ON LOCAL HISTORY: From War, Capt. John Lee, Jr. Returns To Manchester


This article is a continuation of a multipart story introduced on March 31 of Manchester’s Capt. John Lee, Jr.  This week we pick up Lee’s story as he was a wartime prisoner during the American Revolution.

Capt. John Lee Jr., 40, a captured privateer commander, was badly mistreated while in prison in England for nearly two years starting in 1778 (from Mill Prison in Plymouth he was transferred to Forton Prison near Portsmouth).  

Three times he tried to escape, for which he and a few others were confined, malnourished and in rags, in the damp and cold of the so-called Black Hole.  One day he was released to meet with a gentleman who had come to the prison gate.  The stranger gave him a bag of money and instructions.  Paying his way out dressed as a prison guard, Captain Lee rendezvou’d that night with his benefactor, who arranged for his passage to America.  The stranger, who remained anonymous, was Gen. John Burgoyne of the British army, who, while captive in America, had been well-treated by his warden, Col. Wm. Raymond Lee, Capt. John’s brother, and had promised to do all he could toward securing the latter’s release as a debt of gratitude.

Capt. John Lee (1738-1812), who stood 5’ 4” and was dark-complected, finished out his wartime career as commander of the privateers “Tom,” “Cato,” “Grand Monarch,” and “Minerva” (1781).  After the war he retired to Andover as a gentleman farmer, almost disabled by the privations of his years in jail.   His daughter, Hannah, married Maj. Israel Forster of Manchester.

Another Manchester privateer commander was Capt. William Tuck (1740-1826), a native of Beverly whose father had come from Manchester.  William, an ambitious young mariner, married (in 1763) Polly Lee, of a wealthy Manchester family.  Her father, Samuel Lee Jr., was Capt. John Lee Jr.’s uncle.  In the years 1766-1769 William commanded Salem vessels in trade with the Caribbean. He and Polly would have 10 children in Manchester.

By October 1772, William Tuck was sailing in command of vessels owned by his wife’s cousin, Col. Jeremiah Lee of Marblehead and residing there in a house owned by Colonel Lee.  In September 1774, he sailed for Spain in command of the large Lee schooner “Manchester,” and he arrived in Marblehead Harbor in March 1775, from Cadiz.  It is likely that his return cargo (and perhaps the one prior) was gunpowder for the coming war, which began in April 1775.

In 1778, Capt. William Tuck was given command of the Newburyport-based privateer brigantine “Bennington, “mounting 18 guns.  On one 90-day cruise ending in January, Tuck and his men captured several British vessels, including a ship from Jamaica laden with rum and sugar, which was sent safely into Gloucester, and a 12-gun privateer schooner, which may have put up a bloody fight. In between voyages, Tuck served as the town’s representative to the General Court and, by 1780, as moderator of town meeting.  Later in the war, in March 1782, he commanded the large 400-ton privateer ship “Lyon,” carrying 29 deck guns and 90 men, sailing from Salem.  It was to be a brief but fateful voyage (to be continued).

william tuck, john lee, jr., battle of cowan's ford, united kingdom, america, privateer commander, warden, col. wm, jeremiah lee, wm. raymond lee, israel forster, t. a. lee, newburyport, john burgoyne, prison guard, captain, courtesy manchester historical museum, mill prison