The Greatest Leaders of the American Revolution You Have Never Heard Of

A fisherman by trade before the war, the savior of the American Continental Army during the war on two occasions, and returned to civilian life with personal, physical, and economic hardships because of the war.

John Glover
John Glover

That one line could simply sum up John Glover of Marblehead, Massachusetts. Unfortunately, Glover has received scant attention; a few lines here, a page in this publication, or a reference in passing when talking about the engagements around New York or the Crossing of the Delaware.

Daniel Glover is more than well deserving of the epithet, “one of the greatest leaders of the American Revolution you have never heard of.”

Born on November 5, 1732 in what is now Danvers, Massachusetts, where he lived until the death of his father when he was just four years old. His mother Tabitha Bacon Glover moved young Daniel to Marblehead, on the coast of Massachusetts where he would apprentice, when he came of age, as a shoemaker. He eventually looked toward the sea and made a living as a merchant.

Daniel became well-entrenched in Marblehead society, he joined the local militia in 1759 and entered politics, aligning himself with the Whig party in 1760. By the time of the first shots on the Green of Lexington and the North Bridge at Concord, Glover was a colonel of militia in the Marblehead Regiment.

Although his regiment made the march to Boston and took part in the siege, Glover was away on detached duty when the Battle of Bunker (Breed’s Hill) was fought. When George Washington rode into Cambridge, Massachusetts and assumed command of the American forces, Glover lost his headquarters. A product of Glover’s fine taste, the Marblehead sailor had picked the home of a loyalist as his own command post. Washington chose the mansion, which now is a national historic site, as his own. Yet, a company of Glover’s Marblehead soldiers was also chosen to be the guard of Washington’s new headquarters.

Showing his importance and marshaling his background in shipping, Glover donated one of his own ships, the Hannah, named after his spouse, to build a hodgepodge navy for use by the Americans. One of the ships that made this volunteer navy actually captured a British ship, the brig HMS Nancy in which held as its cargo, 2,000 muskets, 30,000 rounds of artillery ammunition, and one brass mortar amongst other crucial military supplies much in need by Washington’s army.

After the siege of Boston was lifted with the evacuation of the British, Glover, with the rest of the Continental Army, headed south to New York City where another campaign and another chance to show his worth to the cause awaited.

On the night of August 29 and into the early morning hours of August 30, Colonel Glover and his able Marblehead regiment sailed the majority of Washington’s forces from Brooklyn across the East River to safety. Altogether, approximately 9,000 soldiers, plus artillery and supplies escaped from under British General Sir William Howe’s command. With Marylanders under Lord William Stirling launching ferocious rear-guard suicidal charges, Glover’s men saved Washington’s army that late August night.

A month and a half later, on October 18th, Glover’s Brigade of Massachusetts soldiers held off a large contingent of British and Hessian mercenaries as Washington’s army retreated to safety. With approximately 750 men at his disposal, Glover’s rearguard action held over 4,000 enemy soldiers from threatening the retreat of the American forces.

glover rock
Glover’s Rock, commemorating the action at Pell’s Point

Showing his humility, Glover would write about seeing the enemy come ashore before the engagement at Pell’s Point, that his first inkling was to give “a thousand worlds to have General [Charles] Lee or some other experienced officer present.” Luckily for the Americans, Glover did not get his wish and led admirably.

Glover’s command stuck with Washington’s forces during their retreat across New Jersey and into Pennsylvania and eventually to the banks of the Delaware River. In the prelude to the pivotal “Crossing of the Delaware” the former Marblehead sailors and their 43-year old commander would prove crucial.

To complete the surprise, Washington had to get his men across the ice-clogged Delaware River and to Trenton, New Jersey. Washington laid his eyes on Glover and outlined his thoughts and the big issue at hand; how to ferry his men across?

The response to his commander in chief was simple; to “not be troubled about that, as his boys could manage it.” Another primary account said that Glover and his command showed “perseverance…accomplished what at first seemed impossible.”

With Washington’s daring plan and Glover’s practicality, the “impossible” happened and the Americans scored a cause rallying victory at Trenton on December 26, 1776 and another equally important victory at Princeton, New Jersey on January 3, 1777.

After these winter battles, Glover went home to care for his gravely ill wife, Hannah, but there was nothing he could do. After a year long struggle, Hannah died on November 13, 1778 leaving John with eight children, including the oldest John who was a captain in his father’s Marblehead regiment.

While at home, George Washington petitioned the Continental Congress to promote Glover to brigadier general. Congress agreed and on February 21, 1777 the former Marblehead merchant became a general in the Continental Army.

When Glover returned to active duty, he was given the task of escorting the British and Hessian prisoners captured at the Battle of Saratoga and also took part in the unsuccessful attempt to expel the British from Newport, Rhode Island in 1778.

The end of the war saw him still in service in the Hudson Highlands where most notably he was on the board of officers that sentenced British spy Major John Andre to death. At the very end of the war, on September 30, 1783, Glover received a brevet to major general.

800px-Glover-statue Boston
John Glover Statue Commonwealth Avenue, Boston

With the war over, Glover and his second wife, Francis Fosdick resided in Marblehead. However, Glover’s health and family were devastated by the war. Glover’s health was impaired by years of hard campaigning, including struggling with malaria in 1777. He lost his first wife Hannah during the war and his oldest son, John, disappeared as a prisoner-of-war while being transported over the Atlantic Ocean. Even his pre-war career, as a merchant, was greatly impacted by the seven-year conflict.

Glover rebounded as best he could and did serve in a few political positions, including in the Massachusetts State Legislature and as a Selectman for Marblehead.  One highlight of the post-war years was when President George Washington stopped over in Marblehead and was entertained by his former subordinate.

On January 30, 1797, Glover passed away from hepatitis at the age of 64 and became one of the greatest leaders of the American Revolution you have never heard of.


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