• Thomas A. Wilson

A Manly Retreat

Updated: Jan 28, 2020

America’s first Navy was an Army. General George Washington, Commander of the Continental Army, besieged Boston in the spring and summer of 1775. By August, British forces were unable to resupply by land. They were fully dependent on sailing vessels from England, Nova Scotia, and the West Indies. So, General Washington commissioned Nicholas Broughton (an Army captain), "to take and seize all vessels as may be found on the high seas or elsewhere, bound to or from Boston in the service of the Ministerial Army, laden with soldiers, arms, ammunitions, or provisions, for or from said Army."

Just as America’s Air Force was born in the Army Air Corps, the Navy, too, found its infancy in the Army. Soldiers from Col. John Glover’s “Amphibious Regiment” were assigned to sea duty. And that’s where we are first introduced to Capt. John Manley.

Manley was given command of a schooner, the Lee. He immediately began to distinguish himself as a brilliant naval officer. By the end of the war, he had captured 10 prizes (vessels) singlehandedly, and shared credit for five more. While the flamboyant John Paul Jones is remembered by history, John Manley is the real unsung naval hero of the Revolutionary War. On Manley’s last voyage of the war, he experienced what is perhaps his most impressive exploit. It wasn’t victory at sea—it was the naval equivalent of a full-blown retreat.

I served 10 years in various Armored Cavalry units in the Army National Guard, and I learned that the U.S. Army doesn’t retreat—it “advances to the rear.” That’s what Manley was trying to do in January of 1783. His frigate, Hague, was chased by four British vessels for 36 hours. Near Guadalupe, Manley ran aground on a sandbar. Oops. His pursuers dropped anchor and began to bombard the immobile ship for two days. The Americans withstood the onslaught and returned fire. After a hellish 48 hours, the crew succeeded in repairing and re-floating the ship. Manley did two things as he adroitly outmaneuvered his dull English assailants. He fired a symbolic thirteen-gun volley—the equivalent of, “How do you like me now?” in early American naval vernacular, and he hoisted the continental colors on the main-top-gallant-mast. He made his escape with profound panache! Just one American sailor was slightly wounded in the episode, which was an almost miraculous outcome. Shortly after his escape, Manley took the last significant prize of the war, the 340-ton Baille.

One of the flags Manley flew during hostilities, the Pine Tree flag, is worth noting. Its display was a direct act of defiance against the British crown. Colonists were prohibited, by British law, from harvesting white pine trees with a diameter in excess of 24 inches. Those trees were claimed by the King for use as masts on royal naval vessels. To display the Pine Tree flag, atop a mast constructed of the very tree, communicated both independence and distain to the royalists. The Brits got the message.

On the flag, “An Appeal to Heaven” is written in the white field above the tree. The phrase is taken from the writings of John Locke where he stated that after all human efforts for justice have failed, the only option left is an appeal to heaven. Locke wasn’t so much advocating prayer as he was stating that revolutionaries tend toward a God-help-us attitude.

I recently had the privilege of teaching at two Man School men’s retreats in landlocked Montana. They were relatively short, just a Friday night session and two Saturday morning sessions, but both were powerful. Dynamite comes in small packages.

A retreat can be, as Manley demonstrated, the event that precedes a great outcome. Many attendees in Montana had already read Authentic Man School: A Practical Guide for Next-Level Living, and they enthusiastically embraced the material. One father, for example, shared the story of a great outcome where he used the principles to effectively engage his six-year-old son. As of this writing, no less than five fathers have purchased additional copies of the book for sons, grandsons, and/or sons-in-law. I think the enthusiasm reflects that most men are in the fight of their lives—and they want to win.

For a lot of folks these days, life has become a living hell. Addiction, poverty, incarceration, divorce, boredom, loneliness, and strife are constant companions—perpetual tormentors. They’re the ones I hope to reach. They’re the reason I write in the first place. You see, underliving is an epidemic, and it doesn’t just go away on its own. Many of these men are making an appeal to heaven.

A Man School men’s retreat, six hours or so over two days, can help to turn the tide. Use the contact form on to inquire about booking an event. One of the things that I’ll impart is that individual effectiveness is a powerful thing—then I’ll demonstrate how to release it.

I’ve come to understand that real men raze hell, and I want to help them get a piece of the action.


Some men collect stamps, some collect geocaches, some collect vice, and some collect dust. Man School curriculum is predicated on collecting genius. Ordinary performance is enhanced in surprising ways when not bereft of quality coaching.

Affirmation of the Week: I seek after, and respond to, good coaching. My eyes, ears, and heart are open to feedback because I love my family and myself too much to leave a helpful gift unwrapped on the table.

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