Massachusetts

The Red, Black and White Men of Glover’s Regiment Take Washington Across the Delaware

John Glover’s Regiment  of Marbleheaders accomplished an amazing feat on the night of Dec. 25, 1776. They ferried 2,400 men, plus horses and artillery, across the Delaware River in a blinding snowstorm.

Glover's Regiment had a well-earned reputation for discipline and teamwork. But not everyone approved of it. Emmanuel Leutze, in his famous painting, showed why: He painted a black soldier in Washington's boat.

Glover's Regiment crossing the Delaware with Gen. Washington

There wasn't just one African-American in Glover's Regiment, but several. Indians, too, made up the crack unit. They came together before the war fishing in the North Atlantic, where race didn't matter in a storm.

Getting rid of the British did matter to them. During the war, the British navy had closed down the Grand Banks off Newfoundland. The fishermen and sailors of Glover's Regiment came from the fishing village of Marblehead, Mass., and some nearby towns.

Marblehead, especially depended on those fishing grounds, and their closure reduced the its people to crushing poverty.

Glover's Regiment

The tough, disciplined members of Glover's Regiment had nautical skills that proved invaluable during the American Revolution.

When the British defeated the Continental Army on Long Island, George Washington ordered Glover’s Regiment to manage a surprise nighttime operation. On the night of Aug. 29, 1776, the mariners rowed and sailed for six hours across the East River.

weather history

They safely landed 9,500 men on Manhattan, along with all their baggage, nearly all their artillery, stores, horses and provisions. Had the evacuation failed, Washington’s army—and probably the war—would have been lost.

Washington and Glover

Nevertheless, a Pennsylvania general was shocked by the 'number of negroes' treated as equals in Glover's Regiment.

The Virginian commander-in-chief  had no love for African-Americans and resisted admitting them into the Continental Army. He did, however, allow the first integrated regiment -- Glover's Regiment -- from the very beginning.

Part of the reason may have to do with his personal friendship with John Glover, forged during the Siege of Boston. Glover, like Washington, exercised good taste and decorum. He dressed well, always with two silver pistols and a Scottish broadsword.

Washington also appreciated the discipline of Glover's Regiment. As seafarers, they were used to instantly obeying their officers -- unlike the other New Englanders in the Continental Army.

They also dressed funny. They wore clothes practical for duties aboard ship, such as short, wide bottom pants; work shirts; blue round jackets; and tarred, wide brimmed hats that repelled water.

John Glover

John Glover himself was the son of a Salem house carpenter who died when he was four. The family moved to Marblehead, and Glover rose from cordwainer to rum trader to ship owner and merchant.

glover's-regiment-glover

John Glover

As a ship owner, he had felt British oppression. The British Navy impressed his sailors and searched his ships for smuggled goods without warrants. He had to deal with corrupt British customs officials. He joined the Marblehead militia in 1759.

After the Boston massacre Glover was elected to the Committee of Correspondence. He was lieutenant commander of the militia when Col. Jeremiah Lee died in April 1775. Shortly thereafter, Glover’s Regiment marched to the siege of Boston.

It became the 14th Continental Regiment, known by the generals as an amphibian regiment.

Winter Soldiers

On Christmas Day, 1776, the Americans had suffered a series of defeats since the debacle on Long Island. Washington’s army had grown tired of  retreating. Washington desperately needed to motivate his men to re-enlist at the end of the year.

weather history

He got some help from Thomas Paine. On Dec. 19, Washington had Thomas Paine’s words from Common Sense read to the men: “These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”

Washington wanted his army to cross back over the Delaware River for a surprise attack on Hessian soldiers wintering in Trenton. Winter had set in, and ice floes choked the treacherous river. Washington asked Glover if they could cross the 800-foot-wide river.

Glover told Washington ‘not to be troubled about that, as his boys could manage it.’ They managed.

Crossing the Delaware

The night was fearfully cold and dark, with rain turning to sleet, then snow, and the Northeast wind beating on the men’s faces. Gen. Henry Knox thought it impossible to cross the river.

The Americans, though, had access to Durham boats designed to carry large amounts of ore. The black-hulled boats were eight feet wide and as long as 60 feet, with pointed ends.

For hours, Glover's Regiment loaded 40 men at a time along the slippery river banks into the boats. Four or five of Glover's men muscled each boat across the river using long poles in the shallows and 18-foot oars across the middle. Then they'd return for another load.

Knox realized the wet weather would make the soldier's powder nearly useless, making the artillery crucial to success. Glover's Regiment therefore managed to ferry 18 cannons and frightened horses across the Delaware. Knox later wrote, ' . . . perseverance accomplished what at first seemed impossible.'

They didn't make it across the river until 3 am on the 26th.  Washington thought about turning back. He knew they couldn’t reach Trenton in the dark and feared they’d lost the element of surprise. He decided to go ahead, since it would probably be harder to go back.

Morale Booster

Though the Americans attacked in daylight, they still had surprise on their side.  The short battle resulted in 106 Hessians of the 1,200 killed, the rest of captured. Only four of Washington’s men were wounded.

It wasn’t a turning point of the war; that didn’t happen until the Battle of Saratoga in the fall of 1777. But it did lift American morale at a time when it sorely needed lifting.

Glover’s Regiment disbanded after Trenton, as most of the men wanted to join privateers or the new Navy.

Glover went home to Marblehead to take care of his sick wife, who soon died. Washington asked him to stay in the military. He agreed to stay and served with distinction to the end of the war, the only senior officer to serve in both the army and the navy.

Glover’s Regiment became a legend in Marblehead. In 1975, a group of Glover’s Regiment re-enactors formed and began to appear in Marblehead parades.

This story about Glover's Regiment was updated in 2017.

 

14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. Joey Vellucci

    Joey Vellucci

    December 25, 2013 at 10:08 am

    That was Washington’s favorite regiment. Whenever he visited Boston he or one of his men would go to Marblehead and buy a few barrels of salted cod, a meal he enjoyed very much. Bravo to those fighting sailors and fishermen !

  2. Bill Woodfin

    Bill Woodfin

    December 25, 2013 at 10:45 am

    Yay Joey! Marbleheaders all!

  3. Dana McPhee

    Dana McPhee

    December 25, 2013 at 12:57 pm

    The Peabody-Essex Museum in Salem Massachusetts recently put on exhibit a long-ago acquired brass helmet from a Hessian soldier killed at the Battle of Trenton. (I posted a photo in October; it’s in my mobile upload photos album – it is in pristine condition). Definitely a Marblehead connection…

  4. Bobo Leach

    Bobo Leach

    December 25, 2013 at 2:30 pm

    They were such strong, courageous people.

  5. Jane Dalal

    Jane Dalal

    December 26, 2013 at 8:45 am

    The crossing of the river after the Battle of Long Island was nothing short of miraculous! These brave sailors saved the American army!

  6. Jane Dalal

    Jane Dalal

    December 26, 2013 at 8:45 am

    The crossing of the river after the Battle of Long Island was nothing short of miraculous! These brave sailors saved the American army!

  7. Ma Ma Thoms Thomas

    Ma Ma Thoms Thomas

    December 26, 2013 at 6:26 pm

    That must have been something back then. To live and go through so much, with so little.

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  11. Lonna Thiem

    December 25, 2017 at 8:04 pm

    We spend our summers in W. Glover VT. The history of Glover says that it was founded by Col. Glover of Marblehead. Do you have any information about that?

  12. Margaret Fairchild

    January 17, 2018 at 11:47 pm

    Glover is on my short list of American heroes. He and his Marblehead men saved the American Revolution multiple times, and yet he (and they) are unsung heroes-I don’t believe I learned about them in history class in school. I first learned of Glover watching the TV movie “The Crossing”. Of course, Hollywood took a lot of license with his character, and made him out to be “a pain in Washington’s ass, and a thorn in his side”, which apparently wasn’t true.

    I would like to know if any of Glover’s descendants are alive today.

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