Anyway, I’m going amuse myself (and possibly others) by giving a few highlights in this entry and some future ones.
As it happens, the earliest letter is also the most exciting, if you like tales of derring do. It’s from Lt. Daniel Butler of the Royal Navy, then aged 25, to his parents Daniel (a Margate solicitor) and Mary, my great*5 grandparents. The scene is the Seven Years' War...
Gibraltar, September 13th, 1756
Honoured Father and Mother,
I hope you and all the good family are well. On the 19th of July last we took a brig at Minorca; on the 21st, Mr John Foster and self, with 6 Hands went to take charge of her; on the 12th of August following we left, the Fleet being bound for Gibraltar; on the 25th, at 7 in the evening, were taken within 4 or 5 leagues of our Port by French privateer of 10 carriage guns, besides swivels and 40 Hands. They took our six men out and left us two to be carried into Malaga, and sent on board five of their men; they brought with them three scimitars: we had neither sword, cutlass, nor small arms of any kind of board. The wind was fair, so we laid our heads together in order to retake her (which answered). Our signal word was St. George, and we took the opportunity to surprise them. Putting about their scimitars, laid close by the tiller-head, the helmsman let go the helm when staying to tend the forebraces. We then secured the three scimitars, hove one overboard and fell on cutting and slivering them with their own weapons. They were fit for the purpose, being very sharp. They laid hold of handspikes, &c., but we soon made them drop them, and cry for quarter, which we gave them, and those that were able got up in the foreshrouds, and one in the forestaysail netting. It was about 8 in the morning we retook her and about 3 the same afternoon we got safe into Gibraltar and sent those desperately wounded to the Hospital. I should be glad to tell you the affair face to face. We have gained the applause of all here, and are going up shortly in the Experiment Ship of Ware to Sir Edward Hawke, and don’t doubt but he’ll do for us. So no more at present from
Your dutiful son,
The family was then based around Rye and Margate, and the news from Gibraltar caused quite a stir. A letter from Daniel’s brother Richard to their father reports: “My dear brother Daniel’s letter is in everybody’s mouth here, and in short, his brave and gallant behaviour has so greatly inveigled him in their favours, that he is the topic of conversation; his health is often drunk in public company; and though to many people here he is an entire stranger, yet the whole neighbourhood heartily wish him a Command soon” (Rye, 14th December 1756).
Father Daniel perhaps worried a bit about his son’s spiritual health on this account, for a few days later on the 20th December he wrote to him, congratulating him and Foster as "two heroes", but adding: “It was a good scheme well laid, and as resolutely executed, as anybody could wish, no life being lost, for which I hope you’ve often given the glory to God; for His encouraging and strengthening you and your companion, and not taken it to yourselves, who could do nothing as of yourselves, for the gift was God’s and to Him be the praise, and I hope you’ve not prided yourselves thereon, but behaved like good Christians.” He does add, however, in a slightly more worldly way: “The Lords of the Admiralty will look upon this action and reward it, if the Admiral ha’nt, though I sincerely hope he has, and then you may be ready for something better, Mr. Hunter being one of the Lords of the Admiralty.”
I can’t offer anything quite as sanguinary or exciting for my next, but to be honest this episode is rather atypical Butler behaviour.