Two Revolutionary War Letters Between Brothers Nicoll Fosdick and Thomas Updike Fosdick About American Privateering in New London Connecticut 1783

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The recipient of Captain Nicoll Fosdick’s letter, his brother, Captain Thomas Updike Fosdick 1754 – 1811, served in the militia company of Capt. Nathan Hale of Coventry, and participated in that unit’s exploits prior to Hale’s execution in late 1776. In August 1776, a week before the Battle of Fort Washington, Fosdick drew a commendation from General Washington for  attempting to drive a fire-ship deep into the British forces assembling for the Battle of Fort Washington. Thomas Updike Fosdick was taken prisoner in that battle. As the war moved south, Fosdick returned to garrison duty guarding New London and was part of the 1781 fighting there that ended with the burning of the town by Benedict Arnold.

Description

Letter 1

Capt. Nicoll Fosdick, Manuscript, ink on paper, autograph letter signed, two pages, January 4, 1783, from New London to his brother, Captain Thomas Updike Fosdick on Shelter Island, a Revolutionary War letter, recounting privateering news, losses as well as seizures and relaying local and international successes of the American “rogue” navy. In 1833, one Peter Vaill filed an application for his Revolutionary War Pension and Land Benefits. In his application he stated: “In the month of October 1780 I enlisted at New London as a marine for a cruise in the Privateer Randolph commanded by Captain Nicoll Fosdick …”. Vaill’s application gives an account of his voyage to the West Indies, establishing Capt. Nicoll Fosdick as a successful commander.

“New London Jan[uar]y 4th, 1783

Dear Brother,

Yours p[er] Mr. Havens of the 27th Dec[embe]r came late to hand being the first I have Rec[eive]d from you Since I left ye Island, It gives me the utmost Happiness to hear you are all comfortable more particular to hear Dear Fanny is so well — as to the other Vessels that was seized they are Cleared having no proof against them. [W]we have been very Successful here Lately in our Arrivals  Viz. Capt Hinsnan in the Marquis, Capt. Perkins in the Hancock. Both from the West Indies. Capt. Wattlis from Holland with a Load of Dry Goods. There is not much Business to be done here at present for my part I have Imployed my time in Buying a load of Eastesor Boards and Stained them up nicely am now Shaving and Jointing my Shingles and Storing them in Giles store & collecting what metals I can for Building so as to Strike as soon as the frost is out of the ground — I now send you a jug of molasses &  small ditto of gin, Rum I am in hopes will be cheaper soon shall then Send you a Little of that it is 8/6 per Gall by the Isl[a]nd. You must send me your empty jugs if convenient David Roberts would be glad of his —

“You must tell Coz. J. that he must not be so nice in his Choice of Lawless and base a Hand this way or find some better reason for not coming than I can give for I have been oblige[d] to give so many, that I am fairly run out, Something might be Done Soon to keep peace, B. wrote a letter when the Boat was over before which I inclose[sic] to you but Havens went off and Left Them, she has since taken it back and is now at the Rope Ferry. Caty Chadwick and myself was avisiting at Uncle Eldridge’s, Last week Left them all which is no loss with all Friends at Norwich & here – Give my kind Regards to all & Consider me your Sincere Friend & Aff[ectionat]e Brother Nicoll Fosdick

“P.S. Capt. Wattles Brought an Acc[oun]t of the Ship Cato that Nath[anie]l Richards went in being Drove on Shore at the Fly in Holland by a Dutch Ship Drifting fowl of her as She Lay at Anchor the Day She Arrived & Lost her whole Cargo, but no lives Lost. Uncle Mumford was a Large Freighter in Said Ship but had part of his Interest Insured – { There is not a Pound of Coffee to be Bought here NF — Thomas U Fosdick”

Letter 2

Captain Thomas Updike Fosdick Manuscript, ink on paper, an autograph letter signed, 1 ½ pages, watermarked laid paper with vertical chain lines, 13 3/16 in, one fold, written from New London Connecticut and dated Aug. 19, 1783, at the end by Capt. Thomas Updike Fosdick, addressed to his cousin, Jonathan Nicoll Havens on Shelter Island.

Text of the letter:

“Dear Cousin,

Yours of the 9th Inst[ant] I have rec[eive]d. I am very sorry the ague haunts you. It had a notion of perplexing me, some time ago, but I gave it the Slip. Perhaps walking would be better for you than Riding, tho I cannot tell how your lame leg is at present. I am very glad to hear of Ben Flass’ recovery; by what I had heard he was very dangerous. I have not had the happiness of Sally’s company this long time. Sally is at Norwich, and I believe attends the Dancing School. However my greatest pleasure shall be to await her commands. I cannot say that my preference would give you health, as, at present, I am its perfect picture. As for your Allegonial Description, Cathy Richards, who, I think, has the profession of it is gone to Norwich. I shall however make good search after it; and then for the Comment? ….. Sorry I am to hear that Molly is laid low in her narrow house; however her kind behaviour to me and to my Sisters and to me is long Remember’d.

That oversight of Peggy’s is no new thing and if I were a Girl, I think I should be guilty of the Same. For once in your life do a good action Given my love & kind Respects to Mr. Dering’s Family, and in a particular manner Miss Betsey —— I am glad to hear your wise opinion of the First Man the World ever produced: Posterity nor Time can ever eradicate his Laurels. It seems tho’ Franny’s [thanks?] were very hard, yet you did put it in, and you must not neglect giving her more — Cousin Franny is got so as to ride out; all Friends are well, I believe; Giles, his wife, Child, Nicoll, in short everybody is gone to Norwich; but if the[y] like that place no better than I do, they will all soon return ….. My kind love to Uncle and Aunt, Polly &c &c Adieu Tho[mas] U[pdike] Fosdick. N. L. Aug. 19th, 1783. No new publications, much less extraordinary.”

These letters tell the stories of two brothers from Shelter Island and their active roles in the American navy as privateers during the Revolutionary War. Capt. Nicoll Fosdick wrote to his brother on January 4, 1783 from New London Connecticut. In his letter to Capt. Thomas Updike Fosdick, Capt. Nicoll Fosdick recounts the latest maritime news at the start of 1783, mentioning, “[W]e have been very Successful here Lately in our Arrivals  Viz. Capt Hinsnan in the Marquis, Capt. Perkins in the Hancock. Both from the West Indies.” In a postscript, Capt. Nicoll Fosdick tells his brother, “P.S. Capt. Wattles Brought an Acc[oun]t of the Ship Cato that Nath[anie]l Richards went in being Drove on Shore at the Fly in Holland by a Dutch Ship Drifting fowl of her as She Lay at Anchor the Day She Arrived & Lost her whole Cargo, but no lives Lost. Uncle Mumford was a Large Freighter in Said Ship but had part of his Interest Insured.” Capt. Nathaniel Richards was a native of New London and was active as a privateer as early as 1777, sailing out of Boston as a Lieutenant of Marines under Capt. Elisha Hinsnan. We know this from the summary Capt. Richards wrote and filed as part of his application for his Revolutionary War pension and his bounty land warrant in the National Archives dated 1818. At the end of Capt. Richards’ affidavit, there is an attestation dated March 19, 1818 signed by Nicoll Fosdick stating, “I certify the Nathaniel Richards of New London was a Lieut. of Marines on board the U[nited] States ship Alfred, Elisha Hinsnan Commander, more than twelve months during our Revolutionary War …”.

From a sworn affidavit in the National Archives dated 1833, one Peter Vaill filed an application for his Revolutionary War Pension and Land Benefits. In his application he stated: “In the month of October 1780 I enlisted at New London as a marine for a cruise in the Privateer Randolph commanded by Captain Nicoll Fosdick …”. Vaill’s application gives an account the engagements and prizes taken from the British during his voyage to the West Indies, establishing Capt. Nicoll Fosdick as a successful privateer commander.

Capt. Thomas Updike Fosdick 1754 – 1811, served in the militia company of Capt. Nathan Hale of Coventry, and participated in that unit’s exploits prior to Hale’s execution in late 1776. In August 1776, a week before the Battle of Fort Washington, Fosdick drew a commendation from General George Washington for  attempting to drive a fire-ship deep into the British forces assembling for the Battle of Fort Washington. Thomas Updike Fosdick was taken prisoner in that battle and later paroled. As the war moved south, Fosdick returned to garrison duty guarding New London and was part of the 1781 fighting there that ended with the burning of the town by Benedict Arnold.

See also: Capt. Nathaniel Richards’ own account of his service under Capt. Hinsnan National Archives NextGen Catalog

For verification of Capt. Nicoll Fosdick’s rank and active duty as a privateer, see: National Archives NextGen Catalog

Behind the myth of Nathan Hale: A brave but incompetent spy? (ctinsider.com)  for Thomas Updike Fosdick’s activities as a spy with Nathan Hale.   And,   National Archives NextGen Catalog

 

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Additional information

Author

Fosdick, Thomas Updike Fosdick and Nicoll Fosdick

Title

Two Revolutionary War Letters Between Brothers Nicoll Fosdick and Thomas Updike Fosdick About American Privateering in New London Connecticut 1783