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Robert Treat Paine Papers, Volume 3

To Elbridge Gerry
RTP Gerry, Elbridge
My dear Sir, Boston Jany. 18th. 1777

Cold weather & continual Avocations prevented my writing you by Dodd the Express,1 but I may not omitt sending you by Mr. Pliarn2 the best account I am able of some perticular Matters. Item—the General Ct. are making a bill entitled “to prevent monopoly & oppression” by regulating the prices of goods &c. The foundation of this was laid by the Convention of Comttees. at Providence & I suppose something like it will take place in all the New England colonies. This is really one of the most important Acts that ever was made by any State. Its object is 343one of the most critical Refractory & obstinate of all Existencies I mean Trade & its Object the preventing the depreciation of a largely encreased Paper Currency, but desparate violent desires require desparate violent remedies, & it appears already to me that at all Events this Law must be executed. The sentiments of many abroad is that it cannot be done but others think that so large a proportion majority of the Community are in favour of it, that it will be forced thro’. It will disagreeably affect some who to take advantage of the times have laid out large sums of money in many Articles at a Much higher price than they will be allowed to sell them for by this Act; the Commonplace mercantile maxims “that Trade will regulate it self, & that the way to have Goods cheap is to raise the price of them so as to induce a larger importation which will lower the price” we hackney’d here as well as at Philada.; but it is clear to me they don’t hold true unless the channels of Trade are open so that those who would take advantage of a high Market may at some rate be able to import but when this is not the case, as we now experience those possessed of Goods may raise them beyond all bounds without the desired Effect & whatever infringements this Act may seem to be on the liberty of the Merchant it is such a one as the necessity of affairs requires. I wish the Loan & Lottery Ticketts were here to cooperate with this Act, so that by reducing the quantity of Circulating Cash & regulating the prices of Goods the old proportion between both might be restored & preserved. I really wish to see those Ticketts advertized here. Mr. N. Appleton3 is appointed Cmssioner. of the Loan office for this state. I think the Currency & the Service both suffer for want of them; there is great complaint for want of Continental money to pay the bounty & other public demands. I hope there is sufficient on the road. I think large sums would soon be raised by Loan & Lottery. As I came thrô Connecticut Govr. Trumbull told me there was a large sum there ready for the Loans. I may not omit a curiosity which I saw the other day. Some ingenious Counterfeiter had altered a two Dollar Cont: bill to Ten Dollars by Cutting round all the words (two) in the bill & half thrô the thickness of the paper, then splitting the paper & piling off the Word two, & then getting the word Ten from Some printed thin paper & fitting it into the place with gum; this in one bill was done so well all over the bill as not readily to be distinguished, but there being no ten Dollar bills betrayed the deceit.

We are very much concerned least the Enemy should attack Tyonderogo this winter before we are prepared to defend it. Our Court are 344exerting themselves to send a full Reinforcement. They appear to me to be well disposed & pretty rigourous, but they have so much upon their hands & so many Embarrassments, that Matters do not go on so well as we could wish. We are setting out largely for a foundary of brass Cannon, the furnace is built & we have already got above four Tons of Copper & expect in a little time to go to work. I have spent some time in assisting this work & expect to employ much more as the fur. is but six miles from my house. The new furnace for casting Iron Cannon is not yet got to work, but I expect she will soon set about making the Guns for the Rawleigh out of Piggs from on board the Alfred. This furnace stands near the other & I shall not be wanting to do every thing in my power to forward on these good Works.4

There is a matter now pressing on my mind in which I wish for the instant direction of Congress or Genl. Washington. When I got here I visited our Laboratory. Among the various Ordnance I saw an 8 inch Howitzer made by Col. Gridley at his Furnace at the beginning of this War. It weighs short of half a Ton, whereas those brought by Col. Knox from Tyonderogo last Winter & was in Boston weigh 15 c. I caused Col. Gridleys Howitzer to be fired with full charges three times, once with a live shell & twice with dead shells. It threw a shell 400 yards point blank. I have a great opinion of this kind of Ordnance, as they throw a great quantity of Small shott to defend Lines & as they may throw a live shell through the side of a Vessel & do fatal Execution. I recollected that last Summer Congress ordered the Cannon Cmttee. to procure the Casting of 40 Eight Inch Iron Howitzers but it was neglected because the furnaces were engaged, & also that General Gates towards the close of his Campaign requested Congress to furnish him with 8 inch Howitzers emong other Ordnance, tho I think he desires brass. Upon all this I queried whether it would not be for the good of the defence at Tyonderogo to procure a No. of them to be made, mounted on Carriages & sent there; I consulted Col. Gridley on the practicability of making any No. in Season & of the price, in order to determine which be sent to his furnace & the messenger is not returned. Should his answer be such as would answer for a Contract, I shall then doubt how far I shall comply with the inclinations of Congress in directing this measure. My Opinion is that they will be exceeding serviceable there, but there is no body here with whom to consult, that can undertake to direct such a measure. The difficulty is, that what is done to answer any immediate purpose at Ty. must be done before 345any Direction can be had from Congress or Genl. Washington. If I had recd. a satisfactory answer for Col. Gridley I intended to have wrote Congress on the Subject & to have ventured to have had a few made if I should now undertake this Matter it will be necessary for some body here to undertake the transporting them. It may not be amiss to mention this matter to Congress & let me know their Opinion as soon as may be. If I should order any Howitzers to be made it will be on a full Conviction that it is for the public Good & perswasion that Congress would order it if present.

My letter is full long but I hope not troublesome. There is nothing now that I can inform you of. I hope these will find you in good health. Present my Love & Compliments to Mr. Hancock & Adams & also to Mrs. Yard & Miss Lucy; let me hear from you all such matters as you may Communicate. I shall not fail to inform you of such matters as come to my knowledge worth yr. notice. If Howitzers are sent to Ty. there must be a No. of shells to fit them & pound Shott sent. I have not time to enlarge, wishing you a good Winter Session I am yr. most hble. Servt.

R.T. Paine

RC (Gratz Collection, Historical Society of Pennsylvania) ; internal address: “Mr. Gerry”; endorsed: “Boston Letter R. Treat Paine Esqr. Jany. 18 ansd. Feby. 14 1777.”


Timothy Dodd, a regular express rider from Massachusetts to the Continental Congress. He had had letters stolen from his charge in October 1776 at Bristol, Penna. (see Letters of Delegates to Congress, 5:414–415).


Emmanuel de Pliarne and his partner, Pierre Penet, were merchants from Nantes, France, who had contracted with Congress to provide supplies, presumably including gunpowder. Samuel Adams also used Pliarne to transmit letters about this time (Letters of Delegates to Congress, 2:538, 5:590).


Nathaniel Appleton (1731–1798), RTP’s Harvard classmate. See 1:7.


The Massachusetts General Court passed a resolve on Jan. 20, 1777, directing the committee in charge of the furnace at Titticut to cast cannon for the Continental Navy frigate Raleigh. Pig iron ballast from the Continental Navy ship Alfred was taken to supply the raw material for the new guns (Acts & Resolves, 19:767; John Langdon to John Hancock, Jan. 22, 1777, in Naval Documents of the American Revolution, 7:1012).

From John Brown and Thomas Greene
Brown, John Greene, Thomas RTP
Mr. Pain Sr., Providence Feby. 7th. 1777

Thos. Green1 Esqr. & my Self2 owners of a Sloop Called the Retalliation of 90 Tons which has Lately bin a Cruse a priveteering 346with 12 Carrage Guns under the Command of Capt. Jones the Barer hereof and in her Cruse Fell in Company with Capt. Dennis in the Priveteer Sloop America of 45 Tons & 38 Men, & being to windword of the West India Islands and as they Supposed in a Good place to Lay for Merchant Vessils bound from England to the West Indies, they agreed to Lay buy & Wate in Company with Each other for Vessells to Come Down near them. Accordingly in a Day or Two a Brigg appeard in Sight. They both gave Chace together & after 5 or 6 Hours the America Capt. Dennis Came up with Said Brigg Capt. Jones allso being then in full Chace. Within 3 miles Distance the Brigg Struk which Turnd out to be the Countis of Eglington Capt. Reede from Glascow bound to Antega, with a Cargo of £4585 Sterlg. in Dry Goods.3 Sr., which Brigg was Sent to Bedford in Your Province under a Prize Master & 8 Men of Capt. Jones & a Prize master & 4 Men from Capt. Dennis. We Claim apropotion of Said prize in porpotion to the Strength of the Priveteers but to our Grait Supprize at a Tryel at Plimouth before Judg Cushings Court, the Jury Gave the whole to Capt. Dennis’s Priveteer. We Appeald to the Superior Court to be held at Barnstable in May next. Our Attorneys ware Mr. Cole4 from here & Mr. Ainger5 of Bridgwater. Their Counsell was Mr. Dana6 & Mr. Lovel,7 and we are Determind to prossicute this Matter till we have Justice Done if possable therefore Desire Your assistence as a Gentleman of the Law & in Due time we will Give You a Handsome Fee. Capt. Jones will give You a More perticular Acct. of all Circumstance’s Relative to any evidences Capt. Jones shall want to take that are within your state. You will give him such Directions and advices as you think most Consistent with the tenor of the Cause & if any Evidences should be taken near where you reside, if you will be at the Interrogations and then propose such Questions as shall be pertinent to the Justice of our Capture &c. or any advices that shall be given to Mr. Jones we shall be obligated to you for the same. If you can Undertake for us be pleased to acquaint us of the same as soon as you Conveniently Can which will Oblidge your most Humb. Servts.,8

John Brown Tho Greene

RC ; internal address: “To the Hone. Treat Paine Esqr.”


Thomas Greene of Providence, John Brown’s longtime partner.

347 2.

John Brown (1736–1803), a member of the prominent merchant family of Providence, R.I., withdrew from the family firm in 1771 but retained an interest in Hope Furnace and the spermaceti candle and whale oil industry. Brown led the party that burned the British customs schooner Gaspee in 1772. During the war he contracted with the government to provide munitions, cannon, and supplies to the Continental army. He later represented the state in Congress ( ANB ).


Capt. Isaac Jones of the Rhode Island privateer Retaliation and Capt. William Dennis of the Rhode Island privateer America disputed each other’s claims in the prize brigantine Countess of Eglington (Robert Reid, captain) on behalf of themselves, the owners, and the crews (Naval Documents of the American Revolution, 7:639). For the resolution of this case, see John Brown to RTP, Apr. 25, 1777 (below).


John Cole, former chief justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court and speaker of the House of Representatives, was appointed advocate general in February 1775. He died of smallpox, October 1777 (Wilkins Updike, Memoirs of the Rhode-Island Bar [Boston, 1842], 122–130).


Oakes Angier (1745–1786), a 1764 graduate of Harvard, was John Adams’s first law clerk. In 1769 he opened his own office in the West Parish of Bridgewater. In 1776 he began the first of four terms of service in the House of Representatives ( Sibley’s Harvard Graduates , 16:5–7).


Not identified.


John Lowell (1743–1802), see above.


RTP apparently did not undertake this case for either party until the appeal process. See John Brown to RTP, Apr. 25, 1777, for details on the litigation history.