1813-1817 – Three letters related to the War of 1812 naval service and prize money for the capture of two British ships that was posthumously awarded to the son of a Revolutionary War hero who laments his loss while incarcerated in a Vermont debtor’s prison
Savannah, Georgia and the Brig Troup: 1813-1817. Envelope or Cover. This correspondence consists of three stampless folded letters. The first two letters were favor-carried and have no postal markings. The third has a circular Savannah, Georgia postmark and manuscript “75”, three times the normal postage indicating it had two enclosures when mailed.
One letter, dated 2 March 1813, is from Henry Barton aboard the Brig Troup at Savannah to his father, General William Barton, who was held in debtor’s prison in Danville, Vermont. In it, Henry informs his father that, despite his deteriorating health, he had rejoined the Navy.
“One year since I Obtained my Discharge in the Navy . . . and after macking one voyage to Madiera, on my return to Charlestown I entered the Service War being declared . . . I shiped for two years more as a petty officer On Board Barges in Charlestown sence which I have volenteerd to come in this Brig. . .. I have been for 20 months past . . . much afflicted with rheumattick pains. . .. Write me by mail Direct to me on board Brig Troop To the care of Capt Ganderson [actually Grandison]. The Brig is a prise tackin from the English and I hope we may be able to give a good account of her. . ..”
General Barton has added a signed annotation to his son's letter.
“In Jayl Danville March 7th 1815. . .. This is the last letter that I have received from my Dear Son . . . and it gives me pains to say that it is the Last that I can receive news for Him is goin [on] that Longe Jarney from whos Born no traveler can return. . .. My prayer is that I may be Duly prepared that when I am called to Depart I may say com Lord Jeses com Quickly Wm Barton”
Two letters, dated 10 April 1815 and 23 June 1817, are from Jonathan Lilliabridge to General Barton regarding Henry’s personal effects and the prize money he had been awarded.
“I now have the Satysfaction to Acquaint you that . . . I Obtained Two Certificates of Prize Money Due Your Son. . .. I Enclose you the Prize Agent Advertisement by which you will Perceive its Close At Hand. I have not yet been able to obtain his Chest & Clothing but Expect I Shall Very Shortly. . ..
“I Recd Your Son’s prize Money amounting to One Hundd Forty One Dollars Seventy Eight Cts. . . .. But I am sorry I am prevented from sending It on to you at Present There is two Persons here who has Presented their Accts Agt, yr. Son to me for Payment. . .. My Old Friend & Fellow Soldier . . . Very Respectfully Dr. Sir Yr most Obt Friend & Servt. Jno Lillibridge”. Very good. Item #009880
In 1777, while William Barton was a major in the Rhode Island militia, he led a daring nighttime 44-man raid that crossed Narragansett Bay in whaleboats and captured the partially undressed Major General Richard Prescot at his headquarters. For his action, Barton was commended by the Continental Congress and presented with a handsome dress sword. He was eventually promoted to Colonel and given a commission in the Continental Army. He was badly wounded while rallying militiamen to counterattack a British force that had burned parts of Bristol and Warren, Rhode Island. Although he never fully recovered, Barton later commanded a boat-mounted light infantry battalion and charged with defending Narraganset Bay for the rest of the War.
After the war, he founded the town of Providence, Vermont, which several years later, he renamed Barton. There he gained a reputation as a clever businessman, in fact too clever for his own good. He was caught selling the same plot of land to two different men, and sued by one, Johathan Allyn, for $3,000. Although he lost the case, Allyn was only awarded a little more than $100 for court costs and damages. While the wealthy Barton could have easily paid, he refused to do so. Subsequently Allyn had Barton arrested and placed in debtor’s prison at the age of 63. Since the town had no jail, Barton was imprisoned at Danville and confined to the “jail yard” which was generously defined as all the land within a one-mile radius of the jailhouse on the town green. This was no Dickensian imprisonment; if fact, Barton probably lived in a nearby home rather than the jail. He remained ‘incarcerated’ until 1825, when his old wartime friend, the Marquis de Lafayette, visited America. Lafayette, after learning of Barton’s imprisonment and probably picturing his 77-year-old comrade penniless and in jail, promptly wrote a promissory note for the small sum, and Barton was freed.
While not much is known about William’s son Henry, he and the Brig Troup, apparently were able “to give a good account” of themselves as the ship captured two British vessels while he was aboard entitling him to a share of the prize money that Jonathan Lillibridge pursued.
The Troup was, itself, a prize. It had been the merchantman, Princess Amelia, when captured by the American privateer, Rossie. The Amelia was taken to Savannah harbor where it was purchased for the Navy by Captain Grandison to add some teeth to his barge flotilla. It was renamed the Troup in honor of Georgia Congressman George Troup.
Lillibridge, was a long-time friend of William Barton’s from his service as an Ensign with the Rhode Island militia during the Revolution.
(For more information, see Johnson’s America's Forgotten Hero: The story of William Barton, a Rhode Island Colonel in the Revolutionary War, Bushnell’s “Barton’s enigmatic namesake – hero or swindler? at the VTDigger website, Dudely’s Inside the U.S. Navy of 1812-1815, Dudley & Ward’s The Naval War of 1812: A Documentary History, and “Mrs Mary Hope Eldridge 55453” in the Daughters of the American Revolution Lineage Book vol 56)
Scarce. A unique group of letters to William Barton that includes heartfelt note signed by him mourning for his son who had died during the War of 1812.
At the time of listing nothing similar is for sale in the trade. OCLC shows that the library at Mount Vernon holds a draft of a letter sent by Bartholomew Dandridge on behalf of President Washington returning all testimonials received regarding William Barton. The Rare Book Hub and Worthpoint show that a half-dozen or so letters to William Barton have appeared at auction over the past ten years.