Joseph Despeaux Papers, 1778-1933, MS 260


Joseph Despeaux Papers, [1778-1933]
Maryland Historical Society


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Descriptive Summary

Joseph Despeaux Papers, [1778-1933]

MS 260

Maryland Historical Society

Baltimore MD 21201-4674


The ship FATHER AND SONS was built by Joseph Despeaux in 1812 in his shipyard at Fells Point, Baltimore, Md. She was 84’ 6” in length, 25’ 2” in breadth and 15’ 8” in depth. She was of 242 tons by carpenter's measurement and of 269 70/95 tons by customs house measurement. She had two decks, three masts and was of sharp build.

The accounts, from 20 June 1810 to 1 March 1813, for the supplies, equipment and labor used in her construction, amounted to $ 1,011.92.

She made a voyage from Baltimore to Havana, Cuba about 25 April 1815 with William Danielson (Davidson) as master. On her return, about 22 June 1815, she loaded at least one hundred bags of coffee.

About 19 September 1815, she sailed from Baltimore to New Orleans, Louisiana, with Cornelius Driscoll as master, with a general and assorted cargo, ten passengers, three children, two servants and forty slaves accompanied by five children.

A letter from Despeaux's agent at New Orleans states that the mate of this ship was never sober while in port and, further, that, while Captain Driscoll may be a competent seaman, he is very poor as a businessman. The amount of freight loaded for Le Havre was 6,780.66.

This voyage continued towards Le Havre, France, ending in shipwreck at the mouth of that harbor. All of this is fully recounted in the statement of protest by Captain Driscoll, which is appended as translated from French by F.E. Chatard, A.D.

Letters from Despeaux's agents at Le Havre state that the vessel was not salvageable but was sold, the hull for 7,400 francs and the rigging for 8,300 francs. The cargo was saved but sustained some damage.


See 1. The Joseph Despeaux Papers. MS260

2. Certificates of Registration issued at Baltimore. MS2543

3. Transcripts of carpenter's certificates by M.V.Brewington. Typescript at Radcliffe Maritime Museum, Md. Hist. Soc.

Numbers 2. and 3., as originals, were formerly at the Baltimore Customs House and are now in the National Archives.


Note to Captain Driscoll’s statement of protest

The Captain Daneils of the schooner EUGENIE, mentioned several times and so spelled in the French version, is, without doubt, the same as Captain J.D. Danels, a well known ship-owner and master of Baltimore. He was active as a privateersman in the War of 1812 and later in the engagements at the time of the South American rebellions. His portrait, along with that of Joseph Despeaux, is at the Maryland Historical Society.


13 January 1816


12 R




What follows has been extracted from the records of the Clerk of the Court for land and sea commerce, sitting at Havre de Grace:

On Saturday, the 13th of January 1816, to the Clerk of the Court for commerce at Havre de Grace, before us, Edouard Dorèy, President, assisted by Master Ducelot, Clerk: Has appeared, in person, Captain Cornelius Driscoll of Baltimore, master of the American ship named FATHER AND SON (sic), of burden about 270 tons, having forty crewmen as her complement; who, assisted by Mr. Bardel, his sworn interpreter, declared that, at New Orleans, he had loaded a cargo consisting of cotton and other merchandise destined for this port of Havre; that his ship was then in a smart condition and quite watertight; her masts and pumps fitted with stout iron bands; her hatches fitted with sound and doubled tarpaulins; well-fastened and caulked and generally provided with all things necessary in order to undertake the above mentioned planned voyage.

He left New Orleans on the eighteenth of last November in fine weather, the wind at the southwest; that on the twenty-third of the same month, the pilot having come aboard his ship, he crossed the bar with the wind from the north-northeast and after that time he had head winds and stormy weather but his ship did not sustain any damages from it; that on the twenty-fifth of December, a half gale from the east-southeast sector, observed latitude thirty-nine degrees, thirty-four minutes, north, the negligence and incompetence of Benjamin Laxe, mate, and Henry Sarker, second mate, became especially noticeable; their conduct was noted by the officers and seamen. The deponent signed on these two officers at New Orleans and they were incapable of fulfilling the duties which were entrusted to them. The deponent felt obliged to suspend them from their said duties for the general safety of the ship and cargo and to make them perform the duties of seamen. As a result, he designated one of the men of his crew to keep his journal during the remainder of his passage. Benjamin Laxe, one of the above named, stole some liquor from the captain's cabin and spikes from the pumps, as will be proved by the testimony of the steward and of Samuel Johnson, the witness, present.

On the twenty-ninth of the said month, the wind from the south-southeast sector, veering to the south-southwest and southwest, there occured a violent gust of wind, the seas very high, considerably labouring his ship and swamping it off and on from bow to stern. It required taking in all reefs in the foresail.

On the second of January, running with the wind from the northeast and east-southeast, the weather having become fine and calmer, he made course to the north and to the east and at noon he set out full sail.

On the third, stormy weather; he shortened sail and remained on his course until six with heavy seas and squally weather. He put his anchors in readiness and bent their cables.

On the seventh, eighth and ninth, he was not able to make an observation because of the haze and on this latest day, the deponent sounded at sixty-five fathoms and on the tenth he laid to, the weather being squally and foggy, the wind blowing with violence from the west-northwest sector. About noon, he spoke the pilot boat from Cowes, number two, and at that moment, he discovered land which he recognized as Start Point. At two o'clock he laid to on the north.

On the eleventh of this month at one o'clock after noon, he raised Cape Barfleur, which remained to the south of him. He put about and ran north-northeast. By morning, the weather being very foggy and the wind blowing a gale, he ran until ten o'clock in the same direction under shortened sail; that then the weather cleared up a little and he put about while taking departure to the southeast. At eleven in the morning, he sighted some fishing boats, to one of which he spoke in order to obtain a pilot, which was refused him. Then the storm was frightful and they saw a square-sailed vessel which had one small-boat to leeward. He made for that boat, hoping to have a pilot and, at noon, having arrived alongside, he recognized that it was under Russian colors. He hailed it but it blew in such a manner that he was not able to be heard.

Following that, he continued sailing in the same direction for a quarter of an hour, seeing that he was not able to obtain a pilot and to try to keep to the open sea during all the night. At that moment, the Russian vessel hailed aboard and asked the deponent if he had a pilot and, after he responded to him that he had none, they hailed from the above named Russian vessel that there were two on board and to follow the working of the above named vessel, the weather and the sea being too rough to take risks in a small-boat. Discovering that his ship was on a better course, he was obliged to yaw for several tacks and to shorten sail in order to lessen his speed. His ship always maintaining a better course, he was forced to take in nearly all his sails in order to keep the said vessel closely in sight, considering that night approached and the weather was very foggy.

Soon after, he lost sight of the vessel which preceded him and not knowing, in any fashion, the bay nor the mouth of the harbor, he let go his best anchor and paid out some cable. At the same time, he felt his ship ground.

Immediately, he ordered his crew to put the small-boat in the water, which they refused, with the exception of John Lerek, who then held the position of mate, of Daniel William, steward, of Benjamin Dorkins, cook, and of Hugh Bird, cabin boy.

The deponent then, several times, called to the people who were ashore about the cost of sending some small-boats but the severe weather prevented them from hearing it. The people ashore, noticing that the deponent was not able to launch the small-boat, sent out several of them by means of lines, to which were attached two hawsers which the deponent made fast and with which they attempted free and float the ship off the shore; in that they could not be successful.

Just then the crew reported that their quarters were full of water. Immediately, the deponent ordered his steward to assure himself of the fact and he reported to him that

the water was up to the deck. The crew then launched the small-boat. The deponent ordered them again to carry a hawser ashore in order to lead a cable there; that which they refused. The Captain went below to his cabin to examine the state the ship and during the course of that time, a section of the crew deserted with the small-boat without the Captain having knowledge of it.

Sometime after, the tide went out and the ship found itself high and dry. Then the Harbor Master, Captain Daniels, commanding the schooner EUGENIE of Baltimore, Captain Cranston of the ship CALYEE of New York and many people ashore came on board. According to the advice of the Harbor Master, it was deemed necessary and indispensible for the ordinary safety of the said ship and cargo to cut away the masts, yards and the sails which were bent to them. It might be mentioned that the keel of the ship was totally carried away.

The hatches were uncovered and the unloading commenced immediately but they were able to transfer only a very small number of cotton bales during the night. Captain Daniels and Captain Cranston, at the same time as many other people, urged the members of the crew, who were present, to help in the transfer of the cargo and to make themselves useful in other necessary work. They refused that absolutely, saying that they wished to do nothing more for the ordinary safety of the ship and cargo. One of them surprised Captain Cranston, seized him by the collar and misused him, at the same time as Captain Daniels, threatening even the life of the deponent.

At daybreak, seeing that the foul weather persisted, that the sea was very rough and expecting at any moment that the vessel was on the point of breaking up, it was thought proper, on the advice of the Harbor Masters, to scuttle the deck in order to effect the transfer of the cargo with more speed and for the ordinary safety of the ship and cargo. Towards noon, two drunken sailors named John Sinott and John Domminot came on board to revile those who were found there. One of them took an axe and with it gave a hack on the cable and the other got hold of the bell in order to carry it away but, according to the information about it which was given by the Harbor Master, the latter sent a policeman after this sailor and forced him to return the object noted.

The most part of the cargo had been transferred and on the last night, about midnight, the crews of the American vessels, under the orders of the Harbor Master, of Captain Daniels and of many other people from ashore, succeeded in transfering the remainder of the cargo.

From the state in which the said ship was found, Captain Driscoll, who commanded it, ordered a total abandonment for the profit and benefit of all those to whom it shall belong.

Since the deponent could not be responsible for the occurences which he had faced, all of which proceeded from the foul weather and the sea, he protests, from now on, all that which he can and ought to protest for his acquittal, just as is his right, declaring he had, on his part, neither act nor omission, being solely attributable only to the causes here above stated.

The said deponent fearing that there might not have occured any end to his ship and cargo; asking a hearing and to have it examined; reserving for himself, further, the option to make all other and more ample reports, as the need will be, without any guarantees forthwith and they, the said deponent and his interpreter, signed with us and the Clerk of the Court after having read it; for which this is the instrument.


Signed Cornelius Driscoll, Bardel, Dorèy and Ducelot, Clerk of the Court; written in the margin: Registered at Le Havre, the sixteenth of January, one thousand, eight hundred sixteen, Folio one hundred forty, compartment three; received three francs, fifty-eight centimes; signed Degournay.

A true copy.

Reimbursed thirteen francs, twenty centimes for the proper subsidy to the clerk of the court; the sixth of February, 1816 F278 C1


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