“Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” yelled Admiral David Glasgow Farragut, who had lashed himself atop the mainsail to see above the smoke. His fleet of wooden ships, with hulls wrapped in chains, were accompanied by four iron clad monitors as they attacked Fort Morgan in Mobile Bay, Aug. 5, 1864. When one of the iron clad monitors, the Tecumseh, hit an underwater mine, called a torpedo, it quickly sank and the fleet faltered in confusion. David Glasgow Farragut rallied his sailors and drove them on to capture Mobile, Alabama, the last Confederate stronghold in the Gulf of Mexico.
David Glasgow Farragut’s father, Jordi Farragut Mesquida, was born in Spain and served as a Spanish merchant captain before joining the American Revolution. Jordi changed his name to George Farragut and served as a lieutenant in the South Carolina Navy. He fought at Savannah, was captured in the Siege of Charleston, then fought at the Battles of Cowpens and Wilmington.
George Farragut moved his family to New Orleans after the Louisiana Purchase. There, George Farragut met David Porter Sr., another Navy veteran of the American Revolution. David Porter Sr., contracted tuberculosis, and, after suffering sunstroke in 1808, was taken in by George Farragut and his wife Elizabeth, who cared for him. Tragically, David Porter Sr., died and later that same day George’s wife Elizabeth died of yellow fever. After losing his wife, George Farragut’s financial situation grew desperate and he was unable to provide for his children.
David Porter Sr.’s son, also named David Porter, became U.S. Navy Commodore. He offered to adopt George’s 8-year-old David Glasgow Farragut. Commodore David Porter had an illustrious career which began during the Quasi-War with France, serving as a midshipman on the USS Constellation, under the command of John Rogers. They captured the French ship L’Insurgente, Feb. 9, 1799. Porter was 1st lieutenant of the schooner USS Experiment and commanded the USS Amphitheatre.
During the First Barbary War (1801-07) against the Muslim pirates who were terrorizing the Mediterranean, Porter was 1st lieutenant of the Enterprise, New York, and Philadelphia. When the Philadelphia became stuck on an uncharted sand bar along the coast of North Africa, Oct.31, 1803, Muslim Barbary pirates surrounded it and captured the crew. Porter was among those held as prisoners in Tripoli for over a year and a half. After release, June 3, 1805, Porter continued patrolling the Mediterranean, as acting captain of the famous USS Constitution, and captain of the USS Enterprise.
During the War of 1812, David Porter was captain of the USS Essex, with his young 11-year-old adopted son, David Glasgow Farragut, on board as a midshipman. David Porter sailed around Cape Horn to the Pacific where he claimed the the Marquesas Islands for America in 1813. Congress never ratified the claim, thereby allowing France to take control of the Marquesas Islands in 1842 as part of French Polynesia.
As the War of 1812 continued, Porter raided British whaling ships in the South Pacific until his USS Essex was captured at the Battle of Valparaiso, Chile. Commodore David Porter later took command of an expedition to suppress piracy in the West Indies. When one of his officers was captured and jailed, Porter retaliated by raiding Fajardo, Puerto Rico. As this was an unauthorized action, Porter was pressured to resign.
David Porter went to Mexico and served as commander-in-chief of the Mexican Navy from 1826-1829. In 1829, the United States appointed him Minister to the Muslim Barbary States, and then U.S. Ambassador to the Muslim Ottoman Empire.
Named for him was:
- the ship USS Porter
- Porter, Indiana
- Porter County, Indiana
- Valparaiso, Indiana, named for Commodore Porter’s Battle of Valparaiso
David Porter’s adopted son, David Glasgow Farragut went on to serve aboard the USS Washington, 1817-1818, patrolling the Mediterranean Barbary Muslim Coast. David Glasgow Farragut spent nine months in Tunis as an aid to Navy Chaplain Charles Folsom, who was serving as the U.S. Consul, till a plague forced his departure.
In 1825, David Glasgow Farragut served on the USS Brandywine which was escorting Marquis de Lafayette back to France after his extended visit to America. On board was 19-year-old midshipman Matthew Fontaine Maury, who later became renown for charting wind and sea currents.
On April 19, 1862, David Glasgow Farragut captured New Orleans, the Confederacy’s largest city. Sailing the Mississippi River at night, his ships were difficult to hit with cannon fire as Farragut had covered the hulls with dark mud and tied tree branches to the rigging.
David Glasgow Farragut was promoted to be the first U.S. Navy Admiral. He was encouraged to run for president, but declined.
In David Glasgow Farragut’s honor are:
- A statue in New York City
- A statue in Washington, D.C.
- A Washington, D.C. city square and subway stop, Farragut Square
- Farragut, Tennessee
His son, Loyall Farragut, wrote in a book titled “The Life and Letters of Admiral David Glasgow Farragut”: “He never felt so near his Master as he did when in a storm, knowing that on his skill depended the safety of so many lives.”
During his last illness, David Glasgow Farragut asked for a clergyman to pray to the Lord, saying: “He must be my pilot now!”
David Glasgow Farragut’s adoptive brother was David Dixon Porter (1813-1891), who following him in becoming the second U.S. Navy Admiral. David Dixon Porter helped Ulysses S. Grant during the Civil War in the siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi, 1863, and in the attack on Fort Fisher, North Carolina, 1864-65. David Dixon Porter later served as superintendent of U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis.
Admiral David Dixon Porter stated: “When one sees how much has been done for the world by the disciples of Christ and those professing the Christian religion, he must be astonished to find anyone who hesitates to believe in the Divine origin of Jesus and the wonderful works He performed, all of which are so beautifully portrayed by the author of the work under consideration; and no man or woman of real intelligence would hesitate to believe that it is only through Christ that sinners can be saved, unless their vanity is so great that they are capable of saving themselves without an intermediary.”
Matthew Fontaine Maury (1806-1873), became known as the “Pathfinder of the Seas” for having charted sea and wind currents while serving in the U.S. Navy. Considered the founder of modern hydrography and oceanography, Maury developed the U.S. Naval Observatory’s Hydrographic Office, which was often visited by former President John Quincy Adams, who avidly enjoyed astronomy.
Matthew Fontaine Maury wrote in his book “Physical Geography of the Sea,” 1855, which was the first popular textbook on marine science: “I have always found in my scientific studies, that, when I could get the Bible to say anything on the subject it afforded me a firm platform to stand upon, and a round in the ladder by which I could safely ascend. As our knowledge of nature and her laws has increased, so has our knowledge of many passages of the Bible improved.”
Matthew Fontaine Maury continued: “The Bible called the earth ‘the round world,’ yet for ages it was the most damnable heresy for Christian men to say that the world is round; and, finally, sailors circumnavigated the globe, and proved the Bible to be right, and saved Christian men of science from the stake. And as for the general system of circulation which I have been so long endeavoring to describe, the Bible tells it all in a single sentence: ‘The wind goeth toward the South and returneth again to his circuits.'”
Matthew Fontaine Maury stated: “I will, however … ask pardon for mentioning a rule of conduct which I have adopted in order to make progress with these physical researches which have occupied so much of my time. … The rule is, never to forget who is the Author of the great volume which nature spreads out before us, and always to remember that the same Being is the author of the book which revelation holds up to us.”
Captain Phinney of the ship Gertrude wrote a letter acknowledging the influence Maury had made on him: “I am free to confess that for many years I commanded a ship and although never insensible to the beauties of nature upon the sea or land, I yet feel that until I took up your work, I had been traversing the ocean blindfolded. … I did not know the amazing and beautiful combination of all the works of Him whom you so beautifully term ‘the Great First Thought.’ … You have done me good as a man. You have taught me to look above, around and beneath me and recognize God’s hand in every element by which I am surrounded. I am so grateful for this personal benefit.”
Maury sailed around South America’s Cape Horn, writing, “The Navigation of Cape Horn,” published in the American Journal of Sciences and the Arts.
Maury wrote the Gulf Stream: “If the current of the sea, with this four-mile velocity at the surface, and this hundreds of tons pressure in its depths, were permitted to chafe against its bed, the Atlantic, instead of being two miles deep and 3,000 miles broad, would … have been long ago cut down into a narrow channel that might have been as the same ocean turned up on edge, and measuring two miles broad and 3,000 miles deep. But had it been so cut, the proportion of land and water surface would have been destroyed and the winds, for lack of area to play upon, could not have sucked up from the sea vapours for the rains to form and the face of the earth would have become as a desert without water.”
Of the ocean, Maury wrote that God set: “… bars and doors to stay its proud waves; and who gave the sea His decree that its waters should not pass His command. He laid the foundations of the world so fast they should not be moved forever.”
Matthew Fontaine Maury joined the Confederacy during the Civil War, where he perfected the “electric torpedo” (naval mine), the likes of which Admiral David Glasgow Farragut faced in the Battle of Mobile Bay. Maury’s torpedoes, according the the U.S. Secretary of the Navy in 1865 “cost the Union more vessels than all other causes combined.”
After the Civil War, Matthew Fontaine Maury served in the Mexican government under the French leader, Maximilian. He even attempted to build a New Virginia Colony in Mexico. Matthew Fontaine Maury returned to the United States where he accepted the teaching position of Professor of Meteorology at Virginia Military Institute (V.M.I.), also holding the chair of physics. Offered the position of president of several universities, he declined, keeping a rigorous schedule lecturing on science in America and Europe. He served as a pall bearer when Robert E. Lee died.
Engraved on Matthew Fontaine Maury’s tombstone at the U.S. Naval Academy is the verse which had inspired him from Psalm 8: “Whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.”
Named for him are:
- Maury Hall at the University of Virginia
- Maury Hall at the College of William and Mary
- Maury Hall at James Madison University
- Maury Hall at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis
- USS Maury was the name of several ships
- Matthew Fontaine Maury High School is Norfolk, Virginia
- Maury Elementary School in Alexandria, Virginia
- Lake Maury in Newport News, Virginia
- Maury River in Rockbridge County, Virginia
- Maury crater on the Moon
- Matthew Fontaine Maury Oceanographic Library, the world’s foremost military collection of physical oceanography materials, located at the Naval Oceanographic Office, Stennis Space Center, Mississippi
On Nov. 30, 1860, thirteen years before his death, Matthew Fontaine Maury had laid the cornerstone for the University of East Tennessee, stating: “I have been blamed by men of science, both in this country and in England, for quoting the Bible in confirmation of the doctrines of physical geography. The Bible, they say, was not written for scientific purposes, and is therefore of no authority in matters of science. I beg pardon! The Bible is authority for everything it touches. What would you think of the historian who should refuse to consult the historical records of the Bible, because the Bible was not written for the purposes of history? The Bible is true and science is true, and therefore each, if truly read, but proves the truth of the other. The agents in the physical economy of our planet are ministers of Him who made both it and the Bible.
“The records which He has chosen to make through the agency of these ministers of His upon the crust of the earth are as true as the records which by the hands of His prophets and servants, He has been pleased to make in the Book of Life. … They are both true; and when your men of science, with vain and hasty conceit, announce the discovery of disagreement between them, rely upon it, the fault is not with the witness of His records, but with the worm who essays to interpret evidence which he does not understand.”
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