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The Perils of Privateer Andrew Sherburne

More Memoirs of Privateer Andrew Sherburne

He should have stayed in Portsmouth. But the war was still raging, privateersmen were in high demand, and his family needed money. So Andrew Sherburne shipped out once more. This time he was enticed to serve aboard the privateer Greyhound headed to Canadian waters that swarmed with British merchant ships. His captain, Andrew writes, was so fearful of being captured that he became deranged and had to be locked in his cabin when the Greyhound was taken by the British at Newfoundland. 

From bad to worse 

Unlike so many masculine memoirs of the era, Andrew Sherburne’s tale is rich with emotion and detail. He frequently weeps, falls into a dark depression, and is swallowed up by fear. 

Woodcut of solider from 1777 Portsmouth, NH receruitment poster / SeacaostNH.comIn September 1781, while taking Andrew and four other Yankees to prison, the British ship Duchess of Cumberland struck a rock and was torn to pieces. After a harrowing escape, instead of being returned to Boston as planned, Andrew and a mate were impressed onto a British naval vessel en route to England. Assigned as Yankee prisoners of war, they were sent to rot aboard a docked prison ship that the author calls "a floating hell". 

But they had not yet hit bottom. The two American revolutionaries were judged guilty of piracy and high treason and tossed into the infamous Mill Prison near Plymouth, England. Yet here, in the darkest of places, Andrew found light. He immediately encountered a dozen other POWs from the Piscataqua region. When not working as an imprisoned shipbuilder for the British navy, the illiterate cabin boy taught himself to read and do math. 

The prisoners were allowed 12 ounces of bread – which they called "Broken George" after King George III – and 12 ounces of beef per day, plus beer. They formed their own prison government. Gov. John Wentworth, recently kicked out of his Portsmouth home by the patriot mob, was then in England, and loaned some money to the prisoners. Benjamin Franklin, then in France, negotiated to set them free. A few men escaped. Others died. Andrew became deathly ill in prison, but he prayed for deliverance, and again miraculously survived. 

Home Sweet Home 

Arriving back in Portsmouth toward the end of the Revolution, Andrew Sherburne’s family felt he had risen from the dead. The house where he lived, and to which he returned still stands at the end of Islington Street near the baseball diamond. The land was purchased by the Sherburne family in the 1640s. An earlier house there was burned during the Indian raid on "The Plains" later that century. Three Native Americans are reportedly buried just outside the Sherburne family graveyard on the property. The current house was built on the same site prior to 1750. 

That information comes from the current owner – one Andrew Sherburne – who Is today a contractor in Bow, NH. The old Sherborne House once sat on a farm of hundreds of acres. Today the house on six acres is rented, but the latest Andrew Sherburne says. "It will never leave the family." 

No portraits or artifacts remain from privateer Andrew Sherburne, whose amazing story goes on an on. He returned to the sea, became a teacher and a census taker in Maine, worked as a surveyor in the Mt. Washington region, and married twice. As an itinerant Baptist preacher, Andrew traveled to the Midwest. Twenty years ago, according to his 21st century namesake, a woman from Minnesota wrote to say she had the old preacher’s coat and cane. But that letter has gone missing, and Portsmouth’s little-known privateer still waits to be rediscovered by history. 


Copyright © 2009 by J. Dennis Robinson. All rights reserved. Robinson is editor and owner of the history web site

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