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Barney, Joshua (06 July 1759–01 December 1818), seaman and naval officer, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of William Barney and Frances Holland, farmers. Barney left school at age ten and was sent by his father to Alexandria, Virginia, to be put in the care of a local merchant. After spending nearly one year in Virginia Barney returned to Baltimore, where he signed on as a crew member aboard a local pilot boat....

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Barry, John (1745?–13 September 1803), shipmaster and naval officer, was born in County Wexford, Ireland. His parentage is uncertain: his father was a farmer, and his mother’s maiden name was Kelly. Apprenticed on a Wexford merchantman as a cabin boy in 1755, he diligently applied himself to the naval profession. Philadelphia became his permanent home in 1760; he became a devoted patriot and successful shipmaster. On 31 October 1767 he married Mary Cleary. The union produced no children before she died in 1774. In November 1775 he relinquished command of the 200-ton ...

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Biddle, Nicholas (10 September 1750–07 March 1778), naval officer, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of William Biddle, a merchant, and Mary Scull, a map purveyor. With only a basic academy education, he entered the merchant service at the age of thirteen on the ...

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Conyngham, Gustavus (1747–27 November 1819), naval officer, was born in County Donegal, Ireland, the son of Gustavus Conyngham and a cousin of the elder Conyngham, whose maiden name was also Conyngham (first name unknown). In 1763 Conyngham immigrated to Philadelphia and settled in that city with his parents. He shipped in the coastal trade to the West Indies and by the eve of the Revolution he was master of a small vessel. In 1773 he married Ann Hockley, daughter of a Philadelphia merchant; they had no children. Early in the fall of 1775 Conyngham, in command of the ...

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Fiske, John (11 April 1744–28 September 1797), naval officer and merchant seaman, was born in Salem, Massachusetts, the son of the Reverend Samuel Fiske, a Christian minister, and Anna Gerrish. Besides the educational instruction he received from his father, Fiske attended local schools. At an early age, he determined to make his living as a sailor, and by the time he was twenty-one he commanded a brigantine in trade with Spanish ports. In 1766 he married Lydia Phippen, with whom he had a large family. An outgoing, garrulous man, he was appreciated by those who were employed by him because of his handsome largesse and his congenial spirit as a master....

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Hopkins, Esek (26 April 1718–26 February 1802), naval officer, was born in Providence (present-day Scituate), Rhode Island, the son of William Hopkins and Ruth Wilkinson, farmers. The Hopkins family was large and well respected in Rhode Island. When William Hopkins died in 1738, leaving a widow and nine children, Esek went to sea. Like many Providence seafarers, Hopkins sailed primarily to the West Indies. He did well, proving to be both an astute businessman and a skillful seaman, and within a few years rose to command. He married Desire Burroughs in 1741 and moved with her to Newport, remaining there until 1748, when they returned to Providence. They had ten children....

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John Paul Jones. Color lithograph with the inscription "Painted after an etching by Moreau made from the life in 1780." Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZC4-2761).

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Jones, John Paul (06 July 1747–18 July 1792), revolutionary war naval officer and hero, was born John Paul in Kirkbean, Kirkcudbrightshire, on the southwestern coast of Scotland, the son of John Paul, a gardener, and Jean MacDuff. After attending the local Presbyterian school, he apprenticed at age thirteen to a shipowner at the nearby port of Whitehaven. His first ship made several voyages that carried provisions to Barbados, thence rum and sugar to Virginia, and returned to Whitehaven with tobacco. The postwar economic slump ended his apprenticeship and sent him briefly into the slave trade, which he called “abominable.” At twenty-one Paul was master and supercargo of a ship sailing out of Kirkcudbright to the West Indies. Returning to Scotland from Tobago, he was briefly jailed in 1770 on a charge of murder, for having flogged a sailor who later died. Exonerated, Paul became the master of a large West Indies trader out of London. Again he found trouble in Tobago: during a mutiny he killed a sailor in what he claimed was self-defense. Perhaps in fear for his life, he fled to Virginia in October 1773 and became “Mr. John Jones.”...

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Little, George (10 or 15 Apr. 1754–22 July 1809), naval officer, was born in Marshfield, Massachusetts, the son of Lemuel Little and Penelope Eames (or Ames). Growing up near the Massachusetts seacoast, he was drawn to maritime life and became a merchant seaman. He also purchased a farm near his home town and in 1779 married a local woman, Rachel Rogers, with whom he had a son....

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Manley, John ( August 1732?–12 February 1793), naval officer and privateer, was born apparently near Torquay, England, the son of Robert Manley. His mother’s name is unknown. By 1757 he was living in Boston and was a captain in the merchant marine. In 1763 he married Hannah Cheevers. As of 1768 Manley was master of a vessel called the ...

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McNeill, Hector (10 October 1728–25 December 1785), naval officer, was born in County Antrim, Ireland, the son of Malcolm McNeill and Mary Stuart. When Hector McNeill was eight years old the family emigrated to Boston, where their Scotch-Irish antecedents became the subject of derision. McNeill later wrote that “dureing the whole time of my Boy-hood in the town of Boston my life was one continual State of warfare” (Smith, p. 9). McNeill first went to sea in a Boston merchant vessel at the age of sixteen and became captain of his own ship only five years later. In 1750 he married Mary Wilson; they were to have four children, three of whom survived infancy....

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Murray, Alexander (12 July 1755–06 October 1821), naval officer, was born in Chestertown, Maryland, the son of William Murray, a physician, and Ann Smith. He went to sea in his early youth and at age eighteen commanded a merchant ship in the European trade. When the revolutionary war commenced, he wanted a commission in the Continental navy but discovered that the navy had too few fighting ships to offer him such an opportunity. Hence, in 1776 he joined the First Maryland Regiment of the Continental army as a lieutenant and campaigned under General ...

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Samuel Willard Crompton

Nicholson, James (1736–02 September 1804), naval officer, was born in Chestertown, Maryland, the son of Joseph Nicholson and Hannah Smith. Even though he came from a distinguished family, little is known of his early years except that he was educated in England. He joined the Royal Navy and was present at the British fleet’s siege of Havana in 1762 at the end of the Seven Years’ War (known in America as the French and Indian War). In 1763 he married Frances Witter, and the couple moved to New York City. They had eight children. Little is known of his activities between 1763 and 1775....

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O’Brien, Jeremiah (1744–05 September 1818), naval officer, was born in Kittery, Maine, the son of Mary Cain and Morris O’Brien, an Irish-born tailor, farmer, merchant, and sailor. Jeremiah received no formal education. In 1750 the family moved up the Maine coast to Scarboro, and when New England settlers were encouraged to move further north following the Treaty of Paris in 1763, the O’Briens relocated to a new settlement at Machias. There they entered the lumber business. Both father and sons prospered, and they eventually operated at least two sawmills. The O’Brien family became influential and decidedly Whiggish members of the community. When the town’s first militia company was formed in 1769, Jeremiah O’Brien was among the first to join....

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Saltonstall, Dudley (08 September 1738–1796), naval officer, was born in New London, Connecticut, the son of Gurdon Saltonstall, a prominent citizen of Connecticut and a general of the militia, and Rebecca Winthrop, a descendent of one of the early founding families of Massachusetts Bay. Dudley Saltonstall was a direct descendant of ...

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Talbot, Silas (11 January 1751–30 June 1813), naval officer, was born in Dighton, Massachusetts, the son of Benjamin Talbot and Rebecca Allen, farmers. Rebecca died when Silas was four. His father remarried eight years later. As the youngest son of a poor farmer, Silas was left with no property. For a while he continued to live in Dighton, where he apparently learned the trade of a stonemason. In his early teens he left the town and signed on board a coasting vessel....

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Tucker, Samuel (01 November 1747–10 March 1833), naval officer and merchant mariner, was born in Marblehead, Massachusetts, the son of Andrew Tucker, who made his living in the fishing industry and as a merchant ship captain, and Mary Bartlett, the daughter of an innholder and the widow of Thomas Ewell. Nothing definite is known of Samuel’s formal schooling. He never learned the social graces, but his mathematics were good enough for him to master navigation and to train others in it. One biographer describes him as “an active, energetic, blustery person, famed for his biting candor as well as for his frequent use of crude, offensive language” (Smith, p. xiii). Tucker first went to sea in the summer of 1760 at the age of twelve, during the Seven Years’ War, as servant to his father, who was sailing master of the Massachusetts provincial warship ...

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Waters, Daniel (20 June 1731–26 March 1816), naval officer and privateer, was born in Charlestown, Massachusetts, the son of Adam Waters and Rachel Draper. Daniel Waters took up seafaring at an early age and became a captain in the merchant service. In 1759 he married Agnes Smith; the couple had one child. In 1771 he moved from Charlestown to the nearby village of Malden. An early convert to the cause of the American Revolution, he joined the local militia. His company participated in the fight with the British regulars at Lexington and Concord on 19 April 1775; shortly thereafter the Malden committee of safety put him in charge of the town’s defenses. During the siege of Boston he commanded a gunboat on the Charles River....

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Whipple, Abraham (26 September 1733–27 May 1819), privateersman and naval officer, was born in Providence, Rhode Island. According to a family genealogy, he was the son of Noah Whipple and Mary (maiden name unknown); no official birth information is extant. After going to sea at an early age Whipple became associated with the Brown family in the West India trade. During the Seven Years’ War Whipple served as a privateersman under the command of ...

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Wickes, Lambert (1742–01 October 1777), revolutionary naval hero, was born at “Wickliffe,” on Eastern Neck Island, Kent County, Maryland, the son of Samuel Wickes, a colonial planter, and his first wife, whose name is not known. The details of Lambert Wickes’s early life are unclear; what is certain is that he was trained for the sea. By 1770 Wickes was captain of the ship ...