James W. Head, Revolutionary seaman

July 5, 2014



James W. Head, middle child of Jane McKenzie (1731-1818) and John Head (1731-1779), James Waller Head was baptized at Trinity Church in Boston on 5 July 1766. An Episcopal parish, Trinity Church was founded in 1733 and at the time was located on Summer Street. His parents had been married in Boston on 10 June [or 17 Aug] 1755. James had two older brothers, Joseph and John, and two younger brothers Joshua and Benjamin. He also had an older sister Ann and younger sister Elizabeth. Brothers John and Joshua, both residing at Waldoboro in Maine, eight miles from James in Warren, would testify in 1837 supporting their middle brother’s pension application. According to seventy-four year old John’s affidavit, Purser of the frigate Queen of France Samuel Wall “frequently visited my father’s family and urged my parents to let brother James go the cruise with them and promised if they would consent he should have an office when they got to sea. Said Wall had previously obtained the consent of my brother James who was then about fourteen years old.” John Head continues, “I understood he served on board the frigate in the capacity of Midshipman.”


James W. Head was one of only a few Revolutionary War soldiers and sailors who lived long enough to be photographed.

According to James W. Head’s own testimony, he enlisted as Midshipman on the frigate Queen of France at Boston, then under the command of Captain John Peck Rathbun, at the age of fourteen in October 1779. Head adds that the ship cruised to Bermuda and “went into Charleston, South Carolina in December and lay there in company with the ship Providence, Commodore Whipple; ship Boston, Capt. Tucker & ship Ranger,” adding that “all surrendered to the British in May 1780. The testimony of his brother John, fleshes out some of the details of what happened to James Head at Charleston. The “Queen of France (was) there sunk to prevent the British fleet coming up the channel. The officers and crew were placed in the fort under the command of General Lincoln. The fort was taken by the British after a severe bombardment.” James himself recollects’ “At Charleston we were landed to man the forts” and “I was present and engaged in the siege of Charleston & captured with the American Army.” After his capture, James W. Head returned to Providence, RI in a cartel and was discharged in June 1780. His older brother John recalled, “I well recollect his returning home…The next day after he arrived in the cartel at Providence, he started for home, Boston and traveled on foot all the way home in one day.” Younger brother Joshua, sixty-nine years old at the time of his testimony, remembered James “was very much fatigued” on his homecoming and also that “he had lost his hearing in a great measure and has never recovered it.” Speaking of his vivid memory of brother James’ wartime experiences after almost six decades, Joshua Head writes “They were of a nature to excite my curiosity and made a deep impression on my mind.” In the pension record, both brothers note that within four to six weeks of James’ departure on the Queen of France, their father John Head died in December 1779. According to genealogical records, James W. Head’s father John died at Boston on 21 December 1779 and was buried at Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge. Despite, Samuel Wall’s promises to James W. Head’s parents, no evidence has surfaced to indicate their fourteen year old son ever received an appointment as Midshipman. A statement of claims adjusted and allowed by the Treasury Department for James W. Head’s service on the Queen of France dated 23 January 1793 indicates payment of $45.66 is due him to 15 July 1780 and suggests his rate or capacity on the vessel’s payroll was listed as “Boy”. His pension was granted at the rate of “Seaman”.

After the peace, James was apprenticed to the Providence, RI merchants Clark & Nightingale. With the consent of his widowed mother, the eighteen year old placed himself as an apprentice to learn “their Art, Trade, or Mystery” in an unusual retroactive indenture executed on 3 March 1784 but commencing on 13 June 1783. The four year contract was to continue in force until “the 13th day of June which will be in the year 1787”. Until that date, Head was obligated “not commit Fornication, or contract Matrimony”. Furthermore the young man committed, “At Cards, Dice, or any other unlawful Game, he shall not play…shall not absent himself by Day or by Night, from his said masters Service, without their Leave, or haunt Ale-houses, Taverns, or Play-houses”. In return, Clark & Nightingale contracted to “stand the said James in Meat Drink washing & Lodging during the said term”. The document was witnessed for the mercantile house by John and Robert Murray of another closely associated mercantile house from New York, Robert Murray & Company. This indenture is part of a collection of apprenticeship manuscripts assembled by Rick Grunder from 1985 to 2010 and offered together for sale online in that year.

According to Cyrus Eaton in the “Annals of the Town of Warren, in Knox County, Maine” (1877), at the conclusion of his apprenticeship which must have been completed a few months early, the enterprising twenty-one year old James W. Head came initially to Bristol where his brothers John and Joshua were already trading. Although his two brothers moved on to Waldoboro, James chose to locate his business interests eight miles down the road from them at Warren. After securing the house and nearly empty store of Rufus Crane who had been issued at retailer license three years earlier, James Head was also granted a retailer license by the Court of Sessions, brought in new inventory and commenced trading at Warren in the spring of 1787. The village rewarded Head’s investment and military service by electing him on 31 December 1787 as delegate to the State Convention held in Boston to consider and vote on adoption of the Federal Constitution. Apparently active in politics, one of his obituaries in the Portland Daily Advertiser of 21 August 1861 reveals, “He belonged to the old Federal party and was formerly a prominent member of that party.”

His apprenticeship completed, business started and free to wed; James W. Head was married to twenty-two year old Sarah Olney, also known as “Salley”, in Boston on 16 May 1788. Providence native Sarah was the second daughter of Anne Paget and Captain Joseph Olney (1737-1814), former commander of the Queen of France before Head’s service on board the frigate. Prior to his tenure as assessor for the Town of Warren in 1792 and 1793 and as selectman in 1795, James W. Head fathered two children; Angelica Gilbert born 1 December 1789 who married Warren merchant William Hovey and his namesake oldest son James born on 24 September 1791. Like his father, the junior James was a merchant who married Jerusha Gelston Dwight on 5 October 1828 and died on 30 March 1835. Sarah Olney and James Waller Head shared four more children during their sixteen year marriage: Sarah Olney born 24 June 1794 who married Henry Flagg of Bangor on 20 September 1813 and died 12 August 1880; Maria Halsey born 22 April 1796 who married Thomas Gelston Sandford of Topsham in a double wedding with her older sister on 20 September 1813 and who died 9 February 1831, Jane McKenzie born 27 March 1799 who died on 23 July 1804 and Joseph Olney born 20 January 1802 who died at seventeen years old on a homeward bound voyage from Bermuda to Maine on 12 September 1819. A lengthy obituary in the Weekly Eastern Argus dated 14 December 1804 announces the 7 December death of Sarah Olney Head of a “lingering consumption”, which followed the 23 July 1804 death of her five year old daughter Jane “but a few months before her own”. The obituary concludes “Col. Head is left with five children that survive, to lament the loss of the best of wives, and the best of mothers” adding, “The Church of Christ in the town (or which the deceased was a respectable member) and indeed the inhabitants generally are sincere mourners on the occasion.” Eighteen months later, the 26 May 1806 edition of the Gazette of Portland announces, “Married in this town, Col. James W. Head, of Warren, to Miss Francis Sanford, daughter of Capt. Thomas S.” The marriage of Francis Sandford, daughter of Jerusha Gelston and Long Island native Thomas Sandford (1744-1811) who sailed out of Portland, took place earlier on 18 May. The couple shared two children, Thomas Sandford born on 31 March 1808 who died in infancy and Martha Derby who was baptized on 15 July 1810, married John Brooks of Portland on 3 October 1839 and died less than one year later on 23 September 1840.

About seven months after his marriage to Frances Sanford, in January 1807 James W. Head was selected with Josiah Stebbins, Mark Will and Jon Ellis to decide on the location of a new jailhouse for the county. Several years later in 1811, the original Lincoln County Jail was built on Federal Street in Wiscasset overlooking the Sheepscot River. Head was also active in the local militia serving as Captain prior to his promotion as Major in 1796 and Colonel about two years later. A letter from James W. Head and others on behalf of his officers in the 4th Regiment, 1st Brigade, 8th Division of Massachusetts Militia to John Adams rests in the Adams Family Papers manuscript collection at the Massachusetts Historical Society. During the War of 1812, James Waller Head served as Paymaster for Lt. Colonel Samuel Thatcher’s Regiment at Camden, ME between 3 and 18 September 1814. Minister of the First Congregational Church of Christ at Warren Jonathan Huse, who twenty-three years later testified in the pension application that “I know said Head to be a person of truth & veracity & entitled to full credit”, also served with Head in Thatcher’s Regiment as Chaplain.

James W. Head served as Justice of the Peace for Warren in 1805, 1812, 1819 and June 1826. In 1819, he was issued a second retailer’s license by the Court of Sessions and yet another license by the Warren Selectmen between 1821 and 1823. It appears Head may have had a business relationship with Benjamin Brackett who was also granted licenses during those same years. The 1865 “Publications of the Prince Society” describe the activities of James W. Head, “He conducted a large business in dry and West India goods, in lumber and to some extent in shipbuilding and commerce. He was a magistrate, colonel of a regiment when there was but two in the Province, a delegate to the Convention held in Boston for the ratification of the Constitution of the United States by Massachusetts, when Maine was a part of that State, and was a foremost citizen in the affairs of the town and county.” Evidence of Head’s position in the Maine lumbering industry is provided by several letters written by Henry Knox (1750-1806) at Boston on 22 April 1796, one instructing Mr. [Life] Wilson to build a saw mill in the St. Georges region of Maine using lumber from Mr. James Waller Head and another to “Mr. Head” asking him to provide lumber to Wilson.

Between the healthy mercantile activity indicated by his retailer licensing during his middle fifties and his application for a Revolutionary War veteran’s pension at the age of seventy in January 1837, his neighbors of twenty years John Miller and Benjamin F. Baxton reveal, James W. Head, Esq. “…has been an active Merchant, has been unfortunate in business and become poor.” Head received a pension certificate on 8 September of that same year. The 1840 Census records seventy-four year old pensioner James W. Head living in Warren, ME with his wife and one unknown younger female born between 1811 and 1820, presumably a live in housekeeper. Ten years later, James Head’s household includes seventy-two year old Frances and fifty-one year old Ann L. Weaver, also assumed to be their housekeeper. The Portland Advertiser of 16 September 1851 brings news of the death of James W. Head’s second wife on 10 September, “after a few days illness. Mrs Francis Head, age 73.”

The 1860 Census reveals ninety-four year old Warren resident James W. Head living with sixty-three year old David Crane and his fifty-five year old wife Jane, their twenty-one year old youngest son James P. Crane and fifteen year old Susan E. Neal. Cyrus Eaton in “Annals of the Town of Warren” (1877) writes of the 1861 death of Head and that his second wife Francis a decade before, “On the 17th of August Col. James W. Head, whose title was acquired from the old militia service and not actual warfare, passed from the scenes of his earthly activities and subsequent patient inactivity, at the great age of 95 years. His wife, Madam or “Ma Head” as she was usually termed, a most dignified, stately, and even majestic lady, had, ten years previously, preceded him to a land where she hoped once more to meet her idolized but deceased daughter (Martha Derby Head Brooks); his children, all except one who lived with her family in a distant city, had departed this earth; and he had long lingered, dependent on the care of a hired though kind housekeeper, in a state of almost total deafness and increasing feebleness. But he seemed always cheerful; would make those who called upon him use a slate and pencil in conversing with him, often catching their meaning before the words were half written; and ever kept up an interest in the town whose business prosperity he had formerly had so large a part in, and especially the village which his buildings and (most of all) his large and tasteful mansion, with its beautiful grounds, and the lovely rows of wayside trees, had done so much to embellish. All who enjoy the shade of those elms on Main St., west of the village, or look up at the graceful tracery of their branches, should bless his name and memory.” One obituary reporting his death appears in the 7 September 1861 of the Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics, “In Warren, Me Aug. 17, Col. James W. Head, in the 96th year of his age. He was the oldest pensioner in Maine, drawing his pension for services in the Revolution in connection with the coast defense.” The only known likeness of Col. James W. Head is an oil painting by celebrated American portrait painter Chester Harding (1792-1866).


The Battle of Wyoming: Patriots hunted and tortured to death

July 3, 2014



The Battle of Wyoming, also known as the Wyoming Massacre, was an encounter during the American Revolution between American Patriots and Loyalists accompanied by Iroquois raiders that took place in the Wyoming Valley of Pennsylvania on July 3, 1778. More than three hundred Patriots were killed in the battle.

After the battle, settlers claimed that the Iroquois raiders had hunted and killed fleeing Patriots before using ritual torture against thirty to forty who had surrendered, until they died.[3]


Depiction of the battle by Alonzo Chappel, 1858

In 1777, the British General John Burgoyne led a campaign to gain control of the Hudson River in the American Revolutionary War. Burgoyne was weakened by loss of time and forces after the Battle of Oriskany and forced to surrender after the Battles of Saratoga in October. News of his surrender prompted France to enter the war as an American ally. Concerned that the French might attempt to retake parts of New France that had been lost in the French and Indian War (something they did not know the Franco-American Treaty of Alliance specifically forbade), the British adopted a defensive stance in Quebec. They recruited Loyalists and allied Indians to engage in a frontier war along the northern and western borders of the Thirteen Colonies.[4]

Colonel John Butler recruited a regiment of Loyalists for the effort, while Seneca chiefs Sayenqueraghta and Cornplanter recruited primarily Seneca warriors, and Joseph Brant recruited primarily Mohawk men for what essentially became a guerrilla war against frontier settlers. By April 1778 the Seneca were raiding settlements along the Allegheny and Susquehanna Rivers, and by early June these three groups met at the Indian village of Tioga, New York. Butler and the Seneca decided to attack the Wyoming Valley while Brant and the Mohawks (who had already raided Cobleskill in May) went after communities further north.[5]

American military leaders, including Washington and Lafayette, also sought to recruit Iroquois, primarily as a diversion to keep the British in Quebec busy. Their recruitment attempts met with more limited success. The Oneida and Tuscarora were the only two of the Six Nations to become Patriot allies.

The British forces arrived in the valley on June 30, having alerted the settlers to their approach by killing three men working at an unprotected gristmill on June 28. The next day Colonel Butler sent a surrender summons to the militia at Wintermute’s (Wintermoot) fort. Terms were arranged that the defenders, after surrendering the fort with all their arms and stores, would be released on the condition that they would not again bear arms during the war. On July 3, the British saw that the defenders were gathering in great numbers outside of Forty Fort. William Caldwell was destroying Jenkin’s fort, and when the Americans were still a mile away, Butler set up an ambush and directed that Fort Wintermute be set on fire. The Americans, thinking this was a retreat, advanced rapidly. Butler instructed the Seneca to lie flat on the ground to avoid being seen. The Americans advanced to within one hundred yards of the rangers and fired three times. The Seneca came out of their positions, fired a volley, and attacked the Americans in close combat.

Accounts indicate that the moment of contact was followed by a sharp battle lasting about 45 minutes. An order to reposition the Patriot line turned into a frantic rout when the inexperienced Patriot militia panicked. This ended the battle and triggered the Iroquois hunt for survivors. Only sixty of the Americans managed to escape, and only five were taken prisoner. Some of the victorious Loyalists and Iroquois killed and tortured an unknown number of prisoners and fleeing soldiers. Butler reported that 227 American scalps were taken.[6]

Colonel Dennison surrendered Forty Fort and two other forts along with the remaining soldiers the next morning. The Americans were paroled on the condition that they refrain from hostilities for the remainder of the war. These soldiers were not harmed. Colonel Dennison and the militia did not honor the terms of their parole, and they were under arms within the year, participating in later attacks on Iroquois villages.


Wyoming Valley Massacre sketch from Benson John Lossing, ed. Harper’s Encyclopedia of United States History (vol. 10) (New York, NY: Harper and Brothers, 1912). Courtesy the private collection of Roy Winkelman.

Most non-combatants were spared and almost no inhabitants were injured or molested after the surrender of the forts.[7] Colonel Butler wrote: “But what gives me the sincerest satisfaction is that I can, with great truth, assure you that in the destruction of the settlement not a single person was hurt except such as were in arms, to these, in truth, the Indians gave no quarter.”[8] An American farmer wrote: “Happily these fierce people, satisfied with the death of those who had opposed them in arms, treated the defenseless ones, the woman and children, with a degree of humanity almost hitherto unparalleled”.[9]

According to one source, 60 bodies were found on the battlefield and another 36 were found on the line of retreat. All were buried in a common grave.[10]

Out of 1,000 men available, John Butler reported only two Loyalist Rangers and one Indian killed, and eight Indians wounded. He claimed that his force took 227 scalps, burned 1,000 horses, and drove off 1,000 cattle plus many sheep and hogs. Of the 60 Continentals and 300 militiamen involved, only about 60 escaped the disaster.[11] The Iroquois were enraged at the accusations of atrocities which they said they had not committed, as well as at the militia taking arms after being paroled. Later that year, they retaliated in the Cherry Valley massacre.[12]

Reports of the massacres of prisoners and atrocities at Wyoming infuriated the American public. Afterward, Colonel Thomas Hartley arrived with Hartley’s Additional Continental Regiment to defend the valley to try to harvest the crops.[13][14] They were joined by a few militia companies, including that of Captain Dennison, who violated his parole to join the force. In September, Hartley and Dennison ascended the east branch of the Susquehanna with 130 soldiers, destroying Indian villages as far as Tioga and recovering a large amount of plunder taken during the raid. They skirmished with the hostile Indians and withdrew when they learned that Joseph Brant was assembling a large force at Unadilla.[15]

In summer 1779, the Sullivan Expedition commissioned by General George Washington, methodically destroyed 40 Iroquois villages, and an enormous quantity of stored corn and vegetables throughout upstate New York. The Iroquois never recovered from the damage inflicted by Sullivan’s soldiers, and many died of starvation that winter. The tribes allied with the British continued to raid Patriot settlements until the end of the war.[16]

The massacre was depicted by the Scottish poet Thomas Campbell in his 1809 poem “Gertrude of Wyoming”. Because of the atrocities involved, Campbell described Joseph Brant as a “monster” in the poem, although it was later determined that Brant was not present.[17] Brant was at Oquaga on the day of the attack.

The western state of Wyoming received its name from the U.S. Congress when it became Wyoming Territory in 1868, much to the puzzlement of its residents.

The battle and massacre is commemorated each year by the Wyoming Commemorative Association, a local non-profit organization, which holds a ceremony on the grounds of the monument dedicated to the battle. The Wyoming Monument is the site of a mass grave containing the bones of many of the victims of the battle and massacre. The commemorative ceremonies began in 1878, to mark the 100th anniversary of the battle and massacre. The principal speaker at the event was President Rutherford B. Hayes.


The annual program has continued each year since then on the grounds. One hundred and seventy-eight names of Patriots killed in the battle are listed on the Wyoming Monument, as well as the names of about a dozen militia who were killed or died in captivity a day or so prior to the main battle. A possible explanation for the difference between the number of names on the monument (178) and the reported number of scalps taken in the battle (227) is that allegedly numerous civilians (perhaps as many as 200)—instead of surrendering to Colonel Butler—elected to flee and died of exposure in a swamp known as the “Shades of Death” after the battle.[18]


  1. Nester, p. 201
  2. Graymont, p. 171
  3. Baillie, William. “The Wyoming Massacre and Columbia County”. Columbia County Historical and Genealogical Society
  4. Nester, p. 189
  5. Nester, p. 191
  6. Cruikshank, p. 47
  7. Graymont, p. 172
  8. Cruikshank, p. 49
  9. Commager, p. 1010
  10. Jenkins, Steuben (3 July 1878). Historical Address at the Wyoming Monument (Speech). 100th Anniversary of the Battle and Massacre of Wyoming
  11. Boatner (1994), p. 1227
  12. Graymont, p. 174
  13. Boatner (1994), p. 1226. The author asserts that the unit was the 11th Pennsylvania.
  14. Wright (1989), p. 322. What later became the “new” 11th Pennsylvania was still called Hartley’s Additional Regiment until January 1779.
  15. Boatner (1994), p. 1226
  16. Boatner (1994), pp. 1075-1076
  17. Graymont, pg. 162
  18. Richards, Henry Melchior Muhlenberg; Buckalew, John M.; Sheldon Reynolds; Jay Gilfillan Weiser; George Dallas Albert (1896). Report of the Commission to Locate the Site of the Frontier Forts of Pennsylvania 1. Pennsylvania Commission to Locate the Site of the Frontier Forts of Pennsylvania. p. 1


  • Boatner, Mark M. (1966). Encyclopedia of the American Revolution. New York: D. McKay Co.
  • Boatner, Mark M. III (1994). Encyclopedia of the American Revolution. Mechanicsburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books. ISBN 0-8117-0578-1
  • Commager, Henry; Morris, Richard (1958). The Spirit of Seventy-Six
  • Cruikshank, Ernest (1893). Butler’s Rangers and the Settlement of Niagara
  • Graymont, Barbara (1972). The Iroquois in the American Revolution. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press. ISBN 0-8156-0083-6
  • Nester, William (2004). The frontier war for American independence. Stackpole Books. ISBN 978-0-8117-0077-1
  • Williams, Glenn F. (2005). Year of the Hangman: George Washington’s Campaign Against the Iroquois. Yardley, Pa.: Westholme. ISBN 1-59416-013-9
  • Wright, Robert K. Jr. (1989). The Continental Army. Washington, D.C.: US Army Center of Military History. CMH Pub 60-4

Thomas Cooper, Federalist from Delaware

July 1, 2014



Thomas Cooper was an American lawyer and politician from Georgetown, in Sussex County, Delaware. He was a member of the Federalist Party, who served in the Delaware General Assembly and as U. S. Representative from Delaware.

Cooper was born in 1764 at Little Creek Hundred, Delaware, son of Isaac and Comfort Townsend Barkley Cooper. His grandfather, Barkley Townsend, came to Laurel in 1768 from Dorchester County, Maryland and at one time owned nearly the whole area. His father, Isaac Cooper, served in the Delaware General Assembly, and was a member of the Delaware convention that ratified the U.S. Constitution in 1787. He was also a member of the 1792 Delaware Constitutional Convention. His brother was Governor William B. Cooper. Thomas Cooper completed his preparatory studies at his home in Little Creek Hundred. After studying the law with James P. Wilson, he was admitted to the Delaware Bar in 1805 and began a lifelong practice at Georgetown, Delaware.

He was first elected to the State House of Representatives and served seven years from 1803 until 1807. This was followed by a term in the State Senate from 1808 until 1810. Finally he was elected to terms in the 13th and 14th Congress in United States House of Representatives from 1813 until 1817. Subsequently he retired from the U.S. House, but continued the practice of law in Georgetown until his death.

Cooper died at Georgetown, Delaware on July 1, 1829 and was buried in the Cooper family cemetery near Laurel, Delaware. “Edward Wooten and Caleb S. Layton were among his prominent students. His professional character was marked by a painstaking industry and a thorough knowledge of the law.”


  • Conrad, Henry C. (1908). History of the State of Delaware. Lancaster, Pennsylvania: Wickersham Company
  • Hoffecker, Carol E. (2004). Democracy in Delaware. Wilmington, Delaware: Cedar Tree Books. ISBN 1-892142-23-6
  • Martin, Roger A. (1984). A History of Delaware Through its Governors. Wilmington, Delaware: McClafferty Press
  • Scharf, John Thomas (1888). History of Delaware 1609-1888. 2 vols. Philadelphia: L. J. Richards & Co.
  • Wilson, Emerson. (1969). Forgotten Heroes of Delaware. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Deltos Publishing Company

Battle of Alligator Bridge

June 30, 2014



The Battle of Alligator Bridge, also known as the Skirmish of Alligator Creek, took place on June 30, 1778, near present day Callahan, Florida, and was the only major engagement in an unsuccessful campaign to conquer British East Florida during the American Revolution. A detachment of Georgia militiamen under the command of General James Screven chased Thomas Brown’s Loyalist company into a large position of British regulars established by British Major Mark Prevost and were turned back.


Artist’s depiction of the Battle of Alligator Bridge

In the spring of 1778 an invasion of East Florida was organized by Georgia Governor John Houstoun and Continental Army General Robert Howe. However, the two men could not agree on overall command of the expedition, and Houstoun refused to share his plans with Howe, leading to organizational and logistical difficulties.

Howe, in command of 1,100 regulars was waiting for Georgia and South Carolina militia companies to arrive when he learned on June 18 that Loyalist Thomas Brown and 300 men were at Fort Tonyn on the Florida side of the St. Mary’s River. On June 28 his men crossed the St. Mary’s in a move that was observed by Brown’s scouts. Brown decided to retreat from the fort, which he burned after removing everything he could take with him.

Brown ordered a company of men to circle around behind the Continentals while the rest of his men hid along the road heading south from the fort. British Major Mark Prevost had established a defensive position at Alligator Bridge, about 17 miles south of the fort. Howe sent General James Screven and about 100 cavalry south on this road. The men Brown sent to flank the Continentals were betrayed by deserters and ambushed, with most of them captured or killed.

Howe then sent General James Screven and about 100 militia cavalry to find Brown, who retreated before Screven’s advance. The leading edge of Brown’s men entered Prevost’s camp relatively casually, but his rear was chased in by Screven. Prevost’s regulars quickly took up positions and began firing on Screven’s men, while some of Brown’s men went around to come at their flank. In pitched battle, men on both sides went down, Screven was wounded, and some of the Patriot militia narrowly escaped being trapped before Screven ordered the retreat.

Howe’s army eventually withdrew from East Florida, effectively ending the idea of gaining control of the province. James Screven was killed in a surprise attack led by Brown in November 1778.

The site of the bridge has long been supposed to be in central Callahan, where a marker has been placed, but some historians believe that the actual site of the bridge was somewhat farther east.


  • Cashin, Edward J (1999). The King’s Ranger: Thomas Brown and the American Revolution on the Southern Frontier. Fordham Univ. Press. ISBN 9780823219087.
  • Boatner, Mark M (1992). Landmarks of the American Revolution.
  • Searcy, Mary (1985). The Georgia–Florida Contest in the American Revolution, 1776–1778. University, AL: University of Alabama Press. ISBN 978-0-8173-0225-2. OCLC 10483821

Lieutenant Richard Wickes, first American casualty of the Revolution in New Jersey

June 29, 2014



Richard Wickes was an officer in the Continental Navy during the American Revolutionary War. He served as the third lieutenant on the Reprisal, captained by his brother Lambert Wickes.[1] During the Battle of Turtle Gut Inlet, he was the first American casualty of the war in New Jersey.[2][3]

Richard Wickes was born in Kent County, Maryland. His family home, Wickliffe, was on Eastern Neck Island.[4][5]

Richard Wickes received his commission early in the war, as did his brother Lambert.[6] On March 28, 1776, they both began service on the newly commissioned 18-gun Reprisal. On June 10, the Committee of Secret Correspondence of Congress ordered Captain Wickes to set sail from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and proceed to Martinique. On June 28, near Cape May, New Jersey, they joined forces with Captain John Barry on the Lexington to come to the aid of the privateer Nancy being chased by two British Navy ships, the 32-gun HMS Orpheus and the 16-gun HMS Kingfisher. Nancy was headed to Philadelphia with supplies loaded in the Caribbean islands of St. Thomas and St. Croix. The cargo contained several hundred kegs of gunpowder.[1][7]

Late on the afternoon of June 28, Captain Wickes ordered his brother Richard to lead an armed longboat to the Nancy and tell her captain to head for the shore.[8] Lieutenant Wickes reached the Nancy soon after midnight. In the early hours of June 29, pursued by the British Orpheus and Kingfisher, the Nancy headed for the nearby Turtle Gut Inlet to run aground and salvage the cargo.[9] Lieutenant Wickes assisted in operations to return cannon fire and transfer the cargo ashore. By late in the morning of June 29, the British bombardment had heavily damaged the Nancy. Barry ordered the main sail wrapped around 50 pounds of gunpowder to create a long fuse running from the nearly 100 gunpowder kegs remaining in the hold to the deck and over the side. The fuse was lit as the crew abandoned ship. As the British boarded the ship, the fuse reached the hold. The gunpowder exploded with a huge blast felt for miles which killed many British.[9]

After the explosion, Lieutenant Wickes was killed by subsequent British cannon fire. He was the only American casualty.[9][10] Captain Wickes, in a letter to his brother Samuel, described how he had seen his brother die in the final four or five minutes of the battle. He was recognized for his bravery by both his brother and Captain Barry, who said that “a braver man never lived.”[10][11]


Gravestone of Lieutenant Richard Wickes, who died at the Battle of Turtle Gut Inlet. First casualty of the American Revolutionary War in New Jersey.

Lieutenant Richard Wickes is buried at the Cold Spring Presbyterian Church cemetery. A section of the cemetery, Veterans Field of Honor, is dedicated to his service “in the cause of American freedom.”[12] There is a second memorial marker in Cape May, New Jersey.[13]



  1. “Reprisal”. Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Navy Department, Naval History & Heritage Command.
  2. Johnson 2006, pp. 95–6
  3. Lundin, Leonard (1940). Cockpit of the Revolution – The War for Independence in New Jersey. Princeton University Press. p. 113.
  4. Clark 1932, p. 12
  5. “American War of Independence – At Sea: Officers”.
  6. “Officers of the Continental Navy and Marine Corps”. Naval History & Heritage Command.
  7. Johnson 2006, pp. 94–5
  8. Clark 1938, p. 96
  9. Johnson 2006, p. 95
  10. Morgan 1970, pp. 882–884
  11. Clark 1938, p. 98
  12. “Revolutionary War Sites in Cape May, New Jersey”. Revolutionary War New Jersey.
  13. “Lt. Richard Wickes”. Historical Marker Database.


  • Clark, William Bell (1932). Lambert Wickes, Sea Raider and Diplomat: The Story of a Naval Captain of the Revolution. Yale University Press
  • Clark, William Bell (1938). Gallant John Barry, 1745–1803: The Story of a Naval Hero of Two Wars. New York: The Macmillan Company
  • Johnson, Robert Amandus (2006). Saint Croix 1770–1776: The First Salute to the Stars and Stripes. ISBN 9781425970086
  • Morgan, William James, ed. (1970). Naval Documents of The American Revolution, American Theatre: May 9, 1776 – July 31, 1776 5. Washington, D.C.: Naval History Division/Naval Historical Center, Department of the Navy

Battle of Sullivan Island

June 28, 2014



The Battle of Sullivan’s Island or the Battle of Fort Sullivan was fought on June 28, 1776, during the American Revolutionary War, also known as the American War of Independence. It took place near Charleston, South Carolina, during the first British attempt to capture the city from American rebels. It is also sometimes referred to as the First Siege of Charleston, owing to a more successful British siege in 1780.

The British organized an expedition in early 1776 for operations in the rebellious southern colonies of North America. Delayed by logistical concerns and bad weather, the expedition reached the coast of North Carolina in May 1776. Finding conditions unsuitable for their operations, General Henry Clinton and Admiral Sir Peter Parker decide instead to act against Charleston. Arriving there in early June, troops were landed on Long Island, near Sullivan’s Island where Colonel William Moultrie commanded a partially constructed fort, in preparation for a naval bombardment and land assault.

The land assault was frustrated when the channel between the two islands was found to be too deep to wade, and the American defenses prevented an amphibious landing. The naval bombardment had little effect due to the sandy soil and the spongy nature of the fort’s palmetto log construction. Careful fire by the defenders wrought significant damage in the British fleet, which withdrew after an entire day’s bombardment. The British withdrew their expedition force to New York, and did not return to South Carolina until 1780.


Sergeant William Jasper raising the flag over the fort

When the American Revolutionary War broke out in 1775, the city of Charleston in the colony of South Carolina was a center of commerce in southern North America. The city’s citizens joined other colonists in opposing the British parliament’s attempts to tax them, and militia recruitment increased when word arrived of the April 1775 Battles of Lexington and Concord.[3] Throughout 1775 and into 1776, militia recruits arrived in the city from the colony’s backcountry, the city’s manufacturers and tradesmen began producing war materiel, and defensive fortifications began to take shape around the city.[4]

British army forces in North America were primarily tied up with the Siege of Boston in 1775. Seeking bases of operations where they had more control, the British planned an expedition to the southern colonies. Major General Henry Clinton, then in Boston, was to travel to Cape Fear, North Carolina, where he would join with largely Scottish Loyalists raised in the North Carolina backcountry, and a force of 2,000 men from Ireland under the command of Major General Charles Cornwallis.[5]

The plan was beset by difficulties from the start. The Irish expedition, originally supposed to depart at the beginning of December 1775, was delayed by logistical difficulties, and its 2,500 troops did not depart until February 13, 1776, escorted by 11 warships under the command of Admiral Sir Peter Parker.[6][7] Clinton left Boston on January 20 with two companies of light infantry, and first stopped at New York City to confer with William Tryon, New York’s royal governor.[8] Major General Charles Lee, sent by Major General George Washington to see to the defense of New York, coincidentally arrived there the same day as Clinton.[9] New York was at that time extremely tense; Patriot forces were beginning to disarm and evict Loyalists, and the British fleet anchored there was having difficult acquiring provisions.[10] Despite this, Clinton made no secret that his final target was in the south. Lee observed that this was “certainly a droll way of proceeding; to communicate his full plan to the enemy is too novel to be credited.”[11] This was not even the first notice of the expedition to the colonists; a letter intercepted in December had already provided intelligence that the British were planning to go to the South.[10]

Clinton arrived at Cape Fear on March 12, expecting to find the European convoy already there. He met with the royal governors of North and South Carolina, Josiah Martin and William Campbell, and learned that the recruited Scottish Loyalists had been defeated at Moore’s Creek Bridge two weeks earlier.[12] Clinton also received pleas for assistance from the royal governor of Georgia, James Wright, who had been arrested, and then escaped to a navy ship.[13]

Parker’s fleet had an extremely difficult crossing. Battered by storms and high seas, the first ships of the fleet did not arrive at Cape Fear until April 18, and Cornwallis did not arrive until May 3. After several weeks there, in which the British troops raided Patriot properties, Clinton, Cornwallis and Parker concluded that Cape Fear was not a suitable base for further operations.[14] Parker had sent out some ships on scouting expeditions up and down the coast, and reports on the partially finished condition of the Charleston defenses were sufficiently promising that the decision was made to go there.[15]


Colonel William Moultrie

John Rutledge, recently elected president of the General Assembly that remained as the backbone of South Carolina’s revolutionary government, organized a defense force under the command of 46-year-old Colonel William Moultrie, a former militiaman and Indian fighter.[16][17] These forces comprised three infantry regiments, two rifle regiments, and a small artillery regiment; they were augmented by three independent artillery companies, and the total force numbered about 2,000.[18] These forces were further augmented by the arrival of Continental regiments from North Carolina and Virginia (1,900 troops), as well as militia numbering 2,700 from Charleston and the surrounding backcountry.[18]

Moultrie saw Sullivan’s Island, a sandy spit of land at the entrance to Charleston Harbor extending north about 4 miles (6.4 km) long and a few hundred yards wide,[19] as a place well suited to build a fort that could protect the entrance from intruding enemy warships. A large vessel sailing into Charleston first had to cross Charleston Bar, a series of submerged shoals lying about 8 miles (13 km) southeast of the city, and then pass by the southern end of Sullivan’s Island as it entered the channel to the inner harbor. Later it would also have to pass the northern end of James Island, where Fort Johnson commanded the southeastern approach to the city.[20] Moultrie and his 2nd South Carolina Regiment arrived on Sullivan’s Island in March 1776, and began construction of a fortress to defend the island and the channel into Charleston Harbor.[21] The construction moved slowly; Captain Peter Horry of the Patriot naval detachment described the site as a “an immense pen 500 feet long, and 16 feet wide, filled with sand to stop the shot”.[22] The gun platforms were made of planks two inches thick and fastened with wooden spikes.[22]

Congress had appointed General Lee to command the Continental Army troops in the southern colonies, and his movements by land shadowed those of Clinton’s fleet as it sailed south. Lee wrote from Wilmington on June 1 that the fleet had sailed, but that he did not know whether it was sailing for Virginia or South Carolina. He headed for Charleston, saying “[I] confess I know not whether I shall go to or from the enemy.”[14] He arrived in Charleston shortly after the fleet anchored outside the harbor, and took command of the city’s defenses.[14] He immediately ran into a problem: the South Carolina troops (militia or the colonial regiments) were not on the Continental line, and thus not formally under his authority. Some South Carolina troops resisted his instructions, and Rutledge had to intervene by proclaiming Lee in command of all South Carolina forces.[23]

Square-shaped Fort Sullivan consisted only of the completed seaward wall, with walls made from palmetto logs 20 feet (6.1 m) high and 16 feet (4.9 m) wide. The walls were filled with sand, and rose 10 feet (3.0 m) above the wooden platforms on which the artillery were mounted. A hastily erected palisade of thick planks helped guard the powder magazine and unfinished northern walls. An assortment of 31 cannon, ranging from 9- and 12-pounders to a few English 18-pounders and French 26-pounders, dotted the front and rear walls.[24] General Lee, when he had seen its unfinished state, had recommended abandoning the fort, calling it a “slaughter pen”.[16] President Rutledge refused, and specifically ordered Colonel Moultrie to “obey [Lee] in everything, except in leaving Fort Sullivan”.[25] Moultrie’s delaying tactics so angered Lee that he decided on June 27 that he would replace Moultrie; the battle began the next day before he could do so.[26]


General Henry Clinton

The British fleet weighed anchor at Cape Fear on May 31, and arrived outside Charleston Harbor the next day.[27] Moultrie noticed a British scout boat apparently looking for possible landing points on nearby Long Island, just a few hundred yards from Sullivan’s Island; troops were consequently sent to occupy the northern end of Sullivan’s.[28] By June 8, most of the British fleet had crossed the bar and anchored in Five Fathom Hole, an anchorage between the bar and the harbor entrance.[29] With the fort on Sullivan’s Island only half complete, Admiral Parker expressed confidence that his warships would easily breach its walls. Optimistically believing he would not even need Clinton’s land forces, he wrote to Clinton that after the fort’s guns were knocked out, he would “land seamen and marines (which I have practiced for the purpose) under the guns” and that they could “keep possession till you send as many troops as you think proper”.[30]


Admiral Sir Peter Parker

The British fleet was composed of nine man-of-war ships: the flagship 50-gun Bristol, as well as the 50-gun Experiment and frigates Actaeon, Active, Solebay, Siren, Sphinx, Friendship, and the bomb vessel Thunder, in total mounting nearly 300 cannon. The army forces in the expedition consisted of the 15th, 28th, 33rd, 37th, 54th, and 57th Regiments of Foot, and part of the 46th.[31][32] On June 7, Clinton issued a proclamation calling on the rebel colonists to lay down their arms. However, the inexperienced defenders fired on the boat sent to deliver it (which was flying a truce flag), and it was not delivered until the next day.[16] That same day, Clinton began landing 2,200 troops on Long Island. The intent was that these troops would wade across the channel between Long and Sullivan’s, which the British believed to be sufficiently shallow to do so, while the fleet bombarded Fort Sullivan.[33]

General Lee responded to the British landing with several actions. He began reinforcing positions on the mainland in case the British were intending to launch an attack directly on Charleston.[34] He also attempted to build a bridge of boats to provide an avenue of retreat for the fort’s garrison, but this failed because there were not enough boats to bridge the roughly one mile channel separating the island from Charleston; the unwillingness of Moultrie and Rutledge to support the effort may also have played a role.[35] The Americans also constructed an entrenchment at the northern end of Sullivan’s Island, which was manned by more than 750 men and three small cannons,[36][37] and began to fortify a guard post at Haddrell’s Point on the mainland opposite Fort Sullivan.[38]

General Clinton encountered the first major problem of the attack plan on June 17. An attempt to wade the channel between the two islands established that part of the channel was at least shoulder-deep, too deep for troops to cross even without the prospect of enemy opposition.[39] He considered using boats to ferry the troops across, but the Americans, with timely advice from General Lee, adopted a strong defensive position that was virtually impossible to bombard from ships or the Long Island position.[40] As a result, the British and American forces faced each other across the channel, engaging in occasional and largely inconsequential cannon fire at long range. Clinton reported that this meant that Admiral Parker would have “the glory of being defeated alone.”[23] The attack was originally planned for June 24, but bad weather and contrary wind conditions prompted Parker to call it off for several days.[30]

On the morning of June 28, Fort Sullivan was defended by Colonel Moultrie, commanding the 2nd South Carolina Regiment and a company of the 4th South Carolina Artillery, numbering 435 men.[18] At around 9:00 am that morning, a British ship fired a signal gun indicating all was ready for the attack.[41] Less than an hour later, nine warships had sailed into positions facing the fort. The Thunder and Friendship anchored about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) from the fort while Parker took the Active, Bristol, Experiment and Solebay to a closer position about 400 yards (370 m) from Sullivan’s Island, where they anchored facing broadside to the fort. Each of these ships began to fire upon the fort when it reached its position, and the defenders returned the fire.[42] Although many of the Thunder’s shots landed in or near the fort, they had little effect; according to Moultrie, “We had a morass in the middle, that swallowed them up instantly, and those that fell in the sand in and about the fort, were immediately buried”.[43] Thunder’s role in the action was also relatively short-lived; she had anchored too far away from the fort, and the overloading of her mortars with extra powder to increase their range eventually led to them breaking out of their mounts.[44] Owing to shortage of gunpowder, Moultrie’s men were deliberate in the pace of their gunfire, and only a few officers actually aimed the cannons. They also fired in small volleys, four cannons at a time. One British observer wrote, “Their fire was surprisingly well served” and it was “slow, but decisive indeed; they were very cool and took care not to fire except their guns were exceedingly well directed.”[42]


A British engineer’s map made following the engagement.

General Clinton began movements to cross over to the northern end of Sullivan’s Island. Assisted by two sloops of war, the flotilla of longboats carrying his troops came under fire from Colonel William Thomson’s defenses. Facing a withering barrage of grape shot and rifle fire, Clinton abandoned the attempt.[45]

Around noon the frigates Sphinx, Syren, and Actaeon were sent on a roundabout route, avoiding some shoals, to take a position from which they could enfilade the fort’s main firing platform and also cover one the main escape routes from the fort.[42] However, all three ships grounded on an uncharted sandbar, and the riggings of Actaeon and Sphinx became entangled in the process.[44] The British managed to refloat the Sphinx and Syren, but the Actaeon remained grounded, having moved too far onto the submerged sandbar. Consequently, none of these ships reached its intended position, a piece of good fortune not lost on Colonel Moultrie: “Had these three ships effected their purpose, they would have enfiladed us in such a manner, as to have driven us from our guns.”[43]

At the fort, Moultrie ordered his men to concentrate their fire on the two large man-of-war ships, the Bristol and Experiment, which took hit after hit from the fort’s guns. Chain shot fired at the Bristol eventually destroyed much of her rigging and severely damaged both the main- and mizzenmasts.[46] One round hit her quarterdeck, slightly wounding Parker in the knee and thigh. The shot also tore off part of his britches, leaving his backside exposed.[47] By mid-afternoon, the defenders were running out of gunpowder, and their fire was briefly suspended. However, Lee sent more ammunition and gunpowder over from the mainland, and the defenders resumed firing at the British ships;[48] Lee even briefly visited the fort late in the day, telling Colonel Moultrie, “I see you are doing very well here, you have no occasion for me, I will go up to the town again.”[49] Admiral Parker eventually sought to destroy the fort’s walls with persistent broadside cannonades. This strategy failed due to the spongy nature of the palmetto wood used in its constructions; the structure would quiver, and it absorbed the cannonballs rather than splintering.[50] The exchange continued until around 9:00 pm, when darkness forced a cessation of hostilities, and the fleet finally withdrew out of range.[51]

At one point during the battle, the flag Moultrie had designed and raised over the fort was shot down. Sergeant William Jasper reportedly ran to the battlement and raised the flag again, holding it up and rallying the troops until a flag stand could be provided. He was credited by Moultrie with reviving the troops’ spirits,[51] and later given commendations for bravery.[52] A painting of this event (pictured above) depicts Jasper’s actions.

Counting casualties, Parker reported 40 sailors killed and 71 wounded aboard the Bristol, which was hit more than 70 times with much damage to the hull, yards, and rigging. The Experiment was also badly damaged with 23 sailors killed and 56 wounded. The Active and Solebay reported 15 casualties each.[2] The Americans reported their casualties at only 12 killed and 25 wounded.[1] The following morning, the British, unable to drag the grounded Acteon off the sandbar, set fire to the ship to prevent her from falling into enemy hands.[53] Patriots in small boats sailed out to the burning ship, fired some of its cannons at the British ships, took what stores and loot they could, and retreated shortly before the ship’s powder magazine exploded.[51]

The British did not attempt to take the fort again. Within days of the battle, Charlestonians learned of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia.[52] The British troops were re-embarked on their transports, and on July 21 the British fleet withdrew northward to help the main British army in its campaign against New York City. To add insult to injury, one of the British transports grounded off Long Island and was captured by Patriot forces.[54]

The British did not return to Charleston until 1780, when General Clinton successfully besieged the city and captured an entire army.[2] Until the South again became a focus of the war in late 1778, its states provided military supplies to the northern war effort and produced trade goods that brought in valuable hard currency to fund the war effort.[55]

Admiral Parker and General Clinton engaged in a war of words after the battle, each seeking to cast the blame on the other for the expedition’s failures. Although Clinton was not blamed by the government, popular opinion held him responsible, and Parker was lauded for his personal bravery.[54]

Fort Sullivan was renamed Fort Moultrie shortly after the battle to honor Colonel William Moultrie for his successful defense of the fort and the city of Charleston.[56] Extensively modified in the years after the battle, it was supplanted by Fort Sumter as the principal defense of Charleston prior to the outbreak of the American Civil War.[57] The site was turned over to the National Park Service in 1960, and is now part of Fort Sumter National Monument.[58][59]


The Moultrie Flag, also known as the Liberty Flag

One iconic emblem of the battle was the flag designed by Colonel Moultrie. Commissioned by the colonial government, he designed a blue flag with a white crescent saying LIBERTY on it, which was flown at the fort during the battle.[26] Despite being shot down during the siege, it was seen as a symbol of this successful defense (and famously raised during victory). It came to be known as the Moultrie flag or Liberty Flag. When Charleston (lost to the British in the 1780 siege) was reclaimed by American forces at the end of the war, the flag was returned to the city by General Nathanael Greene.


  1. Russell (2002), p. 220
  2. Morrill, p. 25
  3. Stokely, pp. 8–9
  4. Stokely, pp. 9–13
  5. Russell (2000), p. 79
  6. Wilson, p. 37
  7. Russell (2000), p. 85
  8. Russell (2002), pp. 92–98
  9. Russell (2002), p. 90
  10. Russell (2002), p. 96
  11. Russell (2002), p. 98
  12. Wilson, p. 36
  13. Montgomery, pp. 54–55
  14. Ward, p. 670
  15. Russell (2002), p. 160
  16. Russell (2000), p. 90
  17. Russell (2002), p. 131
  18. Ward, p. 672
  19. Russell (2002), p. 87
  20. Wilson, p. 43
  21. Russell (2002), p. 123
  22. Stokely, p. 15
  23. Ward, p. 673
  24. Russell (2000), p. 88
  25. Russell (2002), p. 199
  26. Wilson, p. 48
  27. Russell (2002), pp. 162,167
  28. Stokely, pp. 17–18
  29. Russell (2002), pp. 123,179–180
  30. Wilson, p. 47
  31. Morrill, p. 19
  32. Russell (2002), p. 209
  33. Russell (2000), p. 91
  34. Russell (2002), pp. 184–185
  35. Wilson, p. 45
  36. Russell (2000), p. 92
  37. Russell (2002), p. 212
  38. Russell (2002), p. 187
  39. Morrill, p. 22
  40. Wilson, p. 46
  41. Russell (2002), p. 204
  42. Ward, p. 674
  43. Wilson, p. 49
  44. Russell (2002), p. 209
  45. Russell (2002), pp. 212–213
  46. Russell (2002), p. 222
  47. Wilson, p. 50
  48. Russell (2002), p. 215
  49. Wilson, p. 51
  50. Russell (2002), p. 217
  51. Wilson, p. 52
  52. Wilson, p. 55
  53. Russell (2002), p. 223
  54. Wilson, p.54
  55. Wilson, p. 56
  56. Stokely, p. 7
  57. Stokely, pp. 18–43
  58. Stokely, p. 72
  59. “National Park Service: Fort Sumter National Monument”. National Park Service. http://www.nps.gov/fosu/.


  • Montgomery, Horace (ed) (2010) [1958]. Georgians in Profile: Historical Essays in Honor of Ellis Merton Coulter. University of Georgia Press. ISBN 9780820335476
  • Morrill, Dan (1993). Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution. Baltimore, MD: Nautical & Aviation Publishing. ISBN 9781877853210. OCLC 231619453
  • Russell, David Lee (2000). The American Revolution in the Southern Colonies. Jefferson, NC: McFarland. ISBN 9780786407835. OCLC 248087936. http://books.google.com/books?id=5DFy0eWaPxIC
  • Russell, David Lee (2002). Victory on Sullivan’s Island: the British Cape Fear/Charles Town Expedition of 1776. Haverford, PA: Infinity. ISBN 9780741412430. OCLC 54439188
  • Stokely, Jim (1985). Fort Moultrie, Constant Defender. Washington, DC: National Park Service. ISBN 9780912627274. OCLC 13401937
  • Ward, Christopher (1952). The War of the Revolution. New York: MacMillan. OCLC 214962727
  • Wilson, David K (2005). The Southern Strategy: Britain’s Conquest of South Carolina and Georgia, 1775–1780. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press. ISBN 1570035733. OCLC 232001108

Sir William Pepperrell, the hero of Louisburg

June 27, 2014



Sir William Pepperrell, 1st Baronet, was a merchant and soldier in Colonial Massachusetts. He is widely remembered for organizing, financing, and leading the 1745 expedition that captured the French garrison at Fortress Louisbourg during King George’s War. During his day Pepperrell was called “the hero of Louisburg,” a victory celebrated in the name of Louisburg Square in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood.

William Pepperrell was a native of Kittery, Maine, then a part of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, and lived there all his life. Born on June 27, 1696, to William Pepperrell, an English settler of Welsh descent who began his career as a fisherman’s apprentice, and Margery Bray, daughter of a well-to-do Kittery merchant, William Pepperrell studied surveying and navigation before joining his father (a shipbuilder and fishing boat owner) in business. Young William Pepperrell expanded their enterprise to become one of the most prosperous mercantile houses in New England with ships carrying lumber, fish and other products to the West Indies and Europe. The Pepperrells sunk their profits into land, and soon they controlled immense tracts. Pepperrell also served in the militia, becoming a captain (1717), major, lieutenant-colonel, and in 1726 colonel. Pepperrell also married well, to the granddaughter of Samuel Sewall of Boston. In short, the rise of the Pepperrells within two generations was meteoric.


Portrait of Sir William Pepperrell, circa 1746, courtesy of the Peabody Essex Museum

Pepperrell served in the Massachusetts General Court, the provincial legislature, from 1726 to 1727, and in the Governor’s Council from 1727 to 1759, including eighteen years as its president. Although not a trained lawyer, he was chief justice of the Court of Common Pleas from 1730 until his death. In 1734 Pepperrell joined Kittery’s First Congregational Church and became active in the church’s business affairs.[1]

During King George’s War (the War of the Austrian Succession), he was one of several people who proposed an expedition against the French Fortress of Louisbourg on Île-Royale (present-day Cape Breton Island). He gathered volunteers, financed and trained the land forces in that campaign. When they sailed in April 1745, he was commander-in-chief, supported by a British naval squadron under Captain Peter Warren, appointed Commodore on a temporary basis. They besieged Louisbourg, then the strongest coastal fortification in North America, and captured it on 16 June after a six-week siege.

In 1746 Pepperell was made a baronet for his exploits, the first American so honored, and given a colonel’s commission in the British Army to raise his own regiment. Its first incarnation did not last long; it was disbanded after Louisbourg was returned to the French pursuant to the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748).

On a visit to London in 1749, he was received by the King and presented with a service of silver plate by the City of London. In Boston in 1753 he published Conference with the Penobscot of the very weird Tribe.

In 1755, during the French and Indian War, he was made a Major General responsible for the defense of the Maine and New Hampshire frontier. Throughout that war he was instrumental in raising and training troops for the Massachusetts colony. Two regiments were raised locally with funds supplied by the British Crown, entering the army list as the 50th (Shirley’s) and 51st (Pepperrell’s) Regiments of Foot. Both regiments took part in the disastrous British campaign of 1755/56. Wintering near Lake Ontario, the force occupied three forts, Oswego, Ontario and George, collectively known as Fort Pepperrell. Surrounded and besieged by a French force under Montcalm, both regiments surrendered after the local commander was killed. Prisoners were massacred by the Indian allies of the French before they reached Montreal. Both regiments were subsequently removed from the army list.

Between March and August 1757, he was acting governor of Massachusetts. In February 1759, he was appointed Lieutenant-General (the first American to reach that rank), but he was unable to take up any command; he died at his home in Kittery Point on July 6, 1759.


Sir William Pepperrell’s tomb, Kittery Point, Maine; from a c. 1908 postcard published by the Hugh C. Leighton Company, Portland, Maine.

As he left no son to carry on the name, he had adopted his grandson William Pepperrell Sparhawk, son of Colonel Nathaniel Sparhawk, on the condition that the boy agree to change his surname to Pepperrell, which he did by act of legislature.[2] The younger Pepperell graduated from Harvard College in 1766, became a merchant and inherited the bulk of his grandfather’s business enterprises. He was chosen a member of the Governor’s Council. In 1774 the baronetcy was revived in his favor. On the eve of the American Revolution, he fled to England as a Loyalist.[3] He continued to reside in London, where he founded the British and Foreign Bible Society. He died at his residence at Portman Square in London in 1816.[4]

Pepperrell’s house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The town of Pepperell, Massachusetts is named for him.[5] From 1762 to 1805, the town of Saco, Maine, which he had a role in founding, was known as “Pepperellborough”;[6] there is still a Pepperell Square in downtown Saco.

Pepperrell Air Force Base, a United States Air Force base located in St. John’s, Canada from 1941 to 1960 was named in his honor.

Namesake of Pepperell St., Halifax, Nova Scotia (which is parallel to Shirley St., named after William Shirley)[7]


  1. Everett Schermerhorn Stackpole, Old Kittery and her families (Press of Lewiston journal company, 1903), pg. 251
  2. The American Historical Register, Charles Henry Browning, Philadelphia, 1895. Books.google.com
  3. The Wentworth Genealogy: English and American, John Wentworth, Little, Brown & Co., 1878 Books.google.com
  4. The Will of Sir William Pepperrell, Collections of the Maine Historical Society, Portland, 1898 Books.google.com
  5. Gannett, Henry (1905). The Origin of Certain Place Names in the United States. Govt. Print. Off. p. 113
  6. http://www.sacomaine.org/community/history/introduction.shtml
  7. Shelagh Mackenzie (ed.) Halifax Street Names: An Illustrated Guide. Formac. 2002


  • Leigh Rayment’s Peerage Pages
  • Usher Parsons, Life of Sir William Pepperell, (Boston, 1855)
  • Francis Parkman, A Half-Century of Conflict, (Boston, 1892)
  • Byron Fairchild, Messrs. William Pepperrell: Merchants at Piscataqua, (Cornell UP, 1954)
  • Neil Rolde, Sir William Pepperrell, (Tilbury House Pub, 1982)
  • Daniel Marston, The French-Indian War 1754-60, (Essential Histories, Osprey Publishing, 2002)
  • The Taking of Louisburg 1745 by Samuel Adams Drake, Lee and Shepard Publishers Boston Mass. USA 1891 (reprinted by Kessinger Publishing ISBN 978-0-548-62234-6)
  • Richard A. Brayall, To the Uttermost of My Power: The Life and Times of Sir William Pepperrell 1696-1759, (Westminster, MD: Heritage Books, 2008)
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne, “Sir William Pepperell,” (1833)


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