Samuel Smedley and Prize Division

Over at the Journal of the American Revolution, I have an article on how the division of captured prizes undermined the Connecticut state navy:

All the sailors did the math and realized going on a privateer was the better option. That’s why Congress abandoned the two-thirds/one-third model and adopted a half-and-half system for merchant ships — they had to be competitive with privateers for recruitment.

Connecticut did not follow Congress’s example. They stubbornly stuck to the original two-thirds/one-third model. They wanted that extra sliver, that extra sixteen percent.

This greatly inhibited Smedley’s ability to recruit sailors for Defence. On his very first voyage, Smedley had trouble finding enough men. Just as they were prepared to sail from New London, the man Smedley thought was going to be his first lieutenant — a man by the name of Henry Billings — suddenly refused the job. Billings returned the commission in a letter to Trumbull in February 1777, writing, “I am offered the Command of a Burmudian Built Sloop fixing out as a Privateer — And I think to do Justice to myself & family I must except of the offer.”

If you haven’t read my book or attended one of my presentations, here’s a chance to grok the gist of it in 2,500 words.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *