The Continuing Saga of Manchester’s Privateers in the Revolutionary War


We’ve been talking about Manchester’s men and boys during the Revolutionary War (1775-1783), and how they took to the seas in privateers based in the seaports of Boston, Salem, Marblehead, Gloucester, and Newburyport. During the long years of warfare, a few Manchester men became soldiers in the continental army, but most stayed home to support their hard-pressed families. In the absence of sea-borne trade and deep-sea fishing, the men found that farming and privateering were the main means of earning a wartime living. Several Manchester families went off to Hopkinton, NH, to engage in farming; the rest stayed in town, with the men shipping out on the privateers for a small share in the value of whatever “prizes” were captured—the value of the vessel as well as its cargo, both of which were auctioned off at wharf-side.

Usually, privateering cruises were to last 90 days, but as the war went on some might extend to European waters as the Americans pursued opportunities to prey on British merchant shipping while avoiding the much larger and better-armed vessels of the Royal Navy. Even a small privateering vessel required a large investment from its merchant owners: in munitions, extra sails and rigging, reinforcement of the hull and bulwarks, and food and drink for the many men on board.

As we have seen, a few Manchester men rose to command the privateers of other ports, while most of the rest of the townsmen shipped out as deckhands and on-board gunners, usually in groups together on the same vessel. One of the commanders was Jeremiah Hibbert (1753-1778), of 1 School Street, who, in October 1776, had married Martha (Patty) Lee, sister of his fellow privateer captain, John Lee Jr. A privateer lieutenant on board the privateer schooner “Franklin” out of Marblehead, Captain Hibbert was given command of the 75-ton privateer schooner “Hawke,” of Newburyport, carrying 10 cannons and eight swivel-guns, in June 1777. Four of his officers were Manchester men, as were some of the crew.

Captain Hibbert, 24, was extremely bold and ambitious: by October 1777, four months at sea, they were off Bilbao, Spain, capturing British vessels coming in with cargoes of fish. After many adventures, naval and diplomatic, Hibbert left Spain for home, having captured several very valuable prizes. In early summer, 1778, he took command of the privateer brigantine “Civil Usage,” 14 guns and 75 men, and cleared away from Newburyport for more adventures on the high seas. The vessel and her men ran into a terrible gale off Portland; heavily laden with food and munitions, she battled to fight her way through high cresting waves, but at last was smashed in. Captain Hibbert, just 25, and all of his men were lost in the sinking of the “Civil Usage.”

These lives, given in the cause of independence, would not be the last from Manchester.

Next time, the story continues. 

Robert Booth is a historian, an award-winning writer, and director of the Manchester Historical Museum.  His column regularly appears in the Cricket.

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