BOY William Bryant's Ledger (1798-9)



An Appeal To Seamen


    The late Commodore Nicholson has been wrongfully accused of Cowardice, while commander of the united [sic] States frigate constitution, while in chase of the French frigate Lee, Insurgeon [sic: L'INSURGENTE], in the forepart of the year 1799,  The accusation is that he was gaining on the French frigate very fast, and, for fear he should come up with her ordered his standing rigging to be slackened up; by this means he sprung the Constitution's foremast and gave up the chase—but the accusation is unfounded in fact; and in Justice to that worthy officer, it is proper that the public should be undeceived as respects that charge,  The writer of this was in the constitution [sic] with the commodore between 12 and 13 months, being all the time that he was commander of that Ship while at sea: but never to my recollection was the standing rigging of our ship slackened up but once while in hard chase; and that was (I think [?]) in the month of August, in the year 1798, off Cape Hatteras while in chase of the ship, I think she was called Enijah [sic: LE NIGER], of 26 guns, which we took and convoyed into Norfolk; our ship received no injury during the chase; but late in the afternoon of that day, we discovered two ships running nearly befor[e] the wind & the constitution [sic] by the wind, and nearly gained our wake at dusk.  two [sic] or three leagues distance, The commodore said they were American merchantmen outward bound; and that he would not lose time by speaking with them, as he wished to make a port (being in company with his prize): but some of our young and inexperienced officers had some conversation among themselves, and said that the commodore ought to run for them, and see who they were: for if he didnot [sic], he would be called a coward.  But I do not recollect that I heard any of our Lieutenants say on the subject except [Second] Lieutenant [John B.] Cordass [sic:Cordis], Who said we ought to know who they were, and said it would be of no use for him to say any[thing] to the commodore about it.  But to return to our subject.  The accusation of cowardice has been alleged against the commodore, while in chase of the French frigate Lee‑Insurgeon; the particulars of which I will now endeavor to give.  We discovered the Ship in the morning; and we had but a little or no wind untill [sic] towards the middle of the day,  As the wind breezed, we made sail: and being to the windward, we were soon satisfied that she was a man of War [sic].  She lay by the wind under easy sail untill [sic] about three o'clock.  At that time we had a good breeze, and increasing.  When she took the hint, and up helm and crowded sail before the wind; and we crow[d]ed all sail in  chase.  But in the evening it became very squally: and our sailing master (Mr. Harringdon) [sic: Nathaniel Haraden] had the charge of sailing of Ship.  He kept a good look out for the squalls and conducted with the greatest caution in taking in and making Sail as circumstances required, untill [sic] about two o'clock in the morning; and at that time we were nearly within gunshot of the frigate, When a heavy squall struck us and we shortened sail as usual.  As the squall abated, we discovered a ship standing by the wind (we running before the wind) and got within musket shot before we discovered her, it being very dark,  We supposed her to be the same ship we had been in chase of; we then brought our ship to the wind, fired a gun, lit our battle lanterns, and prepared for action; and after we were prepared, we gave her two or three more guns, as signals.  She had shortened sail, and was to the windward, and, we supposed, was preparing for action; but she not showing any lights, nor firing a gun after so long a time, we were suspicious that we had made a mistake in the ship; and we then run along side, and found our suspicion to be a reality.  She being an english merchantman [ed: SPENCER], a prize to the Lee‑Insurgeon; and by that mistake the Lee insurgeon [sic] was enabled to make her escape; But we did not spring our ships [sic] foremast, nor sustain any injury during the chase.  The next day I heard the commodore remark to several of his officers, that he had written to the Secretary of the navy [sic] respecting the chase, and wished them to inspect it to see whether they would acquiesce in his statement; and it was proposed by some of the officers to make a statement and compare with the commodore, and some of the officers stated that we carried all sail during the chase, without any regard to the squalls, which were very heavy.  But our sailing master said that would not do to go to the secretary in that shape, for he would think they did not use that precaution which was their duty to do and he made an alteration (with care during the squalls) which alteration was agreed to.  I will also remark that I have no doubt that the hue and cry of coward was in the first place raised against the commodore, for not speaking with the two before mentioned American merchantmen instead of any improper management while in chase of the Lee‑insurgeon.


The herein mentioned account of the chase, was written by me and published in the Hallowell Gazette Dec 19 ‑ 1827 –

/s/ William Bryant



I have sent a copy of the foregoing to the pension office at Washington, with the affadavit [sic] of Mr. Edward B. Walker of Boston (my old master) to establish my claim to Bounty Land, for services performed on board of the frigate Constitution in the years of 1798 & 1799



About the first of march /57 we received an answer that my claim was suspended for further proof & saying that they had not any record of what I had written about the chase of the French frigate; the records of the navy of what I had written are supposed to have been distroyed [sic] by the British 1812.  I then wrote back to the pension office the following[:]


    To the Gentleman Auditors of the united [sic] States pension office.  As I dont know of any living person that was on board of the frigate Constitution from the 15th of May 1798, to the 31st of May 1799, The late commodore Isaac Hull being the last survivor to my knowledge, myself excepted, who was on board of that ship at that time.  I wish to make a farther [sic] Statement of what took place on board of that ship.  Begining [sic] with what took place after our arrival in Norfolk, or Hampton roads [sic], viz, We had many of our crew taken down with fever, some was sent to the hospital and two officers died on board, viz, Mr. Blake our head doctor, and the Commodores son, Samuel, a midshipman aged 16 or 17 years.  We then set sail for charlston [sic] and lay in the offing, two or three days, and took charge of upwards of twenty sail of merchantmen to convoy to the Havanna [sic].  But on the course [ed: coast] of Georgia or Florida, we carried away our bobstay & sprung our ships bolsprit [sic], I dont know but I ought to say broke it, and we put her immediately before the wind to save her mast from going by the board.  We arrived in Boston about the last of October, and remained there untill [sic] about the first of December [ed: January], During that time we got a bolsprit [sic] &c, made accession to our crew of about 60 men and a very great change in our officers.  our [sic] Sailingmaster Mr Swain had to leave, and Mr. Harringdon took his place, our Boson [sic] Mr O Connor [sic: Connell] had to leave & John Hancock took his place, these two officers had to leave the ship, but the cause I need not mention.  The commodore [sic] came on board as soon as the ship was in sailing order.Then came the contest between the Commodore and three of his Lieuts, viz, Mr Russel [ed: Charles C. Russell] the First Lieut.  Mr John Cordass [sic] the 2nd Lieut, and Mr Emery [ed: William Amory] Lieut of marines [sic]  The cause of the difficulty was (as I heard Mr Debloys [ed: James Deblois] our purser say) by the commodore[e's] withholding their commissions, the whole three resented it immediately, and cauld [sic] for their bagg[a]ge and got on board the boat in a very few moments, and as soon as they left the ship, we gave them three cheers & they returned the complement [sic].  There we were destitute of the complement of officers which the service required and the ship to sail the next day.  Then the commodore took the responsibility to give the ship her complement of officers by promotion of the officers then on board, as  follows‑‑ Mr Beal [ed: Richard C. Beale] the third Lieut promoted to the first.  The Late commodore [sic] Isaac Hull 4th Lieut promoted to 2nd Lieut.  Mr [Cotton] Thayer Sergeant of Marines, promoted Lieut of marines [sic] in place of Mr. Emery.  Mr Story [ed: Joseph Torrey] our gunner and Mr Jarvis [ed: Midshipman Phillip Jarvis] appointed to one watch together as Lieut.  This Mr Jarvis had never taken any part in ships duty, but had always remained in the cabbin [sic] with the commodore untill [sic] the appointment here referd too [sic].  With this good ships company we set sail about the first [ed: 29th] of Dec 1798.  There was one Mr Hambleton [ed: Lieutenant Robert W. Hamilton] came on board of us some where in the West Indies and acted as Lieut 3rd or 4th I dont know which.  You will observe that in the account I gave of the chase of the french [sic] frigate, I had much to say respecting the conversation of the officers.  The fact is, I being young & of good memory & frequently on centry [sic] in the Lieuts wardroom I heard much & stored it up in safe keeping

                   Kendalls mills   March 9th 1857                     /s/ William Bryant


about the 1st of April 1857 We had return from Washington, saying that they wisht [sic] to be informed of the place of my Birth and occupation & description of my person, we gave it.


    And sent on my American protection which I received August 1800, & ad[d]ed the following[:] This may certify that I, William Bryant, Who made application for bounty Land [sic] for services on board of the frigate Constitution from May 1798 to 1799 am the same person mentioned in this american [sic] protection to defend against British impressments



7th of May 1857recd return from Washington, Saying that they must have record evidence or evidence of two persons, who would testify to the fact of my service on board of that ship    Paid W. B. Snell Esqr $1.00 for his servicesAfter receiving the above from Washington, of the 7th of may [sic] I settleing [sic] with Esqr Snell & gave up all hopes of getting [sic] a Land warrant; But after a number of Days I concluded to try once more & I obtained my Land warrant of 160 acres, which was dated 13th of June /57


May 23d ‑‑ I then Sent the following ‑‑ 1857


To the Gentlemen Auditors of the united States [sic] pension office.  On the 9th of march [sic] 1857 ‑‑ In the account I gave of some of the doings on board of the frigate Constitution, I stated that I didnot know of any living person that was on board of the frigate  Constitution, from may [sic] 1798 to may 1899 [sic] ‑‑ In answer to that statement, you request[ed] to be informed of the place of my birth.  occupation and size of my person.  We made the return according to request.  We didnot sen[d] my American protection as proof of service, but only to show my occupation, in party.  In march [sic] /56 I sent a letter to the navy agent at Charlesto[wn] Mass ‑‑ to know if my name was on the ship[p]ing papers of the frigate Constitution from may [sic] 1798 to 1799.  The reply to that letter I send for your inspection.  I went to Boston last oct [sic] to find testimony.  The only person that I could find that knew about my service was Mr Edward B. Walker, a hatter, the man who I lived with almost three years ‑‑ he quit the business & I left him the latter part of 1797 But I returned home before doing any[t]hing, being unwell.  And then sent to Boston to get E. B. Walkers affidavit , That you have.  The service performed was so long ago that I dont know of any living person who was on board of that Ship at that time, The records being all destroyed of both State and nation, that I must fail of obtaining my land warrant provided you cannot think favourable [sic] of my claim.  I have given you a short history of some of the doings on board of that ship while I remained on board from the 15th of may [sic] 1798 to the 31st day of may [sic] 1799 ‑‑ being twelve month[s] and 16 days.  I was in the boat with the first recruits that ever went on board of that ship.  I signd [sic] articles A.M. & went on board, P.M. 15th day of may [sic] 1798 ‑‑ no officers on board at that time but petty officers.  I can State many circumstances that took place during my service.  We loss [sic] 22 men as follows, Three men fell from aloft and kill[e]d dead.  two men fell from aloft, overboard & loss [sic[.  John Hancock our Boatswain was accidentally shot dead by one of his mates while going along side of a British frigate in the night The mate being one of the boarders – with pistol in his belt.  We supposed the frigate to be french.  The remainder of [the] death[s] was by fever & other complaints.  Thirteen men during my service was lasht [sic] to the gangway and stript [sic] and received a smart dozen on the bare back, one sailor [ed: Seaman James Cary] being on shore in prinsruper [sic: Prince Rupert] bay, Dominico, took Mr Jarvis, acting Lieut, by the collar and pusht [sic] him, and when he came on board was put in irons ‑‑ next morning all hands called to punishment.  The commodore then said that [h]is officers wisht [sic] to have the sailor tryed [sic] by court martial ‑‑ and said he knew what would be the consequence ‑‑ he would be flogd [sic] through the fleet and he didnot wish to set the example, so the sailor took a smart dozen & then went on duty.  The Commodore was one of the most humane Commanders in our navy, was always willing to hear to the complaints of his men and would offen [sic] reprimand his officers for any ill treatment.  The summer of 1798 was the first of our navy going to sea against the french [sic], and we made a war like appearance ‑‑ I have seen 10 or a dozen of our national vessels large & small, in presuper [sic] bay at one time ‑‑ Whare [sic] we used to go every two or three weeks, to water during our Cru[i]se in that region between three and four months.  I dont send this as legal testimony of my service, but only to try to convince you that I have not been acting the rogue in this affair.  My accounts will all be very soon brought to a close, Land or no Land          Yours &c ‑‑ Kendalls mills may 23d ‑‑ 1857                         /s/ William Bryant



Received my Land warrant august 20th ‑‑ 1857 and paid W. B. Snell Esqr $6.00 in full for his services.  My Land warrant was dated 13th of June, and went into the State of Miss, & wheare [sic] els[e] I dont know, but was over two months on the way before I received it



I Didnot make a record of the reply to the communication received from Washington the first of april [sic] /57, written by W. B. Snell ‑‑ respecting the place of my Birth & occupation &c


    As I consider my Stay in this life to be of Short duration, and feal [sic] thankful for the favours received from townsmen I think proper to state the favours received.


    I was chosen Representative to the General Court of Massachusetts in May 1819 and chosen to the Legislature of maine [sic] 1826 and 1828


    I have been chosen Selectman 19 times.  and served as Assessor 18 years.


    I served as Selectman 17 years only.


    I served at the head of the board 13 years.  and about 15 years as overseer of the Door.


                     Kendalls mills may XIth ‑‑ 1860 ‑‑                       /s/ William Bryant




The ledger is in the private collection of a descendant living (1981) in New Hampshire.




    William Bryant was born in either Ipswich or Sandwich, Massachusetts, 5 January 1781.  He was apprenticed as a hatter for three years, until the man went out of business.  A few months later, Bryant shipped in the Navy and served a one year enlistment.  He was the maternal grandfather of General Selden Connor, who was wounded in the Battle of the Wilderness during the Civil War and later served as Governor of Massachusetts, 1875‑78.  Bryant may have been the last surviving "plank owner" of CONSTITUTION, dying in Kendall's Mills, Maine, on 15 June 1867, at the age of 86.