Meet the American who rowed Washington across the Delaware on Christmas: sailor-soldier John Glover
The leader of the remarkable Marblehead militia of Massachusetts, Glover three times saved the cause of American independence
General John Glover delivered a priceless gift to the nation.
He saved the cause of American independence on Christmas Day 1776.
Glover was a Marblehead, Massachusetts, mariner-turned-Revolutionary War hero who led a rugged regiment of calloused New England fishermen.
This famed Marblehead militia ferried George Washington and 2,400 troops in row boats across the ice-choked Delaware River on the night of Dec. 25 with the American rebellion on the brink of collapse.
The daring assault overwhelmed a garrison of 1,400 Hessian mercenaries in Trenton, New Jersey, who were fighting on behalf of the British crown.
It was a stunning victory that reversed the course of the American Revolution and, ultimately, reshaped world history.
Portrait of John Glover (1732-1797), American Revolutionary officer. Supervised the retreat and troop transport from Long Island and led the advance on Trenton, New Jersey, on Dec. 25, 1776. Original Artwork: Engraving is facsimile of pencil drawing from life by Col. J. Trumbull. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
“This was a major military crossing under extraordinarily difficult circumstances,” American Battlefield Trust historian Kristopher White told Fox News Digital.
“More than just men, there were horses, provisions and artillery. Washington came armed for a fight.”
The daring triumph after a year of humiliating losses was, by many accounts, a Christmas miracle.
Officially known as the 14th Continental Regiment, the Marblehead militia was an extraordinary fighting force.
“Washington relied on Glover to do a lot of very difficult things. And Glover always came through.”
Powering Washington’s assault across the Delaware was only one of three miracles delivered by Glover and his Marblehead men to save the rebellion in that terrible-turned-glorious year of 1776.
“Washington relied on Glover to do a lot of very difficult things,” Pam Peterson of the Marblehead Historical Commission told Fox News Digital.
“And Glover always came through.”
The ‘codfish aristocracy’
John Glover was born on Nov. 5, 1732, in Salem, Massachusetts, to Jonathan and Yabitha (Bacon) Glover. They moved to nearby Marblehead when he was a young boy.
The Glovers were of modest means. So John took to the sea at a young age.
The colonial Massachusetts economy was built upon cod fishing. Glover was at the forefront of the trade, working his way to the top of what historians call the “codfish aristocracy.”
He wore pistols with silver handles, “reminiscent of Patton” and his ivory-handled revolvers, said Beck.
“He was not a radical by nature, but he and his townsmen felt the sting of tyranny in writs of assistance, corrupt customs officers, and the illegal impressments of Marblehead crews by the Royal Navy,” David Hackett Fischer writes in his 2005 Pulitzer Prize-winning history, “Washington’s Crossing.”
“Glover was a self-made man … a tough cookie, a rough guy, a disciplinarian.”
“These repeated acts turned a conservative ship captain into a revolutionary.”
Glover was pushed to rebellion by the Boston Massacre in 1770. He joined the local committee of correspondence, which helped coordinate anti-British activities across New England.
He had no formal military training, but soon came to lead the local militia.
It was a unit of rugged seamen used to hard labor. They wore tarred trousers — an uncomfortable form of weather proofing — and were adept at handling both muskets and bayonets.
“John Glover ran his regiment like a taut ship with the same system of command that prevailed at sea,” writes Fischer.
Washington found in Glover a rare and reliable leader among the ragtag militiamen.
He commissioned one of Glover’s Marblehead schooners, the Hannah — named for the seaman’s daughter — into service confronting the British navy.
Glover’s Hannah today is widely considered the first vessel in the history of the U.S. Navy.
The British awoke to find the American army had disappeared before their very eyes.
The legend of Glover’s sailor-soldiers was born in August 1776, after the British invaded Brooklyn and quickly overwhelmed Washington’s Continental army.
The Americans were pushed up against the East River and faced certain slaughter, possibly even the whimpering end of the rebellion.
The Marblehead men raced to the rescue. They ferried Washington’s entire remaining army of 9,000 men to the safety of Manhattan across the East River in the single night of August 29.
The British awoke to find the American army had disappeared before their very eyes.
His unit of about 750 men then held off a British amphibious invasion force of 4,000 men in the Battle of Pell’s Point in October, in what’s now the New York City borough of the Bronx.
Taking advantage of terrain and ducking behind stone fences, Glover’s men devastated the invasion force.
“Few men ever had so much riding on their skill, or were under such pressure, or performed so superbly.”
“The British and Hessians suffered about 200 killed and many wounded,” writes Fischer.
“The stubborn resistance allowed Washington to withdraw his troops north to the hills of White Plains. It also demonstrated the surprising stamina of the American troops.”
The American Battlefield Trust calls the Battle of Pell’s Point “Glover’s finest hour as a military commander.”
By the end of 1776, Washington and his all-but-defeated army were encamped in Pennsylvania, on the west bank of the Delaware River.
The general decided to take the offensive and make a daring assault over the river, attacking the Hessian garrison in Trenton on Christmas.
“Washington hoped that a quick victory at Trenton would bolster sagging morale in his army and encourage more men to join the ranks of the Continentals come the new year,” writes the website of George Washington’s Mount Vernon.
Crossing the Delaware was a plan of extraordinary daring — and extraordinary desperation.
It was a plan of extraordinary daring — and extraordinary desperation.
“Washington is up against a timetable,” said White of the American Battlefield Trust. “Most of the men were leaving at the end of the year” after fulfilling their service obligations.
“If he doesn’t strike now, he’ll lose his army. The cause could be completely lost.”
Washington turned to the men who proved the most skilled, brave and reliable over the past year: Glover and his 14th Continentals.
The Marblehead men found a reliable ally on the Pennsylvania riverbanks: an American innovation called the Durham boat.
They were sturdy flat-bottomed vessels used to haul coal from the hills of Pennsylvania to the port of Philadelphia.
Three different invasion fleets were set to participate in the raid. Only Glover’s boats made it across the Delaware.
The raid was an extraordinary success. Two dozen Hessians were killed, dozens more wounded and some 900 taken prisoner.
Three different invasion fleets were set to participate in the raid. Only Glover’s made it across the Delaware.
The Continental army suffered only two deaths — men who froze to death in the bitter cold of Christmas night. The trail of blood in the snow wasn’t necessarily from battle wounds, but from the bloody feet of ill-supplied American troops who marched over the frozen earth barefoot to fight for independence.
The Marblehead militia rowed the entire invasion force — plus 900 prisoners of war — back across the Delaware.
General Henry Knox “himself later praised the heroic efforts of Glover and his men,” writes McCullough, “describing how the ice in the river made their labor ‘almost incredible’ and the most infinite difficulty they had in getting horses and cannons on board the boat.”
A nation of tributes
General John Glover died in Marblehead on Jan. 30, 1797. He was 64 years old.
“Following additional distinguished roles in the war, including at the Battle of Saratoga and its aftermath, Glover retired from the Army in 1782,” Glover’s Marblehead Regiment, a contemporary group of historians and reenactors, says on its website.
“He returned to Marblehead, rebuilt his business, and went on to serve two terms in the Massachusetts Legislature and six terms on the Marblehead Board of Selectmen.”
Glover Square is a famous local point of reference and the site of the General Glover home, a National Historic Landmark.
Hundreds of local children attend Glover Elementary School, while Glover’s tomb in Old Burial Hill Cemetery remains a place of honor and reverence.
The frigate USS Glover was the first ship in U.S. Navy history named for an Army officer.
Glover’s Marblehead Regiment boasts companies of volunteers in both Marblehead and Washington Crossing, Pennylvania.
They will cross the Delaware River on Christmas Day, as they do each year, in honor of the American assault. They will row Durham boats, much like Glover’s men did, built with painstaking detail to the originals.
Glover’s Rock at Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx honors the site of his unit’s heroic battle against the British invasion force at Pell’s Point.
Three ships bearing the name USS Marblehead fought for the U.S. Navy in the Civil War, the Spanish-American War and World War II.
The frigate USS Glover, launched in 1965, was the first ship in U.S. Navy history named for an Army officer.
Marblehead remains a richly patriotic little community, proud of its role in forging American independence, according to Pam Peterson of the local historical commission.
Washington made a victory tour of the 13 colonies in 1789, the year the Father of His Country became its first president, along with the Marquis de Lafayette, the French nobleman who fled his homeland at age 19 to join the American Revolution.
They stopped in Marblehead to pay homage to Glover, and to the small-town militia that three times saved the cause of independence.
Said Washington in Glover’s honor: “Your attachment to the Constitution of the United States is worthy of men who fought and bled for freedom, and know its value.”