Journals of the Continental Congress

Second Continental Congress: April 3, 1776

April 3, 1776

Congress passes several war related Resolves and issues Eleven Instructions concerning the capture of British vessels and cargoes. Samuel Adams and William Whipple reflect on reconciliation or independence.

Link to date-related documents.

Journals of the Continental Congress [Edited]

Congress passed Resolutions that 1) the letter of General Washington, of the 24th of March, with the papers enclosed, be referred to a committee of three: Thomas Johnson, John Jay, and James Wilson, 2) the Canadian effort receive monetary advance, 3) two Delaware companies be assigned to “the service of the continent till farther orders,” 4) the Marine Committee be directed to provide “two armed cutters, for the service of the continent,” 5) there be detailed procedures for applying for and filling for commissions for private ships of war and letters of marque and reprisal,”

The committee to whom the instructions to the commanders of private ships or vessels of war, were recommitted, brought in their report, which being taken into consideration, and debated by paragraphs, was agreed to as follows:

Instructions to the commanders of private ships or vessels of war, which shall have commissions or letters of marque and reprisal, authorizing them to make captures of British vessels and cargoes.

  • 1. You may, by force of arms, attack, subdue, and take all ships and other vessels belonging to the inhabitants of Great Britain. on the high seas, or between high water and low water mark, except ships and vessels bringing persons who intend to settle and reside in the United Colonies; or bringing arms, ammunition, or war-like stores, to the said colonies, for the use of such inhabitants thereof as are friends to the American cause, which you shall suffer to pass unmolested, the commanders thereof permitting a peaceable search, and giving satisfactory information of the contents of the ladings, and destinations of the voyages.
  • 2. You may, by force of arms, attack, subdue, and take all ships and other vessels whatsoever, carrying soldiers, arms, gunpowder, amunition, provisions, or any other contraband goods, to any of the British armies or ships of war employed against these colonies.
  • 3. You shall bring such ships and vessels, as you shall take, with their guns, rigging, tackle, apparel, furniture, and ladings, to some convenient port or ports of the United Colonies, that proceedings may thereupon be had, in due form, before the courts, which are or shall be there appointed to hear and determine causes civil and maritime.
  • 4. You, or one of your chief officers, shall bring or send the master andd pilot, and one or more principal person or persons of the company of every ship or vessel by you taken, as soon after the capture as may be, to the judge or judges of such court as aforesaid, to be examined upon oath, and make answer to the interrogatories which may be propounded, touching the interest or property of the ship or vessel, and her lading; and, at the same time, you shall deliver, or cause to be delivered, to the judge or judges, all passes, sea-briefs, charter-parties, bills of lading, cockers, letters, and other documents and writings found on board, proving the said papers, by the affidavit of yourself, or of some other person present at the capture, to be produced as they were received, without fraud, addition, subduction or embezzlement.
  • 5. You shall keep and preserve every ship or vessel, and cargo, by you taken, until they shall, by a sentence of a court properly authorized, be adjudged lawful prizes; not selling, spoiling, wasting, or diminishing the same, or breaking the bulk thereof, nor suffering any such thing to be done.
  • 6. If you, or any of your officers or crew, shall, in cold blood, kill or maim, or by torture or otherwise, cruelly, inhumanly, and, contrary to common usage, and the practice of civilized nations in war, treat any person or persons surprised in the ship or vessel you shall take, the offender shall be severely punished.
  • 7. You shall, by all convenient opportunities, send to Congress written accounts of the captures you shall make, with the number and names of the captives, copies of your journal from time to time, and intelligence of what may occur or be discovered concerning the designs of the enemy, and the destination, motions, and operations of their fleets and armies.
  • 8. One-third, at least, of your whole company shall he landsmen.
  • 9. You shall not ransom any prisoners or captives, but shall dispose of them in such manner, as the Congress, or, if that be not sitting, in the colony whither they shall be brought, as the general assembly, convention, or council, or committee of safety, of such colony shall direct.
  • 10. You shall observe all such further instructions as Congress shall hereafter give in the premises, when you shall have notice thereof.
  • 11. If you shall do any thing contrary to these instructions, or to others hereafter to be given, or willingly suffer such thing to be done, you shall not only forfeit your commission, and be liable to an action for breach of the condition of your bond, but be responsible to the party grieved for damages sustained by such malversation.

Resolved, That this Congress will, tomorrow morning, at 10 o’Clock resolve itself into a committee of the whole to take into consideration the trade of the United Colonies.

Adjourned to 10 o’Clock tomorrow.

Samuel Adams to Samuel Cooper

Is not America already independent? Why then not declare it? Upon whom was she ever supposed to be dependent, but upon that Nation whose most barbarous Usage of her, & that in multiplied Instances and for a long time has rendered it absurd ever to put Confidence in it, & with which she is at this time in open War. Can Nations at War be said to be dependent either upon the other?  I ask then again, why not declare for Independence?  Because say some, it will forever shut the Door of Reconciliation. Upon what Terms will Britain be reconciled with America? If we may take the confiscating Act of Parliament or the King’s last Proclamation for our Rule to judge by, she will be reconciled upon our abjectly submitting to Tyranny, and asking and receiving Pardon for resisting it. Will this redound to the Honor or the Safety of America? Surely no. By such a Reconciliation she would not only in the most shameful Manner acknowledge the Tyranny, but most wickedly, as far as would be in her Power, prevent her Posterity from ever hereafter resisting it.

William Whipple to John Langdon

What think you of the retreat of the Barbarians from Boston-it will be a pretty story to tell their master. What’s the general opinion with you of the notable commissioners that are coming over?

Edited with commentary by Gordon Lloyd.