Feud between Major-General John Sullivan & Judge Ebenezer Thompson

John Sullivan
Major-General John Sullivan, etching from Thomas C. Amory’s The Military Services and Public Life of Major-General John Sullivan (1869)

Among the many political feuds existing among the prominent men of the state of New Hampshire, one had broken out between Judge Ebenezer Thompson of Durham and Gen. John Sullivan. This had been fanned into open warfare from the fact that a quarrel had taken place between their sons, in which the fathers afterwards took sides. Lawsuits were begun and appeals made to the public through the press.

One of the points in controversy between Thompson and Sullivan was the respective parts each had taken at the capture of Fort William and Mary. As many of the participants were alive and were familiar with the facts, both were naturally careful to have their statements accurate.

The first number of this series appeared in an article in the New Hampshire Spy of Friday, March 6, 1789, signed “An Enemy to Deceit,” in which an unnamed gentleman (Judge Ebenezer Thompson) is accused of appearing at Exeter, at town-meeting to work against the election of General Sullivan as president of the state, and of keeping back a number of votes in the election of 1786.[1] The only statement of interest to us is the following:

It surely cannot be forgotten that this Gentleman, in company with a number of others, went from Durham to Portsmouth in December, 1774, to assist in securing the stores at Fort William and Mary, and when Governor Wentworth suspended him and sundry others on that account he was restored by making oath before George Atkinson, Esq [then Deputy Secretary], that he was not concerned.

In the New Hampshire Spy of Friday, March 13, 1789, Judge Ebenezer Thompson defends himself from the attack of “An Enemy to Deceit,” whom he assumes to be General Sullivan, and among other things says:

That I ever was concerned, directly or indirectly, in taking the stores from Fort William and Mary, in 1774, is absolutely false. But had it been the case I should not have thought of applying to, or receiving from, Congress a large pecuniary reward by single service. But what a gentleman did who assisted in the matter will appear by the following extract from a resolution of Congress printed in the Journal, Vol. VII, p. 159:

“Ordered that the Board of Treasury pass to the credit of John Sullivan in Specie one hundred dollars as a compensation for the expense incurred by him in securing the military stores and ordinance in Fort William and Mary, New Hampshire, in the year 1775.”

It is a well-known fact that the Hon. John Langdon, Esq., and a number of other persons took the powder from the aforesaid fort and sent it into the country before the gentleman who received the reward knew anything about it.
Durham, March 11, 1789.

In the New Hampshire Spy of March 17, 1789, General Sullivan addresses a reply to “Ebenezer Thompson, Esq.” and after refusing to affirm or deny his authorship of the article signed “An Enemy to Deceit,” he discusses the Exeter affair and the 1786 election and then the following appears:

As different ideas may be affixed to the words directly or indirectly, I shall not assert that you were directly or indirectly concerned in taking the stores from Fort William & Mary, in 1774 but will relate facts as they are. In the night of the 18th of December, 1774 [again he has the date from memory incorrect], a messenger came to my house from the Hon. Col. Long, and I think also signed by President Langdon, informing that one hundred barrels of powder were sent to my care ; that they had been to the fort and secured as much of the powder as they could ; and desired me to come down with a party to secure the remainder, with the cannon and munitions of war, as they were in danger of being seized by the British ships. I mustered hands–took care of the powder, part of which was lodged in your house. The next morning we mustered and you went to Portsmouth in company with about thirty or forty; among whom was the Rev. Mr. Adams, Deacon Norton, Lieut. Durgin, Capt. Jonathan Woodman, Mr. Aaron Davis, and, I think, Mr. Footman of Dover, and many others,–I think you did not go down to the fort; that was at night when a number of us mustered what gondolas we could–went to the fort and secured as much as our vessels could bring away. When the gondolas arrived in Durham river, it was froze far down, and we were about two days in sawing the ice and getting up the boats, and one day more in storing and distributing the stores: in this you were obliging enough to assist us; but whether that was being directly or indirectly concerned, I shall not determine.

Nothing can be more unjust than your calling up again the matter of Congress voting me a hundred dollars for assisting to take the cannon, etc., from the fort; when it was so fully discussed in the public prints, about four years since, and the malicious charge refuted. The Hon. Judge Livermore who was in Congress with me, pliblickly declared and all the then members of Congress will attest, that the vote was passed in my absence, and upon a petition for my allowance in seperate departments, in which it was incidentally mentioned my being one of the first opposition and amongst those who first dared to attack a King’s fort. The committee reported me a hundred dollars, and cut me off three quarters of my allowance in seperate departments; the vote passed before I returned into Congress. I was the person who rose and violently opposed the measure–told them I was so far from asking or wishing such a grant, that as it would open a door for similar grants, I could not from principle accept it , but Congress finding, how much I was cut short in my allowance for seperate commands advised me to a compromise, to take the sum voted in full and release my demands in seperate departments. Thus by a compromise I had a hundred dollars voted, for releasing more than a thousand. Any person who wishes to be satisfied of these facts may apply to the Hon. Judge Livermore, or to any member then in Congress, or may, by having recourse to the statement of facts by me,–and the proofs adduced in my answer to letters signed Candidus in the beginning of 1785, be fully convinced of the injustice of the accusation…. JOHN SULLIVAN
Durham, March 14, I789

The trouble between General Sullivan and Judge Ebenezer Thompson, arising out of this and other disputes, seems to have been settled the following year by a letter from General Sullivan.

From the Thompson Family Papers (MC 1)


  1. Ebenezer Thompson afterwards refuted this charge by affidavits, etc.