A remarkable handwritten journal kept by a young American revolutionary sailor was recently donated to the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia.
It was found in a cupboard in a home in Kansas during the 1990s. The text was written by Christopher Hawkins (1764-1837), who was just 13 years old when he joined a privateer vessel.
It dates to 1834, many years after the war, when he was in his late 60s. In one thrilling passage Hawkins recounts his escape from British prison ship the HMS Jersey during a storm.
He explains how he used an axe to break a porthole, using the thunderclaps as cover.
Hawkins writes: “I was completely naked except a small hat on my head which I had brought with me from the ‘Old Jersey.’
“What a situation this! Without covering to hide my naked body!, in an enemy’s country, without food or means to obtain any!, and among Tories more unrelenting than the devil! more perils to encounter and nothing to aid me but the interposition of heaven.
“Yet I had gained an important portion of my enterprise. I had got on land, after swimming in the water two hours and an half, and a distance of perhaps two and half miles.”
Hawkins’ account has been in publication since 1864, although the manuscript was lost for many years. The finder was Margaret Hodder Davis, one of Hawkins’ direct descendants.
“Hawkins’ account is one of the liveliest tales of the Revolutionary War from the perspective of a boy sailor that exists,” explained chief historian Dr Philip Mead.
“Until now, scholars have only known Hawkins’ tale from the published version in 1864. Reading the stories from Hawkins’ own hand brings the story to life in a new way. It is as close as we can get to sitting by a fireside and listening to the aging veteran tell his tale.”