Simon Gross, 1st Lieutenant

Simon Gross. Simon Gross was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the Continental Navy on 12 October 1776. Gross is noted as Lieutenant on the list of officers and men belonging to the ship Boston under Captain Hector McNeill in 1777. His battle station on that list was designated as deck abaft. The 24 gun frigate Boston was built by Stephen and Ralph Cross of Newburyport, MA and launched on 3 June 1776. She was completed the following year and sailed from Boston under the command of Captain McNeill on 21 May 1777 in the company of the frigate Hancock under Captain John Manley and nine privateers. The pair of warships, abandoned by the privateers within six days, promptly captured a small brig with cordage and duck on 29 May. The following day, the Hancock and Boston sighted a squadron of transports including the 64 gun British warship Somerset. Thinking her just another frigate, the Hancock sailed close in because Captain Manley “was not convinced of the size of our Opponent untill she was within Shott of him, when very luckily for him the Hancock’s Heels saved his Bacon.” On Saturday 7 June 1777, the Hancock initially engaged the 28 gun British frigate Fox under the command of Captain Patrick Fotheringham. The Fox attempted to escape, however the fast-sailing Hancock gave chase and quickly overtook her. With both ships sharing broadsides and sustaining heavy damage, the Boston approached and engaged the Fox about an hour into the duel. According to the British account of her captain, “I therefore at Quarter before two gave the Ship up in order to save my People.” With the Fox’s mainmast lost, the ship’s wheel shattered and the Hancock’s crew busy at the pumps, McNeill sent his 1st Lieutenant John Brown onboard to take possession of the prize until an angry “Captain Manley refused giving him the Command & I (McNeill) was finaly obliged to withdraw him for the sake of peace.” Apparently, Boston’s 2nd Lieutenant Simon Gross was placed on the Fox as second in command while the crews spent the next few days repairing the prize before resuming their cruise. The early morning of 6 July 1777 revealed a British sloop carrying coal which was captured and taken in to tow by the Hancock. That evening, the Fox signaled that two British ships were closing from the rear, the 44 gun Rainbow under the command of Commodore Sir George Collier and the brig Victor. At dawn on 7 July 1777, when the 32 gun Flora joined the British pursuers, the coal sloop was cut loose and burned as the Americans prepared for battle with the approaching enemy ships. The Flora engaged the Boston and when she left the fight to make repairs, Captain Manley fled the battle after mistaking the Rainbow for a more powerful ship. After a 39 hour long chase and while under fire from the Rainbow, Captain Manley struck his colors, surrendering to the British. The Fox also was captured by the frigate Flora after a “sharp engagement” with her prize crew offering “sturdy resistance”. McNeill’s description of the British recapture of the Fox with Lieutenant Gross in command reads, “Unfortunately the Fox did not tack at the same time we did, by which means the Enemy got between her and us and she was obliged to pass under the fire of the first Ship above mention’d and the fire of the two deck Ship also. Capt. Manley seeing that the Fox was beyond Saveing, put about and stood to the Southd, the Fox bore away and run to the Eastwd, and we kept the Wind to the Northwd. The two deck Ship then put about and follow’d the Hancock, leaving the Fox and me to the other two Ships. The Fox fled and defended herself bravely, haveing also some advantage in point of Sailing; we were constrain’d to keep the Wind for our own Security, being neither able to run from nor fight such force as then appear’d to Leward.” The Flora’s commander recorded “At 6 P.M. we came up close to her, upon which she struck her Colours and proved to be his Majesty’s Ship the Fox, that had been taken a month before that by the Hancock and Boston, Continental Ships, on the Banks of Newfoundland”. McNeill and his frigate escaped to the mouth of the Sheepscott River in Maine before eventually returning to Boston in disgrace, accused of cowardice and responsibility for the loss of the Hancock. He was court-martialed and dismissed from naval service in June 1779. The British took their prizes into Halifax. In his official report Commodore Collier states “the Hancock had two hundred and twenty-nine men on board…” and that “Manly seem’d filled with rage and grief at finding he had so easily surrendered to a ship of only 44 guns, believing all along that it was the Raisonable, of 64 guns, who was chasing him.” In a personal letter from the Boston’s commander to his wife Mary dated 21 July 1777 and transcribed in Captain Hector McNeill of the Continental Navy by Allen Garner Weld (1922), McNeill indicates his fear that Mr. (Simon) Gross, Mr. (John) Harris, Mr. (James) Knowles, Mr. (William Mulling) Millen along with fifty-three other men including frigate Boston’s 1st Lieutenant of Marines Robert McNeill have been captured and sent to Halifax. Another letter dated 17 September 1777 written from Boston by Captain McNeill confirms that 2nd Lieutenant Simon Gross “is now a prisoner at Halifax.” Later, on 14 October 1777, McNeill writes directly to his imprisoned kinsman Robert sending money and indicating that money has been given to the family of Simon Gross. In the same correspondence; Gideon Woodwell, Thomas Lovering and John Garratt are additionally identified as prisoners. The prisoners were held in captivity about six months before their exchange, Robert McNeill’s date of release being 24 January 1778. Fox’s prize master 1st Lieutenant Stephen Hill of the frigate Hancock, as well as, Simon Gross and Robert McNeill of the frigate Boston arrived in Boston on the cartel brig Favorite on 29 January 1778. According to Naval Officers of the American Revolution by Charles E. Claghorn (1988), Gross resigned his commission six months later on 19 June 1778 to serve on a privateer. It is not yet determined why Lieutenant Gross desired to leave the Navy or on which privateer he served. Gross was brought back into service as 1st Lieutenant on the Confederacy for her maiden voyage and served with her until captured. Payroll records from the Confederacy’s final voyage reposited in the National Archives suggest that Joshua Huntington first engaged Gross beginning 18 January 1779. Harold M. Hahn in Ships of the American Revolution and their Models (1988) indicates that Gross made recommendations concerning masting and rigging of the Confederacy based on his experience with the frigate Alliance built at Salisbury, MA, suggesting that the Lieutenant was attached to that ship as well. The Alliance was laid down in 1777 on the Merrimack River but not launched until 29 May 1778 under the command of Captain Pierre Landais. A deposition in the pension file #W-2503 of Cornelius Wells names Gross as 1st Lieutenant, William Phipps as 2nd Lieutenant and Stephen Gregory as 3rd Lieutenant on the frigate Confederacy’s final cruise to Cape Francois. The date of his last cash payment on the Confederacy was logged on 25 February 1781. The Confederacy was surrendered without a fight on 14 April 1781 to the British warships Roebuck and Orpheus off the Delaware Capes on her return from the West Indies with a military cargo. One with the name Simon P. Gross appears on the prisoner list of the Jersey prison ship suggesting that he might have been sent there when the Confederacy was captured. According to Claghorn, Simon Gross was appointed Mate on the ten gun Pennsylvania privateer Two Esthers under twenty-two year old Captain James Byrne of Philadelphia on 26 December 1781. His age is listed as 30, making his year of birth approximately 1751. This appointment would have occurred shortly after his release from the British prison ship. This ten-gun privateer with a compliment of thirty-five men was owned by Philadelphians John Henry Messonnier and John C. Zollickhoffer. Gross’ name appears on a list of letters at the Post Office in a Philadelphia newspaper dated 5 July 1782.

In 1790, the Revenue-Marine was created to enforce tariff laws and control smuggling. Between the disbanding of the Continental Navy at the close of the Revolutionary War and the 1798 creation of the Department of the Navy, the Revenue-Marine was the only armed maritime service of the United States. Soon after its establishment, Simon Gross obtained a commission to command the Active, believed to be the second of the first ten revenue cutters to enter this service. The Columbian Centinel on 30 April 1791 notes, “A Revenue Cutter, was launched at Baltimore the 9th inst. at Captain Stodder’s Ship Yard, and is considered by good judges, a beautiful vessel. She is to be commanded, we hear, by Capt. Gross, formerly First-Lieutenant of the Continental Frigate Confederacy.” The Active was laid down in January 1791, her original outfitting and equipping detailed in an extant letter from Gross to Alexander Hamilton. When she was sold out of government service in 1798, she is described as a two-masted topsail schooner having a “square stern, a square tuck, no galleries and no figurehead.” Wikapedia comments on the ship, “Active seemed to have been plagued with problems from the start. For the first few months of her existence she remained tied up in port. Gross, a man of known intemperance, had trouble hiring a crew at the wages the government offered. The pay in the merchant service proved to be much more lucrative. Gross also did not get along with his first mate. These problems manifested themselves, despite the name of the cutter, in a decided lack of activity. Baltimore’s Collector of Customs complained that merchant vessel manifests supplied to the Active by incoming ships, did not reach his desk for weeks, if at all. Relative incompetence amongst the officers and difficulty obtaining a full crew continually troubled the revenue cutter throughout its service life. Indeed, the collector wrote Hamilton in disgust that the cutter was “of no more advantage to the United States and perhaps much less, than if she had been built and manned on the lake Erie.” Gross and 1st Mate David Porter both saw fit to leave the cutter under the command of the second mate on numerous occasions, thereby adding to the frustration of the collector and the Secretary of the Treasury as well. Gross submitted his resignation in the summer of 1792 and Porter, with the recommendation of President George Washington assumed command of the lackluster Active. Even the President seemed satisfied that Gross was leaving government service. He noted in a letter that “…the service would sustain no loss by the resignation of the Master of the Maryland Revenue Cutter.” ” Gross appears to have written Alexander Hamilton on 4 June 1792 regarding payment for his service for $153.83. A 20 June 1792 letter from Daniel Delozier to General Otho Holland Williams, Collector at Port Baltimore, states “Received Williams’ letter of 18 [June], with the accompanying papers about the revenue cutter; has heard unofficially that Capt. Gross intends to resign about the end of this month, that the officers of the cutter are displeased with his conduct, and that he fears they will send in a report on him to the Secretary of the Treasury.” Gross was succeeded in command by David Porter, the first in the new Revenue-Marine to be promoted by the President from Lieutenant to Captain. His commission was dated 1 July 1792 and he was appointed Master of the Active on 5 August 1792.

As the first three vessels of the new Navy, the Constitution, United States and Constellation, were being fitted out for sea; President John Adams appointed several junior officers for these ships on 8 March 1798. On the following day they were confirmed by the Senate. For the Constellation he chose Simon Gross of Maryland, 1st Lieutenant; John Rodgers of Maryland, 2nd Lieutenant and William Cowper of Virginia, 3nd Lieutenant. Gross resigned by 23 May 1798 when Andrew Sterret of Maryland was appointed to the ship and Rodgers was promoted to 1st Lieutenant, serving as Captain Thomas Truxton’s senior officer in the Constellation’s engagement with the French frigate L’Insurgente. Although not officially appointed to the rate until almost one year later, the Philadelphia Gazette of 27 August 1797 notes his earlier posting with “Simon Gross (an officer of the American Navy during the late war), First Lieutenant of the frigate ‘ Constellation,’ at Baltimore, commanded by Captain Truxton.” “Lt. Simon Gross also appears on a list of letters at the Post Office in a Baltimore newspaper dated 15 February 1798. According to a 1 February 1798 entry in the letterbook of William Simmons of the Accountant’s Office, Lieutenant Simon Gross of the frigate Constellation was due $233.20 for “pay and subsistence from 1 September to 31 December 1797.” According to the late Florence Kern in Simon Gross’s U.S. Revenue Cutter Active, 1791-1798 (1977), Captain Truxton disciplined Gross with the admonishment that “every drunkard is a Nuisance and no drunkard ought to be employ’d and if employ’d Shall ever remain an officer with me.” Gross apparently later picked a fight with David Porter, Junior while both were lieutenants. Gross made some “insulting” remarks about Porter’s father, who was Gross’s 1st Mate and successor in command of the Active. After a fistfight, Simon Gross was reportedly dismissed from the Navy, only to enlist as a seaman in the Navy. Supposedly, the last anyone heard of him he was an oarsman on an officer’s barge.

Little is known for certain concerning Gross’ personal life. The birthdate indicated by one source suggests that Lieutenant Gross was the Simon Gross born in 1751 to Captain Simon Gross (1709-1796) and his second wife Phebe Knowles who were married at Truro, MA on 14 February 1750. Phebe Knowles, the daughter of Paul Knowles and Phebe Paine, had been married first to Joseph Collins or Collings. Genealogical sources suggest it is the senior Gross who served as Lieutenant on the Confederacy but his advanced age makes this improbable. Born in Hingham, MA the elder Simon Gross was first married to Elizabeth Treat on 24 July 1729 in Truro. Another genealogical source suggests the junior Simon Gross was born to Elizabeth Treat on 9 April 1732, an early birthdate for our subject. It is possible this was an older half-brother who died prior to 1751. Perhaps future research into the estate records of the elder Gross, a mariner from Hingham, who died on 23 February 1796 in Lebanon, CT may provide some answers concerning his son. According to Maryland Marriages 1634-1777 complied by Robert Barnes, Simon Gross was married to seventeen year old Anna Bond Job on Thursday 25 January 1798 by the Reverend Allison in the 1st Presbyterian Church of Baltimore. Founding pastor of that church from 1763 until his death, Rev. Patrick Allison, D.D. (1740-1802) also served as Chaplain to the Continental Congress and was a personal friend of George Washington. Ann or Anna Job was born 20 November 1780 in East Nottingham, MD and died 6 October 1862 in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. According to the genealogical source, Anna’s husband Captain Simon Gross of Baltimore treated her so badly that her father Morris Job took her away from Gross and sent her to live with her grandparents. The name of Ann Gross appears on a List of Letters waiting to be claimed at the post office at Charles Town (West Virginia) published in the Farmers Repository for 22 July to 19 August 1808. She became a school teacher in Berkeley County, VA (now West Virginia) and was remarried to Thomas James Bruce on 8 September 1811. Subsequently she moved with her second husband to Highland County, Ohio about three years after their marriage and after the death of Thomas Bruce in 1826 finally settled in Des Moines County, Iowa about 1838. Her children were Jane Terry, James Bruce, Lawrence Bruce, Sarah Anderson and Lydia Smith. Morris Job and his wife Lydia Bond, residents of 41 Philpots Street, Fells Point in the 1790 Census, lived in Baltimore between 1782 and 1802. Morris Job was employed by the federal government superintending iron and copper work on the frigate Constellation. Another genealogical source,, suggests that after Anna’s irate father retrieved his daughter, “Gross sailed for the Indies and never returned.” The last shipping record found by this researcher in the 12 December 1809 edition of the “Evening Post” of New York notes, “Left there (Laguira- present day Venezuela) ship Ann, Gross of and for Baltimore”.

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