From Hero to Penury
On July 18, 1779, Commodore Abraham Whipple’s squadron, consisting of Continental frigates Providence, Queen of France and sloop Ranger, captured the largest value of prize vessels during the American Revolution. Having left from Boston one month prior, they sailed east toward the Newfoundland Banks where they met and captured 11 British vessels sailing from Jamaica, later valued in excess of one million dollars.
Abraham Whipple was born September 26, 1733, in Providence, Rhode Island, to Noah and Mary (Dexter) Whipple. Taking to the sea at an early age, Whipple learned seamanship and navigation and quickly established himself as a captain plying the West Indies trade routes. But it was during the French and Indian War (1754-1763) that his courage and daring gained him success as a privateer operating against French vessel. During the period 1759-1760, he is credited with capturing thirty-three prizes, a number that attests to his skill and daring.
As a ship captain, his reputation continued to grow; however, it was in the years leading up to the Revolutionary War that Whipple stepped up and became one of the early leaders of the cause for freedom. It was on the night of June 9, 1772 when the HMS Gaspee ran aground. Whipple led a group of fifty men to capture the vessel and burn it to the waterline, shedding what was arguably the first blood shed in the revolutionary cause.
Upon the creation of the Rhode Island Navy, Whipple became its first commodore. In the sloop Katy, he immediately sought out the enemy. His first effort was in Narragansett Bay when he engaged the tender Diana, capturing and sending her into Providence.
Appointed to the rank of captain in the Continental Navy by the naval committee on December 22, 1775, his commission as captain of the Providence was not signed by John Hancock until October 10, 1776.
Shortly after his success off of the Newfoundland Banks, however, his luck ran out. Sent to augment the defenses of Charleston, South Carolina, which was being besieged by the British, Commodore Whipple and his squadron were outmanned and outgunned and ultimately captured when the city fell.
He, as the commander of naval forces, was placed on a parole of honor by British Vice Admiral Arbuthnot and, as he was not quickly exchanged, he saw little action during the remainder of the Revolutionary War.
Upon returning to his farm in Cranston, RI, Whipple is unable to pay debt that had accumulated during his absence as Congress refused to disburse back pay to the captain who had captured over a million dollars’ worth of trade. When pay was finally forthcoming, he had to sell the securities at an eighty percent discount. In 1788 he moved with his wife to the Northwest Territory, present day Ohio, where he is forced to apply to Congress for a pension. He was awarded a pension of $30 dollars per month, considered half-pay for a captain at the time.
He died in Marietta, Ohio, May 19, 1819, at the age of eighty-six.By John Kennedy, Director of Education