Captain Tucker Honored By George Washington
THE DARING ADVENTURES OF THE HERO OF MARBLEHEAD
CAPTAIN SAMUEL TUCKER was a Yankee boy who began his career by running
away from home and shipping as a cabin-boy on the British sloop-of-war
Royal George. It was a good school for a seaman, and when his time was
up he knew his business well.
There was no war then, and he shipped as second-mate on a merchant
vessel sailing from Sa
em. Here he soon had a taste of warlike life and
showed what kind of stuff was in him. The Mediterranean Sea in those
days was infested by pirates sailing from the Moorish ports. It was the
work of these to capture merchant ships, take them into port, and sell
their crews as slaves.
On Tucker's first voyage from Salem two of these piratical craft, swift
corsairs from Algiers, came in sight and began a chase of the
What could be done? There was no hope to run away from those
fleet-footed sea-hounds. There was no hope to beat them off in a fight.
The men were in a panic and the captain sought courage in rum, and was
soon too drunk to handle his ship.
Tucker came to the rescue. Taking the helm, he put it hard down and
headed straight for the pirates. It looked as if he was sailing straight
for destruction, but he knew what he was about. The Yankee schooner, if
it could not sail as fast, could be handled more easily than the
Algerines, with their lateen sails; and by skilful steering he got her
into such a position that the pirates could not fire into him without
hurting one another.
Try as they would, Mate Tucker kept his vessel in this position, and
held her there until the shades of night fell. Then he slipped away, and
by daylight was safe in port. You may see from this that Samuel Tucker
was a bold and a smart man and an able seaman.
After that he was at one time an officer in the British navy and at
another a merchant captain. He was in London when the Revolution began.
His courage and skill were so well known that he was offered a
commission in either the army or the navy, if he was willing to serve
"his gracious Majesty."
Tucker forgot where he was, and rudely replied, "Hang his gracious
Majesty! Do you think I am the sort of man to fight against my country?"
Those were rash words to be spoken in London. A charge of treason was
brought against him and he had to seek safety in flight. For a time he
hid in the house of a country inn-keeper who was his friend. Then a
chance came to get on shipboard and escape from the country. In this way
he got back to his native land.
It was not only the English who knew Captain Tucker's ability. He was
known in America as well. No doubt there were many who had heard how he
had served the pirate Moors. He had not long been home when General
Washington sent him a commission as captain of the ship Franklin, and
ordered him to get to sea at once.
The messenger with the commission made his way to the straggling old
town of Marblehead, where Tucker lived. Inquiring for him in the town,
he was directed to a certain house.
Reaching this, the messenger saw a roughly-dressed and weather-beaten
person working in the yard, with an old tarpaulin hat on his head and a
red bandanna handkerchief tied loosely round his neck.
The man, thinking him an ordinary laborer, called out from his horse:
"Say, good fellow, can you tell if the Honorable Samuel Tucker lives
here or hereabouts?"
The workman looked up with a quizzical glance from under the brim of his
tarpaulin and replied:
"Honorable, honorable! There's none of that name in Marblehead. He must
be one of the Salem Tuckers. I'm the only Samuel Tucker in this town."
"Anyhow, this is where I was told to stop. A house standing alone, with
its gable-end to the sea. This is the only place I've seen that looks
"Then I must be the Tucker you want, honorable or not. What is it you
have got to say to him?"
He soon learned, and was glad to receive the news. Early the next
morning he had left home for the port where the Franklin lay, and not
many days passed before he was out at sea.
The Franklin, under his command proved one of the most active ships
afloat. She sent in prizes in numbers. More than thirty were taken in
1776--ships, brigs, and smaller vessels, including "a brigantine from
Scotland worth fifteen thousand pounds."
These were not all captured without fighting. Two British brigs were
taken so near Marblehead that the captain's wife and sister, hearing the
sound of cannon, went up on a high hill close by and saw the fight
through a spy-glass.
The next year Captain Tucker was put in command of the frigate Boston,
and in 1778 he took John Adams to France as envoy from the United
It was a voyage full of incidents. They passed through days of storm,
which nearly wrecked the ship. Many vessels were seen, and the Boston
was chased by three men-of-war.
She ran away from these, and soon after came across a large armed
vessel, which Captain Tucker decided to fight. When the drum called the
men to quarters, Mr. Adams seized a musket and joined the marines.
The captain requested him to go below. Finding that he was not going to
obey, Tucker laid a hand on his shoulder and said firmly:
"Mr. Adams, I am commanded by the Continental Congress to deliver you
safe in France. You must go below."
Mr. Adams smiled and complied. The next minute there came a broadside
from the stranger. There was no response from the Boston. Other shots
came, and still no reply. At length the blue-jackets began to grumble.
Looking them in the eyes, Tucker said, in quizzical tones:
"Hold on, lads. I want to get that egg without breaking the shell."
In a few minutes more, having got into the position he wished, he raked
the enemy from stem to stern with a broadside. That one sample was
enough. She struck her flag without waiting for a second. Soon after the
envoy was safely landed in France.
Numbers of anecdotes are told of Captain Tucker, who was a man much
given to saying odd and amusing things.
Once he fell in with a British frigate which had been sent in search of
him. He had made himself a thorn in the British lion's side and was
badly wanted. Up came Tucker boldly, with the English flag at his peak.
He was hailed, and replied that he was Captain Gordon, of the English
navy, and that he was out in search of the Boston, commanded by the
"If I can sight the ship I'll carry him to New York, dead or alive," he
"Have you ever seen him?"
"Well, I've heard of him; they say he is a tough customer."
While talking, he had been manoeuvering to gain a raking position. Just
as he did so, a sailor in the British tops cried,--
"Look out below! That is Tucker himself."
The Englishman was in a trap. The Boston had him at a great
disadvantage. There was nothing to do but to strike his flag, and this
he did without firing a gun.
When Charleston was taken by the British, the Boston was one of the
vessels cooped up there and lost. Captain Tucker was taken prisoner.
After his exchange, as he had no ship, he took the sloop-of-war
Thorn, one of his former prizes, and went out cruising as a privateer.
After a three weeks' cruise, the Thorn met an English ship of
"She means to fight us," said the captain to his men, after watching her
movements. "If we go alongside her like men she will be ours in thirty
minutes; if we can't go as men we have no business there at all. Every
man who is willing to fight go down the starboard gangway; all others
can go down the larboard." Every soul of them took the starboard.
He manoeuvered so that in a few minutes the vessels lay side by side.
The Englishman opened with a broadside that did little damage. The
Thorn replied with a destructive fire, and kept it up so hotly that
within thirty minutes a loud cry came from the English ship:
"Quarters, for God's sake! Our ship is sinking. Our men are dying of
"How can you expect quarters while your flag is flying?" demanded
"Our halliards are shot away."
"Then cut away your ensign staff, or you'll all be dead men."
It was done and the firing ceased. A dreadful execution had taken place
on the Englishman's deck, more than a third of her crew being dead and
wounded, while blood was everywhere.
And so we take our leave of Captain Tucker. He was one of the kind of
sailors that everyone likes to read about.