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Commonly known as the "first" ship of the U.S. Navy, the
was a fishing schooner owned by John Glover, of Marblehead, MA. The U.S. Navy had not yet been established in 1775; however, George Washington, as commander of the American Army, needed ships to defend the Massachusetts ports from British supply vessels. The
was sought for this purpose.
"Hannah, named for Glover's wife, was a typical schooner of her day. At 78 tons burden she exceeded in size most other vessels in Beverly's fishing fleet, but her stubby two-masted design was distinctive of her class. At Beverly, where many vessels had been moved to get away from Marblehead's exposed harbor, carpenters went to work on her. After tying her up at Glover's Wharf, they cut gunports - two to a side - in her bulwarks and strengthened her planking. For speed, sailmakers increased her usual main, fore, and jib sails by adding topsails and a flying jib."
George Washington's Schooners: The First American Navy
, Chester G. Hearn. Naval Institute Press (March 1995).
Washington's Navy: April 1775-March 1776
In April 1775, following the opening salvos of the Revolution at Lexington and Concord, the American militia effectively trapped the British army in Boston. Throughout the summer, additional detachments of American militia arrived in Boston to bolster the siege lines. The only land approach to Boston,
A view of Boston. From the collections of The Mariners' Museum.
a narrow neck connecting the city to the mainland, prevented the Americans from launching an attack to drive the British away. On June 16, 1775, the British attempted to break the American defensive line by attacking the militia's fortified positions at Breed's Hill. The defeat of the British in this assault, recorded as the Battle of Bunker Hill, demonstrated the inability of the British to break the American siege. Though neither side could gain ground in land battle, time favored the British. Thanks to the Royal Navy and its command of the sea, the British army could be supplied and reinforced at will, thus holding the city indefinitely. The Americans, on the other hand, soon found themselves without the food or ammunition necessary to hold their positions.
George Washington appreciated the limitations placed on his tactical options by local geography and severe shortages in military equipment.
George Washington. From the collections of The Mariners' Museum.
With few field guns and scant gunpowder, Washington appealed to the Continental Congress for supplies. The new nation, with its empty coffers and lack of military structure, did not have the means to resupply Washington's army. In an attempt to remedy the shortage, Washington chartered the fishing schooner
to raid British shipping of valuable military supplies. Though Washington had no intention of establishing an American navy, the
became the first of eleven vessels chartered to aid the revolutionary cause. Over the six months of the American siege of Boston, "Washington's Navy" captured some fifty-five prizes, provided much-needed supplies to the troops, and boosted the efforts of naval-minded members of Congress who sought to create a national naval force.
John Glover (1732-1797), merchant and army officer, was born in Salem, Massachusetts, the son of Jonathan Glover, a house carpenter, and Tabitha Bacon. When he was four years old, Glover's father died. Some time thereafter the widowed mother moved with her four sons to nearby Marblehead. Glover became a shoemaker and then entered into the fishing business. He married Hannah Gale in 1754; they had four children. With profits from fishing, Glover purchased a small coasting vessel and began trading with the West Indies and the Iberian peninsula. By 1774, Glover had accumulated considerable property and had become one of Marblehead's leading citizens. In 1759, Glover received a commission as ensign in the Third Military Foot Company in the town of Marblehead.
During the years before the American Revolution, he remained an active member of the militia, rising to the rank of captain. As a merchant and trader, Glover suffered from the effects of British policy in the 1760s, including the Sugar Act of 1764, which affected his business in the West Indies. His experiences pushed him to the patriot side and he became a strong supporter of the American cause. In January 1775, he was elected second lieutenant colonel of the Marblehead militia regiment. When the colonel of the regiment, Jeremiah Lee, died in the spring of 1775, Glover succeeded him in command.
Following the battle at Bunker Hill (17 June 1775), Glover marched his regiment to Cambridge and joined the army besieging the British in Boston. On taking command of the American army (2 July 1775), George Washington decided to tighten the siege by intercepting British supply vessels. He sought Glover's advice in this matter and in August, Washington chartered Glover's schooner
. She was armed and sent to sea, becoming the first of several vessels Washington would use for this purpose.
In the OWH Library Collection:
**General John Glover and His Marblehead Mariners**, by George Athan Billias. Holt, 1960.
The Glorious Cause : The American Revolution, 1763-1789, by Robert Middlekauff. Oxford University Press, 2005.
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