Peek Into History: The Last of The Privateers of Manchester in the Revolutionary War


After the Revolution began at Lexington and Concord in April, 1775, the war for independence went on for eight long years.  The land battles were fought in other colonies; but the war at sea was carried on largely from the ports of New England, notably from Salem, Boston, Portsmouth, and Newburyport.  For seafaring men and boys, the fishermen and merchant mariners who made up most of the male inhabitants of Cape Ann, their usual livelihoods had been shut down, so privateering was the way forward.  At first, the rebelling united colonies had no navy at all; then a few battleships were built by order of the Continental Congress; but the main naval force throughout the war was made up of the relatively small vessels—fishing schooners and freighters and, later, captured (former) British merchant vessels—that were fitted by their owners with deck cannon and rail-mounted swivel guns and sent out as licensed privateers to prey on relatively defenseless enemy merchant shipping. 

Among the military leaders of the town was its physician, Dr.  Joseph Whipple, the father of several young children, all residing at now-8 Washington Street (then called High Street).  In July 1777, 19 Manchester men and boys—including Doctor Whipple, bidding farewell to his pregnant wife Eunice—joined a large crew on board the privateer brig “Gloucester.” They had good success at first, capturing two British vessels which arrived in port as prizes; but then came silence.  The silence persisted, and dread set in, and then despondency visited the towns of Cape Ann, for the “Gloucester” never returned—she had gone to the bottom with all on board.

At now-96 School Street, young Andrew Leach signed on board a Newburyport privateer in 1779 with nine fellow townsmen.  Manchester, lacking a real harbor at that time, had no privateering vessels, but sent out many young men like Andrew, who was married to Jenny (Jane) Sample and the father of an infant daughter.  Crowding on board with high hopes of easy victories, the men prepared for a cruise of about three months; but we will never know how long they were at sea, for their vessel, evidently hit by a terrible storm, was seen no more.

Andrew Leach’s brother, Ezekiel (1755-1822), began the war as a soldier and remained so into 1776; thereafter, he went privateering.  He was captured with the rest of a crew and spent years as a prisoner of war.  He survived to be repatriated; and he resumed his sea-roving as a Manchester privateer.  He and his wife Susannah (Sukie) Hilton would have seven surviving children—including a son Andrew, named for his lost brother—all of whom got to hear their father curse out anyone who would even mention the word England. 

After the war ended in 1783, he shipped out as a sea captain, and then became a shoreman, owning fishing vessels and supervising the curing of salt codfish in a fishyard.  Residing in the family home at 96 School Street, he prospered, and came to own trading vessels: the 54-ton schooner “Jane,” and the 90-ton “Active.” After the conclusion of the war in 1783, Capt.  Ezekiel Leach was notable for his generosity to the numerous poor, of whom many were young widows and fatherless children.  The town had lost at least 50 aof its men and boys, gone privateering; the extent of their sacrifice cannot be overstated.

military history of nova scotia, naval battles of the american revolutionary war, history of nova scotia, privateer, warfare, manchester, ezekiel leach, captain, robert booth, manchester historical museum, salem, newburyport, jenny, curator and museum director