Friday, May 5, 2023

John Glover, William Browne, and the American Revolution

Read Morristown NHP volunteer Keith J. Muchowski's latest article below. In it, he reflects on two competing perspectives during the Revolutionary period in America: Loyalists and Patriots. His work is entitled: “Of Patriots and Loyalists: John Glover and William Browne in the American Revolution”

Please be sure to note that Keith Muchowski will be the featured speaker on Saturday June 17 at 1:00 as part of the Park's year-long 90th anniversary celebration. 


In late November 1804, 3 1/2 years after leaving the White House, John Adams wrote wistfully in his diary that “In my own class at [Harvard] Collidge [sic], there were several others, for whom I had a strong affection—Wentworth, Brown, Livingston, Sewall and Dalton all of whom have been eminent in Life, excepting Livingston an amiable and ingenious Youth who died within a Year or two after his first degree.” (Adams, Founders Online) The “Brown” here was William Browne, a native of Salem, Massachusetts with whom Adams and the aforementioned others graduated from Harvard in 1755. Adams’s wistfulness may have stemmed from the awareness that the fiftieth anniversary of his college graduation was coming up the following year. Or, perhaps by this time Adams had become aware that his old classmate William Browne had died two years previously in London. Whatever the reason, 1755 would have seemed a long time past. Their youth gave way to middle age amidst the rising tensions with British authorities, and with each ensuing crisis each man chose from himself which direction to take. It was the decision to become a Loyalist and remain faithful to Crown and Parliament that took William Browne from his Massachusetts home to a new life across the Atlantic.

The fishing towns of Salem and nearby Marblehead were integral to the triangular trade, providing sustenance for people not just in the Bay Colony but for the enslaved communities of the West Indies and dining tables of Europe. Boats laden with New England timber and codfish harvested in the Grand Banks off Newfoundland returned with sugar, spices, rum, and luxury goods then sold to colonists. Two figures whose lives and fortunes intertwined in this milieu were William Browne and John Glover. Both were born in Salem in the 1730s and had long ties to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Glover began as a modest shoemaker but found his fortune in commercial fishing, mercantilism, and the shipping industry. He eventually owned a number of vessels and apparently sometimes even captained them abroad. In the early 1760s Glover built a sizable home for himself and his growing family in Marblehead. Browne began in more august circumstances. His family had roots to some of the earliest figures in British North America. He was a Winthrop on his mother’s side and himself married a cousin, Ruth Wanton, who was a daughter of Gideon Wanton, once governor of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. William Browne became a lawyer, property owner, officer in the local militia, and shortly after the French and Indian War, the Collector of Customs for Salem and Marblehead. Browne tried to steer a middle path between his neighbors and British authorities in the controversies surrounding the Sugar Act, Stamp Act, and other unpopular tax measures. Browne had a reputation as a moderate and became a favorite of Governor Thomas Hutchinson and Hutchinson’s eventual successor Thomas Gage, who among other things appointed Browne to the province’s Supreme Court. A historian writing in 1896 averred that “I think I am safe in saying that during this period [before the Revolution] Colonel William Browne was easily the first citizen of Salem.” (Streeter, 71)


In early 1775 colonists in this coastal region became angry over the so-called Fisheries Bill, correctly seeing that legislation as threatening their livelihood. When war came that spring at nearby Lexington and Concord, John Glover and his neighbors were eager to join the fight. Glover became colonel of the 14th Continental Regiment. This unit reflected the diverse nature of the seaside region and included numerous African- and Native-Americans. Glover and the men under his command in what became known as the Marblehead Regiment had a knack for showing up—and often proving the difference—wherever great events were taking place. After guarding the harbor of Beverly from the British, Glover and his men moved to New York City in summer 1776. On the night of August 29 the sailor-soldiers from Marblehead rowed Washington and his men across the East River after the disastrous Battle of Long Island. Had the evacuation not succeeded the war may have ended right there and then. Two months later Glover and his men halted the Redcoats at Pell’s Point just north of Manhattan, allowing General Washington and his ragtag Continentals the chance to escape to White Plains. In December the British and their Hessian allies were settling into winter quarters in New Jersey confident that the war would soon be over. Little did they suspect that Washington would dare an offensive during a harsh noreaster on Christmas Night 1776. To take his men across the Delaware River the commander relied on the nautical skills of the men from Marblehead. The Hessians were caught entirely off guard in the Battle of Trenton the following day and suffered a major defeat.


William Browne had chosen a different path; like approximately 20% of British Americans he stayed loyal to King George III. For this he paid a heavy price. He and his family fled to safety behind British lines. Browne had owned nearly 10,000 acres in Connecticut, all of it taken away, broken into lots, and sold to others. Under the Massachusetts Banishment Act of 1778 he lost the spacious farmhouse and grounds that he owned at the crossroads of the Marblehead - Swampscott - Salem border. Eventually the Brownes moved to Great Britain, where with little to do William floundered for a time in Wales. British authorities eventually rewarded Browne’s loyalty however. In 1781 they appointed him governor of Bermuda and he began making arrangements. Browne arrived in that British colony in January 1782 and given an annual salary of £500 per annum. (Bermuda Islands, 1-2) In the ensuing years he proved himself an efficient administrator, cleaning up the island’s affairs after several years of turmoil and instability.


Meanwhile the war continued. On February 21, 1777, two months after the crossing of the Delaware and Battle of Trenton, the Continental Congress offered Colonel Glover a promotion to brigadier general. To General Washington’s surprise Glover declined, citing personal reasons. The commander resorted to shameless flattery, writing from his headquarters at Arnold’s Tavern in Morristown on April 26, 1777 that “Our enemies count upon the resignation of every officer of rank at this time, as a distrust of, and desertion from the cause, and rejoice accordingly. When you consider these matters I hope you will think no more of private inconveniences, but that you will, with all expedition, come forward, and take that command which has been assigned you.” (Washington, Founders Online) Glover relented. That fall he was present at the pivotal Battle of Saratoga, which changed the course of the war. We see him here, fourth from the right, in John Trumbull’s “Surrender of General Burgoyne.” 

General Glover’s actions on
Quaker Hill at the Battle of Rhode Island in August 1778 mitigated what could have been a Patriot disaster. More personally, on November 13 his beloved wife Hannah died at the age of just forty-five.


Today the exploits of John Glover have largely been forgotten, but Americans in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries recognized his contributions to American independence. In addition to the painting mentioned above, John Trumbull included Glover in another iconic rendering: “The Capture of the Hessians at Trenton, December 26, 1776,” which today hangs in the Yale University Art Gallery. And of course it is the men of Glover’s Marblehead Regiment whom the German-American artist Emanuel Leutze depicted—not entirely accurately—in “Washington Crossing the Delaware,” today on view and seen by millions in the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 1875, during the Revolutionary War centennial, a Martin Milmore statue of John Glover was placed on Bostons Commonwealth Avenue Mall. On October 18, 1901—the 125th anniversary of the Battle of Pell’s Point—the Bronx chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution dedicated a plaque atop a larger boulder at the place thought at the time to have been where Glover and his men turn back the Redcoats. This spot, called Glover’s Rock, sits in what it is today Pelham Bay Park and was for decades a venue for commemorations. 

That marker was eventually damaged or stolen, and so on November 11, 1960 the Bronx Historical Society dedicated a replacement tablet. On October 24, 1929—Wall Street’s Black Thursday, as it happened—the Brooklyn Bridge Plaza Association dedicated a tablet at the spot where Glover and his Marblehead Regiment carried Washington and his 9,000 men across the East River to Manhattan. Participating in that dedication among others were Mabelle Gardner Broughton, who was a descendant of John Glover, and a contingent of nearly half a dozen civic leaders from Marblehead.

In poor health and determined to have a fresh start, in May 1781 John Glover purchased for £1369 a new estate for himself—the farm on the Marblehead - Swampscott - Salem border that had once belonged to William Browne. (Billias, 198) The following year Glover retired from military service and moved into his new home. Meanwhile, William Browne was settling into his post in Bermuda. John Glover lived another fifteen years and held various prestigious positions. He died on January 30, 1797 and rests today beside Hannah and many of their children in Marblehead's Old Burial Hill Cemetery. Browne stayed in Bermuda until 1788 and returned to Great Britain. With the British defeated in North America and his properties long ago taken away, he and Ruth settled in London. Mrs. Browne passed away in 1799. There he too died in 1802. John Adams appreciated the efforts of John Glover during the war and apparently maintained a favorable opinion of his old Harvard classmate William Browne as well. In yet another reflection, Adams wrote of his old Harvard classmate that “Society made of him a refugee;—a tory I verily believe he never was.” (Hines, 216)


Adams, John. [Harvard College, 1751–1755].” Founders Online, National Archives, November 30, 1804.

Bermuda Islands. Bermuda. An Act for the Settlement of a Yearly Salary on His Excellency William Browne, Esquire, Captain General, Governor, and Commander in Chief of These Islands.” n.p., 1782. British Library, via Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO). Accessed April 27, 2023.

Billias, George Athan. General John Glover and His Marblehead Mariners. New  York: Henry Holt and Company, 1960.

Hines, Ezra D. Browne Hill and Some History Connected With It.” Historical Collections of the Essex Institute 32, nos. 7–12 (July - December 1896): 201–38.

Streeter, Gilbert L. Salem before the Revolution.” Historical Collections of the Essex Institute 32, nos. 1–6 (January - June 1896): 47–98.

Washington, George. From George Washington to Brigadier General John Glover, 26 April 1777.” Founders Online, National Archives, April 26, 1777.

Image credits:
Bronx County Historical Society's Founders, November 11, 1960
Jonas1639 (Bronx County Historical Society)
John Trumbull's "Surrender of General Burgoyne"
United States Architect of the Capitol
Brooklyn Ferry Landing marker
photo by the author


Keith J. Muchowski is a volunteer at Morristown National Historical Park.

No comments:

Post a Comment