Publication Date


Document Type


First Page


Last Page



In contrast to most of the major army campaigns, clashes, leadership personalities, effectiveness levels, and strategies of the major land combatants during the American Revolution, Patriot naval activities have not received the overall attention they deserve. William J. Morgan, a former editor of the monumental series, Naval Documents of the American Revolution, has noted, “all too frequently historians of the American Revolution have ignored the maritime aspects of the conflict, or, at best have reflected slight understanding of that decisive element.” Morgan's observations, made several decades ago, can be verified by surveying the contents then found in prominent writings of the American Revolution. Whereas the lives, exploits, and achievements of such prominent maritime men such as John Paul Jones, Esek Hopkins, Joshua Barney, Abraham Whipple, Dudley Saltonstall, and John Barry have received scholarly attention, there were many others in naval annals that deserve mention in maritime annals. Searches for such American maritime heroes reveal the names of several little known seamen from New England in particular. These Yankee ship captains include unheralded men, such as Robert Niles of Connecticut, John P. Rathbun of Rhode Island, Thomas Simpson of Massachusetts, and John B. Hopkins of Rhode Island. Added to such lesser known New Englanders, this article focuses on the career of Jeremiah O’Brien, (1744-1818), an Irishman who spent most of his life in Maine. O’Brien led a fascinating life, and the readers of this work should surely see that, though he was one of the least remembered, he was a great man who hailed from what Mainers today—with justifiable pride—refer to as “Down East.” Sheldon S. Cohen graduated from Yale University in 1953. He received his master’s degree from Harvard in 1956 and his doctorate in early American history from New York University in 1963. Since then, he has taught at New York University, Bradley University, and from 1969 until his retirement in 1999, at Loyola University in Chicago. He has published several articles on topics in early American history in journals such as William and Mary Quarterly, New England Quarterly, Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography,and Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. He has also written three books relating to the naval matters and Loyalists during the American Revolution.