Today, the Massachusetts State Quarter Coin remembers the activities of one of the Navy’s first heroes 240 years ago.
Robert Ephraim Peabody wrote of the gentleman in his 1909 work, The Naval Career of Captain John Manley of Marblehead.
There has been much confusion regarding the manner in which these armed schooners were commissioned. Some historians call them naval vessels. Thomas Clark in his ” Naval History” speaks of them as privateers, and Edgar S. Maclay in his “History of the Navy” calls them State cruisers.
Practically all writers take one of these three opinions, but a careful study of the American Archives supplemented by the information contained in the original documents in the possession of the Beverly Historical Society shows the real status of these vessels.
They were fitted out and commissioned by Washington, as General of the Continental Army, in connection with his siege of Boston, solely to intercept supplies going to the British army in Boston.
They were chartered at the Continental expense, but their captains were captains in the army of the United Colonies and their crews were soldiers from the army who still received their pay from the army paymaster.
The vessels were under the control of Washington as leader of the siege of Boston.
The “Lee” is said to have been a half -decked schooner of 72 tons and had been used by her owner, Thomas Grant of Marblehead, as a fishing vessel. For that work she was rigged, like other boats of her class, with a mainsail, foresail, and jib; but when her owner occasionally sent her on a trip to the West Indies she was equipped with a big square sail on the fore topmast, thus making her what is technically known as a topsail schooner.
It was this latter rig that she carried while in the service of the United Colonies. Her armament consisted of ten swivels and four 4-pound cannon, the latter having been lent by Captain John Derby of Salem. Twenty rounds of ammunition were supplied for each cannon and swivel.
After many exasperating delays, especially in procuring the ammunition, on October 27th Glover and Moylan were able to send to Washington the cheering news that “Capt. Manley’s vessel is all ready and we now only await the collecting together his hopeful crew to send him off.”
The following day the crew went aboard and on Oct. 29, 1775 the armed schooner “Lee,” Capt. John Manley, sailed from Marblehead with the pine tree flag flying defiantly at the main truck.
The next we hear of the “Lee” is on November 1st, when for some reason she put into Plymouth. Here she was detained by head winds till the 6th, when she went out to sea again.
In the next few days Manley fell in with his first prize, a small Continental schooner loaded with fire wood, which had been captured a few days before by the H. M. S. “Cerebus,” then cruising in Massachusetts Bay.
The little vessel was being sent in to Boston with a prize crew on board, consisting of the master, who was a midshipman, and a crew of two marines and four sailors from the “Cerebus.” Manley had little trouble in retaking her and sent her into Marblehead.
For over a fortnight after this event Manley cruised in Massachusetts Bay with little success, and dissatisfaction was expressed with the armed schooners.
“I am in very great want of powder, lead, mortars, indeed most sorts of military stores,” wrote Washington to Congress, and added, “A fortunate capture of an ordinance ship would give new life to the camp, and an immediate turn to the issue of this campaign.”
On Nov. 26th he sent word to Capt. William Bartlett, his agent at Beverly, that an English merchant ship in convoy of a frigate had arrived at Boston about a fortnight before, but that the brig “Nancy” loaded with a very valuable cargo of military stores, which had been in company with them, had not yet arrived, and her non-appearance was causing much anxiety to the British in Boston.
Manley was in Beverly at that time taking on provisions and having received this news he immediately sailed in hopes of intercepting this valuable craft.
Three days later, on November 29th, while cruising about ten miles east of Cape Ann he sighted a brig.
Bearing down upon her he found her to be no other than the very vessel he was awaiting, the “Nancy” of 250 tons, Robert Hunter, master, bound from Woolwich Arsenal to Boston.
She was but lightly armed and struck to Manley without hesitation. Before night he had brought her to a safe anchorage in Fresh Water Cove on the west shore of Gloucester outer harbor.
The more important items in the cargo were 2000 muskets and bayonets, 8000 fuses, 31 tons of musket shot, 3000 round shot for 12-pounders, 2 6-pounders, several barrels of powder, a 13 in. brass mortar, and a great assortment of all necessary tools and utensils for military operations.
Had Washington sent Congress an order for supplies he could not have made out a list of articles more completely filling his needs than did the cargo of the “Nancy.”
The Continental army was almost destitute of stores and this capture was of inestimable value to them.
“We must be thankful ” wrote Washington, “for this instance of Divine favor ; for nothing surely ever came more apropos,” and John Adams on hearing the news is said to have exclaimed, “We must succeed — Providence is with us.”
As soon as the capture was reported to Washington he ordered out the Essex County minute men to Cape Ann to protect the stores and impressed every available team to remove them with all haste.
With 450 minute men under his command Glover soon had the stores removed to places of safety and four days later, on December 3d, a long, heavily laden, flag-bedecked train of wagons carrying the cargo of the “Nancy,” came rolling into the camp at Cambridge.
“Such universal joy ran through the whole,” writes an officer who was present,” as if each grasped victory in his hand: to crown the glorious scene there intervened one truly ludicrous, which was old Put mounted on the large mortar which was fixed in its bed for the occasion, with a bottle of rum in his hand, standing parson to christen, while god-father Mifflin gave it the name of ‘Congress.’
The huzzas on the occasion, I dare say, were heard through all the territories of our most gracious sovereign in this Province.”
It is said that the British in Boston heard this hilarity across the Charles river, but it was not till a week later that they learned its meaning.
On Dec. 8, 1775, Peter Oliver, Jr. wrote from Boston to Ex-Gov. Thomas Hutchinson in London as follows:
“The Ordinance Brigg was taken the 1st Instant, by one of their pirates, and carried into Cape Ann. To send an Ordinance Brigg of such a value out so poorly mann’d and arm’d looks very odd. We have 8 or 10 Pirate vessels out between the Capes, and yet our Men-of-War are chiefly in the Harbour. Two thirds of the troop and provision vessels are out, yet we expect they will be taken, many of them.”
Oliver was justified in his fears, and no one did more to help justify them than Capt. Manley.
On December 3, 1775 this intrepid mariner brought into Marblehead his second important prize, the ship “Concord” of 300 tons, James Lowrie, master, from Glasgow for Boston with a cargo of dry goods and coal to the value of £3606 19s 6d sterling.
In less than a week he added two more prizes to his list in a single day.
On December 9th while cruising in the bay he fell in with the ship “Jenny,” Capt. William Foster, seven weeks out from London, bound for Boston. She was armed with only two-double fortified six pounders and six blunderbusses and carried a crew of but eighteen men, so that Manley had little difficulty in taking her.
She proved to be a valuable prize, being a vessel of 300 tons with a cargo of coal and a variety of provisions of which the chief items were “about 100 butts of porter, cheese, and forty live hogs, thirty more having died on the passage.”
Hardly had Manley made this capture when a brig flying the British flag was sighted bearing down on him.
A current issue of the Essex Gazette tells us rather humorously how this vessel was captured.
The brig “wanting a pilot, and seeing the ship and the privateer together, supposed the latter could help her to one; she accordingly made for them. She soon came up, when Capt. Manley readily afforded her a pilot, and conducted her together with the ship, very safely into Beverly harbour.”
The brig was the “Little Hannah” of 150 tons, Robert Adams, master, bound from Antigua to Boston, with a cargo of “about 130 puncheons of rum, 100 cases of gin, some cocoa, sugar, and a cask of oranges to please the delicate appetite of my Lord Howe.”
She was later sold for $25,000, and together with the “Jenny” made a very profitable day’s work for Manley and his crew.
The Massachusetts State Quarter Coin shows with a view of Boston Harbor, circa 1775, from Fort Hill.