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Continental Congress Prize Agent at Boston, John Bradford, writes to Continental Congress President John Hancock Complaining about one of the Captains in George Washington’s American Armed Privateer Ships “Little Navy”

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JOHN BRADFORD (1735-1784). Member of the Committee of Correspondence and The Committee of Secret Correspondence. In April, 1776, Congress appointed him “Agent for Prizes” for Boston, the most important such position in the colonies, and also as Continental Agent to assist the Marine Committee in purchasing and outfitting ships.

(JOHN HANCOCK) (1737-1793). Acting President of the 2nd Continental Congress (May 24, 1775-1777) meeting in Philadelphia and the First to Sign the Declaration of Independence.

September 16, 1776-Dated Revolutionary War, Autograph Letter Signed, “J(ohn) Bradford” sent to John Hancock as President of the Continental Congress, 3 pages (written on two sheets), measuring 9.5” x 7.25”, on fine “L. V. Gerrevink” watermarked laid period paper, overall Fine. Some small pieces lacking with splits along the folds that have been reinforced with archival tape. Overall, written in easily readable deep brown ink, this letter ends with John Bradford’s bold signature. A historic Naval letter, where the Continental Prize Agent at Boston, John Bradford, writes to the then President of the Continental Congress John Hancock, complaining about the conduct of Daniel Waters, who is one of the Captains in General George Washington’s “Little Navy”. Bradford mentions a number of early American Privateer Ships including; Capture of the “Warren”, return of the “Franklin”, “Hancock”, “Lynch” & “Lee”. This Letter, sent to: “The Hon. John Hancock Esqr.”, with Boston Agent Bradford writing, in full:

“Boston 16th Sepr. 1776 --- Yours with Mr. (Robert) Morris’s fav’r under the same date, I duly rec’d and shou’d have (with the greatest clarity) engaged in dispatching your ship had I not received counter orders from him of the 4th Insta’t. Mr. Morris writes me the Bargain is void, and has ordere’d me to charter or buy a small vessell and load her with [missing text] if to be purchas’d on certain terms. It wou’d have gratified me much to see you clear of that ship, but I make no doubt by putting the Broom at her masthead it will be in Mr. Bank’s power to sell her in a few weeks.” ---

“We are all inform’d of the amazing Business you dispatchg and I assure you sir your friends are very anxiously concern’d lest you should loose your health is it not time to take a little relaxation, and to pay a visit to your native country. Your presence among this community would be like a cordial to a fainting person. Mr. Bank & I am look’g out for some Madeira. Other wines are easily come at.” --- “I am under the disagreeable necessity of representing the base conduct of Captain Daniel Waters in the armed schooner Lee, who had lost two months merely from an obstinate perverse temper. He arrived here from a cruise about the last of June. I paid the vessell off the portledge bill amounted to L445.6. He was the best officered and mann’d of any vessel in the service; his first Lieutenant’s time being up, for which he had engaged, he left him. His second (Lieutenant) chose to remain in the service, and his abilities are allowed, even by Waters, to be equal to any man in the like station in the Services and greatly esteem’d by all the men, yet Waters discharged him from the Service, contrary to my advice, under the pretext that he refus’d to go under a first who had never been in the service and a man who is the greatest part of his time lay’d up with the gout; his people all told him if the 2nd remained they would go, But he has been from that time the first July till about ten days ago, no farther from Boston than squam, it’s now a week since his 2nd. Lieut., which he discharged, sent into Plymouth a West Indiaman (which he had captured), for he was immediately put in command of a privateer on his discharge.

Finally when Waters had got mann’d, he would not consort with the Warren who waited for him tho endeavor’d to point out the utility of two going together, he told me he shou’d not look on himself under any obligation to consult with me. He should go where and when he pleas’d unless Gen. Washington or an officer of his appointing should give him orders, then he shou’d hold himself bound.

I have just given you a Sketch of his conduct Sir as I thought it my indispensable duty so to do, for I humbly presume if conduct like his passes with impunity, the little Navy will rather be a clog than a service to the public. You will see by the papers from time to time that we are successfull in the privateer’s way. I wish out little Navy were more so, the Hancock and Franklin arrived some time since with all their spars defective and we’ve met some little detention in getting others but they are now ready and set today.

The Lynch & Lee are on a cruise. Poor Burke in the Warren taken by the Liverpool. I am fearful my prolixity will be disagreeable, therefore conclude after offering Mrs. Bradford and my kindest regards to your good Lady & self, I am with the warmest esteem. Sir - your most Obed’t & very humble Serv’t. -- (Signed) Jno Bradford”.

From our EAHA Auction of December 9, 2006 Lot 76 sale, where it realized $2,832. A valuable piece of historic early Revolutionary War American Naval history.

Provenance: Current Consignor; Ex: Collection of Ambassador J. William Middendorf II. Ex: The Hancock-Chase Collection, formerly housed at the National Museum of American History. Accompanied by its original accounting numbered file folder from that collection’s archive.

In May 1775, John Hancock was elected President of the Continental Congress, which was meeting in Philadelphia. The next month, the Congress chose George Washington (1732-1799) as commander of the Continental Army. During the eight years of war that followed, Hancock used his wealth and influence to help fund the army and Revolutionary cause.

On July 4, 1776, Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, a document drafted by Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) stating that the 13 American colonies were free from British rule. The document also detailed the importance of individual rights and freedoms. As President of the Continental Congress, Hancock is credited as the first Signer of the Declaration of Independence. His prominent, stylish signature became famous. (According to legend, Hancock boldly inscribed his name so the English king would not need glasses to read it.) Today, the term “John Hancock” is synonymous with “signature.”

After resigning as head of the Continental Congress in 1777, Hancock had his chance for military glory in 1778, when he led some 5,000 Massachusetts soldiers in an attempt to recapture Newport, Rhode Island, from the British. Although the mission was a failure, Hancock remained a popular figure.

Hancock went on to help frame the Massachusetts Constitution, adopted in 1780, and was elected Governor of Massachusetts by a wide margin that same year. In 1789, Hancock was a candidate in the first U.S. Presidential election, but received only four electoral votes out of a total 138 cast. George Washington garnered 69 votes, while John Adams (1735-1826) captured 36 votes, earning the two men the Presidency and Vice Presidency, respectively.

Hancock remained Governor of Massachusetts until his death at age 56 on October 8, 1793. Following an extravagant funeral, he was buried at Boston’s Granary Burying Ground.

John Bradford (1735-84) was a Member of the Committee of Correspondence and The Committee of Secret Correspondence. In April, 1776, Congress appointed him “Agent for Prizes” for Boston, the most important such position in the colonies, and also as Continental Agent to assist the Marine Committee in purchasing and outfitting ships.
Lot Number: 115
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Estimate Range: $4,000 - $5,000
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