Silas Talbot

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Silas Talbot
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from New York's 10th congressional district
In office
March 4, 1793 – June 5, 1794
Preceded bynone
Succeeded byWilliam Cooper
Personal details
Born(1751-01-11)January 11, 1751
Dighton, Massachusetts
DiedJune 30, 1813(1813-06-30) (aged 62)
New York City, New York
Political partyFederalist Party
Military service
Branch/serviceContinental Army
Continental Navy
United States Navy
Battles/warsAmerican Revolutionary War


Captain Silas Talbot (January 11, 1751 – June 30, 1813) was an American military officer and slave trader. He served in the Continental Army and Continental Navy during the American Revolutionary War, and is most famous for commanding USS Constitution from 1799 to 1801. Talbot was a member of the Society of the Cincinnati's branch in New York.[1]

Early life[edit]

Talbot was born in Dighton, Massachusetts on January 11, 1751 and came from a large, farming family. He first took to seafaring at the age of twelve serving as cabin boy in a coasting vessel. Talbot's performance proved to be outstanding and by 1772 had saved up enough money to buy property on Weybosset Street in Providence, Rhode Island, and build a stone home, having learned the trade of stone masonry earlier in life.[2] He owned slaves.[3]

Military service[edit]

American Revolutionary War[edit]

On June 28, 1775, Talbot received the commission of a captain in the 2nd Rhode Island Regiment.[2] After participating in the siege of Boston, Talbot and the Continental Army began their march to New York. En route, they stopped at New London, Connecticut whose port had just received Esek Hopkins who had just landed from a naval expedition to the Bahamas. After learning that Hopkins was going to petition General Washington for 200 volunteers needed to assist his squadron in reaching Providence, Talbot volunteered his services in this effort.

After Talbot made his way back to New York where he was aiding in the transportation of troops, he obtained command of a fire ship and attempted to use it to set fire to the Royal Navy warship HMS Asia on September 14, 1776. The attempt failed, but the daring it displayed, and that Talbot was severely burned during the effort, won him a promotion to major on October 10, 1777, retroactive to September 1.[2]

After suffering a severe wound at Fort Mifflin, while fighting to defend Philadelphia, on October 23, 1777, Talbot returned to active service in the summer of 1778 and fought the Battle of Rhode Island on August 28, 1778.

As commander of the galley Pigot (which he had captured from the Royal Navy in the Sakonnet River on October 28, 1778), and later Argo, both under the Army, he cruised against Loyalist vessels that were harassing American trade between Long Island and Nantucket and made prisoners of many of them. On November 14, 1778, the Continental Congress passed a resolution that recognized his success in capturing Pigot and promoted him to lieutenant colonel on the same date. In October of the same year, the Rhode Island General Assembly voted to present Talbot with a "genteel silver-hilted sword" for the same action. The sword was made by silversmith John Gladding Gibbs of Providence.

Continental Navy[edit]

Because of his success fighting afloat for the Army, Congress commissioned Talbot as a captain in the Continental Navy on September 17, 1779. However, since Congress had no suitable warship to entrust to him, Talbot put to sea in command of the privateer General Washington. In it, he took one prize, but soon thereafter ran into a Royal Navy fleet off New York. After a chase, he struck his colors to Culloden, a 74-gun British ship-of-the-line and remained a prisoner of war until exchanged for a British officer in December 1781.[4]

Talbot is buried at Trinity Churchyard. This photo represents the original, incorrect grave marker placed by the NY SAR. As of July 2019, a new, correct marker has been installed, following years of effort by Silas Talbot's 4th great grandson, Peter J. Talbot. The original marker is now in his possession, gifted to him by Trinity Church.

Slave trader[edit]

Talbot was not only a slaveholder, but from 1783 onwards was the partial owner of two slave ships, the sloop Peggy and ninety-ton brigantine Industry. Both vessels transported slaves from the Guinea region to Charleston. On one 1786 voyage of the Industry, Talbot was notified by his solicitors Murray, Mumford and Bower on 9 September 1786 of a large financial loss: "we hear about one hundred & eighty Slaves off the coast of Guinea, near half of which died before the brig arrived in Charleston where she is now."[5][6] As late 1801 Talbot was still trying collect some compensation from his business partners to offset his financial losses from the slave trade.[7]


After the war, Talbot settled in Johnstown, New York, the county seat of Fulton County, where he purchased the former manor house and estate of Sir William Johnson, founder of Johnstown.[8] He was a member of the New York State Assembly in 1792 and 1792 to 1793.

Congress and United States Navy[edit]

In January 1793, Talbot was elected as a Federalist from New York to the 3rd United States Congress, and served from March 4, 1793, to approximately June 5, 1794, when President George Washington chose him third in a list of six captains of the newly established United States Navy.[9] During his time in Congress, he was one of nine representatives to vote against the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution.[10] He was ordered to superintend the construction of the frigate USS President at New York. On April 20, 1796, construction of President was suspended and Talbot was discharged from the Navy.

With the outbreak of the Quasi-War with France, Talbot was re-commissioned as a captain in the United States Navy on May 11, 1798. He served as commander of USS Constitution from June 5, 1799, until September 8, 1801, sailing it to the West Indies where he protected American commerce from French privateers during the Quasi-War. He commanded the Santo Domingo Station in 1799 and 1800 and was commended by the Secretary of the Navy for protecting American commerce and for laying the foundation of a permanent trade with that country. It is said that Talbot was wounded 13 times and carried 5 bullets in his body.[4]

Captain Talbot resigned from the Navy on September 21, 1801, and died in New York City on June 30, 1813. He was buried in Trinity Churchyard in lower Manhattan.

Legacy and honors[edit]

The first USS Talbot (Torpedo Boat No. 15) was named for Lt. John Gunnell Talbot, no relation to Silas Talbot; the second and third Talbots (Talbot (DD-114/APD 7) and Talbot (DEG/FFG-4), respectively) were named for Captain Silas Talbot.

Talbot was an original member of the Rhode Island Society of the Cincinnati.

Battery Talbot (1899-1919), named for Silas Talbot in G.O. 30, March 19, 1902, was a reinforced concrete, Endicott Period 4.72 inch coastal gun battery on Fort Adams, Newport County, Rhode Island. Both of the original guns from this battery survive. One is on display at Equality Park in Newport and the other is at Fort Moultrie National Park near Charleston, South Carolina.

There is a cenotaph in honor of Captain Talbot in the Dighton Congregational Church cemetery in his hometown of Dighton, Massachusetts.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Aimone, Alan Conrad (2005). "New York State Society of the Cincinnati: Biographies of Original Members and Other Continental Officers (review)". The Journal of Military History. 69 (1): 231–232. doi:10.1353/jmh.2005.0002. ISSN 1543-7795. S2CID 162248285.
  2. ^ a b c Eastman, Ralph M. (2004). Some Famous Privateers of New England. Kessinger Publishing, LLC. p. 48. ISBN 1-4179-0676-6.
  3. ^ "Congress slaveowners", The Washington Post, January 13, 2022, retrieved July 5, 2022
  4. ^ a b Fowler, William M. (1900). Silas Talbot: Captain of Old Ironsides. Mystic Seaport Museum. p. 231. ISBN 9780913372739.
  5. ^ Verhoeven, Wil., Gilbert Imlay and the Triangular Trade , The William and Mary Quarterly, vol. 63, no. 4, 2006, pp. 827–42, JSTOR,, Accessed 12 Jul. 2022, for the letter quoted see p. 837.
  6. ^ Slave Voyages, vessel,Industry, Captain Benjamin Hooks, 1786, mortality rate 53.0 %,
  7. ^ G.W. Blunt Library, Mystic Seaport, Silas Talbot Collection
  8. ^ Decker, Lewis G. (1999). Images of America: Johnstown. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 0-7385-0174-3.
  9. ^ See The Democratic Republicans of New York: The Origins, 1763-1797 by Alfred Fabian Young (1967; page 506) [says that Talbot resigned], but Abridgment of Debates in Congress, 1789 to 1856 (Vol. I) has no entry of a formal resignation. Documented is Talbot listed as voting until the end of May 1794; and after the adjournment, as not taking his seat again in November.
  10. ^ "Voteview | Plot Vote: 3rd Congress > House > 9". Retrieved August 21, 2023.


External links[edit]

U.S. House of Representatives
New district Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 10th congressional district

Succeeded by