Captain Joseph White was a loyal British subject at the beginning of the Revolutionary War, till the British raided one of his ships. Then he bought the Come Along Paddy from Elias Hasket Derby Sr. which he renamed the Revenge and became the first privateer from Salem. He became so successful with prizes in that war he abstained from privateering during the War of 1812 when many captains from Salem resumed once more.
He would sell that ship to Joseph Knapp Sr. who had owned several ships with him and his two nephews. Through this contact Joseph Knapp Jr. would sail one of Stephen White’s ships in 1827. Knapp’s fortunes would turn after the father would lose the Revenge to a pirate. But, real hatred did not form in Joseph White’s heart till his son Joseph Knapp Jr. marries his grandniece who he was trying to have an heir with.
His other business partner was Richard Crowninshield Sr. Joseph White had already turned Joseph Story away from the Crowninshields who used to employ his legal services. In April of 1808 he would replace Jacob Crowninshield in the U.S. House of Representatives after Jacob spits up blood on the House floor and dies 5 days later. Captain White, William Harrison, and Jacob Crowninshield will die suddenly in April throughout the years. A nephew in 1883 would also die in April after intestinal problems.
Now Richard had owned ships with Captain White as well. After the Embargo Act was lifted three ships sail from Salem to Naples. All three were confiscated by Admiral Marat in Napoleon’s Navy. Probably in the Sun Tavern where most of these smugglers drank, in which is now the offices of the PEM, Richard Crowninshield Sr. could be heard praising Jefferson and Madison and their embargo and lambasted their foolishness for sending the ships. One was Crowninshield’s and one of the others were White’s. This was a public insult from the man who married the worst gossip in town. There is the number 3 again, 3 ships confiscated…
Also Richard Crowninshield Sr. had been attacked by Judge Joseph Story in 1819. In Sturgis vs. Crowninshield Story nailed Richard Crowninshield Sr. who’s business had failed in NYC and followed NY bankruptcy law which allowed him to pay back only a portion of his debt when his original contract prohibited it. In the case it sided for Josiah Sturgis and Federal law proved to trump over state bankruptcy laws. Story was once the Crowninshield family lawyer…
For the man named his ship…Revenge. This name displays his internal workings and character. With his death coming on any day he would ask his nephew to perform a mercy killing with a lead pipe. The blow was quite kindly and would not be ghastly enough for the papers, so Stephen White went back after the old man’s heart had stayed and stabbed him 17 times for a better headline. Why 17 times, it would seem a little overkill? Maybe there was a lot of resentment for him being second still to his dead brother?
To make the murder even more ghastly he would enlist the help of a distant cousin of the Knapps to create public opinion against the brothers. Samuel Lorenzo Knapp would go on with the bad press to turn all against the Knapps. Later he would write a biography on Daniel Webster which would be recalled by Stephen White when Webster ran for president erasing all of Webster’s history with this murder to be republished anew.
Now when all is said and done, the childless widower Captain Joseph White, the slave trader who bragged to Bentley he had, “no reluctance in selling any part of the human race,” got his Revenge on his business partners heirs. Richard Dick Crowninshield Jr. would die for his father’s slight against Captain White in a tavern after the loss of his ship and Joseph Knapp Jr. would be the last to hang for his father loosing the captain’s favourite ship, the Revenge. Worst of all Joseph Knapp Jr. was to live long enough to see his friend and brother hang for he married the murdered man’s grand niece and lover removing the last chance he had to have a son named Joseph White Jr.
For more tales like this about how Salem MA has shaped American History read Sub Rosa by Christopher Jon Luke Dowgin available at Barnes & Nobel, Amazon.com, and your favorite local independent book seller.
Ask for it by name!