D I V E !
THE STORY OF DAVID BUSHNELL AND HIS REMARKABLE 1776 SUBMARINE
by Lincoln Diamant
From "The War Moves to New York":
BY JULY, the seat of war had shifted south from New England to New York Harbor, less than nine months after George III advised Parliament, "I have the satisfaction to inform you that I have received the most friendly offers of foreign assistance." Royal Navy transports off Staten Island began disembarking not only General William Howe with a huge body of enemy troops, but 8,000 mercenary Hessians from the German principalities of Hesse-Cassel, Hesse-Hanau, Brunswick, Waldeck, and Anhalt-Zerbst, all under the command of Lieutenant General Philip von Heister.
Within days, news of their unusually friendly reception by Staten Island's residents reached Congress in Philadelphia. "The inhabitants," wrote Maryland delegate Thomas Stone to his state's Council of Safety, "are generally Tories, who I suppose will assist [Howe] all they can." John Adams was much less restrained: "The unprincipled, and unfeeling, and unnatural inhabitants of Staten Island are cordially receiving the Enemy. They are an ignorant, cowardly Pack of Scoundrells."
Later that month, nervously eyeing the mass of British sail now filling New York Harbor, a skeptical George Washington reluctantly succumbed to the importuning of Governor Trumbull and Connecticut's General Israel Putnam, and agreed to permit David Bushnell to hoist his strange "Water Machine" aboard a sloop in Saybrook and bring it down through Long Island Sound to try to assist the outnumbered Continental Army around New York. Washington continued to view the entire Turtle situation with substantial misgivings, privately expressing the feeling that any form of underwater naval attack was somehow "ungentlemanly."
To defend the city and the Hudson River from the British—and their thousands of German mercenaries, worth "blood money" to their princes of $35 dead or $12 maimed—Washington was now willing to try undersea warfare. Bushnell, his Turtle, and the rewarmed foxfire would finally have their chance.
Arriving in New York early in August, the inventor found a city in turmoil. Not only did a formidable British fleet, lying in New York bay a little above the Narrows, threaten annihilation of the troops under Washington, but two enemy frigates had already passed upriver to threaten the revolutionary rear. At this moment, to Bushnell's great distress, his brother Ezra took sick with the "camp fever" [diarrhea], before he had an opportunity to make use of his acquired navigational skills.
The inventor begged Brigadier General Samuel Holden Parsons, former member of Connecticut's Council of Safety, for two or three men who could learn how to navigate his cramped little vessel. Parsons supplied three fireship volunteers for the dangerous service.
This true story of the American Revolution tells how a secretive Yankee genius, David Bushnell, set his sights on the Royal Navy and built the world's first submarine to carry the world's first torpedo. Lincoln Diamant is the author of Chaining the Hudson: The Fight for the River in the American Revolution.
40 pages, illustrated, 6 x 9, 2003
$6.00 booklet--A Purple Mountain Press original
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Copyright © 2003 Purple Mountain Press. All rights reserved.