Jeremiah O'Brien Commands The Battle of Machias

Jeremiah O'Brien Commands The Battle of Machias

Jeremiah O’Brien was a Captain in the Massachusetts Navy.

O’Brien participated in the Battle of Machias, one of the first naval engagements of the American Revolution.

Trading with the Enemy

Three ships appeared in the harbor of Machias, Massachusetts.

Two of the ships had goods to sell. The other, a British Naval vessel who’s mission was to protect the envoy.

The goal of these boats was to use their profits to bring lumber and supplies back to Boston, which had been under siege by the Continental Army in the six weeks since Lexington and Concord.

The people of this small town in what is now Maine had a meeting. Should they buy from these merchants or not?

The first vote was a resounding no.

Then the Naval ship threatened to bombard the town with cannon fire.

The townspeople quickly had a second vote. It was an overwhelming yes.

The Battle of Machias

Jeremiah O’Brien was one of many citizens who were unhappy about this whole situation.

O’Brien rallied about thirty men who went to the harbor and boarded the Unity, one of the trading vessels. They also commandeered a smaller boat and sailed out capture the British ship, the Margaretta.

The Margaretta, which had survived another encounter with a second group of Machias residents earlier that day, had several mechanical issues which slowed its pace.

O’Brien caught the Margaretta and began to board. When the smaller boat caught up, the British were overwhelmed.

After the Margaretta’s Captain was killed, his first mate signaled for surrender.

Jeremiah O’Brien

The Battle of Machias is one of the first Naval Battles of the American Revolution.

O’Brien quickly changed the Unity’s name to the Machias Liberty. This ship is considered by the Merchant Marine as one of its earliest vessels.

When the Massachusetts State Navy was created the following December, O’Brien was commissioned as its first Captain and continued to sail the Machias Liberty for the next two years.


Two months after Machias, O’Brien led a privateer mission to invade Nova Scotia, Canada. In what has come to be known as the Raid on St John, the Americans burnt a British fort to the ground.

Eventually, Jeremiah was captured and imprisoned. He managed to escape and returned to the Massachusetts Navy.

Afterward, he worked with a partner to build a much larger ship and fought with the Continental Navy as a privateer through the end of the Revolutionary War.

Although he returned to private life for almost thirty years, Jeremiah O’Brien was again asked to serve his country when he was appointed by President James Madison as the Customs Collector for the Port of Machias, a position he held for the remainder of his days.

If you’d like to learn more about the fledgling Continental Navy, check out our articles on Joseph Hewes and Commodore Esek Hopkins.

Technically, today’s story took place in Maine. If you’d like to read more about the American Revolution in Maine, pick up a copy of ‘Revolution Downeast’ from the Amazon affiliate link below.

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