Silas Talbot to James Sever, January 3, 1801
This letter of orders from Silas Talbot, captain of USS Constitution and commodore of the Caribbean Squadron, to Captain James Sever of USS Congress demonstrates the complexities of hunting French privateers during the Quasi-War. Talbot directs Sever to take over the Saint-Domingue station and provides a detailed description of where among the islands he thinks privateers may be lurking. Though Talbot directs Sever to focus his efforts around Saint-Domingue, he also makes it clear that Sever should pursue other locations should new information become available. This caveat points to the flexibility naval captains had in an era when communications from a central command were often few and far between. Additionally, Talbot warns Sever to “not seek encounters with French national ships should [he] meet any, nor decline an engagement with them should they be disposed to attack,” which underscores the complex nature of the limited war against France.