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Saturday, August 4, 2018

Naval Hero Jeremiah O'Brien Honored At Massachusetts State House

Plaque to Jeremiah O'Brian at Massachusetts State House

Jeremiah O'Brien (1744-1818) created the "first act of Colonial piracy" in the Revolutionary War, when he, his four brothers and townsmen led an attack on the British cutter Margaretta on June 12, 1775 at Machias, Maine, defeating the ship and taking its munitions as bounty.  Maine was part of the Massachusetts Colony until 1820. 

The town of Machias had apparently put up a Liberty Pole in town after hearing about the battle of Lexington in April 1775.  When the Margaretta sailed into the harbor, the captain warned the townspeople that the pole must come down, or the ship would fire upon the town. The townspeople voted to leave the  pole intact, and to instead capture the Margaretta. Two American ships, the Unity and the Falmouth Packet, were dispatched to fight the battle. 

According to author Charles Lucey, "Fighting was furious," with both sides "determined to conquer or die."  The colonists under O'Brien "used axes and pitchforks" when the battle was joined at close quarters.  

In August 1775 the Massachusetts Provincial Congress declared, "Jeremiah O'Brien is hereby commissioned as commander of the armed schooner Diligent and the sloop Machias Liberty, for the purpose of guarding the sea coast, for the sum of 160 pounds lawful money of this Colony of supplying the men with provision s and ammunition."  Subsequently, the O'Brien brothers engaged in numerous battles with English ships of along the coast from Newburyport to Maine.

The head of the family was Morris O'Brien, who came from Ireland in 1740 and settled in Kittery, Maine, according to the US Congressional Record. He and his wife Mary had six boys, of which Jeremiah was the eldest. The family ran a lumber mill in Machias.

In 1937 a plaque created by John Paramino was placed at the Massachusetts State House commemorating O'Brien's "distinguished services for winning the first navel engagement in the War of the Revolution and of his subsequent exploits in said war as the first regularly commissioned naval officer  and commander of the Revolutionary Navy of Massachusetts."  It is located on the staircase next to the Hall of Flags. 

Five ships in the United States Navy have been named USS O'Brien.  During World War II, the United States liberty ship SS Jeremiah O'Brien was named in his honor.

The Massachusetts State House is one of the 20 stops along Boston's Irish Heritage Trail.

For year round information on Irish activities in New England, visit

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