I have renewed respect for the David McCulloughs and Doris Kearns Goodwins of this world. It takes a passionate researcher and storyteller to sift through mountains of ancient documents in order to craft a narrative that will grab the attention of readers. In that vein, I am posting 2008 notes from materials housed at the Norwalk museum here. Hopefully some enterprising future historian from Brien McMahon High School or any of the local educational institutions will dig deeper to entertain all of us with a more detailed account of Norwalk maritime history or maybe an enterprising reader is already on the case or knows of a book describing all the seafaring activities of another era. Who knows? Anyway, here are the notes for public consumption.
To secure their support against the British during the War of Independence, the USA entered into a treaty with France. The USA agreed to cede possessions in the West Indies to the French (1778) and to assist that country in any future wars against Great Britain; however, Washington remained neutral when France and Great Britain went to war in 1793. The French retaliated by confiscating US ships and cargo. In spite of this precarious situation, US businessmen continued their foreign trade. Compounding the volatile situation, the US government signed a treaty in 1800 relinquishing the rights of its citizens to claim compensation for their losses, in return for France releasing the USA from obligations under treaties in existence at that time. Needless to say, the states were not happy. Claims poured in from several states, including Connecticut. Congress (in what some may describe as an unusual act of generosity) suggested that the US government itself should indemnify claimants. The war of 1812 diverted attention from these claims, but the claimants resumed their efforts in earnest when the country regained its economic footing. Claims were placed before Congress in 1884. Pres. John Quincy Adams and then-State-Secretary, Henry Clay, complied with a senate resolution to hand over all correspondence between the US government and France. According to the General Adjudications Bill of 1891 issued by the Court of Claims, more than one million dollars was to be distributed among the claimants. The Lockwoods and Sellecks of Norwalk were among the claimants. In the case of the Lockwoods, the schooners at issue were the Thomas, Rosetta, and Washington. Litigation moved at a snail’s space, continuing up to 1899. The claim to Hezekiah Selleck for the schooner, Hannah, was eventually paid, but payment to the Lockwood estate was delayed. At this point the trail went cold. I assume that the payment was eventually made and always meant to return to find out, but as usual real life got in the way. So there it is..a mystery or bit of bureaucracy, depending on your point of view, that may languish in plain sight on the Internet, until some enterprising sleuth can piece together the fragments into a real story.