John Hancock, as President of the Continental Congress in 1776, Appoints One of the Foremost Naval Heroes of the Revolution

The appointee is Capt. Robert Wormsted, whose bold naval adventures resulted in the capture of three British ships and brought him renown

He is made an officer in John Glover’s Regiment; he aided Glover in rowing Washington and his army across the Delaware River en route to the victory at Trenton; Appointments signed by Hancock as President of Congress in 1776 have become quite uncommon in recent years, this being the first we have...

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John Hancock, as President of the Continental Congress in 1776, Appoints One of the Foremost Naval Heroes of the Revolution

The appointee is Capt. Robert Wormsted, whose bold naval adventures resulted in the capture of three British ships and brought him renown

He is made an officer in John Glover’s Regiment; he aided Glover in rowing Washington and his army across the Delaware River en route to the victory at Trenton; Appointments signed by Hancock as President of Congress in 1776 have become quite uncommon in recent years, this being the first we have had in six years

Robert Wormsted was one of the great seafaring Patriots of the American Revolution. In February 1775, even before of the war broke out, he was one of a courageous cohort of Marblehead men who prevented the British from taking the nearby town of Salem’s cannon by removing the north bridge. It is widely reported that he also disarmed 6 British soldiers personally in the fray. When the war contest came on, he was one of the first to enlist in his country’s service. In June 1775 he was a member of Captain Trevett’s Company in the Battle of Bunker Hill, and was wounded in the shoulder by fragments of a bursting shell. Early in 1776, he entered as Ensign in Joseph Lee’s company, belonging to Colonel John Glover’s 14th Continental Regiment. It is well known that this regiment, consisting mostly of men accustomed to the sea and many from Glover’s town of Marblehead, had the distinction of rowing Washington’s army across the Delaware River en route to the victory at Trenton.

Wormsted then took to sea in earnest and engaged in some of the boldest naval adventures of any individual man in the entire Revolution.

In November 1779, he sailed as mate in the letter of marque “Freeman” under Captain Benjamin Boden. The vessel was captured by the British, but the fearless Wormsted developed a daring plan to take both vessels. He promised his fellows to lead the enterprise, and with this secured their reluctant agreement. Then slipping his handcuffs, Wormstead liberated his shipmates and succeeded in knocking down the British captain and numerous British sailors. Disarming the British, the Americans took the British vessel and recaptured their own. Captain Boden cried for joy, and his captors were as much chagrined, as astonished at this unexpected reversal of fortune. Wormsted, now acting as commander, hauled down the British flag, and appointing Captain Boden prize master, sailed for Guadaloupe. The prize was sold there. Wormsted returned home to testimonials of exultation.

In the latter part of 1781, he sailed from Salem in command of a privateer from Salem. Finding himself amidst British ships and in danger of imminent capture, he ran his vessel aground on the Nova Scotia coast instead. He and his men then travelled through the woods for some time, but finally found the coast, seized an open boat, and started for New England. They captured a vessel from Cork with a valuable cargo though they were without arms, but were later chased by a British vessel and forced to abandon the prize. Wormstead led his men in an escape in their boat, and finally reached Marblehead in November 1781. Thus Wormstead has the distinction of single-handedly instigating and leading actions that resulted in the taking of three British ships, an extraordinary feat.

In 1782, he shipped out as first officer of a letter of marque brig; but on her homeward passage in October, being deeply laden, the brig was lost in a tremendous gale near the Grand Banks. All hands were lost. Captain Wormsted is described as five feel and eleven inches in height, very active and athletic, brave to a fault, generous and humane, and fearless of danger and death.

This is his appointment as Ensign in Glover’s regiment. Document signed as President of the Continental Congress, Philadelphia, January 1, 1776, appointing “Robert Wormsted, Gentleman…an Ensign in the Fourteenth Regiment of Foot commanded by Colonel John Glover…By order of Congress, John Hancock.” The document is countersigned by Charles Thomson, Secretary of Congress.  Small tear affecting the start of the signature.

Appointments signed by Hancock as President of the Continental Congress have become quite uncommon in recent years, and those dated with the magical year of 1776 even more so. The last one we had was six years ago, and the one before that in the 1990s.

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