It’s hard to imagine a time when the United States was not a world superpower. The U.S. was just a small fry on the global stage, however, when future Gov. William King was running his shipping business in the late 18th to early 19th centuries.

According to the book “General William King,” by Marion Jaques Smith, this country was officially neutral in most of the struggles between Britain, France and Spain. However, the U.S. traded with those countries, and this ticked off their enemies. King’s business suffered as a result.

France was at war with Britain in the late 1790s, and French ships began raiding the east coast of the United States. One ship commanded by a Capt. Hatch escaped a French privateer off Seguin Island. King’s first spot of trouble came with the Spanish, however, in 1799. His ship, the Nymph, was seized by a Spanish privateer on its way to the Dominican Republic with a load of lumber. The captain of the ship was imprisoned in Havana for some time and then tried appealing to the governments of Cuba and Spain for relief. Neither the ship nor its cargo was returned, however, and the Nymph rotted at her moorings.

The French were the next thorn in King’s side. The same year, his ship Osiris was heading back to America from London with a cargo of coal and other merchandise. It was attacked by the French and plundered and then a prize crew was sent aboard to take the Osiris and its prisoners back to France. The American crew was not about to take this treatment lying down. While most of the Frenchmen were aloft trimming the sails, Capt. Redmond captured the French lieutenant. The American sailors waited at each mast with handspikes and captured the Frenchmen as they came down. King got his ship back, but his loss of cargo was almost $32,000.

Another of his ships was soon captured by the French and then recaptured by an American warship. King lost half the value of the ship and cargo as salvage to the rescuer.

Great Britain became embroiled in a conflict with Napoleon and decided to capture any vessels caught trading with France. Life aboard a British ship was hard and some sailors deserted for an easier life aboard an American ship. Some even managed to get American citizenship, but British ships began stopping and scouring American ships for such deserters.

Many Americans also found themselves impressed aboard British ships, since the British commanders couldn’t easily tell the difference. In 1807, King’s ship Fair American was taken by the British brig Scout on suspicion of carrying French cargo. The crew was later released, but King never got his ship back.

The American Congress passed an embargo that prevented American ships from trading with other countries, which was devastating to businessmen like King. But he continued building ships, believing that the embargo would be lifted. The work was a godsend for the workers of Bath, but King was losing about $5,500 a month in lost business.

King fought to get the embargo lifted, which finally happened in 1809. This was not the end of his troubles, however. His ship Alexander was captured by French privateers and then recaptured from them by a British sloop of war. King did get his ship back, but the legal and salvage fees cost him a lot of money.

On the Fourth of July, his ship United States was docked in Liverpool. All the American ships raised their flags to celebrate the holiday, which caused an angry mob of British citizens to board the ships, tear down the flags and drag them through the streets. Nobody was killed, fortunately.

Despite these losses and the frustrating world of international politics that he was forced to work in, William King remained a successful and prosperous merchant.

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