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This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Admiral Franklin Buchanan

Charles Lee Lewis

published by
The Norman, Remington Company

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 2

This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.


Chapter I

What's in a Name?

"What's in a name?" queries Shakespeare's Juliet, when bewailing the fact that she and her Romeo belonged to families at enmity to each other. "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet," she declares. But this is mere subterfuge; no matter what the rose may be called, it will still have those distinctive qualities and characteristics which have been bred into the plant and which distinguish it from all other flowers. And so it is with people. Names have significance, and the interest in the ancestry of distinguished men is found on every hand. We want to know from what hands the torch of life has been passed in order that we may the better judge whether the one who received it has lifted it high and proudly borne it, or has been unworthy of the sacred fire intrusted to his keeping.

The ancestry of Admiral Franklin Buchanan will, therefore, first be considered, before the story of his career is begun, — a career of notable achievements that have not been heretofore often enough associated with his name. Indeed, how many know that Franklin Buchanan was the first Superintendent of the United States Naval Academy and the founder of its traditions of sound practical scholar­ship and rigid discipline; that he was captain of Commodore Matthew Calbraith  p2 Perry's flagship in the famous expedition to Japan; that he was the highest officer in rank in the navy of the Confederate States of America, and the first commander of an ironclad to engage in battle?

For such high accomplishments, Buchanan's ancestry richly endowed him. His great grandfather, Dr. George Buchanan, was born in Scotland about 1698, of an ancient family​1 which constituted one of the Highland clans. He studied medicine in Glasgow University, and being the third in a family of four sons and seeing no chance of his inheriting any of the family estate, he departed for America, where he arrived in Maryland in 1723. Coming to Baltimore, he began to prosper immediately in the practice of his profession. By his marriage in 1728 to Eleanor Rogers, daughter of Nicholas Rogers, he added some two hundred acres to his property, which eventually was expanded into an estate of nearly three times that size, occupying a portion of what is now known as Druid Hill Park in the city of Baltimore. Dr. Buchanan called his estate "Auchentorlie"​2 after the family holdings in the parish of Old Kilpatrick and County of Dumbarton near Glasgow, Scotland. This name came to be particularly associated with the pretentious residence, whose turrets were reminiscent of the castles in the Scottish Border, which he erected on a beautiful and commanding eminence in the estate. Meanwhile Dr. Buchanan had become a leading citizen in the community, — one of the Seven Commissioners appointed in 1729 to lay out Baltimore Town; then a Deputy Commissioner General of Baltimore County;  p3 and in 1749 a prominent member of the General Assembly of the Colony of Maryland.

Andrew Buchanan, the second son of Dr. Buchanan's large family of six sons and three daughters, was the grandfather of Franklin Buchanan. He also became a man of distinction in Baltimore affairs, and played an important part in the Revolution, becoming a member of the Committee of Correspondence, 1774, and the Committee of Observation, 1775, and one of the five brigadier generals of Maryland troops in 1776. He was married July 20, 1760 to Susan Lawson, a daughter of a prominent citizen of Baltimore Town, named Alexander Lawson. Their eldest son George, of a family of ten children, was to become the father of Franklin Buchanan.

George Buchanan, born in Baltimore on September 12, 1763, studied medicine in the University of Pennsylvania under the celebrated Dr. William Shippen, who organized the first medical school in America at Philadelphia; and then went abroad to finish his medical studies at Edinburgh and Paris. He returned to Baltimore in 1789 and there began the practise of his profession, as his grandfather had previously done. He, in time, became one of the founders of the Medical Society of Baltimore, and also a charter member of the Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of Maryland, organized in 1799. He was also the author of several medical works, one of which, "A Treatise on the Typhus Fever," was the first medical monograph to be published by a Baltimore physician. Dr. Buchanan, moreover, devoted himself to public affairs and held several offices in the municipal government of Baltimore. He was interested also in humanitarian questions, such as the formation of a  p4 public park, the organization of a humane society, and the abolition of slavery.​3

The humanitarian interest probably led Dr. Buchanan to accept an appointment as physician at the Lazaretto, six miles below Philadelphia, — an appointment offered him July 4, 1806, by his father-in‑law, Governor McKean of Pennsylvania. Here he removed with his family, but unfortunately just two years afterwards he was stricken with yellow fever which he had contracted in the discharge of his duties. His health was not robust, for he had suffered for some years from rheumatism, and his constitution offered but feeble residence to the dreaded disease. On July 9, 1808 he died, and was buried in the Lazaretto. "The duties of his office," declares an obituary,​4 "were performed with a mildness of temper and correctness of manner that engaged the attention of all with whom he had intercourse. The sick or unfortunate were objects of his particular attention. The feelings of the man were never lost, nor the dictates of humanity ever neglected in the performance of official duty. In private life he was amiable, respected, and beloved. In the character of a husband, father, and master, his example was worthy of imitation. He was a sincere and devout Christian; and by his premature death society is deprived of a good and useful member, and skillful physician."

 p5  After the death of her husband, Mrs. Buchanan with her seven​5 living children moved into the city of Philadelphia to live. At this time her son Franklin was only eight years old. Mrs. Laetitia (McKean) Buchanan, who was thus left with such heavy responsibilities on her shoulders, was also of very distinguished parentage. She was the daughter of Thomas McKean the Signer, who was of Scotch-Irish ancestors that had settled in Chester County, Pennsylvania about 1725. Thomas McKean was one of the most influential men in the Colonies during those troublous years just preceding the Revolution. He was not only a signer of the Declaration of Independence, but also was the only member of the Continental Congress who retained his seat successively, except for one year, from the Stamp Act Congress of 1765, followed by the first Continental Congress in 1774, down to the signing of peace with Great Britain in 1783. While sitting in Congress, of which he was for a time President, as a delegate from Delaware, he was made Chief Justice of Pennsylvania and at the same time was Speaker of the Delaware Assembly. Afterwards he was three times elected Governor of Pennsylvania. "Thomas McKean outlived all the enemies which an active and conspicuous part in public affairs had in the nature of  p6 things created", writes Sanderson;​6 "and posterity will continue to cherish his memory as one among the most useful, able, and virtuous fathers of a mighty republic".

Mrs. Buchanan outlived her husband many years, dying at the age of 76, on February 9, 1845, a few months before her son Franklin was made the first superintendent of the United States Naval Academy. According to the following obituary notice, she, like her husband, must have been rightfully held in very high esteem:

'The excellent order of her well composed and balanced mind — the winning loveliness of her manners — the genuine dignity of her carriage, and yet, the gentleness that gave assurance and ease to all around her, were the prominent traits of her moral and intellectual character; and delightful as these certainly were, I must not forbear to mention — even in death — my long recollection of her personal beauty, which she maintained, in a large degree, to the last. All of these are pleasurable sources of recollection, which the living may justly take pride in cherishing, and which every generous nature will pardon when alluded to, even in the obituary. Dear Lady! thy many virtues are here extensively known; but, were it otherwise, there are many tender hearts among the cheerless poor who will not fail gratefully to acknowledge them. . . . In her last illness, it was her joy and great consolation, that circumstances had so united as to assemble around her couch, all of her devoted children, and other relations, many of whom had been absent, and some in distant lands, in their country's service".​7

Her beauty she doubtless inherited from her mother, who was Mary  p7 Borden, the eldest child of Colonel Joseph Borden of Bordentown, New Jersey. She and her sister Ann, who became the wife of Francis Hopkinson, had the reputation of being two of the most beautiful women in New Jersey.

Such was the ancestral heritage of Franklin Buchanan. These hardy ancestors, of English, Scotch-Irish, and Scotch descent, were people of education and culture and serious purpose, — women of beauty and refinement who were makers of real homes for their large families, and men who fulfilled high expectations and were of service to the state and to their fellowmen both in peace and in war. All through his life this heritage of distinguished ancestry must have been not only a source of constant satisfaction to Franklin Buchanan, but also a challenge to make his name stand for certain achievements not unworthy of his high lineage. As to the occasion for his baptismal name Franklin, there is some uncertainty. It is not a family name, and the probability is that he was so called after the great Franklin, with whom his grandfather McKean had been associated in so many undertakings for the good of Pennsylvania and the new nation, and at whose funeral, some ten years previous to the birth of his grandson, he had been one of the pall bearers.​8 So much for the ancestry and the name of Franklin Buchanan. The following chapters will serve as an answer so far as he is concerned, to the question, "What's in a name?"

The Author's Notes:

1 Historical and Genealogical Essay upon the Family and Surname of Buchanan by William Buchanan of Auchmar, 1723.

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2 "Auchintorlie," "Auchentoroly," "Auchentorly," and other variants are sometimes found.

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3 George Buchanan's "An Oration upon the Moral and Political Evil of Slavery, delivered at a public meeting of the Maryland Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, and the Relief of Free Negroes and others unlawfully held in bondage," Baltimore, July 4, 1791, was dedicated to Vice President Thomas Jefferson and printed by P. Edwards, 1793. A copy of this, found in the Boston Athenaeum among the Washington pamphlets, has George Washington's autograph on the title page.

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4 Quoted in Genealogy of the McKean Family by Roberdeau Buchanan, p131.

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5 Susanna, born April 9, 1790; died August 24, 1795.

Thomas McKean, born September 17, 1791; died October 5, 1791.

Mary Ann, born October 15, 1792; died April 3, 1866.

Rebecca Susanna, born October 15, 1793; died February 6, 1868.

Andrew, born November 10, 1794; died (?), buried May 1, 1796.

George, born July 27, 1796; died June 9, 1879.

McKean, born July 27, 1798; died March 18, 1871.

Franklin, born September 17, 1800; died May 11, 1874.

Elizabeth, born January 27, 1802; died August 24, 1825.

Joseph McKean, born May 7, 1804; died June 7, 1804.

Laetitia Egger, born October 17, 1806; died July 11, 1883.

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6 Lives of the Signers, as quoted in the McKean Genealogy, pp114, 115.

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7 From a Philadelphia newspaper.

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8 This interesting quotation was copied by Buchanan in one of his notebooks: "Doctor Franklin's creed. I believe in one God, the Creator of the universe. That He governs it by His Providence. That He ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable service we render to Him is doing good to His other children. That the soul of man is immortal, and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this."

In a ship's journal kept by Buchanan while attached as a midshipman to the ship of the line Franklin is a very well drawn pencil sketch of Benjamin Franklin evidently made by the young officer.

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Page updated: 27 Sep 21