Captain John Trevett, USMC

Hello, Welcome to our initial post. Because of the innumerable amount on American heroes that have dedicated themselves to the preservation of this nation, under God, we thought that we should start with a hero whose actions are little known. His name was Captain John Trevett, USMC, who served during the American Revolution. His boldness and courage enabled him, with a small band of Marines, to seize New Providence in the Bahamas by capturing its two forts. The blog will continue to tell the stories of obscure and well known American heroes. The stories of the men and the battles will be excerpted from either the works published by McFarland Publishing or from those works of Seniram Publishing. We hope you enjoy the stories. We welcome your comments and inquiries. If you have a particular American founder or hero, and would like to read about them, let us know. Or if you are interested in a particular major battle (French and Indian War through Korea) we will attempt to bring that story to you. We also have a selection of podcasts listed on our main blog and we are working to add the podcasts so they are visible to visitors from Meanwhile, thank you for dropping by the blog. We hope it is of some value to you.


Trevett, Captain John (U.S. Marine) (Excerpted from American Revolutionary War Leaders. McFarland Publishing, Jefferson, North Carolina2009

A podcast on Captain Trevett can be found at this


John Trevett, the son of Eleazar and Mary Church Trevett, was born during 1747 in Newport, Rhode Island. Details on his early life are unavailable, but it is thought that John spent time at sea on merchant ships. In November 1775, while British-held Boston was under siege by militia and the Continental Army, John sailed from Providence to Philadelphia aboard the sloop Catea (or Katy), commanded by Abraham Whipple. After the vessel arrived in Philadelphia, its name was changed to Providence. At the time, the recently established Naval Committee was in the process of raising the Continental Navy. John was commissioned as a midshipman aboard the Columbus (formerly, the Sally). The Columbus was one of the first five warships commissioned in the Continental Navy.

During the early part of the year, a fleet commanded by Esek Hopkins embarked to engage the British. Hopkins, the brother of Stephen Hopkins (signer of the Declaration of Independence), a member of Congress and of the Naval Committee, possessed secret orders with some options. He was to engage the British either in Virginia or the Carolinas and if neither was feasible, he was to sail to the Bahamas to engage the British. After passing Cape Henlopen (Delaware Bay), Hopkins decided to sail to the Bahamas to attack New Providence. The fleet departed in the winter weather of February 1776, but the tropical weather in the Bahamas, later had an effect of the sailors and Marines who participated. By the time the fleet was en route back, many had become ill from fever and smallpox.

On the way to the Bahamas, Midshipman Trevett was commissioned a first lieutenant in the Marines. When the fleet arrived in the vicinity of the harbor at Nassau, the silence of the guns of the two British forts created some trepidation. Prior to the arrival of the fleet, the authorities at Nassau had been informed that an American fleet might attack, but the British at New York, despite being aware of the movement of the fleet, were unsure of the objective. Meanwhile, Governor Mont-ford Browne had been advised to remove the munitions, but he did not disturb the magazines.

On 3 March the fleet stood at the harbor but received no artillery fire. Nevertheless, the Marines, bolstered by seamen, landed at the rear door to the island and received no opposition; however, Commodore Hopkins neglected to seal the two harbor entrances. Both forts fell without resistance and the militia failed to rally. The fleet stood by while the land troops attended to the business of occupying Nassau and confiscating the munitions on the following day, but in the meantime, some of the island’s ammunition was saved by getting it aboard a vessel that easily sailed through the uncovered port exit at the opposite end of the island and carried the cargo to Florida. While on the island, Lieutenant Trevett was one of the marines who detained and held Montford Browne.

The amphibious landing by the Marines was the first in the history of the Marine Corps. After they took the first fort, the British ensign was lowered and replaced by the American flag, the first time the American flag was unfurled upon foreign soil. The landing was precedent setting and every succeeding amphibious landing by the Marines had identical success. No enemy force has ever pushed a Marine landing force back to the sea. The fleet returned to the United States during April; however, the following year Trevett would return to Nassau. After arriving back in America, Lieutenant Trevett was transferred to the Andrew Doria, commanded by Captain Nicholas Biddle. On 19 May, Trevett arrived at the ship, which at the time had a complement of only 12 Marines under Lieutenant Isaac Craig. In addition to Trevett, 17 other Marines bolstered the command. Shortly after the Andrew Doria and the Cabot embarked, the HMS Cerberus intercepted them. The two American vessels split up and the Cerberus pursued the Andrew Doria, but by the following day, the British abandoned the chase and the two ships rejoined.

On the 29th, two British transports were seized and each of the vessels was transporting a company of Scottish troops. After the capture, the Americans disarmed the British and placed all British officers aboard the Cabot. The plan was upset when five British warships intercepted the Americans returning to Providence. On the Oxford, which was one of the prizes, Trevett was aboard as the prize-master’s mate. The British prisoners retook the Oxford and sailed toward Virginia to join with other British forces. On 20 June, the Oxford arrived at the Virginia Capes. The crew was confident they would encounter forces of Governor Dunmore. The British inquired about the location of the governor and immediately received information on his location and how to reach him. The British were jubilant, but they were unaware that the information was erroneous and the location was actually where elements of the Virginia navy were posted. The Oxford proceeded up the James River and soon encountered two Virginia naval vessels. The Oxford had troops, but no arms and all of the captured British officers had been transferred to the Cabot. A company of Virginians marched the British captives to Richmond, while Trevett and the other Marine with him, Lieutenant John McDougal, accompanied the Virginians. Once the column reached Williamsburg, Trevett and McDougal separated from it. After receiving some financial aid, the pair departed for Providence.

Back in Rhode Island, after a stop in Philadelphia, Trevett and McDougal reported back to the Andrew Doria. The ship embarked on a new cruise accompanied by the Columbus, and after seizing four ships, Trevett sailed back to Providence aboard one of the prizes. Afterward, Lieutenant Trevett embarked aboard the brigantine Hampden as the ship’s Marine officer, but a mishap occurred and her Marine complement transferred to the Providence commanded by Captain Hoysted Hacker. On 12–13 November 1776, the Mellish, a merchant ship, was seized with a cargo that included about 10,000 uniforms intended for the British, but instead, the Continental Army received them. Following the conclusion of the cruise, Lieutenant Trevett took a leave of absence.

On 8 December 1776, a British naval force under Sir Peter Parker arrived at Newport. The fleet included four brigades, two British and two Hessian. The American defenses at Castle Hill were abandoned upon the approach of the British. The troops landed and occupied the colonial base. Afterward, the British established a post known as Green End Fort in the southwest sector of Rhode Island between Middleton and Newport. The British invasion caused many families to depart their homes and Trevett’s family was included. After getting his family to safety, Trevett reported back to duty aboard the Providence.

During February 1777, the Providence was able to break out and safely evade the blocking force. After the ship got to the open seas it captured a British transport and it was Trevett who took the prize into New Bedford, Massachusetts. Later, during May 1777, Captain John Peck Rathburn assumed command of the sloop Providence. He worked to fit the vessel out for sea, and at about the same time Trevett learned that his brother, Constant Church Trevett, was seized by the British when they captured the merchant ship he was aboard as it sailed from the West Indies to America. Lt. Trevett was able to get a British captain to be offered in a prisoner exchange, but the exchange never occurred. His brother died on a British prison ship in New York.

About June 1777, Lt. Trevett was promoted to the rank of captain of Marines. That November the Providence, in port since the previous August, embarked from New Bedford en route to the Carolinas. The cruise was uneventful for several weeks, but during December while off Charleston, a British privateer was spotted and engaged. The privateer demanded surrender and that the colors be struck. Captain Rathburn responded immediately by ordering a broadside. The battle continued from just after midnight until after dawn. During the daylight hours, a British officer fired his weapon from close range. The action aggravated Lieutenants Trevett and Molten, who quickly returned fire. The lieutenant aboard the privateer was liquidated. Soon after, a boarding party bolted upon the privateer and lowered its colors. The prize was taken to Georgetown.

Captain Rathburn, while in South Carolina, pondered another visit to the Bahamas to seize the HMS Mary, and despite the great odds, he chose to initiate the risky plan. On 27 January 1778, the Providence sailed for New Providence. The plan was soon in jeopardy; several British warships spotted the Providence and gave chase. Captain Rath-burn ordered the crew to dump items into the sea to lessen the weight and pick up speed. The directive included tossing provisions and water overboard. After sunset, the Providence’s sails were dropped and every light was extinguished while the British searched in the darkness. One of the British ships passed by, but never noticed the silent prey.

After the danger passed and the British ships vanished into the darkness, Rathburn resumed the mission. He reached Abaco, where the crew built a ladder with which to scale the walls of the fort. Rathburn’s crew concealed all its guns and from Abaco, the Providence proceeded to New Providence under the cover of darkness. The landing party went ashore in two separate trips because the troops under Captain Trevett and Lt. Molten could not fit in one boat. Afterward, the 28 troops approached the fort without detection. At that time, Trevett recalled from the previous invasion that there might still be a hole in the fence. He was right.

While the force held in place, Trevett squeezed through the obstacle and shortly thereafter, he heard a sentinel call out “All is well,” followed by two responses from guards aboard two vessels. Trevett took note of the sequence of the signals, then returned to his Marines and together they moved through the obstacles one by one. Within a short time, as the Marines prepared to launch the attack, the signals again rang out, “All is well.” As soon as the sentry at the fort moved back inside, the Marines climbed the ladder and took the fort in an instant without firing a shot. The garrison consisted of one man. He informed Trevett that the other fort, Montagu, was manned by only two sentries. Nevertheless, Fort Montagu was at the other end of the island. In the meantime, a Marine replaced the sentry, and when “All is well” rang out, the Marine responded and the ruse worked perfectly, leaving the Marines to continue their work undisturbed. In the meantime, several Marines set out for Fort Nassau and duplicated the first capture. The one-man garrison was captured without firing a shot. The operation went so smoothly that the guards never fired a distress shot, which would have signaled about 500 militia to assemble at the sound of the first cannon shot.

Captain Trevett directed Lt. Molten to inform the guards at Fort Montagu that Fort Nassau was being held by 230 Americans. Meanwhile, at Fort Nassau, Trevett redirected the guns of the fort to be pointed toward the main streets in Nassau and against British ships in the harbor. In the meantime, there was still great danger facing the Marines. About one-half hour after taking the fort, a Marine called out: “All is well” and it was answered by another Marine, but the silence was deafening for a while until the British sentry responded with “All is well.” The stress eased as the Marines knew their ruse worked.

Nevertheless, Trevett had another problem. Dawn was approaching and he needed food for his Marines. He dispatched a messenger to the home of a known American sympathizer, James Gould. Soon after, Gould arrived at the fort. Trevett told him that he needed food for his 34 officers. Trevett also informed Gould that the fleet arrived to take the vessel Mary, and he added that no harm would come to the private citizens or their homes. Gould was also told that Trevett’s force was composed of 200 men, but his problem was that he needed breakfast for his 34 officers.

Afterward four American sailors were rescued. The sailors and a midshipman from the Providence moved to the dock, climbed into a boat and rowed out to the Mary. Trevett noticed they were not permitted to board, so he called out from his position with a few choice words and a threat. Trevett’s boldness again succeeded. The party boarded and the ship surrendered without a shot being fired. Afterward, Trevett sent small parties to seize the other four ships in the harbor. By noon, the British, already aware of the Stars and Stripes flying over both of their forts, were greeted with the arrival of the Providence, which had been out at Hog Island.In the meantime, a British privateer was approaching. Captain Rath-burn and Trevett conferred and afterward, the American flags were lowered and the British ensign was hoisted to lure the privateer, Gayton, into a trap. People onshore tried to warn the ship, but the commander, Captain William Chambers, thought he was merely being greeted. However, men in a rowboat reached the privateer and gave him the warning.

Captain Trevett modified his strategy to deal with the new crisis, including the fact that the citizens became aware of the smaller number of Marines and seaman on the island. Trevett ordered Lt. Molten at Fort Montagu to destroy the ammunition and to disable the guns, then speed back to Fort Nassau. Meanwhile, the militia was making plans to attack. Trevett remained confident that the situation was under control. He decided not to call for reinforcements from the Providence. While the townspeople and militia fretted, Trevett relaxed and made preparations for dinner, provided by prominent women of the island. The Marines enjoyed a dinner of turtle meat served to them on china.

By dawn of 29 January 1778, the Stars and Stripes still fluttered in the breeze while Captain Rathburn was preparing to depart with his prizes. All the while, crowds were gathering, still undecided about whether to launch an attack. One in the crowd spotted Trevett and remembered him from when the Marines invaded during March of 1776 and yelled: “Thare is that Dam Bucherer Come Again that Carred away Governor Browne.” Suddenly, Trevett had all eyes upon him. By then hundreds of people were close to the fort. Trevett defied the odds once again. He descended the ladder to speak with a delegation that arrived. Trevett directed the delegation to instruct the crowd to return to their homes and he instructed them to have supplies (for all four vessels) carried to Fort Nassau. Afterward, Trevett moved up the ladder and waited for a decision. About an hour later, he became impatient.

The ladder was again put in place and Trevett, by himself, descended and walked directly through the mob, to the amazement of the people. Rather than seize Trevett, the lone Marine in the contingent, they actually opened a path for him to pass though to reach Government House. The crowd was unaware that Trevett left orders that if he was halted that the guns were to commence firing. The crowd became more aggravated, but the Marines still dominated the situation. As Trevett approached the Government House, he was met by a representative and was told his demands had been accepted. By about sunset, the provisions had been loaded aboard the ships. And still, Trevett has not had any resistance.

On the night of the 29th–30th, the Marines remained at Fort Nassau, but their numbers were so slim that the Marines had to give the illusion of having a larger force. When a Marine sentry was relieved, he actually only moved to another post, and throughout the night, the ruse continued. On the 30th, Captain Rathburn informed Trevett that the Providence was prepared to sail the following day, but he would need three pilots. Trevett’s ingenuity soon prompted him to develop a plan, another ruse to acquire the needed pilots. Trevett announced that he would hold an auction for 27 barrels of rice. Later, Trevett was having lunch with Gould, when a Marine arrived to inform Trevett that men aboard the privateer landed at Fort Nassau. Later that day, Gould was taking his family from the island, and as he passed the fort, he and Trevett spoke momentarily. Gould told Trevett he did not expect to see him in the future due to the imminent attack. Captain Trevett responded with a smile, telling Gould that if he came by in the morning, they would see each other and the Marines would still be in control of Fort Nassau.

While the attack was moving toward action, the Marines observed the canon being redirected. Trevett responded without firing. He directed one of his Marines to ascend the flag pole upon his signal and to nail the flag to the staff, a signal of a fight to the death. Simultaneously, Captain Trevett dispatched a message to Governor John Gambier. About one-half hour after the flag was nailed to the staff, and Governor Gambier had read Trevett’s message, the hills around the fort were suddenly abandoned. Later, after dark, the privateer moved to attack the Providence while the crew slept. The scheme failed when the Gayton privateer ran aground.

By sunrise on the 31st, the Marines had destroyed or disabled the fort’s military equipment and the ammunition and arms were safely aboard the Providence, but Captain Trevett had one last task, his auction. At about 0800, with the wharf becoming crowded, Trevett, standing near the 27 barrels of rice, stated that those barrels not sold would be dumped into the harbor. All the while, his Marines continued to look for the three pilots. To keep the crowd distracted, Trevett began to give some rice to the gathered children. Shortly thereafter, the three pilots had been corralled and informed that they had volunteered to pilot the ships through the bay. By that time, the auction that never began was closed and Trevett distributed the rice to the people.

Trevett, at about 1000, was still ashore waiting for a boat while most of his diminutive conquering force was back aboard the Providence. A member of Captain Chambers’ crew approached Trevett and extended an invitation to share some punch with Chambers at a pub, with a guarantee of no “treachery.” Trevett gave the messenger his response, telling him to inform Chambers that he should take his privateer out in the bay and “take the sloop Providence, then I would have some punch.” Afterward, he boarded the boat, returned to the Providence and the Americans departed after having again taken New Providence without firing a shot.

During the return voyage, Captain Trevett commanded the Mary. Subsequently, the Eastern Naval Board ruled that the Mary was a merchant ship, depriving the crew of its prize money. Captain Trevett traveled to York, Pennsylvania, on behalf of the crew to present their case to Congress. Congress declined taking the side of the crew. In the meantime, a British fleet attacked New Bedford while Trevett was away and the Mary was destroyed, which caused also the loss of the cargo. Upon his return, Captain Trevett was informed of more distressing news. Trevett, the man responsible for the successful second invasion of New Providence and a Marine officer with a sterling record, was informed that he had lost his command. The Eastern Naval Board, despite his honorable and unblemished record, had chosen to dismiss Trevett from the service. William Vernon, a member of the board was delegated to select a captain of Marines to replace Trevett; however, there is no record of who was selected.

During February 1780, Trevett was aboard the privateer Rattlesnake when British warships intercepted it off New Jersey. Trevett was among those who made it to the beach before the ship burned. He was able to get back to Rhode Island, and that May he boarded the frigate Trumbull, but only as a volunteer. During that cruise, on 1 June, the Trumbull engaged the British Watt and sustained casualties. Trevett lost his right eye and received a wound in the foot. Afterward, he arrived back at his temporary home in East Greenwich on 23 June. Later, he served upon the Deane, and during that cruise, after seizing a prize, other British ships intercepted the prize, the brigantine Elizabeth, and Trevett was aboard. He was transported to St. John’s, Newfoundland.

While in Newfoundland, Trevett persuaded a British officer to have him sent to the West Indies. En route the ship was captured by the French and Trevett gained his freedom when the French took him to France. In France, Trevett declined serving with John Paul Jones, but later he went aboard a prize ship and participated in two cruises. Afterward, he headed for Amsterdam and from there he returned to the States on 28 May 1782.

Captain Trevett’s wife, Elizabeth, died on 22 January 1823. Trevett, having become completely blind about 1819, died on 3 November 1823, at age 76.

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