Benjamin Rickard, Marine Private

Benjamin Rickard. Benjamin Rickard, son of John Rickard (1723-1766) and Bathsheba Morton (1727-1798), was born on 12 July 1756 in Plymouth, MA. His parents were married on 14 July 1748. The fourth of five children, Benjamin’s siblings were Bathsheba born 7 February 1750 who married Andrew Campbell on 12 February 1776, John Howland born 2 July 1752, Mary born 12 July 1754 who married Barnabas Otis of Boston on 21 October 1781 and youngest brother Thomas born 29 June 1758. Family data is primarily taken from Mayflower Families Through Five Generations: Volume II, Part I, Edward Doty compiled by Peter B. Hill (1996). Benjamin Rickard’s brother-in-law Barnabas Otis recalled in his testimony in Independence 1st Lieutenant Charles Dyer’s pension application that, “in the year 1776 I lived in Boston & had a fellow apprentice who was from Plymouth. That I recollect the Brig. Independence built at Kingston for the Colony of Massachusetts came to Boston to fit out for a cruise & that I went down to the wharf with my fellow apprentice & that I then knew Capt Sampson her commander…A few years after I married in Plymouth & subsequently came here to reside.” Although not “familiarly acquainted” with Rickard until his marriage in 1784; it is interesting to speculate if Otis first met his future bride’s brother on this visit to the wharf, perhaps introduced to the twenty-year old Benjamin by his accompanying hometown apprentice. According to Benjamin Rickard’s pension application #S-33563, he went on board the Brigantine Independence of 14 guns under Captain Simeon Sampson (1736-1789) in the Spring of 1776. A review of records for other seamen on the ship suggest he entered service on 30 April or 2 May 1776, serving until the expiration of enlistments for the ship’s first cruise on 22 September 1776. The brig Independence was built in Kingston, MA about four miles from Plymouth and was fitted out for the Massachusetts Colony under the direction of Captain Sampson during the Summer of 1776. A resident of Plymouth, Sampson entered service on the Independence on 17 April 1776 and was commissioned as her Captain in the Massachusetts Navy on 26 July 1776. While in command of the Independence, Captain Sampson was asked by his daughter Deborah if she could serve as cabin boy. It is reported that “he roared with laughter, said …(she) was too young for a cabin boy, and told her that no matter how old she became he would not bring her into his Navy because she was a girl.” Six years later on 20 May 1782, Deborah Sampson successful enlisted in the Continental Army disguised as a man. The future mother of four was the first woman to officially serve in the army, was wounded in action and also captured. By an act of Congress, Ms. Sampson was the first woman to be placed on the Revolutionary War pension list. Soon after sailing, having “wooded and watered” in Falmouth, ME, the brig Independence captured a British sloop under the command of Thomas Ludlow bound from Jamaica to Halifax and carrying a cargo of rum and sugar in August 1776. An account of the capture by Henry Goodwin, the Captain’s Clerk of the Independence, at the Archives of Pilgrim Hall Museum records that after Sampson observed the enemy’s master throwing ship’s papers overboard; “The Captain, seeing that, spoke to him through the trumpet and said if he threw over any more, he would fire upon him…The Americans retrieved the soggy papers and received confirmation that the ship was indeed fair game.” Benjamin Rickard recalled “they captured a sloop travelling from the West Indies commanded by Captain Ludlo and recaptured an Irish Brigantine and sent them into Plymouth”. According to his pension application, Rickard embarked on a second cruise on the same vessel with the same master. This three month-eight day enlistment was to extend from 23 September 1776 to 1 January 1777. The brig Independence took four or five prizes during this Fall 1776 voyage including the 150 ton brigantine Nabby under master Jonathan Malon whose libel was advertised in the New England Chronicle on 10 October 1776. Also taken was the British supply ship Roebuck sailing from Nova Scotia under the command of loyalist Plymouth native Gideon White. According to Benjamin Rickard’s pension application, “the Independence was taken by Captain Dawson on the Brig Hope of 14 guns with a transport ship of 16 guns in company”. The Massachusetts brig was captured by the sloop-of-war HMS Hope under the command of Lieutenant George Dawson and her escort HMS Nancy in a “severe and bloody” conflict off the coast of Nova Scotia on 25 November 1776. According to the pension application of Oliver Morton, the engagement lasted more than ninety minutes. The deadly affair is reported in the Maryland Journal of 18 February 1777 under a Boston byline dated 13 January, “ The brig (Independence) engaged Dawson some time, having soldiers on board concealed, who instantly rose up and fired a volley of small arms into the brig, obliged her to strike. ‘Tis reported the brig Independence, Capt. Sampson, would have taken Dawson before the ship came up had his men stood to their quarters; two or three of whom, ’tis said, he killed for leaving them. Another source lauding Sampson’s valor claims, “It is said in the gazette of that period, that he was driven to the awful necessity of running through the body of two or three of his men, who abandoned their guns in the most trying moment of the conflict. One of these victims was his third lieutenant.” It is said that Sampson was so fearless that when he surrendered his sword to Dawson, it was returned to him in recognition of his courage. James Warren also remarked on Sampson’s valor in a letter to John Adams dated 23 March 1777, “I have a very good opinion of (Sampson) as a seaman. A man of judgment, prudence, activity and courage, he behaved like a hero in the action, but the force against him was so superior to his that he had no chance.” According to Benjamin Rickard’s pension application, after the loss of the Independence, he “was carried to a prison in Halifax and detained sixteen months”. According to the testimony of William Weston in 2nd Lieutenant Charles Dyer’s pension application,”the guns were taken out of the Brig & the prisoners were put on board of her” for their conveyance to Halifax. Once there, many of the captured sailors were held on the prison ship Boulongua anchored in Halifax Harbor in the Bay of Fundy from where Captain Sampson wrote describing the crew’s condition. “We are all in number on board 100 and in general in a deplorable situation, having been robbed of most of our clothing by the different ships we were taken in. One of my men was froze to death the 13th instant & there is about 40 more froze, some badly, 4 sent to the hospital, one of which so badly froze tis thought he will lose both his legs. The ship we are on board of is old, open & leaky, it is the inclemency of the season, are short of provisions and necessaries of life. Shan’t think strange if many of us should not survive until the opening of spring, except some method can be taken to exchange prisoners.” Some of Rickard’s crewmates were sent in late December or early January in a cartel to Boston to be exchanged. The 17 February 1777 edition of the Norwich Packet reveals that “one of Capt. Sampson’s lieutenants and a number of his men made their escape” by overtaking the ship. It is believed that this prize was the brigantine Nancy of 140 tons under the master John Churchill which was captured by Independence 1st Lieutenant Daniel Adams and his crew of seventeen men and one boy. The ship was brought into Plymouth, MA and promptly advertised for libel on behalf of Captain Sampson in the New England Chronicle of 9 January 1777. It is also believed that another exchange of prisoners from the Independence occurred on 25 March 1777 which included Sailing Master Theophilus Cotton and Surgeon’s Mate Samuel Gilbert. Most of the men were not released until July and Captain Sampson was not freed until August. According to Rickard, his confinement would have lasted until early 1778. Rickard’s recounts that he was put on a cartel ship destined for New York to be exchanged and that he and the other prisoners “rose upon the ship and carried her into Marblehead.” This escape of 280 Continental prisoners on the “Saturday last” is reported in the 6 February 1778 edition of the Connecticut Gazette, with a Boston byline dated 29 January. The transport ship had sailed from Halifax about the ninteenth of January but had been separated from her convoy several days after sailing in a gale. The prisoners “rose on the crew” of fifteen hands and brought the prize into Marblehead, but not before they had lost twelve men on the passage, not including two more who had fell overboard. After that, according to his pension application, Rickard went to the West Indies in the merchant service and was taken, sent to prison in New York and confined for six months. Exchanged, Rickard’s was carried to New London in a cartel. He then entered service as a marine on board the Confederacy in New London for 10-11 months, serving during her first cruise and was discharged in Philadelphia. His precise time of service probably extended from November or December 1778 until about September 1779. Two declarents in his pension application note that Rickard was put in a hospital at or near Philadelphia prior to his discharge. In 1818, he testified that he was a boatbuilder by trade but “wholly unable to use his right arm and leg.” At that time, he lived alone “with no family” in Plymouth where he had been partially supported by the town for two years. Fellow Confederacy crewmate Elisha Fuller was a declarent in Rickard’s pension application #S-33563, as was his brother-in-law Barnabas Otis. According to Plymouth church records and a mortuary notice in the Columbian Centenial of 18 April, the sixty-five year old Revolutionary War pensioner Benjamin Rickard of Plymouth died on 3 April 1821.

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