Of Traitors and Patriots

Creating connections with my ancestors as I research their lives is just one of the many reasons I love genealogy. As I find information and stories about them, I put together a picture of who they were. I wonder if we all got together in a group, how would that interaction go. But research usually leaves me with more questions, wishing for answers, wanting to meet them.

This week’s topic for 52 Ancestors is I’d Like to Meet. Two of my 6th great-grandfathers, Oswell Eve and Paul Pritchard, lived during the American Revolution, but were seemingly for different sides. Since their children married, I wonder sometimes how extended family gatherings would have gone had they ever happened.

Despite their apparent difference in loyalty, they were both involved with ships: Oswell was a captain, a chandler shop owner, ship pilot, and river surveyor. Paul was a shipbuilder. They were probably both the first generation to live in America — Oswell most likely immigrated from England in the 1740s and Paul immigrated from Ireland in the 1760s.

Oswell Eve

In times of revolution and with the passage of time, it can be unclear which side a person picked. Oswell Eve lived in Philadelphia and along with his ship-related vocations, he manufactured gunpowder. Oswell was convicted of being a traitor by the Continental Congress after it was found that he was selling gun powder to both the Americans and the British. (A fuller account of the events can be read in this post.) As the British evacuated from Philadelphia, Oswell fled to New York City. From there he captained a ship of loyalists headed for the Bahamas. All his land was confiscated and he lived the rest of his life in the Bahamas.

But one country’s traitor is another’s hero. I’m not trying to whitewash history or give excuses for him, but since I don’t have any first-hand accounts from him, it’s impossible to know his motivations. Despite giving him the benefit of the doubt, I don’t mind if he was a traitor. Every tree has a bit of notoriety.

Paul Pritchard

A Revolutionary War Sloop

Paul Pritchard built ships similar to this.

And even if I don’t mind the bit of notoriety, I do love an ancestor with some patriotism. Paul Pritchard emigrated to South Carolina from county Cork, Ireland in the mid-1700s with two of his brothers. His family had been engaged in shipbuilding in Cobh, building some of the finest ships. He continued this work in Charleston, South Carolina. Paul was an active member of the Mechanic’s Party, a largely anti-British group of highly-skilled artisans and tradesmen. Paul and others from the group would steal gunpowder from the British for the Americans to use. He also went to great lengths to protect the gunpowder:

The English governor, Lord Campbell, knowing the location of a powder magazine built at Hobcaw [the area in Charleston that Paul lived and worked] by the Provincial Government, decided it was appropriate to remove the powder. Receiving word in advance that a British military squad was on its way to confiscate the powder, Paul set out to distract them long enough to remove the vital supplies. With aplomb, Paul met the group at the wharf and extended an invitation to eat and drink. His slick manner and persuasiveness carried the day, because, while the British were being wined and dined, the powder was removed and hidden in the swamp. The next morning when the soldiers awoke from their partying, the powder was gone.

A large share of Paul’s shipyards were purchased by the South Carolina Navy and used for the duration of the war to build and repair ships. Paul worked there throughout the war. He and his partner regained full ownership of the shipyards after the war.

It would be fascinating to get the patriot and the traitor together and understand better their motivations and choices. I would ask Oswell what his motivations were: was he acting on a sense of loyalty or just self-preservation? I would ask Paul why he chose the American side. I would also ask them about their passion with the sea, does it run in their blood or were their professions chosen for them? It would be interesting to know how Paul felt about his daughter marrying the son of a traitor.

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