Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - May - 2012 Issue

The United States Navy from the William Reese Company

Reese291

The United States Navy.

The William Reese Company has now issued their 291st catalogue, this one entitled The United States Navy. Most items do pertain to the nation's seagoing military forces, though a few items stray to related areas such as the merchant marine. The chronologically placed items begin in the days leading up to the American revolution, and conclude with a letter from Admiral Hyman Rickover, concerning the courageous and inventive black scientist George Washington Carver, namesake of a nuclear submarine just launched in 1966. Naturally, there are a lot of adventures and skirmishes along the way. Let's take a look inside.

We will start with one of the earliest pre-revolutionary incidents, before Lexington and Concord, before the Boston Tea Party. It occurred in the small colony of Rhode Island. Item 1 is a proclamation from King George III For the Discovering and Apprehending the Persons who Plundered and Burnt the Gaspee Schooner; and Barbarously Wounded and Ill-Treated Lieutenant William Dudingston, Commander of Said Schooner (1772). The British had placed heavy customs duties on the colonies, and Rhode Islanders were known on occasion to evade these duties. On June 9 of 1772, the Gaspee chased the sloop Hannah, though it had already reported its cargo at the customs house. The aforesaid Lt. Dudingston, a hated figure in colonial Rhode Island for his abusive attitude toward local merchants, had a steering malfunction and ran aground on a sandbar. They decided to await high tide to lift the boat back into the water. The locals had a different idea. Word quickly spread across the colony, and a nighttime raid was launched. Meeting little resistance, they captured the crew and set the ship afire. Dudingston took a bullet, hence the claim of “barbarously wounded.” This broadside offered some heavy rewards for the capture of the persons involved (£500), and another £500 for capturing their leader. That was a ton of money in 1772. Priced at $42,500.

Item 9 is a biting British satire aimed at America's first great naval hero, Captain John Paul Jones. Jones had engaged in a fierce battle with the H.M.S. Serapis, and at a point when it looked like Jones' ship was doomed to defeat, the British called for his surrender. It was then that Jones supposedly uttered the immortal words, “I have not yet begun to fight.” While it is unlikely that is exactly what he said, they were undoubtedly words to a similar effect. Item 9 is an image with the caption, Paul Jones shooting a Sailor who had attempted to strike his Colours in an Engagement. It shows Jones trampling over the bodies of the dead and wounded on his ship to shoot the poor sailor who attempted to raise the colors (surrender) in the face. The real story is that when a gunner appeared to offer a surrender, Jones knocked him down with the butt of his pistol. The other fact ignored by this satire is that eventually it was the British captain who was forced to surrender. $17,500.

The British seemed to have a habit of reveling in their losses at this time. Item 19 is A Short Account of the Naval Actions of the Last War; in order to Prove that the French Nation Never Gave Such Slender Proofs of Maritime Greatness as During that Period... This piece of revisionist history was published by an anonymous British seaman in 1788. The author seems to focus more on the Battle of Saintes in 1782, where the British defeated the French in the Caribbean islands, rather than the more notable losses they sustained at the hands of the American revolutionaries with the assistance of the French Navy. The author also ridicules John Paul Jones “victory,” “Sneers for the enemy, praise for British valor.” No wonder the colonists found the British insufferable. $2,250.

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