<br /> Lee Letter: n340_0647

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Marine Committee
Recipient: James Nicholson


In consequence of Letters just now received from the executive Powers of
the State of Maryland we have it in charge from Congress to direct that
you do not leave the Port of Baltimore with the frigate Virginia under
your command until you receive further orders from Congress or from
this Committee.1

We are sir, your very hble servants


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

1 Captain Nicholson was locked in a bitter struggle with Maryland state
authorities over the issue of impressment. After the Marine Committee
had ordered him on 8 April to proceed to Martinique, Nicholson began
to impress men in Baltimore to make up a full crew for the Virginia.
The Maryland Council of Safety wrote to Nicholson on 24 April,
protesting that he had no authority to impress Marylanders and
ordering him to release all who had been impressed. Nicholson saucily
replied on the following day that he was confident Congress would
approve of his actions and alleged that impressment was an acceptable
practice in other American cities. The Maryland authorities thereupon
sent their correspondence with Nicholson to Congress, which,
sensitive to the rights of the states, declared on 1 May that it
would never countenance violations of state law by Continental
officers, temporarily suspended Nicholson from his command, and
threatened to dismiss him from Continental service altogether unless
he made “satisfaction” for his disrespectful reply to Maryland
officials. On the same day, moreover, Congress instructed the Marine
Committee to “give the necessary orders for immediately dismissing
the men impressed by Captain Nicholson.” Nicholson apologized to the
Maryland authorities and thereby retained command of the Virginia,
but the Marine Committee created fresh difficulties by ordering the
release only of those impressed men “who have not Signed the Marine
Articles and received the Continental bounty.” Maryland officials
demanded the release of all the men Nicholson had impressed, and
Congress rebuked the Marine Committee for so construing Congress’
orders, but in the end the captain was able to retain the services of
a number of them who finally agreed voluntarily to sail with him. See
JCC, 7:312, 318 – 19, PCC, item 70, fols. 195 – 201, 209 – 10, 213; Md.
Archives, 16:226 – 27, 229 – 30, 244, 255, 263 – 64, 266 – 69; Marine
Committee to James Nicholson, 8 April, and to Thomas Johnson, 1 May,
and William Paca to the Maryland Governor and Council, 24 May 1777.