Protest against the constant calms

Connecticut was known as the Provision State during the Revolutionary War. However the colony (at the time) was also a “provision state” to the West Indies in the 18th century. Connecticut vessels plied the waters between our ports to the islands of Barbados, Antigua, Granada, Tobago and others in the Lesser Antilles. The cargo the ships carried: livestock, including horses, cows and oxen.

First page of a protest against lost of oxen. Ms 101832.

First page of a protest against lost of oxen. Ms 101832.

Recently added to our collection is a beautifully written “protest” filed by the Captain, Richard Lord Sills, and Mate Stephen Smith of the Brig Reuben of Hartford. The protest was filed in Antigua by notary Matthew Williams, hence the magnificent handwriting. As Sills and Smith stated, they set out from Hartford with enough food and water for the men and the oxen they were carrying. However they were becalmed or they ran into contrary winds the entire way, delaying their arrival in Barbados. As a result, four oxen died from the heat. Before the ship could reach Antigua, two more animals succumbed. This “Protest against the Constant Calms and head Winds for the loss of six Oxen as well as for all other Losses . . .” absolved the owners and the captain of any fault in the loss of cargo.

Ms_101832.2Protests were a regular feature of maritime law in the 18th and 19th centuries, although they are still in use today.  We have some protests in our Ships’ Papers Collection here at CHS and I remember seeing a lot of similar documents when I worked at the New Bedford Whaling Museum.  I can also personally attest to the aggravation and heat of being becalmed by the number of times my husband and I went sailing, were in the middle of New Haven harbor, and the wind just stopped.  No protests for us–we just tough it out. However, imagine what it would be like with a cargo of oxen! Being captain of a trading vessel was a challenge in the days before motorized engines. The wind really was your master.

You can see this protest and our other shipping related documents as well as account books and log books in the Waterman Research Center.

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