Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Abraham Whipple Papers, 1763-1793

Finding aid created by
Philip Heslip, December 2010

Summary Information
Title: Abraham Whipple papers
Creator: William L. Clements Library
Inclusive dates: 1763-1793
Extent: 0.25 linear feet
The Abraham Whipple papers contain letters and documents relating to Whipple's employment with Rhode Island merchant Nicholas Brown and Company (1763-1767), and his service in the Continental Navy, 1776-1780. The collection documents his 1778 mission to France, his role in the southern naval operations during the Revolutionary War (1780), and various other letters, bills of lading, accounts, and receipts.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1959, 1964, 1973. M-1115, M-1118, M-1285, M-1638, M-1968.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown

Processing Information:

Cataloging funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the "We the People" project.

Alternate Format:

This collection has been microfilmed

Preferred Citation:

Abraham Whipple Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


This collection is organized into two series:

  • Series I: Correspondence and Documents
  • Series II: Letter Book

The Correspondence and Documents series is ordered chronologically.


American navy officer Abraham Whipple (1733-1819) was born in Providence, Rhode Island, to Noah Whipple, Jr., and Mary Dexter. He went to sea at an early age, working for West Indian traders, including Nicholas Brown and Company. From 1759 to 1760 he commanded the privateer Game Cock and grew wealthy from capturing many French ships in the Atlantic.

A committed revolutionary, Whipple lead a group of 50 Rhode Island patriots to attack and burn the British schooner Gaspée , which had run aground near Pawtucket in 1772. In 1775, Whipple took command of a small fleet commissioned by Rhode Island to protect the state's ports. When the Continental Congress established a navy, he was commissioned navy captain and his ship Katy was renamed Providence . Still in command of the frigate Providence in 1778, Whipple sailed to France to acquire arms and supplies for the American forces. The following year, he captured the British Jamaica fleet that was sailing off the coast of Newfoundland. The prize proved to be one of the richest of the Revolutionary War. He was taken prisoner in the siege of Charleston on May 12, 1780, and held at Chester, Pennsylvania, for the remainder of the war.

In 1761, Whipple married Sarah Hopkins, daughter of Captain John Hopkins and Catherine Templin. They had three children, John, Catherine, and Mary Jane (Polly]. Whipple and his family moved to the Ohio frontier in 1788, and helped found the town of Marietta. He established a farm in Marietta, but in 1813 retired to live with his daughter Catherine. He died in 1819.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Abraham Whipple papers (84 items) contain 51 letters, 1 letter book, and 32 documents relating to Whipple's employment with the Browns of Providence (1763-1767) and his service in the Continental Navy, 1776-1780. Represented are his 1778 mission to France, his role in the naval operations at Charleston (1780), a memorial of Whipple's services in the American Revolution, his financial accounts with Congress, and various other letters, bills of lading, accounts, and receipts.

The earliest 9 items relate to Whipple’s career as commander of the privateer Game Cock and as an employee for Nicholas Brown Company on the Sloop George (1763-1767). Included are receipts, bills, and sloop accounts, largely for transporting food, supplies, and, in once instance, slaves.

Of note:

  • February 9, 1763: Shipping receipt for shipping two slaves from New York to Rhode Island
  • February 28, 1764: Detailed directions from Nicholas Brown and Company on how to evade compliance of the 1733 Molasses Act
  • March 29, 1765: Sailing orders from Nicholas Brown and Company, to sell cargo in Surinam and purchase high quality molasses and cloth

The collection contains 64 items documenting Whipple's activities during the Revolutionary War (1773-1780), including prize ship accounts, naval orders, and intelligence. Eighteen items relate to Whipple's mission in France while 16 items concern southern navy operations and the defense of Charleston, both of which were reported on by Southern Department Commander Benjamin Lincoln.

Of note:

  • July 2, 1775: Commission from the Rhode Island Assembly appointing Whipple the captain of the Katy [ Caty ]
  • January 6, 1776: Naval Committee report on how prize money should be distributed between privateers and Congress
  • June 22, 1776: List of the crew of the Columbus with names and ranks
  • January 23, 1777: Receipt for the captor's share of the prize ships Royal Exchange and Lord Lifford
  • October 13, 1777: Directions from the United States Navy Board to assist General Spencer in an attack on Rhode Island
  • October 28, 1777: Letter from John Deshon with updated intelligence, calling off the Rhode Island attack, and advising a run for New London
  • April 25, 1778: Whipple's oath of allegiance to the United States administered by William Vernon
  • July 13, 1778: Orders to return to America from the American commissioners to France, signed by Benjamin Franklin, Arthur Lee, and John Adams
  • June 12, 1779: Orders from the Navy Board Eastern Department to intercept British transports from New York
  • January 24-April 22, 1780: Ten letters from Benjamin Lincoln regarding southern naval operations and the defense of Charleston, South Carolina
  • June 10, 1780: Certificate of Whipple's order to provide passage to Newport for officers and servants captured on the American ships Queen of France , Boston , and Ranger

The collection contains 10 items that are dated after Whipple's retirement from the Navy. These include Whipple's appointment as master of the sloop Sally , and his efforts to be repaid by Congress for expenses during the war. Of interest is Whipple’s address to Congress, outlining his service during the Revolution and requesting a pension (June 10, 1786). Whipple wrote the final two items from Marietta, Ohio. The first is addressed to Benjamin Bourne and Francis Malboan of Philadelphia regarding loans he made to the United States during the Revolution. The second is a printed bill of lading for shipment of sugar arrived in Philadelphia.

The letter book (68 pages) consists of copies of 101 incoming and outgoing letters written while Whipple was commanding the frigate Providence on his mission to France to procure supplies for the American army (February 22, 1778-January 12, 1779). The volume contains copies of Whipple's instructions from the Navy Board Eastern Department in March and April 1778 (located at the end of the volume), and communications with the American commissioners in Paris - Benjamin Franklin, Arthur Lee, and John Adams.

Below is Whipple's itinerary based on items in the letter book:

  • May 31, 1778: Paimbeouf, France
  • June 9, 1778: Nantes, France
  • June 14, 1778: Paimbeouf, France
  • June 16, 1778: Nantes, France
  • June 25, 1778: Nantes, France
  • July 9, 1778: Paimbeouf, France
  • July 13, 1778: Nantes, France
  • July 31, 1778: Paimbeouf, France
  • August 9, 1778: At sea in the Bay of Biscay
  • August 18, 1778: Brest, France
  • September 27, 1778: Newfoundland
  • October 16, 1778: Portsmouth, New Hampshire
  • January 12, 1779: Boston, Massachusetts
Subject Terms

    • Amsterdam (Ship)
    • Boston (Ship)
    • Charleston (S.C.)--History--Revolution, 1775-1783.
    • Charleston (S.C.)--History--Siege, 1780.
    • Columbus (Ship)
    • Lord Lifford (Ship)
    • Providence (Frigate)
    • Queen of France (Ship)
    • Ranger (Ship)
    • Royal Exchange (Ship)
    • United States. Continental Congress. Marine Committee.
    • United States. Continental Navy.
    • United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Naval operations.
    • United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Prizes, etc.
    • United States. Navy--History--Revolution, 1775-1783.
    • United States. Navy--Officers.
    • Brown, Moses, 1738-1836.
    • Hancock, John, 1737-1793.
    • Hopkins, Esek, 1718-1802.
    • Jones, John Paul, 1747-1792.
    • Lincoln, Benjamin, 1733-1810.
    • Seton, William, 1746-1789.
    • Spencer, Joseph, 1714-1789.
    • Tucker, Samuel, 1747-1833.
    • Wanton, Joseph, 1705-1780.
    • Washington, George, 1732-1799.
    • Whipple, Abraham, 1733-1819.
    Genre Terms:
    • Accounts.
    • Bills of landing.
    • Letters (correspondence)
    • Orders (military records)
    • Receipts.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Box   1 Folders   1-23
    Correspondence and Documents,  February 9, 1763-July 19, 1793 [series]
    Box   1 Folder   24
    Letter book,  February 22, 1778-January 12, 1779 [series]
    Additional Descriptive Data


    • Brown, Moses, 1738-1836.
    • Cook, Nicholas.
    • Deshon, John.
    • Devol, Silas.
    • Dobrée, Peter Frederick.
    • Fletcher, Patrick.
    • Ford, Hezekiah.
    • Gardner, Nicholas E.
    • Greene, Caleb.
    • Hale, Samuel.
    • Hancock, John, 1737-1793.
    • Hewes, Josiah.
    • Hill, Robert.
    • Hopkins, Esek, 1718-1802.
    • Jones, John Paul, 1747-1792.
    • Jones, William.
    • Knight, Nehemiah.
    • Lawton, Isaac.
    • Lincoln, Benjamin, 1733-1810.
    • O'Dea, James.
    • Palmes, Richard.
    • Pitcher, Jonathan.
    • Randall, Henry.
    • Reed, Thomas.
    • Ross, John.
    • Rutledge, John.
    • Schweighauser, John Daniel.
    • Seton, William, 1746-1789.
    • Simpson, Thomas.
    • Spencer, Joseph, 1714-1789.
    • Tillinghast, Daniel.
    • Tomkins, Christopher.
    • Tucker, Samuel, 1747-1833.
    • Wanton, Joseph, 1705-1780.
    • Washington, George, 1732-1799.
    • Whipple, Abraham, 1733-1819.
    • Whipple, Sarah.
    • Winter, Philip, Jr.
    Related Materials

    The Rhode Island Historical Society in Providence has a collection of Abraham Whipple papers.


    Cook, Petronelle. Captain Abe. Unpublished, 1986.

    William M. Fowler. "Whipple, Abraham." American National Biography Online . Oxford University Press, 2000.