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Robert Treat Paine Papers, Volume 3

From Thomas Cushing
Cushing, Thomas RTP
Dear Sir, Boston September 9th 1776

I have received your kind favor of the 24 ultimo.1 The 24 Gun Frigate might have been out to sea a month ago and have cleared her Cost as well as the Cost of the other Frigate, by what prizes she might have taken before this, had she have been furnished with her Guns. The want of these retards every attempt to fix her off. Besides it will be impossible to procure men till they see she is Compleatly armed. It is a great pity you have not been able to send the Cannon from Philadelphia. I have received no orders to purchase any here but have from the first been told I should be supplied with them from Philadelphia. However I have tryed in Vain to procure them at Providence. Their Furnace has been so engaged in supplying the two Continental ships there as well as the Government of Rhode Island with Cannon that they have constantly wrote me I could not be supplied with any till they had 281fulfulled those Engagments, but I fear (being tempted with a most extravagant Price by the owners of Privateers) they have notwithstanding been supplying other People even in preference to their own Government. Mr. Nicholas Brown,2 one of the owners of the Furnace, has lately wrote me that they can have ninety pounds LM per Ton for Cannon & want to Know whether I am empowered to Contract for any, but does not Inform me how soon I can be furnished, if I was willing to Contract at that enormous price, which I dare not do without first Consulting Congress. Pray let me know what I shall do upon this occasion, provided they at Providence Can furnish me seasonably.

The Milford Frigate and, it is said, some others, are cruising upon our Coasts and taking prizes. The Continental Frigates, if they were now out, might be of eminent service. O for Cannon! The Spirit of Privateering prevails so amazingly here that Cannon cannot be procured, if at all, but at a most extravagant price. Pray forward them from Philadelphia if possible & send me the dimensions of the Guns by the first opportunity that I may compleat the Carriages, for the General Court apprehending the 24 Gun Frigate will not be a match for the Milford of 28 Guns are about placing the Guns, they proposed lending to me, on board the Portsmouth Frigate, if Capt. Langdon will consent she should go out and attack the Milford. The General Court is setting. They have passed an act laying an Embargo on Lumber to prevent our Enemies from getting any supplies of that sort. A Committee has been Chose to Consider what form of Government it will be proper for this Estate to adopt. They have not yet met. This will be a Work of Time & ought to be done with great deliberation. Some think it will be best to wait & see what form the other states adopt, especially as we have a Goverment Established which in general is thought to be a good one (tho it may be Amended in some Instances to great Advantages) & with which we may at present carry an End the purposes of Goverment pretty Comfortably. There is no talk at present of chusing a Governor & if there should be one chose, It is thought best he should have but very little power. It seems to be the prevailing Opinion that it will be best to have the Legislature Consist of two Branches; I am clearly of this Opinion: If we design to have good Goverment we must have two Houses. As to a Governor I care not much about it. We have got into much better State than when you was last here. The Courts of Justice go on. The reins of Government are strengthened. There has been some difficulty with respect to the progress of the Court of Justice in your County, owing in a great 282Measure, as I am Informed, to the appointment of Colo. Jerathmeel Bowers as one of the Justices of the Common pleas. However hope this difficulty will soon be got over.

Your Bretheren in the Law have fine times of it. They are making money as fast almost as they Can receive it. I suppose there never was a better chance for Gentlemen of your Profession getting money than the Present. Privateering prevails so much & such a number of prices are taken that it makes a vast deal of Bussiness in your Way. Messrs. Dana, Lowell, Kent, Morton Hitchburn3 &c. &c. &c. have their hands full.

While writing I received your Favor of the 31 August. The prize ship that had the Ten 9 pounders on board was retaken & carried to Hallifax. I hear Capt. Langdon is appointed by the Congress Agent for the Continental Ships within the State of New hampshire and as he has had the trouble and fatigue of building & fixing one of them out (which at this difficult day is attended with Ten times the trouble & fatigue as at another time when every thing may be obtained with Ease & barely for asking for) I think it is reasonable & just he should have the appointment. If I, who have had the care & trouble of building two of these Ships, should be entirely overlooked, will it not seem as if my conduct with respect to them was disapproved of? As to the objection made to my being Agent for the prizes on Account of it’s being imcompatable with my other Appointments, it seems this objection was easily got over with respect to Mr. Langdon, for he is judge of the Common pleas in his Government as well as my self in this Government; with respect to such an Appointment’s being imcompatable with the place of a Councellor, that seems not to agree with the Ideas of the Court here, for both the Honble. Mr. Wm. Sever4 & Mr. Richard Derby5 are Councellors and nothwithstanding this they have both been appointed by the Council Agents for the Colonial Vessells of War, one for the Southern District, the other for the Middle District; as I have had an Infinite deal of trouble in building & collecting the materials for these ships I should think it hard if any one else was appointed to have the Care of them & from time to time to furnish them with Supplies. It will be full enough for one man to have the Charge of the Prizes, and for another to have the Care of these & the other Continental privateers & from time to time to supply them with Provisions, stores of all kinds, Mast, Yards, Cables and other Riggen as they may stand in need of them. Perhaps this is the appointment Capt. Langdon has got pray let me know particularly what his appointment is & what 283precisely is his Duty. I am obliged to you for the tender of your Services upon this occasion & doubt not I shall experience the benefit of them.

I remain with respect yr. humble Servt.

Thomas Cushing

RC ; internal address: “Rob T Paine”; endorsed.


Not located.


Nicholas Brown (1729–1791) of Providence, R.I., was the senior member of a widespread family business, which was the principal owner of the Hope Furnace. Early in 1776 they contracted with the Colony of Rhode Island to produce 60 12– and 18–pounders, but the Maritime Committee rejected a contract to manufacture guns for Continental vessels because of exorbitant prices. Further contracts with the Navy Board resulted in other problems with untested guns, and eventually the bulk of the cannon produced at Hope Furnace was for privateers (James B. Hedges, The Browns of Providence Plantations: The Colonial Years [Cambridge, Mass., 1952], 1:269–279). The letter (Brown to Cushing, Aug. 16, 1776) appears in Naval Documents of the American Revolution, 6:203.


Benjamin Hichborn (1746–1817) graduated from Harvard in 1768 and was admitted to the bar in Suffolk County in 1771. In July 1775 the British captured Hichborn while he was returning to Boston from Philadelphia carrying letters from John Adams. They held him aboard the Preston in Boston Harbor until October of that year. In November 1776 Hichborn and his fellow lawyer Perez Morton organized the Boston Independent Corps with which they served until April 1779 ( Sibley’s Harvard Graduates , 17:36–44).


William Sever (1729–1809), a merchant of Kingston, Mass., represented his town in the General Court in 1754 and thereafter from 1766 until 1769, when he was promoted to the Council, where he continued into the Gage administration. When the Provincial Congress elected a new Council in 1775, Sever was the senior member and thus “President of Massachusetts,” alternating with James Bowdoin and James Warren in that office for the balance of the war ( Sibley’s Harvard Graduates , 11:575–578).


Richard Derby, Jr. (1736–1781), a wealthy Salem merchant, represented his hometown in the House of Representatives from 1769 to 1773. In 1774 Derby joined the Governor’s Council, where he remained until 1777 (Schutz, Legislators of the Mass. General Court, 206).