Bar Story #4: Francis Grater

Bar story: I really dig this one, because it hits close to home in more ways than one.

General George Washington first arrived in Cambridge on July 3rd, 1775, to assume command of the various militias surrounding Boston, who were now part of the new Continental Army. Throughout the remainder of that summer, more local units continued to arrive in Cambridge and request assignment within the army & its siege of the city.

One such unit - the Marblehead Regiment - was notably different than the rest: being from a busy port town, their unit was comprised entirely of volunteers who were experienced seamen & sailors. As such, when their commander - Colonel John Glover - met General Washington in Cambridge, he recommended they receive a different assignment: refit merchant vessels into warships & take the fight to the British on the high seas.

It was a bold idea, but Washington loved it. So much so, when the Continental Congress stated they lacked the funding for a navy (even a make-shift one), Washington paid for it himself. Colonel Glover donated his family’s own ship to serve as the first: the “Hannah.” After a quick refit, the men of the Marblehead Regiment took her to sea in September, 1775, and quickly captured their first British ship off Gloucester.

 
“Continental Schooner Hannah” by William Nowland van Powell

“Continental Schooner Hannah” by William Nowland van Powell

 

Glover’s Marblehead Regiment would build out six more ships, serving as the first American naval vessels. History remembers them as “Washington’s Crusiers.” In the months leading up to the British evacuation of Boston in March 1776, the Cruisers heavily disrupted British shipping and naval operations off the shores of Massachusetts, delivering a bounty of supplies to Washington’s new army.

The Cruisers were identified on the seas by a notable flag of the Revolution, selected by Washington & his staff: “one with a white ground, a green pine tree, and the inscription ‘An Appeal to Heaven;’” a nod to both John Locke & the men of NH’s Pine Tree Riot. You may have seen the replica of this very flag we have hung here in our bar.

One of the men serving under Col. Glover aboard the Cruisers was a young Marblehead seaman who has deep ties to our community here in Merrimack: his name was Francis Grater.

Francis (originally Francisco) was born in December, 1752, in Barcelona, Spain. In 1765, he left home aboard the merchant ship “Triton” bound for the New World. This was his first exposure to the high seas, and he would learn a great deal on this voyage from Captain George Wilson. When Francis arrived in America, he found his new home in Marblehead where he took up work as a fisherman. A decade later, as the Revolution heated up following Lexington & Concord, he enlisted in Glover’s new regiment and marched with them to Cambridge.

Francis served as a privateer against the British until he was captured in November 1778 and imprisoned until early 1779. When he finally made his return to Marblehead, Francis married the woman he’d loved since his youth: Jane Wilson, whom he first met on his voyage to the America’s aboard the “Triton.” She was Captain Wilson’s daughter.

After the war, Francis & Jane Grater relocated their family to New Hampshire to build their homestead - a dream of Francis’s when he first left Spain - purchasing a large plot of land just south of Baboosic Lake along the Amherst-Merrimack border. They raised their family here, where Francis made his living farming and logging, while Jane fashioned & sold women’s clothing along the trade route between Merrimack & New Boston. Their eldest son, John, would go on to serve in the War of 1812.

Francis - who had been an immigrant, sailor, fisherman, warrior, entrepreneur, farmer & family man - passed away at his home in 1845 at the age of 94. #america

 
View from within Francis Grater’s land in Merrimack, now known as Grater Woods

View from within Francis Grater’s land in Merrimack, now known as Grater Woods

 

Today, Francis Grater’s former property is owned and preserved by the Merrimack Conservation Commission as Grater Woods. The MCC’s volunteers maintain the ~500-acre property, which is open to the public, and features a wide variety of wildlife, as well as many of the original roads, rock walls and granite foundations put in place by the Grater family 2 centuries ago. It serves as both a great piece of local history, as well as an awesome place to experience the beauty of southern NH’s wilderness.

Have a great weekend, everyone. Cheers. #merrimack