1654, Peter Dacton seeks the return of his ship, seized by a Commonwealth frigate

Transcription from ‘Petitions in the State Papers: 1650s’, in Petitions in the State Papers, 1600-1699, ed. Brodie Waddell, British History Online, Peter Darton of Barnstable, mariner. SP 18/65 f. 3 (1654).

To the right honourable his highnes councell

The humble petition of Peter [Darton?] of Barn stable mariner

Sheweth that the George Bonaventure of about 30 tonns whereof Christopher Dan was master laden with salt for your petitioners account was about the 28 of November last taken by the Nonesuch frigate belonging to the common wealth and carried into Perin in Cornwall.

That upon your petitioners humble suit unto his highnes for restoring his said boat with her lading upon payment of salvage according to the act in that behalfe his highnes referred the matter unto your honours in pursuance whereof yow were pleased to refer the same unto the judges of the Admiralty

Now forasmuch as the recovering of the said boate and salt by the ordinary cours of the Admiralty would stand in about ten poundes charges which is more then the salvage it selfe comes unto an expence only for formality sake and altogether unnecessarie which your petitioner can in no wayes beare in these dead time of trading.

Your petitioner humbly prayes your honours will be pleased to order the comissioners for prize goodes as was in prac tice during the late Parliamentes and Councill of State to doe therein according to justice and the act of Parliament in that behalfe

And your petitioner shall pray etc

Report by Keith Baldwin 

In his petition Peter Darton (or Dacton), a Barnstable mariner, recounted that the George Bonaventure, laden with salt for his account, had been taken into Perin (Penryn) in Cornwall by the Commonwealth frigate Nonsuch. He asked now for the return of the boat, stating that the charge of £10 he would incur, if the matter were referred to the Admiralty, was more than the value of his cargo.

References to the incident

In the Calendar of State Papers there is, on 31 December 1653, a reference to the petition of ‘Peter Dacton, of Barnstaple, for restitution of the George Bonaventure, seized by a Brest man-of-war, and retaken by the Nonsuch, referred by the Lord Protector to Council, to do as they think fit.’[1]

On 3 January 1654 there is a further reference to the petition of ‘Peter Dacton, mariner of Barnstaple, to his Highness’s Council. The George Bonadventure, laden with salt for me, was taken by the Nonsuch 28 Nov. last, and carried into Peran, Cornwall. My suit to the Protector for its restoration on payment of salvage was referred to you [see 31 Dec. 1653], and by you to the Admiralty Judges. As an Admiralty judgment would cost 10l. more than the salvage, I beg an order to the Prize Goods. Commissioners to act according to justice and the Act of Parliament thereon.’[2]

Peter who?

The petitioner is recorded as Peter Darton or Dacton but after investigation it would appear that the name is more usually spelt Docton.

Peter Docton was born 1614 at Hartland, Devon, son of Thomas Docton who inherited Docton House in Appledore, Bideford, built by his cousin Thomas Docton around 1604.[3] Thomas Docton purchased land in Northam, Devon[4] shortly before he died in 1618.[5]

Peter married Elizabeth Martyn in 1655 at Northam[6] and they had the following children:

  • Margaret, 1655[7]
  • Peter, 1657-1714[8]
  • Susanna, 1659-1719[9]
  • John, 1660-1683[10]
  • Elizabeth, 1661-1701[11]
  • William, 1662[12]
  • Thomas, 1663-1664[13]
  • Richard, 1665[14]
  • Ann (or Ane), 1668-1685[15]
  • Nicholas, 1672-1737[16]

The will of Peter Docton’s son, Peter, made in 1713 and proved in 1715 survives at The National Archives and has been transcribed by David Carter.[17]

Peter Docton, the petitioner, appears to have been a merchant involved in the Portuguese trade prior to being appointed collector of customs. His son Peter continued as a merchant, eventually residing in Portugal.[18]

Further references to Peter Docton

On 6 November 1671 Peter was appointed Collector at Barnstable and Bideford. On 21 October 1676 he was noted as the late collector at Appledore, but now insolvent and owing 473l.  William Tredne (or Tredue) and Jo. Hooper stood sureties for his debts. On 12 April 1677 Peter was noted as having died suddenly in March 1675, still owing 473l. His sureties, Tredne and Hooper had offered 200l. in settlement. This was accepted with the remainder of the debt to be secured on the death of Peter’s widow, to whom his estate had passed.[19]

Peter left a will in 1676 which will have been destroyed when Exeter was bombed in the Second World War but there may be a transcript amongst the South West Heritage Trust archives.[20]

Trading with Portugal

The Portuguese trade was well established, but rather risky as they ran the gauntlet of piracy. The main imports were wine and salt whilst the main export, particularly from Barnstaple/Bideford, was wool though some lead and cured cod (from South Devon) were also traded. In 1654 a treaty was agreed which effectively formalised trade and secured a ready market for wool in return for wine. The net result was a steadily increasing trade surplus with Portugal.[21]

It would appear, then, that the George Bonaventure was returning with a cargo of salt destined for the victuallers when it was taken by a French man-of-war and then recovered by a Commonwealth vessel and taken to Penryn in Cornwall. Nothing can be found regarding the outcome of this petition.


[1] ‘Volume 42: December 1653’, in Mary Anne Everett Green (ed.), Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Interregnum, 1653-4 (1879), pp. 279-328. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/interregnum/1653-4/pp279-328.

[2] ‘Volume 65: January 1654’, in Mary Anne Everett Green (ed.), Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Interregnum, 1653-4 (1879), pp. 344-380. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/interregnum/1653-4/pp344-380.

[3] ‘History’, Docton Court Gallery, http://www.doctoncourtgallery.co.uk/History.html.

[4] ‘Purchase of Property in Northam, 16th October 1617’, GENUKI, https://www.genuki.org.uk/big/eng/DEV/Northam/PropertyPurchase1617.

[5] ‘Will of Thomas Docton of Hartland’, GENUKI, https://www.genuki.org.uk/big/eng/DEV/Hartland/ThomasDocton1619.

[6] ‘Peter Docton/Elizabeth, 1655’, Find My Past, https://www.findmypast.co.uk/transcript?id=R_858043613.

[7] ‘Margaret Docton, 1655’, Find My Past, https://www.findmypast.co.uk/transcript?id=R_951212487.

[8] ‘Peter Docton, 1657-1714’, Find My Past, https://www.findmypast.co.uk/search/results?firstname=peter&lastname=docton&yearofbirth=1657&yearofbirth_offset=2&yearofdeath=1714&yearofdeath_offset=2&sid=999.

[9] ‘Susanna Docton, 1659-1719’, Find My Past, https://www.findmypast.co.uk/transcript?id=R_955501683.

[10] ‘John Docton, 1660-1683’, Find My Past, https://www.findmypast.co.uk/search/results?firstname=john&lastname=docton&yearofbirth=1660&yearofbirth_offset=2&yearofdeath=1683&yearofdeath_offset=2&sid=999.

[11] ‘Elizabeth Docton, 1661-1701’, Find My Past, https://www.findmypast.co.uk/search/results?firstname=elizabeth&lastname=docton&yearofbirth=1661&yearofbirth_offset=2&yearofdeath=1701&yearofdeath_offset=2&sid=999.

[12] Find My Past

[13] ‘Thomas Docton, 1663-1664’, Find My Past, https://www.findmypast.co.uk/search/results?firstname=thomas&lastname=docton&yearofbirth=1663&yearofbirth_offset=2&yearofdeath=1664&yearofdeath_offset=2&sid=999.

[14] ‘Richard Docton, 1665’, Find My Past, https://www.findmypast.co.uk/transcript?id=R_955506506.

[15] ‘Ane Docton, 1668-1685’, Find My Past, https://www.findmypast.co.uk/search/results?firstname=ane&lastname=docton&lastname_variants=true&yearofbirth=1668&yearofbirth_offset=2&yearofdeath=1685&yearofdeath_offset=2&keywordsplace=devon&keywordsplace_proximity=5&sid=999.

[16] ‘Nicholas Docton, 1672-1737’, Find My Past, https://www.findmypast.co.uk/search/results?firstname=nicholas&lastname=docton&yearofbirth=1672&yearofbirth_offset=2&yearofdeath=1737&yearofdeath_offset=2&keywordsplace=devon&keywordsplace_proximity=5&sid=999.

[17] ‘Will of Peter Docton, Merchant of Northam, Devon’, GENUKI, https://www.genuki.org.uk/big/eng/DEV/Northam/PeterDocton1715.

[18] Pedro de Brito, ‘The Portugal Merchants and Whig Trade Politics (unpublished paper, no date), p. 3, Academia, https://www.academia.edu/34525609/THE_PORTUGAL_MERCHANTS_AND_WHIG_TRADE_POLITICS.

[19] ‘Entry Book: November 1671’, in William A Shaw (ed.), Calendar of Treasury Books, Volume 3, 1669-1672 (1908), pp. 1128-1149. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-treasury-books/vol3/pp1128-1149; ‘Entry Book: October 1676, 16-31’, in William A Shaw (ed.), Calendar of Treasury Books, Volume 5, 1676-1679 (1911), pp. 350-358. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-treasury-books/vol5/pp350-358; ‘Entry Book: April 1677, 1-15’, in William A Shaw (ed.), Calendar of Treasury Books, Volume 5, 1676-1679 (1911), pp. 584-596. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-treasury-books/vol5/pp584-596.

[20] ‘Peter Docton, 1614-1674’, Find My Past, https://www.findmypast.co.uk/transcript?id=GBOR%2FOR%2FDEVWILLS%2F410507.

[21] de Brito, ‘The Portugal Merchants and Whig Trade Politics’, p.9.