USS Hornet - when did it founder in 1829?

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Grammont
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USS Hornet - when did it founder in 1829?

Post by Grammont » Sun Aug 19, 2018 2:38 am

There appears to be two camps as to the date; either 10 September 1829 or the generally accepted 29 September 1829.

Both Threedecks and Wikipedia give 29 September as the date the Hornet foundered in a storm off Tampico. Threedecks uses the book Sailing Warships of the US Navy as its authority whilst Wikipedia relies upon the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, reproduced on the Naval History and Heritage Command website. The entry for the Hornet ends with the seemingly conclusive:

She cruised throughout the Caribbean for the next 9 years, departing Pensacola the last time 4 March 1829. She set course for the coast of Mexico and was never seen again. On 27 October 1829 the commander of the West Indies Squadron received information that Hornet had been dismasted in a gale off Tampico 29 September 1829 and had foundered with the loss of all hands.

As the Naval History and Heritage Command website is an official U.S. Navy website this would seem to settle the matter except that the Secretary of the Navy in his Annual Report in 1830 gives the date of the deaths of the officers of the Hornet as September 10, 1829 https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=SrE ... &q&f=false

As the Report of the Secretary of the Navy is dated 5 December, 1830 the information received by the commander of the West Indies Squadron giving 29 September for the loss of the ship appears to have been discounted as factually incorrect.

As to why the Secretary of Navy in his report gives 10 September as the date of the deaths of the Hornet's officers he may have been swayed by the fact on 10 September 1829 Texas was hit by a hurricane.

The National Weather service in Texas Hurricane History states:

September 10th, 1829: Hurricane struck Mouth of Rio Grande. It inundated the Lower coast. Corpus Christi reported high water. It flooded the Rio Grande as it moved northwest, washing away the Socorro Mission, originally built south of El Paso in 1691. The building, made of adobe brick, “melted and sank into the ground” (Ellis). Port Isabel and Brazos Santiago were destroyed.

If the Hornet was off Tampico at this date it would be not surprising if it had foundered in the hurricane.

The US Naval Institute does appear to be aware of the problem of the date as in 2016 its publication Naval History Magazine in an article Missing and Presumed Lost concerning lost US warships stated:

The Hornet cleared Pensacola for Mexico in March 1829 and disappeared. Rumors and false reports came through the summer of 1829, and a search by the Peacock discovered no wreckage or other trace. However, in October news reached the West Indies Squadron that the Hornet had been dismasted and sunk with all hands after leaving in the face of a growing gale, or “norte,” on 29 September. Other accounts suggest the date was 10 September.

So which is the correct date? Does the Report of the Secretary of the Navy due to its authoritative nature outweigh all other sources?

Navclio
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Re: USS Hornet - when did it founder in 1829?

Post by Navclio » Mon Aug 20, 2018 6:35 am

I don't know, but if she foundered with all hands, how would anyone know the exact date? The only way the exact date could be known would be if she went down within sight of another ship but because of the weather the second ship couldn't rescue a single member of the crew. There are a couple of cases of ships foundering in company at night, the time being established by when another ship saw her lights disappear. HBMS Victory in the English Channel in 1745 and HBMS [ex-HMXMS] Ville de Paris off Newfoundland in 1782 are examples. In the case of HCMS Hermione in the Drake Passage in 1741, the squadron was scattered by a gale and all of the ships lost touch with each other; four of them eventually got back to the Rio la Plata or coast of Brazil, but Hermione never showed up. She probably did not founder on the first day she was not in touch with any of the other ships, but there is no way to say how long she lasted. All of the Spanish ships, and the British ships they were chasing, were severely handled; one of the Spanish ships had to be frapped to keep her from breaking up in what must have been a brief interval between storms (I don't think even Basque seamen could do that in 50-foot seas, although desperate circumstances require desperate measures).

The difference of 19 days is significant. The earlier date might be the last date on which she was positively known still to be afloat—the day she left port,the last date some other ship saw her, etc.—while the later date could be the date when it was reported or concluded that she had foundered at sea.

Grammont
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Re: USS Hornet - when did it founder in 1829?

Post by Grammont » Sun Nov 18, 2018 7:16 pm

Further evidence the authorities regarded the Hornet as having been lost on 10 September 1829 as the New York state newspaper the The Schenectady cabinet of February 8, 1830 reprinted a report that was originally carried in the Washington DC newspaper The United States Telegraph:

United States Ship Hornet - The U. States Telegraph of Saturday contains a letter from Commodore J. D. Elliott, to the Secretary of the Navy, dated "U.S Ship Falmouth, before Vera Cruz, December 5th," which relates particularly to the loss of the Hornet. "on the 10th of September," says the letter, - "a gale, unusually severe, came on, which proved highly disastrous to all the vessels anchored along the coast. The Hornet, in common with others, was compelled by the violence of the gale, to stand off the coast. In this attempt, however, she failed - and, from some cause which will probably never be reached, foundered, and all on board sunk into an untimely and lamented grave."

A copy of a letter is also enclosed from Master Commandant Edward R McCall, to Commodore Elliott, dated "US Ship Peacock, off Sacrificios, Nov. 27th 1829. I have the honor to inform you, in pursuance of your instructions of the 30th and 31st ult. I left Pensacola and proceeded to the coast of Mexico, and examined the shores from Tampico to this place, but could obtain no intelligence of the US Ship Hornet, until my arrival here on the 21st, when I was informed she was driven from her moorings off Tampico, in a very severe blow on the 10th of September last, since which time there has been no tidings of her.

Elliott is the Commodore of the US Navy Caribbean squadron and so is the highest ranked officer in the vicinity. Finally on 24 April 1830 the US Congress passed the following Act:

An Act for the relief of the widows and orphans of the Officers, Seamen, and Marines, of the sloop of war Hornet

Be it enacted, &c. That the widows, if any such there be, and in case there be no widow, the child or children; and, if there be no child, then the parent or parents: and if there be no parent, then the brothers and sisters of the officers, seamen, and marines, who were in the service of the United States, and lost in the United States' sloop of war Hornet, shall be entitled to, and receive, out of any money in the Treasury, not otherwise appropriated, a sum equal to six months pay of their respective deceased relatives, aforesaid, in addition to the pay due to the said deceased, on the tenth day of September last, up to which day the arrears of pay due the deceased, shall be allowed and paid by the accounting officers of the Navy.

Tellingly the payment for arrears of pay is only up to 10 September 1829.

So with the Commodore of the Caribbean Squadron, the Secretary of the Navy and even Congress coming down in favour of 10 September, it is baffling why 29 September is the accepted date

Navclio
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Re: USS Hornet - when did it founder in 1829?

Post by Navclio » Tue Nov 27, 2018 4:50 am

Note that the report by the officer sent to investigate the disappearance of Hornet only reports that she was "driven from her moorings . . . on the 10th of September last, since which time there has been no tidings of her." In other words, she disappeared, no one knew what happened to her, and it had to be presumed that she foundered with all hands. Since no one saw her go down, or even saw her lights suddenly go out in the night, no one can say that she foundered on September 10. She might have driven before the wind for days before going down. The United States Telegraph report is clearly concluding from the absence of further news of her that she foundered "from some cause which will probably never be reached . . . and all on board sunk." The Telegraph does not say that anyone saw her go down on September 10.

Since no one knows the exact date of loss, September 29 is just an administrative convenience. It's like current databases with required fields—you can't just say that she disappeared in "September," "September XX," or "September 00" because the day-of-the-month field requires a number between 01 and 30. September 29 is a safe date by which she must have foundered, i.e., if she had lasted more than 19 days, the surviving crew could have gotten off on a boat, or jury-rigged her enough to make land somewhere.

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