Captain David Hawley

Image left: David Hawley
In Hawley family history, Captain David Hawley has to be one of the more intriguing characters. Born in Connecticut in 1741, his parents were James and Eunice Hawley who lived in the Stratfield section of Stratford, Connecticut (now Bridgeport). David's grandfather was Gideon, his great grandfather was Ephraim and his great great grandfather was Joseph Hawley (Captain). David became Captain of the newly formed United States Navy and commanded the USS Royal Savage in the first U.S. naval battle of the American Revolutionary War. He also was responsible for the kidnapping of a Tory judge.

The Deeds of David Hawley

Near the beginning of the Revolutionary War, Captain David Hawley, in search of powder and muskets for the towns of Fairfield and Stratford, sailed his sloop Sally from Stratford to New Providence in the Bahamas with a cargo of salt meat and grain to trade. After visiting several islands, the Sally returned in December with a mere hundredweight of gunpowder, 1,305 bushels of salt, and 18 hogsheads of sugar. On Hawley's arrival back in Bridgeport, far from being grateful, the General Assembly charged him with violating its embargo on exports, imposed a few days before he sailed. But after hearing his story, the Assembly freed him and allowed him to 'dispose of said powder equally between the towns of Fairfield and Stratford,' which he did. On March 16 Hawley was at sea again but within four days was captured by the British privateer brig Bellona as the story is relayed below from Stratford and the Sea by Lewis G. Knapp.1

On July 11, 1776, the Connecticut Council of Safety appointed David Second Lieutenanat of the ship being built for the Connecticut Navy at Saybrook to be named Oliver Cromwell. But long before the ship was completed, Hawley was ordered to raise a 'Company of Seamen' to report to Colonel Benedict Arnold on Lake Champlain. Between August 9 and 25 he signed up 26 local men, and set out for Ticonderoga.1 See Ft. Ticonderoga and The Royal Savage

The Revolutionary War

Battle of Valcour Island

Benedict Arnold's small force had been laying siege to Quebec but was soon reduced by disease and lack of food and was forced to retreat to Lake Champlain. The group managed to capture two British vessels, one being the 70 ton schooner Royal Savage. Arnold had written to the Continental Congress to 'augment our navy on the lake appears to me of the utmost importance.' Congress responded by sending ship carpenters, riggers, and seamen and Captain David Hawley's men were among these. The British plan was to cut the colonies in half along the Lake Champlain-Hudson River corridor and end the war. Arnold took his little navy and reached the northern end of Lake Champlain and soon after, Hawley and his men arrived at Valcour Island where Hawley was put in command of the Royal Savage, the largest of the fleet which served as Arnold's flagship. Also aboard were Hawley's cousin Ephraim Hawley, who served as his Lieutenant, and his young nephew Samuel Hawley was a seaman.

Arnold's goal was to get the British fleet in the narrows behind Valcour Island so they would get caught in the crossfires which was the American's only hope to beat them since they were outmanned against the huge British fleet. The Royal Savage was to serve as a decoy to get the British ships into Arnold's cul-de-sac. Under the fire of the British schooners Carlton and Inflexible the Royal Savage, which was difficult to navigate, was run aground on Valcour Island. Hawley ordered the crew to abandon the ship, and soon after they did, the British soldiers boarded it and blew it up. In the fog of the night Arnold took his crippled fleet south in single file with Hawley and his crew aboard the Washington. The fight on Lake Champlain was a disaster for the American cause, but this first fleet action ever fought by the Americans halted the British move south and prevented the colonies from being split, which ultimately would result in the Revolutionary War being won by the Americans. See Ft. Ticonderoga and The Royal Savage

Capture of a Tory Judge

On May 1, 1779, a whaleboat of British and Tories had kidnapped militia General Gold Selleck Silliman and taken him to New York. Since Connecticut did not have a prisoner of equal exchange for the General, the solution was obvious, capture one. The selected victim was Judge Thomas Jomes of Southhampton, Long Island, a judge of the Ministerial Supreme Course of the Crown and an old Yale classmate of the General. David Hawley agree to get him. On a night in November of 1779, Hawley and 20 volunteers crossed the sound in a whaleboat, dragged the boat up on the beach and hid it in the underbrush. Traveling some miles overland at night, they reached the judge's home, Fort Neck House, burst open the door, grabbed the magistrate and one other prisoner, and set out for their boat. Because the alarm was out, they had to hide for two days, but reached their whale boat on the third night and set out for home. The swap was soon made.

His Life

It is believed by some that Captain David Hawley built the first brick house within the city limits of Bridgeport, Connecticut from bricks that may have been supplied by Nero Hawley. The home was located at the corner of Water and Gilbert Streets and was used, after Hawley's death as a saddle factory by Seth B. Jones.2 When visiting Bridgeport, Connecticut, we stopped at the cemetery and tried to find his grave, but the older area of the cemetery was so overgrown that we were unable to find it though there was a nice commemorative marker at the entrance. Cemetery Photos

Captain David Hawley Sources
  • 1Stratford and the Sea by Lewis G. Knapp
  • Benedict Arnold Patriot and Traitor by Willard Stern Randall
  • 2Wikipedia
See Bridgeport, Connecticut
See Ft. Ticonderoga and The Royal Savage

  • Old Burying Ground, Bridgeport Photos