Reader’s Question: Two ships during the War of 1812 listed under French spoils. These two ships were captained by John Benjamin Labbree and the ships belonged to Stephen Girard of Philadelphia. They are mentioned in a shipping book in a Philadelphia museum with ships manifest and ships mates as well. It was listed they were bound for Havana but ran aground here in New Jersey around Barngate. Names of ships were Brig Dolphin and Brig Orange. File in Smithsonian only consists of a jacket per a relative. Captain may have gone by Benjamin Labbree and was a French immigrant from the Channel Islands to Main with Father James Labbree.
Given that The Maritime Heritage Project is a one-person operation with a main focus on immigration into San Francisco during the 1800s, there is little time for researching much beyond that scope. Please consider going through old newspapers, many of which are online.
However, a quick search turned up the following about Captain Girard, but without reference to either brig or Benjamin Labbree:
Stephen Girard was born May 20, 1750 in Bordeaux, France. By the late 1700s, he was an Eastern Seaboard captain and shipbuilder. From ushistory.org: “Stephen Girard came to America by way of Philadelphia in 1776 through circumstance rather than by purpose. He had been to New York on earlier voyages, but it was not until his arrival in Philadelphia that Girard made America his permanent home. He went on to be the wealthiest citizen and, in several ways, he contributed much to the early growth of the new nation he adopted. His influence was evident in shipping, construction, banking, and even in politics, later into coal mining and railroads.” Girard’s first voyage as a captain came at the helm of a brigantine named Sally. A series of voyages to New Orleans on vessels owned by Thomas Randall, who befriended the energetic Girard led to a highly profitable business association for both of them. Upon his return to Bordeaux in 1773, Girard was formally licensed as a captain in the French merchant marine by the French government. His reputation and skill as a sea captain obtained other potentially lucrative voyages for him, and he was soon carrying out sizable business deals that brought him extensive profits.
Business pursuits went on in methodical and practical fashion for Stephen Girard after the war ended. By 1781, he was a maritime entrepreneur of extraordinary dimensions. His expertise was widely recognized and his skills in business dealings seemed to flow quite naturally. But the success came from a practical and hard-working man. His prosperity came from an unstinting work ethic. All things pointed to a world full of promise and happiness.
The however, the following was found in Queens Of The Western Ocean, The Story Of American’s Mail And Passenger Sailing Lines:
Stephen Girard, who came to Philadelphia in 1777, had only one vessel in 1790, the little brigantine Kitty, of less than a hundred tons. His first large ship was the Good Friend which registered 247 tons adn was built in Philadelphia in 1793. Most of the craft he owned prior to 1800 were small. The Voltaire of 305 tons, built in 1795, was the first to exceed 300 tons. In 2801 he had the Rousseau built. She was almost identical with the Voltaire in size and design. She outlasted all the other Girard ships, ending her days as a New Bedford whaler. One hot summer day in 1893 I sat on the stringpiece of a New Bedford wharf and watched the ship-breakers taking her to pieces. At noon one of them came up and sat down beside me to eat his lunch. He said that it was the slowest job of the kind he had ever tackled–that her live oak timbers were as sound as the day the Philadelphia ship carpenters drift-bolted them together, more than 90 years before.
Altogether, Girard owned 14 ships. He was registered as sole owner of all but two, in which the masters owned small interests. His largest vessels were the North America of 288 tons, built in 1810 and the Superb of 537 tons, built in 1817. His best known captains were Ezra Bowen of Rehoboth, Rhode Island and Myles McLeven of Philadelphia.
Also consider checking Alibris, which is an excellent book company in California; they have an excellent collection of new and rare books, including Queens of the Western Ocean.