Giles Chester, Seaman

Giles Chester. Giles Chester was born in 1760 to Samuel Chester (b. 1715) and Ann Latham, apparently the youngest of ten children. His genealogy is confused and includes old inaccuracies published in the “Old Northwest” genealogical quarterly, Volumes 10-11 (1907). His grandparents were Abraham (1686-1769) and Hannah Chester and great-grandfather was West Indian merchant Captain Samuel Chester (1643-1710), who owned the grounds in Groton where Fort Griswold now stands and adjoining tracts where his son Abraham Chester settled. According to his pension application #W-17611, Giles Chester of Groton served about nine months as fifer and seaman on the brig Cabot under the command of Captain John B. Hopkins. The fifteen year old first went on board for about five months as fifer for the “taking of New Providence”, participated in an engagement with the British sloop-of-war Glasgow on the return voyage and sailed into New London harbor on the Cabot, where she underwent a refitting. According to the 1819 pension application S-38603 of John Chester, formerly of Groton but now of Boston- presumably Giles Chester’s older brother- the two of them enlisted in October 1775 after John’s service as a seaman on the Alfred under Captain Dudley Saltonstall. According to his testimony, the two were together on the Cabot until her return to New London when they separated and John Chester went back aboard the Alfred to Providence. The Cabot was part of the fleet which sailed from the Delaware Bay on 18 February 1776 under Commodore Esek Hopkins which included Saltonstall’s Alfred, the Andrea Doria under Nicholas Biddle, the Columbus under Abraham Whipple and the sloop Providence. New Providence in the Bahamas was captured in early March with the fleet sailing for home on 17 March 1776. During the return voyage, Commodore Hopkins’ Continental fleet took two prizes, the British schooner tender Hawke under Lieutenant John Wallace on 2 April off Long Island and the brigantine Bolton serving as a bomb vessel under Lieutenant Edward Sneyd off Block Island on 5 April. In the evening of 5 April, two more prizes were captured including a sloop by the Cabot. Early in the early morning hours of 6 April 1776 as the fleet “all went helter skelter”, the 16 gun brig Cabot was the first to engage the 26 gun frigate HMS Glasgow under the command of Tryingham Howe. When challenged to identify his ship and companions while closing for action, John B. Hopkins replied “the Columbus and Alfred, a two and twenty gun frigate”. This first fleet action sea battle in U.S. Navy history began when one of the Cabot’s marines in the “fighting top” threw a grenade onto the deck of the Glasgow. The crew of the Cabot, including the two Chester brothers, then unleashed a broadside into the Glasgow, killing one British marine and wounding a second. The brig Cabot, upon receiving two unanswered broadsides from the superior armed and manned frigate, sustained “considerable damage in her hull, spars and rigging which occasioned her falling astern of the Glasgow”. The Alfred and Andrea Doria immediately picked up the fight, the entire engagement lasting “3 glasses”; afterward chasing the Glasgow for more than three more hours before her escape to the protection of the British fleet anchored off Newport, RI. The brig Cabot suffered four men killed including sailing master Sinclair Seymour, “a good officer” and Lieutenant of Marines James Hood Wilson. Seven more were wounded including Captain John B. Hopkins who was “badly wounded in the hand”. Commodore Esek Hopkins commended the antagonists of the action, “too much Praise cannot be given to the Officers of the Cabot who gave and Sustain’d the whole Fire for some considerable time within pistol Shot.” After the battle, the Continental fleet including John and Giles Chester on the brig Cabot came into New London on 8 April 1776 where fifty-eight disgruntled sailors of Cabot’s crew demanded an advance on wages in order to buy necessaries. It is not known if Giles Chester shipped out with the brig Cabot eight days later under Elisha Hinman on 16 April 1776 for the purpose of transporting the cannon taken in the capture of New Providence for the defense of Newport, where the guns were mounted within three days. Lieutenant Hinman was originally placed in command of the ship temporarily while Hopkins recuperated from his wound. Fellow townsman and future neighbor decades hence, Ezekial Yerrington testified in the pension application that when the Cabot came into New London after her engagement with the Glasgow, Giles Chester lived with him for a time and that they both sailed together later under Captain John B. Hopkins on the frigate Warren. After her refitting, Giles Chester went on board the brig Cabot again as seaman, now under the command of Captain Elisha Hinman of New London, Hopkins having been appointed to the Warren. Officers on the Cabot included 1st Lieutenant David Phipps, Captain of Marines John Welch, Lieutenant of Marines Jonathan Mix and John Kerr, Midshipmen John Sword, Ephraim Goldsmith, Abel Frisbie and Peter Richards. According to Giles’ pension application, this cruise lasted about four months during which the ship took a number of prizes, some of which “got into Providence”. The brig Cabot and her compliment of between 80-90 men, some taken from the Fly and Alfred, sailed from New London in mid-May with orders to intercept a British merchant fleet homeward bound from Jamaica. The cruise was initiated in concert with the Andrea Doria under the command of senior officer Captain Nicholas Biddle, however; the Cabot was immediately separated on their first night out on 19 May when chased by the British frigate Cerebus. The prize ship True Blue was captured by the brig Cabot shortly thereafter on 26 May 1776. This cruise also included a second voyage lasting ten weeks and two days during which the brig Cabot captured five ships bound to London with cargoes of sugar, rum, coffee and indigo including: the ships Lowther and Esther and brig Watson all captured on 27 September, brig Clarendon captured on 2 October and finally the brig Georgianna on 5 October 1776. Some of the Cabot’s men were taken to Ireland and then Mill Prison in England for a long confinement when two of the Watson’s prize crew were bribed to assist owner James Bier in retaking his ship. The brig Cabot returned to Boston in October 1776 “with more prisoners on board than the number of our own men” where Giles Chester was discharged. Giles Chester’s activities between November 1776 and January 1778 are not known. According to his pension application, Giles Chester entered on board the 32 gun frigate Warren under his former master John B. Hopkins on a three month cruise to Bermuda. The Warren took a British ship as prize before returning to Boston where Chester was discharged. Chester probably joined the ship’s compliment of about 250 officers and men in January 1778 with other recruits and about forty men transferred from the frigate Trumbull. A number of these officers and men would, like Chester, enter on board the frigate Raleigh after their service on the Warren. Bottled up in the Providence River by the blockading enemy fleet in Narragansett Bay, Captain John B. Hopkins and the Warren escaped the river by running the British gauntlet one night early in March. Continental agent John Deshon wrote, “Every Circumstance Combined in her Favour that She might Clear of the Enemy; the night was Exceeding Dark, and there was but little wind untill the Crittecal time of Passing the Greatest Danger, when the wind Shifted very Suddenly into the N.W. and blowd Exceeding hard, so that the Enemy Could not without the Greatest Difficulty Get under Sail and Persue… on board the Warren abt 170 men, manny of which had not a Second Shift of Cloaths.” After a three week cruise to warmer latitudes, due to the crew’s lack of sufficient clothing, during which she captured two prizes including the ship Neptune near Bermuda; the frigate Warren put into Boston on 23 March 1778. The Neptune, under Captain Smallwood and bound from Whitehaven, Engand to Philadelphia, was carrying a cargo of salt and dry goods.” Giles Chester then entered on the frigate “Rolla” or Raleigh under the command of Captain John Barry about May 1778, four months before the ship sailed from Boston on 25 September 1778. To his misfortune, Chester was among the 132 men with 1st Lieutenant David Phipps and Marine Lieutenant Jabez Smith who were captured early Monday morning 28 September 1778 by the British warships Experiment and Unicorn. He was taken to New York and confined on the notorious prison ship Jersey for five months, exchanged or paroled about the end of February or beginning of March 1779. Three years later, Giles Chester was married on 14 February 1782 by the Reverend Aaron Kinne, pastor of the First Society of Groton from 1769 to 1798, to Mary Latham born in 1763. A graduate of Yale, Kinne (1744-1824) is locally known as the “Pastor of the Revolution” as he was chaplain of the patriot force massacred at Fort Griswold in 1781. According to the testimony of John O. Minor, both he and Colonel McClellan- commander of Fort Griswold after Col. Ledyard was slain- were among the many guests at the Chester wedding. Giles and Mary Chester apparently had at least four children; Daniel born in 1785, Polly born between 1787-1789, Julia born between 1789-1794 and Giles Chester, Jr. born in 1792 or 1793. The 24 June 1797 edition of the Weekly Oracle contains an advertisement by Giles Chester of Groton seeking his cow which “strayed from the pasture” the previous day. The ad promises the finder will be “handsomely rewarded” for the return of the “large red and white cow, with a large wite bag, and two small teats on the hind part of her bag; her horns sawed off”. Just two years later, a two dollar reward would be offered for the return of Chester himself, who with “Tobias Colton, a mulatto man and a seaman” both “broke goal in New London and made their escape on the night of the 2nd October 1799.” An advertisement placed by the New London jailer in the 7 October 1799 edition of the Weekly Oracle offers us perhaps the most graphic picture of Giles Chester, “a native of Groton, in this state, about five foot eight inches high, a talkative vulgar person, had on a green jacket and stript linen trousers”. In his pension application in 1820, Giles Chester testifies that he is a fisherman but is unable to follow his trade at times due to his health. He also describes his wife Polly (Mary Latham) as “very sickly” and his daughter Polly as “weak and feeble”. An inventory of his entire estate totals $39.74. Mrs. Giles Chester probably wouldn’t be described as a vulgar person like her husband, having served as the first Vice-President of the First Ecclesiastical Society of Groton Ladies Association, an evangelical missionary association formed on 17 November 1825. Sixty-nine year old Giles Chester died four days short of his forty-seventh wedding anniversary on 10 February 1829. He is buried in the Colonel Ledyard Cemetery in Groton and his gravestone can be viewed online. He shares the same stone with his wife Mary who died at eighty-four years old on 7 September 1847. Some genealogical records suggest Giles Chester died on 10 February 1830, probably owing to the testimony of his widow and daughter Julia in the pension file. 1830 Census records indicate Chester’s wife Mary and daughters Julia and Polly are living together in the widow’s household the year following his death. Julia was married to Willis Clark, born about 1808 in New York, at Groton on 18 August 1839. The following year, the 1840 Census reveals that the widow Mary Chester and her daughter Polly are living in the household of her new son-in-law Willis Clark, neighbors to oldest son Daniel with his wife Phebe and youngest son Giles, Jr. and his wife Betsey. Namesake Chester Giles Jr. and his wife had at least three daughters born between 1821-1830 and two sons born between 1821-1828. Ten years later in the 1850 Census, subsequent to Mary Chester’s death in 1847, daughter Polly’s married name is revealed to be Pelina Bartholf. She is noted as insane and living in her younger sister Julia’s husband Willis Clark’s household.

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