Captain William Blackler (1740 – 1818)

William Blackler, the 4th generation with that name, is said to have been born on 18 May 1740 in Marblehead, Essex County, Massachusetts, USA. He was the Grandfather of my Grandmother (Edith Blackler) and thus my 3rd Great-Grandfather. He came from a long line of fishermen, was described as a mariner, merchant and soldier, and distinguished himself in the War of the Revolution (1775-1783), when America gained its independence from Great Britain.

In the book, Vital Records of Marblehead, Massachusetts, (Vol. I – 1903), the following description is given of the beginnings of Marblehead:

“As early as 1629, the first settlers, many of whom are said to have been natives of the islands of Guernsey and Jersey, gave the name of ” Marble-Harbor ” to this tract of land which was originally a part of Salem, and ” Great Neck ” to that portion which forms a peninsula jutting into the ocean. The name Marblehead is first mentioned in the Colonial records, July 2, 1633, and is thought to have been suggested by the variegated porphyry-colored stones found there and called “marble stones” by Higginson in 1629. Wood and Josselyn also mention the locality as “Marvil Head.” On May 6, 1635, the Court ordered:  “That there shal be a plantacion at Marble Head, & that the inhabitants now there shall have liberty to plant and imp’ve such ground as they stand in neede of.” The population “was undoubtedly increased from time to time by people from Lincolnshire, which would account for many of the idiomatic peculiarities which for more than two centuries characterized the speech of their descendants.”

William Blackler married twice; firstly, on 18 October 1763 to Mary Ingalls (baptized 31 October 1742), daughter of Eleazer Ingalls (1722-1776) and Sarah Diamond, and, secondly, on 27 December 1773 to Rebecca Chipman (1752-1823), daughter of John Chipman (1722-1768) and Elizabeth Brown (1723-1785). Five children were born to his first marriage and ten to his second marriage. Although no record has yet been found of the death of his first wife, Mary Ingalls, it is assumed that she died either at the birth of her last child, Ruth (baptized 20 march 1773) or shortly thereafter.

In 1773, William Blackler raised a company of militia, equipping and training the men at his own expense. Two years later, he enlisted in the Continental Army and his minutemen became part of General John Glover’s famous regiment. On 22 June 1775, he was commissioned a Captain of the army, and thus had earned the title on both land and sea.

From Glover’s Marblehead Regiment in the War of the Revolution, we learn that William Blackler had been a member of the “Committee of Inspection” in 1774, whose job was to check that merchants were not trading with, or paying tax to, Great Britain. He enlisted in the revolutionary forces in April 1775, and served as a Captain in Colonel Glover’s Essex County regiment.

His claim to fame revolves around the famous Battle of Trenton, which took place on 26 December 1776, when he commanded the boat that carried General Washington at nighttime across the icy Delaware River to attack the British at Trenton. The description of the battle is well worth reading. Although small in numbers of troops, it was a decisive battle in terms of raising the morale of revolutionary troops across the country.

A short description of Captain William Blackler is given in Glover’s Marblehead Regiment in the War of the Revolution (1908):

“CAPTAIN WILLIAM BLACKLER, like several other officers in this regiment, had been a member of the “Committee of Inspection” in 1774. He enlisted April 24th, 1775, and was recommended for commission, June 22nd.  The honor has been accorded him of commanding the boat in which Washington crossed the Delaware. He was wounded in the Burgoyne campaign and as a result of his injuries, resigned his commission. In later years he owned and occupied the house in Marblehead in which Elbridge Gerry was born.”

The crossing of the Delaware River on the night of 25-26 December 1776 was a daring exploit, and the American-German artist Emanuel Gottlieb Leutz commemorated it in an oil-on-canvas painting in 1850. The first version was damaged by fire in his studio, subsequently restored, and then destroyed in 1942, during World War II, in a bombing raid by the British Royal Air Force. Following damage to the first painting, Leutz undertook a second painting later in 1850, a full-sized replica of the first, and it was placed on exhibition in New York in October 1851. Marshall O. Roberts bought the original painting for $10,000 and, after changing ownership several times, it was finally donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art by John Stewart Kennedy in 1897.

As can be seen from the reference to Captain William Blackler in Glover’s Marblehead Regiment in the War of the Revolution, he was wounded in the Burgoyne campaign. We learn from the Lineage Book: National Society of the Daughters of the Revolution that he was lamed for life at Bemis Heights. Otherwise known as the Second Battle of Saratoga, the Battle of Bemis Heights on 7 October 1777 was a conclusive American Revolutionary War victory that resulted in the capture of more than 5, 800 British troops, the first time this had happened on American soil. It was during this battle that Captain William Blackler was so badly wounded that he had to resign his commission.

However, his place in history as the ferryman of Washington across the Delaware River is assured, as seen in Landmarks in the Old Bay State by William R. Comer (1911):

“William Blackler was a captain in Glover’s regiment, and it was the proudest boast of his life that he was in command of the boat in which General Washington crossed the Delaware on the night before the Battle of Trenton. In the roster of Glover’s regiment, Blackler appears as captain of Company 2. Nothing in history refutes his claim of having been Washington’s ferryman.”

After his military service, Captain William Blackler returned to Marblehead and continued his life as a sea captain and merchant. Sailing to the sugar plantations of the Caribbean, it is recorded that on 27 December 1790, he brought the 98 ton schooner Dolphin into Marblehead laden with sugar, cotton, coffee, molasses, salt (700 barrels of it) and one cask of rum, all on his own account. The next time Dolphin landed a similar cargo, on 10 April 1793, it was his son William Blackler, V, in command.

Now in his 50’s, Captain William Blacker turned the sailing over to his son and concentrated on the trading business. Locally, he bought fish, beef, rum, cider and lumber for export, and he imported sugar from Guadeloupe, St. Martin and Martinique, wine from Bordeaux, iron from Sweden, rope and canvas from Russia, glassware from Italy, and window glass, lead, bed ticking, and linen from other continental countries. He also bought tea, rice and other commodities from his fellow merchants, and traded them in the Caribbean and Europe. He prospered, and built a stylish brick mansion that still stands on Pearl Street. Captain William Blackler died in 1818 at the age of 78 survived by his second wife and most of his children.