Commodore Samuel Barron 1765-1810: First Commandant Gosport Navy Yard

By John G. M. Sharp

At USGenWeb Archives
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Introduction: Commodore Samuel Barron was considered “one of the best officers in the service.”1 He served his country faithfully in the American Revolution, Quasi War with France, the first Barbary War, and he was the first commandant of the Gosport (Norfolk) Navy Yard, yet he is largely unknown today. His career was cut short by his ill health and much of the correspondence and documents from his time at Gosport (Norfolk) Navy Yard were destroyed during the Civil War.  Samuel Barron’s brief tenure as commandant, from 7 July 1810 to 29 October 1810, makes the scarcity of records and documents a far greater loss. We are fortunate a few important early letters and papers (transcribed below) from Barron’s career survived where they were filed with the records of the Secretary of the Navy’s correspondence in Washington DC, and subsequently escaped destruction.

1 Benjamin Stoddert to John Adams 25 May 1799 Naval Documents related to the Quasi War with France Naval Operations from April 1799 to July 1799 Vol 3 (Government Printing Office: Washington DC 1935),252 -253

The American Revolution: Commodore Samuel Barron was born 25 September 1765 in Hampton, Virginia. He grew up in Hampton where his family had a large estate. The Barron’s were local powerbrokers with a large residence in Hampton, the seat of Elizabeth County Virginia. His father James Barron (1740 -1787) was a well to do merchant captain, one of six brothers five of whom took to the sea. At the beginning of the American Revolution James and his brother Richard organized naval defenses at Hampton and became leaders of the local naval militia. On 3 July 1780 James Barron was appointed by (then governor of Virginia) Thomas Jefferson as Commodore of the tiny Virginia State Navy.

At the beginning of the American Revolution, Elizabeth County had a total population of about 3,000 people, of that population about half were white, and half enslaved blacks. In the large enslaved population the British colonial governor of Virginia, John Murray (Lord Dunmore), saw an opportunity to underscore the vulnerability of the white patriots who demanded freedom from the crown yet blindly asserted their dominion over enslaved blacks.2 In his 7 November 1775 proclamation  Dunmore pronounced:  “And I do hereby further declare all indentured Servants, Negroes, or others (appertaining to Rebels), free that are able and willing to bear Arms, they joining His MAJESTY'S Troops as soon as may be,…” 3 Commodore James Barron, his brothers, and their lieutenants worked to keep the bay and rivers of Virginia open to patriot shipping by challenging the less formidable English privateers, they sailed out themselves to prey upon British transport and communication vessels.4 In one highly successful action James Barron captured a small costal vessel carrying sensitive dispatches from Lord Dunmore which proved useful to the patriot cause. Occasionally they took on larger forces, in July 1776 James Barron “brought up to Jamestown a transport ship which they had captured with 220 highlanders of 42 Royal Highland Watch.5 The captured Scotts were ultimately exchanged for American prisoners the British were holding.

2 Alan Taylor American Revolution  A Continental History, 1750 -1804 (WW Norton: New York 2016), 151

3 Black Loyalist University of Sidney  Black Loyalist is a repository of historical data about the African American loyalist refugees who left New York between April and November 1783 and whose names are recorded in the Book of Negroes. The Book of Negroes was a list compiled by commissioners appointed by the British Commander in Chief, Sir Guy Carleton, as the Loyalists were evacuating New York between April and November 1783.

4 Mark St. John Erickson, Outmanned and outgunned by the Royal Navy, Virginia sailors scored unexpected success during the RevolutionDaily Press  2 May 2019

5 Mark St. John Erickson, Outmanned and outgunned by the Royal Navy, Virginia sailors scored unexpected success during the RevolutionDaily Press  2 May 2019

The Barron’s were slaveholders, and in going to war they pressed their slaves into sailors, pilots, and mechanics. Years later Samuel’s younger brother, James Barron, recalled two slaves who served with their father on the Schooner Liberty and how after the war they were given their freedom as a reward for their service.6 One of the principle duties of the Virginia State Navy though was to prevent the escape of slaves to the British forces who offered freedom to all enslaved blacks.7 For example in December 1776, “Capt. Barron, with a party of men, yesterday took a tender with several slaves on board” seeking to join British forces. After their capture they were carried to Hampton and returned to bondage.8 Some of James Barron’s slaves successfully made their way to British lines and freedom. In late 1780, Pamela Glasgow age 30 escaped Barron’s plantation at Hampton with her husband Jonathon and their 8 year old daughter Peggy. Likewise in 1778, James’s brother Robert Barron, had five enslaved individuals flee his Hampton residence including Lucy Sheppard age 45, Maria Sheppard age 10, and in 1780 Betsey Herbert age 26, Jenny Herbert age 6, and Lancaster Herbert age 10.

6 Maryland Journal Baltimore 17 April 1776, 5  and Connecticut Courant Harford CT 8 July 1776, 2

7 Benjamin Quarles The Negro in the American Revolution (University of North Carolina: Chapel Hill 1961),88

8 Simon Schama Rough Crossings The Slaves, the British, and the American Revolution ( Harper Collins: New York 2005), 78

Young Samuel Barron received his early training at sea from his father on merchant ships. His family influence resulted in his commission as a Midshipman on the frigate Dragon where served in the Virginia Navy in the latter part of the Revolutionary War, circa 1780. His younger brother, Commodore James Barron (1768-1851), in 1832 claimed Samuel had commanded several vessels in the Revolution including the schooners Liberty and Patriot.9 James also claimed Samuel was promoted to Lieutenant prior to the end of the war.10  Following the Revolution Samuel Barron spent the next fifteen years as commercial mariner.  In 1795 he was recommended to President George Washington for the fledgling United States Navy. 11

9 New York Gazette and Weekly Mercury 8 January 1776, 3

10 James Barron 15 September 1768 – 21 April 1851 Naval History and Heritage Command accessed 5 May 2019

11 Secretary of War to George Washington March 14, 1795 “The superintending of her while building may be committed to Captain Samuel Barron as soon as he returns from Sea and in the interim to his uncle Capt. Robert Barron. Both are of Norfolk experienced Seamen, & recommended by the Agent Mr. Pennock & others. Samuel Barron is a Candidate for a first Lieutenancy in the Navy; & will feel a peculiar interest in performing attentively the office of Superintendent.”  Naval Documents Relating to Barbary War Vol I editor Dudley Knox (US Government Printing Office: Washington DC 1939), 94

The Quasi War with France: Samuel Barron’s rapid rise in the naval hierarchy began in the so called undeclared or "quasi war “which broke out with France in July 1798. The war involved two years of hostilities at sea, in which both navies and privateers attacked the other's shipping in the West Indies. To make the most effective use of our limited resources, Secretary Stoddert established a policy that U.S. forces would be concentrated on attacks against French forces in the Caribbean, where France still had colonies. At times he had to concede to merchant ships requests for escorts for defense. The main task of the U.S. Navy was to defend American merchant ships from large numbers of French privateers operating along southern coast of the United States and in the Caribbean.12 For Barron recruiting a crew was a constant challenge in August 1798 the Secretary of the Navy had directed that wages for able seamen would be “17 dollars per month and ordinary Seamen 10 dollars per month”. In a letter to Barron dated 4 October 1798, he was told:  “I have now directed that you proceed to commence recruiting not exceeding Ninety Hands, to consist of Able - Seaman Ordinary Seaman & Boys” further “is desirable that no more than the requisite number of able semen should be taken and that your crew be composed of as great a portion of ordinary seamen & boys, as will consist with the good of the service. These you may allow from 5 to 14 dollars per month according to merit. …You will instruct your recruiting officers to be careful not to enlist any but sound and healthy persons; and no indirect or forcible measures be used to induce them to enter the Service. No Negroes or Mullatoes are to be admitted, and as far as you can Judge you will exclude, all persons of a suspicious character.”13

12 Southern Campaign American Revolution Pension Statements and Rosters pension application of Samuel Barron R6 VA Sea Service transcribed and annotated by C. Leon Harris, revised 7 May 2017  accessed 4 May 2019

13 Historical Overview of the Federalist Navy, 1787-1801 Naval History and Heritage Commandaccessed 1 May 2019

Despite such prohibition there is evidence that blacks continued to serve on naval vessels through the Quasi War with France.14 One reason was “life at sea during the eighteenth century was difficult and dangerous. Therefore navies were forced to enlist practically anyone who was willing to serve.”15 Naval captains very often had little choice, they took whoever was willing.  In 1801 Captain Thomas Truxton reported to the Secretary of the Navy “it is well to remark in this place, that Capt. Barron having a most infamous crew, many of whose time has expired, it became (especially as they themselves, were desirous of leaving the ship) necessary to discharge them. Captain Barron  will inform  you of intercepted letter to the British Colonial Government from several of the ones of which I ordered him to flog, with 39 lashes at St. Thomas’s and to drum the fellow ashore with disgrace which he has since informed me was done.”16 In 1798, Barron was placed in command of the Augusta and took part in the Quasi-War with France. Barron’s brother James Barron was promoted to Captain on 29 June 1799. 17 Benjamin Stoddard Secretary of the Navy (May 1, 1798, to March 31, 1801), writing to President John Adams on 14 August 1799 stated Samuel Barron “is a favorite with the officers and crew he will do better in that Ship than Decatur would. He has all Decatur’s Gallantry and Zeal and something better Education.”18 

14 Logan, Rayford W. “THE NEGRO IN THE QUASI WAR 1798–1800.” Negro History Bulletin, vol. 14, no. 6, 1951, pp. 128–143. JSTOR,

15 Elizabeth Arnett Fields, African American Soldiers Before the Civil War in A Historic context for the African American Military Experience – Before the Civil War, Blacks in the Union and Confederate Armies, Buffalo Soldier, Scouts, Spanish American War, World War I and II, U.S. Government, U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Washington D.C. 1998, Amazon Kindle edition Progressive Management location 624 of 11320

16 Truxton to Stoddard 15 January 1801 Naval Documents related to the Quasi War with France Naval Operations from December 1800 –December 1801 Vol 1 (Government Printing Office: Washington DC 1935), 87

17 Stoddard to James Barron 29 June 1799 Naval Documents related to the Quasi War with France Naval Operations from April 1799 to July 1799 Vol 3 (Government Printing Office: Washington DC 1935), 429

18 Stoddard to John Adams  14 August 1799 Naval Documents related to the Quasi War with France Naval Operations from April 1799 to July 1799 Vol 4 (Government Printing Office: Washington DC 1935), 71

The Barbary Wars: On 31 May 1804, President Thomas Jefferson chose Samuel Barron to lead the American Squadron in the Mediterranean. The mission of the American Squadron was to stop attacks on American merchant shipping, suppress the Tripoli pirates, and pressure the Bashaw of Tripoli to free all American hostages.19 The squadron’s voyage got off to an inauspicious start. Barron would later recall “when the Squadron left the United States, the crews of the different Ships were extremely ignorant & disorderly  - so much so as to require all the attention of the commanders to organize them sufficiently to enable the fleet to act with efficiency on its arrival in the Mediterranean…”20

19 Naval Documents Relating to Barbary War Vol 5 Editor Dudley Knox (US Government Printing Office: Washington DC 1944), 32

20 Samuel Barron to Robert Smith 1 November 1805 Letters Received from Captains, compiled 1805 – 1885 NARA RG 260  M124 Volume 3  letter 33

In June 1804, prior to Barron’s ship the USS President leaving Hampton Roads, Virginia, he was informed an unknown author (Seaman Robert Quinn) had addressed an open letter to him. The letter complained of:  “horrible usage that has been carried out on this Ship of late by the principal officers is enough to turn every Man’s Heart to wickedness we are kept on Deck from 3 o’clock in the morning till 8 at Night there is no regulation in any one thing, we have been on Deck for several day with no Victuals, and durst not look for it, we cannot wash a single article for fear of being cut in two”  The letter continued “The President has arrived to such a pitch, as to exceed the Hermione some of our friends in America & other parts shall know this shortly and in time we hope to get redress, Death is always superior to slavery. We remain your UNHAPPY SLAVES.”21

21 Naval Documents Relating to Barbary War Vol 4 Editor Dudley Knox (US Government Printing Office: Washington DC 1943), 203

Barron and all his officers knew of the HMS Hermione, and how in 1797 her captain, and most of her officers were killed in the Royal Navy’s bloodiest mutiny.  The letter’s mention of redress “was too direct a challenge to be tolerated.”22  Barron wanted to set an example and pressed for an early trial of the culprit. On 19 June 1804 he wrote to Captain John Rodgers commanding the USS Congress the following:

Sir, Herewith you will receive the Copy of a Letter, said to be written by Robert Quin, a Seaman on board the President: It is so calculated to excite a general mutiny; that is necessary to take prompt & decisive measures to bring to punishment the Author. John Kirkpatrick, a Landsman also belonging to the same Ship; has been taken in the attempt to desert. I request you will summon a Court Martial. At which you will preside to be held on board the Congress, for the trial of the three delinquents as early as possible. William Eaton Esq. will act as Judge advocate on the occasion.23
Saml Barron

22 Naval Documents Relating to Barbary War Vol 4 Editor Dudley Knox (US Government Printing Office: Washington DC 1943), 203

23 Christopher McKee A Gentlemanly and Honorable Profession the Creation of the U.S. Naval Officer Corps, 1794-1815 (Naval Institute Press: Annapolis MD 1991), 256

The court quickly assembled on the USS Congress. The court was composed of (Samuel’s brother) Captain James Barron, Captain Hugh Campbell, and Lieutenants Samuel Evans and Edward Wyer with William Eaton Esq. as Judge Advocate. The next day 23 June 1804, court convened and questioned Quinn “whether he was the author  – to which he plead guilty and put himself on the mercy of the Court.” The prescribed sentence for mutiny was death; Seaman Quinn though was spared that penalty and instead:

The Court are of opinion – on mature deliberations that the prisoner Robert Quinn, is guilty of a breach of the second and third clause of the thirteenth article of the “Act for the better Government of the Navy of the United States” and do sentence him to have his head and eyebrows shaved, branded in the Forehead with the word Mutiny, to receive 320 lashes equally apportioned alongside of the different ships in the squadron, during which time he shall wear a white cap with the label Mutiny in large capital letters inscribed on its front, and to be drummed on shore under a gallows in a boat towed stern-foremost by a boat from each ship in the squadron as unworthy of serving under the flag of the United States.24

24 Records of General Courts Martial and Courts of Inquiry of the Navy Department 1799 -1867 NARA M273 RG125 Vol 1 Case Number 24 Court Martial upon Robert Quinn Seaman and John Kirkpatrick 19 June 1804  see also Naval Documents Relating to Barbary War Vol 4 Editor Dudley Knox (US Government Printing Office: Washington DC 1943), 256

Tried by the same court by the same day was John Kirkpatrick Ordinary Seaman. Kirkpatrick was charged with desertion and sentenced to receive “One hundred & fifty Lashes, to be apportioned alongside the Different Ships in the Squadron, during the execution of which sentence, he shall wear a white Cap with a Label in Front, in Capital Letters – REWARD OF DESERTION, and afterwards to be returned to Duty.” On 23 June 1804 in message to his squadron, Barron explained the serious nature of crimes, an anxious to set an example explained the courts verdict and punishment.

General Orders
                                                                                                                United States Ship President
                                                                                         Hampton roads
                                                                                           June 23rd 1804

The Commander in Chief, of the squadron cannot but express his concern and regrets that an incident should have occurred which compels him to order the infliction of a punishment on individuals serving under his command both painful and degrading to the character of a seaman or a soldier but viewing the crimes of mutiny and desertion, of a most heinous nature, and justly meriting the most exemplary punishment – and being determined  never to pardon crimes fraught with such fatal consequences to the service nor to mitigate in any degree the punishment annexed by Law to such Crimes he approved of the sentence of the Court Martial of this order decreed against Robert Quinn and John Kilpatrick, and orders it to be put in execution next Monday morning, at 8 Clock.

                                                                                (Signed) Saml Barron

On Monday morning 25 June 1804, Purser John Darby on board the USS John Adams a witness to the dreadful punishment wrote: “Mutineer [Robert Quinn] after receiving 12 Stripes, fainted, he was then put into a boat and carried onboard the President to receive the balance of his punishment as soon as he was able to bear it. The Deserter [John Kirkpatrick] being a strong Irishman, he was able to stand the whole of his punishment and was taken from ship to ship until he received the whole. Our ship was the last he came to, and I think a more distressful sight I never experienced.”25

25 Journal of Purser John Darby 25 June 1804 Documents Relating to Barbary War Vol. 5 Editor Dudley Knox (US Government Printing Office: Washington DC 1944)  226 -227

These harsh sentences reflect the prevailing concerns of the era. During this period for enlisted men, two offenses were tried almost exclusively by court martial, they were: “mutiny/sedition, and desertion.” Those convicted by Court Martial for desertion or mutinies typically were awarded 100 lashes.26  While the death sentence was rare (in fact only three death sentences were carried out in the pre1815 navy), Quinn’s sentence “was the harshest noncapital sentence on record in the pre-1815 navy.”  Desertion in this era was a major problem of the hundreds of men who deserted from U.S. Navy ships between 1798 and 1815 only a small fraction were ever caught.  For Samuel Barron and his fellow officers deterrence through fear of severe punishment was “considered the only real hope of controlling the problem.”27

26 Christopher McKee A Gentlemanly and Honorable Profession the Creation of the U.S. Naval Officer Corps, 1794-1815 (Naval Institute Press: Annapolis MD 1991), 248, 256 and Table 14 page 483

27 Ibid, 248-249

On 10 September 1804, Barron in command of the frigate USS President, relieved Commodore Edward Preble as squadron commander near Tripoli.28 Commodore Preble would have been a hard act to follow for anyone, for he was an aggressive, vigorous, and driven officer, respected, if not loved, by his junior officers. Preble had masterminded the burning of the USS Philadelphia and the blockade of the Tripoli harbor. Barron’s squadron consisted of the frigates John Adams, Congress, Essex, Constellation and President.The squadron’s arrival with more ships and greater firepower was thought to be a precursor to an all-out assault but this was not to be. Samuel Barron, while a qualified seamen, “had neither the natural talent nor professional training to command such a squadron.”29 Perhaps most importantly Barron had a history of poor health; he had suffered a serious bout of yellow fever in 1799 which brought him close to death.30

28 Naval Documents Relating to Barbary War Vol. 5 Editor Dudley Knox (US Government Printing Office: Washington DC 1944), 15  

29 Christopher McKee Edward Preble A Naval Biography 1761 -1807  (Naval Institute Press Annapolis MD 1996), 146

30 In 1798 -1799 a yellow fever raged on the eastern seaboard and hit cities like Philadelphia Pennsylvania and Norfolk Virginia hard. In his letter to Navy Agent William Pennock (5 October 1798), the Secretary of the Navy stated his concerns about the fever its consequences for naval operations. “By a letter from Capt. Nicholson of the 26th & 27th September, I am mortified to find that he still remained at Hampton. — Where he ought not to have remained for two days — and to add to the Calamity, his Crew is seized with the prevailing Malady. — — I have directed him to concert with you instantly, measures for getting all his sick Men, landed and removed to a high and airy place in the Neighborhood of Norfolk — Pray without delay Select such a place, provide Tents, or an airy and large house — Employ able medical assistance, and have the best possible care taken of the men — Let this be done instantly if you please — and give Nichol- son no more advice to remain in Port — for that injudicious part of his conduct, he mentions your advice. — He will proceed to Sea, if he has healthy men enough to navigate his vessel; and will be governed by the health of his Crew, whether to return to the Eastward, or to remain on the Southern Coast. …If he wants a doctor on board, and a good one can be obtained at Norfolk, he shall have the appointment promised him, to obtain his services at this time.”[NDA GLB No. 1] Naval Documents related to the Quasi War with France Naval Operations from February 1797 to October 1798 Vol 1 (Government Printing Office: Washington DC  1935).494

Throughout most of the winter of 1804-1805, Barron was prostrated with a painful liver disease, a consequence of yellow fever.31 For the squadron officers, Barron’s health was a subject of continuous concern and frustration.  He “could barely lift a pen to write and remained ashore in Syracuse convalescing.”32 Barron himself wrote to the U.S Consul at St. Petersburg, Russia, Levett Harris, and candidly noted “The long & severe Indisposition I have suffered & which by confining me to my Bed for several Weeks past has rendered me incapable of application to Business…”33 At one point he exclaimed “God knows how it will end he sighed” and in early November 1804, he moved ashore - yet he refused to give up command and never stopped hoping that he would recover.  To make matters worse he declined to delegate any but the most basic tasks to his second in command Captain John Rodgers. He often relied on his brother Captain James Barron but his only exacerbated the tensions with the command for James detested Rodgers. Samuel Barron’s lingering illness meant that executive direction of the war against Tripoli was lacking.34 In the summer of 1805 rancor over strategy continued and Captain John Rodgers came to believe that Samuel Barron was secretly trying to prevent him from succeeding him as commander in chief of the Mediterranean Squadron. Indeed their spat over strategy and intentions reached such a pitch that the two men nearly fought a duel. 35

31 George Davis to Edward Preble 20 March 1805 “Of Tripolitan affairs, I can say very little Commodore Barron has been ill  these four or five months, and is still a very feeble convalescent his complaint is said to be an affection of the Liver”  Naval Documents Relating to Barbary War Vol. 5 Editor Dudley Knox (US Government Printing Office: Washington DC 1944) ,432 The Journal of Dr. Johnathan Cowdery  21 March 1805“The Bashaw told me he suspected commodore Barron was dead, as he had not heard from him for a time.” Ibid, 435

32 Ian W. Toll Six Frigates The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy ( WW Norton :New York 2006),225 and 259

33 Samuel Barron to Levett Harris, 16 Jan 1805 Naval Documents Relating to Barbary War Vol. 5 Editor Dudley Knox (US Government Printing Office: Washington DC 1944)  286

34 Christopher McKee Edward Preble, 329

35 Charles Oscar Paullin Commodore John Rodger Captain, Commodore and Senior Office of the American Navy 1773 -1838 (United States Naval Institute: Annapolis 1909),175-182

Throughout the summer of 1805 rumors of Barron’s supposed death even reached the Bahsaw of Tripoli. The American consul John Garvino who knew Barron well wrote in March 1805 “For three months past Commodore Barron's health has been such as not only to prevent him from taking any actual Part in our affairs in this Sea; but to make his life despaired of. He came to this place about a Month since, from Syracuse, and with the Medical aid which he finds here, I hope be may recover but he is still very low indeed.”36 In the summer of 1805 realizing that a recovery was unlikely as long as he stayed in the Mediterranean, Barron finally turned over command of his squadron to John Rodgers and returned to the United States. Barron’s chronic liver disease coupled with a poor performance in the Mediterranean as Commodore had disappointed Secretary of the Navy Robert Smith. Consequently in the summer of 1807 Smith beached Barron on half pay and “proceeded to ignore him for the balance of his term.”37 To add to his woes that same year Samuel Barron’s younger brother Commodore James Barron (1768 –1851) actions further damaged Samuel’s reputation. In June 1807 James as commander of the frigate USS Chesapeake, had encountered the HMS Leopard. James Barron’s subsequent action was perceived as failure to adequately resist boarding. This led to his court-martialed for the surrender of the Chesapeake to the British and a five-year suspension. 38 Others like William Ray, a seaman who endured captivity in Tripoli, in his Horrors of Slavery or the American Tars in Tripoli (1808) blamed Commodore Barron for not pursuing a more aggressive strategy against the Bashaw thus condemning the captives to a longer term of harsh imprisonment.39 Samuel Barron himself confided to the Secretary of the Navy Robert Smith on 1 November 1805 “It may be said, that I should have relinquished the command of the Squadron, when I found myself incompetent to the duties thereof, - I can only observe (on the subject) that I was buoyed with the Hope of recovery (in time) to repair any omissions that might happen on my part (for the want of health) but in this I have been disappointed.”40 

36 John Garvino Tobias Lear March 6 1805  Naval Documents Relating to Barbary War Vol 5 Editor Dudley Knox (US Government Printing Office: Washington DC 1944), 393

37 Christopher McKee A Gentlemanly and Honorable Profession the Creation of the U.S. Naval Officer Corps, 1794-1815 (Naval Institute Press: Annapolis MD 1991), 337

38 On 7 May 1808, the Court of Inquiry found James Barron, guilty of the second charge:” For neglecting on the probability of an engagement to clear his ship for action”, and suspended for 5 years from 8 February 1808, without pay or emoluments. James Barron 15 September 1768 - 21 April 1851 Naval History and Heritage Command

39 William Ray Horrors of Slavery or the American Tar in Tripoli  (Rutgers University Press: New Brunswick 2008),  editor Hester Blum

40 Samuel Barron to Robert Smith 1 Nov 1805 Letters Received from Captains, compiled 1805 – 1885 NARA RG 260  M124 Volume 3  letter 33

Gosport Navy Yard: Following his return from the Mediterranean, a discouraged Samuel Barron remained at his estate in Hampton, Virginia. On half pay he was financially hard pressed; as he bided time he rallied his considerable connections. Writing on 19 March 1810 Barron exclaimed “excuse me Sir, if I am using too much [illegible] with you when I say the Operation of the half pay System has much injured my finances…”41 In early 1810 Commodore William Bainbridge, a close friend, visited him at Hampton.  Afterwards Bainbridge wrote the new Secretary of the Navy, Paul Hamilton, of Barron’s financial plight and urged that Barron be given the command of the Norfolk Navy Yard. As shipyard commandant Barron would be restored to full pay, rations and free quarters.42 At length Hamilton agreed and subsequently assigned Barron command of the Gosport Navy Yard Virginia on 7 July 1810.43 Previous to the appointment of Commodore Samuel Barron in 1810, the federal government had operated the shipyard in a lackadaisical manner under civil administrators William Pennock, Daniel Bedinger, and Theodorick Armistead. As early as 1799 the situation was such that the Secretary of the Navy informed Samuel Barron “Norfolk is found to be the most expensive of our ports which if not corrected will operate to its injury – Mr. Pennock is an active man – an excellent quality in an agent – but I fear he is not so economical as he might be.”44 Oversight of the shipyard thru these years was limited and the Department of the Navy was confronted repeatedly with charges of operating the navy-yard under irresponsible civil administration.  Consequently the Secretary of the Navy Paul Hamilton, ordered Commodore Samuel Barron to take command of the yard, the gunboats, the officers, and men. Hamilton’s letter though specified “The navy-agent, as heretofore, will have the charge of all stores other than military, and he must have a warehouse at the yard for their safe-keeping, with perfect liberty of ingress and egress.” This continued separation of the duties and responsibilities for purchasing meant that problems of command and control would simply continue.45  

41 Samuel Barron to Paul Hamilton 19 March 1810 Letters Received from Captains, compiled 1805 – 1885 NARA RG 45 Vol 18, letter number 96. Letter misfiled as author William Bainbridge

42 Samuel Barron to Paul Hamilton ditto

43 McKee, ditto

44 Benjamin Stoddert  to Samuel Barron  16 July 1799 “Norfolk is found to be the most expensive of our ports which if not corrected with operate to its injury – Mr. Pennock is an active man – an excellent quality in an agent – but I fear he is not so economical as he might be.” Naval Documents related to the Quasi War with France Naval Operations from April 1799 to July 1799 Vol 3 (Government Printing Office: Washington DC 1935), 504 -505

45 Edward P. Lull History of the United States Navy-Yard at Gosport, Virginia, (Near Norfolk) Washington: Government Printing Office 1874),16

Building Gunboats: During the first decade of the ninetieth century the main task of Gosport Naval Yard was building gunboats. President Thomas Jefferson believed that a suitable naval force would consist primarily of small gunboats that could defend the home waters of the United States.  To create this defensive force, Jefferson ordered cutbacks in major ships and the construction of a fleet of small gunboats, most of which were built at the Washington, Brooklyn and Norfolk Navy yards.  While these cutbacks annoyed many naval officers Commodore Barron wanted a command and chose to be supportive. As shipyard commandant he would be responsible for making sure a sufficient number of gunboats were built, maintained, and had the necessary manpower to fight and sail.

These small ships measured about 50 to 75 feet long and15 to 20 feet in the beam, with a shallow draft for use in the shoal waters of America's harbors.  They were variously rigged with oars, and sails, and crewed by up to twenty men.  On the plus side, if the wind failed or if they were engaged in close combat, they could be propelled by oars.  Each gunboat carried two to three guns: 18- to 24-pound swivel-mounted guns or 32-pounders on traversing carriages.  They were copper – bottomed and rigged with one or two masts and manned by a crew of twenty to thirty men. The American navy had used Italian gunboats with some success against Tripoli. In February 1807 President Jefferson and the Congress authorized 278 gunboats of which only 176 were built.46  Gunboats had serious drawbacks they could weigh as much as seven thousand pounds, which meant that a shallow-drafted gunboat would not fare well in heavy seas.  Even experienced sailors (always in short supply) had trouble with these cumbersome vessels and nearly all had harrowing difficulties of steering a gunboat across the Atlantic.47 Samuel Barron was a supporter of the use of gunboats at least for coastal defense. In his 1807 letter to Thomas Jefferson Barron states, “My residence having always been near the Chesapeake enables me to remark more particularly on the effect of Gunboats opposed to Ships within the Capes of Virginia …Gunboats stationed in Hampton Roads and it’s vicinity would be sufficient to repel any predatory attack in that quarter and be very formidable to a larger force.”48 The war of 1812 made the administration rethink their maritime strategy with the result that the navy quickly returned many of these boats to the various shipyards for storage.49

46 Ian W. Toll, 285-287

47 Gunboats due to their awkward structure made crossing the Atlantic Ocean extremely perilous.  For example Gunboat No. 7, captained by Lieutenant Peter S. Ogilvie,
sailed from Brooklyn New York on May 14.1805. Six days out the small vessel sprung her mast, necessitating a returned to port.  After a quick repair, Gunboat No.7 sailed
again, and was never heard of afterwards. Similarly Gunboat No. 8 had a stormy passage, but, her commander, Lieutenant Nathaniel Harraden, was a veteran seaman. Harraden
reported to Commodore Preble that Number 8 behaved well and he considered her "perfectly safe to cross the Atlantic."  In a letter to the Secretary of the Navy Robert
Smith 2 April 1805 he stated "I am an old seaman, myself and have experienced heavy gales in Every class of Vessels from a Cod Smak to a ship of the line, there is but
one danger those Boats will be exposed to in a crossing of the Atlantic that is this scudding in heavy gales adding there great length to their easy draft will occasion
there stern out of the water. This danger can be remedied by doping the Rudder" John G. Sharp Nathaniel Harraden  Sailing Master accessed 17 April 2019

48 Samuel Barron to Thomas Jefferson 8 February 1807 Thomas Jefferson Papers 1606 -1827 Library of Congress accessed 2 May 2019

49 McKee,  A Gentlemanly and Honorable Profession the Creation of the U.S. Naval Officer Corps, 1794-1815, 310 – 311

During his brief tenure as Commandant of Gosport Navy Yard Samuel Barron was ably seconded by Lieutenant later Captain Robert Henley (1783-1828) who had served in the Quasi-War with France and the Barbary War. Henley was born in Williamsburg, Virginia, and like Barron educated at the College of William and Mary. Henley was the nephew of Martha Dandridge Custis Washington and a member of the Virginia elite. After service with Edward Preble's squadron in the Mediterranean and a cruise to the East Indies, Henley received his first command, Gunboat No. 5, at Baltimore, Maryland, on 9 April 1808.  Henley’s familiarity with gunboats led to his command of two divisions of 15 gunboats in the War of 1812 which drove three British frigates from Hampton Roads.

Samuel Barron’s years of hard service in the Caribbean and Mediterranean had taken their toll on his body, and his health never fully recovered from yellow fever. He died suddenly of “apoplexy” (probably a stroke) on the morning of 29 October 1810, at the age of 45.50 Following Samuel Barron’s death, Robert Henley remained on as acting commandant until the arrival of Captain Samuel Evans on 21 May 1811.51

50 Robert Henley to Paul Hamilton 29 October 1810 Officers Letters, Officers Letters to the Secretary of the Navy Vol 15 -16 Roll 0008 NARA RG 45

51 Robert Henley to Secretary of the Navy 21 May 1811,Officers letters to the Secretary of the Navy by officers assigned to ships, stations, and Navy bureaus Navy Officers Letters 1802-1884 Roll 8 Volume 15 -16 2 Jul 1810 - 31 May 1811RG 45 NARA

Transcription: This transcription was made from digital images of letters and documents received by the Secretary of the Navy, NARA, M125 “Captains Letters” National Archives and Records, Officers Letters, Officers Letters to the Secretary of the Navy Vol 15 -16 Roll 0008 NARA RG 45 and Naval Documents Relating to Barbary War Vol. I -6 Editor Dudley Knox (US Government Printing Office: Washington DC 1939 -1942)  In transcribing all passages from the letters and memorandum, I have striven to adhere as closely as possible to the original in spelling, capitalization, punctuation, abbreviations, and superscripts, etc., including the retention of dashes and underlining found in the original. Words and passages that were crossed out in the letters are transcribed either as overstrikes or in notes. Words which are unreadable or illegible are so noted in square brackets. When a spelling is so unusual as to be misleading or confusing, the correct spelling immediately follows in square brackets and italicized type or is discussed in a foot note. John G. Sharp, 14 May 2019


[31 May 1804] To Captain Samuel Barren, U, S. Navy, from President Thomas Jefferson

THOMAS JEFFERSON — President of the United States of America INSTRUCTIONS — (Seal) To Commodore Samuel Barron Commanding a Squadron of Armed Vessels belonging to the United States: — Given at the City of Washington in the District of Columbia this Day of May, in the Year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and four, and in the 28th  Year of our Independence — WHEREAS, it is declared by the Act entitled "an Act for the protection of the Commerce and Seamen of the United States, against the Tripolitan Cruisers" That it Shall be lawful fully to equip, Officer, Man and employ, Such of the Armed Vessels of the United States, as may be judged requisite by the President of the United States, for protecting effectually the Commerce and Seamen thereof, on the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean and adjoining Seas: and also, that it shall be lawful for the President of the United States to instruct the Commanders of the respective public Vessels, to subdue, seize, and make prize, of all vessels, goods and effects, belonging to the Bey of Tripoli or to his Subjects — WHEREFORE, and in pursuance of the said Statute, You are hereby authorized and directed to subdue, seize, and make prize, of all vessels, goods and effects, belonging to the Bey of Tripoli, or to his subjects, and to bring or send the same into port, to be proceeded against and distributed according to Law — AND in virtue of the Act of Congress entitled, "an Act further to protect the Commerce and Seamen of the United States, against the Barbary powers". You will consider Yourself hereby further authorized and directed to proceed against any other of the Barbary Powers which may commit hostilities against the United States, in the same manner, and to the same extent, as You have been Authorized and directed to proceed against the Vessels, goods, and effects belonging to the Bashaw of Tripoli or to his Subjects — Signd — TH. JEFFERSON President of the United States of America (Seal) By command of the President of the United States of America Signd R SMITH Secretary of the Navy.52

52 Naval Documents Relating to Barbary War Vol 5 Editor Dudley Knox (US Government Printing Office: Washington DC 1944), 32


Editor’s note: This 6 June 1804 from the Secretary of the Navy provided detailed instructions to Commodore Samuel Barron regarding his objectives and the resources available for the Mediterranean Squadron.

[To] Captain Samuel Barron U. S. Navy

[From]Secretary of the Navy                                                                    Navy Department June 6, 1804
Commodore S. Barron,

With this you will receive Letter No.1 containing your Instructions for the general government of your Conduct on a Cruise [Nos. 1 to 6 are dated 31 May 1804],letter 2 laying down the principles of Blockade, letter 3 of instructions in relation to officers, letter 4 of Instructions in relation to the Crew of the Philadelphia now captives in Tripoli, letter 5 authorizing the establishment of a Hospital letter No.6 ordering a Court of Enquiry upon Capt. Bainbridge [and ]letter 7  directing that Midshipmen shall do duty in The Tops [2 June 1804] The loss of the frigate Philadelphia which may have operated with the Barbary Regencies to the prejudice of our national Character, and has subjected a number of our Fellow Citizens to the Condition of Slaves, requires our attention. All that a sound mind, an ardent Zeal and daring valor could achieve with the force committed to Commodore Preble has been performed by him, His force. however, is not adequate to the accomplishment of our purposes, we therefore have put four additional Vessels in commission and the President having the highest confidence in your judgment, valor and enterprise has been pleased to confer upon you the Command of all our forces in The Mediterranean which on your arrival there will consist of the frigate President  of 44 guns, the frigate Congress of 36 guns, the frigate Constitution of 44 guns, the frigate Essex of 32 guns, the frigate Constellation of 36 guns the Brig Siren of 16 guns, the Brig Argus of 16 guns, the schooner Vixen of 12 guns, the schooner Nautilus of 12 guns. [Also] the schooner Enterprise of 12 guns & the John Adams armed en flute which is to be employed as a Transport Ship.53

53 The term “en flute” was used because empty gun ports made the side of vessel look like a flute. Christopher McKee Edward Preble, 209

With this force it is conceived that no doubt whatever can exist of your coercing Tripoli to a Treaty upon our own Terms and of you preventing the effects of hostile dispositions which may be entertained towards us on the part of any other of the Barbary Powers. The varying Aspects of our Affairs in the Mediterranean, the great distance between this Country and the probable places of your operations render it improper to prescribe to you any particular course of Conduct. We therefore leave you unrestrained in your movements and at liberty to pursue the dictates of your own judgment, subject to the general accompanying Instructions. It is however the expectation of the President that you will without intermission maintain during the Season in which it may be safely done, an effectual Blockade of Tripoli, and that you will by all other means in your power annoy the Enemy so as to force him to a peace honorable to the United States, and it is submitted to you whether during such Blockade it would not be advisable to keep some of your Squadron cruising off Cape Bon. With respect to the Ex-Bashaw of Tripoli, we have no objection to you availing yourself of his cooperation with you against Tripoli, if you shall upon a full view of the subject after your arrival upon the Station, consider his co-operation expedient. The subject is com- mitted entirely to your discretion. In such an event you will, it is believed, find Mr. Eaton extremely useful to you. You will keep a vigilant Eye over the movements of all the other Barbary Powers, & communicate frequently with our Consuls at Algiers, Tunis, and Tangier, and should any of these Powers be induced to declare or wage war against the United States, it is the Command of the President and you are hereby instructed to protect our Commerce by all the means in your power against them. Co[rnel] Tobias Lear our Consul General at Algiers is invested by the President with full power and authority to negotiate a Treaty of Peace with the Bashaw of Tripoli, and also to adjust such terms of conciliation as may be found necessary with any of the other Barbary Powers. He is therefore to be conveyed by you to any of these Regencies as he may request of you, and you will cordially cooperate with him in all such measures as may be deemed the best calculated to effectuate a termination of The war with Tripoli and to ensure a continuance of the friendship and respect of the other Barbary Powers. Colonel Lear has made some advances on account of the Crew of the late frigate Philadelphia. You will ascertain from him what the amount may be and reimburse him out of the funds at your Command. — For the Disbursements of your Squadron, you have on Board of your Ship 20,000 Dollars, and a credit is deposited for you with Messrs.' McKenzie & Glennie, London, and Messrs. Degen, & Purviance, Leghorn, who will also deposit a credit for you with Frederick Degen esquire at Naples. In all your Bills you will be particularly careful to mention the purposes for which they are drawn. The following Gentlemen are our Agents, Messrs. Degen & Purviance at Leghorn,. Frederick Degen Esqr at Naples George Dyson Esqr at Syracuse, William Higgins Esq. at Malta, John Gavino Esq. at Gibraltar  [and] Stephen Cathalan Esq. at Marseilles and Toulon. They will all give to your Squadron, all assistance in their power. Mr. Eaton is our Agent for the Barbary Regencies. He is to be suffered to return to The United States whenever he shall request it. We have a deposit of provisions in Syracuse which with the Cargo of The John Adams will, we calculate, be sufficient for the Squadron till the first December next. We shall immediately send a small vessel carrying about 800 Barrels with provisions to be landed at Gibraltar where she will probably arrive before the Squadron. The Squadron can call there and replenish should this Vessel have arrived. If she should not have arrived the Squadron will proceed aloft and the provisions to be carried out in this small vessel will be deposited in Gibraltar subject to your orders for the use of the Squadron.

In a few weeks we shall send you another Provision Vessel with directions to go first to Gibraltar, thence to proceed aloft if required.  I enclose a Letter to Commodore Preble left open. You will be pleased to deliver it to him yourself without sealing it. I also enclose a Letter for Capt. Bainbridge which you will be pleased to forward. As soon as your Squadron is ready for Sea you will weigh Anchor and proceed off Tripoli with all practicable dispatch. If you can take out in the Squadron, a Bowsprit from Norfolk for the Constitution it will be desirable, if you cannot take it out we shall shortly send it by a Provision Vessel. You will keep me constantly informed of all your proceedings. I have only to subjoin my wishes for your success and glory.  [NDA LB, 1799-1807.]

Editor’s note: Commodore Edward Preble’s health by 1804 was in decline. In this letter Samuel Barron provides instructions and wishes him a “safe and pleasant voyage to your country and friends.”

 [To Captain Edward Preble]

                                                U.S. Navy U. S. Frigate President off Tripoli        September 11th 1804
                I cannot withhold my acquiescence to your wishes to return to America; — I have to lament the want of your aid on this station; but as there is an officer now here to fill up the vacancy & from some circumstances with which I have become acquainted since my arrival in the Mediterranean1, I am persuaded your presence will be very acceptable to the Secretary of the Navy, there being at present but few officers of rank in America — The Frigate John Adams Captain Chauncey, as soon as she deposits her stores &c, and is otherwise ready can accommodate you not only with your passage to America, but you will also please to use this ship for the purpose of conveying you to Palermo & Naples to settle the accounts of the Squadron whilst under your command. The State & condition of the Constitution make it necessary that she should go immediately into port to refit — I conceive it Hazardous to risk a gale of wind with her & as the season is particularly dangerous you will do well to take the first opportunity of going to Port for this purpose after having called at Malta, Syracuse & Messina to settle your accounts, & deposit the stores loaned by the Neapolitan Government. You will please to give the command of the ship to Capt. Stephen Decatur & direct him as soon as she is in readiness for sea to join the Squadron off Tripoli — Wishing you a safe arrival after a pleasant passage to your country & friends, I remain with sentiments of respect & esteem Sir Your Most Ob Humble Servant (Signed) Saml Barron [LC. EPP, LB, April-Nov. 1804.]

= = = = = = = = = =

Editor’s note: In his 19 March 1810 letter Samuel Barron wrote the new Secretary of the Navy Paul Hamilton stating his desire for a return to active service, reminds Hamilton of his past services, the upcoming new post as Commandant of the Gosport Navy Yard and his financial hardship on half pay. Barron’s financial lost was real. In reality half pay; always a misnomer, for not only was Barron’s pay cut in half from $1,200 per year to 600 per year but he lost all his cash compensation for rations and housing.54

54 McKee A Gentlemanly and Honorable Profession the Creation of the U.S. Naval Officer Corps, 1794-1815, 336 -337

Hampton 19th March 1810
                The Peculiarity of my Situation which is not necessary to describe to you Sir, has prevented my addressing you on your Appointment to the Head of the Department, to which I shall have been attached for some years, as one of the Captains, subject to its orders, and before I proceed further, I beg to apologize for having until now neglected to report myself, and to explain my Reason for a Delay, which may be considered improper.

                The manner & the Particular time, where I was deprived of all Public Employment, and some reasons I had to suspect, that unfavorable Imputations  had been made on your mind with respect to me, has retarded the disposition, I felt  to make myself known as an officer of the Navy – This idea has been removed however by a communication I had lately with an officer, who the Honor of your acquaintance, as well as by some Communications thorough other channels -  I am gratified at believing my impression was not well founded – I am induced to hope you will view this letter as a candid appeal to you Decision  - whether I am to be considered as meriting your attention, or not. I hope Sir, you will not believe I meant to ask of you, what you may not feel deposed to grant, far be it from me to trouble you with anything which may disagreeable to you -  notwithstanding, that this length  of time in which I have in the Service of my Country, if not beneficially, certainly, zealously entitles  one to some share of the Benefits  - at this period of my life when it would be  very  disagreeable  to revert  to the mode in which I had been accustom to gain a subsistence  for my family(and as comfortable one)  before I relinquish it to enter  the second time, into public service,  where I have been perhaps [illegible]  while very young, in the latter part of the Revolutionary War.

                I have been informed that  a Captain is to be placed (as Commandant)   in the Navy Yard at Gosport, my Rank entitles   to such a situation, and I am induced to solicit it from you - & in the event  War which some think may happen, I should have no objection to command a garrison of Gun vessels, which  may probably  be employed  in this vicinity – I have (however erroneous the opinion  that those kind of vessels will be useful & if found in such a command will [illegible] would be honorable – were they now disposed of without, I might act improperly in accepting the command of one of them, because to be subject to subject to the  vicissitudes  of which a life at Sea invariably exposes the Commander, as well those onboard it might again reduce me too the miserable state which I have recovered since my return from the Mediterranean. Be pleased to   excuse me Sir, if I am using too much [illegible] with you   when I say the Operation of the half pay System  has much injured my finances – They having been nothing improved since I have been in the service - With Great Respect I have the Honor to be Sir Your Obt Servt
                                                            Sam Barron


Navy Yard Gosport Sept 3rd 1810

            I have the honor to address -you for the first time, after having assumed the Command of this Place. I have since been engaged in making my observations &c to ascertain the situation of this N. Yard,  and when the tides have been so low, as to leave the Boats hauled up here, clear of the Water, inspect into their State, Condition (within the precision of my power) agreeable to the following report.

            In the Gun Boats No. 60, 61, 62, 63, 67, 68, & 69 – there was made considerable progress in the sheathing. The after part of all their keels & also on the under part of the keel itself, particularly where the water has at times remained lower then these boats No. 69   is so much injured, that it is necessary to take of the defective part, in order to prevent [illegible] making any further Progress- The sheathing of the Ketch also so much injured, as to render her useless, until it is taken off. The Boats afloat consist of No. 44, 10 and 59 of which [illegible] are sound, and have been employed occasionally by the Essex &c for some time past. No1, is much out of Repair &c has been used a Tank for watering  the Ships, in the [harbor] No. 59 is Rigged Complete, appears to be in good order &c in all respects fit for service. 

            Those new Boats, not yet launched, which I have visited have been injured by being some time on the Stock, which was necessary to shift some plank (it having shrunk very much) can be [illegible] into the water – There is also a deficiency in the return of some sail, masts &c other materials with which it will be necessary to supply them (I presume) when ordered into [service] of those particulars I shall have Honor to inform you in [illegible] as soon. I have made myself better acquainted with all aspects appertaining to this Command & when    [three words illegible] but be dispensed with – With Great Respect I have the Honor to be Sir Your Obt Servt
                                                            Sam Barron


To Commodore Samuel Barron
                                                                                                Navy Department, September 29, 1810.
In defining your duties and your authority in the yard at Gosport, it will be sufficient for me to state that all the military stores of every description will be under your care; that the direction of all improvements in the yard, and of all reparations to our vessels at the yard are committed to you; and that within the yard you are to have the entire, undivided command. The navy-agent, as heretofore, will have the charge of all stores other than military, and he must have a warehouse at the yard for their safe-keeping, with perfect liberty of ingress and egress.
Paul Hamilton


Editor’s note: Commodore Barron’s death from a stroke on the morning of October 29, 1810 was unexpected and left Lt. Robert Henley in charge of the shipyard.

                                                                                                                Navy Yard Gosport                                                                                                                                                                             October 29th 1810
[To]The Honorable Paul Hamilton55
Secretary of the Navy 
I have the painful duty to inform you of the death of Commodore Samuel Barron. In apparent good health, he was attacked while at dinner yesterday in Hampton with an apoplectic fit and expired about 10 o’clock this morning.56  I have the honor to be with profound respect your most obedient servant
                                                Ro[bert] Henley  Lieut. 57

55 Paul Hamilton 1762 –1816  the 3rd United States Secretary of the Navy, from 1809 to 1813

56 An apoplectic fit, also known as apoplexy, refers to a sudden neurological impairment often resulting from a brain hemorrhage or stroke.

57 Captain Robert Henley USN 1783 – 1828 Henley participated in the engagement on 2 February 1800 between Constellation and La Vengeane during the Quasi-War with France. After service with Edward Preble's squadron in the Mediterranean and a cruise to the East Indies, Henley received his first command, Gunboat No. 5, at Baltimore, Maryland on 9 April 1808. Henley was in command of two divisions of 15 gunboats which drove three British frigates from Hampton Roads on 20 June 1813. Reporting to brig Eagle, he received the thanks of Congress and a Congressional Gold Medal for valiant conduct in the Battle of Lake Champlain 11 September 1814. With the end of the War of 1812, Henley filled a variety of billets before commanding Hornet against pirates in the West Indies. He captured the pirate schooner Moscow off Santo Domingo 29 October 1821. After serving as commandant of the Naval Rendezvous at Norfolk 1822 to 1824, he reported for similar duty at Charleston, South Carolina. Captain Robert Henley died at Sullivan's Island, Charleston, after a short illness 7 October 1828.


Norfolk Gazette and Publick Ledger (Norfolk, Virginia), 31 Oct 1810, 2

DIED - On Sunday last, suddenly, in Hampton, COMMODORE SAMUEL BARRON, of the United States Navy, and late commander of a squadron in the Mediterranean

COMMODORE BARRON was one of those Americans, who French violence and injustice, induced to quit the peaceful and lucrative merchant service, to meet the enemy of his country in arms, at that honorable epoch of American history, the year 1798. He was first appointed commander of the Augusta Brig, a vessel equipped by citizens of Norfolk, and in compliment to whom, their favorite Barron was appointed to command. The expectations of his particular friends, of those who had known him from his youth, and marked his prudence, judgement and courage, were answered by his conduct, he rose gradually in service, until he was appointed to command in the Mediterranean against the Bay of Tripoli, and remained in command until peace was conducted with the Regency, when he returned to his country, in a state of health, that exited the apprehensions of his friends. He however, recovered, but for reasons with which the writer is unacquainted, the government did not think proper to employ him in the service, to which his rank and experience gave him just pretensions. This neglect, not to say injustice, was felt with the nicest military sensibility, but sustained by a dignified constancy which disdained to complain. Within a few months past, he was appointed to the superintendence of the Naval Arsenal at Gosport, an employment which he accepted and would have discharged with advantage to the service, and with credit to himself.

In the private walks of life, Commodore Barron was greatly and justly esteemed.58

58 Norfolk Gazette and Publick Ledger (Norfolk, Virginia), p. 3


Editor’s note: In his 19 Nov 1810 letter Lt. Robert Henley writes to Secretary of the Navy Paul Hamilton, an update on the state of the navy yard and gunboats.59

59 Robert Henley to Paul Hamilton 19 November 1810 Officers Letters, Officers Letters to the Secretary of the Navy Vol 15 -16 Roll 0008 NARA RG 45

                                                                                Norfolk Nov 19th 1810
[To] Paul Hamilton
                I have the honor to receive your letter of the 8th instant. I feel honored by the confidence you are pleased to repose entrusting to my care the establishment here until you appoint a successor to the later Commodore Barron. I have the satisfaction to acquaint you Sir; the officers under the command of Commodore Barron did deem it a respect due his memory to wear crape.
Commodore Barron left no Instructions with me relative to the duties to be performed at the Navy Yard. He did speak of our intention to have all the Gun boats launched and have their keels, such as were injured by the worm repaired. But I believe the injury sustained, if any has not been considerable and I beg leave to suggest the propriety of deferring the job to a more favorable season. We have at this time here very few men in the Yard, and the term of service for some of those few are nearly expires, we should therefore necessarily have to increase our force very considerably.  Commodore Barron expressed his intention to ship fifteen or twenty men in addition to those in the Yard. That intention also has not been carried into effect. An armorer was much wanted, and as offer (which seldom occurs) offered of getting a good one, I thought it best to profit of it and engage him.
I am very sorry to inform you, Sir that the Gunner who was an ingenious and useful officer died a few days since. The Powder Magazine is nearly finished and I expect in the course of a few days to have powder removed to it.  I have the honor to be with profound respect your most obedient servant

                                                Ro[bert] Henley  Lieut.


 Editor’s note: This letter from Lt. Robert Henley to the Secretary of the Navy dated 21 May 1811 gives some idea of how difficult it was for Henley a junior officer to manage the shipyard workforce. The senior officer on site Commodore Decatur had reassigned all seamen at the navy yard to duty aboard the frigates leaving Henley with a much depleted workforce and no one to build or repair the gunboats. The arrival of Commodore Samuel Evans to assume command of the shipyard must have been a source of relief for Henley.60

60 Robert Henley to William Jones 21 May 1811 Officers Letters, Officers Letters to the Secretary of the Navy Vol 15 -16 Roll 0008 NARA RG 45

Norfolk                 21 May 1811
                The two Gun Boats which I had the honor to inform you were equipped and manned and have been detained a few days in order to get their Cannonades fitted.
                On the 19th instant various corroborating reports being received here that a heavy cannonading was heard off the Capes of Virginia on Thursday the 16th instant and for some circumstance it being believed to have been occasioned by the attack of the U. States frigate President upon the British frigate Commodore Decatur though it advisable to prepare his Ship as soon as possible for Service. He accordingly ordered all men for the Gun Boats, and required all that could be spared from the Navy Yard, to repair on board the frigate U. States. We are still uninformed where the firing proceeded, but the wind having prevailed from the Northward and Eastward since it took place it is believed that it would not have been (as was first conjectured) an engagement between an American and English frigate, or we should certainly by this time have heard more about it.
Captain Samuel Evans has arrived here and will today assume the charge of this Establishment. With highest consideration, I have the honor to be Sir, your most obedient servant 61

                                                                                Ro. Henley

61 Samuel Evans was a long-serving officer in the United States Navy. Evans served with distinction during Quasi-War with France, the First Barbary War and the War of 1812. He later served as the commandant of the New York Navy Yard from 1813 until his death in 1824. In Norfolk Navy Yard Evans concentrated on fitting out and manning gunboats and the overall readiness of the shipyard. In his letter to Secretary of the Navy Paul Hamilton dated 24 June 1812, Evans complained "I regret that I have to state there is now scarcely a possibility to procure a seaman here. It is said there is not more than twenty in Norfolk.” The Naval War of 1812 A Documentary History Volume 1 editor, Dudley, William S. (Government Printing Office: Washington DC 1985).135 and 151-152. Evans was ordered to Boston in August 1812 to assume command of the USS Chesapeake.


Editor on footnotes: Names, ranks, dates of naval and marine officers, listed below are unless otherwise specified, from Naval History and Heritage Command Officers Continental and US Navy and Marine Corps 1775 -1900