Go to Top

Maritime Newport in the 1760s: A Selection of Primary Source Documents

dordin detail

Detail of Peter Dordin letter to Samuel and William Vernon, January 28, 1766. NHS Collections.

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 NewportClick 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.”

Dordin letter, page 1

Dordin letter, page 1

Dordin letter, page 2

Dordin letter, page 2

Box 49_Folder 4_Vernon reverseweb

Dordin letter address







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.”


A page of November, 1765 entries from the log book of Brig Apollo

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.

Box 108A_Folder 5_Newport Packetweb

Newport Packet agreement, front

Box 108A_Folder 5_Newport Packet reverseweb

Newport Packet agreement, reverse

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.

Sep 2, 1762 - spermaceti candles to New York

Sloop Passage Boat, transporting spermaceti candles to New York, Sep 2, 1762


Sloop Swordfish, with one case and one hogshead of merchandise going to Havannah, Cuba, Nov 22, 1762

This document is a bill of lading for a bag of English, Spanish and Portuguese currency bound for London aboard the Ship Hope on May 21, 1764.

Ship Hope, carrying Spanish, Portuguese, and English currency to London, England, May 21, 1764









This record, dated October 29, 1765, describes a shipment of rum, mahogany, and other goods from Newport to Cork, Ireland. The goods were shipped on the Sloop Industry, mastered by John Hyer and owned by Aaron Lopez, one of Newport's preeminent merchants of the time.

Sloop Industry, carrying rum and mahogany bound for Cork, Ireland, Oct 19, 1765

Another Aaron Lopez shipping record describes spermaceti candles and pickled oysters shipped to Kingston, Jamaica on January 8, 1768 aboard the Schooner Bettsey Ann, mastered by Thomas Tillinghast.

Schooner Betsey Ann, with spermaceti candles and pickled oysters bound for Kingstown, Jamaica, Jan 8, 1768


Sloop Abigail, transporting spermaceti candles to Philadelphia, Feb 24, 1768