The First Marines,1778, USS Rattletrap, James Willing, Jacob Wheat, New Orleans
Our Country's 1st Marines
and my 4th great grandfather
Jacob Wheat, Gunner age 17, January 1778

Preamble        Revolutionary War 1776 -1781

Captain James Willing and the U.S.S. Rattletrap
In Various Continental Congress Documents, James Willing was referred to as:
a “soldier”, “Naval Captain” and a “Marine)

November of 1776, the Thirteenth Regiment of Foot of the Virginia Continental Line was organized under Colonel William Russell. The l3th was also known as "The West Augusta Volunteers". Benjamin Harrison was commissioned a captain in the l3th on Dec. 16, 1776. In the spring of 1777 five companies of the l3th were sent to join Washington's army in New Jersey. The l3th Virginia became part of Brigadier General Peter Muhlenberg's brigade of Major General Nathaniel Greene's division. In September of 1777, Captain Benjamin Harrison was present at the battle of Brandywine Creek near Philadelphia. In October, 1777, Captain Harrison participated in a major attack on General William Howe's British army at Germantown, Pa. During the winter of 1777-1778, the l3th Virginia was with George Washington at Valley Forge. Captain Harrison and his company, however, were more fortunate. Harrison had been assigned to Brigadier General Edward Hand, Commander of the Western Department with headquarters at Pittsburgh.

[Editors note:  There were a few words that 78 year old Jacob Wheat said in Court of New Madrid
in 1838, that drew my attention, and made me look for "the rest of the story".  I had read many pensions from the Revolutionary War and almost all covered the duties, actions and  activities, with more clarity than this extract: "
Continued in the thirteenth regiment until about the first of January (sic 1778) , after when I was party of twenty five men under the command of Captain James Willing, I was informed and believe,  to take twenty five men from the Thirteenth Regiment to go on some business to New Orleans and be one of the number who went with him to that place,  arrive in New Orleans sometime in March 1778   "Go on some business to New Orleans".  What business to take troops out of combat and journey for three months down the Ohio river in a barge, in the dead of winter, through hostile territory. Then remain in that area for six months (doing business, I guess) , then WALK back from New Orleans back to Kaskaskia, Illinois and eventually walk home to Wheeling,  Augusta County, Virginia. (West Virginia, today)   My High School History books did not cover this event..

Jacob Wheat's complete Declaration of Service is at the end of this story...  Several parts of his pension application will be used with more stories later..

February 23, 1838 New Madrid County Court, Missouri

Declaration    In order to obtain the benefit of the act of Congress passed June 7th, 1832
State of Missouri County of New Madrid

On the 23rd day of Feb. in the year of our Lord 1838 personally appeared in open court before the County Court of New Madrid County now in session, Jacob Wheat a resident of New Madrid Township in New Madrid  County aforesaid in state aforesaid aged seventy-seven years who being first duly sworn according to law doth on his oath declare and make the following declaration in order to obtain the benefit of the act of Congress passed June 7th, 1832.

That he entered the Service of the United States under the following named officers and served as served as herein stated.

My Captain was Stephen Ashby, Benjamin Casy , first lieutenant, Abraham Zaines (sic Zanes), second lieutenant, Richard Raute, ensign,  M. Waggoner, Major, entered the Service in September or October in the year 1776 and left the same in Sept. in the year 1780.  Entered the Service as a volunteer at Wheeling  in the State of Virginia, and was stationed there from that time until sometime in the Spring following when we were marched to the Army under General Washington, then

Stationed at what was called the Little Hills in the Jerseys, in a few days after he joined the Army under Washington, he went on a Scout under Captain Drake to Amboy.  There joined the Twelfth Regiment Navel Colonel, Starling General and had an engagement with the British at the Ash Swamp, and fell back on the Main Army. Marched with the Army to _____ River in New York, and from thence was  marched back to the Delaware, and then was engaged in the Battle of the Brandy wine, and thence , to the best of my recollection, in August in the year of 1777  returned to my fathers at Wheeling on furlow, he stayed but a short time at his fathers when he was persuaded by Captain Benjamin Harrison to join his Company in the Thirteenth Regiment. Then stationed at Pittsburgh being advised by Capt. Harrison that it made no difference, so that he was in the Service of  the United States, and being also advised that Harrisons Company would soon march to the Main Army, where to could join his own company and he joined Harrison’s Company,  Hand was the General , Gibson Colonel.,  ? Rich’rd ? Harrison Lieutenant, stationed at Pittsburgh.  Continued in the thirteenth regiment until about the first of January (sic 1778) , after when I was party of twenty five men under the command of Captain James Willing, I was informed and believe,  to take twenty five men from the Thirteenth Regiment to go on some business to New Orleans and be one of the number who went with him to that place,  arrive in New Orleans sometime in March 1778 and in September next after, left New Orleans to return to Pittsburg, under command of Capt Robert George and Lieutenant Richard Harrison, Returned as far as Kaskaskia, where he and his Company joined General Clark. and continued with then Army under General Clark and their movements in the North Western Territory,  Was engaged in the battle with the Indians at Pickaway Towns.  Continued in the Army under general Clark until September 1780 when he was discharged at the Falls of the Ohio and the ---------- he has not made --------- application for a pension that he had informed that no person was entitled  to a pension unless he was poor and destitute of property and this was not the fact with him for though not rich yet he had sufficiency of property to live on with his personal --------- and further states from his age and infirmaties he may be mistaken in dates but thinks he is not, he has -------- --------- -------- ------- and knows of no person whose testimony he can procure who can testify to his services he humbly relinquishes every claim whatever to a pension or annuity except the present, and declares that his name is not on the pension role of the agency of any states.  “Signature”  his X mark Jacob Wheat.

Sworn to and subscribed in open court Feb 23, 1838   Richard Barkley, Clerk

Mr. Richard Phillips and Mr. H.D. Maulsby  residing in the County of New Madrid aforesaid hereby certify that we are well acquainted with Jacob Wheat who has subscribed and sworn to the above ------- that we believe him to be seventy-seven years of age, that he is respected and believed in the neighborhood where he resides, to have been a Soldier of the Revolution and that we concur in that opinion, we have heard no one doubt the fact of his having been a Soldier of

Revolution and the Said Court do certify and affirm their opinion after the interrogation of the Matter and putting the interrogations presented by the War department, that the above named applicant was a Revolutionary Soldier, and service is as he States, and that the court further certifys that it appears  to them  that Richard Phillips and H. P. Maulsby are ______ of Good -------------, and credible persons  and that their statements are entitled to credit

“Signatures”   Rich’d Phillips and H.D. Maulsby

Sworn to and subscribed in open court Feb 23, 1838

Interrogations    (From the Pension Papers)

 1st What and in What year was you born ?
Answer,.  I was born on the 15th day of November A. D. 1760 in Frederick County, Maryland

2nd ., Do you have any record of your age, and if so where is it?

Answer,   I have a record of my age at home.
=============================================================Voyage Of the Rattletrap, 1778     By Olin L. Hupp

James Willing was a member of a prominent Philadelphia family and brother to a member of the first Continental Congress. Beginning in 1774, he lived and worked in Natchez along the Mississippi River. Willing was considered an average merchant, slowly frittering away his fortune and growing in debt. He was also an agitator for the Revolution.

Willing returned to Pennsylvania in 1777, and early in the fall had several conferences with the Commerce Committee of the Continental Congress. Reportedly, Willing drew a vivid picture of the probability of Loyalist activity in the Natchez district, warned that the Mississippi River would be closed to American traffic and suggested an expedition to the lower Mississippi to enlist or compel the support of West Florida. The Commerce Committee, without the general knowledge of Congress, commissioned Willing a captain in the navy and assigned him the expedition.

Willing's instructions were to deliver some dispatches for New Orleans, to bring up the Mississippi and Ohio part of the stores Spain had agreed to deliver at New Orleans for the use of the United States, and to "capture whatever British property he might meet with".

 After receiving these instructions, Willing proceeded to Fort Pitt. The armed boat Rattletrap was assigned to his command. On January 10, 1778, with a crew of about thirty men, he set out on the westward voyage, down the Ohio River. Members of the volunteer crew were:

Crew of the Rattletrap Capt. Thomas Love; Sgt. John Marney; Levin Spriggs; John Walker; Richard Murray; Mark Foley; John Ash; Daniel Whittaker; Lazarus Ryan; Philip Hupp; John Gouldin; Lawrence Kanan; Samuel Taylor; John Hanwood, and James Taylor from Capt. Harrison's company of the 13th Virginia regiment.  Greenberry Shores, Nathan Henderson, Richard Rody, Henry Haut and Tobrar Haut of Capt. Sullivan's company. Sgt. Thomas Beard; Nathaniel Down; James King; Alexander Chambers; William White; and John Rowland of Capt. O'Hara's company. James Ryan, Reuben Hamilton and James Cordonis of Capt. Heth's company.

Note: The Olin L. Hupp list above was not complete.  Thanks to Google Books on line, a full list of the crew is now available on line.   Our Jacob Wheat is there plus some of his West Augusta neighbors.  Click here.

                The Frenchman Rocheblave, commander for the English at Kaskaskia, upon hearing of the expedition believed that Illinois was to be attacked. Traveling down the Ohio, Willing did seize the Becquet brothers and their peltries and Mr. La Chance and a cargo of brandy. Rocheblave interpreted these seizures as a sign of what he might expect should the Americans come to Illinois in greater numbers. Willing, at any rate, achieved enough notoriety along the Ohio that when Hamilton heard of Clark's capture of Kaskaskia be believed the captors to be from Willing's flotilla assisted, perhaps, by the Spaniards.

By February 16th or 17th the expedition reached the plantation of Anthony Hutchins, a short distance above Natchez. Hutchins was made prisoner, his slaves and some other property seized. Afterwards, they proceeded on to Natchez.

 On the afternoon of Friday, February 19th, Captain Willling and his command disembarked at Natchez. Orders were sent to all parts that the residents should convene the following morning to be made prisoners of war and that he would take possession of the jurisdiction. Mindful of their remoteness from protection, the residents proposed that they would not take arms against the United States, nor help to supply or give assistance to it's enemies if their persons, slaves and other property would be left secure.

On February 21, Willing signified that, with the exception of every public official of the crown of Great Britain who holds property, he was in agreement. The property of all British subjects not resident in this district was likewise excepted.

Most accounts of Willing's expedition say that his force embarked on a "career of confiscation and cruelty" as they moved south beyond Natchez. At Manchac, on February 23, an advance party captured the Rebecca, "mounted with sixteen guns, four pounders, beside swivels". The Rebecca and the Hinchenbrook had been sent to scour the inland passage and frustrate rebel attacks.

The American's went on to seize other boats, raid plantations on the Mississippi, Thompson's Creek and Amite, and even followed some settlers into Spanish territory taking their property. Excesses and wanton destruction accompanied the seizures. Hogs were shot, cattle killed, bottled wine broken and dwellings burned. Along the lower Mississippi, Oliver Pollock organized volunteers from New Orleans that cooperated with Willing's men in plundering the British.

Willing foster the impression that a large army under General Clark was advancing on the colony. Instead of the thirty men who had started out on the Rattletrap, instead of the hundred or more of plunder-seeking adventurers that had joined along the way, the West Floridians estimated the American forces at five to eight thousand.

By March, Willing had reached New Orleans. Estimates of the plunder vary considerably, ranging from $15,000 to $1,500,000. Pollock reported that Willing had got 100 slaves worth 140 pesos each and that proceeds from these and other plunder amounted to $25,000. Another $37,500 was assigned for the Rebecca, which was armed as a war vessel, not sold. The damage done by the forces was much greater than the meager profits secured.

The Americans presence in the Spanish owned New Orleans became a problem for Governor Gálvez. The British protested Willing's plundering on the lower Mississippi claiming it was Spanish territory. British war ships were sent to New Orleans to reclaim their property and defend British subjects. As a result, of British reinforcement of West Florida and the establishment of a virtual blockade of the river, Willing was stopped from sending supplies upstream to the revolution and the English bank of the Mississippi was lost back to England.

With his avenues north endangered and having overstayed his welcome with Gálvez and Pollock, Willing became an annoyance to the Spanish government. Willing's stay stretched into months. Pollock wrote the Congress expressing concerns about Willing's judgment and began developing ways for Willing and his men to return north, part by land and part by water through the Spanish Territories.

On July 14, Governor Gálvez issued a letter to the Spanish commanders along the Mississippi to allow Willing and twenty-five American to pass. But with the settlers so angry, the journey north was too hazardous and no one took advantage of the opportunity. A month later Lieut. Robert George requested permission to lead the men north through Spanish territory. Gálvez, upon receiving an oath that they would follow his route and not offend any English subjects along the way, gave his permission. They traveled north by way of Opelousas, Natchitoches, and the Arkansas. Then to St. Louis where they were placed under the command of Gen. George Rogers Clark.

Willing finally got away by sloop for Philadelphia. His journey home was an unfortunate one. The sloop was captured and Willing was taken prisoner to New York. Toward the end of 1779 he was exchanged for British Colonel Henry Hamilton.

Willing's actions succeeded in temporarily crippling the British naval forces on the Mississippi and interrupted the flow of supplies, mainly lumber, from Natchez to Pensacola and Jamaica.

(Except as noted, the information in this article is based upon research presented in The Louisiana Historical Quarterly entitled Willing's Expedition Down The Mississippi, 1778; by John Caughey in January, 1932)

My note: The secret records of the Continental Congress, may be lost forever, but the secret of this expedition, is mentioned in these excerpts. Click here

My Note: Historians from Louisiana  (West Florida) and historians in the 13 Colonies, then and now have a different spin on our real history.     WEB MASTER

Roster of the Capt. Willing's Crew of the USS Rattletrap January to June  1779    Click

Most of the original spellings were preserved. Some portions of the handwritten document were not legible

Feb 1838  Jacob Wheat is about 78 yrs, 3 mon  old.  He states he was born
15 Nov 1760 in Frederick County, Maryland,

Jacob entered this service at age 15 and 10 months. He had been in prior service at age 14 in Dunmore's War.

Americans badly defeated at Brandywine, heavy losses.


January 1778

Jacob is now 17 yrs old


Pickaway = Pequa, OhioClark's raids on the Shawnee tribes near Pequa
to destroy their homes and food crops. This was a good strategy to keep them busy searching for food , instead of raiding Kentucky for the British.




































The Louisiana
Historian did not include the British and Mercenary Troops that were deployed here from other areas to "protect" the West Florida District

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