Whipple, Abraham

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Whipple, Abraham

WHIPPLE, ABRAHAM. (1733–1819). Continental naval officer. Rhode Island. Born in Providence, Rhode Island, on 26 September 1733, Whipple married Sarah Hopkins, the sister of Esek and Stephen Hopkins, in 1761. During the Seven Years' War he served as a privateer, first under Esek Hopkins's command and then as captain of the Game Cock. With the latter he captured twenty-three French vessels in 1759–1760, earning a reputation as the colony's most experienced sea captain. In 1772 he led the attack on the British schooner Gaspée, becoming a hero among American radicals.

Whipple was appointed commodore of the little (two-ship) Rhode Island fleet when it was organized in 1775. On 15 June 1775, the day he received his commission, he captured a British tender, the first official American prize of the Revolution. One of the first captains of the Continental navy, he commanded the Columbus (twenty guns) in the first naval operation of the war. In 1778 he took the Providence (twelve guns) to Europe, was presented to the French king, and took a few prizes. In mid-July 1779, while his Providence was cruising with Rathbun's Queen of France and the Ranger, he had the good fortune of drifting into a British convoy of heavily laden East Indiamen off Newfoundland in a heavy fog. Thanks largely to the initiative of Rathbun, he cut eleven of the ships out of the convoy and got eight of them safely to Boston. Sold for one million dollars, they constituted one of the richest single captures of the war.

Later in the year he reached Charleston with four Continental vessels and was given responsibility for the naval defense of the doomed city. He became a prisoner on 12 May 1780, when the city was surrendered to Clinton, and for the remainder of the war he was on parole at Chester, Pennsylvania.

Returning to Providence in 1783, Whipple decided in 1788 to move west to Marietta, Ohio. He died there on 27 May 1819.

SEE ALSO Hopkins, Stephen; Naval Operations, Strategic Overview; Rathbun, John Peck.


Morgan, William James. Captains to the Northward: The New England Captains in the Continental Navy. Barre, Mass.: Barre Gazette, 1959.

Whipple, Abraham, Papers. Rhode Island Historical Society, Providence, Rhode Island.

                            revised by Michael Bellesiles