American Revolution Veteran Stephen Adams and His “Stick” of Ironwood

By Rudy VanVeghten

Meredith residents are generally familiar with the name John Bond Swasey, the early 19th-century merchant and mill builder largely responsible for the development of Meredith Village. Fewer know that his father-in-law, Stephen Adams, was a Revolutionary War veteran who, in the months following the American victory at Saratoga, played a small role in the country’s successful separation from Great Britain.

In February of 1778, France officially recognized the United States as a sovereign country independent of England. They sent French Vice Admiral Charles Hector, comte d’Estang, with a fleet of warships to America to counter the powerful English navy. Before they met the British, however, they fought a losing battle with Mother Nature, incurring significant damage in a hurricane on August 11-12 off the New England coast. It was at this point that Stephen Adams, then a resident of Moultonboro, got involved.

The story is told by John Bond Swasey’s nephew and namesake, John Swasey Adams:

“The French fleet which were sent to our assistance in the Revolution were once partially disabled in a storm and ran into Portsmouth or Dover to repair damages. Word was sent to him [Stephen Adams] that a certain peculiar stick of timber was wanted, which he found on an Island in the Lake, but upon cutting it down, he found it would not float, whereupon he cut down two dry pine trees and lashing one to each side of his stick, he took it in tow of his canoe and towed it to the lower end of the Lake and delivered it to the French and got his pay in ‘gold French crowns.’ ”

Revolutionary era history confirms that d’Estang’s fleet was severely damaged by a hurricane just before he could engage the British navy in the Battle of Rhode Island. Correspondence from General George Washington show his concern over the fate of the French fleet, which for the most part pulled into Boston Harbor for repairs.

There are a couple of interesting facts that lend credence to the story. It turns out there is only one type of wood that is so dense it won’t float—ironwood. And interestingly, ironwood was used extensively in 18th– and 19th-century shipbuilding for certain small parts, such as belaying pins and block-and-tackle pieces.

Due to the storm damage, American forces under the command of New Hampshire General John Sullivan engaged the British in the Battle of Rhode Island on August 28, 1778, without French assistance. Although the battle is considered inconclusive, the British retained control of Newport, and the attacking Americans were forced to retreat. The United States’ eventual victory in the war had to wait for a later time and location—1781 at Yorktown.

As for Stephen Adams, he went on to marry the widow Jane Bond Swasey of Meredith in 1785. During the next few years, the family, including the young John Bond Swasey, lived in Moultonboro. Prior to 1787 at the urging of Moultonboro founder Gen. John Moulton, Stephen Adams reportedly built the first commercial gundalow boat on Lake Winnipesaukee. In 1791, the Adams/Swasey family moved to Meredith. Veteran Stephen Adams died in 1819 and was the first person buried in the Swasey Cemetery on Lang Street, where a DAR marker pays tribute to his military service.

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