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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 1

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.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 3

This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.


Chapter II

The Call of the Seven Seas

The year 1800, in which Franklin Buchanan was born on the 17th of September,​1 was a significant one in history. Our Naval War with France was on the point of being brought to a successful close by a treaty of peace which was signed on September 30 of that year. John Adams was then President, but a change of administration under a different political party was imminent. Jefferson was carrying on a most bitter political campaign against Burr for the Presidency, in which hatred was engendered that was to bring about the death of Hamilton and the ruin of Burr's political aspirations. Conditions were shaping themselves for two of the most important events in Jefferson's administration, — the War with Tripoli and the Louisiana Purchase. The way for the latter was being prepared by Napoleon, whose star had already risen high in the political firmament of Europe. In 1800 he was engaged in his second Italian campaign in which the brilliant victory of Marengo was won over the Austrians; his nemesis, Lord Nelson, was then inactive, though the year previous he had practically annihilated Napoleon's fleet in the Battle of the Nile and the next year he was to give the death blow  p9 to the French First Consul's Continental System by overwhelming the Danes at the Battle of Copenhagen.

At that time, Baltimore was a small city of about 30,000 inhabitants, though its population had more than doubled during the preceding ten years. In importance, it was the third commercial port in the United States, then composed of only sixteen states with a population of about four and one‑half millions. There was much wealth in Baltimore; the majority of its 3500 houses were of brick and many of them were elegant mansions. The city had already become noted for its manufactures, and in 1798 its exports amounted to upwards of $12,000,000. It had 170 warehouses, chiefly near the harbor. By 1790 as many as 102 ships with a tonnage of 13,564 were owned by its citizens.

Shipbuilding in all its branches was one of the leading industries. On June 3, 1799, the U. S. sloop of war Maryland of 20 guns was launched from Price's shipyard at Fell's Point, and presented to the United States government by the merchants of Baltimore. On June 20 following, another ship of war, the frigate Chesapeake, went down the ways at De Rochbroom's shipyard. On July 1, a number of seamen from the U. S. frigate Constellation, which had also been launched at Baltimore on September 7, 1797, in order to show their admiration for their former lieutenant, John Rodgers, carried him through the principal streets of the city in an elegantly decorated chair. Rodgers had been first lieutenant on the Constellation, under command of Captain Thomas Truxtun, when she fought and captured the French frigate Insurgente in the Caribbean on February 9, 1799.​a The Constellation, the same year, brought her prize into Baltimore harbor where she was refitted for  p10 the American service. Rodgers was soon afterwards raised to the rank of captain and given command of the sloop of war Maryland.

It is evident, then, that Baltimoreans at this time were greatly interested in the sea and ships. Though the effects of prenatal influences are problematical, it is undoubtedly true that the maritime atmosphere into which Franklin Buchanan was born played an important part in giving him even in childhood the desire to follow the sea. Probably, the first sights which were most vividly impressed on his young mind were the ships, sailing in and out of the harbor of Baltimore. Though Longfellow was writing of a different place in his widely known poem, "My Lost Youth", yet some of its lines are peculiarly applicable to Baltimore in Buchanan's childhood; for example, one might cite,

"Often I think of the beautiful town

That is seated by the sea;

Often in thought go up and down

The pleasant streets of that dear old town,

And my youth comes back to me. . . .

I can see the shadowy lines of its trees,

And catch, in sudden gleams,

The sheen of the far‑surrounding seas,

And islands that were the Hesperides

Of all my boyish dreams. . . .

I remember the black wharves and the slips,

And the sea‑tides tossing free;

And Spanish sailors with bearded lips,

And the beauty and mystery of the ships,

And the magic of the sea. . . .

 p11  I remember the bulwarks by the shore,

And the fort upon the hill;

The sunrise gun, with its hollow roar,

The drum beat repeated o'er and o'er

And the bugle wild and shrill."

The atmosphere of Philadelphia into which city the Buchanan family moved when Franklin was about eight years old was somewhat similar to that of Baltimore. It also had easy access to the sea through the Delaware River and Bay of the same name, and much of its wealth was derived from its shipping. It was here that the Buchanans lived during the stirring times of the War of 1812, two of the heroes of which war were natives of that city. Their romantic achievements and the honors which were bestowed upon them undoubtedly were important factors in leading young Buchanan early to choose a naval career. Lieutenant James Biddle, one of these native sons, bravely fought under Captain Jacob Jones, who commanded the sloop of war Wasp when she captured, on October 18, 1812, a similar British war vessel, named the Frolic. For this service the legislature of Pennsylvania voted Biddle its thanks and a sword, and a number of the citizens of Philadelphia gave him a silver urn with an appropriate inscription. But that which more likely caught the fancy of a lad of Franklin Buchanan's age was a caricature in colors by a Philadelphian named Charles, depicting John Bull receiving a terrific sting from a hornet right through his stomach.​b There was also current at the time a stirring anonymous song commemorating the event, which took the town by storm. It ended with these lines:

 p12  "The foe bravely fought, but his arms were all broken,

And he fled from his death-wound aghast and affrighted;

But the Wasp darted forward her death-doing sting,

And full on his bosom, like lightning, alighted.

She pierced through his entrails, she maddened his brain,

And he writhed and he groaned as if torn with the colic;

And long shall John Bull rue the terrible day

He met the American Wasp on a Frolic.​2

Stephen Decatur was even more markedly the pride of his native Philadelphia, and when, as captain of the frigate United States, he captured the British frigate Macedonian on October 25, 1812, just one week after the engagement between the Wasp and the Frolic, his fellow citizens, as "those who knew him best, loved him most", gave him a "sword of pure solid gold, of little less value than one thousand dollars".​3 Not only must Buchanan's young heart have been moved with admiration of the deeds of the sons of Philadelphia, but also his spirit must have been stirred by the victories of the Constitution under Hull and Bainbridge, by the romantic success of Oliver Hazard Perry in the Battle of Lake Erie and the equally successful achievement of Thomas MacDonough on Lake Champlain, and by the marvelous cruise of the Essex under Captain David Porter in the Pacific Ocean.

 p13  In September, 1814, the patriotism of the lad was raised to a high pitch, no doubt, by the attempt of the British to capture Baltimore, the place of his birth and the home of many of his relatives. A short time after this unsuccessful attack, there reached Philadelphia a new song which had created intense enthusiasm in Baltimore when it was first sung in that city. The first stanza ran thus:

"O say! can you see by the dawn's early light

What so proudly we hail'd at the twilight's last gleaming,

Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight,

O'er the ramparts we watch'd, were so gallantly streaming?

And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,

Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;

O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave

O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

It was, of course, "The Star-Spangled Banner," written by Francis Scott Key​4 as he restlessly paced the deck of the cartel-ship Minden, under a flag of truce, and watched the bombardment of the city, which Vice Admiral Warren of the British Navy had declared to be "a doomed town". "The American Navy must be annihilated", had declared a London paper;​5 "his arsenals and dockyards must be consumed, and the truculent inhabitants  p14 of Baltimore must be tamed with the weapons which shook the wooden turrets of Copenhagen". Baltimoreans were to be made unable in the future to send out those swift "clipper-built" ships and hardy seamen to destroy British commerce on the high seas.

The people of Philadelphia sung Francis Scott Key's song with the same exultation as their brothers in Baltimore, for they now also breathed more freely after this British menace had been removed from the Chesapeake. An intense martial spirit had been aroused there in the spring of 1813 when Admiral Cockburn made depredations on the shores of the Delaware. Their fears were increased by the capture of Washington in August of the following year, and by the attack on Baltimore; accordingly they had taken steps to defend the city against the invaders but happily the British did not find themselves in a position to put those preparations to the test of arms. Before taking steps to defend Philadelphia, a town-meeting was called on the morning of August 26, 1814 in the State House Square. Ex‑Governor McKean, though he was then eighty years old, was present and was unanimously chosen to preside over the meeting, which he addressed on the best measures to be taken for meeting the crisis.

All these various influences reacted so powerfully on Franklin Buchanan that, though only a mere lad, he determined to join the navy and fight the British. Accordingly, at the age of fourteen, he became a midshipman in the United States Navy on January 28, 1815, and entered into the service of an exacting master and a jealous mistress, — War and the Sea. But it was for him a natural choice. When his environment, and the events of the War of 1812 are taken into account, it  p15 hardly seems possible that a strong adventurous lad like him could have escaped the "sea fever". His choice, then was inevitable; as Masefield has phrased it, Buchanan could have exclaimed,

"I must go down to the seas again, for

the call of the running tide

Is a wild call and a clear call

that may not be denied."

The Author's Notes:

1 Old St. Paul's Church Register records that Franklin Buchanan was baptized, on September 23, 1802, in that church.

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2 Later in this war Biddle, while in command of the sloop of war Hornet, captured the British sloop Penguin on March 23, 1815, for which victory the citizens of Philadelphia presented him a beautiful service of silver plate; but by that time Buchanan had already become a midshipman in the navy.

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3 Life and Character of Stephen Decatur by S. Putnam Waldo, p210.º

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4 Franklin Buchanan's future wife, Anne Catherine Lloyd, was the niece of Francis Scott Key, who married Mary Tayloe Lloyd, sister to Governor Edward Lloyd of "Wye House."

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5 Quoted in B. J. Lossing's Pictorial Field-Book of the War of 1812, p947.

Thayer's Notes:

a A detailed account of the famous fight is given by Eugene S. Ferguson in Chapter 33, L'Insurgente, of Truxtun of the Constellation.

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b The Web can be wonderful at times: we can see the cartoon on the site of the Massachusetts Historical Society, where its context-driven puns, one of them mildly scurrilous, are nicely parsed.

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Page updated: 27 Sep 21