1644, Robert Curtis claims that his coal ship was mistakenly seized by a Parliamentary warship

Robert Curtis, master of the Porpes of Hith in Kent. SP 16/501 f. 46 (1644)

To the right honourable the Earle of Warwick Lord High Admiral of England

The humble peticion of Robert Curtis master of the barke or vessell called the Porpes of Hith in Kent

Most humbly sheweth

That the peticioner upon notice from the maior and towneclerke of the said towne of Hith and from the maior of Folkeston in the said county that the coasts of Sunderland in the north were free for trade did with lycence from the customer and comptroller of the said towne of Hith sett forth with his vessell in a voyage for Sunderland and those partes but upon the 25th day of February last past the said vessell and the lading thereof were seized on by Captaine Browne master of the shipp Sampson as pretending the same was for the aid of the enemy, and the said captaine doth still detaine the said vessell and lading although your peticioner offered to become bound that if the said coastes were not free then hee would retorne with his said vessell

The premisses considered the peticioner beseecheth your honour to order the said Captaine Browne to restore the said vessell and lading for that your peticoner is ready to make oath that the said vessell or lading was not intended for releife of the enemy without which your peticioner and his family are like to be utterly undone.

And hee as in duty will pray etc.

[For the response, see the full transcription here.]

Report by Sandra Linger

The petition was, according to the summary in the Calendar of State Papers, states that Robert Curtis, ‘upon notice from the mayor and town clerk of Hythe and the mayor of Folkestone that the coasts of Sunderland were free for trade, did with license from the customer and comptroller of Hythe set forth with his vessel for Sunderland; but on February 25th last the vessel and lading were seized by Captain Browne in the “Sampson,” pretending they were for the aid of the enemy, and he still detains them’. Curtis asked for an ‘order to Captain Browne to restore the vessel and lading, he being ready to make oath they were not intended for relief of the enemy’.[1] This petition is mentioned on the Writing Hythe History website where it is pointed out that the enemy, in this case, was the King, Charles I.[2]

Robert Curtis: The Petitioner

Robert Curtis was born in Hythe in 1620 and his mother died shortly after his birth.  His father – also Robert Curtis – was a husbandman (a free tenant farmer or small landowner). His father married again in 1639 – to Margaret Harper, a widow – and was at that time described as a fisherman.  His father and his stepmother died within months of each other in 1640/41.  Robert himself died in 1657.[3] The fishing industry and the pattern of fishing had declined and changed around this time and maybe this is why Robert Curtis decided to try his hand at trading coal.[4]

Coal in the North East: The Context

During the early part of the Civil War, Newcastle and Sunderland were very important to the King both as ports and because of the abundance of coal.  When Newcastle was under Royalist control, a blockade of Newcastle and Sunderland in 1643 did great damage to the local coal industry by stopping shipments from leaving port and denying the King the revenue which the coal would have raised in order to buy arms from the Dutch. The King also hoped to tax exports to raise money for his armies. The Royalists never had sufficient maritime strength to cut off Parliament’s supplies, rather Parliament’s greater naval strength was deployed to interrupt the King’s trade very effectively.  Scarborough, too, came under particular pressure from Parliament from 1644 as it was a valuable entry point for arms whilst the Royalists controlled the route to York from the east coast.[5] That Robert Curtis came under scrutiny with his cargo of coal as he journeyed along the east coast from Sunderland back to Hythe at this time is perhaps unsurprising.

Captain David Brown: The Accused

Captain David Brown was commander of the Sampson for the Summer Guard of 1644. The Sampson was a fifth-rate ship of 300 tons, with 70 men and 20 guns.[6]

Warwick was keen to bolster the coastal defenses of England and Scotland, and it was agreed on 12 April 1644 that six vessels were to cover the north-east coast of Scotland and two were to be deployed in the West.  One of these was commanded by Captain David Brown of the Sampson ‘because he is a Scotchman’ and he was sent to the squadron of a fellow scot, Captain Lewis Dick.

A stop and search policy had long paid dividends but quite often the English Captains were too enthusiastic, leading to a spate of arrests of friendly shipping. The Scotch guard were sometimes similarly over-zealous.[7] Indeed, on 20 August 1644 it came to the attention of the Committee for the Navy at Sunderland that Captain David Brown had taken a Dutch frigate – the Utrecht – with passengers, powder and merchandise for Scarborough and he and his company had plundered the ship and her cargo. They ordered that Captain Brown and his company receive no wages until he satisfies the State for the injuries done to them.[8]


[1] ‘Charles I – volume 501: March 1644’, in Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles I, 1644, ed. William Douglas Hamilton (London, 1888), pp. 32-86. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/chas1/1644/pp32-86

[2]  Hythe History Blog, ‘A tide in the affairs of men – part 3’ (14/10/2015), https://hythehistoryblog.wordpress.com/2015/10/14/a-tide-in-the-affairs-of-men-part-three/

[3] Ancestry Robert Curtis of Hythe, https://www.ancestry.co.uk/search/?name=Robert_Curtis&birth=1620_hythe-kent-england-united+kingdom_84604&count=50&name_x=1_1

[4] Michael Zell, Early Modern Kent, 1540-1640 Kent History Project (2000)

[5] Michael James Lea-O’Mahoney, ‘The Navy In The English Civil War’ (PhD thesis, Exeter, 2011), https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10036/4078

[6] Stephen C. Manganiello, The Concise Encyclopedia of the Revolutions and Wars of England, Scotland and Ireland (2004), p. 599, https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=an-eXXA3DBMC&pg=PA599#v=onepage&q&f=false

[7] Steve Murdoch, The Terror of the Seas? Scottish Maritime Warfare 1513-1713 (2010), pp. 204-205

[8] ‘Charles I – volume 504: Letters and Papers relating to the Navy, &c., dated between 2nd April and 30th September 1644.’, in Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles I, 1644, ed. William Douglas Hamilton (London, 1888), pp. 547-560. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/chas1/1644/pp547-560 .


This report is part of a series on ‘Petitioners in the reign of Charles I and the Civil Wars’, created through a U3A Shared Learning Project on ‘Investigating the Lives of Seventeenth-Century Petitioners’.