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Feud between Major-General John Sullivan & Judge Ebenezer Thompson

Major-General John Sullivan, etching from Thomas C. Amory’s The Military Services and Public Life of Major-General John Sullivan (1869)

Among the many political feuds early existing among the prominent
men of the state of New Hampshire one had broken out between
Judge Ebenezer Thompson of Durham and Gen. John Sullivan. This
had been fanned into open warfare from the fact that a quarrel
had taken place between their sons in which the fathers
afterwards took sides. Lawsuits were begun and appeals made to
the public through the press. Fortunately for our purpose, one
of the points in controversy between them was the respective
parts each had taken at the capture of Fort William and Mary. As
many of the participants were alive, who knew all the facts, both
were naturally careful to have, their statements accurate. The
first number of this series appeared in an article in the New
Hampshire Spy
of Friday, March 6, 1789, signed “An Enemy to
Deceit,” in which an unnamed gentleman (Judge Ebenezer Thompson)
is accused of appearing at Exeter at town-meeting to work against
the election of General Sullivan as president of the state, and
of keeping back a number of votes in the election of 1786.1 The
only statement of interest to us is the following:

It surely cannot be forgotten that this Gentleman, in company
with a number of others, went from Durham to Portsmouth in
December, 1774, to assist in securing the stores at Fort William
and Mary, and when Governor Wentworth suspended him and sundry
others on that account he was restored by making oath before
George Atkinson, Esq [then Deputy Secretary], that he was not
concerned.

In the New Hampshire Spy of Friday, March 13, 1789, Judge
Ebenezer Thompson defends himself from the attack of “An Enemy to
Deceit,” whom he assumes to be General Sullivan, and among other
things says:

That I ever was concerned, directly or indirectly, in taking
the stores from Fort William and Mary, in 1774, is absolutely
false. But had it been the case I should not have thought of
applying to, or receiving from, Congress a large pecuniary reward
by single service. But what a gentleinan did who assisted in the
matter will appear by the following extract from a resolution of
Congress printed in the Journal, Vol. VII, p. 159:
“Ordered that the Board of Treasury pass to the credit of
John Sullivan in Specie one hundred dollars as a compensation for
the expense incurred by him in securing the military stores and
ordinance in Fort William and Mary, New Hampshire, in the year
1775.”

It is a well-known fact that the Hon. John Langdon, Esq.,
and a number of other persons took the powder from the aforesaid
fort and sent it into the country before the gentleman who
received the reward knew anything about it.
(Signed)
EBENEZER THOMPSON
Durham, March 11, 1789.

In the New Hampshire Spy of March 17, 1789, General Sullivan
addresses a reply to “Ebenezer Thompson, Esq.” and after refusing
to affirm or deny his authorship of the article signed “An Enemy
to Deceit,” he discusses the Exeter affair and the 1786 election
and then the following appears:

As different ideas may be affixed to the words directly or
indirectly, I shall not assert that you were directly or
indirectly concerned in taking the stores from Fort William &
Mary, in 1774 but will relate facts as they are. In the night of
the 18th of December, 1774 [again he has the date from memory
incorrect], a messenger came to my house from the Hon. Col.
Long, and I think also signed by President Langdon, informing
that one hundred barrels of powder were sent to my care ; that
they had been to the fort and secured as much of the powder as
they could ; and desired me to come down with a party to secure
the remainder, with the cannon and munitions of war, as they were
in danger of being seized by the British ships. I mustered
hands–took care of the powder, part of which was lodged in your
house. The next morning we mustered and you went to Portsmouth
in company with about thirty or forty; among whom was the Rev.
Mr. Adams, Deacon Norton, Lieut. Durgin, Capt. Jonathan Woodman,
Mr. Aaron Davis, and, I think, Mr. Footman of Dover, and many
others,–I think you did not go down to the fort; that was at
night when a number of us mustered what gondolas we could–went
to the fort and secured as much as our vessels could bring away.
When the gondolas arrived in Durham river, it was froze far down,
and we were about two days in sawing the ice and getting up the
boats, and one day more in storing and distributing the stores:
in this you were obliging enough to assist us; but whether that
was being directly or indirectly concerned, I shall not
determine.

Nothing can be more unjust than your calling up again the
matter of Congress voting me a hundred dollars for assisting to
take the cannon, etc., from the fort; when it was so fully
discussed in the public prints, about four years since, and the
malicious charge refuted. The Hon. Judge Livermore who was in
Congress with me, pliblickly declared and all the then members of
Congress will attest, that the vote was passed in my absence, and
upon a petition for my allowance in seperate departments, in
which it was incidentally mentioned my being one of the first
opposition and amongst those who first dared to attack a King’s
fort. The committee reported me a hundred dollars, and cut me
off three quarters of my allowance in seperate departments; the
vote passed before I returned into Congress. I was the person
who rose and violently opposed the measure–told them I was so
far from asking or wishing such a grant, that as it would open a
door for similar grants, I could not from principle accept it ,
but Congress finding, how much I was cut short in my allowance
for seperate commands advised me to a compromise, to take the sum
voted in full and release my demands in seperate departments.
Thus by a compromise I had a hundred dollars voted, for releasing
more than a thousand. Any person who wishes to be satisfied of
these facts may apply to the Hon. Judge Livermore, or to any
member then in Congress, or may, by having recourse to the
statement of facts by me,–and the proofs adduced in my answer to
letters signed Candidus in the beginning of 1785, be fully
convinced of the injustice of the accusation….
JOHN SULLIVAN
Durham, March 14, I789

The trouble between General Sullivan and Judge Ebenezer Thompson,
arising out of this and other disputes, seems to have been
settled the following year by a letter from General Sullivan.

**From the Thompson Family Papers (MC 1)**

Footnotes

  1. Ebenezer Thompson afterwards refuted this charge by affidavits, etc.