George Washington and a submarine – who would have guessed there was a relationship!? Yes, the first wartime submarine, or “1-man underwater machine” called the Turtle was invented during the Revolutionary War.
David Bushnell, a sickly Yale student unable to participate in the uprising with service in the army, studied naval warfare. His imagination and innovative genius led him to develop the first means of exploding gunpowder underwater (using clock works and a flintlock mechanism) and inventing a submarine to use in attaching underwater mines to British ships.
As history so often twists on a quirk of fate, Bushnell’s place in naval history became a footnote rather than a headline. His attack on the HMS Eagle, flagship of the British fleet, on September 7, 1776, in New York harbor was unsuccessful when a replacement operator failed to attach a mine under the ship, narrowly escaping. Shortly after, the Turtle was either destroyed by the British or by the Americans to avoid its capture. Shortage of personal and government funds for the expensive project and the priorities of continuing land maneuvers prevented duplicating another submarine. However the use of floating mines and the fear of another underwater machine haunted the British admiralty the rest of the war and influenced their placement of large ships in American waters.
Later in the war Bushnell served as a Captain in the Corps of Sappers and Miners (later becoming the Corps of Engineers) at the Battle of Yorktown where the British were finally defeated. After the war, Bushnell settled in Georgia where he taught in its academies and finally settled in Warrenton as Dr. David Bush. His burial site in Georgia remains a mystery, probably lost in time to the disintegration of a wooden marker and no immediate family to spread his legacy.
Learning of this injustice to a son of Georgia and a patriot well known to Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Abraham Baldwin, and Alexander Hamilton, local residents of Gwinnett County rallied to a celebration of Bushnell’s service. Terry Manning of Lilburn, President of the Atlanta Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR), recruited members of his chapter to raise funds to place a 6-foot granite monument in Bushnell’s honor in the Warrenton City Cemetery on June 28, 2014, in a dedication attended by about 250, including a 20-man SAR Color Guard in Revolutionary War era costume.
The local Button Gwinnett Chapter of the SAR out of Lawrenceville was well represented at the dedication. Bruce Maney of Snellville commanded the 10-man Elijah Clarke Militia Unit that fired a 3-volley musket salute during the dedication. The unit included Jim Lynch of Snellville serving as Metro Regional Vice President, Gordon Woodard of Suwanee serving as Chapter President, Walker Chewning, Sr., of Lawrenceville serving as a chapter member and President of the Kettle Creek Battlefield Association, and Walker Chewning, Jr., of Loganville serving as a chapter member and State President of the Children of the American Revolution.
Area members of the Daughters of the American Revolution were also well represented. Ginny Manning of Lilburn and a member of the Philadelphia Winn Chapter of Lawrenceville and President of Gwinnett Quilters Guild coordinated wreath presentations at the dedication at which Honorary Regent Jo An Chewning of Lawrenceville of the William Day Chapter in Duluth presented a wreath among 22 other wreath presenters. Charlene Maney of Snellville, also a William Day Chapter member, coordinated guest sign-in and program distribution at the ceremony.
The Warrenton Chamber of Commerce, City of Warrenton, Warren County Board of Commissioners and Warrenton’s Burkhalter Chapter NSDAR hope that the community will continue this salute to David Bushnell with an annual event in the future.
The monument highlights a convex depiction of the outside of the Turtle on one side and a concave depiction of the inside of the Turtle on the opposite side with a biography of Bushnell’s (Bush’s) military and community service from 1740 to 1826.