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It was necessary that the contractor should have his agent in America, who, in turn appointed agents in different seaports. From 1763 to 1773 John Powell, who resided in Boston, was the general agent. January 1, 1773, the resignation of Powell, who was in poor health, was accepted, and Alexander Brymer, of Boston, was appointed in his place. Through Brymer all business of victualing the navy was carried on, from the time of his appointment to the final rupture between the two countries. Alexander Thompson was the agent at Halifax, Shirley and Price for South Carolina, and Christopher Champlin in Newport. In the many letters that passed between the agents, one finds frequent allusion to the troubles that were disturbing the country, and it is pleasant to a Rhode Islander to know that the agent in Newport, while faithful to his duties under the contract of Robert Grant, never allowed his interest to get the better of his patriotism, but uniformly sustained the cause of the country. This is the more marked in that the letters in which these expressions of fidelity are found, were in many instances addressed to Brymer, whose own letters show that he . was wedded to the Crown. The latter wrote, under date of December 15, 1773 :
“Although in my opinion the tea will not be sent home, yet as I presume it will be stored till the sense of the Ministry and the East India Company is known, it will in effect amount to the same. Whatever you may learn is done to the south ward in respect to it, you may depend, like a dog in a mill, we will follow. Our blasts are too sudden to last any time. Dogs that bark loudest bite seldomist and are the least to be feared."
March 25, 1774, he writes :
“I am no politician ; I meddle not in public measures ; I am neuter. However, I must beg to differ in opinion on the effect of the resolves you may be preparing or have prepared to prevent the sale of tea if government should hereafter enforce the landing of it. If such a resolution should be adopted, which I by no means think likely under present circumstances, it would be to carry it with a high hand. Much is to be said on both sides. But why prevent the landing of it? If people think as they speak the tea would rot in store, not a pound would be sold, and would not this deter the sending any more
more effectually than any resolutions the people could enter into?"
Again he writes :
“It is needless to say that the teas lately arrived, 284 chests, are destroyed, as you will have already heard. This is liberty indeed, big with the fate of every one's fortune, entirely at the disposal of the good people. Forbearance at a certain pitch ceases to be a virtue, so liberty, when strained, is downright licentousness. What a man wills and cannot, and is obliged to do what he wills not, where is liberty? Where is the parallel? Behold it! View the times dispationately and it is to be found easily. We may well say with Caesar, the Rubicon is past. Farewell Peace!”
The Newport agent wrote, as early as November 3, '69 :
"The grand attack of Britian on American liberty, by attempting to dragoon them into unconstitutional revenue laws has produced a general union of the colonies to fall on salutary measures to obtain relief. Among others, the non importation of British manufactures is acceeded to by the merchants till some relief is given 11s by Parliament."
December 31, 1773, in reply to remarks on the importation of tea, he writes :
“This intended monopoly, which would operate much against the merchants in London, and finally ruin the most of them in America in course of a few years, has fixed the minds of the trading part of the community, and should Government use any coercive measures to affect the landing any for the future, the asylum then remains with the people. They will enter into an association not to buy nor sell or consume any, and will break off all connection with any who attempt to deal in it. This I think can be read in the countenance of every one among us.”
Of the vessels of war sent to Rhode Island and which are mentioned in the victualing papers, the earlist are the Squirrel, a ship commanded by Captain Richard Smith, the cutter St. John (a schooner) commanded by Lieutenant Hill, the sloop Chaleur, Thomas Langharne, captain and purser, the Maidstone, a frigate, carrying twenty-eight nine-pounders, and commanded by Captain Charles Antrobus, and the Cygnet (always written Cignet) under Captain Charles Leslie in 1765–6, who was succeeded by Captain Duvill in 1768. These vessels were early stationed here. The Garland took in a 'small supply of provisions in Newport harbor, August, 1767, and shortly sailed up the sound. It was expected that she would winter here; but a letter from Boston, under date of November 4th, states that she had been ordered home. The ship Senigal and the cutter St. John wintered here in 1767. The Senigal was commanded by Thomas Cookson in 1768, and by Thomas Rich, in 1769. The Sultana, Captain Ingles, was here for a short time in December, 1770.
The earliest demands that I have are those of Captain Richard Smith, of the Squirrel, May 19 and August 20, 1764. With these there are the receipts of the signing officers, John Bell, Jr., being the purser, for provisions from June 30th to September 30th. The Squirrel had been ordered to this station by Lord Colville in the autumn of 1763, 6-for the encouragement of fair trade by the prevention of smuggling.” The Maidstone, Captain Antrobus, made demand for provisions in Newport, July 1765. On the 19th of the following September she was in Halifax. December 31st, the same year, she was again in Newport, when further calls were made for provisions, and also in March, June and July of 1766. These demands were usually made by Jno. Williams, Purser. The Maidstone was ordered home the same year, and sailed for London July 8th. The cutter St. John was a thorn in the flesh to Rhode Islanders. She was in these waters as early as 1764, but there is no record of her in the victualing papers earlier than 1768. She was commanded by Captain Thomas Hill, son of Dr. Hill, of London. He was his own purser, and not only caused a great deal of trouble to the commercial interests, but also ruled it with the contractor's agents with a high hand. Being his own purser it rested with him to sign his own vouchers. How he availed himself of the opportunity this afforded him to promote his own interest, may be gathered from the following extract from a letter dated at Newport :
“Captain Hill has made a demand upon me for fresh beef. I have let him have two quarters. I mentioned his supplying himself; his answer was, he has no money to do it, besides, he shall make a demand in such for four months' beef, pork, butter, bread, &c. If you dont supply it he must draw on the Navy Board for it and charge to y'r acct. As to the beer affair, he will not give it up as long as he was victualed for. He has a right to brew, and at the expiration thereof he shall make a demand for four months' more of such articles as he thinks proper, leaving out the rum, which you must deliver, and he will sail immediaetly where he can brew by his instructions. Upon the whole he seems to be far from wanting to be unreasonably troublesome, and finally is willing to do this-to take of you 1500 or 2000 lbs. of bread, 5 or 6 barrels of beef and pork, 5 firkins of butter, change the fresh beef into salt, and barter for some oatmeal and pease, and will give you a voucher for near five hundred gallons of rum, you allowing him two shillings sterling for each gallon.”
The difference in exchange was a fruitful cause of many disputes. The agents were required by the contract to cash the bills of officers for necessary money, which was paid in New England currency and not in sterling. This created great dissatisfaction. The grievance dated back to the time when ships were first sent to the American coast. In 1761 it resulted in the following correspondence :
“HALIFAX, 16th February, 1761. "My Lord. Frequent controvsrsies have arisen between the Pursers of and the agents for victualing his Majesty's ships at this place, and a dispute now subsists on the following article of the victualing contract, viz.: 'And I do further oblige myself, that on application being made to me or my agent by the Pursers of his Majesty's ships or vessels, to supply them with necessary money for their bills in sterling on said commissioners at thirty days sight &c.'
“The pursers explain it in their own favor, so far as to insist that by it the contractor is bound to pay them sterling money for their bills, without regard to the currency or rate of exchange in this Province ; the agents, on the other hand, alledge that it is incumbent on them 'to pay the Pursers at the current exchange of bills in London, and no more : It has heretofore been determined in favor of the latter by every commanding officer to whom the same has been referred ; and the gentlemen who now insist so strenuously on that point, I think do either quite mistake or willfully pervert the meaning of the words, for they imply no more than that the bills shall be drawn in sterling money.
“At the present rate of exchange, which, within three months past, has arisen from five to seven and a half and eight per cent premium, I should have no manuer of objection to pay them sterling for sterling and be a gainer thereby, but as no such thing is stipulated in the contract, I must industriously avoid giving up such a point, and thereby establish a precedent which may prove disadvantageous in future, when exchange is fluctuating in all countries, and none more than this, may prob. ably fall back to its former standard of 5 per cent and under. Therefore I shall endeavor to demonstrate that the Pursers have no manner of right to complain of the present exchange, which I am now ready and willing to pay them on their necessary bills.
“It is a fact well known that for many years past, and at present, the lowest price of silver is and has been five shillings and four pence per ounce, that a Spanish dollar is or ought to be seven-eight parts of an ounce; and is intrinsically worth f in London. All his Majesty's officers, troops and servants abroad are paid at that rate, and I do not see nor can believe that it was ever intended, or that any provision has been made for paying his Pursers in particular, in any other manner.
“When I am called upon for necessary money, on a Purser's bill for £100 stg. I will tender him the highest exchange I get for my own bills, or have ever yet been given for any bills in this province, being 8 per cent, or 432 Spanish dollars for his bill of £100, which at 4 each is £100.16, so that instead of being sufferers by the exchange, I think it will appear from the foregoing calculation that they gain sixteen shillings on every hundred pounds sterling. If they will not be convinced of this they are at liberty to protest, as they have menaced, against the contractor for non-performance, and appeal to the Commissioners for victualing, who are certainly the proper judges of their own contract (or to any other board in England they please), and if I am found delinquent let them exact the penalty.
"I am sorry to give your lordship this trouble, but am under a necessity of doing it or giving up my right. As I avoid entering into litigious debates or altercations in your lordships pres. ence, I take this method of stating in writing, and submit it with all deference and respect to your better judgment, having the honor to be, &c.” .
To the above Lord Colville made answer :
“SIR. What you have wrote to me about the exchange and value of money is, I think, as clear as anything can be on the subject. I undertsand your quotation from the victualing contract exactly as you do ; and if the Pursers refuse their neces sary money on the terms you offer to them, I am clearly of opin