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"Is it not strange that one of the boldest, most dangerous, and most important measures and epochas in the history of the new world, the commencement of an independent national establishment of a new maritime and naval military power, should be thus carelessly and confusedly hurried over? Had the historian never read the law of Massachusetts, nor the journals of congress? History is not the province of the ladies. Her three volumes nevertheless contain many facts worthy preservation."
The success of the Massachusetts' cruisers justified the wisdom of this adventurous policy. The sea was covered with light armed vessels, and articles of essential consequence were captured, not more to the discomfiture of the enemy than for the relief and supply of the colonists. By successful enterprise on the element, on which they were familiar, the spirits of the people were excited, their wants supplied, their enemy distressed, and a prospect opened to them that the conflict, however unequal, would not be desperate. While these measures were pursued in Massachusetts, the congress at Philadelphia were beginning to move in the same concern. The following letter of enquiry will show that the honour of the first act belonged to Massachusetts.
MR. ADAMS TO MR. GERRY.
PHILADELPHIA, Nov. 5, 1775.
I am under such restrictions, injunctions and engagements of secrecy respecting every thing which passes in congress, that I cannot communicate my own thoughts freely to my friends, so far as is necessary to ask their advice and opinions concerning questions, which many of them understand much better than I do. This, however, is an inconvenience, which must be submitted to for the sake of superiour advantages.
But I must take the liberty to say, that I think we shall soon attend to maritime affairs and naval preparations no great things are to be expected at first, but out of a little a great deal may grow. It is very odd that I, who have spent my days in researches and employments so very different, and who have never thought much of old ocean, or the dominion of it, should be necessitated to make such enquiries: but it is my fate and my duty, and therefore I must attempt it.
I am to enquire what number of seamen may be found in our province, who would probably enlist in the service, either as marines, or on board of
armed vessels, in the pay of the continent, or in the pay of the province, or on board of privateers, fitted out by private adventurers.
I must also entreat you, to let me know the names, places of abode and characters, of such persons belonging to any of the seaport towns in our province, as are qualified for officers and commanders of armed vessels.
I want to be further instructed, what ships, brigantines, schooners, &c. are to be found in any port of the province, to be sold or hired out, which will be suitable for armed vessels. What their tonnage, the depth of water they draw, their breadth, their decks, &c. and to whom they belong, and what is their age.
Further, what places in our province are most secure and best accommodated for building new vessels of force, in case a measure of that kind should be thought of. The committee have returned, much pleased with what they have seen and heard, which shows that their embassy will be productive of happy effects. They say the only disagreeable circumstance was, that their engagements, haste and constant attention to business was such as prevented them from forming such acquaintances with the gentlemen of our province as they wished. But as congress was waiting for their return before they could determine upon affairs of the last moment, they had not time to spare.
They are pretty well convinced, I believe, of several important points, which they and others doubted before.
New-Hampshire has leave to assume a government, and so has South Carolina; but this must not be freely talked of as yet, at least from me.
New-England will now be able to exert her strength, which a little time will show to be greater than either Great Britain or America imagines. I give you joy of the agreeable prospect in Canada. We have the colours of the seventh regiment as the first fruits of victory. JOHN ADAMS,
The recollections of distinguished men, who were concerned in laying the foundation of that national establishment, which is now the favourite and the pride of the people, may justify a departure from the chronological order of their letters for the purpose of introducing the following extracts connected with the origin of the American navy.
MR. ADAMS TO VICE-PRESIDENT GERRY.
QUINCY, JAN. 28, 1813.
Philadelphia is now boasting that Paul Jones has asserted in his journal that "this hand hoisted
the first American flag ;" and captain Barry has asserted that "the first British flag was struck to him."
Now I assert that the first American flag was hoisted by John Manly, and the first British flag was struck to him. You were not in congress in 1775, but you was in the state congress, and must have known the history of Manly's capture of the transport which contained the mortar, which afterwards on Dorchester heights drove the English army from Boston, and navy from the harbour. I pray you give me your recollections upon this subject. I wish to know the number of transports and merchant ships and their names, captured by Manly or any of his associates, in 1775-6.
As your time and thoughts must be employed upon subjects of much greater moment, I hope you will not give yourself any trouble about this little thing. Your first recollections will be sufficient. With cordial salutation to your fire-side, and fervent prayers for the success of your public energies, I am your old friend,
VICE-PRESIDENT GERRY TO MR. ADAMS.
CAMBRIDGE, Feb. 9, 1813.
Captain John Selman of Marblehead, has re
freshed my memory by the following statement.