The French Are Here! Row Your Boat! Row for Your Lives!

Dateline: Philadelphia, 1709. In 1701, the Council set up a small-scale ‘pony express’ in case the French land on American shores. In 1709 it happened. They didn’t ride a horse, but rowed a boat with the message. Why a boat?

In the big picture, England was at war with France in King William’s War (1687-97), where the man theater of war was New France or Canada. Then Queen Anne’s War (1701-13) carried it on in the same area. But privateers were encouraged to wreak havoc on English trade.

9 July 1709

Council at Philadelphia:

No Lt. Governor stated, because he was down in the southern counties.

Edward Shippen, Griffith Owen, James Logan, William Trent, Richard Hill, Isaac Norris, Samuel Preston, all Esquires

Modernized transcription begins:

Richard Westly of Lewis, Sussex [County], arriving here early this morning with an express [message] sent from thence [from there] by him in a boat and four oars by the Governor, now there [in Sussex] to give notice to the government here that on the 6th and 7th instant [this year] a French privateer had endeavored to land at Lewis aforesaid, but being prevented by the opposition made to him stood up by the bay where the said Westly on coming up did pass him.

Whereupon (as he further informs) he according to the Governor’s orders to him, which was the principal design of sending him by water, had given notice to all the outward bound vessels that he could possibly come to speak with that they might avoid the danger.

And the said Westly, desiring to be satisfied [with money] for his own and his companions’ troubles.

It is ordered that the treasurer forthwith pay to the said Westly the sum of six pounds of the present currency or eight pounds of the old, in satisfaction for his service to be allowed out of the public money now in his hands.

Transcription ends.

So the reason the Governor sent the message by boat and not by horse was to warn all ships about to leave to stay because the privateers may chase them.

The story continues. Should they form a militia from Philadelphia?

16 July 1709

Council:

Cha. Gookin, Esquire and Lt. Governor

Samuel Finney, James Logan, William Trent, George Roche, Anthony Palmer, all Esquires. I. Norris came later.

Modernized transcription begins:

The [Lt.] Governor having yesterday returned from Lewis, from whence [where] he had sent an account laid before the board at their last meeting of an attempt made by a French privateer to land there, but by his presence were disappointed now further represented [presented] that the enemy, having in a manner made our River and Bay a rendezvous to their vessels, it was incumbent on us to think of making a defence against them in case, that tempted by the hopes of plunder of this city, they might adventure to attempt it.

That we are now in a very visible, which ought to awaken the thoughts of every man who has anything to lose; and that the discharge of his duty and the trust reposed in him, indispensably requiring him to provide for the people’s safety committed to his charge,

He had ordered a proclamation to be drawn up in readiness, requiring all men to provide themselves with arms and forthwith to enlist themselves under such officers as should be appointed;

And that he thought further requisite to require by the same proclamation that all men whatsoever between the age or 16 and 60 years should in case of a real alarm attend him at the place of arms;

Which proclamation he ordered to be read and accordingly it was read and approved of and ordered to be forthwith engrossed [printed], sealed and published;

But complaint being made that there is no money belonging to the public to pay so much as for an express or any other service whatsoever;

It is ordered that the Assembly shall be called to meet on the 26 of this instant to consider and make due provision in this case and writs of summons are accordingly ordered to be forthwith published.

Transcription ends.

So the Council of Philadelphia, where perhaps the Quaker influence was diminishing, but not gone, ordered a militia to be formed, in case of an attack. Then men had to provide for their own weapons.

Here’s how the fright ended at council meetings dated 26, 27 and 29th of July, a summary of a long original source:

They checked their account books and saw that taxes had not been collected for some time in some places.

Indians were worried that the French might raise an army and invade, but Lt. Gov. Gookin reassured them that these ships just rob and plunder either other ships or coastal settlements.

Lewis, Sussex County, had apparently been plundered, so opposition must not have been strong enough.

The English told the Natives about the Queen’s war with France and the ways of privateers.

If the Natives behaved peacefully and did not ally themselves with the French, they need not fear war or reprisal from the English, but could circulate with great liberty.

Queen Anne sent a ship named the Garland patrolling along the coast, so the French were scared off.

The English had to do better in raising funds for these emergencies, like 300 pounds.

The Natives assured them of their cooperation.

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SOURCE

Minutes of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania from the Organization to the Termination of the Proprietary Government, containing the Proceedings of Council from December 18 1700 to May 16 1717, vol. II, (Harrisburg Theophilus Fenn, 1838), pp. 487-48 and 490-97.

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