Revolutionary War Journal Discovered in Linen Closet

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April 25, 2018

The story of a young Revolutionary War sailor's escape from a British prison ship has new focus, in the form of the sailor's own handwriting.

Christopher Hawkins journal

Rhode Island native Christopher Hawkins was a teenage privateer during what Great Britain calls the War for American Independence. Hawkins was captured and served time aboard the HMS Jersey, a prison ship. Hawkins escaped by appropriating an axe and using it to break through a barred porthole and jumping off the ship.

The escape was all the more remarkable because Hawkins waited until a thunderstorm was raging and timed his axe blows to coincide with the claps of thunder. Once in the water, he swam for two-and-one-half hours–in stormy, choppy seas–to escape fully.

Adventures of Christopher Hawkins

Those harrowing details come from a recently discovered journal written by Hawkins himself, in 1834, when he was 70. He died three years later. His story had been known, in part, from The Adventures of Christopher Hawkins, a book he wrote himself but was not published until 1864.

The escape from the HMS Jersey was not Hawkins's first time being captured. He was captured not long after serving aboard his first American ship, the Eagle but escaped and even returned home for a time. Not satisfied with life at home, he again signed aboard as a privateer and was again captured, this time being sequestered aboard the Jersey, with several hundred other prisoners.

Hawkins' journal passed into history unremarked until it was rediscovered in the linen closet of one of his descendants, Margaret Hodder Davis, who lives in Kansas City, Mo. Her son, Heywood Davis, and his family took the journal to Philadelphia in order to donate it to the Museum of the American Revolution.

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