Sep 28, 2023 - Sale 2646

Sale 2646 - Lot 29

Estimate: $ 7,000 - $ 10,000
(AMERICAN REVOLUTION--1777.) Instructions to the Commanders of Private Ships or Vessels of War, which Shall Have Commissions or Letters of Marque and Reprisal. Letterpress broadside, 13 1/2 x 8 1/2 inches, with signature of Henry Laurens as President of Congress; repaired separation at lower fold, two contemporary manuscript corrections. [Philadelphia?]: [John Dunlap?, circa 1776-1777]

Additional Details

These are the instructions to privateers issued by the Continental Congress shortly before the Declaration of Independence. Its eleven articles set the boundaries for the large number of private ships who were authorized by letter of marque to raid British commercial vessels.

Privateers were hereby authorized to attack and capture British commercial vessels or any other vessels "carrying Soldiers, Arms, Gun-powder, Ammunition, Provision, or any other contraband Goods, to any of the British Armies or Ships of War employed against these Colonies." The ships were to be brought into port with their original masters for a judgment on whether it was a "lawful Prize." Torturing, ransoming, or killing crew members in cold blood was strictly forbidden.

This broadside went through several different printings. The first one had President John Hancock's name printed at the bottom, followed by this one which left room for the president's signature. It can be distinguished from later printings by the third and fourth lines, which here end with "war" and "make." Other examples of this same printing appear with Hancock's signature as president, so we can assume the broadside was printed circa late 1776 to early 1777. We have not traced any other examples signed by Laurens, who took office on 1 November 1777. This copy has two minor manuscript corrections. Rather than authorizing attacks on "Inhabitants of Great-Britain," this is changed to "subjects of the King of Great-Britain." The fifth article, instructing privateers to "keep and preserve every Ship" until it "be adjudged a lawful Prize," is amended to add "or acquitted." Both of these changes are reflected in the later printings of this form signed by Laurens' successor John Jay. Bristol B4398; ESTC W15266.