On the afternoon of August 27, 2016, visitors to downtown Newport’s Washington Square, Perotti Park and the Wanton-Lyman-Hazard House can “step back in time” to the summer of 1765. From 1pm-4pm, the Newport Historical Society will host a large scale living history event with dozens of costumed interpreters who will recreate a naval press gang incident during Naval Impressment: A 1765 Reenactment in Colonial Newport. Click here for more information about the Naval Impressment event.
Browse this gallery of primary source documents from the archives of the Newport Historical Society to learn more about sailors and maritime Newport in the 1760s. Let these resources inspire your participation in the Newport Historical Society’s Naval Impressment event!
A winter voyage across the Atlantic on the Brig Apollo, 1765-1766
This letter to William and Samuel Vernon from Peter Dordin, master of the Brig Apollo, describes a treacherous voyage across the Atlantic in the winter of 1765-1766 and offers a vivid portrayal of the hardships of transatlantic sailing in the 18th century.
Writing from Georgia on January 28, 1766, Dordin begins the letter, “Gentlemen, This is just to aquaint [sic] you that we are all still in the land of the living as I may very justly think you must be under some concern for us if you have had any account of my sailing from Europe.” He goes on to describe a freezing and turbulent passage across the Atlantic, during which provisions and drinking water run dangerously low. To make matters worse, the crew discovers a leak in the ship’s cargo of linseed oil. As a result of these misfortunes, Dordin shifts the Apollo‘s course southward, to the nearest port in Georgia, where he expects “to find provisions cheap and plenty,” but instead finds that provisions are costly and in short supply. The situation is distressing, as Dordin explains, “I have nothing on board that will sell to any advantage. I am at my wits end how to raise a little money to feed a ravenous turbulent crew. The scarcity of provisions is owing to [the] cursed stamp act as all the ports to northward are shut up.”
Below, the log book of the Brig Apollo presents a day-by-day account of the voyage described in Dordin’s letter above. On November 16th, Dordin remarks, “the hardest gail [sic] that ever I saw with continual rain and a very large sea.”
Calculations and diagrams for plane and traverse sailing
Titled “Plane Sailing the Second Part / Or Travers Sailing,” these navigational calculations and diagrams were recorded in the final pages of the 1768-1771 log book for the Brig Cicero, captained by Goodman Alverson.
Articles of agreement between masters and mariners of the Ship Newport Packet, October, 1765
Before sailing, a ship’s master and sailors signed an agreement stipulating monthly wages and other terms–for example, “That each Seaman and Mariner, who shall well and truly perform the abovementioned Voyage (provided always that there be no Plunderage, Embezzlement, or other unlawful Acts committed on the said Vessel’s Cargo, or Stores) be entitled to the Wages or Hire that may become due to him, pursuant to this Agreement.”
The articles of agreement below were signed in October, 1765 by the crew of the Ship Newport Packet, bound for Bristol, England and mastered by John Heffernan. The document includes many notations. Several sailors, unable to write, sign with a mark. The name of one sailor, Robert Stuart, is crossed out with the note “Ran away,” which apparently happened after he received £80 advance wages before sailing. The reverse side of the agreement serves as an account for money received.
Bills of lading for goods shipped by Aaron Lopez
Bills of lading serve as contracts for carriage of goods, with information including the name and master of the vessel, individuals sending and receiving the cargo, dates and locations of departure and arrival, and itemized details about goods being transported. The following are a selection of records describing a variety of goods shipped from Newport to destinations overseas and within the colonies in the mid-1760s by Aaron Lopez, a preeminent Newport merchant of the time. Hundreds more ships’ bills of lading reside in the collections of the Newport Historical Society.