Page:Henry Adams' History of the United States Vol. 4.djvu/12

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Ch. 1

One or more of these British ships lay occasionally in Hampton Roads, or came to the navy-yard at Gosport for necessary repairs. Desertions were of course numerous; even the American ships-of-war had much difficulty from loss of men,—and March 7 a whole boat's crew of the British sixteen-gun sloop "Halifax" made off with the jolly-boat and escaped to Norfolk. The commander of the "Halifax" was informed that these men had enlisted in the American frigate "Chesapeake," then under orders for the Mediterranean. He complained to the British consul and to Captain Decatur, but could get no redress. He met two of the deserters in the streets of Norfolk, and asked them why they did not return. One of them, Jenkin Ratford by name, replied, with abuse and oaths, that he was in the land of liberty and would do as he liked. The British minister at Washington also made complaint that three deserters from the "Melampus" frigate had enlisted on the "Chesapeake." The Secretary of the Navy ordered an inquiry, which proved that the three men in question, one of whom was a negro, were in fact on board the "Chesapeake," but that they were native Americans who had been improperly impressed by the "Melampus," and therefore were not subjects for reclamation by the British government. The nationality was admitted, and so far as these men were concerned the answer was final; but the presence of Jenkin Ratford, an Englishman, on board the "Chesapeake" under the name of Wilson escaped notice.