Essays and Such

Irish Cultural Society

of San Antonio Texas


Promoting Awareness of Irish Culture

Captain O'Brien
by L.P.Kelley
First Naval Engagement of the Revolutionary War

Captain Jeremiah O'Brien

  O'BRIEN, Jeremiah, patriot, born in Scarborough, Maine, in 
1740; died in Machias, Maine, 5 October, 1818. His father, 
(Maurice[1]) Morris, a native of Cork,  Ireland, according to 
some stories) emigrated from Ireland to Boston around 1700 due 
to his alleged rebel actions against the British crown.   He 
moved in 1765 to Machias, Maine where he was engaged with his
six sons in the lumber business when the Revolutionary war began.  
Maurice O'Brien carried from Ireland a picture of Brien Boru, 
one of Ireland's ancient hero kings who drove the Danes out of 
Ireland in the battle of Clontarf, and. had gifted his sons with 
a hatred for British tyranny.  So, in the 1770s  the O'Briens 
were active supporters of the rebel cause.

On hearing of Lexington, the people of Machias erected a 
liberty-pole. A few days afterward on June 9, 1775 the  British 
armed schooner "Margaretta,"  anchored in Machias Harbor, 
convoying the sloops UNITY and POLLY loaded with anxiously 
awaited supplies needed by the colonists.   The goods were to be 
sold to the colonists and the two sloops were to be  freighted 
with lumber for the British defensive works in Boston. The 
English would only deal with Tories,  many citizens  opposed to 
aiding the British war effort were angered by this, and they 
plotted to strip the two sloops of the supplies and attempted 
to capture Captains Jones and Moore.   Captain Moore, of the 
"Margaretta," and the nephew of High Admiral Graves of the Royal 
Fleet in Boston ordered the liberty-pole to be taken down, and  
threatened to fire on the town if it were not done. The citizens 
attempted to seize the British officers while they were at 
meeting on Sunday, but the British saw them coming, hurried on 
board their vessel, and sailed down the river.  On June 12,1775, 
a  month after the Battle of Lexington and Concord and five days 
before Bunker Hill, the six O'Brien brothers and a company of 
sixty volunteers unloaded the lumber sloop UNITY and gave chase.  
Jeremiah O'Brien was chosen captain. The "Margaretta" lay 
becalmed in the bay near Round Island on Machias Bay[4], the 
sloop UNITY was towed up by boats. The English commander ordered 
O'Brien to sail away or he would open fire.  O'Brien is said to 
have responded "Fire and be damned."  The sloop came along side 
the "Margaretta" although Moore  had sixteen swivel-guns and 
four-pounders.  O'Brien maneuvered the UNITY into a position 
which allowed her bowsprit to pierce the mainsail of the warship 
MARGARETTA. The two ships swung together and O'Brien's crew with 
some about 20 [1]) muskets ( three rounds each), pitchforks; and 
axes and the fierce determination of their Captain  after a sharp 
hand-to-hand combat  were victorious.  They defeated a superior 
force of professional soldiers and sailors armed with muskets and 
grenades [2][5].  This was the first sea-fight of the Revolution. 

     O'Brien returned to Machias with the "Margaretta" and its 
armament was transferred to the sloops Unity (rechristened the 
"Machias Liberty) and Polly. O'Brien in command of his fleet of 
two sloops sailed out to meet the warships which would be sent 
against them.   The "Diligence," and her tender the 
"Tapnaquishin", came from Halifax to retake the "Margaretta."  
In what should have been an easy victory for the Royal Navy  
Capt Jeremiah O'Brien captured both British ships.  

     The "Liberty," with Captain Jeremiah O'Brien and his 
brother William as lieutenant, and the "Diligence," on which 
his brother John was lieutenant, received a commission from 
the provincial government of the Massachusetts Congress  to 
intercept supplies for the British troops [2], for the sum of 
160 pounds lawful money of this Colony of supplying the men 
with provisions and ammunition."[5].  

	Captain O'Brien cruised on the coast for a year and a 
half, taking several prizes. At the end of the war, O'Brien 
resumed work in the  family lumber business and eventually 
landed a government patronage job as  collector of the port 
of Machias. He  held that position when he died in 1818 at 
the age of 78. 

Jeremiah O'Brien was later remembered in the naming of a World 
War II liberty ship. The SS Jeremiah O'Brien was built in South 
Portland, Maine, and launched on June 19, 1943. It participated 
in the original D-Day operation and was the only liberty ship 
to return in 1994 to participate in the 50th  anniversary 
commemorations. Of the 2,710 built for the war, only two remain 
and only the O'Brien has not been modified. The SS Jeremiah 
O'Brien is currently home ported at Fisherman's Wharf in San 

USS O'Brien (DD 975) is the fifth U.S. warship to be named in 
honor of Captain Jeremiah O'Brien,

In 1937 a plaque created by John Paramino was placed at the state 
house commemorating
O'Brien's "distinguished services for winning the first navel 
engagement in the War of the Revolution and of his subsequent 
exploits in said war as the first regularly commissioned naval 
officer and commander of the Revolutionary Navy of Massachusetts."[5]

[1] Speech by Joseph F. O'Connell June 12, 1937, at unveiling of 
tablet honoring Captain Jeremiah O'Brien, printed in congressional 
record for June 22,1937
[2] http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/agency/navy/dd-975.htm
[3] http://www.famousamericans.net/jeremiahobrien/
[4] http://www.usmm.org/revolution.html
[5] http://www.irishheritagetrail.com/jobrien.htm