The Frigate Confederacy Papers, 1776-1786

(1 box (22 folders), 0.4 lin. feet)

Collection 222

© The Historical Society of Pennsylvania
1300 Locust Street * Philadelphia, PA 19107

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Table of contents
Papers of Major Joshua Huntington, who lived in Norwich, Conn., and served as a soldier in the Revolutionary army. The papers deal with the construction of the Confederacy, which was built by Huntington under the direction of the Governor and Council of Safety of Connecticut and launched in 1778. Included are accounts, payrolls, reports, 1777-1779, which present details of construction and outfitting of the frigate.

Background note
Joshua Huntington was an established businessman on the Connecticut coast of Norwich Landing by the time the American Revolution broke out in 1775. Huntington, as the state's agent for the Continental Congress, orchestrated the construction of the frigate Confederacy from 1776-1778. The ship was built in the Thames River at Norwich, and upon its completion on November 8, 1778 was towed to New London for its final outfitting. Under the command of Captain Seth Harding, the frigate Confederacy began its short life as an American ship.

On September 17, 1779, Confederacy was commissioned to sail to France to return the French Minister, Count Gerard, and the American Minister to Spain, John Jay. Two months into their voyage, on November 7, 1779, the ship was dismasted by a heavy wind and was nearly destroyed. The ship was forced to seek refuge on Martinique, West Indies in early December. From there, the ship's diplomatic passengers departed for France on the French frigate L'Aurore and after repairs, Confederacy returned to active duty.

In 1781, only two short years after it was launched, Confederacy was captured by the British ships Roebuck and Orpheus off the coast of Cape Francois, West Indies, where she had been sent to retrieve supplies for the American army. The British appropriated the ship, changed its name to Confederate, and sent her to England with the supplies and nearly 100 prisoners.

Scope and content
This small collection of bills, receipts, and a handful of correspondence relating to orders, shipments and supplies comprise a relatively complete file of material pertaining to the construction of the frigate Confederacy. From bills for lumber and other supplies to wage records for the shipyard, these records cover most of the necessary duties and how much workers were paid for what duties, how much different supplies cost, and what types of material were used. The wage records that are present, along with some of the correspondence, often provide names of the workers. In addition, it appears from other sources that the type of lumber used to construct Confederacy -- green wood -- eventually contributed to its demise. After the British captured Confederacy and sent her back to England, it was discovered that the ship was suffering from excessive hull rot.

The records also help to illuminate the many difficulties involved in the production of this ship, including the lack of funds necessary to transport the necessary supplies to the construction site. During the Revolution, finances were by not easy to procure for the Americans. However, a letter written in June of 1786, included in the collection, indicates that Joshua Huntington was still suffering the negative impact on his finances from the construction of the ship almost ten years after construction began and nearly five years after the ship was captured by the British.

Although this collection is very small, a richly detailed account of the construction of the ship can be derived from it. In addition, the approximately 525 items included serve to illuminate other aspects of colonial history, financial aspects of the American Revolution and the life of Joshua Huntington.

Administrative information
Restrictions on use

The collection is open for research.

Preferred citation
Cite as: [Indicate cited item or series here], The Frigate Confederacy Papers (Collection 222), The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Purchased, 1939.

Processing notes
Reprocessed by: Mindy Steinberg

Processing Completed: January 2001

Additional information
Related material
Material on Joshua Huntington and his financial accounts can be found in the William Griswold Lane Memorial Collection in the Manuscripts and Archives Division of the Yale University Library.

Language(s) represented

"Confederacy: From the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships." (

Hunt, Robert E. "Model Shipbuilding." (

Middlebrook, Louis F. History of Maritime Connecticut during the American Revolution. (Salem, 1925). Vol. 1, pp. 50-51.

Other descriptive information

ST 7/13/88

Added entries
  • Connecticut--Governors
  • Council of Safety
  • Huntington, Joshua, 1751-1821
  • Shipbuilding
  • United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783
  • Contact information

    The Historical Society of Pennsylvania
    1300 Locust Street
    Philadelphia, PA 19107

    EAD encoding funded by a grant from the Delmas Foundation.

    Collection inventory

    1776-1779, 1786

    Short History of the Frigate
    Folder 1

    Preparing Timber for the Frigate
    Mar-Apr 1777
    Folder 2

    Preparing Timber for the Frigate
    May 1777
    Folder 3

    Preparing Timber for the Frigate
    Jun-Dec 1777
    Folder 4

    Lumberjacks' Returns
    Feb-Aug 1777
    Folder 5

    Letters Relating to the Frigate
    May 1777 - May 1778
    Folder 6

    Letters Relating to the Frigate
    Jun-Nov 1778
    Folder 7

    Letters Relating to the Frigate
    Jan-Apr 1779 - 13 June 1786
    Folder 8

    Ship Yard Pay Slips
    April 1777
    Folder 9

    Ship Yard Pay Slips
    May 1777
    Folder 10

    Ship Yard Pay Slips
    Jun-Jul 1777
    Folder 11

    Ship Yard Pay Slips
    Aug-Sept 1777
    Folder 12

    Ship Yard Pay Slips
    Oct-Nov 1777
    Folder 13

    Coopers' Returns
    Sept 1778 - Feb 1779
    Folder 14

    Top Builders' Returns
    Folder 15

    Carpenters' Stores

    Boat Builders' Returns
    Aug 1778 - Feb 1779
    Folder 16

    Blacksmith Returns
    May-Nov 1778
    Folder 17

    Riggers' Returns
    Oct-Dec 1778
    Folder 18

    Riggers' Returns
    Jan-Feb 1779
    Folder 19

    Misc. Records and Accounts
    Folder 20

    Misc. Records and Accounts
    Folder 21

    Misc. Records and Accounts
    1779 and n.d.
    Folder 22