The Pennsylvania Packet issue of November 22, 1785 contains a curious report which puzzled me, for although admitting my knowledge of American history is far from where it should be, I do not recall reading of Ben Franklin being captured by Barbary pirates upon his return from France as Ambassador.
Page 2 of this newspaper has a letter from Captain Thomas Truxtun, later of Constellation fame, dated August 20, 1785 from Algiers–with Ben Franklin as a passenger no less–mentions an encounter with Barbary pirates: “…Our being entirely unprepared for such an attack, put it out of our power to make resistance, & after sending sufficient men on board to navigate the ship they put the whole of the crew and myself in heavy irons & bore away for this place…to suffer the cruel infliction of slavery, and God only know whether I shall ever have an opportunity of seeing or writing to you again. Poor Doctor Franklin bears this reverse of fortune with more magnanimity than I could have imagined.”
Ben Franklin taken away in irons? Really??
I turned to our friend/long-term customer/naval expert George Emery for some explanation of this report. He relates that in Eugene Ferguson’s biography of Trustun, “Truxtun of the Constellation” (1956) he mentions this rumor while explaining Truxtun’s decision to arm the London Packet (to be renamed the Canton) for a forthcoming voyage to China. And the source of this rumor was this very newspaper: the Pa. Packet of Nov. 22, 1785. Apparently some enterprising reporter, “confusing ” Truxtun’s reasoning for arming the Canton to rewrite the “future” as a scary & perilous event of the past, all–perhaps–to sell more copies of the newspaper. Or perhaps Truxtun himself was responsible for this letter’s presence in the Pennsylvania Packet to bolster support for arming American merchant vessels then sailing to Europe, and particularly the Mediterranean.
Ferguson goes on to mention in his book: “…while he was yet bringing Franklin home during the last voyage, it was rumored in London that Captain Truxtun’s ship had been captured by the Barbary corsairs and that all aboard, including the great Franklin, were consigned to slavery in Algiers…”.
The capture never happened.
Today I traveled to Boston, Massachusetts, by means of the Boston Gazette dated June 5, 1815. I found they were celebrating the arrival of the U.S.S. Frigate Constitution, also known as “Old Ironsides.” For the fate of this vessel, so long the object of pride and hope, to New England especially, no small solicitude was generally felt… But on Saturday evening the frigate Constitution, arrived in the lower harbour, much to the gratification of every beholder. The waves of her native waters welcomed home the ship that had thrice fought and conquered; and the citizens of Boston, the town that first launched her on the element where she has been so greatly distinguished, have given her captain on his reaching the shore, the cheering reception his gallantry merits — Hull, Bainbridge and Stewart.” This then continues with a lengthy article “Old Ironsides — Anecdotes of The Constitution”.
One of the attractions of collecting old newspapers is the ability to look at history with the benefit of hindsight. Many times writers were right on the money when it came to predicting events in the future; many times they could not have been more wrong. Both views offer interesting reading.
Not long ago we came across a report of what would become a scar on the military history of the United States, specifically the lengthy war in Vietnam. A “Los Angeles Times” newspaper as early as March 25, 1965, some ten years before the Vietnam War would officially end (Saigon fell on April 29, 1975) had a headline announcing: “VIET CRISIS GROWS“. This report notes that Red China was committed to sending troops to fight in Vietnam if the Americans persisted in their growing involvement, and that they would: “…fight together with the South Vietnamese people to annihilate the U.S. aggressors.” This is in response to the event of 3 weeks prior when the first American combat troops arrived in Vietnam, joining a force of 23,000 American “advisers”. American involvement in the Vietnam War would only continue to grow for another 8 years.
I am sure almost no one who read this newspaper in the spring of 1965 could have guessed the future complexity and duration of American involvement in Southeast Asia. This issue constitutes half of what I would call “bookend newspapers”, or a pair of newspapers which report the beginning and end of noteworthy events.
Today I journeyed through Omaha, Nebraska, via The Omaha Daily Bee of January 6, 1914. The issue had the report of the oil tanker Steamer Oklahoma splitting in two and sinking south of Sandy Hook, New Jersey. Several of the crew had perished in this disaster while others were rescued by other ships.
Another article is one of the Supreme Court handing down a decision permitting Miss Florence Schenck, who had died just a few hours earlier, to prosecute a suit against Charles H. Wilson to vindicate her good name. Mr. Wilson had induced her years earlier to marry him in a ceremony in England. She later found that he already had a wife living in England as well and was suing for damages.
Today I journeyed to Baltimore, Maryland, through The Weekly Register (dated October 9, 1813). As Commodore Perry commenced battle on Lake Erie, he raised a flag with the infamous words “Don’t give up the ship” on it. “…They speak of the battle as being one of the hottest ever fought…” (see below).
In the report of the Battle on Lake Ontario, Commodore Chauncey references the news of the battle on Lake Erie. “…There is a report here, and generally believed, that Capt. Perry has captured the whole of the enemy’s fleet on lake Erie. If this should prove true in all its details (and God grant that it may) he has immortalised himself and not disappointed the high expectations formed of his talents and bravery…”
For those whom are conflicted over their desire to “go green”, but are not ready to pull back on the protection that a well-equipped military provides, perhaps the following invention shown in the February 8, 1896 issue of Scientific American will make a comeback and relieve your distress… as well as the distress of a similar minded buddy…
The Christmas Season is a wonderful time of reflection for many… of love… of giving… of sacrifice. A few weeks ago a man came to us with a story involving rare newspapers (indirectly) which reminded us of the importance of caring for others. The icing on the cake is the involvement of a soldier who had given much… and received so little, until…
Richard Storrs was in the military in 1950 and had the unfortunate fate of being on a train as it traveled through Ohio when it was rammed by another. “221 Guardsman Dead” was the headline of the “Detroit News” of Sept. 11, 1950. Richard Storrs was among the survivors, but he injured his leg causing a disability.
He never received pension benefits from the incident, perhaps not believing it was possible as the years passed. But a prompt from others to pursue let to the need to prove the incident happened. Searching online in 2010 the Storrs’ found our website, which by good fortune happened to have the mentioned newspaper with details of the report on the front page. With this evidence his proof was secured and he was not only able to get pension benefits, but payments missed over the previous 60 years.
One never knows how our newspapers are actually used. We assume only collectors treasure them for historical information related to their interests, but obviously they can provide to be the missing link to family events, solve historical conundrums, and evidence needed to right a wrong from many years past.
The heros of this story are the “others” who will likely forever remain nameless, who saw a friend in need and prompted him to take action. Who can we be an “other” to during this wonderful season? We may never know the results of our kindnesses, but there is Someone who certainly will… and regardless, a child of God will be blessed.
Merry Christmas (Luke 10:25-37)!
The Staff of Timothy Hughes Rare & Early Newspapers
The Columbian Centinel newspaper from Boston, April 28, 1792 contains a very inconspicuous notice at the bottom of the front page which calls for recruits for the military. It’s the wording which is a delight, as the call was put forth:
“To the sons of ambition—Those noble fellows whose courage and superiority of soul dictate to them to enter the list of Fame…Her field is now open and filled with every inducement for a Soldier; every necessary of life and every chance for fortune. It will be your fault if she does not stamp on your names HERO to be caught by every ear…” with more.
See the photo for the full text of this delightful little gem from the 18th century.
One of the key issues featured in our latest catalog is a newsbook of the Mercurius Politicus, from London, dated March 24, 1659. Newsbooks, for those unfamiliar with the term, were the forerunners of newspapers. This particular newsbook measures about 8 1/2 by 6 3/4 inches and has 16 pages. While looking for interesting content to describe, I noticed a report datelined “Marienburgh, March 5”, that contained details about a military engagement. In the report is word that: “..Colonel Drake came with a party back, fetching from hence Morter pieces, Balls, Handgranadoes, and other amunition, and is gone back to the army which lyeth near Rysenburgh…” In reading this passage I was fascinated by the term “Handgranadoes“. I did some research and discovered that the concept of “throwing” grenades may date to the Ming Dynasty in China, although the first known use of grenades occurred during the early to middle part of the 8th century. The research also suggested that some “Medieval petards” were small enough to be considered primitive hand grenades. Later, during the Song Dynasty, Chinese soldiers began to pack gunpowder into ceramic and metal containers, resulting in what one expert determined to be the prototype of the modern hand grenade. Variations of this prototype eventually appeared in Europe during the late 1460’s. About 200 years later, “Grenadoes”, according to a Wikipedia source, were used during the English Civil War (1642-1651). The source also says: “The word ‘grenade’ originated in the Glorious Revolution (1688), where cricket ball-sized iron spheres packed with gunpowder and fitted with slow-burning wickets were first used against the Jacobites in the battles of Killiecrankie and Glen Shiel. These grenades were not very effective….and, as a result, saw little use.” Obviously the mention of “handgranadoes” in the newsbook report confirms the use of such a weapon during the mid 1600’s. More importantly, this may be one of the earliest references to a distance cousin of the modern hand grenade to appear in newsprint. Note: The term “grenadier”, which is derived from the word grenade, was a classification given to soldiers in the 17th century with the specific role of throwing grenades. You simply never know what you might find while perusing collectible newspapers (and newsbooks).
In reading a report from a 1783 Connecticut newspaper this evening I found it interesting to what degree the last name “Arnold” was considered a disgrace. Note this report:
“Upon the memorial of Jonathan Arnold, of Hartford…a Sergeant in the Continental army & unfortunately bears the sirname of the infamous Benedict Arnold, once a Major General in the army of the United States, now a traitor and deserter…some time after the desertion of the said Benedict, the Hon. Major General Baron Stuben, pitying the misfortune of any person friendly to the American cause doomed to bear the same name with a notorious traitor. offered…liberty to assume the name of Stuben, & by that name to be known and called…on his taking & assuming the said name of Stuben, to pay to him the sum of Two Dollars per month during the present war…”.
I wonder how many more Arnold families there could have been in this country today?