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My family ties to The Last Naval Battle of the American Revolution
By Philip G. Wright, Brevard Chapter FLSSAR

In addition to being a member of the Brevard Chapter of the Florida Society, Sons of the American Revolution, I am active in my local genealogical societies. I started a policy of bringing in a birthday cake for the goodie table if an ancestor’s milestone birthday fell close to the meeting date. It is a good way to increase member participation and interest in our monthly meetings.

Such was the case one month after the March 2007 dedication ceremony of the cannon and marker commemorating the Last Naval Battle of the American Revolution. Preparing for the next day’s meeting, I knew that my 6th great-grandmother, Hannah Lowell, would be 300 years old on the meeting day – definitely calling for a cake in her honor.

To those from New England, the Lowell name would be instantly recognizable but how would I describe her family name to my Florida audience? It was time to do some additional research and see how she was related to the more famous Lowells such as the astronomer Percival Lowell or the poetess Amy Lowell. I’d accomplish this by entering in data about her aunts and uncles, grand and great, into my genealogy database.

Using a family genealogy book now available electronically through Google Books, The Historic Genealogy of the Lowells of America from 1639 to 1899, by Delmar R. Lowell, I start entering in the family tree. Hannah’s brother John and his wife Rachel Sargent had four children. At least that is how far I progressed until I was entering in their fourth child, Gideon Lowell. Gideon was a shipwright and Delmar Lowell notes he was famous for building the 32-gun frigate Alliance for the Continental Navy …[1]

WAIT, WHAT WAS THAT??? …the Alliance? Surely it couldn’t be … Captain John Barry’s ship? The one that fought the Last Naval Battle of the Revolution right off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Florida? The ship associated with that cannon memorial we just dedicated? Oh, my!

There are some discrepancies, though. A quick Google search has a number of authoritative sites documenting the Alliance was a 36-gun frigate and built by cousins Professor William and John Hackett in Salisbury, Mass., originally to be the Hancock[2]. Searching further, I find that “the Alliance was an exceedingly fast America-built ship of the class of large thirty-twos.”[3] That would likely account for the gun count discrepancy.

I also learn that Prof. William Hackett is a famous naval architect, perhaps best known for the 32-gun frigate Essex, built in 1799. Perhaps then cousin Gideon Lowell was the builder and Hackett the designer. Referring back to Delmar’s book I see a notation “see note under his son William” and that note holds an important key. It says:

“When 18 years old he [William Lowell] worked for Prof. William (179) Hackett on the frigate “Alliance,” 32 guns, which the Prof. was helping Gideon Lowell, the father of William, to build at Salisbury Point, Mass., for the Continental Congress, to be used in the Rev. War. It was built at Salisbury Point, Mass. “[4]

At least Mr. Lowell is remarkably consistent as to who built what. However, as it turns out from a research trip to Salisbury Point this past summer, only Delmar Lowell and one living relative’s grandfather assert that Gideon Lowell was the builder. Monuments and scores of other histories indicate otherwise. But, there are some intriguing clues that the story does not end there and that Delmar Lowell was not completely wrong.

Looking from Alliance Park at the junction of the Merrimack and Powow Rivers, a short way downstream you see Lowell’s Boat Shop[5], still in operation to this day and now a National Landmark and working museum, located quite close to the construction site of the Alliance. Maps of the area indicate Gideon’s boat yard was next to the Hackett’s yard. Considering the geography and what was involved in the construction of the frigate, I would be hard-pressed to prove that Gideon had nothing to do with the building of the Alliance.

So my research is not done. It is back to New England this summer to see what I can learn about the shipyards of the time and the true extent of cousin (1st cousin 7 times removed) Gideon’s participation in the building of the Alliance.

[1] Lowell, Delmar R, “The Historic Genealogy of the Lowells of America from 1639 to 1899,” (Rutland, Vt.: Tuttle Co., 1899), pp 314, 318, 337, 348-9. Retrieved from Google Books.p 318
[2] History of USS Alliance, Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, Naval Historical Center http://www.history.navy.mil/danfs/a/alliance.htm.
[3] The Continental Navy “early warships” http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/ship/sail1.htm.
[4] Lowell, Delmar. p. 337
[5] Lowell’s Boat Shop, http://www.lowellsboatshop.com/


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