Living in the United States in 2018 can, at times, feel a bit surreal. No matter what your politics things seem to be, hmmm how to put this, a bit uncertain. However, what is certain is that Southie loves military heroes. For this Caught in Southie: History Lesson, we are talking about a true hero that we can be proud of: Admiral David Farragut (1801–1870).
The statue of the Admiral has been looking out over our waters since it was dedicated by the City of Boston on June 28, 1893 and was sculpted by Henry Hudson Kitson, a famous sculptor who also created the Minute Man Statue that stands in the Lexington, MA town green. Why is there a statue and a road in Southie, an entire town in Tennessee, squares in DC and NYC, a high school in Chicago, postage stamps and a few U.S Naval Destroyers named after one man? Good question, let’s jump in:
Admiral Farragut’s father was also an American patriot. Jorge Antonio Farragut-Mesquida, a descendant of conquistador Don Pedro Farragut who served the King of Aragon in the 13th century, was from Minorca, Spain and was a ship’s captain. His ship was near the Gulf of Mexico when the colonies declared their independence from Britain in 1776. Jorge changed his name to a more Anglican one: George Farragut, and then enlisted as a lieutenant in the South Carolina Navy and went on to serve with great distinction. During his Navy career, he married and had a son, James Farragut.
Unfortunately, James’ mom died of yellow fever in 1808 and George asked Commodore David Porter and his family to help him raise his son. Porter adopted James and introduced him to the US Navy where he became a midshipman in 1810 when he was 9 YEARS OLD (I know 9 year olds who CANNOT TIE THEIR SHOES). During this time, to honor his adopted dad, James changed his name to David.
David found great success in the Navy and he spent the rest of his life in it. He participated in the War of 1812 serving on Porter’s ship, the USS Essex (when he was ELEVEN – again I know 11 year olds whose PARENTS WON’T LET THEM WALK TO THE CORNER STORE ALONE), he fought pirates in the Caribbean (FOR REAL), fought in the Mexican-American War, and helped to establish the first naval base on the West Coast.
When the Civil War broke out David was a US Navy Captain living in Virginia, who had spent time living in New Orleans and parts of Tennessee. He had to decide what side to support and he chose the Union and the US Navy. Farragut fled from Virginia with his wife and son, Loyall, and moved to Hastings-on-Hudson in New York.
The Civil War is when David became a true, and well-known American hero. Farragut commanded the Union blockade of Southern ports, helped capture the the Confederate city of New Orleans and provided support for the Siege of Vicksburg. Farragut is probably best known for his victory at the Battle of Mobile Bay in August 1864, during which he commanded his fleet to ignore Confederate defenses and famously yelled, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”*
After the Civil War, Admiral Farragut and his wife went on a world tour for the United States. They attended social events with heads of state throughout Europe and Russia. After the tour, Farragut became ill and died in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. His body was brought back to New York City, with great honor and a parade; he was buried there with President Ulysses S. Grant in attendance.
David Farragut was the first person to hold the ranks of Vice Admiral, Rear Admiral, and full Admiral in the United States Navy. He spoke Spanish. He was married twice. He was adopted. He fought in a war before he wrestled with puberty. David Farragut is an American hero, one we can be proud of today.
*BAR TRIVIA ALERT – Damn the Torpedoes is the name of the third album by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, released on October 20, 1979, its title is taken from the Farragut quote.