Samuel Adams Drake.

Historic fields and mansions of Middlesex online

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were secretly removed by the patriots in the autumn of 1774,
without exciting the least suspicion of what was taking place
on board the British vessels of war in the stream. Upon the
evacuation of Boston this was one of the points which AVash-
ington directed his chief of artillery to fortify.

That part of the town in the neighborhood of the yard was
long ago called Wappiug, a circumstance Avhich it has been
thought proper to distinguish by a street of that name. In the
days of the Great Eebellion this now unsavory locality could
not have been much inferior to its prototype by the Thames,
and poor Jack; in making his exit from the yard after a long
cruise, had to run the gauntlet of all the merciless land-sharks
that infested the place. At one time, however, the neighbor-
hood was of quite a different cast, and some of the artisans
of the yard found a convenient residence here ; among others,
Josiah Barker, for thirty-four years the distinguished naval con-
structor at this station, lived in Wapping Street, in a house still
standing on the north side of the street as you a]3proach the
3''ard from Chelsea. Street.

The first records of this station begin in 1815, when an
aggregate of forty-four officers and men was borne on the
rolls, while it is said as many as six thousand were employed
here during the Eebellion. In the beginning of the year men-
tioned, Avhich was just at the conclusion of war with Great
Britain, there Avas but a single wharf in the yard. The
frigates Congress, Macedonian, Constitution, the seventy-fours
Washington and Independence, and the brig Chippewa were
then lying here.

A lady who visited the yard in 1824, and recorded her impres-
sions, gives a someAvhat humorous account of the difficulties she
encountered. She says : —

" The United States Navy- Yard is likewise located in Charles-
toAATX. A few marines are also stationed here ; the most trifling,
abandoned-looking men, from their appearance, to be found. I
applied to the Commandant, Major W , for liberty to inspect the



AN HOUR IN THE GOVERNMENT DOCKYARD. 29

interior of the yard, but this haughty bashaw sent word '/le vms en-
gaged, and that I must report my business to the lieutenant,' — rather
a reproach to Uncle Sam. As in duty bound, I obeyed his high-
ness, and called on the lieutenant, whom I found unqualified to give
the information I wished to obtain ; and, after undergoing sundry
indignities from these mighty men of war, I had to give up the
design."

Commodore Samuel j!!^iclioIson was the first commandant of
the yard, and the somewhat peculiar architecture of the house
used as a residence by the commodores is a specimen of his
taste, — ^

' ' The brave old commodore,
The rum old commodore."

TV-lien the Constitution was building, Xicholson, who was to
have her, exercised a general supervision over her construction ;
though, notwithstanding anything that has been said, Colonel
George Claghorn was the principal and authorized constructor.

In consequence of the narrow limits of Hartt's Yard, it had
been agreed that no spectators should he admitted on the day
previous to that fixed for the launch, without the permission
of Captain Nicholson, Colonel Claghorn, or General Jackson.
While the workmen were at breakfast Colonel Claghorn had
admitted some ladies and gentlemen to view the ship, but when
they attemjited to go on board Xicholson forbade their enter-
ing. This was communicated to Colonel Claghorn. In the af-
ternoon of the same day some visitors who had been denied an
entrance to the ship by Nicholson were admitted by Claghorn,
Avho, hoAvever, was not aware that they had been previously
refused permission. The captain, w^ho was furious Avhen he
saAv the men he had just turned away approaching, exclaimed
to Claghorn, " D — n it ! do you know whom you have admitted,
and that I have just refused them 1 " The latter replied that
he did not know that circumstance, but, having passed his
word, they might go on board. The Avhole party being assem-
bled on the Constitution's deck, Colonel Claghorn went up to
the captain and desired, with some heat, that he might not treat
these visitors as he had done the ladies in the morning; to



30 HISTORIC FIELDS AND MANSIONS OF MIDDLESEX.

which Nicholson replied that he should say no more to them,
but that he had a right to command on board his own ship.
To this Claghorn rejoined that he commanded on board the
ship, and that if Captain Nicholson did not like the regula-
tions, he might go out of her. Upon this the parties im-
mediately collared each other, and Nicholson, who carried a
cane, attempted to strike his adversary, but the bystanders in-
terfered and separated the belligerents. The affair was settled
by mutual apologies. Nicholson died in Charlestown in 1811,
and was buried under Christ Church, in Boston. It was said
that Preble, who was appointed to the Constitution under Nich-
olson, declined serving with him, and expressed doubts of his
courage. General Knox's son, Henry Jackson Knox, was a
midshipman on board Old Ironsides on her first cruise.

Hull was one of the early commanders of the yard. The
receiving-ship Ohio, now at this station, carried his flag in the
Mediterranean in 1839. Bainbridge was commandant at the
time of Lafayette's visit in 1824. These two men, famous in
the annals of the American Navy, could conquer their invinci-
ble adversaries yard-arm to yard-arm, and afterwards gain their
hearts by the most kindly ofiices to them while prisoners.
Dacres, whom Hull captured in the Guerriere, became his friend
in after time. "VVe may here relate an episode of Bainbridge
and the Java.

Early in 1845 the Constitution, then commanded by Mad
Jack Percival, cast anchor in the roadstead of Singapore. She
had on her way taken out Hemy A. Wise, our minister to
Brazil, and was on special service in the East Indies and
Pacific. The vertical rays of a tropic sun and the deadly
breezes of the African coast had made a hospital of the ship ;
her gun-deck on the starboard side was hung with cots and
hammocks. The captain had given up the forward cabin to
the sick. The exterior of the old invincible responded mourn-
fully to the interior. Her hull had been painted a dull lead-
color at Ptio, faintly enlivened by a red streak ; but a long pas-
sage across the Indian Ocean had brought her old sable color
here and there into view, while the streaks of iron-rust down
her sides told her condition but too plainly.



AN HOUR IN THE GOVERNMENT DOCKYARD. 31

Before the anchor was let go a boat with an officer from
H. B. M. frigate Cambrian came alongside with the compliments
and friendly offers of Commodore Chads. The officer's return
brought the gallant commodore on board the Constitution. He
was a fine-looking man of about fifty, more than six feet, per-
fectly erect, and as he stepped over the gangway he simulta-
neously saluted the officers who received him, at the same time
surveying the ship fore and aft, and alow and aloft. The spar-
deck of the old ship looked passing well, and the commodore's
scrutiny was not at all mortifying. He then descended to the
cabin, where Captain Percival received him on crutches.

" I have hastened on board your ship," said Commodore
Chads, " to offer my services, having heard you were sick, as
well as many of your people ; and I have brought my surgeon,
who has been long out here, and is familiar with the diseases
of India."

He then inquired if this was the same ship called the Con-
stitution in 1813. Having been told that she was the same in
model, battery, and iiiternal arrangements, although rebuilt, he
said he was very glad to meet her again ; that she was an old
acquaintance ; and that in the action of the Java he had the
lionor to fight her after Captain Lambert was disabled ; and
that, although he had hauled down his colors to the Constitu-
tion, there were no reminiscences more pleasing to him than
those resulting from the skill, gallantry, and bravery of the
noble Bainbridge during and after the action. " The Constitu-
tion, sir, was manoeuvred in a masterly manner, and it made me
regret that she was not British. It was Greek meet Greek, for
we were the same blood, after all." These particulars are from
a letter supposed to have been from the pen of Mr. Ballestier,
our Consul at Singapore. Mrs. Ballestier, who accompanied
her husband to the East Indies, was a daughter of the famous
Paul Eevere.

Commodore Hull Avas rather short and thick-set, Avith a
countenance deeply bronzed by long exposure to sun and
weather, he having gone to sea when a boy. He was a man
of plain, unassuming manners, and rather silent than loquacious.



32 HISTOPJC FIELDS AND MANSIONS OF MIDDLESEX.

Cooper, who knew him well, describes him as one of the most
skilful seamen of history, remarkable for coolness in moments
of clanger. He seldom mentioned his exploits, but sometimes,
when the famous action with the Guerriere was alluded to, he
would speak with enthusiasm of the beautiful day in August
on which that battle was fought.

The two Commodores Hull, uncle and nephew,* married sis-
ters belonging to the family of Hart, of Saybrook, Connecticut,
and remarkable for their beauty. Another sister married Hon.
Herman Allen, of Vermont, at one time minister to Chili;
while still another was the wife of Eev. Dr. Jarvis of St. Paul's,
Boston. The most beautiful of the sisters, Jeanette, never mar-
ried, but went to Eome and became a nun. She is said to
have been, in her day, the handsomest woman in America.
Another nephew of Isaac Hull was the late Admiral Andrew
Hull Foote, wdio was so greatly distinguished in the early part
of the Eebellion, receiving, at Fort Donelson, a wound that
eventually contributed to cause his death.

It appears, from excellent authority, that the original draft
of the Constitution was changed at the suggestion of Colonel
George Claghorn, who ought therefore to be regarded as the
person most entitled to the credit of having created the pride of
the navy, as it was to him her construction was confided. The
subject of an alteration in her dimensions had been verbally
broached to the Secretary of 'War — who also presided over
our infant marine at that time — when he was in Boston in
1794. General Knox consented, in presence of the agent. Gen-
eral Jackson ; but Claghorn, having been a soldier, was not
satisfied until he obtained the authority in Avriting.

At the festival in Faneuil Hall given to Captain Hull on his
return from the fight with the Guerriere, Ex- President Adams,
who, on account of his infirmities Avas unable to be present,
sent the following toasts, which were read by Hon. Samuel
Dexter : —

" May every comniodore in our na^y soon be made an admiral,
and every captain a commodore, with ships and squadrons worthy

* Commodore Joseph B. Hull.



AN HOUR IX THE GOVERNMENT DOCKYARD. 33

(if their commanders ami worthy of the wealth, power, and dignity
of their country. Proh dolor ! Proh fudor !"

" Talbot, Truxtun, Decatur, Little, Preble, — had their country
given them the means, they would have been Blakes, Drakes, and
Nelsons."

On her return to port from this cruise the Constitution spoke
the Dolphin and Decatur, privateers, the latter of which, think-
ing she was pursued by an enemy, threAv her guns overboard.
It is at least a coincidence that the neAvs of the surrender of
Detroit by General Hull should have reached Boston only a
few hours after the arrival of his nephew, Captain Hull, from
his successful combat. Shubrick commanded the yard in 1825,
Crane in 1826, and Morris from 1827 to 1833, when he was
succeeded by Jesse D. Elliott.

The park of naval artillery bears as little resemblance to the
cannon of a century ago as do the war-ships of to-day to those
commanded by Manley, Jones, or Hopkins. No event will
better illustrate the advance in gunnery than the battle be-
tween the Kearsarge and Alabama, off Cherbourg. The naval
tactics of the first period were to lay a ship alongside her ad-
versary, and then let courage and hard fighting win the day.
But nowadays close actions are a'^oided, or considered unneces-
sary, and instances of individual gallantry become more rare.
Ships toss their heavy shot at each other a mile away, Avithout
the least knowledge of the damage they inflict, and Old Shy-
lock is now only half right when he says,

" Ships are but boards, sailors but men,"

for iron succeeds oak, though no substitute is yet found for
bone and muscle.

In the beginning of the Revolution cannon was the most
essential thing wanted. Ships were built and manned with
alacrity, but all kinds of shifts were made to supply them
with guns. A fleet of privateers was soon afloat in the waters
of Massachusetts Bay, and public vessels were on the stocks,
but how they were armed may be inferred from the following
extract from a letter dated at Boston, September 1, 1776 : —



34 niSTOPJC FIELDS AKD MANSIONS OF MIDDLESEX.

" There is so great a demand for guns here for fitting out priva-
teers that those old things that used to stick in the ground, particu-
larly at Bowes's Corner,* Admiral Vernon, etc., have been taken
up, and sold at an immoderate price ; that at Mr. B(j\ves's was sold
Ijy Mr. Jones for fifty dollars. I imagine it will sp it in the first
attempt to fire it."

The Hancock, which was the second Continental frigate
launched, and was commanded^ by Captain Manley, as well as
the Old Boston frigate, Captain McNeill, were both armed with
guns, chiefly nine-pounders, taken from the works in Boston
harbor, and furnished by Massachusetts. The Hancock was
built and launched at Newburyport, and not at Boston,. as has
been stated. Manley, the first sea officer to attack the enemy
on that element, received in 1792 a compensation of £150,
and a pension of £ 9 per month for life.

Unlike the celebrated English dockyard and arsenal at Wool-
wich, our dockyards are only utilized for naval purposes, while
the former is the depot for the royal horse and foot artillery
and the royal sappers and miners, with vast magazines of
great guns, mortars, bombs, powder, and other warlike stores.
The Eoyal Military Academy was erected in the arsenal, but
was not completely formed u«til 1745, in the reign of George
II. It would seem that the same system might be advan-
tageously carried out in this country, so far as the corps of
engineers and artillery are concerned, with the benefit of com-
bining practical with theoretical instruction upon those points
where there exists an identity of interest in the military and
naval branches of the service.

The area of the great British dockyard is about the same as
that of the Charlestown yard, but in depth of water in front
the latter has greatly the advantage, the Thames being so shal-
low at Woolwich that large ships are now chiefly constructed at
the other naval ports. We may here mention that Woolwich
is the most ancient arsenal in Great Britain, men-of-war having
been built there as early as the reign of Henry VIII. , when the
Harry Grace de Dieu was constructed in 1512. The Eoyal

* South Comer of State and Waslimgtou Streets.



1S6B808




THE GREAT HARRV.



AN HOUR IN THE GOVERNMENT DOCKYARD, 35

George, iu which Kempenfelt went down at SijitheaJ, and the
lS'"elson, Trafalgar, and other first-rates, were also built at AVool-
wich.

When we look around upon the wonderful progress of the
steam marine
during the past
quarter of a cen-
tury, and reflect
upon its possibil-
ities, the predic-
tion of the cele-
brated Dr. Dio-
nysius Lardner,
that steam could
never be proht-
ably employed
in ocean naviga-
tion, seems incredible. Tliu'ty years ago this was demonstrated
by the Doctor with facts and figures, models and diagrams.

In the summer of 1781 the port of Boston was almost sealed
by the constant presence of British cruisers in the bay, who took
many valuable prizes and brought several mercantile houses to
the verge of ruin. The merchants accordingly besought Ad-
miral Le Compte de Barras to send some of his frigates from
Newport round to Boston ; but the Count replied that the eff'orts
already made to induce his men to desert and engage on board
privateers compelled him to refuse the request. The merchants
then sent a committee composed of Messrs. Sears, Broome,
Breck, and others, to assure the Count that his men should not
be taken under any circumstances.

The Count's compliance resulted in the loss of one of his
ships, the Magicienne, of thirty-two guns, which was taken by
the Assurance, a British two-decker, in Boston harbor. The
action was so plainly visible from the wharves of the town,
that the French colors* were seen to be struck and the English
hoisted in their stead. The French ships Sagittaire, fifty
guns, Astrie, thirty-two, and Hermione, thirty-two, were in the



oG HISTOKIC FIELDS AND MANSIONS OF MIDDLESEX.




harbor when the
battle commenced,
and immediately got
under weigh to go
to the assistance of
their consort ; but
the wind being light
and the Sagittaire
a dull sailer, tlie
enemy escaped with
his prize. Many
Bostonians went on
board the French
z ships as volunteers

1 in the expected ac-
H tion. Colonel Da-
w vid Sears was among
9 the number who
'^^ joined the Astrie in

2 the expectation of
2 enjoying some di-
rt version of this sort.
j; The merchants of
g Boston afterwards
s gave a splendid din-
ner to the Marquis
de Gergeroux, the
commander of the
French fleet, and his
officers, for the ser-
vices rendered in
keeping the bay
clear of the enemy's
cruisers.

Nelson,
1782 was
to cruise
Albemarle



who in
ordered
the
the



m

on



AN IIOUIl IX THE GOVERNMENT DOCKYARD. o ,

American station, fell in ^vith a fishing schooner on our coast,
which he captnred, but the master, having piloted the cruiser
into Boston Bay, was released with his vessel and the following
certificate : —

" This is to certify that I took the schooner Harmony, Nathaniel
Carver, master, belonging to Plymouth, but on account of his good
services have given him up his vessel again.

"Dated on board His Majesty's ship Albemarle,
17tli August, 1782.

" Horatio Nelson."

The grateful man afterwards came off' to the iUbemarle, at
the hazard of his life, bringing a present of sheep, poultry, and
other fresh provisions, — a most welcome supply, for the scurvy
was raging on board. Nelson exhibited a similar trait of
nobility in releasing two officers of Eochambeau's army, who
were captured in a boat in the West Indies while' on some ex-
cursion. Count Deux-Ponts was one and Isidore Lynch the
other captive. Nelson gave them a capital dinner, and- the
wine having got into their heads, the secret imprudently came
out that Lynch was of English birth. The poor prisoners were
thunderstruck at the discovery, but Nelson, without appearing
to have overheard the indiscretion, set both at liberty.

It sounds somewhat strangely at this time to recall the fact
that the United States once paid tribute to the ruler of a horde
of pirates, to induce him to hold oft" his hands from our com-
merce ; and that our captured crews were sold into slavery or
held for ransom at the behest of a turbaned barbarian. Six
thousand stand of arms, four field-pieces, and a quantity of
gunpowder was the price of the peace granted by the Dey of
Algiers to America in 1795. In May, 1794, an exhibition was
given at the Boston Theatre for the relief of our countrymen,
prisoners in Algiers, Avhich realized about nine hundred dollars.
Dominie Terry & Co. advanced $3,000 for the maintenance of
these prisoners, without security.

Of the early commanders of our navy Hopkins was de-
scribed in 177G as an antiquated-looking person, with a strong



38 HISTOKIC FIELDS AND MANSIONS OF MIDDLESEX.

ideal jesemblance to Van Tromp. He appeared at first an-
gelic, says our authority, until he swore, and then the illusion
vanished. Hopkins commanded the first American squadron
that set sail from our shores, and carried the colony flag at his




NAVY-YARD IN 1808.



Paul Jones had the honor not only of hoisting with his own
hands the American flag on board the Alfred, in 1775, which
he says was then displayed for the first time, but of receiving
in the Eanger the first salute to that flag by a foreign power
from M. de la IMotte Piquet, who, Avith a French squadron, on
board of which was Lafayette, was lying in the bay of Quiberon,
ready to sail for America. This occurred February 13, 1778.

Next comes a half-acre of round-shot and shell arranged
in pyramids, and waiting till the now torpid Dahlgrens or
Parrotts shake off their lethargy and demand their indigest-
ible food. Some of the globes are painted black, befitting
their funereal purpose, while we observed that others had
received a coat of white, and now looked like great sugar-
coated pills, — a sharp medicine to carry off" the national
bile.

To the field of deadly projectiles succeeds a field of anchors,
the last resource of the seaman, the symbol of Hope in all the
civilized world.



AN HOUR IN THE GOVERNMENT DOCKYARD.



39




STANCH AND STRONG.



The invention of the anchor is ascribed by Pliny to the
Tyrrhenians, and by other writers to Midas, the son of Gor-
dias, whose anchor Pausanias declares was preserved until his
time in a temple dedicated to Jupiter. The most ancient an-
chors were made
of stone, and af-
terwards of wood
which contained
a great quantity
of lead ; some-
times baskets
filled with stones,
or shingle, and
even sacks of
sand were used.
The Greeks used much the same anchor as is now in vogue,
except the transverse piece called the stock. ]\Iany of the an-
chors used by our first war- vessels came from the Old Forge at
Hanover, Mass.

If we might linger here, it would be to reflect on which of
these ponderous masses of metal the fate of some good ship
with her precious burden of lives had depended ; with what
agony of suspense the tension of the stout cable had been
watched from hour to hour as the greedy waves rushed by to
throw themselves with a roar of baffled rage upon the flinty
shore. Remember, craftsman, in your mighty workshop yon-
der, wherein you wield forces old Vulcan might have envied,
that life and death are in every stroke of your huge trip-ham-
mer ; and that a batch of rotten iron may cost a thousand
lives.

" Let 's forge a goodly anchor, — a bower thick and broad;
For a heart of oak is hanging on every blow, I bode ;
And I see the good ship riding all in a perilous road, —
The low reef roaring on her lee ; the roll of ocean poured
From stem to stern, sea after sea ; the mainmast by the board ;
The bulwarks down ; the rudder gone ; the boat stove at the chains ;
But courage still, brave mariners, — the bower yet remains !
Ami not an inch to flinch he deigns, save when ye pitch sky high ;
Then moves his hea<l, as though he said, ' Fear nothing, here am I ! ' "



40 IIISTOUIC FIELDS AND MANSIONS OF MIDDLESEX.

We can compare the granite basin, fashioned to receive the
great war-ships, to nothing else than a huge bath Avherein some
antique giant might disport himself. It seems a miracle of
intelligence, skill, and perseverance. "When Loammi Baldwin
was applied to to undertake the building of the Dry Dock,
he hesitated, and asked Mv. Southard, then Secretary of
the Navy, "What if I should faiU " "If you do," replied
the Secretary, " we will hang you." It proved a great suc-
cess, worthy to be classed among the other works of this dis-
tinguished engineer.

The foundation rests upon piles on which is laid a massive
oaken floor. We cannot choose but admire the great blocks of
hewn granite, and the exact and elegant masonry. Owing to
some defect, when nearly completed, a rupture took place in
the wall, and a thundering rush of water came in and filled
the excavation, but it was soon pumped out and eff'ectually
repaired.

After an examination of the records of the tides in Bos-
ton harbor for the previous sixty years, Mr. Baldwin iixed
the height of the capping of the dock several inches above
the highest that had occurred within that period. In the
gale of April, 1851, however, the tide rose to such a height
as to overflow the dock, falling in beautiful cascades along its
whole length. The basin occupied six years in building ; Job
Turner, of Boston, being the master mason, under Colonel
Baldwin. It was decided that Old Ironsides shoidd be the
first vessel admitted ; and upon the opening of the structure,
June 24, 1833, Commodore Hull appeared once more on
the deck of his old ship and superintended her entrance with-



Online LibrarySamuel Adams DrakeHistoric fields and mansions of Middlesex → online text (page 4 of 39)