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On my arrival at Norfolk I had the good fortune to find the U. S. ship Baltimore, to which my father was attached, lying in the harbor. He soon introduced me to the captain of the ship, Samuel Barron, from whom I received an order to act as midshipman from the 1st of July, 1799, and immediately entered upon the duties which connected me with a profession in which I have since passed my life. The Baltimore was dismantled very soon after I joined her, and the officers mostly dispersed. My father repaired to Washington to settle his accounts, and I lived on shore to attend a school, with a view of gaining some knowledge of the theory of navigation, as it was then explained by Mr. Hamilton Moore. My instructor was both ignorant and indolent, and my time was consequently spent to very little advantage for the few weeks I was with him.
Early in September my father was ordered to the frigate Congress, recently launched at Portsmouth, N. H., and directed me to join him there with his baggage. As my connection with the Baltimore had ceased when she was paid off, no permission was necessary from others to leave Norfolk, which I did soon after in a coasting schooner bound for Warren, Rhode Island. Thence I proceeded by land to Portsmouth, a journey, at that time, of three days, by the mail stage. At this place I rejoined my father, who lodged in the same house with the captain of the Congress, James Sever. From him I received another order to act as midshipman in the Congress. The ship was not in a situation to require the attention of the Officers for some weeks, during which time I was employed by the captain, in the absence of a clerk, to copy out all the requisitions for the ship's equipment and stores. By this employment I at least learned the names of articles used in a ship of war, which was of some service to me afterwards. The equipment of the ship was so far advanced that she could be removed to Boston in November, where everything was completed before the middle of December. The captain had selected me for one of his aides, the other being Henry Wadsworth, who was afterwards blown up in the Intrepid, with Somers, in the harbor of Tripoli. It was our duty alternately to go to Boston from President's roads daily, in the morning, for the captain, and to take him back again in the evening—a duty of some severity, when we had to contend against a keen December NW. wind and an ebb tide, but one for which my former life had prepared me.
Late in December we went round to Newport, Where We met the Essex frigate, commanded by Captain Edward Preble, and a number of merchant ships that the two frigates were to convoy to, or towards, India and China. The complement of officers was now completed, and comprised a captain, three commissioned lieutenants, one acting lieutenant, a master, surgeon, purser and marine officer, in the Wardroom, a surgeon’s mate, eight midshipmen and a clerk, in the cockpit and steerage. Captain Sever had held a subaltern's commission in the army for a year or two before the close of the war of the Revolution, where he had acquired some knowledge of military discipline. He had afterwards made several voyages to Europe, in most of them as master of vessels belonging to his relatives. He had also made one or two cruises in the sloop Herald before he was appointed to the Congress. He was well-educated, very austere and distant in his manner, not very amiable in temper, rigid in his discipline, and very punctilious in all matters of military etiquette. I believe he was rather deficient in seamanship, but remarkable coolness and self-possession in trying situations enabled him to decide and direct what was proper to be done better than most of his officers who better understood their profession practically. All of our commissioned lieutenants had commanded merchant ships to India or the NW. coast of America. They were good seamen, but, with one exception, had few qualifications as officers. The master had passed many years in the British Navy, and some of them as a master. He had all the defects of the lieutenants united to a greater want of general knowledge and an entire loss of all presence of mind when assailed by any sudden danger. The marine officer and surgeon were well informed, and of good manners. All the midshipmen were older than myself-several of them over twenty years of age,_and some of them already accustomed to a sea life in the merchant service. They were all warranted, also, except myself. Four of them had been prepared sufficiently to enable them to commence a collegiate course of study, and all had been much better educated than myself.
I had the pleasure of again meeting my mother at Newport, where she passed a fortnight, and I had permission to remain on shore during her stay. Her advice, united to her strong hold on my affections to give it weight, had a powerful and beneficial influence on my conduct, at that period of my life, when I was about to be exposed to strong temptations, of which I had no previous knowledge, and to which if I had yielded they would have plunged me into early ruin. It had the effect, also, of rousing some ambition to endeavor to prove myself worthy of her regard and affection, by my conduct as an officer, as well as in other relations.
The arrangements of our little squadron were completed in time for us to leave Newport on the 6th of January, 1800, with strong but favorable winds which carried us rapidly to the eastward. By the 10th the Wind had shifted to the southward, and on the 11th had increased to a heavy gale; and early in the evening we lost sight of the other vessels, which had been already much separated. In the hope that the Essex might close, the Congress lay to for the night, making frequent signals, but it was afterwards learned that the Essex bore up early before the gale.* The rigging of the Congress had been necessarily fitted in cold weather, and, being new, the great change of temperature and the strain brought upon it by the gale stretched it so much during the night that after the deadeyes of the lower rigging had been brought together, it was necessary to prop the rigging to give it any regular tension. The masts were made from single sticks of white pine, and, notwithstanding all exertions to support and relieve them, the mainmast was found to be badly sprung near the deck, shortly after daylight. Having the morning watch I had been early on deck, but my total ignorance of everything connected with the sea left me entirely free from any apprehension. In fact, though the gale was then quite as severe and the Sea as high and threatening as I have seen them since, I supposed it to be nothing unusual, because the waves were not literally “mountains high,” as described in the tempests of which I had read. As the morning advanced, however, the danger of the masts, the lowering down of the main yard, the presence on deck of the captain and all the Sea Officers, and their apparent anxiety and frequent consultations, began to have their effect on my own mind and to induce a belief that there was more than usual danger. I had little time, however, for such reflections, as the mainmast was carried away about 8 A.M., carrying with it the head of the mizzenmast. I became entangled in the maintopgallant brace and was carried up by it nearly as high as the mizzentop, and when disengaged fell upon deck, striking upon my head. I was taken up, stunned and insensible, with my right arm broken near the shoulder, and otherwise much bruised. The foremast and bowsprit of the ship were lost about 4 P.M., when she was left to the mercy of the gale for some hours, until arrangements were made that enabled a small sail to be set, under which she was put before the gale until it moderated.
* The Essex continued on her cruise, and was thus the first American ship-ofwar that doubled the Cape of Good Hope.
The concussion of the brain that resulted from my fall left me insensible for several days, during which but little hopes were entertained of my recovery; but consciousness was at last restored, and when the ship reached Hampton roads, at the close of February, I had so far regained my strength as to be able to come on deck. Our naval establishments were then without supplies, or any of the conveniences for equipping or refitting ships, and the Congress Was necessarily detained until new masts, rigging and sails could be made and fitted. As there was not much active duty for the officers, I was allowed to remain on shore till my health was re-established, which required six or eight weeks. The loss of the ship's masts, representations from one of the lieutenants, and newspaper reports of unseamanlike conduct in Capt. Sever during the gale, induced that officer to request a court of inquiry on the subject. This court exonerated him from all blame. The masts had been made from single sticks of white pine and were found to have been quite defective at the heart; and all proper exertions were proved to have been made for securing them which the state of the weather would allow. The statements of the lieutenant were not sustained by the testimony of others, nor fully by his OWn, when under the obligations of an oath. So far as I can recollect the force of the gale, and after comparing it with those I have seen since, I am disposed to concur in the opinion of the court. The severity of Capt. Sever's discipline, as it was then considered, had rendered him very obnoxious to many of the officers, who were impatient under restraint or control, and these, through their friends and others, had been able to excite a very general and strong prejudice against him, which was not diminished by his austere and reserved manner in his intercourse with those into whose society he was thrown. By the time Iresumed my duties on board, many changes had taken place among the Officers. All the lieutenants were new. All had commanded merchant vessels, and, as with their predecessors, were unwilling to give that ready and full obedience to orders which the captaini required, and which was due from them. Several of the midshipmen also left the ship and some of them then left the service. These Were replaced by others, and an additional number ordered. I had been fortunate enough to please Captain Sever, and on one or two occasions to receive special approbation. This, and probably the injury I had received in the late gale, procured for me his recommendation to the Depagment for a warrant, which bore date May, 1800,
and was delivered to me soon after by Captain Sever, as part of the dessert of a dinner to which he had invited me. My previous appointment had no stable foundation and depended entirely on the pleasure of the captain. It only made me the companion, but not the Official equal, of other midshipmen, and gave no claims for further advancement. By my warrant the whole path of professional promotion was laid open before me, and it now depended mainly upon my own exertions to advance upon it. I felt truly grateful to Captain Sever for this great favor, received through his intervention, and it kindled my ambition to prove myself worthy of it by a close and cheerful attention to my duties. My relative standing had been changed by other causes. Among the midshipmen who had recently joined the ship, there were several who were as little acquainted with mathematical subjects as myself, and with less disposition to supply their deficiency. They were fond of gross pleasures, and had means beyond their pay by which they could gratify them ; and they found in their duties little that was agreeable and much that was irksome and repulsive. It was not very difficult to occupy a position which should appear to advantage when contrasted with them. By hard study and the aid of a petty officer I was able, before the ship sailed, to master the elementary studies embraced in Moore's Navigation, so far as to find the ship's place by dead reckoning, and to keep an Ordinary journal. Strange as it may appear at this day, these small acquirements placed me on a level with the greater portion of the lieutenants at that time. So short a time had then elapsed since the commencement of Our Navy, that almost all the commissioned officers had been appointed from the merchant service. Chronometers were unknown in the Navy; sextants were very rare, and their use still more so. The navigators who could ascertain the longitude by lunar observations were few in number, and the process of the calculations a mystery beyond ordinary attainments. It may be easily conceived that in such a school, even under the most favorable circumstances, little theoretical knowledge could be acquired by the midshipmen when embarked. That any should have been sought could hardly be expected, where no aid was given, and where the want of that knowledge was considered as no cause for reproach. The Congress was made ready for another cruise, and left Hampton roads July 26, 1800, for Cape François,” in San Domingo, for the
* Now commonly known as Cape Haïtien.