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Robert Treat Paine Papers, Volume 3

From Elbridge Gerry
Gerry, Elbridge RTP
Watertown October 1st 1775 Dear Sir,

I received your Favour of Sepr. 17th relative to the Manufactory of Saltpetre & am fully of Opinion, that it is a Matter of great 86Importance. The Committee1 appointed last Session to promote the Manufactory here are directed forthwith to repair to Windsor in Connecticut & report a State of Facts with Respect to Information received from thence, “that Mr. Kibbe of sd. place obtains from the Earth of Stables &c. fifteen pounds per Day.” The person who related it, Capt. Glover of Marblehead,2 brot a Sample of the petre, which I saw tryed in presence of Colo. Gridley who declared it to be equal in Quality to any imported. Should this be confirmed, the House will be moved to Order a Leech to be set up in this place, that the Members of the Court seeing the whole process may immediately on their Return direct Works in their respective Towns. This & publishing the Facts will soon furnish us with Quantities of that most valuable Article.

Something further is to be done in this affair that a Supply of Sulphur might be obtained. The late Committee of Supplies for this Colony sent Messrs. Joseph Greenleaf, Peck3 & Forbisher4 to Brookfield in June last to try some Earth that was there, supposed to be impregnated with Nitre; they performed the Business & found the Supposition groundless, but reported a Kind of Mineral that was strongly impregnated with Sulphur. Mr. Greenleaf is since desired to attend to this Matter & has sent for some of the Ore (or rotten Stone as it appears) in Order to determine it’s Value. But whether he succeeds or not I think it will be expedient for the Government, immediately on a full Discovery of the Manufactory of Salt petre, to set up several powder Mills & to manufacture for any of our Towns gratis, all the Sulphur & Nitre Salt petre they shall send to the Mills duely proportioned. This will engage the Towns to manufacture their Petre in order to obtain their Stocks of powder; & if Individuals meet wth. the same Encouragement on Condition of their selling their powder to the Government, I doubt not we shall soon have full Magazines. If we secure of the Nitre, I think We cannot fail of Sulphur, since it may be imported & a Vessel of 100 Tons burthen will bring sufficient to manufacture 5 or 600 Tons powder.

I am chagrined beyond Expression while informing You that Doctor Church is under arrest for Treachery.5 He wrote a Letter to an officer in Boston & sent it by a Girl at little Cambridge (whom You have probably heard of) to Capt. Wallis6 who is stationed at Rhode Island. The Girl delivered it at Newport to a person whom she supposed could be confided in for delivering the Letter to Wallis & then returned Home. The person aforesd. being apprehensive of Mischief opened the Letter & 87found it wrote in Characters, & soon after received a Letter from the Girl desiring him to come to Cambridge and inform her what was done with the Letter. This increased his Suspicions & induced him to deliver both the Letters to Mr. Ward Secretary of Rhode Island who sent them to General Washington wth. the Man who intercepted the first. The General apprehended the Girl & soon found that the Letter was delivered to her by Doctor Church in Consequence of which he Ordered him under Guard. The Doctor acknowledges the Letter & says it contains nothing unfavourable to America, but how it will prove when decyphered I know not. The Facts so far are much against him; in the Opinion of the publick.

Is it not high Time to cut off all Communications thro’ out the Continent, with the Enemy at Boston & elswhere? Great Complaints are made that all our Measures are known to the Enemy from Want of such a Regulation. Newport & Portsmouth are notorious Channels for conveying such Intelligence.

News may be soon expected from England, & We fear more the Effect of a Negotiation than of the highest ministerial Resentment. In the Reign of Charles the first, after the King had given incontestible Evidence of his Intentions to subvert the Constitution, the long parliament refused to be reconciled by a Redress of every Greivance without such a Diminution of the King’s prerogative as was indispensably necessary for their Security. They well knew that his plan of Despotism would be again renewed whenever he should be able to execute them, notwithstanding all his protestations to the Contrary; & therefore demanded a Controul of the Militia, which with other proposals being refused by the King, was succeeded by the civil War that cost him his Head. The present Case may shortly be similar, & should Terms of Reconciliation be proposed, I hope the Continent will be equally careful, to obtain Security for the performance on the Side of the Ministry of their Engagement, as to obtain such as will be advantageous & permanent. Indeed the past Conduct of your Congress puts this Matter beyond Doubt, & the perfidy of the Ministry will make a Reconciliation impracticable upon any other principles, since they have fully proved themselves persons possessed of neither Integrity Honour or Knowledge; Stranger to every Virtue & Prostitute to every Vice.

There is nothing new this Way, relative to the Armies, excepting advice that the Detachment for Quebec was arrived at Kennebeck last Week, & 88that the Battoes were ready to receive them. Pray give my best Respects to your Brethren Colo. Hancock Mess. Adams’s & Cushing & beleive me to be Sir your Friend & very hum. Serv.

Elbridge Gerry

P.S. Doctor Church’s Case is the object of general attention & the Letter (I am informed by Colo. Palmer) is decyphered; the Contents respect the State of the Army, the Quantity of powder now in our possession, what is expected & where, together with other Intelligence of a black & treacherous Nature.

RC ; addressed: “To Hona. Robert Treat Payne Esq. at Philadelphia”; endorsed.


Upon the recommendation of the Continental Congress, the Massachusetts General Court on Aug. 23, 1775, appointed a committee consisting of Dr. William Whiting, Dea. Samuel Baker of Bolton (1722–1795), and Capt. John Peck, “faithfully and diligently to apply themselves to the manufacturing of Salt Petre,” for three months beginning on Sept. 1. On Oct. 31, Whiting was sent to Connecticut and Baker to Newburyport to study salt petre production. They were to join with Peck to “use their utmost Efforts ... for obtaining successful and sure Method of manufacturing said Commodity.” On Nov. 1 Jedediah Phipps was added to the effort (Journals of the House of Representatives of Massachusetts, 51, pt. 1:99, 215, 219). The committee’s work is discussed in many of the subsequent letters through 1776.


Capt. Jonathan Glover (1731–1804), a Marblehead merchant and representative to the legislature, served as colonel of the Fifth Essex Regiment from 1776 to 1779 (Schutz, Legislators of the Mass. General Court, 231).


John Peck (1725–1790), a Boston shipbuilder (Thwing Index).


William Frobisher (c.1724–1807), a Boston tallow chandler, signed the nonimportation agreement, July 31, 1769. An Anglican, he was a member of Trinity Church and was appointed estate agent for the proscribed Loyalist Richard Smith of Boston in 1781 ( NEHGR 17[1863]:125).


Dr. Benjamin Church was a old friend of RTP (see 2:122–123) and recently a messenger from the General Court in Massachusetts to the Continental Congress. The treachery of Church in conveying information to the British stunned those who considered him among the inner circle of the Whig leadership. The best treatment of this episode is Allen French, General Gage’s Informers (Ann Arbor, 1932), 147–200. To the general public, Church was at the time best known for his patriotic poetry in the local newspapers. This aspect of his career is treated in Jeffrey B. Walker, The Devil Undone: The Life and Poetry of Benjamin Church, 1734–1778 (New York, 1982).


Capt. James Wallace, R.N. (1731–1803) commanded the 20–gun frigate Rose at Newport. He served in America and the West Indies from 1774 to 1783 and again later in his career, which eventuated in a knighthood and the rank of admiral ( DNB ). On Wallace’s attack on Bristol, see below, Sally Cobb Paine to RTP, Oct. 1, 1775; Abigail Greenleaf to RTP, Oct. 14, 1775; and Thomas Greenleaf to RTP, Oct. 15, 1775.