NOTE TO READERS: A Second Edition of “Unsinkable Patriot,” in which typographical and spelling errors have been corrected, is now available for ordering. The major errors in the First Edition were in the index, in which the page numbers for many entries were missing or incorrect.
In this biography, history sleuth Michael Schreiber digs into old letters, newspapers, and documents to tell the story of Thomas Cave, an “ordinary man” who had many extraordinary adventures in early America. Along the way, Schreiber provides insight into the revolutionary society of the late 18th and early 19th centuries—its politics, theatre, architecture, technical inventions, and daily life.
We follow Cave from his childhood in Ireland to his labors as an indentured millhand in Pennsylvania’s Cumberland Valley. At the advent of the American Revolution, Cave enlists in the Continental Navy and is soon captured in battle. After two grim years in an English prison, he ships out again, fighting in the fleet led by John Paul Jones. Following the Revolution, Cave marries and settles in Philadelphia, the capital of the new republic, where he participates in the rancorous political feuds of the day. As a businessman, Cave sees his fortunes grow considerably, but swiftly loses it all and lands in prison for debt. Personal tragedies abound, as his wife dies in childbirth. “Unsinkable Patriot” offers a rare documented look at the role of the “middling” sort of people—craftsmen, farmers, and small shopkeepers—in revolutionary America.
“Schreiber is passionate about [Philadelphia’s] social history. Conversations with him take you on a detailed journey from one house to the next, from street to neighborhood, and from colonial times to the present … Curiosity about the age and history of his own home .. led Schreiber to the first City street directory, published in 1785. In the course of his research he came across Thomas Cave, an intriguing, obscure character that lived on his street in the 18th century. [Many] pages later, he had brought Cave, who came from Dublin, Ireland, as an indentured servant, back to life.“
– Philadelphia architect and writer Joseph G. Brin, in his on-line interview with the author in Hidden City Philadelphia