Lest We Forget

At first, he was happily surprised that the Hope surrendered without a fight. But as he closed in to claim his prize, he realized that the clever British captain had passed the order for his men to cut the ships halyards, knowing that this would prevent Mugford from being able to sail the disabled ship away before the nearby enemy fleet could respond.

Mugford opened fire with a volley of oaths and promises that the captain and his entire crew would suffer a horrid death if they persisted in cutting the lines. Knives and axes dropped to the deck, and Mugford soon had his undamaged prize. He immediately set sail and delivered much-needed supplies—including 1,500 barrels of gunpowder and 1,000 carbines—to the American troops ashore.

Knowing the Royal Navy would be seeking retribution, Mugford then headed for the open sea. But an opposing tide prevented him from getting far, and he was soon compelled to anchor. Expecting the worst, Mugford ordered a quantity of 12-pound shot heated until red hot and had springs fixed to his anchor cables to allow him to swing his ship about should he need to unmask batteries.

Before dawn could ease the inky darkness, lookouts heard the creak and splash of approaching oars. When Mugford hailed them, a voice replied, "For God's sake don't shoot! We are friends from Boston come to help you." Unfooled by this attempted ruse, Mugford opened fire with a broadside.

Of 14 boats filled with 200 British soldiers, five were immediately destroyed, but the others pressed the attack, and soldiers began clamoring up the Franklin 's hull. In the vicious fight that ensued, the Americans dropped red-hot cannon balls on the attackers' heads, and as the enemy soldiers grasped at the Franklin 's rails, the Americans lopped off a great many fingers and whole hands. Mugford alone severed five pairs of hands. But he soon paid battle's ultimate toll and fell, mortally wounded.

Before he died, Mugford told his second-in-command, "I am a dead man. But do not give up the vessel. You will be able to beat them off. If not, cut the cable and run the schooner on shore!" Not as succinct as Captain James Lawrence's later "Don't give up the ship," but the spirit was the same.

The lieutenant did indeed run the schooner ashore and saved her from capture. The British lost 70 men in the fight, while Captain Mugford was the only American death. A century later, a monument was placed in his honor on Old Burial Hill in Marblehead.

Lieutenant Commander Cutler is the author of several books, including A Sailor's History of the U.S. Navy and Brown Water, Black Berets .
 

 
 

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