amity Packett”, William Hart for “repairing “2 Comp[ass]’s”, John Reed and Joseph Walker for ”Graving the Schooner”, John Cutts for “Mast Hoops, 2 Iron bound Buckets…& bringing 6 water Casks” and Tobias Walker “for making & mending of schooner Amity’s sails”. As evidenced from the settled receipts, Col. John Langdon had authorized work on the schooner Amity’s account well before her purchase on 3 June. An invoice dated 5 May but settled on 6 July 1778 with William Green on behalf of Paul Laighton indicates blocks, pump brakes, hand spikes, log reel, hand pump among many other items were supplied to the vessel up to one month prior to her government ownership. Dates on other receipts including Tobias Warner for tallow and candles, Moses Noble for “My Self…Wm Ham…[and] My Negro Man” in making the topmast, spar, sail boom and yards and Daniel Lunt for “making 1 Speaking Trumpet” also support this premise.
Work in earnest however appears to have begun after the Amity’s purchase for Continental use on 3 June. An invoice from Tobias Lear, cousin to John Langdon and father to George Washington’s personal secretary, indicates the “Beach Graving” began on that date with lumber and spikes supplied the workers on the following day with additional lumber and planking delivered on 5 June 1778. Lear’s bill also includes two days “Gondola hire for Ballasting” noted for that same date. Stephen Sumner completed the preparations for sea as evidenced in his 8 June 1778 receipt for “2-1/2 Days Work fixing ye Rigging of s’d Schooner myself” along with his assistants John Overton and Phillip Clear. Their overtime efforts are noted in the document “NB ye above Days we work’d 14 Hours”. William Langdon’s 6 June 1778 invoice for leather clearly documents his identification of the vessel as “The Continental Schooner Amity.” John Langdon’s itemized and autographed list of “Sundry Disbursements” associated with the schooner Amity dated 6 June 1778 indicates that including wages advanced the master, mate and crew; the total sum spent on the rapid refitting of the vessel was 577 Pounds ,12 Shillings and 11-1/2 Pence including Langdon’s own five percent commission. James Melchen’s 13 June 1778 receipt “for two Days Work on b’d the Schooner Amity” also included payment from Langdon “for three [and] a half Days Landing Goods out of the Duchess de Grammont”. This French ship and her contracted military cargo of uniforms, stockings, copper, tin and flints appear to be the topic of frenzied correspondence between Langdon, Josiah Bartlett, the Board of War and the Commerce Committee of the Continental Congress during June 1778.
As evidenced by a shipping agreement dated at Portsmouth on 2 June 1778, three of the crew were engaged “on Board the Schooner Amity, Thomas Palmer Master, bound from hence to France & back again in the Service of the United States of America” even before the vessel was acquired by Continental Naval agent John Langdon for that purpose. John Elliott, Samuel Broten [aka Broughton], and Josiah Berry were contracted “to perform the Duty of Seamen” at wages of “fifteen Pounds” per month with one months wages agreed to be paid in advance and another months “to be advanced us in France”. Their signatures are witnessed by Joseph Haven and Sameul Penhallow, Jr., whose hand also appears to have drafted the contract. The document trove even includes Berry’s bill from Benjamin Reed for boarding the sailor for the eight days preceeding Amity’s departure on 9 June 1778.
John Corney’s shipping agreement signed at Portsmouth indicates he “ship’t myself in Capacity of Mate on board the Schooner Amity, Thomas Palmer Master bound from hence to France & back again in the Service of the United States of America” on 3 June 1778. Corney was an experienced captain himself having been cleared out of Piscataqua Customs House four years earlier on 7 July 1774 as master of the ship Nelson bound for the West Indies. That presumably successful voyage ended three months later when Corney was cleared in from St. Kitts on 13 October 1774. Corney’s agreed upon wages were “twenty two pounds ten shillings” per month with “Twenty four pounds Advanced Wages before sailing & the like Sum in France & the Residue on my Return”. Receipt for the stated advance is acknowledged at the conclusion of the agreement. A similar shipping agreement was signed by John Sherburne to serve “in the Capacity of a Seaman…at the Rate of Fifteen Pounds” per month or otherwise at so much per month “as Capt Palmer shall judge reasonable in proportion to Others on board sd Schooner.” Apparently satisfied with this less rigid contract, Sherburne acknowledges receipt of just “Twelve Pounds Lawful Money as advance Wages.” Executed on 4 June 1778, yet another shipping agreement with Reynes Lalland is structured slightly differently. Lalland’s quality as Seaman is not explicitly identified and his wages are noted “at the Rate of thirty Dollars” per month, equal to nine pounds per month at the time. Apparently, Reynes Lalland was illiterate as his mark was attested to by John Parker and Joseph Haven. The three documents executed by Corney, Sherburne and on behalf of Lalland are all written by the same unidentified hand. A “Portledge Bill for the Schooner Amity” listing the vessel’s crew, the date each shipped on board, wages and advance signed by Thomas Palmer confirms the seven as her complete compliment.
Like many voyages of Continental vessels, senior officers reserved ‘privilege’ or the right to ship personal goods on public vessels. The schooner Amity apparently was no exception as one most fascinating but unsigned document attests. Careful examination may prove it to be in Colonel John Langdon’s hand as the closing notation reads, “Memo June 8th 1778 Shipt on Board the Amity five Bbs pot and Pearl Ash consigned to Capt Thos Palmer for Sales & Returns”. The note follows a long list of items identified as “Promised” including; “Crimson Velvet for Suit of Clothes Ling & Trimming, Rich han[d]som Silk for Ladys gown with Trimming, Some handsom Silk for hat and Cloak for Lady_ head Dress for Lady_ 6 pr Ladies Shoes, handsom, 26 doz good Claret_ Cordials, Anchoves, Capers, Almonds…and something strong and handsom for winter Jacket and Britches”. Hardly the military stores which no doubt were expected to fill the hold for the return leg.
Schooner Amity’s master Thomas Palmer’s executed bill for expenses is particularly interesting. Apparently summoned to the vessel on 1 June 1778, his services commenced with charges for a horse and expenses of getting “Myself to Newbury after a vessel”. Palmer further itemized expenses including “1 Boat, Oars, Rudder & Tiller” and “1 Large English Jack”’ presumably for deceiving enemy vessels. Board for himself is charged from the first of June to the ninth, the date of Amity’s departure. Finally, Captain Palmer includes a bill for his wages from 1 June to 10 August 1778 totaling two months and ten days. Most intriguing is the date of settlement of Palmer’s account on 30 March 1779. This document suggests that after the schooner Amity was taken shortly after sailing, the fifty-seven year old Thomas Palmer was apparently incarcerated in the service of the United States until 10 August 1778 and likely prevented from returning to Portsmouth to collect his expenses and balance of wages until March of the following year. Published in London on 21 November 1778, The Gazette reveals the captain and his schooner’s fate at the hand of the 50-gun HMS Experiment then under the command of the respected and feared Sir James Wallace. “June 12 . By Ditto [the Experiment]. Schooner Amity- (Prize) Thomas Palmer Master, John Langdon Owner, from Portsmouth to France, taken at Sea, burnt-with Provisions and Ballast.”
Details of Amity’s capture are found at the British National Archives in Master Andrew Stone’s log of HMS Experiment (ADM 52/1725) under “Remarks on Friday June 12th 1778” for between 2:00 and 8:00 o’clock in the morning, “made sail and chaced to the USW. Fired 7 Shot at the chace & brought her too, a schooner from portsmouth in Piscataway for France in Ballast, master took the materials & provisions out of her, five Casks of pearl ash and one ditto Furs marked EX. N1DC. Shared the provisions among our ships company & prisoners. Set the schooner a fire.” Captain James Wallace’s remarks in the Captain’s log (ADM 51/331) are similar to Stones’ with several notable details. Wallace records that after a two hour chase of the Amity, the Experiment “brought her too” at 4:00 am and also that the prize schooner was set on fire three hours later at 7:00 am about nine or ten miles southeast of Mengigan (Monhegan) Island. Interestingly, Captain Wallace notes the marking on the cask of furs differently from his sailing master as EXN 1ab. Thirteen days after their capture, the commander and crew of the schooner Amity were brought into New York bound for the prison ship Prince of Wales on 25 June 1778. At the last minute, after their destination was already recorded in the Experiment’s muster roll (ADM 36/7920), the prisoners were apparently temporarily diverted to the 64-gun ship Ardent as evidenced by a correction to the muster roll crossing out the Prince of Wales and noting the Ardent instead.
HMS Ardent was the flagship of Rear Admiral James Gambier, Commander in Chief of the Royal Navy in North-America. Having just arrived from England about the first of June 1778, Admiral Gambier already had his hands full with a great number of sick seamen, want of experienced sailors and complaints of ill treatment of American prisoners in prison ships at New York. One such complaint published six weeks later in the 1 August edition of the Pennsylvania Packet originating from George Lacey and others confined on the prison ship Judith dated 12 June 1778, the same day that schooner Amity and her men were taken, offers a clue as to the story behind Experiment’s muster roll changes. The plea begins, “your petitioners, with great humility, beg leave to state their wretched, unhappy situation to you…” and continues to describe conditions for 197 Americans confined on board the small prison ship, “45 of whom are, beyond all human hopes of recovery, sick with malignant putrid fevers; and about 50 other emaciated living skeletons dragging about the decks such naked miserable carcasses, that it should seem were only spared as a favour like another Polyphemus for the after sport of death…” Lacey’s petition continues with the observation that every night the prisoners are forced below decks at bayonet tip so that they “have as much to dread from a general suffocation, as from the unremitting malignancy of the pestilential distemper, which continues to diminish their numbers at the rate of 3, 4 and 5 every day.” The following day, newly arrived Gambier issued his seemingly compassionate response from onboard the Ardent, “The Admiral taking the prisoners petition into consideration and desirous at all times to alleviate their diuretics as soon as possible, by giving every relief in his power, has ordered a large commodious Ship to be got ready immediately for the reception of the masters, mates, and gentlemen passengers and another Ship will be got ready in a few days, to thin the numbers on board of each prison Ship, and to separate the well men from the sick.” Gambier would serve in this capacity for about ten months until relieved by Sir George Collier from Halifax. The Ardent sailed with Admiral Gambier from New York for her English homeland on 6 April 1779 but was later taken by the French off Plymouth, England on 17 June of that same year.
Experiment’s muster roll (ADM 36/7920) reveals that the Langdon documents associated with the schooner Amity don’t tell the whole story of her crew. In addition to master Thomas Palmer, mate John Corney and seamen John Sherbourne, John Elliott, Josiah Berry, Samuel Broughten – two additional men are included in the list of those taken by the British on 11 June 1778. In lieu of Reynes Lalland, we are faced with the names Peter Gerdiere and Linard Reniere. The latter appears to be an interposed French version of Reynes Lalland, leaving us with evidence of an eighth member of Amity’s compliment of which there is no record in the Langdon documents.
The dates of Amity’s departure, the schooner’s capture, Palmer’s confinement and eventual return appear to be corroborated by his testimony sworn before Samuel Penhallow at Portsmouth on 16 March 1779. According to Volume 17 of New Hampshire’s Provincial and State Papers, “Capt Thomas Palmer of lawful age testifieth and saith he sailed from this Port on the ninth day of June A. D. 1778 bound to France with Dispatches from the Continental Congress and two days afterwards was taken by the Experiment Ship of War and carried to New York after being close confined sometime on board a Prison Ship was admitted to go on shore on Parole when John Fisher Esq’ sent for him he (sd Palmer) waited upon sd Fisher who expressed a Concern at not knowing he was a Prisoner at the time Cap‘ Lewis was released as sd Fisher said he would then have endeavoured to have procured his discharge also sd Fisher then made particular enquiry what Piscataqua Men were the prisoners & in what manner they were treated & whether any were in immediate want of Relief being informed Cap’ [John] Gregory was very sick, he sent him some Money by him the sd Palmer, said Fisher then told the sd Palmer he would endeavour to procure a Flag the Release of him and others some time after sd Fisher told the sd Palmer he had procured a Flag to transport twenty two Prisoners to New London as the States then being in Debt to the Admiral to the number of ninety Prisoners sd Fisher told him a greater number could not be released at that time & desired he would visit the Prison Ships and bring him a List of the Prisoners belonging to the State of New Hampshire to that amount upon enquiry the sd Palmer found there were only nine of the aforementioned Prisoners then on board the Prison Ships at New York whose names he returned to sd Fisher who told him to make up the aforesd number among those who stood in most need of Relief sd Palmer further saith thro’ sd Fisher’s means twenty two Prisoners were at that time sent in a Flag to New London- and further saith not.”
Captain Thomas Palmer appears to have been initially confined on the prison ship Prince of Wales in New York Harbor, according to a letter dated 12 July 1778 from Mate John Corney to John Langdon located in The Gilder Lehrman Collection, 1493-1859. In the letter, Corney confirms the schooner Amity was captured by the Experiment three days after leaving Portsmouth on 12 June 1778 and that both “he and Captain Palmer are being kept prisoner with no prospect of relief.” Arguing that the Amity’s officers and crew were employed in Continental service, Corney exhorts Langdon to exercise his ”Powers of doing us Service” while implying Langdon’s authority as a Congressional agent “is not Circumscribed by the narrow bounds of one who acts only in a Private Capacity, & for the Service of an Individual.” Corney further claims that he and Palmer were entered into naval service at the insistence of Langdon and communicates their hope that “he can exercise his extensive abilities to free them.” This intimation has merit based on Langdon’s demonstrated friendship with Palmer and likelihood of the same based on Corney and his wife Mary’s connection to the Colonel’s North Church.
Born about 1721 to Hannah Remick (1694-1741) and Thomas Palmer (1680-1753), Portsmouth resident Captain Thomas Palmer was long acquainted with John Langdon, having actively participated in Langdon’s 14 December 1774 attack on Fort William and Mary to seize the King’s gunpowder for the patriot cause. At the time of the raid, Palmer had only been back in town about a month and a half, having returned from Bristol, England as a passenger aboard one Captain Tyler’s ship during the last week of October. Known locally as “the Castle”, Fort William and Mary had guarded access to Portsmouth Harbor and the Piscataqua River from New Castle Island and was New Hampshire’s only permanently manned British military post at the advent of the American Revolution. After unsuccessfully attempting to obtain the munitions without bloodshed, Langdon’s mob of Portsmouth rebels stormed the fort, prompting it’s commander to lead his men in resisting the attack. In a brief but spirited engagement, the defenders were overwhelmed. One story emerging out of the incident was that of defender Isaac Seveay, “knocked from his position on a wall and disarmed. Seveay was located near the King’s colors and Captain Thomas Palmer ‘snapped a Pistol’ at the unarmed soldier. The weapon “flash’d” but did not fire. Either Palmer’s pistol was not loaded with a ball or the powder in the barrel was not ignited by the flash in the pan. The fortunate Seveay was ordered to his knees and beg pardon for resisting. He answered that he would kneel “when his Legs were cut off below his knees…but he would not before.” For this response, Seveay was immediately knocked to the ground by others and rewarded with a beating to the head.
It is reported that John Palmer, reputedly the son of Captain Palmer, was the individual who hauled down the large British ensign to “three Huzzas” of the attackers- striking colors which had flown above the fort for over 140 years. The following day, the Castle was again raided by Militia Major John Sullivan for the purpose of seizing her numerous cannon. The word received by British authorities on 16 December was that the fort was “full of armed men, who refuse to disperse, but appear determined to complete the dismantling of the fortress entirely.” Presumably anxious to “get out of town” for awhile, Captain Thomas Palmer cleared Piscataqua Customs House bound for the West Indies on that same day with eight others in command of the 180-ton ship Elizabeth. Captain Palmer was well experienced with this transit, with newspaper records indicating his sailing to the West Indies as early as October 1756 on the brig Sally and again as Master of the ship Two Friends in January 1770. Palmer’s merchant career can be traced in coastal newspaper accounts as early as 1749-1753 on the sloop Sea Flower. Genealogical sources suggest Captain Thomas Palmer was married to Love Adams born about 1725 and the couple shared six children; Love born 1743, Ann born 1745, John born 1749, Thomas born 1751, John Elliot born 1754 and Thomas Palmer, Jr. born 1756. It is this last child who served as a Gunner’s Mate on the Ranger under John Paul Jones between August 1777 and October 1778, when he was married to Mary Cate.
We next encounter Captain Thomas Palmer in command of the New Hampshire privateer schooner Enterprize, originally a brig built “for the islands trade”. Fitted out by citizens of Portsmouth, Palmer was appointed by the Committee of Safety “at the request of the proprietors” on 23 February 1776 to replace Daniel Jackson who resigned her command. Within one month however, John Langdon employed Palmer in Continental service penning the following letter at Portsmouth 22 April 1776, “You having the Command and direction of the Brigantine Marquis of Kildare, in the Service of the United Colonies, Equipt for the Sea, are to Embrace the first favourable Oppertunity of Wind & Weather, and Sail with said Brigant to the port Leorient, in the Kingdom of France, where when it shall please God you arrive, Enquire of some principal Merchant or Merchts on whom you may depend whether the Cargo you have on board said Brigantine (Invoice of which you have herewith) is Suitable for the Markett at that place, or whether any Articles you have on board, is Contraband, or not, which may be Easily known, by Enquiring what Articles are prohibited, If on Enquiry you find your Cargo will not sell for a Tolerable price, and by strictest Enquiry of disinterested Men, you are led to think that a greater price might be Obtain’d at Bourdeaux or any other part in the Bay of Biskey, even so high as Brest, you may proceed and do your best in the Sale of your Cargo, the Neat proceeds of which you’ll lay out in such Articles, as are mentioned in the Memorandum you have herewith, takeing the greatest Care to deal with Men of the best Character, and with great Caution that the Goods are not Over Charg’d, after having Compleated your Business, and got the Neat proceeds of your Cargo on board which I shall depend on its being done with the utmost Frugality and dispatch, you’ll make the best of your way back to this place, takeing the greatest Care, in your outward as well as your homeward passage to keep clear of any British Ships, whatever, and in short not to speak with any Vessell, You’ll remember to push off this Coast with all dispatch, Steering as near the Shoal of Georges as may be with Safety, which will be mbst out of the way of the Men of Warr &c. after which you’ll keep well to the Southward Especially when you come near Cape Finestre as by that Means you’ll get clear of any Vessells, bound in or out, the Channel of England, Youll take Care on your Return, to keep in with the Eastern shore, and should it so happen that you should put in any Harbour by all means to give me Information as soon as may be, – You must be Sensible how Necessary it will be in keeping the best look out, & useing your best Endeavour to prevent yourself from falling into the Hands of our Enemies, and also your duty, to Exert yourself for the Services of the United Colonies, in the Sale of your Cargo, & purchase of Goods, Agreeable to the Oath you’ve taken, – I must again recommend Frugality and dispatch, on which much will depend.”
In a postscript, Langdon adds a last minute security detail intended to ensure the secrecy of his endeavor, “If you have any Letters on board for any part of the World for any person whatever My positive Orders are that you do not deliver them, until you are ready to leave the place, where you sell your Cargo and buy your Goods”. The personal warmth between Captain Thomas Palmer and Continental agent John Langdon is hinted at in the letter’s closing, “Wishing you a prosperous Voyage & safe return, am your Friend & Director”. Palmer’s fealty is evidenced in his signed endorsement, “The above and on the other Side is Copy of my Orders which I promise to follow”. Two days after his letter of instructions to the trusted captain on 24 April 1776, the New Hampshire Committee of Safety meeting at Exeter issued Langdon a permit for the brig Marquis of Kildare, Thomas Palmer, Master, to “proceed to Europe with her Lading.” Yet another letter from John Langdon to Captain Robert Cochran at Charleston during Palmer’s absence at sea dated 3 June 1776, suggests Captain Palmer had conducted some business early in that year with Cochran who had visited New Hampshire seeking to enlist men in the naval service of South Carolina.
In a communication dated 23 June 1778, Silas Deane writes from Bordeaux to Robert Morris and the Committee of Secret Correspondence indicating that Captain Thomas Palmer had arrived in that place on the brig Marquis of Kildare after a trans-Atlantic voyage of less than two months. Palmer sailed from Bordeaux on 15 August, reaching Portsmouth on 6 October after a seven week crossing with a cargo of military stores. Upon his return, it was reported Palmer “informs us the French treated him with the utmost kindness, and seemed ready to do every thing in their power to serve him; that the custom-house officers permitted the American vessels to pass without examination, while the English were all searched.” An account of the homeward bound voyage dated 19 October 1776 reads, “Last Friday, Captain Thomas Palmer, of Portsmouth, arrived there in seven weeks from France, with a valuable cargo of powder, small-arms, flints, lead, &c. On the 16th of September he met with a large fleet of thirty-three sail of English transports, among which he took three to be men-of-war, and being so near, that he and a gentleman, passenger on board, who is going to South-Carolina, were both obliged to throw over all their papers and letters of consequence, expecting every moment to be taken. These gentlemen also inform that the French have two fleets at sea, one of nine and the other of eleven sail-of-the-line, who are supposed to cruise, in order to prevent the progress of the Russian fleet in the Baltick. In all French ports American vessels are received with the utmost indulgence imaginable, and the French are daily in expectation of hearing the Colonies had declared their independency of Great Britain; that an embargo had been laid three months on all shipping outward bound in Spain, expecting daily a declaration of war with Portugal. Should a war between Spain and Portugal take place, France will inevitably assist Spain; and England, being by treaty obliged to assist Portugal with a certain body of troops, will have both the Powers of Spain and France to fight.”
The importance of Captain Thomas Palmer’s mission to the fledgling United States of America is revealed in the Secret Committee report of 22 October 1776 to the Continental Congress then in session at Philadelphia. The committee reported, “that the cargo lately arrived at Portsmouth, in the Brig Marquis of Kildare, Captain Palmer, consists of the following articles, viz˙, 5000 pounds Powder, 250 Small-Arms, 100,000 Flints, 4000 yards of small Canvas, 4 to 500 Jackets, 100 Knapsacks, 100 Leggins, 80 large Rugs, 2 bales of Woollens, 1 bale of Linens, and 10 tons of Lead: Whereupon, Resolved, That the Powder, 100 Small-Arms, 2000 Flints, part of the Canvas, 80 Rugs, and part of the Lead, be applied by the Continental Agent for the use of the Continental Frigate Rawleigh: That 60,000 Flints be sent to General Washington: That 38,000 Flints, 150 Small-Arms, 100 Knapsacks, 100 Leggins, and 8 tons of Lead, be sent to the Northern Army, under General Schuyler and General Gates: That the remainder of the Canvas be made into Tents, and sent to the Northern Army: That the Jackets, if fit for soldiers, be sent to the Northern Army; if fit for sailors, that they be distributed amongst the Continental frigates at Portsmouth and Boston: That the two bales of Woollens be made up into soldiers’ Clothes, for the Northern Army: That the bale of Linens, if fit for soldiers’ Shirts, or other purposes, for the Army, be made up, and sent to the Northern Army; if not suitable for publick use, that they be sold to the best advantage.”
Little is now known of the balance of Captain Thomas Palmer’s wartime service except that in June 1777 he was master of the privateer sloop Fly sailing out of Portsmouth and on 12 June 1780 he was commissioned to command the New Hampshire privateer ship Portsmouth which was taken by the British in June of the following year. The First Federal Census records the extended Palmer family deeply rooted in Portsmouth shortly before the patriarch’s passing. The Captain’s household includes himself and four females. A Continental Navy veteran, his namesake’s household includes Thomas, Jr., one male under the age of sixteen and three females. Son John shares his home with one male under the age of sixteen and seven females. William’s household includes himself and three females. Presumably an adult grandson, Cotton Palmer lives alone. Portsmouth’s New Hampshire Spy of Saturday 6 November 1790 reports, “Died in this Town on Tuesday last [11/2/1790] Capt. Thomas Palmer, Aged 69.”