The 'Headers In Life & Legend
by Russell W. Knight

Selman's Raid

Early in the fall of 1775, six months after the Battle of Lexington and Concord, and two weeks after the Hannah came to a sorry end high and dry on a Beverly sandbar, a pair of stub-masted schooners hoisted their sails and headed northward. Usually, when they put to sea, the two vessels made for the Grand Banks. But this time, they did not sail forth to catch cod and haddock. They sailed after bigger game, game so big, so tempting and so valuable that on this particular voyage every manjack on board was armed to the teeth and the vessels themselves bristled with cannon.

Now, the departure of these two armed Grand Bankers is of extreme interest to all Marbleheaders. The men who made up their crews, from captains right down to cabin boys, were all from Marblehead. They were also all members of the Marblehead regiment, a unit of more than 500 men-all but seven of whom had been born and bred within the limits of the town. This justly famous regiment was under the command of Colonel John Glover.

Now, by an odd twist of fate, all of these Marblehead fishermen and deep-sea sailors who had enlisted to serve their country as soldiers in the Continental Army, were ordered to man the two Marblehead fishing schooners which had just been commissioned as naval vessels, and once again become seamen.

So, as queer as it may sound, it is nevertheless true that when the two armed schooners headed out into the Atlantic, their masters were a pair of Marblehead sea captains who took command of them not as sea captains but as officers of the Continental Army. Their crews, all of whom were hardboiled old salts, were men picked right from the ranks of the Marblehead regiment. Thus, when they marched aboard the schooners as soldiers in the American Army, they automatically became sailors once more. And it is interesting to note that the schooners they manned were the very first naval vessels authorized, and armed by a vote of the Continental Congress!

The larger of the pair was a 72-ton Grand Banker, owned by Thomas Grant of Marblehead. Before he rented her to the colonies, he had called her the Speedwell. After she was refitted, however, Glover renamed her the Hancock in honor of John Hancock, then serving as president of the Continental Congress. When she sailed for the Gulf, her commander was Nicholson Broughton, a fifty-year-old mariner and an old-time sea captain who had been recommended to General Washington as a "man of some property and note in said Town of Marblehead."

The second vessel, which Glover rented from a fellow Marbleheader, was originally named the Eliza by her owner Archibald Selman. However, by the time she was armed and outfitted for sea duty, Glover had renamed her for one of the colonies' outstanding patriots. He christened her the Franklin, a name that would have certainly pleased the crafty old printer no end. Especially if he had ever learned that Glover had driven a hard bargain and had rented both schooners for a very low figure, including the cost of some new canvas and a few other incidentals.

For her captain, Glover selected a young and rather impulsive fellow by the name of John Selman. Selman, the son of Joseph and Patience Selman, was also an officer in the Marblehead regiment and twenty years younger than Broughton. But Glover and everyone else acquainted with Selman looked upon him as an able and experienced seaman. Unfortunately, time and circumstance were going to prove that they had misjudged the man.

However, at the time he took command of the Franklin, they probably did not recognize his faults, nor did they know that they were destined to raise havoc with some of Washington's carefully nourished plans. Nor could any of them foresee that Selman, quick-tempered and inclined to be hasty in word and deed, was going to get the general so wrought up that he would tell them off in no uncertain terms.

In all honesty, Washington had good reason to become exasperated with Broughton and Selman. They had not only wrecked his hopes of persuading our Canadian neighbors to join in the rebellion against King George, but they had done worse. They had brought down upon the colonies the wrath of scores of men and women who lived on an island hundreds of miles from Boston. They had also won for themselves and their fellow Marbleheaders the dubious distinction of being labeled a pack of rascally seamen, a bunch of thieves, a gang of dirty kidnappers and a crew of drunken pirates. And if such terms were not bad enough, they had done something else that guaranteed they would be long remembered. They stole the Great Silver Seal of Prince Edward Island, the theft of which the people of that island still resent.

Through the years, there have been many historians who have asserted that Glover was the first man to suggest that the colonies should arm a few vessels and send them out to capture British merchantmen. But others have insisted that the idea came from John Manly who lived down on what is now Norman Street and became a distinguished naval officer. On the other hand, there are those who will state positively that it was none other than our own Elbridge Gerry. Regardless of which one of our fellow townsmen was the first to propose that our country establish a navy, one thing is certain: A Marbleheader unquestionably sparked the idea. This claim is supported by the fact that both the Hancock and the Franklin were Marblehead vessels. They were also the first vessels to be armed, manned and chartered in the name of the Continental Government. The records also show that their owners, their crews and their captains were all Marbleheaders, a fact which strengthens our claim that Marblehead is, indeed, the birthplace of the American Navy!

Thus, the Hancock, Franklin and a handful of schooners formed our first fleet, now called Washington's fleet. And it is interesting to know that the first prize taken by one of those tiny warships was taken by Manly of Marblehead on September 6, 1775. Furthermore, two years later, the last prize they captured was the brigantine Dolphin, which surrendered to the schooner Lee. The Lee, formerly the Marbleheader schooner Two Brothers, was owned by Thomas Stevens.

The Lee brought her capture back into Marblehead harbor as a prize of war. The Dolphin was old and sea-worn, and therefore not much of a vessel. But every man in town was happy to see her anchor, and every single one of them pitched right in and helped unload her. And why not? She was filled with sugar and rum!

Now, if you take a complex situation such as that just described, a capricious Congress, a humorless general, a couple of fishing schooners jam-packed with a bunch of incorrigible Marblehead fishermen, and mix them all together, something dire is bound to happen -- as indeed it did.

Of course, Broughton and Selman would disagree with all the unfavorable remarks made by today's historians. Both claimed that all their capers on Prince Edward Island, their pillaging, their looting and their devilry, were caused by their eagerness to aid the war for independence. And to the day they died, they always insisted that that was their only reason for landing there. Obviously, they must have really believed their own pious claims of patriotism and expediency.

So, Marbleheaders, I fear, will unfortunately have to stand up for Broughton and Selman. Why? Because Marbleheaders cannot escape the fact that the raid and theft of the Great Seal was committed by ... Marbleheaders. Furthermore, Marbleheaders will have to admit that such an outrageous act was not unexpected. For, like all Marbleheaders of that period -- and for that matter -- like every Marbleheader before and after 1775, the men aboard those schooners were both noted and notorious. They were certainly noted for their patriotism, their fighting qualities and their spirit, but they were equally famous because of their scandalous ways, their notorious disregard for law and order, their brawling, their carousing and their unwillingness to accept any restraints whatsoever.

Nor was it only the rough and ready fishermen who gave the town the reputation of being, as the Reverend Mr. Bentley of Salem said: "The most profane, intemperate and ungovernable people on the continent." Almost all early records indicate that it didn't matter whether the men involved in the battles-royal, which so frequently took place here, were swashbuckling sailors, palefaced countinghouse clerks or weather-beaten fishermen. They were all better known in our taverns than they were in our churches.

Now, it is quite possible that Washington did not fully understand how unpredictable and contrary a bunch of fishermen could be. Of course, he had had plenty of trouble with his Yankee troops from the day he had assumed command of the Continental Army. He, no doubt, nursed the idea that sailors were different, that every man that followed the sea was well disciplined and obedient, that they would do exactly as they were ordered to do just as they did in the English or French navies. If he issued any orders, he expected that their officers would not only obey his commands, but that they would carry them out letter for letter, word for word. He soon learned that fishermen did not give a hoot for authority, and that they absolutely refused to accept naval discipline. But it took a gang of Marbleheaders to drive this lesson home!

It is also possible that the commander-in-chief did not have either the time or the opportunity to check on the men he needed to man both vessels. General Washington had other problems plaguing him night and day: he had 15,000 soldiers serving him at Cambridge, Massachusetts, and although they had the British bottled up in Boston, the American troops were in a bad way. They did not have enough powder and shot to attack the redcoats, nor did they have enough to defend themselves if the redcoats attacked them.

Their position was so grave that Washington found it necessary to issue orders forbidding his men to waste potshots on any lobsterback reckless enough to fall within range. Benjamin Franklin was also so worried when he learned that the Americans had fewer than a dozen cartridges apiece that he came forward with a rather bizarre suggestion: as bows and arrows were often more effective than eighteenth- century muskets, he recommended that all Continentals be armed with bows and arrows!

Today, this may sound laughable. But in the fall of 1775, it was far from a laughing matter because the one thing that the colonies did not have were enough mills to produce all the powder that they needed to carry on a full-scale war. On the other hand, His Majesty's troops were receiving cargo after cargo of powder, lead, food, clothing, military supplies and everything else they needed.

England's navy controlled the seas. Furthermore, England had such a firm grip on the sea lanes that her admirals added insult to injury: they were so confident of their own strength, and so calm and unworried by the American rebellion that they did not even bother to provide their transports with armed escorts!

Naturally, such a display of confidence by the enemy, which reflected England's utter contempt for our relative weakness, enraged the delegates to the Continental Congress. But though the delegates were humiliated, they could do nothing about it.

John Adams had proposed sometime earlier, during the summer of 1775, that Congress authorize the building of a navy. However, few of the delegates had the courage to support his suggestion. Some were too timid to back such a move, others were too confused to know what to do, and many maintained that it would be foolish and foolhardy to arm a few small fishing schooners to fight the heavily-gunned warships of His Majesty's navy.

The delegates were indecisive, and therefore took no action until late August, at which time a message addressed to Congress forced the delegates to stop their bickering, their backing and filling, and forced them to fish or cut bait. The message, sent to them by an American spy working in London, stated that two English brigs loaded with guns and powder were preparing to sail for Quebec. The delegates heard the news, and realized that if the cargoes of those two vessels (described by the spy as north country-built brigs) ever reached their destination, that the results would probably spell disaster for the war for independence.

It would also mean the annihilation of the two American forces that were marching northward to attack that Canadian stronghold. The delegates didn't have to be military men to understand what such a defeat would mean to the colonies, but each and every one of them understood only too well that it could prove to be the death blow of the American Rebellion.

If the English at Quebec were able to defeat the American armies there, such a victory would open the St. Lawrence River for them as far up as Montreal. And with Montreal as a jumping-off place, the British could then march down the Hudson River Valley and split the American colonies in two. Faced with such a dangerous situation, the delegates had to do something decisive.

So they did. Within a few hours after the situation was explained to them, they voted to instruct General Washington to hire two vessels from the Massachusetts Bay Colony. They also instructed him to arm and man them, and to send them to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. He was to make it clear to their captains that they were to do their utmost to intercept and capture the English brigs, said to be carrying 6000 muskets and other military stores.

Washington's spirits were lifted the moment he received word that Congress had voted to hire a couple of vessels in order to create a navy. For just a few months earlier and without the knowledge of Congress, he alone had hired the schooner Hannah from Colonel Glover. While Hannah proved to be too small and much too slow to capture any English merchantman, Washington was thoroughly convinced that the one thing the colonies needed was a navy -- despite the fact that his first naval vessel failed to take a worthwhile prize.

Because he had long thought that such was the case, Washington did not waste any time after he received his orders from Congress. He called for Glover, the man he believed could find the vessels and the men he needed. And Glover, after receiving Washington's orders, rushed back to Marblehead and looked up his friends, Archibald Selman and Thomas Grant.

After Glover had explained to them that he wanted two schooners, Selman and Grant told him they would be perfectly willing to rent their vessels, Eliza and Speedwell, provided the colonies agreed to pay for their hire at the rate of a dollar a ton per month. They also insisted that Glover, as agent of the government, promise to pay for all rerigging, some new spars and all the extra canvas they needed. They also stipulated that the colonies foot all the bills for converting the vessels back to fishermen when their sea duty ended. Then, they shrewdly demanded that all money paid them for the use of their schooners be paid in coin lawful and acceptable in Massachusetts. Not surprisingly, all this took a little haggling.

Renting the vessels proved to be the easiest part of Glover's work, however. Because once he had arranged to hire them from Selman and Grant, he would have to prepare the schooners for their cruise to the Gulf. He would have to add new topmasts and extra canvas in an effort to increase their speed. Then, he would have to rebuild them below decks so that they could accommodate the large crews they would have to carry. He would have to find several cannon and mount them on the schooners' decks, and find twenty swivel guns and install them along their rails. He would also have to locate muskets, swords, pistols and spears for use when fighting at close quarters or when boarding enemy ships.

Glover discovered quickly that getting guns and supplies was not at all easy. Merchants and shipowners who had any cannon did not want to part with them. And the carpenters who were to refit the vessels not only demanded too much money, but refused to work overtime or on Sundays. However, storekeepers gave Glover the most trouble. In fact, they almost caused the cruise to be cancelled when they refused to sell him any flour or provisions before Glover paid them outrageous prices.

Nevertheless, Glover was a determined little cuss, one who had had plenty of experience with penny-pinching Yankee merchants. And in the end, despite all the problems and obstacles that he faced, he managed to get the Hancock and Franklin refitted, provisioned, armed and ready to sail in jig-time.

Largely due to Glover's energy and determination, both schooners were ready for sea two-and-a-half weeks after Washington had ordered him to find two vessels to run down the north country brigs. Glover, of course, was able to accomplish so much in such a short time because he had within his own regiment all the officers and men he needed. Broughton, whose Hannah had run aground and been retired from service, became captain of the Hancock while Selman became captain of the Franklin. Both men were officers in Glover's regiment.

Glover's next problem was to round up two good crews, some 150 men who had the skill and seamanship that the voyage called for. To accomplish this, he simply turned to his own regiment and from its ranks, drafted the men needed and sent them aboard the two schooners.
A few days later, on October 22, 1775, Broughton and Selman set out for the cold clammy waters of the Gulf. Had they ever dreamed that before their voyage would end they would create a lot of turmoil and strife, become the first American soldiers to land on foreign soil, be classed with pirates and kidnappers, and that within a month after they had returned to port that they would suffer condemnation and disgrace, it's likely they would never have set sail, much less started out after the English powder brigs.

Because they could not foresee such events, however, they headed down the coast. Their plans stipulated that they were to make for the mouth of the St. Lawrence River and wait there for the English transports to fall into their hands. Because the two enemy brigs were sailing from England unarmed and unescorted, they figured that that would be easy to do.

No one knows exactly what Broughton and Selman would have done if they had known that the spy had incorrectly reported that the brigs were unescorted. For when those two north country brigs sailed from England on August 19, 1775, they were escorted by one of His Majesty's warships, the 26-gun Lizard! Thus, when the two American sea captains ran afoul of them, they and their crews would have either been blown sky high or sunk without a trace.

Now, this information plus the names of the two powder brigs were discovered shortly after the author began gathering material relating to the cruise. Anxious to learn both sides of the story, he contacted a London researcher who waded through the archives of the Public Record Office for several weeks, and uncovered the following information:

The two north country brigs turned out to be sturdy and heavily-sparred, built to ship coal from the grimy mining towns of Tyre and Weare in Northern England to feed the furnaces of that nation's heavy industries. They were "taken up" by the British Admiralty at a time when, due to a shortage of transports, the Admiralty was unable to adequately supply its military forces in the colonies with everything that they needed. The British Government immediately appointed a Captain Toone to become the master of the "Brig Jacob for Quebec," and directed him to see that "bulkheads ... be built on board the brig [to receive] 3,000 stand of arms and 200 rounds of powder and ball."

At the same time, the brig Elizabeth, under the command of a Captain Brown, was being loaded with military stores consigned to General Sir Guy Carleton at Quebec. In addition to 3,000 stand of arms, she also had stored beneath her deck a large quantity of "clothing & accouterments."

The spy reported correctly that the two north country vessels were laden with arms, uniforms and other military supplies, but he probably did not know that the vessels carried a more lethal cargo-one potentially much more dangerous than the powder and guns on board. This merchandise was nothing more, nor less, than a huge shipment of presents designed to induce the Indians to make war on the colonists.

Luckily, the British never succeeded in getting many tribes to take to the warpath. So consequently, few of our isolated farms and towns were ever subjected to Indian raids during the Revolution. Furthermore, the spy never learned that the Lizard was carrying a valuable cargo, some 20,000 pounds in specie!

If the spy had learned of this, and had so informed General Washington, the general most likely would have rounded up a much bigger fleet because capturing such a valuable haul would have been worth an all-out effort. The general certainly would not have ordered Broughton and Selman to take two fishing schooners, armed only with ten small guns, to go out and tackle a warship armed with 26 heavy ones.

Things looked pretty good for Broughton and Selman on the day they sailed. The weather was favorable, and they had a strong following wind to send them on their way. They were also lucky because there were no British frigates hanging around to drive them back as they swung down the coast towards the Gulf. The two Marbleheaders probably thought that they would make the mouth of the St. Lawrence without a hitch, and then, once there, that they would only have to wait for the English vessels to heave into sight.

However, things did not work out that way. Broughton and Selman were no sooner well on their way than the weather turned. And within a day or so, a stiff no'theaster blew up making it tough going for the Hancock and the Franklin. Despite the heavy seas and gale winds, however, both schooners continued to claw northward. But the bad weather followed them, and finally off Nova Scotia, the Franklin shipped a sea that wracked her so badly that she sprung a leak. She took in so much water that Selman thought it would be wise to run for shelter with Broughton following him in. In Country Harbor, a town just east of Halifax, Selman put his crew to work mending the leaks caused by the gale. It took his men several days to make her tight and ready for sea again, which caused Broughton and Selman a lot of worry. They feared that any further delay would prevent them from reaching the Gulf in time to intercept the powder brigs. Therefore, they worked early to late so that they could leave Country Harbor as quickly as possible for Cape Breton.

However, as soon as they reached that bleak and windswept island, another storm hit them -- a gale so fierce and an ocean so rough that the two captains, for all of their seafaring skill and experience, were unable to work their schooners around Cape North and into the Gulf.

Finally, defeated by headwinds and rough seas, Broughton and Selman had to give up. Their men were exhausted by their long and sleepless struggle to reach the St. Lawrence, and their schooners were in danger of being dismasted or sunk by the turbulent waters. To make matters even worse, their supplies were running out; in fact, both crews were already reduced to living on short rations which they had to eat cold and uncooked. Nothing could be prepared as long as the storms raged, and as long as their vessels were thrown about in the pitching waves.

One can not help but wonder how Broughton and Selman ever managed to sleep and feed all the hands carried on both schooners, especially when each vessel had close to seventy husky, hungry men on board. And when one realizes that the fishing schooners of those days rarely carried more than six or eight men when they fished the Banks, it is difficult to figure out how the two captains packed so many men into such cramped quarters. It must have created a terrific problem to maintain peace and order below decks. Having to feed crews three times a day must have also caused the cooks many headaches. Especially when all the food that was served came from an iron kettle, suspended over a tiny brick fireplace in the fo'c'sle of each vessel.

In addition to such troubles, it must be borne in mind that the weather up and around the Gulf of St. Lawrence is always pretty bad during the winter months. Chances are that both vessels' crews suffered from snowstorms, driving hail and sleet and freezing arctic air, all more than enough to ruin the disposition of a saint, let alone the dispositions of 150 cantankerous Marbleheaders.

Meanwhile, the very storms that wrecked Broughton's and Selman's hopes helped the British vessels. Both of the vessels and the Lizard found the no'theasters to their liking because they drove them straight into the mouth of the St. Lawrence. As a result, the British forces there received all the guns and powder that they needed to defend Quebec, including firepower of the Lizard's twenty-six cannon. This, in turn, enabled the British to defeat the American forces under General Richard Montgomery and General Benedict Arnold.

The British next sent General "Gentleman Johnny" Burgoyne down the Hudson Valley, just as Congress feared. However, Burgoyne did not succeed in splitting the colonies in two because he was stopped at Saratoga, defeated and compelled to surrender. In the end, this proved to be the big turning point of the war. And Burgoyne, whose soldiers were held as prisoners of war, was escorted to a prison camp in Boston by none other than Marblehead's own Colonel John Glover!

By this time, the two Marblehead sea captains had given up on the north country brigs. Besides, they now had other fish to fry; they had sighted and captured a pair of Canadian merchantmen bound for the island of Jersey. The vessels, examined by a searching party, proved to be worthless as prizes of war. But Selman nosed about and wrung some startling information from their pilots. The two French-Canadians told him that the authorities at Charlottetown were scouring Prince Edward Island for recruits. Both pilots also revealed that some 200 men had already been sent to Quebec to assist the British forces stationed there.

That information was bad news because every man serving on the Hancock and the Franklin was well aware that two American generals, Montgomery and Arnold -- each commanding a 1,000-man force-were preparing to attack Quebec. Thinking that they should do something to help their fellow patriots, both concluded that if they could stop the recruiting, they could weaken the British forces. And that would certainly aid the American cause. So, Broughton and Selman hurriedly called a council of war.

In those days, all army officers were elected by the rank and file. Thus the council, when it gathered, included all the principal officers and the crews of both vessels. Perhaps the council indulged in another good old-fashioned custom, that of tapping a keg to oil the tongue and loosen the vocal cords? Furthermore, the young men who made up the schooners' crews were not dumb, nor were they unschooled. They knew their three R's, which in the year 1775 meant RUM, RASCALITY and REBELLION!

But whether or not the cold and hungry Marbleheaders were inspired by a dram or two of old Medford (powerful enough to make a rabbit bite a bulldog) is today of little consequence. The fact remains that they quickly and enthusiastically endorsed Selman's plot to raid Charlottetown. They also cheerfully decided to completely ignore Washington's orders forbidding them to touch Canadian property.

If Charlottetown was gathering troops, and was-as Selman described it-a rats' nest of recruiting, then they thought it was their patriotic duty to aid the American cause by breaking up such unfriendly activities. In fact, under the circumstances, they did not feel bound to obey Washington's order to respect our Canadian neighbors' property! So, officers and men of the Hancock and the Franklin cast aside their general's orders and voted to set off on an expedition of their own planning.

A few days later, on November 17, 1775, the two schooners sailed into Charlottetown harbor. And as they came to anchor, a score of citizens including Phillips Callbeck, Charlottetown's governor, and his good friend Thomas Wright, the island's chief magistrate, strolled down to the beach. They thought the vessels were a pair of visiting fishermen, and did not dream that a conniving Marbleheader named John Selman had concocted a fantastic scheme and that they were to become his victims. Nor did they have any way of knowing that Selman had persuaded one of the French-Canadian pilots to help him carry out his little plot. Selman had won the poor man over to his way of thinking by employing the easiest and simplest of all methods. He had summoned the French-Canadian pilot and in a frank, honest and forthright Marblehead fashion told him that if he failed to carry out the orders he was about to receive, he -- Selman -- would personally cut his throat from ear to ear!

Understandably, Selman's words proved to be very convincing. So, it is not surprising to learn -- as Elbridge Gerry learned a few years later -- that Selman was able to tell him that the pilot acted in a "true and faithful manner!"

Due to all this, Governor Callbeck received the shock of his life. When he stepped forward with his hand outstretched, Selman's crew jumped him and took him prisoner! Struggling and protesting, the governor was shoved into a dory and hustled out to the Franklin.

Meanwhile, Broughton and six armed men had rowed over to the fort* which had been built to protect the harbor and the town. Finding it unguarded, they charged inside, spiked its cannon and withdrew, rowing over to join Selman and his landing party. With the governor and the judge their captives, the landing parties of the Hancock and Franklin swept through the town like a tornado. They met no resistance because the inhabitants, lacking the leadership of Governor Callbeck, were helpless and completely incapable of stopping the rampaging sailors.

*This fort, incidentall, was restored in 1960 by the Canadian government to serve as a tourist attraction.

The first place to be ransacked by the rampaging Marbleheaders was the governor's store. There, they took from its shelves a vast supply of woolen goods, blankets, foodstuffs and household wares. And anything they had no use for, they smashed to bits. Laden with loot, they left the store's interior in ruins, a mass of debris, rubble and trash.

From there, they moved on to the governor's home only to find it locked and bolted. (Alarmed by the uproar and fearing the worst, Mrs. Callbeck had already fled and lay hidden in a nearby cornfield.)

Undeterred, they kicked in the door and combed the house, room by room. They removed the curtains that graced each window, and carried away the Callbecks' silverware, rugs, furnishings and bric-a-brac; they then finished up by taking Anne Callbeck's clothing, jewelry and trinkets. Next, they went to the cellar where stashed away in a corner they found and carted away a cache of bacon, hams and provisions that the Callbecks had set aside to carry them through the long and grueling winter months. And, to top it off, as they were leaving, they spotted in a dimly-lit corner a large cask of rum which, say the citizens of Charlottetown, the Franklin's crew promptly drank dry!

Meanwhile, Anne Callbeck lay huddled between rows of towering cornstalks, terror-stricken and horrified by the diabolical behavior of the Marbleheaders. Anne, the wife of a Crown appointee, was the daughter of Nathaniel Coffin, a prominent Boston Tory and a sister of Sir Isaac Coffin, an Admiral in the Royal Navy. Due to the interlinking of family and love of country, this incident soon gave rise to a mindboggling tale ...

Anne Callbeck was said to have been attractive, warm-hearted and winsome, a comely young lady whom Captain Selman was set on capturing. To this end, he and the crew of the Franklin searched every nook and cranny in Charlottetown for her, but to no avail. They never found Anne, who all the while lay concealed in a neighbor's field. And it was well she remained there, quiet as a mouse, until the search was abandoned. For her fate would have been sealed had she been apprehended. As Selman had but one object in mind (say the Islanders), and that was ... to slit her throat!

(The Islanders, needless to say, have labeled Captain John Selman a monster incarnate. A rogue who had made a habit of slitting throats as coolly and casually as he'd gut a codfish! In an attempt to prove this story true, my friend Lorne Callbeck, the great-great-great-grandson of Phillips Callbeck, the island's governor who my great-great-great-grandfather, Captain John Selman, had kidnapped, showed me the very field in which Anne Callbeck hid. Frankly, I was at a loss for words. A moment later, however, I scored a point; I told him that to my knowledge this was the first and only time in history that a sailor from Marblehead had chased a girl into a cornfield ... to slit her throat!)

Soon after the search for Anne Callbeck was called off, the crews of the Franklin and the Hancock added insult to injury. They sought out the governor's headquarters and tore it apart. They smashed its furniture, scattered and shredded his private papers, and left, carrying with them the colony's Great Silver Seal.

(Whatever became of this seal no one knows. It may have been melted down for its silver. It may have been taken as a keepsake by a high-ranking Continental officer. It may have been brought to Marblehead and ultimately lost, misplaced or sold. Or, it may be at the bottom of the sea. To this day, its fate remains a deep, dark mystery.)*

*I, for one, do not believe that my great-great-great-grandfather stole this seal to sell it or melt it down for cash. All official documents were required to carry the seal's imprint. So, I believe he took it because he thought that the island government could not function without it.

The following day, the two schooners set sail, their holds bulging with goods and chattel. Confined below deck was an irate Thomas Wright and a testy, hot-tempered Phillips Callbeck. Throughout the return voyage, the latter not only berated Selman for attacking defenseless Charlottetown, but swore he'd see that the captain got his just desserts. "If this vessel is taken by a British frigate I will have you hanged from a yardarm," he raged-a threat the Marbleheader nonchalantly brushed aside.

The reception accorded Broughton and Selman the day they reported to General Washington's headquarters in Cambridge was decidedly unpleasant. That they had deliberately flouted the instructions issued them and raided a neutral seaport was not only unforgivable and indefensible, but positively humiliating. Still worse was the mischief they had wrought: they had pillaged, looted and abducted the island's top officials.

(Previous to the arrival of the two Marblehead sea captains, Governor Callbeck and Judge Wright had been interrogated by Washington. After listening to their tale of woe, the general ordered them released, and apologized for the way they had been treated. He also promised the return of whatever had been taken from them by Broughton and Selman. Phillips Callbeck was so impressed by General Washington's thoughtfulness that he later sent him a letter. In it, he stated he would never forget Washington's many kindnesses.)

Nor did he.

One month later, after returning to Charlottetown, Phillips Callbeck forwarded a petition to the Earl of Dartmouth describing how the crews of "two large schooners belonging to Marblehead in New England" had robbed him of all his possessions.

"Those Bandits (sic)," he wrote, had plundered him of all his "valuables, Goods, stores, Household Furniture, Plate, Cloathes" valued up to 2,000 pounds, and unless "relieved by his most gracious Sovereign ... it may prove his Family's ruin." At the same time, the governor requested his Lordship to "interpose ... and send such Forces ... as will Screen us from the Invasion of the Rebels ... bent on our destruction." Though some may brand him a hypocrite, the truth is that Phillips Callbeck never recovered any of his possessions in spite of Washington's promise to return them.

Shortly after the Prince Edward Island officials were released, Broughton and Selman were summoned to Washington's headquarters. It was not a friendly session. It was obvious that the general was unwilling to forgive them for raiding a defenseless seaport. And it was obvious that he was determined not to forgive them for disobeying his orders. With nary a word of greeting, Washington gave Broughton and Selman a bawling-out they would remember to the end of their days. And whenever either attempted to explain why they had abandoned the quest for the British store ships and raided Prince Edward Island, he promptly silenced them!

(In his lengthy account, sent to Vice President Elbridge Gerry, Captain Selman noted that this "coolness to Seamen of Marblehead, which had underwent Cold, Nakedness and Short Allowance, with the given up of everything sent home, hindered the enlistment of a great many which went in Privateer Vessells.")

This confrontation, which began on the steps of Washington's Headquarters, ended abruptly. "Sir," he snapped to a disenchanted John Selman, "will you stand again in Colonel Glover's regiment?"

"I will not, sir," replied Selman. And when asked the same question, Commodore Broughton answered in a like manner.

The two Marbleheaders then turned on their heels and stalked away. (Yet, in spite of their refusal to re-enlist, Selman and Broughton remained active patriots and served as officers in the Essex County Militia.)

But whereas Commodore Nicholson Broughton remained silent, John Selman never overlooked a chance to roundly condemn whoever questioned his reason for raiding Charlottetown. And if one wanted to get his dander up, or provoke a quarrel, the mere mention of the name Washington would send the captain into a towering rage!

On the other hand, General Washington had good reason to reprimand Broughton and Selman. They had ignored his orders, failed to capture the British store ships and had looted a friendly port. Furthermore, the citizens of Prince Edward Island had every right to label them as thieves and pirates. And Governor Phillips Callbeck and his associate, Judge Thomas Wright, were not amiss when they termed them kidnappers ... and worse.

The truth is, everyone who had suffered at the hands of the American schooners' crews would echo the words of the diarist who penned ...

"Thank God ... those Marblehead fishermen are gone from here!"

In the spring of 1776 a Marblehead sea captain armed his schooner, assembled a crew and sailed forth in search of British merchantmen. Two days later, he sighted a strange ship on the horizon.

"Hand me a glass!" he bellowed, extending a hand.

A deckhand promptly handed him his spyglass.

"No! No! You damned chowderhead!" he snarled.

"Not that glass! What I need now is a full one!"

Next... || Previous

Table Of Contents