<br /> Lee Letter: n340_0527

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Marine Committee
Recipient: James Nicholson

Sir

It seems currently reported that the Frigate Virginia under your command is
ready for the Sea and that She only waits for Orders.

Hoping this may really be the case, we despatch the following Instructions
by which you are to be governed.1 You
are immediately to proceed with the said Frigate to sea, embracing such
favourable winds as may be likely to run you quickly of[f] the Coast,
for as we know you are not in condition to meet the enemies Ships in
Battle on advantageous terms at present, we wish you to avoid them
until you get well manned and your People tollerably trained, therefore
soon as you clear the land schape your Course for the Island of
Martinico, and there deliver to William Bingham esqr. American Resident
at that Port the letter sent herewith directed for him. We expect a
quantity of Arms, ammunition, Cloathing and Other Stores to be lodged
with him by this time and he is directed to put a part of them on board
the Virginia and you will direct them to be received on board, granting
bills of lading for what are so received. Should Mr. Bingham have
shipped these Stores or the greatest part of them previous to your
Arrival, it is likely there may be Others at St. Eustatia and you may
apply there to Mr. Saml Curson junr., Mr. Cornelius Stevenson & Mr
Henricus Goddet for any such that may have come to their hands granting
them bills of Lading for what you receive. When you arrive at Martinico
Mr Bingham will inform you what British ships of war are amongst the
Windward Islands, also what other of the enemies Cruizers are there,
and whether the Inhabitants of the British West India Islands continue
the practice of fitting out ships in a Piratical manner without
commissions and if upon a veiw of these things Mr Bingham and you
should be of opinion that it will be useful to our Commerce for you to
make a short Cruize amongst the Islands for the purpose of protecting
our Trade and distressing the enemy by all means let it be done.

The British Ships of war after being any length of time in the West Indies
are rarely well manned and as we hope your Ship will sail well, we hope
you may either be able to cope with them in Battle or to outsail them,
as to any other Cruizers they must outsail or submit to you, but if you
can add some of the enemies ships to our Navy it will render essential
Service to your Country, inspirit our Seamen and do honor to yourself.

Should you take any Prizes whose Cargoes are perishable or particularly
suited to the West India Markets you may order such articles to be sold
there and lodge the Money with Mr. Bingham taking his drafts for the
same, but the Ship and other parts of the Cargo must come to America
for condemnation.

You will be particularly attentive to collect as many Seamen as possible,
not only what may be necessary for the Virginia, but as many as you can
bring to assist in manning the rest of our Navy. It is expected that
you contend warmly on all necessary occasions for the honor of the
American Flag. At every foreign port you enter salute their Forts, and
wait on the Governor, General or Commander in chief, asking liberty of
their Ports for the Ships of the United States of America. Take care
that your people do not molest their Trade or Inhabitants nor in any
shape disturb that good understanding we have with them. We think you
should not only attempt to get seamen at every port you touch at, but
also encourage them to enter from every Prize you take, and if amongst
these you should number any of the British ships of war, you must be
particularly attentive to prevail on the most useful Petty &
Warrant officers to engage in our Service-the encouragement for them is
great and we want them much. When your errand to the West Indies is
compleated you are to return to some Port in these states.

The uncertainty of the state of war and the stations the enemy may choose
for their large Ships makes it improper we should fix positively on any
one particular, but as it is likely those middle states may be the Seat
of war the nearer you can land the stores to our Army the better. It is
expected from every Commander in our Navy that he will use his officers
and people well, still preserving Strict discipline and decorum, that
prisoners be treated with humanity, that great care be taken of the
ships, their materials & stores, and that due attention be paid to
the private Instructions of the Navy Board. We are Sir,

Your very hble Servts

P. S. You have herewith signals whereby to know the American ships of war.

Notes:

Letter book, Marine Committee Letter Book, Marine Committee Miscellaneous
Papers, U.S. National Archives and Records Administration,
Washington, D.C.

1 But see also Marine Committee to James Nicholson, April 29, 1777, note.