Charles Oscar Paullin.

Commodore John Rodgers, captain, commodore, and senior officer of the American navy, 1773-1838; online

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COMMODORE JOHN RODGERS




COMMODORE JOHN RODGERS, about 1815

From a portrait by John W. Jarvis, at the United States Naval Academy,
Annapolis, Maryland



COMMODORE JOHN RODGERS

CAPTAIN, COMMODORE, AND SENIOR OFFICER

OF THE AMERICAN NAVY

1773-1838



A BIOGRAPHY



BY

CHARLES OSCAR PAULLIN




CLEVELAND, OHIO

THE ARTHUR H. CLARK COMPANY
1910



COPYRIGHT, 1909, BY

CHARLES OSCAR PAULLIN

All rights reserved



CONTENTS

PREFACE 9

I FAMILY AND EARLY LIFE, 1773-1797 ... 13

II LIEUTENANT AND CAPTAIN IN THE NAVY, 1798-1799 31

III COMMANDER OF THE " MARYLAND," 1799-1801 . 53

IV VOYAGES TO SANTO DOMINGO, 1801-1802 . . 73

V FIRST CRUISE IN THE MEDITERRANEAN, 1802-1803 . 93

VI SECOND CRUISE IN THE MEDITERRANEAN, 1804-1805 117

VII COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF OF THE MEDITERRANEAN

SQUADRON, 1805-1806 . . . . . . 137

VIII DUTIES ON SHORE AND AT SEA, 1806-1810 . . 171

IX THE "PRESIDENT" AND "LITTLE BELT," 1810-1811 209

X CRUISES IN THE " PRESIDENT " DURING THE WAR OF

1812, 1812-1814 243

XI SERVICES AT PHILADELPHIA, WASHINGTON, AND BAL

TIMORE, 1814-1815 ...... 279

XII PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF NAVY COMMISSIONERS,

1815-1824 ........ 299

XIII COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF OF THE MEDITERRANEAN

SQUADRON, 1824-1827 ...... 327

XIV HOME LIFE AT THE NATIONAL CAPITAL, 1815-1837 . 359

XV LAST YEARS, 1827-1838 389

BIBLIOGRAPHY 405

INDEX .......... 411



27.1396



ILLUSTRATIONS

PORTRAIT OF COMMODORE JOHN RODGERS, about 1815 Frontispiece

From a portrait by John W. Jarvis, at the United States Naval Acad
emy, Annapolis, Maryland

ADVERTISEMENT OF THE SAILING OF THE "JANE," 1796 . 23

From the Federal Gazette and Baltimore Daily Advertiser, October 4,
1796

THE " CONSTELLATION " AND " INSURGENTS," 1842 . . 43

From John Frost s Book of the Navy (New York, 1842), 82. En
graved by P. Roberts from a drawing by William Croome

THE UNITED STATES FRIGATE " PRESIDENT," 1816 . . 43

From the Temple (Boston, 1816), appendix

PORTRAIT OF COMMODORE JOHN RODGERS, about 1803 . 87

From a portrait in the possession of Rear-admiral John A. Rodgers,
Bremerton, Washington

PORTRAIT OF COMMODORE STEPHEN DECATUR, 1813 . . 179

From the Analectic Magazine (Philadelphia, 1813), vol. i, 502. En
graved by D. Edwin from a portrait by G. Stuart

PORTRAIT OF COMMODORE THOMAS TRUXTUN, 1799 . . 179

From an engraving by C. Tiebout, made from the portrait by A.
Robertson

PORTRAIT OF COMMODORE THOMAS TINGEY, about 1810 . 179

From an engraving by C. B. J. F. de St. Memin, in the possession of
Mrs. Aulick Palmer, Washington, D.C.

PORTRAIT OF REAR-ADMIRAL JOHN RODGERS, about 1870 . 179

Son of Commodore John Rodgers. From a negative by M. B. Brady

FACSIMILE OF LETTER OF COMMODORE JOHN RODGERS, 181 1 221

Addressed to Secretary of the Navy Paul Hamilton. Dated Havre
de Grace [Maryland], May 8, 1811. From the Archives of the
United States Navy Department, Washington, D.C.



8 ILLUSTRATIONS



THE OLD NAVY DEPARTMENT BUILDING, WASHINGTON,

D.C., about 1860 307

From a negative by M. B. Brady

THE UNITED STATES SHIP OF THE LINE " NORTH CAR
OLINA" IN A STORM IN THE MEDITERRANEAN, about 1827 355

From a photograph in the Bureau of Construction and Repair, United
States Navy Department, Washington, D.C. This photograph is
from a painting at Sion Hill, Havre de Grace, Maryland, in the
possession of Rear-admiral Frederick Rodgers

PORTRAIT OF COMMODORE JOHN RODGERS, 1813 . . 365

From the Polyanthos (Boston, 1813), vol. iii, i. Engraved by John
R. Smith from a portrait by Henry Williams



PREFACE

/COMMODORE John Rodgers was born on the eve
VJof the American Revolution, and died a few years
before the Mexican War, having served almost two
decades as the senior officer of the navy. Arriving at
early manhood during that critical period when the
government under the Constitution was initiated, tested,
and developed, he was called to play an exceedingly im
portant part on the stage of national affairs, both as a
naval officer and an administrative official. His
achievements in war, diplomacy, and administration
were greater than those of any of his naval colleagues,
and his life compares most favorably with theirs in
wealth and picturesqueness of incident. He was part
and parcel of the Old Navy- the navy of sailing ships,
self-trained officers, and bluff hardy seamen. Entering
that service in its formative period, he did much to fix
its customs, standards, and traditions. He became its
typical commander, the incarnation of its spirit, and the
exemplar for its young men.

In writing this book, personal events have been ab
stracted from their setting rather less than is usual in
naval biographies. An attempt has been made to ex
plain and illustrate the life of Rodgers by means of his
environment. As a result of this plan, a fuller, and
doubtless a truer, biography has been produced, and a
considerable account of the Old Navy has been present
ed, to which service Rodgers devoted the forty best
years of his life. While the information contained in
this biography is primarily concerned with Rodgers



COMMODORE JOHN RODGERS



and the navy, much of it has a wider bearing and is re
lated to the more general history of America. Men
tion may be made of the facts now first brought to light
in those chapters treating of the wars with Barbary and
Great Britain, and of the period, 1806-181 1, marked by
the Chesapeake -Leopard and President -Little Belt
affairs.

The chief sources of information are listed in the Bib
liography, at the end of the volume. In making quota
tions, the punctuation, capitalization, abbreviations, mis
spellings, and paragraphing of the originals have not
always been followed when departures therefrom ren
dered the sense clearer. Since the manuscripts of the
United States Navy Department are arranged chron
ologically, the quotations from them may be readily
verified. The source of information is often indicated
by the context, when it is not by a footnote.

I am under many obligations to Rear-admiral Fred
erick Rodgers, U.S.N., (retired), and to Mrs. J. N. Ma-
comb, both of Washington, D.C., for documents, sug
gestions, and criticisms. I am indebted also to Mr.
Robert S. Rodgers of Kansas City for valuable infor
mation. The Honorable Victor H. Metcalf, secretary
of the navy, Rear-admiral John E. Pillsbury, U.S.N.,
chief of the bureau of navigation, and Rear-admiral
Washington L. Capps, U.S.N., chief of the bureau of
construction and repair, gave me access to the docu
ments of their offices. Mr. Charles W. Stewart, super
intendent of the library and naval war records office,
permitted me to use the numerous materials of which he
is custodian and in many other ways assisted me in pros
ecuting my researches. I wish also to make my ac
knowledgments to the officials of the Library of Con-



PREFACE ii



gress, the Maryland Historical Society, the Johns Hop
kins University, the Peabody Institute, The Harford
County (Maryland) Historical Society, the Carnegie
Institution of Washington, the United States Depart
ment of War, and the United States Naval Institute.

Washington, May, 1909. CHARLES OSCAR PAULLIN.



I. FAMILY AND EARLY LIFE: 1773-1797

THE history of our navy may be divided into four
periods: (i) the Continental Navy, 1775-1785;
(2) the Old Navy, 1794-1855; (3) the First Steam
Navy, 1855-1880; and (4) the New Navy, 1880-1909.
The first period, 1775-1785, is almost coincident with
the Revolutionary War, in which conflict Captains John
Paul Jones, John Barry, Esek Hopkins, Abraham
Whipple, Samuel Tucker, and Silas Talbot achieved
distinction. In the second period, 1794-1855, our wars
with France (1798-1801), the Barbary states (1801-
1806, and 1815), Great Britain (1812-1815), and Mex
ico (1846-1848) were fought; and the old wooden sail-
ingships were at their best. The years from 1798 to
1815 have been called the heroic age of the American
navy; for then its heroes were the most numerous, its
deeds the most daring, and its operations the most pic
turesque. These were the years when our vessels were
commanded by Preble, Hull, Decatur, Lawrence, Mac-
donough, Bainbridge, David Porter, O. H. Perry, and
the elder John Rodgers, the subject of this biography.
Shortly before the Civil War, steam-engines began to
supersede sails as a means of propulsion, and the period
of the First Steam Navy, 1855-1880, was ushered in.
The naval celebrities of this era won their laurels in the
Civil War, and many of their names are still well re
membered - Farragut, D. D. Porter, Dupont, Dahl-
gren, Foote, the elder C. H. Davis, and the younger
John Rodgers. The last period of our naval history,
1880-1909, has been marked by the construction of a



, -COMMODORE JOHN RODGERS



powerful fleet of ironclads, torpedo boats, and subma
rines, and by the victories of Manila Bay and Santiago
which recently brought Dewey and Sampson into prom
inence.

The term of naval service of Commodore John Rod-
gers, 1798-1838, lies wholly within the period of the Old
Navy. He was one of the heroes of the navy s heroic
age, having played a conspicuous part in three naval
wars. For seventeen years he was the senior officer of
the navy; and for more than nineteen years he held one
of the principal administrative offices at Washington,
the presidency of the board of naval commissioners.
Twice he was offered the secretaryship of the navy, and
for a time he served as the secretary of the navy ad in
terim. He was long a familiar figure in Washington,
where he resided during the latter part of his life, and
where he became acquainted with many of the most dis
tinguished statesmen of the first half of the nineteenth
century. Not a few of his descendants have achieved
distinction as officers of the navy and of the army, on
the rolls of which service the names of several of his
grandchildren and great-grandchildren are still to be
found.

Commodore John Rodgers sprang from one of the
American branches of the " family of Roger," whose
numerous members are now well scattered over west
ern Europe and the United States. The name, Roger,
has many variants and derivatives, of which Rogers and
Rodgers occur the most frequently. It has been com
mon on the Continent for a thousand years. One of its
early forms, Rudiger, is found in the Nibelungenlied.
The name is said to be derived from two words meaning
red spear. According to one authority the earliest crest
of the Roger escutcheon was a fleur de lis, and the first



FAMILY AND EARLY LIFE 15

family motto was nos nostraque Deo- ourselves and our
possessions for God.

No fewer than twenty-seven of the companions of
William the Conqueror who crossed the Channel with
him in 1066 bore the name of " Roger." The descend
ants of these men and of other immigrants of the family
were soon scattered over England, Scotland, Ireland,
and Wales. In England the family has had members
in every walk of life, high and low, in church and state,
among the nobility and the common people, on land and
at sea. In 1480, Thomas Rogers was keeper and gov
ernor of the King s ships. In 1709, Captain Woodes
Rogers rescued Alexander Selkirk from the island
Juan Fernandez; and during our Revolution Captain
Josias Rogers of the Royal Navy commanded the " Gen
eral Monk" when she was captured by the American
ship, " Hyder Ally," Lieutenant Joshua Barney.

In Scotland the name is usually spelled with a " d"-
Rodgers- although other spellings are not uncommon.
One of the earliest representatives of the family in that
country was Roger, bishop of St. Andrews, who in 1200
founded the episcopal castle of St. Andrews. In the
rock on which this stronghold was built, a deep dungeon
was dug, of the shape of a frustrum of a cone, and with
a diameter at the top of seven feet. Here were confined
many offenders against both the church and the state.
It is of record that in 1544 Friar John Rogers was im
prisoned in this dungeon for heresy and was later secret
ly assassinated. A more recent Scottish representative
of the family is Alexander Rodgers, a poet of distinc
tion. He may have been a near relative of Commodore
John Rodgers, who had a brother of the same name.

Many members of the Rodger clan emigrated from
the British Isles to America, where at the outbreak of



16 COMMODORE JOHN RODGERS

the Revolution they were fairly numerous. Not a few
of them followed the sea for a livelihood. In Maryland
both the English and Scottish branches were represent
ed. To the Scottish branch belonged Colonel John
Rodgers, the father of Commodore John Rodgers, and
the founder of the Rodgers family of Havre de Grace,
Maryland. He was born in Scotland about 1726.
When a young man he emigrated to the Middle States,
and about 1760 he married Elizabeth Reynolds, the
daughter of Thomas and Margaret Reynolds of Dela
ware. This family was a prominent one in that state,
and like the family of Rodgers was of Scotch descent.
Thomas Reynolds was a Presbyterian minister. His
daughter Elizabeth, the mother of Commodore Rod
gers, was born in 1742 or 1743, and is said to have been
a woman of great energy and strength of character.

Probably soon after his marriage Colonel John Rod
gers moved to Maryland. A few years before the Revo
lution he was living on a farm in Baltimore County of
that state, two miles from Lower Susquehanna Ferry.
This little village was situated on the west bank of the
Susquehanna, near its mouth, and on the Philadelphia-
Baltimore post-road, for many years the chief thorough
fare between the North and the South. About 1774,
Rodgers moved to the village and opened a tavern. At
the outbreak of the Revolution in 1775 he warmly es
poused the cause of the patriots. Soon after the battle
of Bunker Hill, in accordance with the resolutions of
the Provincial Convention of Maryland, he raised a
company of militia for the defense of his state and took
command of it as captain. In September, 1775, he re
ported his company as "young and enrolling daily,"
and he was then writing to the Harford County Com
mittee for arms, which he and his officers agreed to re-



FAMILY AND EARLY LIFE 17

turn when " this unhappy contest shall subside." Rod-
gers and his men may have joined the Continental army
under Washington, although we have found no evi
dence that they did so. In 1778, he received from the
governor and council of Maryland a commission of cap
tain of militia. Whether he was promoted to a higher
rank is not known. In the latter part of his life he was
always called Colonel John Rodgers. It is said that on
several occasions during the war he gave proofs of gal
lantry and patriotism.

In 1774, Harford County, in which was situated Low
er Susquehanna Ferry, was separated from Baltimore
County and received a government of its own. Both in
1775 and 1776, Colonel Rodgers was appointed by the
Harford County Committee to carry around among his
neighbors for signatures the "Association of the Free
men of Maryland." The association bound those who
signed it to support the patriot cause. The names of
those who refused to sign it and the reasons for their re
fusal were reported by Rodgers and his fellow solicitors
to the county committee. The reasons given by the non-
associators for not joining the patriots were various. One
man had religious scruples, another feared " it would
fetch him into a scrape," and a third would not sign " by
reason it is a mystery to him." Isaac Penrose declared
that he did not choose to fight for liberty and never
would; and Benjamin Fleetwood said that he would go
in a vessel but he would not fight by land. 1

Colonel Rodgers seems to have prospered during the
Revolution. In 1776, he formed a partnership with a
friend, and they purchased a sawmill, mill-dam and
mill-race, and built a grist-mill; and in 1777, he bought

1 Preston, W. W. History of Harford County, Maryland, iio-m, 263-264,
312, 322.
2



i8 COMMODORE JOHN RODGERS

a farm of one hundred sixty- five acres on Broad Creek
in Harford County. About 1780, he moved across the
Susquehanna River into Cecil County, opposite to Low
er Susquehanna Ferry or Havre de Grace, as the village
was renamed. Here for several years he kept the old
stone tavern, still standing in 1897, and operated a ferry
that plied between the east side of the river and Havre
de Grace. His hostelry was a stopping-point on the old
Philadelphia-Baltimore post-road, and was frequented
by Washington, Madison, and many other southern
statesmen traveling to and from the seat of government
at Philadelphia or New York. It was the scene of
many gay parties in which his attractive sons and daugh
ters participated. 2 Doubtless in this old stone house his
daughter Maria Ann was married to William Pinkney,
Maryland s famous orator and jurist.

Colonel and Mrs. Rodgers had eight children, four
sons, Alexander, Thomas Reynolds, John, and George
Washington; and four daughters, Maria Ann, Mary,
Elizabeth, and Rebecca. Thomas was a doctor and a
student at Princeton. George Washington, the young
est child, was a commodore of the navy, and married a
sister of Commodores O. H. and M. C. Perry. Several
of his sons, grandsons, and great-grandsons became
naval officers. Mary wedded Howes Goldsborough, a
member of a distinguished Maryland family of that
name. Maria Ann married William Pinkney of Mary
land; and Rebecca, Andrew Gray of Delaware. Sev
eral of their descendants have been men of national re
nown. Colonel Rodgers died in 1791. His wife sur
vived him a quarter of a century. They are buried in
White Clay Creek Cemetery, New Castle County, Del
aware.

2 Archer, G. W. Letters to R, S. Rodgers, Nov. 18, 1894, Oct. 31, 1897.



FAMILY AND EARLY LIFE 19

Commodore John Rodgers was one of the older chil
dren of the family. He was born in 1773 on a farm two
miles from Lower Susquehanna Ferry. The first thir
teen years of his life were spent in or near this village,
which was renamed Havre de Grace while John was a
boy. There is a tradition that this name was chosen by
Lafayette in honor of the famous French port of Havre
or Havre de Grace. It was first applied to the site of a
proposed city near the village which was laid out about
1780 by Robert Young Stokes, one of the first boomers
of town sites in the United States. It seems that he ex
pected that the seat of the national government would
be located at the mouth of the Susquehanna, and he
made his plans accordingly. He bought a tract of land
containing eight hundred and fifty acres, and divided it
into forty-five hundred lots. His proposed city, how
ever, never acquired the dignity of brick and mortar.
Its situation was pleasing and promising enough. The
view of the bay and the surrounding hills was exceed
ingly beautiful, and the soil of the adjacent countryside
was quite fertile. The head of the Chesapeake abound
ed in shad and herring, and near by on the Susque
hanna -a word so sweet-sounding that no less a man
than Robert Louis Stevenson liked to roll it on his
tongue -were the feeding-grounds of the famous can-
vasbacks and redheads. But the fates were against
Stokes s enterprise.

Young John, who was a remarkably strong and hardy
youth, spent many happy hours fishing and fowling on
the waters near his home. In winter he would some
times break the ice and swim after the wild ducks which
he shot and killed from the banks of the Susquehanna.
He took part in the games of the boys of the village, and
was their leader in many a daring adventure. He at-



20 COMMODORE JOHN RODGERS

tended the village school, and acquired the rudiments
of an education. He read many books treating of sail
ors and a seafaring life, which fired his imagination and
aroused his curiosity. The vessels that visited Havre
de Grace were schooner-rigged, and John greatly de
sired to see a large square-rigged ship. One day at
school he suddenly made up his mind as to what he
should do. He decided to go to Baltimore, thirty-five
miles distant, and see what the big ships were like and
get a job on one of them. Keeping his plans to himself,
he one day set out for Baltimore on foot. Missing John
and learning the route that he had taken, Colonel Rod-
gers followed him on horseback and overtook him as he
was entering the city. The colonel insisted that the
runaway should return home, but he stubbornly refused
to do so. Finding that he had set his heart on going to
sea, the colonel bound him out for five years as an ap
prentice to a highly respected shipmaster of Baltimore,
Captain Benjamin Folger. The father accompanied
the young sailor to his ship and saw that he was well
settled on board her. Before bidding him good-by,
Colonel Rodgers earnestly requested his son never to
touch strong drink. The boy gave his word, and kept
it. Throughout his long life Commodore Rodgers ab
stained from the use of spirituous liquors. 3 This is all
the more remarkable since a century ago, rum was as
great a staple in the navy as bread, and drinking was re
garded as an accomplishment rather than a curse.

Colonel Rodgers s choice of Captain Folger as a mas
ter for his son could not have been bettered. This old
sea-captain had seen much service during the Revolu
tion on board Baltimore privateers. For a time he was
first officer on the topsail schooner, "Antelope," com-

3 Rodgers, Commodore John, Autobiography, 1-2.



FAMILY AND EARLY LIFE 21

manded by Captain Jeremiah Yellott, later for several
years federal navy agent at Baltimore. In 1780, he had
a ship of his own, the " Felicity." The next year he
went to sea as commander of the " Antelope," and sailed
in company with the " Felicity," which was now com
manded by Captain Thomas Cole. The two ships visit
ed Guadaloupe, and on their return voyage captured off
the Patuxent the notorious privateer, " Jack-o -the-Lan-
tern." After the Revolution Folger entered the mer
chant service. When young Rodgers joined him he
was captain of the " Maryland," a fine ship of several
hundred tons burden, owned by himself and Samuel and
John Smith, noted Baltimore merchants of their day.
In 1786 and 1787, Folger visited the French ports,
L Orient and Bordeaux. In the fall of the latter year
the "Maryland" was sold; and in 1788, her command
er, doubtless accompanied by his apprentice, sailed for
the West Indies as the master of the schooner, " Pil
grim." In the following year he was still engaged in
the trade with these islands, but in 1790 and 1791, he
was sailing out of Baltimore for French and Dutch
ports as master of the ship, " Harmony."

Folger disappears from view in 1797, when he was
appointed by President Washington consul to Aux
Cayes, Santo Domingo. He was one of the most skil
ful and successful of the Baltimore sea-captains of his
time, and was admirably qualified to train his young ap
prentice in the sailor s art. To Folger, Rodgers was in
no small degree indebted for his superior seamanship,
his high standards of duty, and his complete mastery of
his calling. His steady habits, willingness to accept re
sponsibility, and skill as a sailor, soon won for him the
favorable opinion of his captain. Before Rodgers was
eighteen years old, Folger made him first mate of the



22 COMMODORE JOHN RODGERS

w Harmony"; and a short time after the completion of
his apprenticeship, his former master recommended
him so highly that he obtained the command of a fine
vessel, engaged in the European trade. This good for
tune came to him early in 1793, before he was twenty
years old.

At this time Baltimore was a city of about fourteen
thousand inhabitants. In the value of her trade she was
the third or fourth port of the Union. Her principal
exports were flour, tobacco, wheat, corn, merchandise,
coffee, furs, staves, rice, bread, flaxseed, turpentine,
rum, and pork. Her imports consisted largely of mer
chandise, sugar, coffee, wine, distilled spirits, molasses,
and hardware. She had about one hundred coasters,
and about one hundred twenty-five vessels engaged in
foreign trade. The average burden of these craft was
only one hundred fifty tons. The foreign trade was
chiefly with the West Indies and Europe, and occasion
ally with Africa and the Far East. It often took from
two to three months to cross the Atlantic. Since con
siderable time was consumed in selling the cargo carried
out and in buying a new one to bring home, not more
than a single voyage to Europe was made, as a rule, in
a year. The old shipmasters acquired much skill as
merchants, as they were frequently called upon to act
in that capacity in the ports visited by them.

Rodgers s first command was the ship, "Jane," which
was described as a " fine stout vessel, well found. 1 " Her



Online LibraryCharles Oscar PaullinCommodore John Rodgers, captain, commodore, and senior officer of the American navy, 1773-1838; → online text (page 1 of 30)