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Help Comes to Gloucester from Chebacco (Essex)

In the aftermath of the Battle of Gloucester, local inland towns sent militiamen to assist in Gloucester’s defense in case of British retaliation. Robert Crowell’s History of the town of Essex: from 1634 to 1868 (pp. 208-209) relates the events of August 1775 and its aftermath, including the interruption of a patriotic parson’s prayer (relevant portion in bold):

On the 9th of August, the Falcon sloop-of-war, having chased an American vessel into Gloucester harbor, dispatched three boats with about forty men, to bring her off, when the party were so warmly received by the militia, who had collected on the shore, that the captain thought it necessary to send a reinforcement, and to commence cannonading the town. A very smart action ensued, which was kept up for several hours, but resulted in the complete defeat of the assailants, leaving upwards of thirty prisoners in the hands of the Americans. Many people there were so alarmed at the approach of the enemy that they fled with their valuables into the interior. Some only came as far as this place [the town of Essex], bringing silver plate and other valuables with them, and tarried awhile until the danger seemed to be over. For the defence and protection of the coast of Cape Ann, a force of militia from the more inland towns was drafted, to be stationed there. On their march thither they passed through Chebacco, halted and were paraded on the common (near the present North meeting-house), where they received their Chebacco fellow-soldiers. On this occasion, a prayer was offered by the ardent and patriotic Cleaveland. While he was praying in his stentorian voice “that the enemy might be blown” — “to hell and damnation,” loudly interrupted an excited soldier — “to the land of tyranny from whence they came,” continued the undisturbed chaplain, without altering his tone or apparently noticing the interruption.

John Cleaveland was pastor of a “separatist” or “revivalist” movement that broke away from local Congregationalists during the revivals of the 18th century. He served as chaplain to British troops stationed in Albany during the French & Indian War. Later (in the 1760’s) he was a supporter of the Sons of Liberty and wrote for the cause under then name Johannis in Eremo “John in the Wilderness” in the Essex Gazette. He served as a chaplain at Bunker Hill and his four sons also joined the rebellion.

You can read more about Cleaveland at the Historic Essex Walking Tour website, and read his papers at the Congregational Library and Archives digital collection. The finding aid for an archive of Cleaveland’s sermons at Yale University also has a brief biography. I haven’t seen it yet, but apparently a biography was written about Cleaveland by Christopher M. Jedrey: The World of John Cleaveland: Family and Community in Eighteenth-Century New England (New York: Norton, 1979).

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