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purpose of protecting our commerce with that port, which was then valuable.* The monotony of this service was only broken by two visits to the harbor of the Cape, and two to that of Cape Nicolas Mole, with a short cruise as far to windward as San Juan, in Porto Rico. On our return to the latter place, a circumstance left a strong impression on my mind as indicative of the presence of mind of Captain Sever and our gunner. The French privateers, which were then rather numerous in some parts of the Carribean sea, had not visited our station to enliven us by a chase. We, however, fell in with one as we were running down from Porto Rico, which, on being pursued. led us, intentionally or otherwise, directly towards a shoal known as the Silver Keys. In the eagerness of pursuit the danger of our course was probably forgotten, the attention of all being engrossed by the chase, in which we were gaining upon the privateer. While I was watching her movements with others on the forecastle, the gunner, who was at my side, quietly told me to look at the water under and near our bows. My attention being thus directed, rocks were visible, which, to appearance, were very near the surface. The gunner then told me to go quietly to the captain, who was on the quarter-deck, and tell him what I had seen, but not to mention it to others. This was quickly done. Captain Sever told me to remain by him, and turning to the officer of the deck directed him to “ready about,” and, as soon as ready, to tack; and when about, to keep her off two points, by which to gain her former track. Then for the first time the captain looked over the side of the ship, and the officers and crew knew the danger in which we had been placed. This course prevented all danger from confusion, either in the mind of the directing officer, or in the labors of the crew. The privateer being of very light draft of water was able to continue her course and escaped. Another time, when we were collecting a convoy of merchant vessels with which to proceed to the United States, the ship had been lying to during the night, and from some cause had very unexpectedly got so near the Caicos reefs, that at early daylight the cry of “Breakers, close ahead l’’ was given by the lookouts. The deck was in charge of the master, who was a skillful seaman, but whose presence of mind was so entirely destroyed by the imminence and suddenness of the danger that he could do nothing towards extricating the ship from it.
* The hostilities between the United States and France which broke out in May, 1797, were not brought to a final close until February, 1801.
I was on deck at the time and felt justified, under the circumstances, in calling the captain without orders from the officer of the deck. Waking from sound sleep, he came immediately on deck, took the trumpet from the bewildered master, and wore the ship, but so near to the breakers that a stone might have been cast into them from the ship. Another evidence of the great advantage of coolness and self-posSession was given by Captain Sever before our cruise was closed. When approaching our coast we met with a very furious gale blowing from east to south-east, which brought us to a close-reefed maintopsail. In the middle watch the gale shifted, almost in an instant, to the north-west, and taking the ship aback, gave her such a sternboard as drove the sea through the cabin windows, with force enough to carry away a part of the cabin bulkhead. The master was again in charge of the deck, and again helpless and useless. The captain, who had been roused by the shock, was immediately on deck; and taking the trumpet, he restored order and soon extricated the ship from her dangerous situation. As France was at this time the common enemy of the United States and England, signals had been arranged by the commanding officers of the respective squadrons, by which their national vessels could be. recognized, and thus prevent unnecessary chasing, or hostile collision through mistake. These signals were generally interchanged, when necessary, in courtesy and good feeling. On one occasion, however, during this cruise, we met with a frigate of our own force, whose commander chose to exhibit something of the arrogance which was at that time and for some years afterwards but too common with English naval officers. When the English frigate was discovered, the usual private signal was shown by the Congress, but no answer was returned. It was kept flying while the ships approached, until they were so near to each other that it could not be misunderstood, but the frigate made no reply. When ye were quite near, she shortened sail, and it could be seen that the tompions were out of her guns. Our crew were, as a matter of course, brought to quarters, and when at a proper distance we shortened sail. The Englishman appeared to have been waiting for this to make all sail again by the wind, which we also did, as fast as it could be done with our men at quarters; and then the other again shortened sail, and hove to. We again followed his motions, and ranging withiri hail, the names of the respective ships were exchanged. He then filled and stood on. Our ship was soon put under the same sail, and we followed nearly in his Wake. It was soon evident that we outsailed the other, and after a short time the English ship tacked ; we passed to leeward beyond his wake and tacked also. In about half an hour we came up on his weather quarter, and passed along to windward of him, within hail, both ships at quarters, until we had passed a little ahead of him, when our ship bore up and passed across his bows, almost touching his flying jib-boom, and went on her way. The conduct of Captain Sever on this occasion gave pleasure to all of us. The object of the English captain was evidently to annoy and trifle with us, if not to insult us, and the movements of our ship with reference to his were as much like treading on toes as circumstances would permit. For the greater part of this cruise I was stationed in the maintop, with Henry Wadsworth, from the other watch, as my associate. The duties which were then required of midshipmen were calculated to make them sooner and better acquainted with the details of a seaman’s duty than the more relaxed system of later days.” Besides being obliged to take an active personal share in the ordinary duties, they were frequently exercised collectively in managing the sails and yards of the mizzenmast. By this training I learned something of practi. cal duties, and by application, when leisure offered, I was able to keep up an Ordinary journal, construct a chart, and mark upon it the ship’s track. The ship returned to Boston in March, 1801. Peace having been restored between the United States and France, the ships were recalled home, and preparations commenced for discharging their crews, placing them in ordinary, and reducing the officers to the numbers which had been designated for a peace establishment. While the ship was waiting for Orders, leave was granted to me for an absence of a fortnight, of which I availed myself to visit my mother. I was recalled at the end of a week, as the ship had been ordered to Washington and would sail soon. The ship was delayed by head-winds so that we did not reach Washington till late in May. We passed the frigate United States in the lower part of the Potomac. About 10 o'clock in the morning of a beautifully serene day, we passed Mount Vernon. Every one was on deck to look upon the dwelling where Washington had made his home. Mrs. Washington and others of the family could be distinguished in the portico which fronts the river. When opposite to the house, by Order of Captain Sever, the sails were lowered, the colors displayed half-masted, and a mourning salute of thirteen guns was fired as a mark of respect to the memory of Washington, whose life had so recently been closed, and whose tomb was in our view. The general silence on board the ship and around us, except when broken by the cannon's sound, the echo and re-echo of that sound from the near and distant hills, as it died away in the distance, the whole ship's company uncovered and motionless, and the associations connected with the ceremony, seemed to make a deep impression upon all, as they certainly did upon me. When the salute was finished the sails were again set, the colors hoisted, and we proceeded up the river. The frigate New York had preceded us, without saluting, but we found her grounded on the bar at the entrance of the eastern branch of the Potomac, and the Congress, passing her, was the first ship of war that reached what has since become the Navy yard at Washington. The frigates New York and United States joined us a few days afterwards.
After a visit to the ships by President Jefferson and the members of his cabinet, the crews were paid off and the ships dismantled. There was only one house at that time standing in the quarter of the city." near the Navy yard. Tents were pitched and shanties erected among the bushes which covered the slope of the hill, by persons from Baltimore who came to supply the wants of the sailors. The “Six” and the “Seven '' buildings, the shell of what was intended for a hotel, where the General Post-Office now stands, a low tavern on Pennsylvania Avenue, the President's House and its yard, enclosed with a rail fence, and the south wing of the Capitol, surrounded by buildingrubbish, were then the principal if not the only buildings in the city of Washington.
The arrangements for the ships were completed early in June, and on the 4th those officers who had been selected to be retained in service, from the officers belonging to the ships present, were notified of their retention, and furloughed or Ordered On other duty. My own orders directed me to join the frigate Constitution, in Boston, after the expiration of a furlough of three months. In the reduction of the officers as required by the law, thirteen captains were selected (of whom five had been promoted) from twenty-eight then in the service, seven masters commandant were discharged, thirty-six lieutenants were reretained from one hundred and ten, of whom Seventeen had been promoted from midshipmen, and one hundred and fifty-nine midshipmen from three hundred and fifty-five. So great a reduction
undoubtedly deprived the service of some valuable officers, but relieved it of many who were never worthy of belonging to it. Political preferences probably had some influence in the selection of the captains, but the selection generally was admitted to be quite as judiciously made as could have been expected. The necessity which existed at the commencement of the Navy of drawing the commanders and lieutenants entirely from the merchant service, introduced many who had few or none of the higher qualifications proper for their new situations. For the commanding Officers, some of those who had been employed in the Naval service during the War of the Revolution were still available and were secured, and these were generally of higher character than the other commanders or the lieutenants. Of these latter a very large proportion were not only men of no refinement, but vulgarly profane and grossly intemperate. Very many of the midshipmen had attained an age at which their habits of thought and action had become too firmly established to be easily changed, and gave little promise of any future usefulness. A majority of those with whom I had been associated were of this character, and of the others several preferred to leave the service rather than continue in it with the few inducements which it then offered. Captain Sever, who was violent in politics, was among those who were dropped. Only one of the eight lieutenants, and three of all the midshipmen, who had been attached to the ship, were selected, of whom the lieutenant and One of the midshipmen resigned the next year. My father was retained till the following November, during which time he was employed in settling his accounts with the officers of the Treasury. Hitherto I had received the benefit of his supervision since I had joined the Navy. I was now to be separated from him and left to my Own guidance. With a tolerable wardrobe and one hundred and fifty dollars, I was given to understand that I must thenceforward depend on my pay for support, unless misfortunes not occasioned by my own misconduct should render further assistance necessary. The full pay of a midshipman was then about two hundred and thirty dollars a year, and the furlough pay half that amount. Under the most favorable circumstances, rigid economy and abstinence from all pleasures which depended on expense were indispensable; and when on furlough, as I then was, the difficulties of preserving a decent appearance were of course greatly increased. Freedom from debt and the feeling of pecuniary independence consequent on such freedom, was a very