(Note: This article is taken from S.P. Hildreth's Biographical and Historical Memoirs of the Early Settlers of Ohio (Cincinnati: H.W. Derby, 1852; reprint ed.: Bowie, Maryland: Heritage Books), pp. 120-164. The book is sometimes referred to as Early Pioneer Settlers of Ohio. The Whipple Website extends special thanks to Linda Showalter, Special Collections, Dawes Memorial Library, Marietta College, for identifying the source of this artlcle on April 4, 2000. The article was originally submitted on January 5, 2000 by Van Jones [firstname.lastname@example.org]. You might also want to read Sally D. Wilson's "Who Was Commodore Whipple?")
Abraham Whipple [see his genealogy on the Whipple Website] was a descendant of John Whipple, one of the original proprietors of the Providence plantations, and associate of Roger Williams, who is considered the founder of the colony. He was born in Providence, Rhode Island, in the year 1733.
His early education was very imperfect; but possessing a naturally strong mind, and great resolution of purpose, he acquired in the course of the sea-faring life which he followed at an early period, sufficient knowledge of navigation, and the keeping of accounts, to conduct the command of vessels in the West India trade, with credit to himself and profit to his employers. The intercourse of the colonists vas restricted by Mother Britain to that of her own possessions, with an exception in favor of the Dutch port of Surinam on the main, and the Danish island of St. Croix. This business he followed for many years previous to the war of the Revolution, and several letters from Nicholas Brown, one of the earliest merchants of Providence, and in whose employ he sailed, are on file amongst his papers, containing instructions for the conduct of the voyage. Toward the close of the old French war, after the king of Spain had taken up against England, he was employed as the commander of a privateer called the Game Cock.( 1 ) During the cruise he captured a valuable Spanish ship, by running alongside, and carried her by boarding without much resistance.
It was during this period of his early life that the following event took place, while in the southerly portion of the Gulf of Mexico, on his return from a West India voyage, in a large armed ship or letter of marque, the larger portion of whose guns, however, were of wood, technically called "quakers." In a severe gale, he was obliged to throw overboard a part of his armament, especially a number at his metal guns, leaving him in quite a defenseless condition. Soon after this event a French privateer appeared in chase. She war full of men, as be ascertained by his telescope, and far outnumbered him in guns; although but for the late disaster, as his ship was much the largest, and pretty well manned, he might have made a stout defense, but under present circumstances his only chance for escape was by flight. Capt. Whipple, after sailing as close to the wind as possible, and trying the speed of the enemy on that course, found him constantly gaining on him, and that his hope of safety must rest on a ruse de guerre, in which be he was always ready. He directed his sailors to set up a number of hand spikes, with hats and caps on them, looking at a distance like men at their stations ready for action, which, in addition to his actual crew, appeared quite formidable. Being to the windward of the enemy, he directed the men at the wheel to put the ship about, and bear down directly upon him, showing his broadside of quaker guns and deck full of men to great advantage. The privateer was taken all aback; and thinking the former attempt at flight only a stratagem to entice her within reach of her shot, instantly put about, and with, all haste escaped from her cunning antagonist. Capt. Whipple kept on the chase until the privateer lad ran nearly out of sight, when, with a shrug of the shoulder, and a hearty laugh at the success of his stratagem, he ordered the steersman to up helm, and bear away on the proper course for his destined port.
His ready and prompt mind was never at a loss for expedients in all such emergencies, and generally succeeded in turning them to his own advantage, as will be seen in his after life. This exploit gained him a good deal of credit with his townsman, and was doubtless the reason of his being selected a few years after to command the company of volunteers who captured and burnt the British schooner Gaspe, the tender of a ship of war, stationed in Narragansett bay, to enforce the maritime laws. These restrictions had become very odious and unpopular to the inhabitants of Newport and Providence. The Gaspe especially, commanded by Lieut. Buddington, of the navy, with a crew of twenty-seven men, had become the terror of all the shipping entering those ports; not only by overhauling their cargoes, and confiscating the goods, but by pressing the men into the British service. At this time, the commerce of Newport and Providence together, exceeded that of New York, whose retail traders often, visited the former town, to purchase dry goods and other merchandise of the importers, as the smaller cities now visit New York. Newport, next to Boston, owned a larger number of vessels than any other port an the coast. The attempts of the king and parliament of Great Britain to enforce the old navigation act, with the stamp act, duties on tea, and quartering large bodies of troops on the colonists, to tame them into obedience, only served to rouse their jealousy, and excite their disgust. While the inhabitants were filled with fears of coming evils, and the public mind roused up to resistance, an event took place in the waters of Rhode Island, which may be considered as the "overt act," to the Revolution which soon followed.
On the 17th of June, 1772, a Providence packet, that plied between New York and Rhode Island, named the Hannah, and commanded by Capt. Linzee, hove in sight of the man-of-war, in her passage up the bay. She was ordered to bring to, for examination; but Linzee refused to comply; and being favored with a fresh southerly breeze, that was fast carrying out of gunshot of the ship, the tender was signaled to follow. In pursuing the chase, the Gaspe was led onto a shoal, which puts out from Nanquit point but which the lighter draught of the Hannah enabled her to pass in safety. The tender here stuck fast; and as the tide fell, she careened partly on to her side. The packet reached Providence before dark, and soon spread the news of the chase, and the helpless condition of the hated Gaspe. A muster of the sailors and sea-faring people soon followed; who, after choosing Capt. Whipple for their leader, embarked, to the number of sixty, in eight row-boats. The men were without arms, excepting one musket which was shipped without Whipple's consent, as he intended no harm to the crew unless opposed by force, but only to board the vessel, land the crew, and than set her on fire. They, however, put into each boat a large quantity of pebble stones, intending them as articles of offense, if necessary. As they approached the schooner, about two o'clock in the morning, they were hailed by the sentinel, and asked, "Who commands them boats?" Whipple instantly answered, "The sheriff of the county of Kent;" and I come to arrest Capt. Buddington." The captain was by this time on deck, and warned the boats not to approach; which they not heeding, he fired his pistol at them; at this moment, a boy who had possession of the musket, discharged it, wounded the captain in the thigh; a volley of pebbles followed the discharge, and Whipple, at the head of his men, boarded the schooner, driving the crew below. After securing them, they were taken on shore, and the Gaspe burnt. The party returned in triumph to Providence, and knowing that their conduct amounted to treason against the king, no one said anything about it; and, although the secret was confided to not less than sixty persons, so deep was the hatred and indignation of the people, that no one disclosed it, or let any hint drop that could be used as proof against their companions. This bold step naturally excited great indignation in the British officers, and all possible means were taken to discover the offenders. Wanton, the colonial Governor of Rhode Island, issued his proclamation, offering a reward of one hundred pounds sterling, for the discovery of any of those concerned. Soon after, the king's proclamation appeared, offering one thousand pounds for the man who called himself the high sheriff, and five hundred pounds for any other of the party; with the promise of a pardon should the informer have been one of the party. But notwithstanding those tempting offers, so general was the dislike of the community to their oppressors, and their patriotism so true, that "no evidence was ever obtained, sufficient to arraign a single individual; although a commission of inquiry, under the great seal of England, sat in Newport from January to June, during the year 1773. Capt. Whipple, however, soon after sailed on a trading voyage to the West Indies, and did not return until 1774, when the event was in a manner forgotten.
In the meantime, aggressions and restrictions were heaped on the colonists, until they became insupportable, and reaction began to take place. After the Boston Port Bill was passed, by which the commerce of that flourishing town was entirely destroyed, as an offset for the destruction of the tea chests of the East India Company, resistance became more open, especially subsequent to the passage of the act prohibiting the exportation of military stores from England to the colonies. Fully aware of the approaching contest, and the destitute condition of the inhabitants of the materials for resistance, they began, in many places, to seize upon the military stores of the crown. Every garrison, fort, and magazine, being in possession of the king's officers, and many of the inhabitants destitute of arms, and still more so of ammunition, it was absolutely necessary to resort to violence for the purpose of arming themselves. At Portsmouth, N.H., a quantity of powder was taken from the castle in the harbor, and the citizens of Providence seized on twenty-six guns at Fort Island, and carried them up to their town. It was to destroy a magazine of provisions and other stores, collected by the inhabitants for the coming contest, at Concord, Mass., that the British made their celebrated inroad on the 19th of April, 1775; and the war fairly opened by the slaughter the militia at Lexington. From this point, the spirit of resistance flew, like an electric shock, from heart to heart, until it pervaded the land.
The little colony of Rhode Island, ever foremost in the cause of liberty, within one year and one month after the blood shed at Lexington renounced their allegiance to the king of Great Britain, by solemn act of their Legislature; thus preceding, by two months, the declaration of independence by the Congress of the assembled colonies. This simple, but resolute document ought to be preserved in letters of gold. It is styled, "An Act of May, 1776, renouncing allegiance to the king of Great Britain;" " and then proceeds: "Whereas in all states existing by compact, protection and allegiance are reciprocal; the later being only due in consequence of the former: and whereas George the Third, king of Great Britain, forgetting his dignity, regardless of the compact most solemnly entered into, ratified and confirmed to the inhabitants of this colony, by his illustrious ancestors, and till of late, fully recognized by him; and entirely departing from the duties and character of a good king, instead of protecting, is endeavoring to destroy the good people of this colony, and of all the united colonies, by sending fleets and armies to America, to confiscate our property, and spread fire, sword, and desolation throughout our country, in order to compel us to submit to the most debasing and detestable tyranny; whereby we are obliged by necessity, and it becomes our highest duty, to use every means with which God and nature have furnished us, in support of our invaluable rights and privileges, to oppose the power which is exerted for our destruction." They then go on to repeal a certain act of allegiance to the king, then in force, and to enact a law, whereby, in all commissions of a civil or military nature, the name of the king shall be omitted, and that of the governor and company of the English colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, substituted in its place; and is all oaths of off office, the officers shall swear to be faithful and true to the colony.
Moved by the same feelings which produced this declaration 1776, the Legislature, in June, 1775, two days before the battle of Bunker Hill, purchased and armed two sloops, one of twelve, and the other of eight guns, appointing Capt. Whipple to the command of the larger, and Capt. Grimes to the smaller, who was to act under the orders of Whipple. The larder vessel was named the Providence. The object of this armament was to clear the bay of the British tenders to the frigate Rose, under the command of Sir James Wallace, who blockaded the mouths of the harbors and rivers, preventing the getting to sea of numerous vessels, and the entry of such as were coming into port. On the 15th day of June, Whipple sailed with his command, down the bay of Narragansett, and attacked two of the enemy's tenders, which he disabled, and forced to retire under the guns of the frigate, and took one other a prize; while by the light draught of his own vessels he could keep out of the reach of the man-of-war. By this bold act the bay was cleared of these nuisances, and a large number of homeward-bound vessels entered the port.
Much has been said and written, as to whom was due the credit of firing the first gun on the sea, at the British, in the opening of the Revolutionary war. After the above statement, which comes from the pen of Capt. Whipple himself, in a petition to Congress in the year 1786, little doubt need be felt as to the propriety of assigning to him that honor. It is true that an unauthorized attack was made on the British schooner Margaretta, by the Machias people in May, which for its spirit and bravery deserves great credit, but was a more private transaction; while Whipple fired the first gun under any legal or colonial authority. This daring deed was performed at a time when so other man in the colony would undertake the hazardous employment, lest he might be destined to the halter by Capt. Wallace, who threatened to apply it to all who should be taken in arms against his majesty. The people were not yet ready for open resistance to the king, but expected that parliament would finally relent from their rigorous measures, and love and friendship be again restored between their revered parent and her undutiful children.
Since the prospect of an open rupture daily increased, the old affair of the Gaspe was no longer kept in the dark, but the name of leader in that daring, exploit, came to the ears of Capt. Wallace, who sent him the following plain, if not very polite note:
You, Abraham Whipple, on the 17th day of June, 1772, burned his majesty's vessel, the Gaspe, and I will hang you on the yard-arm. --James Wallace.
To which the captain returned this laconic answer:
To Sir James Wallace: Sir: Always catch a man before you hang him. --Abraham Whipple.
Notwithstanding these threats, he continued to cruise in the Narragansett bay until the 12th of September; during which period be fought several actions with vessels of superior force, beating them off, and protecting the commerce of the state. Those spirited combats infused new courage into the inhabitants of the neighboring colonies, as well as his own, and demonstrated that the British were not invincible on the water. Maritime events like these, with those conducted by Capt. Manly, led Congress to the consideration of defending themselves and the country an the ocean, as well as on the land; and in October, 1775, a marine committee was appointed to superintend the naval affairs.
About the 20th of September, he was ordered by the governor of Rhode Island, to proceed with the sloop Providence, to the island of Bermuda, and seize upon the powder in the magazine of that place; this article being greatly needed by the country, which depended; altogether on foreign supplies, not yet having learned to manufacture for themselves. This order was obeyed with due diligence and bravery, but was unsuccessful, from the circumstance of the powder having been removed before his arrival. While on this service, he narrowly escaped capture by two of the enemy's ships of war, which were on that station. He, however, by his daring and nautical skill, escaped, and arrived at Rhode Island on the 9th of December, and resumed his former employment of cruising in the bay, until the 19th of that month.
While absent on the voyage to Bermuda, Congress directed the marine committee to purchase two swift sailing vessels; the one of ten, and the other of twelve guns. Under this order the Providence was purchased. Still later in the month, the marine committee were directed to purchase two additional ships, one of thirty-six guns, and the other of twenty. In pursuance of this order, the Alfred and Columbus were bought at both of them merchant ships. To these were added two brigs, the Cabot, and the Andrea Doria, making a naval force of six vessels, belonging to the United States; of which the little Providence was the only one that had been in active service.
At this period of the contest, no regular war ships had been built, and the government had to select such vessels as the mercantile service afforded, until ships of war could be constructed. In the month of December, 1775, Congress directed thirteen warlike vessels to be built, and the marine committee increased to thirteen, or one for each state. In 1776, two navy boards, consisting of three persons each, one for the eastern district, and one for the middle district, were established, subordinate to the marine committee; by which arrangement a large portion of the executive business was accomplished. Several letters from these boards will be referred to in the course of this biography.
On the 19th of December, Capt. Whipple received orders from the marine committee to proceed with the Providence sloop, now under their direction, to Philadelphia. On his way out, he captured one of the enemy's vessels, and sent her into Providence.
On the 22nd day of the month, by a resolution of Congress, Dudley Saltonstall was appointed captain of the Alfred frigate, Abraham Whipple of the Columbus, Nicholas Biddle of the Andrea Doria, and John B. Hopkins of the Cabot. Haysted Hacker, lieutenant of the Providence, was promoted to her command. The celebrated John Paul Jones was first lieutenant of the Alfred, and Jonathan Pitcher, of the Columbus: Esek Hopkins, an old man, commander-in-chief, as they chose to style the leader of their squadron. During the winter, the young flotilla, while fitting for a cruise, was frozen up in the Delaware river. Com. Hopkins, however, got to sea on the 17th of February, 1776, with seven armed vessels under his command, the largest of which was the Alfred of twenty-four guns instead of thirty-six, and bore away southerly, in quest of a small squadron under Lord Dunmore; but not falling in with him, concluded to make a descent on the island of New Providence, for the purpose of capturing military stores. This service was performed under the conduct of Capt. Nichols, the senior officer of the marines, at the head of three hundred men, whose landing from the boats of the squadron was covered in gallant style, by Capt. Hacker, of the Providence, and the sloop Wasp. The attack was entirely successful, and possession was taken of the fortifications and the town. The main object of the attempt, a magazine of gunpowder, was in part secreted by the governor; but they brought away four hundred and fifty tons of cannon and other military stores, with the governor and some others as prisoners. Having accomplished this victory, they sailed on the 17th of March, for the United States. At one o'clock in the morning of the 6th of April, the squadron fell in with the Glasgow, British man-of-war of twenty guns, off the easterly end of Long Island. The little Cabot of fourteen guns, Capt. Hopkins, being the nearest to the enemy, ranged manfully along side, discharging her broadsides with great spirit, but was soon obliged to haul off from the superior fire of the Glasgow. The Alfred now came up to the rescue, but after a short running fight, had her wheel ropes cut away, and became unmanageable. The Providence, by this time, had passed under her stern, and fired a number of broadsides with great effect. Capt. Whipple in the Columbus, could not get into action for want of wind, which was light and baffling, sufficiently near to afford much aid, or the Glasgow would have been captured. The darkness of night still continued, when seeing the approach of another antagonist, she spread all sail in flight, with the Columbus is pursuit, bat was soon signaled by the commodore to give up the chase; as they were approaching so near the harbor of Newport, where lay a large fleet, that the report of the cannonade would call them out to the rescue, and thus perhaps the whole American force might fall into their hands; as they were so deeply laden with the captured military stores, as to make all dull sailors. On his way back, Capt. Whipple fell in with, and made prize of the bomb ship of the British fleet, which had long been a terror to the people of Newport. The fleet arrived safely into the harbor of New London; but were soon after removed to Providence by the commodore, the British having left the bay of Narragansett.
The escape of the Glasgow from so superior a force, caused no small sensation, with a good deal of censure from the public. As Whipple commanded the second largest ship, and was not actually engaged with the enemy, he was accused of cowardice. This aroused the spirit of the veteran, and he demanded a court-martial to inquire into his conduct. It was held in Providence; and after a full examination he was honorably acquitted; it appearing in evidence, that his vessel, from the lightness of the wind and her leeward position, could not be brought into contact with the Glasgow, until after her: flight, when he pursued her with all the speed in his power, until called off by Com. Hopkins.
After the close of the trial, he was ordered to take command of the Columbus again; while Com. Hopkins, on the 16th of October, was formally censured by a vote of Congress, and on the 26th of March, 1777, dismissed from the service, for disobeying their orders. Capt. Hacker, of the Providence, was removed from her command, and the vessel given to John Paul Jones,( 2 ) who, in the course of the summer, captured no less than sixteen sail of the enemy's ships. In the fall of that year, he was transferred to the Alfred, and sailed, in company with the Providence, on a cruise to the eastward, along the coast. Here they fell in with and captured a number of prizes; amongst them a transport for Burgoyne's army, with ten thousand suits of soldiers' uniforms. The Providence was now commanded by Capt. Rathbone: and in 1778, again visited New Providence, unaccompanied by any other vessel, and took possession of the place and six ships lying in the harbor, one of which was a privateer of sixteen guns. On his landing, he was joined by about thirty American prisoners, making with his own crew, eighty men. He kept possession two days, and brought away many valuable stores and four of the prizes. In 1779, the little Providence was restored to her former master, Capt. Hacker, who took the enemy's ship Delinquent, of equal force, after, a severe action. In July, with other vessels, she was ordered to convey a body of militia under Gen. Lowell, to the Penobscot river, where the British had formed a military station. The expedition proved disastrous; and the Providence, with the other ships, was lost, by the superior naval force of the enemy, the 15th of August. Capt. Hacker, to keep her from the hands of the enemy, after landing the crew, ordered her to be blown up. Thus perished in a blaze of light, the favorite vessel, and first love of Capt. Whipple. She has been one of the most successful cruisers that floated on the ocean, and made more prizes than any other vessel in the service; hurling defiance at Great Britain, in many a well fought action, from June, 1773, to August, 1779. Her name was perpetuated in the navy by the frigate Providence. In October, 1776, Capt. Whipple was recommended by the marine committee, to the command of the frigate Providence, of twenty-eight guns, then building in Rhode Island, which was confirmed by Congress.
In November of the same year, Congress "Resolved that a bounty of twenty dollars be paid to the commanders, officers and men of such continental ships, or vessels of war, as shall make prize of any British ship, or vessel of war; for every cannon mounted on board each prize at the time of capture; and eight dollars per head for every man then on board,. and belonging to such prize." This was a wise and salutary provision, for the encouragement of our sailors; but as it relates to Capt Whipple, he says he never received any compensation for guns and munitions of war captured by himself.
At the same time they passed the following order, regulating the comparative rank of officers in the navy with the land service; vis. "An admiral as a general; vice-admiral, as a lieutenant-general; rear-admiral, as a major general; commodore as a brigadier-general; the captain of a ship of forty guns and upward, as a colonel; from ten to twenty guns, as a major; a lieutenant in the navy, as a captain." This arrangement was not only for etiquette in their intercourse, but was also intended to apply to exchanges of prisoners. " The pay of the officers and men in the American navy, "under the free and independent states of America," was established as follows. "'The Captain of a ship of twenty guns and upward, received sixty dollars a month; that of a ship of ten to twenty guns, forty-eight dollars a month; a lieutenant of the larger vessel, thirty dollars a month - - the smaller, twenty-four dollars; a surgeon twenty-five dollars, and the surgeon's mate, fifteen dollars, and so on in the descending scale to the common seaman whose pay was eight dollars a month." When we look back on those times of trial and adversity, we admire the prudence and economy, which pervaded every branch of the government: when we consider the poor apology for money in which they were paid, the officers might be aid "to serve for nothing and find themselves." But if we reflect on the deep poverty of the country and that all the expenses were paid by a direct tax on the people, we arrive at the secret of this seeming parsimony. It was the prudent expenditure of the public money which enabled Congress to carry on the war at all; and as it was, they were often bankrupt and on the verge of ruin. In these days when the public expenses are raised by a tariff on commerce, and money is plenty, the pay of naval officers is very different; some of the older captains get three hundred dollars and seventy-five dollars a month, and the younger captains of frigates, three hundred dollars --being just five times as much as they received in the Revolutionary war.
On the 10th of August, 1776, he received orders from the navy board to sail on a cruise to the eastward with the Columbus frigate, for the purpose of intercepting the homeward-bound Jamaica fleet. In his passage out of the bay from Newport, he had to "run the gauntlet" through a number of British ships of war, which he fortunately escaped. Off the coast of Newfoundland he fell in with the object of his search, and took five large ships laden with sugar. Two of his prizes reached ports, while the other three were retaken, as was the fate of more than half of all the American prizes, which they attempted to run into their own ports, the coast being closely guarded by the enemy's ships.
In October, Capt. Whipple returned, with the Columbus, to Providence, at which place Congress had directed two frigates to be built; the Warren, of thirty-two guns, and the Providence, of twenty-eight guns. On the 10th of that month, he was recommended by the marine committee, and appointed, by Congress, to the command of the Providence, and directed to superintend the fitting out of both frigates. While occupied in this employment, with his own ship nearly ready for sea, so rapidly had the work been prosecuted, on the 7th of December, the enemy's fleet took possession of the harbor of Newport, where the Providence had been lying, and landed a large army. To preserve his ship from capture, Capt. Whipple ran her up the river to Providence harbor, where several other vessels had retreated, protected by the batteries and the army of Gen. Spencer, then assembled on the adjacent main, to guard the country from the inroads of the British troops. In this mortifying durance the new frigates wave confined during the whole of the year 1777. During this period, several plans were arranged for getting to sea, as appears by the letters of the eastern navy board, composed of James Warren and , John Deshon, of September 11th and October 28th. In March preceding, there was a plan for burning some of the British vessels by means of fireships, to which Capt. Whipple was engaged; as by letter of Esek Hopkins, who was in command at Providence, as late as the 9th of that month. From some cause, it was not successful, although Congress offered large bounties to effect it. In October, under the order of Gov. Cook, he dismantled and saved the guns and stores of the enemy's frigate Syren, which run on shore at Point Judith, R.I., and had been abandoned. While at this employment, he fell over the side of the frigate, amongst the guns and other matters, receiving a serious injury, which caused a lameness all his life. On the 20th of March, 1778, orders arrived, to fit the Providence for sea with all dispatch, being assigned to carry important dispatches from Congress to our ministers in France. Capt. Whipple made up his crew from the men of the Warren, in addition to his own ship, selecting such as were known to be of tried courage, so the passage out to sea was blockaded by a numerous fleet, as well as the outlets of each of the three passages from Providence river, as the long, deep, narrow inlet was called, which connects Narragansett bay with the harbor of the town. They ware guarded by frigates and a sixty-four gun ship, expressly stationed to watch these channels, for the American ships. All movements of any importance, about to be made by either of the belligerent parties, were certain to be known to the other within a short time after their concoction, by means of spies, and secret intercourse constantly kept up by men employed for this purpose. The order for the sailing of the Providence was soon known to the British naval commander at Newport, and every preparation made for her capture. Capt. Whipple was perfectly familiar with all the channels, head lands, shoals, and windings of the outlets from his earliest youth; so that no man could be better fitted to conduct this hazardous enterprise. His well known character for courage and love of daring exploits, gave additional hope to his prospect of success. It could only be attempted in the night, and that night must be a dark and stormy one, adding still more to the grandeur of the exploit. After every preparation was made for sea, he had to wait until the 30th of April, for one of those gloomy, windy nights, attended with sleet and rain, so common on the New England coast, at this season o! the year. At length, on the last day of the month, such a night set in, with rain , and wind from the northeast, cheerless and dispiriting on all ordinary occasions, but now more prized than the brightest starlight, and entirely favorable to his wishes. In making his choice of the three outlets, he selected the westerly one, which passes down between the island of Conanicut and the Narrangansett shore, which was guarded by the frigate Lark, rated as a thirty-six, but actually mounting forty guns. This vessel was moored in the channel against the island, with her stern up stream, and springs on her cables, ready to get under way at a moment's notice. Some distance below her, and nearer the outlet, was moored in the same manner, the Renown, a ship of sixty-four guns; while, in the bay beyond, lay ten or twelve ships and sloops of war, ready to fire upon the Providence, should she by possibility escape the two ships above. The middle passage led through the harbor of Newport, occupied by the ships of the line, and the easterly one was crooked, and not passable in the night. William Jones, subsequently the governor of Rhode Island, was captain of marines under Whipple. He was a very gentlemanly, noble-looking, and brave man. To him was consigned the charge of the dispatches. As the gallant little frigate, under close reefed topsails, see stiff was the breeze, approached the Lark, every light on deck was extinguished, and the utmost silence maintained by the crew, who were stationed at their guns with lighted matches, while the lanterns in the rigging of the enemy served to show exactly her position. Instead of sailing wide of his enemy, and avoiding a conflict, he run within half pistol shot, and delivered his broadside, firing his bow guns when against the stern of the ship, determined that she should feel her enemy, if she could not see her. At the same moment Capt. Jones, with his musketry, poured in a destructive fire on her quarter and main dock, killing and wounding a number of the crew. So sudden and unexpected was the attack, that before the Lark could make any return of the broadside, the Providence was out of sight, having by this well directed fire dismounted several of her guns, and killed some of the men. The report of Whipple's cannon awakened the sleeping crew of the sixty-four, who, hurrying to their quarters, filled the rigging with lights, ready for the coming conflict. As the gallant ship too rushing on the wings of the wind, enveloped in the mist and darkness of the storm, Whipple, as he neared the Renown, to put his enemy well on their guard, bellowed forth with his speaking trumpet in a voice louder than the winds, as if addressing the man at the helm, "Pass her on the Narragansett side:" at the same time, as be stood close to the steersman, he bid him luff ship and pass her on the larboard or Conanicut side of the vessel; thus throwing his antagonist entirely off his guard, on the point he really meant to steer. The order was promptly obeyed, and while the crew were mustered on the Narragansett side of the sixty-four, ready for a discharge of their heavy guns, his starboard broadside was fired into her as he rapidly passed, with great effect; several shot passing through the cabin, and one directly under the captain's head, as be lay in his berth, knocking his pillow out o! place. Another shot unshipped the rudder, and before the Renown was ready to discharge her larboard guns, the Providence was out of reach and out of sight. This very vessel was the leading, or admiral's ship, at the capture of Charleston, and the officers related the effects of his fire in a familiar conversation with Capt. Whipple, after the surrender of the place, and he was their prisoner. These two broadsides aroused the crews of the fleet in the bay below, and put them on the look out for the rebel frigate, and the Providence received more or less of the fire from eleven different ships of war, before she reached the open sea. Like the king-bird surrounded by a flock of vultures, she glided swiftly about her enemies, veering now to the larboard, and now to the starboard, as fresh ships opposed her way; returning their fire with occasional shots, but anxious mainly to escape too close a contact with any of her foes; the object being to run and not to fight.
The day following this perilous night, when be had gained the open ocean, and thought all present danger past, he narrowly escaped capture by a seventy-four gun ship, which came directly across his course, but by superior management in sailing, luckily escaped. The damages to the rigging of the Providence, although considerable, were soon repaired, and the little frigate, with a flowing sheet, sped on her way to the port of Nantz, where she arrived in twenty-six days, being on the 26th of May, 1778.
On the voyage out, Capt. Whipple captured a British brig, laden with one hundred and twenty-five pipes of wine, nine tons of cork and various other articles, which arrived safe in port, near the same time.
The names of the officers who so nobly aided in sailing, and fighting the Providence, through that host of enemies, and may well be ranked among the most remarkable feats of bravery and daring, as well as nautical skill that took place during the war of the Revolution, were as follows: Thomas Simpson, first lieutenant, and soon promoted to the command of the Boston frigate of twenty-four guns. Silas Devol, second lieutenant. He was the brother of Capt. Jonathan Devol, and the personification of bravery. In a year or two after, he was taken at sea, and perished miserably in the old Jersey prison ship, that den of wholesale murder to the Americans. Jonathan Pitcher, third lieutenant, George Goodwin, sailing master, William Jones, captain of marines, and Seth Chapin, first lieutenant.
On the third day of their voyage out, the lieutenants and other officers presented a petition to Capt. Whipple, asking him to allow them to draw money for the purpose of purchasing proper uniform dresses, as without them they could not maintain the dignity of their stations, and as they say, "That all may appear alike, as brothers united in one cause." From this circumstance it would seem, that no regular uniform for the navy had yet been established by Congress.
The appearance of the Providence in the harbor of Nantz, excited a great deal of curiosity, as few if any American frigates had visited that port. On landing, Capt. Jones was charged with the dispatches to the American ministers at the court of Versailles, and proceeded on his way to Paris. Dr. Franklin introduced him to the king and the principal courtiers, who received him with great politeness. His noble personal appearance, gentlemanly manners, and rich, showy uniform, made him appear to great advantage acrd highly creditable to the American nation. Owing to unforeseen delays and the cautious policy of the French court, it was as late as August before a cargo was provided and the return of dispatches of the American ministers ready for Congress. Strange as it my appear, the Providence frigate, was loaded with clothing, arms and ammunition, like a merchantman. Capt. Whipple, although as brave as Caesar, was not too proud to engage in any honest service, which would be useful to his country. He had spent years is the merchant line and felt not that repugnance to turning his ship into a transport, so often expressed by the haughty Britons. The cargo was of immense value and more safe in a frigate than a common ship. On the 13th of July, he received notice from the American commissioners, B. Franklin, Arthur Lee, and John Adams, that they had ordered Capt. Tucker, of the Boston frigate, to join him on his return voyage. On the 16th, he received the following letter and order.
"Passy, July 16th, 1778
Sir: We have ordered Lieut. Simpson., to whom the command of the Ranger devolves, by the destination of Capt. Jones, (John Paul,) to another service, to join you and obey your orders respecting his future cruises and voyage to America. We wish you to use all possible dispatch in getting to sea, with the Boston, Providence, and Ranger.
You are to use your utmost endeavors to take, burn, sink, and destroy all privateers of Jersey and Guernsey, and all other British cruisers within the command of your force, as you may have opportunity.
We are, sir, your most humble servants,B. Franklin,
P.S. You are to leave all the prisoners in such place and in the custody of such persons as Mr. W. Shwinghauser shall advise."
Mr. Shwinghauser was the naval agent for the United States, making purchases, &c.; a number of his letters are on file among Com. Whipple "s manuscripts. From the time of the date of this letter, giving him the command of three public armed ships, he may fairly take the rank of commodore; although he was, in fact, entitled to that distinction while cruising in the Narragansett bay, in June, 1775, with the two armed sloops under his orders. On the 26th of August, having loaded the Providence with arms, ammunition, clothing, and copper, on account of the United States, and taken on board a number of passengers,. ordered by the commissioners, he sailed for America, touching at the harbor of Brest, where he was joined by the Boston and Ranger. On their voyage out, they took six prizes, but how many got into port, is not ascertained.
While on the banks of Newfoundland,. in a dense fog, so common to that misty part of the ocean, he had a very narrow escape from capture. The Providence being the leading ship, for the purpose of notifying her consorts of her position, every five or ten minutes, a few blows were struck on the ship's bell. A British seventy-four gun ship, hearing the signal, bore up in the direction of the sound, and before the crew of the Providence had any notice of her approach,, she was close along side. The first appearance of the frigate, with her ports all closed,. and lying deep in the water, was that of a large merchant ship. On hailing the stranger, the captain, in the usual style of British naval officers, ordered the "d____d rebel to strike his colors, drop under his stern, and send the boat aboard." It so happened, that his colors were not up at that time. Capt. Whipple at once saw his danger, and knew that nothing but a bold maneuver could save him. He, therefore, answered the hail, as if intending no opposition. "Aye, aye, sir." With a readiness of thought which none but a master mind can call to his aid, in emergencies which admit of no delay, his plan was instantly formed, and sending some men aloft to busy themselves with the sails, and prepare for striking the colors, as if about to comply with the order, he at the same time, passed the word below to make all ready few a broadside, as he passed under the stern of the seventy-four. As he was rather slow in complying with the order to strike, it was repeated by the Briton in a still more commanding tone, threatening to fire into him. Whipple answered, rather peevishly, that "he could not haul down his colors, until he had them up," at the same time swearing at the sailor for his bungling manner of performing the duty, having ordered him, when they were up, not to haul them down again, on pain of death. By the time the stars and stripes were fluttering in the breeze, the gunners were at their posts, the frigate had fallen off under the stern of the enemy, when, with a stamp of his foot on the quarter deck, the ports flew open, and a full broadside was fired into her cabin, the tampions of the guns going in with the shot, there being no time to remove them. When relating the incident in after life, the commodore used to say, he "heard a terrible smashing among the crockery were in the cabin." The Briton suspecting no resistance, and being entirely unprepared for such an event, was utterly astonished, provoked, and confounded; but before he could make any preparation to avenge this "Yankee trick," the Providence was enveloped in the fog, and out of sight on another tack. Whipple took good care not to tinkle his bell again, for some time, which his consorts being warned of their danger, by his broadside, escaped discovery, and all reached the harbor of Boston in safety. This, however, was accomplished in almost a miraculous manner, having to pass through a squadron of the enemy's slips, which were blockading that port. The cargo thus saved by the presence of mind, and bold stratagem of Com. Whipple, was of immense advantage to the country; furnishing the army with several thousand stands of arms, ammunition, and clothing; articles of more value to the United States, at that time, than a ship-load of gold.
Soon after his arrival, which was the 13th of October, Capt. Jones want on to Congress with the dispatches, which were highly gratifying to that body. In November he received the following congratulatory letter from his excellency, Gen. Washington:
"Head Quarters, Fredericksburg, Nov. 25th, 1778.
Sir: Maj. Nicholas handed me your favor of the 12th inst. I am greatly pleased with the gallant circumstance of your passage through the blockaded harbor, and much obliged to you for the detail of your voyage. It was agreeable to hear of your safe arrival with the valuable articles of your invoice. With my best wishes for your future success, I am, sir, your most humble servant,
To Capt. Abraham Whipple, Esq., commander of the continental frigate Providence, at Boston.
During this year the influence of the American commissioners at the court of France was so great, especially with the queen, who had taken so deep an interest in the welfare of the young republic, and especially in Dr. Franklin, whom, on all, occasions, she treated with as much respect as she could her own father, that the king finally came out openly on the side of the United States, sending a fleet of men of war to the American coast, which entered the harbor of Newport, and forced the enemy from Narragansett bay. Before their departure they sunk several of their ships, to keep them from the hands of the French. Among them was Whipple's old antagonist, the Lark. Near the close of the war some of these frigates were raised by the ingenuity of Griffin Greene, Esq.
The winter following this never-to-be-forgotten cruise, was passed in refitting his vessel for sea. and in visiting his family. On the 9th of March, 1779, he received orders from James Warren and William Vernon, the navy board in the eastern department, to, cruise with the Providence in Boston bay, for the protection of the navigation, and in quest of the enemy's, which were now numerous on the coast. On the 4th of April he returned to port, and remained until the 23rd of June, when he again, proceeded on a cruise with the Ranger and Queen of France under his command. On this occasion the following letter was addressed to him giving the outlines of the cruise, and the general orders to be observed while at sea:
Navy Board, Eastern Department, Boston, June 12th, 1779.
To Abraham Whipple, Esq., commander of the ship Providence:
Your ship being ready for the sea, you are to proceed with the ships Queen of France and Ranger, if the last be ready, on a cruise against the enemy. You being the superior officer, will, of course, command the whole: and ours will be, that they obey yours accordingly. You are to proceed with these ships immediately, to the southerly parts of the banks of Newfoundland, and there to cruise; and to the southward of said banks, as the most likely cruising ground to effect the double purpose of intercepting the enemy's outward-bound transports for New York, &c., and the homeward-bound West India ships. You will keep that ground steadily, as long as is consistent with your security: taking care to alter your station, when you have reason to suppose, from your long continuance on that ground, or other circumstances, that the enemy may have gained intelligence of you; in which case you will proceed to such places as you and the commanders of the other ships shall judge most likely to answer the purposes of the cruise: taking care, also, at proper times, to be on the banks, so that any ships we may hereafter send to join you, may be able to find you. During your cruise you are to take, burn, sink, or destroy as many of the enemy's ships as may fall in your way, directing to the continental agent of any port, such prizes as you may think proper to send in. You are to take proper care of your ship and her stores, and to cause proper returns of the expenditures of all provisions and stores, to be made on your return. You will observe the greatest frugality and strict discipline on board, taking care at the same tine to use your officers and men well, and your prisoners with humanity. You are to continue your cruise as long as your provisions and other circumstances will admit, and then return into this,, or some other convenient port of the United States, leaving you at liberty, nevertheless, if on consulting the other commanders, it shall be judged practicable to intercept the homeward-bound ships from Hudson's bay, to proceed for that purpose toward the end of your cruise; and if you meet with little success and your ships should remain well manned, you may,. when your provisions are near expended, proceed and cruise in the West Indies during the winter: Mr. Stephen Ceronia at Cape Francois, or Mr. William Bingham at Martinico, continental agent, will supply you with the necessaries. On your way out you are to see this coast clear of the enemy's cruisers, and particularly range down the eastern shore, and if the Ranger do not sail with you rendezvous at - - - - - for a few days, where she will join you. You are to return lists of your men and stores on board, and at the end of the cruise cause proper returns to be made of the expenditures. We wish you a successful cruise.And are your servants, &c.,
In pursuance of the above orders he proceeded on to the eastern coast, to look for !he enemy's cruisers, and spending nearly four weeks in cruising on ad off the coast of Newfoundland. He, on the 24th of July, fell in with the homeward-bound Jamaica fleet, of nearly one hundred and fifty sail, convoyed by a seventy-four gun ship and some smaller vessels. He continued with them for two days, under British colors, pretending to be ships from Halifax, joining the convoy. From the first prize captured by boarding in the night, he got possession of the signals of the commodore, and made use of them to keep up the deception. Some of the prizes were taken possession of by inviting the captain of the Jamaica ship on board the Halifax vessels, and while he was below, sending his boat with their own well manned to secure the balance of the crew, and man the ship with his own men, which was accomplished without making so much noise as to attract the notice of the convoy. During the night each captured ship slackened sail and altered her course so much as to be out of sight of the fleet in the morning. At night the seventy-four carried a light at her mizzen-top, as a guide to the course to be pursued by the fleet. Whipple, taking advantage of this, hoisted one at his own mizzen, and thus decoyed several ships so far out of their course as to be beyond the reach of aid in the morning, and then took possession of them. This could easily be done amongst one hundred and fifty sail, without their number being missed from the fleet. By these devices he managed to gain possession of ten large Jamaica ships, which were as many as he could man with American crews. Had be attempted their capture in an open manner, by daylight, he might have lost some of his own squadron, and taken less prizes, as he was unable to contend with the seventy-four gun ship with all his force. The merchant ships also carried a number of guns, and could have afforded considerable aid in beating him off. His object ever was, like a sensible man, to annoy the enemy as much as he could, with the least possible loss to himself, and gain by ingenuity what he could not do by open force. Right of his prizes were brought safely into Boston harbor, while two were recaptured. They had on board six thousand hogsheads of sugar, besides ginger, pimento, and cotton, being valued at more than a million of dollars. The eight prizes were armed with an average of fourteen guns each, or one hundred and thirteen in the whole. Could these prizes have been sold at their real value, Com. Whipple's share would have been one-twentieth of this sum; the rules adopted by Congress in the distribution of prize money, allowing this portion to the commander of a squadron, and two-twentieths to the captains of single ships, of those captured by them when on a cruise. Yet, from the impoverished condition of the country, and the scarcity of money, it is not probable he actually realized more than moiety of the amount. He, however, received sufficient to greatly improve his present condition, which was actually that of a poor man. With the avails of this cruise he bought a handsome house and lot in Providence, and a fine farm in the neighboring town of Cranston.
On the 20th of November, he received the following order from the navy board:
Navy Board, Eastern Department,
Boston, November 20, 1779.
To Abraham Whipple, Esq., commander of the ship Providence:
Your ship being now ready for the sea, you are, as commanding officer, to take under your command the ships Boston, Queen of France, and Ranger; and with them you are to embrace the first fair wind, and without any kind of delay, proceed to sea; and when they fleet under your command are five leagues to the southward of the lighthouse, you are to open the orders inclosed, and follow the directions therein given. If by any misfortune to you, the command of the Providence should devolve on Capt. Hacker, now acting as first lieutenant, he will, as the eldest captain, take command of the fleet, and is to obey orders given you. We wish you success, and are your servants, &c.,Wm. Vernon,
What those sealed orders were, does not appear on record; but doubtless were for him to proceed with all expedition, to Charleston, S.C., and place himself and fleet under the command of Gen. Lincoln, who was charged with the defense of that place. On the 23rd of that month, he sailed, with the ships under his command, and when united with those at Charleston, formed the largest American squadron, under the command of one officer, ever assembled during the war. The voyage was rough and tempestuous, and his ships received considerable damage; nevertheless, he reached the destined port on the 19th of December. On the 20th of January, being weary of inactivity, he applied to Gen. Lincoln for liberty to make a cruise of observation, and ascertain the position of the enemy's fleet, which had been looked for, a considerable time, on its way from New York, with the army of Gen. Clinton, to invest Charleston. On the second or third day out, he fell in with the British feet, and took four of their transports, laden with troops, provisions, &c., but was himself chased back into port, by four ships of war; and in a short time after, the enemy commenced their preparations for a regular siege of the city. This was his last feat on the ocean; the brilliant sunshine of success, which had so long brightened his course, now set in clouds and gloomy disaster. Neptune, the ruler of the sea, had befriended him all his life, and when he forsook his service, and entered into battle on the solid land, his good fortune departed, and his beloved ships perished, or fell into the hands of the enemy. Amidst all his exposures and hairbreadth escapes in his numerous sea-fights, he was never wounded; but, like Washington, bore a charmed life, not to be destroyed by his enemies.
The defense of Charleston was the first attempt of the Americans to maintain a town against a besieging army; and its disastrous termination taught them, when too late, that their unwalled, open cities, were poorly calculated for defense. The winter of 1780 proved to be one of great severity, even at the south, and the cold nearly as great as that common to the middle states. The sailors in Com. Whipple's fleet had been shipped for a six months' cruise in a southern latitude; and not knowing their final destination, were entirely unprovided with clothing for the severe winter which followed. There was no clothing for them in the vessels, and no other resources to relieve their wants but from his own funds. The generosity of their commander toward sailors was unbounded; and to alleviate their sufferings, he advanced several thousand dollars from his own funds, to cover their shivering bodies in garments suited to the season. These supplies were delivered to the pursers of the several ships under his command, and the amounts deducted from their wages, as is customary in such cases; and yet, from the subsequent loss of the fleet, and perhaps, also, the books of the pursers, he had not, in 1786, received a single dollar for this noble and generous expenditure in the cause of his country nor did he ever obtain a tithe of the amount justly due him.
During the siege an almost daily correspondence was carried on with Gen. Lincoln, who constantly consulted him in the disposition of the ships for the defense of the city, and the annoyance of the enemy. A large number of these letters are on the files of his naval manuscripts, preserved with much care; but as they relate to so very interesting or particular events, they will not be quoted, but the history of the siege given, as related by Dr. Ramsey. From the beginning to the end of this disastrous affair, Com. Whipple, with his officers and men, exerted themselves with untiring assiduity and the greatest gallantry, in defending the place, as well after the destruction of their ships as before. The batteries erected from the ship's guns on the banks of the Cooper river, and manned by their crews, were very annoying to the besiegers, and prolonged the investment until the expenditure of their provisions threatened them with starvation, and did full as much toward their final surrender as the guns of the enemy.
"The British fleet, with their troops on board, six thousand in number, under the command of Sir Henry Clinton, sailed from New York on the 26th of December, 1779. Their outward course was boisterous and disastrous, losing nearly all their cavalry horses, and it was as late as the 11th of February, 1780, before they landed at the distance of thirty miles from Charleston. On the 29th of March, Clinton passed over Ashley river, and commenced erecting batteries for the siege of the town. Gen. Lincoln constructed lines of defense across Charleston neck, from Cooper to Ashley river." On the 12th of April the British batteries were opened. Their fleet under Admiral Arbuthnot, of eight ships, one a sixty-four, crossed the bar on the 20th of March, and anchored in "five fathom hole;" while the fleet under Com. Whipple, composed of smaller vessels, being unable to prevent their crossing the bar at the mouth of the harbor, retreated up to Charleston, where his ships were disarmed, and the crews and guns of all the fleet but one, were put on shore to reinforce the batteries." Although sailors are the bravest of men, whether fighting on the land or the water; yet when on shore they are deprived of their favorite element, and lose that esprit de corps so peculiar to them on ship board. The commodore felt the want of sea room, and the fresh breezes of the ocean, by which to maneuver his ships, and to point his guns. When he reluctantly abandoned his vessels and stepped on to terra firma, he was like an eagle with his wings clipped, unable to soar aloft, or pounce upon his prey; nevertheless, his men behaved bravely, and did all they could do for the defense of the town. "The fire of the British was much superior to that of the Americans; the former having twenty-one mortars and royals, and the latter only two; while their battering cannon were much larger and more numerous, with three times as many men. During the siege Sir Henry Clinton received a reinforcement of three thousand men, making in all nine thousand land forces to oppose, while Gen. Lincoln had less than three thousand. By the 6th of May the provisions of the besieged were nearly exhausted, and the inhabitants of the town became clamorous with the American commander for a surrender of the place, as they could sustain the siege no longer. On the 11th day of May the town was surrendered, and the brave defenders became prisoners of war to a man who proved to be a very ungenerous enemy, and treated his captives with all the rigor so prevalent at that period, when the Americans were considered as rebels, and not as common enemies, and therefore, not entitled to the usages of the laws of nations." On the final results of the siege, he remarks, "I faithfully exerted myself to promote the interest and honor of my country; and although the town as surrendered, American honor was triumphant."
After the capitulation, he made an arrangement with Admiral Arbuthnot, into whose charge the seamen luckily fell instead of Sir H. Clinton, for their parole; agreeing that the seamen and marines should be exchanged, when an. opportunity offered. But none such occurred, as the British government decided on keeping in prison all the American seamen which fell into their hands, until the close of the war. Their depredations had been so severe on their commerce, that they considered this the only effectual mode of restraining them. While their seamen amounted to eighty-five thousand, the Americans could at no time muster, probably, more than five thousand. The loss of so large a number of the continental ships, at the fall of Charleston, nearly ruined the American navy, and put a stop to any further effective operations by sea. The presence of the French fleet on our coasts, supplied in some degree the loss of our own, and caused Congress to think there was not so much need of a navy as in the early years of the war, when they had to contend singlehanded with the most powerful marine in the world. Admiral Arbuthnot was doubtless acquainted with the name and character of Com. Whipple, and felt more respect for a brave man in misfortune than many of the enemy's commanders in the land service, who were generally notorious for their cruelty and ungenerous conduct to their American prisoners. Some delay must have taken place in carrying out the capitulation, as he did not reach Chester in Pennsylvania, the place of destination for the seamen, until the last of June. Disease prevailed extensively amongst his men, as is almost universally the case in besieged towns, especially the small-pox, which continued to be the scourge of the American troops, from the beginning to the end of the war. At Chester, no regular hospitals were provided for the sick, and with his characteristic generosity, Com. Whipple, hired a suitable house for their accommodation at his own expense, furnishing them with all needed supplies for their comfort, whereby he says, "Many useful lives were preserved to their country." At this place he remained two years and seven months, a prisoner, the most dreary of his life, until at the close of the war, he was exchanged for Capt. Gayton, of the Romulus, a forty-four gun frigate. During all this period, he was deprived of the means of earning a subsistence; and himself and family were to be supported out of his former stores, so that at the declaration of peace, he was left in a destitute condition, at the age of fifty years, a period when the energies and ambition of most then began to fail.
In 1786, he petitioned Congress for a redress of his grievances; and that they would do him justice, by repaying the amount they justly owed him. At the close of the petition, after stating his services in the cause of liberty, (a paper which has afforded dates for all the interesting events of his life,) he says, "Thus having exhausted the means of supporting myself and family, I was reduced to the sad necessity of mortgaging my little farm, the remnant I had left, to obtain money for a temporary support. This farm is now gone; and having been sued out of possession, I am turned into the world at an advanced age, feeble and valetudinary, with my wife and children, destitute of a house, or a home that I can call my own, or have the means of hiring. This calamity has arisen from two causes; viz.: First, from my disbursing large sums in France and Charleston. In the former, I expanded for the service of the United States, to the amount of three hundred and sixty French guineas; a large part of that sum was appropriated to the pay of a company of marines; the other part for sea stores to accommodate a number of gentlemen passengers, sent on board by the commissioners, to take passage for America, for which I have never been recompensed. And secondly, my having served the United States from the 15th of June, 1775 to December, 1782, without receiving a farthing of wages, or subsistence from them, since December, 1776. My advances in France and Charleston amount, in the whole, to nearly seven thousand dollars in specie, exclusive of interest. The repayment of this, or a part of it, might be the happy means of regaining the farm I have been obliged to give up, and snatch my family from misery and ruin."
This sum with the interest would, in 1786, amount to at least ten thousand dollars; add to this, six years' pay and subsistence, at one thousand dollars a year, and there was sixteen thousand dollars due him for time and money, expended in the service of the United States. On the 10th of October, 1786, the commissioner of accounts in the marine department, to whom was referred the petition, reported in its favor, when Congress directed him to refund the money advanced in France, but say nothing about the disbursements at Charleston. What the sum allowed to him was, is not stated, but in an application which he made in 1811, for a pension, he says he was paid in "final settlements, or United States securities, which owing to his indigent circumstances at that time, he was obliged to sell for two shillings and sixpence in the pound, or a discount of more than eighty per cent. He had but two choices; either to do this, or to let his family suffer for the necessaries of life." Thus, the government, instead of paying him in specie, or money equivalent to that which he had advanced for them, paid him in their worthless paper, which purporting to be valuable for its face, was little better to him than so many rags. Owing to the low credit of the country, it fell into the hands of greedy speculators, who finally realized, and put into their own pockets, the very money due to Com. Whipple. But he, generous man, was not the only one who suffered from his country's poverty; hundreds of others , both of the army and navy, who had spent years in the service of the republic, received nothing in return but these "final certificates," the more shadow of a reality. Soon after his exchange, he received permission from Robert Morris, one of the board of admiralty, to leave the service of the United States. It is as follows:
Marine Office, Philadelphia, April 23rd, 1782.
Leave of absence is hereby granted to Capt. Abraham Whipple, of the American navy, to go into private service, until called upon.Robert Morris,
He now resided, like Cincinnatus, on his little farm in Cranston, and guided a plow instead of a ship. After the peace was fully established in 1784, the merchants of Providence resumed their foreign navigation; and one of the first ships sent to Great Britain, was built and owned by John Brown, of Providence. She was called the "General Washington," and a fine figure of his noble person graced her bows. The command of the vessel was given to Com. Whipple, and he had the honor of first unfurling the American flag on the river Themes. Her fine model and attractive name excited the notice of the cockneys, and hundred of persons daily visited her, as a rare sight from the new republic. This notice was not a little flattering to the pride of the commodore, who fully sustained the dignity of his country, and answered their numerous questions with propriety and kindness.
After his return from this voyage, he continued to live on his farm, and during the stormy period of the paper-money war in Rhode island, was elected a representative to the Legislature from the town of Cranston, in 1786. The advocates of the paper-money system were then in power, and chose Othniel Gorton, a clumsy old man, for speaker. Mr. John Howland, who narrates the following anecdote, says, "It was the habit of Gorton to keep a large quid of tobacco in one side of his mouth, which pressed out one of his cheeks. The most of the debaters were on the opposite side of the hall from that on which the commodore sat, and the speaker's face was generally turned that way. Once in the course of the debate, Whipple had cogitated a speech, which he waited for a chance to deliver. At last, out of patience, he rose and called, 'Mr. Speaker!' The speaker, whose face was the other way, did not hear him. He then raised his voice to its utmost limit, 'Mr. Speaker!' The speaker started, and turning to the commodore said, 'I hear you, sir,' rather audibly. Whipple then began as follows: 'I wish, Mr. Speaker, you would shift your quid of tobacco from your starboard to your larboard jaw, that it might give your head a cant this way, so that you could sometimes hear something from this side of the house.' He then commenced his speech, which was not a long one, and when through, sat down." This anecdote is in character with the man, who often spoke in nautical phrases, and sometimes in language rough as the ocean's winds, amidst whose waves he had been cradled.
On the formation of the Ohio Company, he emigrated with his wife and son to Marietta, in company with the family of Col. Sproat, who had married his daughter Catherine. He was now fifty-five years old, when he left the land of his forefathers, to seek a new home in the valley of the Ohio. The fertility of the new world had been so much lauded by its advocates, that it conveyed to the mind the idea of a second Paradise. The first settlers, however, found that the "briars and thorns" of the curse were there, if not in reality, yet under the semblance of the tomahawk and knife of the Indian. The first six years of his residence here, were passed in constant danger from the savage foe, although, from his age he was not exposed so much to their attacks as younger men. He, however, once had a little taste of the feeling which attends the too near approach of the hostile Indian. Col. Sproat, with whom he constantly resided, during the war, had built a log-house about midway between the garrison at the Point and Campus Martius, and cleared a piece of ground for a garden. On this land Com. Whipple had a fine patch of melons, which somebody stole and carried away for several nights. Supposing the boys of the garrison were the depredators, he one moonlight night concluded to watch for the rogues, by standing sentry in the loghouse, a few yards only from the melons. With his old musket well charged, he took his stand by one of the loop-holes in the logs. About midnight three Indians stepped over the fence and commenced searching for ripe melons. Not expecting depredators of this kind, he looked quietly on, in silence. He could have easily killed one or more of them, with his well loaded musket; but he felt no enmity toward them; they had never injured him nor any of his kindred; but on the contrary, himself and countrymen were intruding on them, and taking the land of their fathers and themselves from them. And as to the melons they were not worth the life of a man, even of a savage. He resolved thus with himself. "If they do not attack me, I will not attack them." Had they been his old oppressors, the redcoats, and in time of war, as it then was with the Indians, his conduct would have been very different. He did not refrain from any fear of the result, for the report of his shot would have brought instant aid from the garrison, not one hundred rods distant, and the Indians would have fled without any attempt on the house, as they would at once conclude it contained more than one man. When they had selected such melons as suited them, they retired; and the commodore rested quietly the remainder of the night. At sunrise he returned to the garrison, but did not watch the melons again.
After the peace in 1796, he moved with his wife to a small farm of twelve acres, on the bank of the Muskingum river, two miles from its mouth. He was now in his sixty-third year, and had no other means of support than the produce of this land, cultivated with his own hands. On this scanty plantation he continued to live and to labor for fifteen years, raising barely sufficient of the most common necessaries of life to support him and his aged partner in a very frugal manner, but lacking the most of its comforts, especially comfortable clothing, which was scarce and dear in the new settlements. He thus manfully struggled on, without murmuring or complaining, respected and honored by his acquaintance for his perseverance and industry.
At length in 1811, when he was seventy-eight years old and the powers of nature has so far failed that he could no longer follow the plow, or delve the earth, he applied to Congress, urged thereto by his friends, for a pension. They granted him half-pay of a captain in the navy, or thirty dollars a month. This relieved him from any further anxiety as to a support in the last days of his life, and rendered the remaining years easy and free from care.
Once during this agricultural period, he was allowed to visit the sea, snuff its saline breezes, and again be lulled to sleep in his cot by the dash of the ocean's waves, strangely calling to mind the scenes of his early manhood.
In the year 1800, some of the enterprising men of Marietta, formed a company for building a small vessel, and actually built, rigged, and loaded with produce, a brig of one hundred and four tons, named the St. Clair, in honor of the governor of the northwest territory. Her cargo was made up of pork and flour, and she cleared from Marietta in May, 1801, that town having been made a port of clearance. She crossed the falls of the Ohio in safety, and early in July was at New Orleans, then in the occupancy of the Spaniards, where the brig lay some days anchored in the stream, from the extravagance of the port charges, while she took on board some stores for the voyage. In July he sailed for the town of Havana, with a crew composed chiefly of landsmen. His first mate was a good seaman, but entirely ignorant of navigation, not being able to take an observation, or ascertain the latitude, so that if any accident had happened to Com. Whipple, no one on board could navigate the vessel. The second mate was Bennet Cook, a young, active man, and a good sailor, but ignorant of navigation. The St. Clair, however, reached her destined port in safety. Provisions of all kinds were scarce and dear, affording a fine market for her load. The flour sold for forty dollars a barrel, but was subject to a duty of twenty dollars. This port has always been noted for its high duties, which served to enrich the government, but to impoverish the people. With the proceeds of the cargo, he bought a load of sugar. It was late in August before the brig left the port of Havana on her voyage to Philadelphia, where she was consigned and finally sold. In the meantime the yellow fever broke out in the place and attacked several of the crew, some of them several days after leaving the island. Fortunately for Com. Whipple, he found his son John who had several years on the sea, and a finished sailor, at this port, and engaged him for the voyage as his mate. His health remained firm, and with his aid the brig reached Philadelphia, in distress, from sickness and death amongst the crew. The voyage was a productive one to the owners, and encouraged the inhabitants of Marietta to continue the business. Com. Whipple returned to his home by land, but did not navigate any more vessels to the sea. The St. Clair was the first rigged vessel ever built on the Ohio river, and he had the honor of conducting her to the ocean. In after life he used to claim the distinction of firing the first gun at the British in the Revolutionary war on the ocean, and navigating the first vessel built on the Ohio river to the sea. On the latter occasion Capt. Jonathan Devol, who possessed all the imagination of a post, if he lacked the harmony of measure, wrote the following lines.
The scene is laid at the mouth of the Mississippi, and as Com. Whipple entered the ocean with the St. Clair, Neptune and his Tritons are supposed to welcome him with military honors.
"The Triton crieth,
'Who cometh now from shore?'
' 'Tis the old commodore.'
Long has it been since I saw him before,
In the year seventy-five from Columbia he came,
The pride of the Briton on ocean to tame:
And often, too, with his gallant crew,
Hath he crossed the belt of ocean blue.
On the Gallic coast
I have see him tost,
While his thundering cannon lulled my waves,
And roused my nymphs from their coral caves;
When he fought for freedom with all his braves,
In the war of the Revolution.
But now he comes from the western woods,
Descending slow with gentle floods,
The pioneer of a might train,
Which commerce brings to my domain.
Up, some of the wave,
Great the noble and brave!
Present your arms unto him.
His gray hair shows,
Life nears its close:
Lets pay the honors due him.
Sea-maids attend with lute and lyre,
And bring your conchs, my Triton sons;
In chorus blow to the aged sire,
A welcome to my dominions."
For several years after this period, ship-building was carried on with great spirit at Marietta; but Com. Whipple, having opened the way to the ocean, left the future guidance of the navigation to younger men. Not less than twenty ships, brigs and schooners, from one hundred and fifty to four hundred and fifty tons burthen, were built up to the year 1808, besides some of Mr. Jefferson's gun boats. Two or three of their number were lost in attempting to pass the rapids at Louisville, when the water was too low, but at a proper stage no difficulty was experienced. Several of them took in cotton from the plantations on the Mississippi, for Liverpool, in addition to their other lading, as the cotton bales were so loosely packed at that time, that a ship could not be fully loaded with that article. Owing to its bulky nature, ten cents a pound was charged for the freight.
As has been observed, in 1811, Com. Whipple received from Congress the half pay of a captain in the service, or thirty dollars a month; which enabled him to cease from laboring with his own hands for the support of himself and wife, which he had been obliged to do for the last twenty-three years.
In early life he married Miss Sarah Hopkins, the sister of Gov. Hopkins, of Rhode Island, a woman every way worthy of him, and with whom he lived to enjoy the smiles, or to bear the frowns, of fortune, for more than fifty years. The fruits of this marriage were two daughters and one son. The oldest daughter was married to Col. Ebenezer Sproat, and the younger to Dr. Comstock, of Smithfield, R.I., where she resided after her father's removal to Ohio. John, his only son, continued to follow the sea, after leaving Marietta, and never married, so that the family name perished at the death of its illustrious founder. Several descendants of the female branches are living in the states of Michigan, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, under the names of Sibley, Comstock, and Fisher.
In person Com. Whipple was rather short, thickset and stout, with great muscular strength in the days of his manhood; eyes dark grey, with manly, strongly marked features, indicating firmness and intrepidity. He was fond of daring exploits, and the more hazardous they were, with so much the greater alacrity he entered into them. For stern, rigid discipline, no man in the American navy exceeded him; and yet from numerous letters on his files addressed to him by his subordinates, he appears to have been loved and highly respected by those under his command. It was often noticed by the sailors, that in fair, pleasant weather, with a smooth sea, he was irritable and surly; but as soon as the severe gale or storm arose, and there was actual danger, his countenance brightened, while the most cheerful, animated air, took possession of the man, diffusing life and courage into all around him, so that no crew could be cowardly with such a leader. When in the greatest danger, he was the most at his ease. His benevolence and kind feelings for those under his charge were never repaid by the government, and for which he suffered years of privation and labor, at a period of his life when want bears most heavily on the mind of man. It is presumed that no other one amongst the military or naval commanders of the Revolution, expended as much for the men under their care, with the exception of that extraordinary and good man, the Marquis Lafayette. His success on the ocean was not exceeded by that of any other in the navy; and, although exposed to the greatest dangers and hazards, was never captured or wounded by his enemies, while at sea; but when he stepped on to dry land, his good fortune forsook him, and at the surrender of Charleston, he became a captive for more than two years. His exploits and character will long be remembered by the inhabitants of Rhode Island and Marietta; while his name and portrait ought to occupy a distinguished place, instead of being passed by in silence, in The American Portrait Gallery, amongst the celebrated men of the Revolution.
He died after a short illness, on the 29th of May, in the year 1819, aged eighty-five years, at a small farm, three miles from Marietta, where he had resided for several years, near his widowed daughter, Mrs. Catharine Sproat, whose soothing cares and tender assiduities smoothed her parent's progress to the grave. His wife, Mrs. Sarah Whipple, died in October, 1818, preceding him but a few months, aged seventy-nine years. They lie buried side by side, in the beautiful mound square at Marietta, and his tombstone reads:
to the memory of
Commodore Abraham Whipple
whose name, skill and courage,
will ever remain the pride and
boast of his country."
"Last Tuesday returned to Providence, after a successful cruise, Capt. Abraham Whipple, of the Game Cock privateer; who sailed from this place on the 19th of July last, having taken in said cruise, twenty-three French prizes, many of which were valuable. Capt. W. on his passage home on the 26th of January, spoke with Capt. Robert Brown, in a sloop from Monte Christo, bound to New York, in lat. 39 deg. 30 min., and long. 72 deg. 40 min. in great distress for want of water and provisions, which he generously supplied him."