Brigade Major John Samuel Sherburne, Whipple’s Brigade under Sullivan’s command, wounded in action (lost a leg)
John Samuel Sherburne was born in 1757 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. He was the son of John, Sr. and Elizabeth (Moffatt) Sherburne. John graduated from Dartmouth College in 1776. He then attended the Law Department at Harvard. He read law with John Pickering in Portsmouth and was admitted to practice in 1776.
Newport, Rhode Island had been seized by the British in late 1776 after the fall of New York. American and British forces had been at a stand-off since that time with the occasional raid by either side. Major General John Sullivan (an Original Member and first President of the Society of the Cincinnati in the State of New Hampshire) was put in command of the local American forces in March of 1778. General Washington wrote to Sullivan on July 17, 1778 ordering him to raise 5,000 troops for possible operations against Newport. Major General Sullivan did not receive this letter until July 23, and it was followed the next day by the arrival of Colonel John Laurens with word that Newport had been chosen as the allied target on the 22nd, and that he should raise as large a force as possible. Sullivan’s force at that time amounted to 1,600 troops. That force had been bolstered by of a column of Continental troops (the brigades of John Glover and James Mitchell Varnum) led by the Marquis de Lafayette which arrived with Laurens.
News of the pending French involvement in the campaign rallied support for the cause, and militia began streaming to Rhode Island from neighboring states. Half the Rhode Island militia was called up and led by William West, and large numbers of militia from Massachusetts and New Hampshire along with the Continental Artillery came to Rhode Island to join the effort. The New Hampshire Militia forces included a Brigade under the command of Brigadier General William Whipple (a signer of the Declaration of Independence) consisting of: Langdon’s Company of Light Horse Volunteers, Peabody’s New Hampshire State Regiment, and Evans’ Regiment of Militia. John Samuel Sherburne, Jr. served as the Brigade Major of the formation.
With the arrival of D’Estaing’s French reinforcements and fleet, the American forces went on the offensive landing on Rhode Island and securing the high ground. The Americans then began the formal siege moving their lines closer and closer. This siege ended after a Hurricane damaged and scattered the French fleet. With no naval support, the Americans were forced to withdraw. Much to the detriment of the American forces, deserters had informed the British of the Americans plan to withdraw. After General Sullivan ordered retreat, Whipple and other officers resided in a house near Quaker/Butt’s Hill. The approaching enemy fired a field piece from a range of three-quarters of a mile. The shot first tore through a horse lashed outside the house before severely wounding the leg of Major Sherburne. The wound was so grievous that it later required amputation of the leg.
After convalescence, he continued the practice of law. He was listed on the 1789 Return of Invalid Pensioners in the State of New Hampshire in 1789. His rank is listed as Major and date of disability is given as August 29, 1778. His pension commenced October 11, 1778 and ended on October 11, 1788. John Samuel Sherburne, Jr. married Submit Boyd in 1791.
Even by the 1790s, Politics in New Hampshire remained factional, with important divisions over state fiscal policy and judicial reform. John Samuel Sherburne, Jr. was a member of a powerful group known as the Exeter Junto. The group’s members included: James Sheafe, John Pierce, John Langdon, and Nicholas Gilman (an Original Member of the Society of the Cincinnati in the State of New Hampshire). The Exeter Junto supported the establishment of the first state bank in New Hampshire, a public-private institution similar to the Bank of the United States, and opposed legislative interference with the judiciary. The members of the Exeter Junto were nominally Federalist in national politics but did not consistently support administration measures in Congress.
In 1793, John Samuel Sherburne, Jr. became the first Dartmouth alumnus to serve in Congress when he was elected as an Anti-Administration candidate from New Hampshire’s at-large congressional district to the United States House of Representatives of the 3rd United States Congress. Sherburne was reelected as a Democratic-Republican to the 4th United States Congress, serving from March 4, 1793, to March 3, 1797. After serving in the House, he was appointed U.S. District Attorney for New Hampshire by President Thomas Jefferson.
John Samuel Sherburne, Jr. was nominated by President Thomas Jefferson on March 22, 1804, to a seat on the United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire vacated by Judge John Pickering. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on March 24, 1804, and received his commission on March 26, 1804. His service terminated on August 2, 1830, due to his death in Portsmouth.
Sources: Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army, (Baltimore, 1914), 494; The State of New Hampshire, Rolls of the Soldiers in the Revolutionary War, Volume XVI (Manchester, 1887), 330; Edmund R. Sherburne, Some descendants of Henry and John Sherburne of Portsmouth, N.H., Reprinted from the New-England historical and genealogical register, vol. 58 & 59, (Boston, 1904); Pension of Major John Samuel Sherburne, Jr.; “To George Washington from John Samuel Sherburne, 30 August 1793,” Founders Online, National Archives . [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 13, 1 June–31 August 1793, ed. Christine Sternberg Patrick. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2007, 584.]; “To George Washington from Alexander Hamilton, 2 December 1790,” Founders Online, National Archives, accessed September 29, 2019, . [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 7, 1 December 1790 – 21 March 1791, ed. Jack D. Warren, Jr. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998, 19–21.]; United States Congress. “John Samuel Sherburne (id: S000339)” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress; John Samuel Sherburne at the Biographical Directory of Federal Judges, a public domain publication of the Federal Judicial Center; Selected Wartime Service Records of Major John Samuel Sherburne, Jr.