Page images
PDF
EPUB

The American revolution had excited deep interest in all the courts of Europe, and the effects of the war between Great Britain and France and Spain, were not only severely felt by Holland, but by all the northern nations, in their commercial intercourse with the two latter kingdoms. Their navigation was interrupted, and subjected to vexatious detentions and unwarrantable captures by the fleets of Great Britain, as the government claimed and exercised the right of searching neutral vessels for articles contraband of war, and enemies' property, which so excited the resentment of those outraged nations, that Catharine II. at last determined to adopt measures for protecting her commerce against such audacious and insulting molestations in future. Negotiations were, therefore, opened with France, Sweden, and Denmark, in 1780, for maturing a plan that would enable them to maintain their maritime rights inviolate, which re. sulted in the memorable treaty of ARMED NEUTRALITY, by which they agreed to use FORCE for the security of their ships against VISITATION AND SEARCH. Prussia, Austria, Spain, and Holland, soon after united with those nations in that bold and energetic measure ; and the co-operation of the United States having been early requested by Catharine, Congress adopted the following resolution, on the fifth of October, 1780 :

"Her Imperial Majesty, of all the Russias, attentive to the freedom of commerce and the rights of nations, in her declaration to the belligerent and neutral powers, having proposed regulations founded upon principles of justice, equity, and moderation, of which their Most Christian and Catholic Majesties, and most of the neutral maritime powers of Europe, have declared their approbation ;

Congress, willing to testify their regard to the rights of commerce, and their respect for the sovereign who both proposed and the powers who have approved the said regulation : therefore, Resolved, that the Board of Admiralty prepare and report instructions for the commanders of armed vessels commissioned by the United States, conformable to the principles contained in the declaration of the Empress of all the Russias, on the rights of neutral vessels :

" That the ministers plenipotentiary from the United States, if invited thereto, be, and hereby are respectively empowered to accede to such regulations, conformable to the spirit of the said declaration, as may be agreed upon by the Congress expected to assemble, in pursuance of the invitation of Her Imperial Majesty.”.

Thus, a power, which, however great in other respects, was still very inferior in consequence, in a naval point of view, became the dictator to the world of a new code of maritime laws, essentially different from those which had been established for several hundred years among commercial nations; and having for their chief object, the overthrow of that sove. reignty on the ocean which had been arrogated by Great Britain. Every possible effort was made, by the English ministry, to break up that powerful and alarming league, but without success; and, not being in a condi. tion to contravene the principles which had been so determinedly assumed, they were, for the time, practically established as a part of the law of nations.

The great principle of the armed neutrality was, that “ FREE SHIPS MAKE FREE GOODS ;" and this was so far extended, that it was declared neutral States had a right to carry on commerce with nations in a state of war, with the same degree of convenience, ease, and safety, as in time of

peace; that neutrals had a right to carry and render, free, all things, from one port of a belligerent nation to another, without let or impediment, saving only such articles as were deemed contraband of war, by the stipu. lations of former treaties; and to freely navigate the coasts of nations at war; and that by ports blockaded, were to be considered only such as were so strictly watched by the armed ships of the powers which invested them, that to enter would be dangerous.

Great exertions were made by the Empress of Russia to enable her to maintain the principles and enforce the regulations which were established by the treaties that had been concluded by all the maritime nations of the globe, except England and Portugal, for the freedom of navigation, so far, at least, as regarded her own commercial feets; and, twelve ships of the line having been built at Cherson, and eight at Cronstadt, the imperial ma. rine amounted to forty-two ships of the line for the Baltic, and twelve for the Euxine, before the close of the year 1781, when the armed neutrality fearlessly displayed its flag in all the northern seas, and the Mediterranean.

So eminent were the talents of Catharine II., so ably were the compli. cated, difficult, and onerous duties of her exalted station performed, and so splendid was her reign, that she has been appropriately designated by the expressive appellation of the “ NORTHERN SEMIRAMIS."

NEARCHUS.

Art. II.-NAVAL AND MERCANTILE BIOGRAPHY

COMMODORE JOHN DRAKE SLOAT.

“Retinens vestigia fama." The importance of our late national acquisition on the borders of the Pacific Ocean, whereby a vast and fruitful territor y, in a salubrious climate, containing one of the best harbors in the world, is secured for the supply and protection of our extensive whaling interest in that quarter, seems to call for a passing notice of the distinguished officer by whom the enterprise was so promptly conducted, and so happily consummated ; a result showing that other qualities than personal bravery are necessary to consti

. tute able commanders, as well as to the attainment of great ends ;—that a knowledge of human nature, and diplomatic skill, have proved as success. ful as the sword ; thus humanely averting the sorrows which usually follow in the train of the conqueror. And we hope, by recounting some inci. dents in the life of this gallant and scientific seaman, we shall

stimulate the future heroes of our navy—the guardians of our commerce—no less with a high sense of moral responsibility, than a praiseworthy emulation of professional skill.

John DRAKE SLOAT was born in Goshen, Orange county, New York; the posthumous son of Captain John Sloat, whose unfortunate fate it was to be accidentally shot by a sentinel, near his quarters in Rock. land county, just before the close of the war by which the independence of his country was achieved, and in which he served with credit. His widow survived her sudden bereavement but short period, and the care of this, their only son, devolved on his maternal relatives, who seem to have been properly impressed with the responsibility they had assumed. Their protégé was well instructed in mathematics, and in the rudi. ments of an English education--all that our country schools afforded

at that period. As his grandfather Drake (a descendant of a collateral branch of the family of the celebrated admiral and circumnavigator) was wont to relate the adventures of his illustrious relative, he did not fail to inspire his charge with a thirst for travel and enterprise. The taste thus inculcated, so fully displayed itself in youth as to induce our young adventurer to quit an endeared fireside for a berth in the

navy,

that he might the better gratify his predilection.

This was during our quasi war with France, and in the heyday of our na. val successes over the haughty flag of the Directory. It was at a period, too, when the revolutionary service of the sire presented an irresistible claim for the public employment of the deserving son; and we find, by the navy register, that a midshipman's warrant was granted to our aspirant, on the twelfth of February, 1800.

Mr. Sloat was ordered to the frigate “ President,” Commodore Trux. ton, who took command of her soon after his gallant exploits in the “Constellation ;"—the capture of the French frigates, “L'Insurgente," and “La Vengeance.") It was young Sloat's good fortune here, also, to serve under that strict disciplinarian and accomplished officer, Commodore Chauncey, at that time first lieutenant of the “* President." With such models before him, during a lengthened service in the south of Eu. rope, he was enabled to lay the foundation of a professional reputation which has proved no less creditable to himself than honorable to his country

Disappointment, so common in life, soon interposed to blast, for a time, the prospects of our naval debutant. The profligate sway of the Directory being overthrown, the First Consul, happy to relieve his new-born power from the difficulties and unpopularity of an American war, ac. cepted terms for peace. Those terms, proffered by Mr. Adams, and by which he expected to retain power, were far from being advantageous to us. By stipulating to restore the national vessels of France which had been captured, we gave up the trophies of victory, and purchased peace at the cost of fourteen millions of dollars,* (the amount of her spolia. tions on our commerce,) without an equivalent. A bill for compromising these claims, thus assumed by our government, it will be remembered, was passed by Congress at its last session, and vetoed by the Exo ecutive.

At the reduction of the navy, which took place upon Mr. Jefferson's accession to the presidency, in 1801, Mr. Sloat took a furlough ; and the prospect of active employment being so remote, he, with many others, neglected to report himself at its expiration ; thereby virtually abandoning the service. He had acquired such knowledge of seamanship as enabled him to command merchant vessels, which he navigated with success long before he attained his majority. His grandfather Drake having deceased about this time, bequeathed him a valuable property, including twelve slaves, which were manumitted as soon as they came into his possession,

Fond of the sea, he disposed of his estate, and embarked his all in a vessel of which he took command, and sustained great loss during several successive voyages ; commerce being more of a lottery during the European wars than now. Nothing daunted, however, by these frowns

• See Mr. Rice's able article on French spoliations, in the October number of this work.

of fortune, Mr. Sloat pursued the course he had marked out for himself, with various success, until the war with England, of 1812, threw him out of business. Thus circumstanced, he gladly availed himself of an offer made by his old and esteemed friend, Commodore Decatur, to become sailing master of the frigate " United States," with promise of an early opportunity to regain his rank. The promise was soon fulfilled; for, on the 25th of October, 1812, the British frigate “ Macedonian” was captured in single combat, under the following circumstances :-The enemy tenaciously maintained the weather-gage for some time, which enabled him advantageously to discharge his long guns at a distance be. yond the reach of the carronades of the “ United States.” At length, an unfortunate mancuvre of the enemy enabled Mr. Sloat to bring him to close quarters, whereby the battle came to a speedy and successful issue. Though wounded in the face, he did not quit his post during the action. For his gallantry and skill, at the recommendation of Com. modore Decatur, Mr. Sloat was immediately promoted to the rank of lieutenant.

The “United States” arrived off New London, on the fourth of Decem. ber, where she was blockaded for the remainder of the war. During the period which thus intervened, Lieutenant Sloat married a daughter of the late James Gordon, Esq., a Norwich merchant of high respectability.

At the restoration of peace, Mr. Sloat took another furlough, and again engaged in commerce. He purchased and took command of the clipper “ Transit," and loaded her for France. It so happened that he was with this schooner at Nantz, at the period when the public life of the great Napoleon was closed forever. In order to rescue the Emperor, several schemes were entertained ; and, amongst others, Mr. Sloat ar. ranged to receive him, with his suite, on board the “Transit,” and to transport them to the United States. This plan, so happily alluded to in the journal of a French officer, was frustrated by the indecision that marked the conduct of the friends of the Emperor on this occasion, and which eventuated in the surrender of the fallen hero, to the British blockading squadron.

Mr. Sloat was first lieutenant of the “ Franklin," under the veteran Commodore Stewart, during a large portion of that vexatious cruise in the Pacific, from 1820 to 1822, while on her borders were exhibited continued scenes of revolutionary contest.

He was first lieutenant to Commodore Biddle in the “Congress” frigate in 1823, and by great skill saved her when in imminent peril during a convulsion of nature which occurred at La Guayra, in the autumn of that year. Mr. David Winton, an aged seaman, now an inmate of that invaluable institution, the “ Sailor's Snug Harbor,has thus related to us the circumstances of it:

“ Commodore Biddle was ashore when an earthquake sunk the southwest part of the city. This was succeeded by a hurricane which drove from their moorings, and entirely destroyed twenty-two merchant vessels, and a Colombian man-of-war, with their crews : five only out of the whole were picked up by a boat from the Congress. This boat and crew, consisting of a quarter-master and four men, were lost directly after, in endeavoring to afford further relief.”

“ At the beginning of the blow Mr. Sloat ordered the boatswain to pipe all hands, when he urged us to obey the officers and stand by the ship-promising full pay and rations till we should reach home, in case the ship was wrecked. We

parted our chain and other cables, excepting the best bower, which so dragged as to bring us near enough to pitch a biscuit to the rocks. I never have witnessed so hopeless a prospect

as ours at that moment, and thank God we were enabled safely to ride it out. Soon as the blow abated, Commodore Biddle came on board on a catamarine,* and praised Mr. Sloat in the highest terms, for his skill in saving the Congress,' when every other vessel in the port was lost.

“We immediately left for Curacoa, to get a supply of cables and anchors, for the want of which we had to hazard a run on the wash."

Mr. Sloat soon after took command of the schooner “Grampus," on the * African station, where his services in suppressing the slave trade were highly commended by the Colonization Society. His activity and enterprise marked him as an efficient officer, for checking the piracies prevalent in the West Indies in 1824–5; and he was ordered to cruise among the Windward Islands. While at St. Thomas, a fire broke out, and as no reliance could be placed on the slave population, the city must have fallen a sacrifice to the flames, but for the intrepidity of Captain Sloat, his officers and crew.

A large subscription was made by the inhabitants and tendered, but which was respectfully declined by Captain Sloat, on behalf of his officers and men.

For the following narrative the writer is indebted to the kindness of an officer who was attached to the Grampus at the period referred to :

“While at St. Thomas, in March, 1825, information was obtained by Governor Von Scholten, that Cofrecinas, a pirate of celebrity, was off Porto Rico, and he immediately communicated it to Captain Sloat, and laid an embargo on all vessels in port, that the expedition contemplated for his capture might not be made known.

“ After cruising in vain for several days, Captain Sloat went into Ponce, Porto Rico, and had an understanding with the governor of that place, that in case he heard any firing along the coast, he was to order his horsemen to assemble at the spot. The next morning a suspicious sail was seen off the harbor, in a calm, and lest he should recognize and avoid the “Grampus,” (for she was well known to them all,) a coasting sloop was filled below with seamen and marines, and sent in pursuit, under the com. mand of the first lieutenant, now Captain Pendergrast. When the breeze sprung up in the afternoon, Cofrecinas' piratical vessel was discovered in an obscure harbor, called Boca de Infierno. He first ran for the sloop, which he knew, and felt sure of as a prize ; but when within pistol shot to windward, the signal was given, and the seamen and marines springing from below, fired a broadside into the astonished pirate, which cleared his deck for a moment of all but the undaunted Cofrecinas, who was at the helm. His men, however, shortly returned to their duty, and they kept up a running fight for more than an hour, displaying great skill in endeavoring to out-mancuvre the sloop and escape. But after losing several of his men, he was forced to run the vessel ashore : the survivors jumped overboard, and waded through the water, amidst the grape and musketry of the sloop, which killed several. The sloop had a four pound carronade, as also had the pirate, but he was unable to fire it, as his men were shot down whenever they attempted it. On the shore they were surrounded by the soldiers, who, in accordance with the understanding, assembled on hear

* A. raft made of two logs lashed together. VOL. XV.NO. V.

29

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »