Samuel Libby: an insider account of the American Revolution

Fort Ticonderoga 1775 by Heppenheimer and Maurer

“Grandfather has been telling of his service in the Revolutionary War,” writes Jonathan Pearson in his diary. 

Samuel Libby (1757-1843) had an eventful service. He was present at the surrender of Fort Ticonderoga, fought under General Horatio Gates, was captured three times while privateering, escaped from a prison ship in Savannah harbor, and told the tale to the Marquis de LaFayette. Here is Pearson’s account: 

Grandfather has been telling of his service in the Revolutionary War. When the battle of Bunker Hill was fought, he was at home in Rye but soon after he enlisted into the war. He was stationed at Fort Ticonderoga when it was given up to the British by Genl. Schuyler, which army retreated to S. Keenesboro in batteaux where they left them and retreated from thence to Fort Ann and to Fort Edward, pursued by the the enemy with whom they had some smart skirmishes. On the retreat he was one of a small party who fought with two battalions of the enemy and repulsed them. He was under the command of Col. Long of this State [NH].

From Fort Edward he marched on towards Albany to join the main army under Gates. He left the army on a furlough by reason of sickness two days before Burgoyne surrendered. The next time he went on the expedition which was set on foot to drive the British from Newport, RI but failed after much expense. He then went many voyages privateering and was taken three times. At one time he and eight others at Savannah arose and took the guard on board his prison ship and escaped in the boat although the harbor was full of British ships of war. At Charlestown he saw and had considerable conversation with Genls. Lafayette and Lincoln concerning their escape from the prison ship. Genl Lincoln gave them some supper etc. He has had many hair-breadth escapes but still never was wounded.

Although somewhat worn down by the infirmities of age he possesses that same patriotic fire which inspired him to take his gun and fight the battles of his country; and now when he relates the story of this early life his “dim eye brightens” and his old heart grows warm. Now he would fight again if an enemy should but set foot on his own native land. How could our liberties be endangered while we had such determined spirits to guard them?

A second diary entry relates Libby’s four “cruises” as a privateer:

His first cruise was upon a schooner called the “True Blue” from Newburyport, Lawrence Furlong, Capt., an Irishman. She carried eight guns, six-pounders, and thirty men. Twenty-two hours after going out, was taken off Cape Sable. Had tremendous N.W. gale, couldn’t carry top-sails, in five fathoms of water when taken; saw two frigates ()English) Venus and Polly, thirty-six guns each.

“The officer says to Furlong, ‘Captain, didn’t you heave the lead?’ ‘No.’ ‘If you hadn’t hove to as you did, we should have gone and left you, for we have but five fathoms of water.’

“The red sand washed into our scuppers [water?] was so shoal. Fifteen of us went aboard the Polly and fifteen aboard the Venus. We cruised four weeks in Jan. and Feb. from Cape Sables to Cape [?]. Had to lay in the hold on cables, thought I should freeze to death; lost all my clothes. Fore we went out in the ‘True Blue,’ went round to Casco to get hands and got my feet frozen. We were taken into Newport by our captors and put on board prison ship. Was there till last of May and then exchanged by cartel. Bill Davis, Mr. Webster, Tom Foy were carried to Norwalk whence we traveled on foot home to Rye, N.H.

“After being home a short time I went out in the ‘Hornet’ from Portsmouth, a schooner having one six-pounder and eight swivels. Capt. Peverly. She was manned with about thirty men. Went down off Halifax, took two schooners from the W. Indies. The first time we fired our Bow Chaser, the muzzle burst. Tom Wallace wanted to fire the broken Bow Chaser again. Capt. said, ‘No.’ Tom insisted. ‘Well, fire away then.’ All hands went below and Tom put a ball between the schooner’s masts and she hove to. The second schooner had waist cloths with guns painted upon them. I had for my part of the booty 16 ths.[?] cotton, 100 lbs. sugar, and $800 continental money which depreciated so much that I got on 50 cts. for $100.

“I next served on board the ‘Sullivan,’ a ship of twenty guns, Capt. Darling, sailed from Portsmouth, gone three months; cruised among the W.I Islands and came round by the Banks of Newfoundland, then we had a tremendous gale. Hove to two days and nights and let her drive under bare poles, four hands at the wheels. We scud before it for two days, took one ship from the W.I. Islands.”

The last cruise he made was in the ‘Arnold,’ Capt. Brown, from Portsmouth or Newburyport, I presume. On this cruise, the particulars of which I have lost, he was taken and carried into Charlestown, S.C. while held by by the British, and there put on board prison ship. From thence with a few others he escaped by night in a boat, rowed up the Cooper River and by a circuitous route arrived at the French lines, whence the party were carried by Lafayette with his body guard to the camp of the Am. Gen. Green (?) and hospitably entertained. From thence he traveled all the way home again to Rye, N.H. 

This is believed to have been his last cruise. He dwelt many years at Rye as a fisherman and farmer and finally settled at Chichester as a farmer. He was a man of great ingenuity; he made his own families’ shoes and boots, all the wooden ware of the family – tubs, pails, “firkins,” “naggins,” “keelers” &c and his own farming implements. He was also a neat and careful farmer, the pattern and envy in this respect of his neighbors. In stature he was above the common height, as were all his children, whereas my grandmother, who was a Seavey, was below the ordinary stature.

Samuel Libby died in 1843, aged 85, and is buried in the Brown-Davis Cemetery at Epsom, New Hampshire.

Here’s a 5-generation descent report (useful because it shows everybody’s children) so you can see how the Libbys connect to the Pearsons. You’ll need to enlarge it on your screen to see the details.

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