William Rotch in

His Own Words...





Written by


in 1814 in the


    A FRIEND of mine has repeatedly requested me to put on paper

some of the occurrences of about Twenty Years of my life from

1775 to 1794 which he had heard me relate in conversation.

When the Revolutionary War began in 1775 I saw clearly that

the only line of conduct to be pursued by us, the Inhabitants of the

Island of Nantucket, was to take no part in the contest, and to

endeavor to give no occasion of offence to either of the contending


    A great portion of the Inhabitants were of the Denomination of

Friends, and a large number of the considerate of other Societies

united in the opinion that our safety was in a state of Neutrality

as far as it could be obtained, though we had no doubt that suffer-

ing would be our lot, which we often expericnced from both

parties. Our situation was rendered more difficult by having a few

restless Spirits amongst us, who had nothing to lose, and who were

often thwarting our pacific plan, and subjecting us to danger, not

caring what confusion they brought upon us, if they could get

something in the scramble.

    My own trials begun soon after the War broke out. In the year

1764 I had taken the Goods of a Merchant in Boston, deceased in-

solvent, who was deeply indebted to me.

    Among these were a number of muskets, some with, and others

without bayonets. The straights of Beileisle opened a new field for

the Whale Fishery, where wild fowl were abundant, and my Guns

met with a rapid sale. Whenever those with Bayonets were chosen,

I took that instrument from them. The purchaser would insist on

having it, as an appendage belonging to the Gun, and I as strenu-

ously withheld it, and laid them all by. Many Years afterwards I

removed to another store, leaving much rubbish in the one I had

left. Among the rubbish were these Bayonets, neglected and for-

gotten; until the War commenced, when to my surprise they were

brought into view by an application for them, made by a person

from the Continent.

    The time was now come to endeavor to support our Testimony

against War, or abandon it, as this very instrument was a severe

test. I could not hesitate which to choose, and therefore denied the

applicant. My reason for not furnishing them was demanded, to

which I readily answered, "As this instrument is purposely made

and used for the destruction of mankind, I can put no weapon into

a man’s hand to destroy another, that I cannot use myself in the

same way." The person left me much dissatisfied. Others came

and received the same denial, it made a great noise in the Country,

and my life was threatened. I would gladly have beaten them into

pruning hooks, but I took an early opportunity of throwing them

into the sea.

    A short time after I was called before a Committee appointed

by the Court then held at Watertown near Boston, and questioned

amongst other things respecting my Bayonets.

    I gave a full account of my proceedings, and closed it with say-

ing, "I sunk them in the bottom of the sea, I did it from principle,

I have ever been glad that I had done it, and if I am wrong I am to

be pitied." The Chairman of the Committee Major Hawley (a

worthy character) then addressed the Committee, and said "I be-

lieve Mr. Rotch has given us a candid account, and everyman has

a right to act consistently with his religious principles, but I am

sorry that we could not have the Bayonets, for we want them very


    The Major was desirous of knowing more of our principles on

which I informed him as far as he enquired.

    One of the Committee in a pert manner observed "then your

principles are passive Obedience and non-resistance." I replied

"No my friend, our principles are active Obedience, or passive suf-

fering." I had passed this no small trial respecting my Bayonets,

But the clamor against me long continued.

    From the Year 1775 to the end of the War, we were in continual

embarrassments -- Our Vessels captured by the English, and our

small vessels and boats sent to the various parts of the Continent

for provisions, denied, and sent back empty, under pretence that

we supplied the British, which was without the least foundation.

Prohibitory Laws were often made in consequence of these un-

founded reports. By this inhuman conduct we were sometimes in

danger of being starved. One of these laws was founded on an

information from Governor Trumbull of Connecticut, who had been

imposed upon respecting our conduct in supplying the British.

I wrote to the Governor on the subject, and laid our distress very

home to him, assuring him at the same time that nothing of that

kind had taken place. He was convinced of his error, and was ever

after very kind in assisting us within his jurisdiction.

    But there were so many petty Officers, as Committees of Safe-

ty, Inspection, etc. in all parts, and too many of them chosen much

upon the principle of Jeroboam’s Priests, that we were sorely


    It was about the year 1778 when the current in the Country was

very strong against us at Nantucket, the vessels we sent after pro-

visions, sent back empty, and great suffering for want of food was

likely to take place, that the people who thought we ought to have

joined in the War (not Friends) began to chide and murmur against

me. They considered me the principal cause that we did not unite

in the War (which I knew was measureably the case,) when we

might have been plentifully supplied, but were now likely to starve,

little considering that if we had taken a part, there was nothing

but supernatural aid (which we had no reason to expect) that could

have prevented our destruction.

    Though I had done everything in my power for our preservation,

this murmuring of the people operated so severely upon my spirits,

that I was once (a time never to be forgotten) on the point of asking

of that Divine Being who gave me life, that he would take it from

me, for my affliction seemed more than I could bear. But being

restrained by that good hand, which had so often been my deliv-

erer, after shedding a flood of tears, my mind was more easy, and

my spirit revived.

    In the Year 1779 seven armed Vessels and Transports with

soldiers from Newport came to us, the latter commanded by George

Leonard, an American, as were his troops in general, having joined

the English. They plundered us of much property, some from me,

hut a considerable amount from Thomas Jenkins. While they were

plundering his store, I attempted to pass the Guard they had set,

being desirous to see Leonard, and intercede with him to desist.

But the Guard arrested my progress with the Bayonet. After some

time Timothy Folger succeeded in speaking to him, and advised

him to go off, for time people would not bear it much longer. He

took the limit, and retired much enraged.

    We soon had information that Leonard & Co. were preparing

another and a more formidable expedition to visit us. The Town

was convened to consult what measures should be taken in this

trying emergency, which resulted in sending Dr Benjamin Tupper

Samuel Starbuck and myself to Newport, to represent our case to

the Commanders of the Navy and Army. We arrived in the harbor

of Newport, where Captain Dawson commanded the Navy, and

General Prescott the Army.

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