|Silas Talbot (1751-1813)
The Gaspee Days Committee at www.gaspee.COM is a civic-minded nonprofit organization that operates many community events in and around Pawtuxet Village, including the famous Gaspee Days Parade each June. These events are all designed to commemorate the burning of the hated British revenue schooner, HMS Gaspee, by Rhode Island patriots in 1772 as America's 'First Blow for Freedom'®. Our historical research center, the Gaspee Virtual Archives at www.gaspee.ORG , has presented these research notes as an attempt to gather further information on one who has been suspected in, or being associated with, the burning of the Gaspee. Please e-mail your comments or further questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Evidence implicating Silas Talbot:
William M. Fowler, PhD (author of Silas Talbot: Captain of the Old Ironsides. Mystic, Conn.: Mystic Seaport Museum, 1995. ISBN 0-91337-273-0.) delivered a lecture at the 2008 Annual Meeting of the RI Historical Society on November 5, 2008 entitled "Silas Talbot: A Rhode Island Rogue and Man on the Make." After his presentation I conversed with this biographer of Silas Talbot, and noted that at the age of 21, Silas Talbot had just purchased, or built, a house in Providence. Talbot was in the area at the time when the plot to burn the Gaspee was set, and he must have known and associated with many of the men known to have attacked the Gaspee on June 9/10, 1772. He was of like age and ilk to many of the known raiders, and his new wife Anna was the daughter of fellow suspected Gaspee raider, Barzillai Richmond.. Dr. Fowler noted that Silas Talbot curiously left Providence for two weeks for his hometown of Dighton, MA immediately after the attack, and it was his opinion that, while definitive proof is lacking, Silas Talbot almost certainly participated himself in the attack on the Gaspee.
Silas Talbot (11 January 1751 - 30 June 1813) was an officer in the Continental Army and in the Continental Navy. Talbot is most famous for commanding the USS Constitution from 1798 to 1801 Talbot was born in Dighton, Massachusetts. He was commissioned a captain in the Continental Army on 1 July 1775. After participating in the siege of Boston and aiding in the transportation of troops to New York, he obtained command of a fire ship and attempted to use it to set fire to the British warship HMS Asia (1764). The attempt failed, but the daring it displayed won him a promotion to major on 10 October 1777.
After suffering a severe wound while fighting to defend Philadelphia, Talbot returned to active service in the summer of 1778 and fought in Rhode Island. As commander of Pigot, and later Argo, both under the Army, he cruised against Loyalist vessels that were harassing American trade between Long Island and Nantucket and made prisoners of many of them. Because of his success fighting afloat for the Army, Congress made him a captain in the Continental Navy on 17 September 1779. However, since Congress had no suitable warship to entrust to him, Talbot put to sea in command of the privateer General Washington. In it, he took one prize, but soon thereafter ran into the British fleet off New York. After a chase, he struck his colors to Culloden, a 74-gun ship-of-the-line and remained a prisoner until exchanged for a British officer in December 1781.
After the war, Talbot settled in Johnstown, New York, the county seat of Fulton County, where he purchased the former manor house and estate of Sir William Johnson, founder of Johnstown. He was a member of the New York State Assembly in 1792 and 1793 and served in the United States House of Representatives from 1793 to 1795. On 5 June 1794, President Washington chose him third in a list of six captains of the newly established United States Navy. Before the end of his term in Congress, he was ordered to superintend the construction of the frigate USS President at New York. In 1797, Talbot supervised the building of the USS Constitution, "Old Ironsides," at the Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston, Massachusetts. He served as commander of the vessel from 1799 until his retirement from the Navy in 1801, sailing it to the West Indies where he protected American commerce from French privateers during the Quasi-War. He commanded the Santo Domingo Station in 1799 and 1800 and was commended by the Secretary of the Navy for protecting American commerce and for laying the foundation of a permanent trade with that country. It is said that Talbot was wounded 13 times and carried 5 bullets in his body.
Captain Talbot resigned from
the Navy on 23 September 1801 and died at New York City on 30 June 1813.
From his Congressional
TALBOT, Silas, a Representative from New York; born in Dighton, Bristol County, Mass., January 11, 1751; completed preparatory studies; went to sea on a coasting vessel; engaged in mercantile pursuits in Providence, R.I.; lieutenant and captain in the Revolutionary Army; promoted to the rank of major October 10, 1777, and to lieutenant colonel October 29, 1778; commissioned captain in the Continental Navy September 17, 1779; captured by the British in November 1780 and imprisoned in England until 1781, when he was exchanged and sent to Cherbourg, France; returned to America and resided in Philadelphia, Pa.; moved to Albany, N.Y., and engaged in agricultural pursuits; member of the state assembly in 1792 and 1793; elected as a Pro-Administration candidate to the Third Congress (March 4, 1793-March 3, 1795); again commissioned by President Adams, May 11, 1798, a captain in the United States Navy; resigned September 21, 1801; died in New York City on June 30, 1813; interment in Trinity Churchyard.
Rather than repeat here the information in detail that is
found in other biographies, we will focus on any Rhode Island and Gaspee connections.
A on-line comprehensive biography is available on Silas Talbot
courtesy of the Mystic Seaport Museum at; http://library.mysticseaport.org/manuscripts/coll/coll018.cfm#head63744416
A good genealogical link was found at: http://www.familyorigins.com/users/d/i/e/Audrey-S-Diener-1/FAMO2-0001/d755.htm#P14205
Silas Talbot was born 11January1751 to the farm family of
Benjamin and Rebecca (variation:. Zipporah)
Allen Talbot from Dighton, MA. (No direct relationship has been found
between Rebecca Allen and Gaspee raider Paul Allen).
Silas Talbot was trained as a mariner from the time
when he first left his Dighton, MA home at 12 years old and first
served as a cabin boy on coastal shipping. In 1768 while in
Warwick, RI at the age of 17, he had a child named Elizabeth (Eliza)
Talbot, whom he identified in his will of 1783 as the daughter of Lydia
Eliza was married in 1791 to a George Metcalf in Johnstown, NY. One can
speculate on why Eliza came to live with her father, Silas, in his
home at Johnstown, NY by the time she was married..
Silas Talbot eventually settled
himself in Providence and had became trained as a stonemason. We note
he bought a house in Providence 1772 at the still young
age of 21 coincident with the year he married Anna Richmond
(1October1750-25April1781), the daughter of local
merchant, hatter, and suspected Gaspee raider Barzillai
Richmond, Barzillai's son, Dr. Ebenezer Richmond, is also a
likely suspect in the burning of the Gaspee.
Silas and Anna Talbot had five children, two of whom died in infancy,
Cyrus (1773-1774) and Barzillai (1776-1777), and Anna herself died in
1781 while Talbot was imprisoned in England.
But why Theodore
Foster Talbot? There are no discovered links between the
Talbot and Foster families. At the time before Theodore Foster Talbot's
birth, suspected Gaspee co-conspirator and future US Senator Theodore Foster was
a young lawyer, clerk for the RI Superior Court, town clerk of
Providence 1775-1787; and a member of the State House of
1776-1782. This was all laudable, but not enough to name one's
son after this man. According to descendant Peter J. Talbot,
Silas and Foster apparently had a close friendship, and copies of
correspondence between the two exist at the RI Historical Society (http://www.rihs.org/mssinv/mss747.htm#dsc).
As noted in his biographies elsewhere, Silas Talbot became a respected hero of the American forces during the Revolutionary War. He gained additional renown for his daring exploits fighting the British in the Battle of Rhode Island and in interdicting opposing naval forces in the Narragansett Bay and Long Island areas between 1777 and 1780. In the later stages of the War, Talbot was Master of the Providence based privateer, Argo, (pka Sally), and in 1780 the privateer General Washington, which was owned by Gaspee raider John Brown.Talbot certainly had the occasion to be grateful to his friends with Rhode Island connections later on. It was Elkanah Watson, an ex-apprentice of John Brown's, who himself had established a powerful mercantile firm in Holland and France during the War, that gave aid and comfort to American prisoners confined at the infamous Mill Prison in England, as expressed by Talbot as found in Watson's Men and Times of the Revolution (1856), p158:
Mill Prison, Eng., 9 Aug. 1781
Sir: — The twenty-five guineas which you have generously sent me, while it lays me under a deep obligation, is much enhanced by your attention in writing Mrs. Talbot my situation, as bad as it is. I thank you most cordially. Many others of my fellow prisoners have experienced your goodness, and pray with me that Heaven may bless and prosper you. "
Your obliged friend, SILAS TALBOT.
Ma, E. WATSON, Merchant, Nantes, France.
Watson later effected Silas Talbot's escape from the Mill Prison in 1781 (ibid.).
In proportion to our prosperity, contributions were levied on my purse, by needy friends in America, as well as by distressed American officers, held in rigorous confinement at Mill Prison, near Plymouth, England. Through the medium of the Rev. Mr. Heath, near that place, it was my good fortune to relieve many, and to enable some to effect their escape ; the gallant Colonel Talbot and Captain Smeadley were of their number.
The term 'escape' from prison may be thought of in the broader context here, for it is popularly reported that Silas Talbot was released via a prisoner-of-war exchange for a British officer. When released, Talbot next found himself in France, and fell in with many other notables, including Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, connections that helped further his business standing after the War according to Prof. Fowler. These connections became crucial when the widowed Silas Talbot had to remove from Providence to Philadelphia in order to escape mounting debts and lawsuits over prizes taken during his privateering days. Here he subsequently entered into business with the very rich, and very influential Morris family, ultimately marrying Rebecca Morris (1755-1803), one of the daughters of Morris Morris in 1787. He had two children from this marriage, Sally Miffin Talbot (1789-1789) and Henry Talbot (1791-). In 1798, it is was Silas Talbot who was appointed by the US Navy to travel to Rhode Island and inspect John Brown's merchant ship, the George Washington, for suitability to be purchased as a war vessel. Talbot convinced the Navy of the appropriateness of the purchase, even though the expensive vessel was found to be both heavy and slow, keeping it from ever becoming a good warship.
When his second wife died in 1803, he next married in 1808 Eliza Pintard, the divorcee daughter of (according to Dr. Fowler) Justice and US Representative William Cooper (of Cooperstown fame). She was also the sister of author James Fenimore Cooper, and one might speculate on whether his brother-in-law had any influence on the content of James Fenimore Cooper's History of the Navy of the United States. Eliza Pintard's previous marriage had been to a John Marsden Pintard who served as a business agent for US interests in Madeira, and was later a Mississippi River shipping magnate and plantation owner. Talbot's third marriage was short-lived and ended in divorce after one year, but with his combined Morris and Cooper fortunes, Talbot purchased a large tract of land in Upstate New York, became a gentleman farmer, and served in the US House of Representatives.
Johnstown, the tract of land that Talbot settled in, is situated along what was to become the Erie Canal. Talbot's third father-in-law, William Cooper was a well known land speculator prior to his buying in 1791 and later settling what would become Cooperstown, NY, also situated along the Erie Canal. It is indeed curious that many of the Gaspee raiders are likewise known to have speculated and resettled in the same manner into Upstate, NY. The working theory here is that John Brown, his mercantile firm of Brown & Ives, and his former apprentice, Elkanah Watson, all joined in inside information land speculation deals to buy up the land alongside the envisioned Erie Canal long before its completion in 1814, and that many such deals were offered to their old cronies from the burning of the Gaspee.
|Silas Talbot was a hero of the American Revolution in his own right. While we have very little proof that Silas Talbot was among the burners of the Gaspee, we highly suspect that he was. He was in the neighborhood when the attack was formed, was certainly of like ilk of the men that did join in the raid, and was probably related by marriage or blood to some of them, as most Gaspee raiders were.|
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Silas Talbot, Army and Navy officer during the American Revolution, gentleman farmer, merchant, land speculator, state legislator, Congressman, and Commander of the U.S.S. CONSTITUTION and the Santo Domingo Station during the Quasi War with France, was born in Dighton, Bristol County, Massachusetts, on January 11, 1751, the ninth of fourteen children of Benjamin and Rebecca (Allen) Talbot. His grandfather, Samuel Talbot, said to have been the first ancestor to migrate to this country, died about 1725. Of Samuel's three sons, Samuel died at the age of seventy-four without issue, Nathaniel also died at the age of seventy-four and supposedly had no living descendents in 1793, and Benjamin died about 1763 at the age of forty-eight. Silas Talbot learned two important and useful trades during his youth--seamanship and masonry. One of his biographers states that he went to sea as a cabin boy in a small coasting vessel about as soon as he could write. By the time that he reached the age of twenty-one he had also learned the mason's trade and was so designated in a deed of 1772.
During the 1770's, when relations between Great Britain and her American Colonies were becoming strained, numerous colonists began to organize military units and to engage in limited training in the fundamentals of military activity. Perhaps as a result of some unusual ability or talent that he demonstrated during these exercises, Talbot was made a "Captain in the Ninth Company of the Regiment to be raised in the County of Providence" on June 28, 1775. Three days later, John Hancock appointed him a Captain in the Army of the United Colonies in the regiment commanded by Daniel Hitchcock. Immediately upon being organized, Hitchcock's regiment marched off to Boston. After the evacuation of that city by the British, the American Army departed for New York. On the first day of 1776, John Hancock appointed Talbot a Captain in a regiment of Foot commanded by Hitchcock.
During June, 1776, a British Fleet under the command of Admiral Richard Earl Howe entered New York harbor. A squadron under the command of Sir Hyde Parker was sent up the Hudson or North River to cover the left wing of the British Army and to help to turn the right wing of the American forces at New York. According to his biographers Talbot volunteered to take command of one of the fire ships that were supposed to attack the British squadron and hopefully cause it to depart from its ominous position. After lengthy preparations, two fire ships made their way down the Hudson River and attacked the British ships PHOENIX and ROSE on the night of August 17, 1776.While only the tender to the ROSE was destroyed in this action, the British squadron did drop down the river to a new anchorage. Talbot was severely burned but escaped with all his men and was taken to the Jersey shore. An unidentified widow is said to have given him shelter until he was able to travel to Hackensack where he remained until he was able to rejoin his regiment. On October 10, 1777, Talbot was promoted to the rank of Major for the part he had played in the attack on the British squadron in the Hudson River.
At about the same time that he was promoted to the rank of Major, Talbot was engaged in the defense of Fort Mifflin on Mud Island in the Delaware River. Injuries in the wrist and hip received during the British shelling of Fort Mifflin forced Talbot to retire to his home in Rhode Island to recuperate. Nearly ten years later, in April, 1787, Talbot was recommended for an annual pension of $300 because of these injuries and other injuries he received as commander of the Continental sloop ARGO while that vessel was engaged in a battle with the British privateer ship DRAGON and the privateer brig HANNAH.
Although Talbot was appointed a Captain in Christopher Greene's regiment on January 5, 1778, by Henry Laurens, he took rank from January 1, 1777. During June, 1778, he was referred to as "on Express to the Hon. Congress now sitting" at Yorktown, Pennsylvania. After completing his convalescence from the wounds received in the defense of Fort Mifflin, Talbot was put in charge of the construction of a number of flat bottom boats that were used in landing the troops that were supposed to assault the British garrison near Newport, Rhode Island, which was commanded by General Sir Robert Pigot. A total of eighty-six craft were completed by the time the attack was launched on August 9. The French fleet under Comte D'Estaing which was cooperating in the venture was forced to depart from Narragansett Bay on August 10th by a strong northeast wind. The British fleet under Admiral Richard Earl Howe which had arrived on August 9 sailed to the southward to avoid a battle with the larger and stronger French fleet. The two fleets nearly engaged each other on August 11th but the French bore away, probably because of the severe weather which lasted until the evening of August 13th. The French fleet, considerably crippled by the gale, re-appeared off Newport on August 20th but sailed for Boston two days later for extensive repairs. The American land forces under the command of General John Sullivan evacuated Rhode Island on August 29th with Talbot in command of the rear guard.
After this action the British fortified the eastern channel of Narragansett Bay with shore batteries and a converted schooner of about two hundred tons named the PICOT. The PICOT has usually been referred to as a galley. She mounted eight twelve -pounders and was manned by a crew of forty-five men. Talbot spent most of October, 1778, in Providence, Rhode Island, fitting out the sloop HAWK, a vessel of about seventy tons, for an attack on the PICOT. The HAWK mounted two three-pounders and was manned by about seventy-five men. On the night of October 28th, the HAWK made a successful attack of the PICOT. The prize was taken to Stonington, Connecticut, on the following day. The PICOT was later used by the Americans in attacks upon the British and is said to have sailed in company with the Continental sloop ARGO. In recognition of his part in the capture of the PICOT, the Congress of the United States resolved to promote Talbot to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, and the State of Rhode Island resolved to award him a handsome sword. His appointment as a Lieutenant Colonel was signed by Henry Laurens on November 14, 1778.The removal of the PICOT from the eastern channel of Narragansett Bay was important because it opened this avenue to American vessels which carried badly needed supplies to the American forces.
Late in 1778, Talbot, according to his biographers, fitted out an unidentified ship of about 100 tons to attack the British ship RENOWN in Narragansett Bay. Before the expedition could be carried out, the ship was frozen in. By spring, 1779, the RENOWN had been replaced by a vessel of forty-four guns. An attempt to destroy this vessel ended in failure when the pilot ran Talbot's ship on a shoal.
Because of the havoc created by the large number of British privateers along the coast of Rhode Island and southern Massachusetts, General Horatio Gates commandeered the sloop ARGO of New York and put Talbot in command. The ARGO, a sloop of under one hundred tons, mounted twelve six-pounders and carried sixty men. On May 20, 1779, Gates ordered Talbot to join Captain Hoysted Hacker and assist him "in the capture of a fleet of Plunderers now in Martha's Vineyard Sound." One of Talbot's biographers credits him and the ARGO with the following prizes: privateer sloop LIVELY, privateer brig KING GEORGE, merchant brig ELLIOT privateer ship DRAGON, privateer brig HANNAH, cutter DUBLIN, merchant brig CHANCE, letter-of-marque brig BETSEY, two unnamed letter-of-marque brigs, and one unnamed sloop. The same source credits him with the recapture of an American letter-of-marque schooner and with engaging in a heated battle with the sixty-four gun ship RAISONABLE. In applying for a bounty for cannon captured during the Revolution, Talbot listed his captures in the ARGO in 1779 as sloop LIVELY, May 20th; ship DRAGON, July 15th; brig HANNAH, July 15th; brig KING GEORGE, August 10th; and cutter DUBLIN, August 20th. H e also applied for a bounty for the cannon taken from the galley PICOT, prize to the sloop HAWK. The discrepancies in the two lists can probably be attributed to the fact that Talbot listed only those prizes which produced cannon for which he could claim a bounty, whereas Talbot's biographer listed unarmed merchantmen as well as armed vessels.
Of all these prizes, perhaps one deserves special notice. The brig BETSEY was captured on September 6, 1779., by the sloop ARGO. The following day, three letter-of-marque brigs--PATTY, ACHILLES and HIBERNIA--all of Philadelphia, took the BETSEY from Talbot's prize crew and sent her into Philadelphia as an original prize. Before reaching that port, however, the BETSEY was recaptured by the British privateer SANDWICH. Because of these events, Talbot was involved in and threatened by court suits until late in 1795. These actions are discussed more fully below.
Although General Horatio Gates placed Talbot in command of the sloop ARGO in the spring of 1779, it was not until April 14, 1780, that he was given a commission signed by Samuel Huntington and Jabez Bowen "to fit out and set forth . . . the sloop [ARGO] in a warlike manner, and . , . to attack, subdue and take all ships and other vessels whatsoever . . . employed against these United States." One of Talbot's biographers states that the ARGO was surrendered at Providence, Rhode Island, to Clark & Nightingale, agents for her owners, Nicholas Low and others of New York. The commission of April 14, 1780, however, identifies John Brown, merchant of Providence, as the owner of the ARGO. There does not appear to be any evidence to indicate that there were two sloops of the same name used in the Continental service during the Revolution. Talbot's papers seem to indicate that he captured a sloop SURPRISE during July of 1780, although there is no conclusive evidence that he was still commander of the ARGO at that time. It is certain, however, that he did not remain in the ARGO later than mid August, 1780.
The fame which Talbot won as commander of the ARGO led Congress, on September 17, 1779, to appoint him a Captain in the Continental Navy and to instruct the Marine Department to supply him with a vessel commensurate with his new rank. Financial difficulties seemingly prevented this instruction from being carried into effect with any degree of speed. Eventually Talbot accepted command of the privateering ship GENERAL WASHINGTON, probably in August, 1780.The bond of this vessel reveals that she was owned by John Brown of Providence, Rhode Island, that she was manned by a crew of 120 men, and that she mounted nineteen guns. After he had taken only one prize with his new vessel, Talbot was captured by the British ship CULLODEN, put on board the ROBUSTE, and taken to New York where he and several others from the GENERAL WASHINGTON were put on board a tender and carried to the infamous JERSEY prison ship. Talbot was subsequently transferred to the Provost, a jail in New York. About the middle of November, he and a group of other prisoners were put on board the YARMOUTH and sent to England where they were confined in Mill Prison. Finally, during December, 1781, after having made several unsuccessful attempts to escape, Talbot was exchanged for a British officer. He eventually arrived in New York early in the spring of 1782 and immediately undertook to obtain some form of compensation from the government and to push forward the case involving the brig BETSEY, prize to the sloop ARGO.
On February 28, 1780, the Board of Admiralty recommended that Congress surrender to Talbot and the officers and crew of the ARGO the government's half interest in the BETSEY, probably because of the likelihood of expensive court suits. This action was voted on March 1, 1780, and soon thereafter, Talbot, acting on behalf of the officers and crew of the ARGO, sold half interest in the BETSEY to Henry B. Livingston to obtain money to prosecute a suit against the owners of the three Philadelphia brigs--PATTY, ACHILLES, and HIBERNIA--which had taken the BETSEY from Talbot's prize crew. The half interest sold to Livingston provided $60,000, two-thirds of which was immediately paid to James Wilson and Gouverneur Morris to prosecute the suit. The remaining $20,000 was paid later to Jonathan D. Sergeant. When Talbot returned home from England in 1782, he found that almost nothing had been done about the case since he left the scene in the privateering ship GENERAL WASHINGTON. In settling his accounts with the officers and crew of the ARGO concerning this suit, Talbot charged them for his services from March 17, 1783, through April 1, 1785. He claimed that he was engaged in "Keeping in a constant attention to the cause at Philadelphia." On November 30, 1784, Benoni Pearce, agent for the officers and crew of the ARGO, gave Talbot a power of attorney to act in his stead in pressing the case against the owners of the three Philadelphia brigs. Talbot made several unsuccessful attempts to get the parties interested in the case to provide funds to press the case forward. At considerable expense to himself, Talbot and his attorneys obtained, on October 1, 1784, a decision in the Admiralty court at Philadelphia by which they were awarded 11,141 pounds Pennsylvania currency. However, the Court refused to order the defendants to pay that sum because a question of jurisdiction had arisen. The defendants appealed to the High Court of Errors and Appeals in Philadelphia. More money was needed to carry the case, but the interested parties refused to supply it. They did, however, instruct Talbot to attempt to sell the remaining half interest in the BETSEY for $2,500 more than his expenses. A few days after this Talbot informed his associates that Clark & Nightingale of Providence, Rhode Island, would buy the remaining half interest in the BETSEY at their price, but he advised them not to sell but to provide the funds necessary to carry on the case. They chose to sell. Clark & Nightingale retained Talbot to press the case for them, and on January 2, 1785, he was successful in getting an award of 11,141 pounds from the High Court of Errors and Appeals in Philadelphia. With this decision coming so soon after the sale to Clark & Nightingale, some of Talbot's old associates charged that he knew what the court would decide and that he had somehow cheated them. Threats and rumors of suits by dissatisfied former associates persisted until a commission composed of Oliver Ellsworth, Stephen Mix Mitchell, and Andrew Adams settled the difference in Talbot's favor in October, 1796.
During his early involvement in the case of the BETSEY, Talbot also conducted a campaign to obtain pay from the United States for his services in the Revolution. The resolution of Congress of September 17, 1779, that made him a Captain in the Navy provided that his pay as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army should cease while he was actually employed in the Navy. As he was never given command of a naval vessel, he sought to obtain back pay as a Lieutenant Colonel. On October 22, 1782, Congress authorized the Superintendant of Finance to adjust and settle Talbot's account "as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army of the United States notwithstanding the resolution of Congress . . . appointing him a Captain in the Navy." Talbotts papers do not reveal whether or not the account was settled, or if it were, to what date. One might assume, however, that the account ought to have been closed as of the date that Talbot assumed command of the privateering ship GENERAL WASHINGTON.
On March 25, 1783, Talbot was sworn in as "collector of Excise for the County of Providence." It is doubtful that he ever performed these duties himself as his account with the officers and crew of the sloop ARGO indicates that he was in Philadelphia from March 17,1783, through April 1, 1785, Probably the duties were performed by Thomas Cole who gave bond as deputy collector of excise on April 18, 1783. It is not unlikely that this position was a "plum" awarded to a local hero of the Revolution.
During this period of his life, Talbot was twice involved in mercantile enterprises. Late in 1783, he had an interest in a cargo of produce and slaves shipped to Charleston, South Carolina, in the sloop PEGGY. On August 25, 1785, he bought from Cyprian Sterry, merchant in Providence, Rhode Island, "one half of a certain brigantine called the INDUSTRY together with one half of her tackle, apparel &c as she last came from sea." He later sold to Gilbert Imlay his half of the vessel and half of the cargo which he claimed. Because the bill of sale which Talbot got from Sterry did not specifically mention cargo, a dispute arose over whether or not Talbot was actually entitled to a share of the cargo of slaves that that the INDUSTRY carried from Africa to the West Indies.At any rate, as late as 1801 Talbot was still trying to collect from Nathaniel Russel, the portion of the cargo which he claimed that he had not sold to Gilbert Imlay. Russel, a merchant in Charleston, South Carolina, acted as agent for the INDUSTRY on this voyage.
When Talbot suddenly left Providence for the West about the middle of February, 1786, those parties who were then threatening suits because of the sale of the remaining share of the BETSEY to Clark & Nightingale immediately alleged that he had run away to avoid prosecution. Though one cannot say with certainty, it is probable that Talbot went west to examine his extensive land holdings. He appears to have spent several months in that section. His lands in Kentucky numbered several thousand acres whereas his lands in that part of the Northwest Territory which is the present day state of Ohio numbered several hundred acres. Some of the Ohio lands were in the military land tract. Talbot's correspondence with Robert Morris [c. 1745-1815] indicates that he was somehow involved with John Cleves Symmes in the purchase of western lands. Upon his return from the West, he leased Johnson Hall and farm, the estate of the late Sir William Johnson, former British superintendent of Indian affairs, for a term of one year beginning June 29, 1786. Two days later he purchased the property for two thousand English guineas and mortgaged it on the same day to John Shaw. For about six years he lived the life of a gentleman farmer on this large estate. He sold the entire property on January 30, 1792, to Obadiah Bowen, a merchant in New York and the son of Jabez Bowen, one-time Governor of Rhode Island. Prior to this date, however, he had leased the farm property to several different individuals. When Obadiah Bowen died unexpectedly in 1793, his father sought successfully to persuade Talbot to assume ownership of the property again. Almost immediately after taking the property back on January 29, 1795, Talbot sold it to Abraham Morhouse.
Talbot's service in the New York Assembly, 1792-1793, and part of a term in the United States House of Representatives, 1793-1794, both seem to have been uneventful. Nonetheless, his heated campaign for election to Congress seems to be fairly well documented. During December, 1792, and January, 1793, Talbot received numerous letters of support from individuals scattered throughout various sections of his district. His opponents in the contest included William Cooper, Edward Livingston, John Winn, and a man referred to only as Crane. Talbot's son-in-law, George Metcalf, seems to have directed the campaign in the district while Talbot was away from home attending the sessions of the New York Assembly. The tavern bills and bills for horse and sleigh hire, mostly dated January 26, 1793, indicate the part refreshments and free transportation played in such early elections. On the day after the election, George Metcalf informed Talbot by letter that because of the "warmly contested" election, he had "recommended a liberal use of spiritous liquors & other refreshments." He stated further that he was convinced "that the spiritous liquors which were consumed operated as a vast inducement for many to attend and made them warm in our favor." On February 28, 1793, the canvassing committee of the New York Assembly certified that Talbot and nine other men had been duly elected to the United States House of Representatives. Four days later they took their seats and were sworn in at Philadelphia.
Before Talbot's term in Congress expired, United States relations with Algiers again became strained, and Congress decided to create a Navy. Under the authority of the act of March 27, 1794, President George Washington, on June 3rd, appointed six captains in the new Navy-John Barry, Samuel Nicholson, Silas Talbot, Joshua Barney, Richard Dale, and Thomas Truxton. Barney refused to serve because he was ranked below Talbot, who, he alleged incorrectly, had held only an honorary rank during the Revolution. James Sever was appointed in Barney's place on July 18th. Each of the captains was assigned to a shipyard in which one of the six frigates provided for in the act of March 27th was to be built. It was felt that the advice and assistance of the captains would be valuable during the various phases of construction. Talbot was notified of his appointment on June 5th and accepted four days later. He submitted his resignation from the House of Representatives to George Clinton, Governor of New York, on June 13th. It was not until August 8th, however, that Secretary of War Henry Knox ordered Talbot to proceed to New York to superintend the construction of the forty-four gun frigate which was eventually named the U.S.S. PRESIDENT. The act of March 27, 1794, called for the suspension of construction on the frigates should a treaty of peace with Algiers be signed before they were ccmpleted. President Washington and several members of Congress opposed halting construction, and they were able to bring about a compromise whereby three of the six frigates were to be completed. Construction of the three vessels nearest completion--CONSTITUTION, UNITED STATES, and CONSTELLATION--was pushed forward, and all three were launched during1797, and completed during 1798.On June 4, 1796, Talbot was ordered to cease work on the frigate in New York and to sell all the perishable materials and was notified that his pay as a captain in the Navy would be stopped on June 30th.
One day previous to this notice, however, Secretary of State Timothy Pickering informed Talbot that President Washington had appointed him an agent "to protect American seamen and to procure their release from British impress." The official appointment was issued on June 9ths and Talbot was ordered to prepare to depart for the West Indies as soon as possible. About August 2, 1796, he sailed, carrying with him letters of introduction from Robert Liston, British Minister, and a list of seventy-three impressed seamen containing brief physical descriptions of most of the men. Talbot first reported at Barbados on September 13th.From that place he went successively to Martinique, Antigua, St. Christopher, Jamaica, and Santo Domingo and then returned to Jamaica. During his tenure in the West Indies, Talbot appointed Henry Craig and Tobias E. Stansbury his assistants at Martinique and Cuba, respectively. The British Commanders, Henry Harvey and Sir Hyde Parker, both promised to issue orders to their subordinates to release all American seamen who could produce "sufficient documents" proving their citizenship and to refrain from impressing those who were "properly protected." What at first seemed to be an important concession turned out to be little more than an empty promise. Talbot and his assistants were never able to reach an agreement with the officers of British vessels and press gangs over what constituted proper protections and sufficient documents. Talbot frequently complained to Secretary of State Pickering that American seamen were too careless about leaving their homes without their protections and about losing them. Since there were so many different groups of people who could issue protections under existing laws, the British felt that they did not know which protections were official and which ones might be fraudulent. The British officers also were of the opinion that it was extremely easy to obtain fraudulent protections. Another difficulty, of course, was that the British refused to recognize naturalized Americans as American citizens. Anyone who was born British, remained British all his life in their opinion. Talbot expressed the opinion on more than one occasion that only customs officials should be authorized to issue protections, that they should issue them only to individuals with whom they were personally acquainted, and that the masters of American vessels should be made responsible for seeing that all seamen who sailed with then had proper protections. These suggestions seem never to have been implemented however.
When Talbot became convinced that dealing directly with the British officers would bring much anguish and little success, he began to obtain writs of habeas corpus from the civil authorities in Jamaica. The extraordinary success which Talbot had with these writs led Sir Hyde Parker, on May 8, 1797, to order the commanders of any of His Majesty's ships at Jamaica to refer all such writs to him. He stated that the "discharging of men from his Majesty's ships and Vessels. . . is attended with the utmost inconvenience and disadvantages 'to the public service committed to my care." After this order was circulated, writs of habeas corpus were no longer of any value, and Talbot began to complain more and more of what he felt was unpleasant duty in quarters that left a great deal to be desired.
On May 28, 1798, Secretary of State Pickering sent out orders for Talbot to return to the United States. His services were desired on board one of the new vessels which had been added to the Navy because of the threat of war with France. Although he did not report his arrival in New York until August 20th, Talbot terminated his account of expenses incurred as agent of the United States in the West Indies on July 19th. Nine days after reporting. his arrival in New York, Talbot was ordered to proceed to Providence, Rhode Island, to examine, for possible purchase by the Navy, the ship GEORGE WASHINGTON which was owned by John Brown, a merchant in Providence. The ship was purchased for $10,000 upon Talbot's recommendation, and Talbot was put in charge of converting her from a merchantman to a naval vessel. The actual work of conversion seems to have occupied him from September, 1798., through May, 1799. Nevertheless, Talbot's account with the United States for services rendered in outfitting the GEORGE WASHINGTON begins on July 17, 1798, and continues through May 7, 1799.Command of the GEORGE WASHINGTON was given to Patrick Fletcher.
Almost immediately after conversion of the merchant ship GEORGE WASHINGTON into a naval vessel was completed, Talbot was offered the command of the U.S.S. CONSTITUTION and the Santo Domingo Station. On May 28, 1799, he was ordered to take command of the CONSTITUTION which was then fitting out in Boston. More than a month and a half after Talbot assumed command, the CONSTITUTION sailed from Boston for the Santo Domingo Station. Delays in getting needed provisions on board and difficulties in recruiting a competent crew were the primary causes which prevented an earlier sailing.
While Talbot actually assumed command of the CONSTITUTION early in June, it was not until the twenty-fifth of that month that President John Adams signed his official appointment as a captain in the Navy. As the document was originally made out, Talbot was supposed to take rank from May 4, 1798. Talbot refused to accept the appointment under those circumstances since it would place him below Thomas Truxton whom he had outranked when the Navy was first created in 1794. A heated controversy developed over this matter with President Adams supporting Talbot and Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Stoddert opposing Talbot's taking rank from 1794. Adams won out, but rather than make up a new form, the original was altered to satisfy Talbot. The alterations appear to be in Adams' hand.
Talbot's duties in the West Indies included the protection of American commerce from French privateers and the vessels of Andre Rigaud, the capture of French merchant ships which were "out of reach of a cannon ball from the shore of the Island" of Santo Domingo, and the recapture of American and other merchant ships which had been taken as prizes by French privateers or the vessels of Rigaud. Actually, on more than one occasion, vessels from Talbot's squadron gave indirect, if not indeed direct, aid to the forces of Toussaint L'Ouverture. The vessels and their commanders most frequently referred to as part of the squadron under Talbot's command included the GENERAL GREENE, Christopher R. Perry; BOSTON, George Little; HERALD, Charles C. Russel; AUGUSTA, Archibald McElroy; EXPERIMENT, William Maley; RICHMOND, Richard Law, Jr.; and TRUMBULL, David Jewett.
On September 16, 1799, the CONSTITUTION took her first prize of the cruise--the Danish ship AMELIA. The officers and crew expected a large salvage award as the AMELIA was a valuable merchant ship loaded with a valuable cargo and had previously been taken as a prize by a French privateer. They finally received a small award after months of litigation and many expenditures in legal fees. The attorneys for the owners of the AMELIA argued that the CONSTITUTION had made an illegal prize as the AMELIA was not in danger while she was in the hands of the French privateer. The attorneys for the officers and crew of the CONSTITUTION replied that the AMELIA was certainly in grave danger while she was in the hands of the French privateer because she would, without a doubt, have been condemned and sold in Santo Domingo under the existing laws. Late in January or early in February the CONSTITUTION captured the schooner SWIFT which was ordered to be returned to her owners in March, 1800, partly because the law which prohibited commerce with French possessions was extremely defective and difficult to enforce. During May, 1800, the CONSTITUTION, in conjunction with her tender the schooner AMPHITHEATRE, prize to the U.S.S. EXPERIMENT, took three prizes: schooner ESTHER; brig NYMPH, recaptured from the ESTHER; and sloop SALLY. The SALLY, which was taken on May 10, was used the following day in the celebrated capture of the French privateering ship SANDWICH in the harbor of Puerto Plata. This prize proved to be a liability rather than an asset and was returned to the owners as the capture was considered an infringement on the rights of Spain.. The harbor of Puerto Plata was then under Spanish jurisdiction. No more prizes seem to have been taken, and the fairly uneventful cruise was terminated about August 24, 1800, when the CONSTITUTION returned to Boston after a passage from the West Indies of exactly a month.
Early in February, 1800, the U.S.S. BOSTON made a capture that involved the officers and crew of the CONSTITUTION in another court case. The French ship TWO ANGELS, otherwise referred to as "the coffee ship," of Bordeaux lay in the harbor of Santo Domingo City for nearly three months awaiting a chance to escape without being detected by the American Navy vessels outside the harbor. Talbot and others later claimed that he had made an agreement with George Little, commander of the BOSTON, whereby the officers and crew of both the BOSTON and the CONSTITUTION would share equally in the prize if either of the two ships captured the TWO ANGELS out of sight of the other. After the BOSTON made the capture, Little refused to acknowledge that Talbot's interpretation of the agreement was correct. Several months of litigation and lawyer's fees were all expended to no avail, and the officers and crew of the CONSTITUTION got nothing.
After spending three and a half months in Boston refitting and recruiting another crew for the CONSTITUTION Talbot sailed on December 14, 1800, and arrived on the station about January 25, 1801.This cruise was cut short when peace with France was established and orders were sent out for all vessels to return to the United States. The CONSTITUTION sailed from her station about May 20th and arrived in Boston about June 10, 1801. Talbot was again involved in refitting and recruiting until September 15, 1801, when he submitted his resignation from the Navy. Secretary of the Navy Robert Smith's reluctant acceptance was dated September 21. Talbot returned immediately to his family in New York.
Talbot spent most of 1802 and part of 1803 touring the North-west Territory and Kentucky in company with his son Cyrus. Cyrus settled on part of his father's land in Kentucky and seems to have spent the remainder of his life there. Silas Talbot seems to have spent the last years of his life in relaxed semi-retirement in New York. He died in New York City on June 30, 1813.
Talbot was thrice married. His first two wives preceded him in death, and he divorced the third shortly after their marriage. In 1772 he was married to Anna Richmond, daughter of Barzillia Richmond. They settled in Providence, Rhode Island, where their three sons--Cyrus, George Washington, and Theodore Foster--were born. Two other children of this marriage died in infancy. Anna Talbot died in 1781 while her husband was in prison in England. Talbot's second marriage was to Rebecca Morris, daughter of Morris Morris. Of this union, one child--Henry--survived to maturity and another died in infancy. Rebecca Talbot died on September 26, 1803, in Philadelphia at the home of her sister, Susan Morris. About., 1808 Talbot married Mrs. Eliza Pintard, the former wife of John Marsden Pintard. They were separated in 1809 after a brief but controversial union. If Talbot's lengthy account of complaints against his third wife present an accurate portrayal of the marriage, he is certainly to be pitied. Talbot had one other child, Eliza, whom he identified in his will of 1783 as the daughter of Lydia Arnold. Eliza was married to George Metcalf.