Captain Harry Longfellow's background and information
Harrison Anselm Longfellow was born August 20, 1688 in West Thurrock, Essex, first of twin sons born to the Rev. Lynwood Oswin Longfellow and Abigail Walton-Longfellow, his twin Dixon being born minutes afterward. Their sister Prudence was born May 1, 1695 and brother Randall (Randy) on March 21, 1700.
Family and early life
Young Harry, as he preferred to be called, was destined at an early age to serve the church. His father was the vicar of St Clement's Church so much of Harry’s youth was spent absorbing the church’s teachings and working to maintain the church grounds. The church’s proximity to the Thames provided Harry with a magnificent view of the sailing ships passing on their way to London and much to his father’s consternation, Harry developed a fascination with all things nautical. This fascination was exacerbated further by visits from his maternal uncle, Captain George Walton of the Royal Navy who was more than happy to oblige Harry with the details of his life at sea.
One of those visits coincided with the occasion of Harry’s 13th birthday whereupon his father announced Harry’s apprenticeship to the church on Christmas of that year. Harry was going to have none of that and privately made an impassioned plea to his uncle to save him from his predicament and grant him the life at sea he so longed for. Captain Walton was about to take command of HMS Carcass and sail her to the Caribbean, as he was coincidentally short a few officers he obtained for Harry a letter from the crown appointing him as a volunteer-per-order aboard his ship. On September 18, 1701, Harry arrived in Portsmouth and signed on aboard the Carcass.
Life as a King’s Letter Boy
Harry's letter from the crown virtually guaranteed him promotion to lieutenant after spending three years at sea and passing the lieutenants examination. The letter instructed admirals and captains that the bearer be shown "such kindness as you shall judge fit for a gentleman, both in accommodating him in your ship and in furthering his improvement".
Captain Walton was appointed to command HMS Carcass for a ten-month period, and his orders were to sail her to the West Indies. During the voyage, Harry excelled at his training in basic seamanship, sail handling and cannon operation; while he proved to be popular with the crew, his almost instinctive abilities served to intimidate and alienate the officers and being the captain’s nephew only exacerbated the problem.
Arriving in Port Royal on New Year’s Eve, the Carcass joined a squadron under Vice-Admiral of the White John Benbow. In March 1702, Benbow appointed Walton to command the 48-gun HMS Ruby. Much to his disappointment Harry was transferred to Benbow’s flagship, the 70 gun third-rate HMS Breda to serve as a steward to Admiral Benbow. Harry’s disappointment lasted barely a day as Benbow’s intention was to remove him from the preferential treatment and stigma inherent to serving under a relative and provide him with the mentoring and training needed to make him into a quality naval officer.
Action of August 1702
On July 7, 1702 news that the War of the Spanish Succession had broken out reached the fleet while rumors that the French fleet of Admiral Jean Baptiste du Casse was the largest European fleet ever seen in the Caribbean had been circulating in Port Royal for several months. Benbow then detached Rear Admiral William Whetstone and six ships to search off Port St Louis in Hispaniola for the French fleet while Benbow took his squadron and sailed for Cartagena, anticipating that either he or Whetstone would find the French and engage them.
Benbow's force sighted the French on 19 August off Santa Marta. The French had four warships, carrying between 68 and 70 guns, and three transports, whilst Benbow commanded seven ships, carrying between 50 and 70 guns. The English forces were heavily scattered, and the light winds meant that they were slow to regroup. They did not achieve a form of collective order until four in the afternoon when they fought a partial engagement but nightfall caused the fleets to break off temporarily.
The action quickly revealed a breakdown in discipline amongst Benbow's captains. He had intended that HMS Defiance under Captain Richard Kirkby would lead the line of battle, but Kirkby was not maintaining his station. Benbow decided to take the lead himself, young Harry at his side, and the Breda pulled ahead, followed by the Ruby under Captain Walton. The two maintained contact with the French throughout the night, but the other five ships refused to close. The chase ensued until 24 August, with only Breda, Ruby and Falmouth making active efforts to bring the French to battle. At times, they bore the brunt of the fire of the entire squadron. The Ruby was disabled on 23 August, and Benbow ordered her to retire to Port Royal. The French resumed the action at two in the morning on 24 August, the entire squadron closing on the Breda from astern and pounding her. Benbow was hit by a chain-shot that broke his leg and Harry somehow found the strength to single-handedly carry him below. Despite his wounds, Benbow was determined to continue the pursuit, despite attempts to persuade him to abandon it.
Benbow summoned a council of war, and the other captains agreed, signing a paper drafted by Captain Kirkby which declared that they believed "that after six days of battle the squadron lacked enough men to continue, that there was little chance of a decisive action since the men were exhausted, there was a general lack of ammunition, the ships' rigging and masts were badly damaged and the winds were generally variable and undependable." They recommended breaking off the action and following the French to see if the situation improved.
By now Benbow, "who having seen the cowardly behavior of some of them before, had reason to believe that they either had a design against him or to be traitors to their country if an opportunity happened that the French could have destroyed the Admiral", ordered the squadron to return to Jamaica.
Courts-martial was held upon the captains when they returned. Due to his injuries, Benbow passed the role of presiding over the court to Whetstone, but with Harry’s assistance, he was present at the trial. Kirkby and Wade were found guilty of cowardice and sentenced to be shot. Captain Constable, cleared of the charge of cowardice, was convicted on other charges and cashiered. Captain Hudson died before trial. Captains Fogg and Vincent were charged with having signed a paper with the other captains of the squadron, stating they would not fight, but they represented this as a device to keep Captain Kirkby from deserting. Benbow testified in their favor and they were merely suspended. Admiral Benbow died on 4 November 1702 as a result of complications from his leg injury. At the impassioned request of Harry, Whetstone transferred him to the HMS Bristol under Captain Edward Acton, which was to take Kirkby, Wade, and Constable to Plymouth, where the Lord High Admiral confirmed their sentences. Harry attended when Kirkby and Wade were shot aboard Bristol in Plymouth Sound on 16 April 1703.
Harry remained aboard the Bristol until 3 May 1703 whereupon he was transferred to the 66 gun third-rate HMS Monmouth under the command of Captain John Baker where Harry continued his training. On 24 August 1704, the Monmouth took part in the Battle of Vélez-Málaga. Not a single vessel was sunk or captured on either side but the mutual battering left many ships barely seaworthy and casualties on both sides were high. As the French and the British approached each other two days later, on 26 August, they finally decided not to engage each other. Considering the British had a significantly higher number of casualties and highly damaged ships, particularly their masts, the French mistakenly interpreted the British fleet’s prudence as an overall victory and returned to Toulon claiming a great naval victory. The reality was, however, that by retreating to Toulon the French turned what had been a tactical stalemate into an Allied strategic victory, because after the Battle of Vélez-Málaga the French Navy never again emerged from Toulon in full strength. On 2 October 1704 in a still smoldering Gibraltar, Admiral of the Fleet Sir George Rooke commissioned Harry as a lieutenant in the Royal Navy whereupon the order to splice the mainbrace was issued repeatedly.
The Monmouth (and Harry) continued service in the Mediterranean seeing action against both French and Spanish forces as well as capturing several merchant prizes. In July of 1707, the Monmouth was assigned to Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell’s fleet, which was to sail to Toulon in support of Prince Eugene of Savoy’s ill-fated land assault on the French port. The campaign's only fruit was that, in order to prevent their ships falling into the enemy's hands, the French had sunk their whole squadron of more than forty six ships of between fifty and 110 guns in the harbor. King Louis XIV gave orders that they be sunk and later be refloated. He was concerned that the Royal Navy would burn the ships; the three deckers would lie with only their upper decks showing above the water. Much of the damage sustained, however, proved irreparable; the French Navy lost 15 ships of the line in this operation, thereby putting it quite out of its power to contest the English control of the Mediterranean.
On the night of October 22, 1707, while returning with the fleet to England after the campaign on Toulon, the Monmouth with Harry standing watch, observed Shovell's ship HMS Association, strike hard on the rocks near the Isles of Scilly and quickly sink along with Firebrand, Romney and Eagle. Were it not for Harry’s quick thinking in ordering a hard starboard and quick stop maneuver, the Monmouth would have surely shared in their fate.
The Monmouth along with the eleven remaining ships of Shovell’s fleet launched longboats in the heavy seas to search for survivors but due to the severity of the storm their efforts had to be called off and only thirteen seamen out of the more than 1500 aboard the four stricken ships were rescued.
Monmouth and the remaining undamaged ships managed to reach Portsmouth where an extensive inquiry into the incident determined that the main cause of the catastrophe was the navigators' inability to calculate their longitude with any degree of accuracy. Captain Baker was cleared of any wrongdoing and the Monmouth was assigned to home waters patrol duty.
In May 1714, following the loss of the ship’s 1st Lieutenant to an unknown malady, Harry was promoted to 1st Lieutenant and was now second in command of the Monmouth.
The Cambridge Incident
In December 1717, Harry was granted leave, accepting an invitation to visit his brother Dixon who was a scholar of mathematics and chemistry at Cambridge University.
Dixon had been working on a new method for the distillation of a variety of gin that was much higher in alcohol content while being smoother and less strongly flavored. He was most eager to show his new process and product to his brother in the hopes that he might be of assistance in marketing it to the Royal Navy as a substitute for the more highly flavored and lesser proof rum as it would cut the cargo space required for storage by almost seventy percent.
While demonstrating the process and volume reduction, naturally a sampling was in order. They started with the full strength product, which Harry would later describe as “Hells own fire” and moved down in steps to the level required for water purification. By the time the demonstration was complete; both of them were comprehensively inebriated and were suffering moderate to severe motor control loss. While attempting to exit the laboratory, one or both of them managed to knock over and rupture a cask of the full proof product. The lamps used to illuminate the facility quickly ignited the vapor given off from the spillage. The subsequent explosion catapulted them both through a window. Miraculously, neither of them was seriously injured but the structure was a total loss.
The subsequent inquiry by the university’s board determined there while there was no criminal intent, such experimentation and conduct was a detriment to the reputation of the university, its faculty and students. Dixon’s fellowship was terminated immediately, he was barred from teaching chemistry in all of the United Kingdom and both were permanently barred from the grounds.
The brothers traveled to Portsmouth where Harry returned to the Monmouth, which in his absence was scheduled for refit and Dixon booked passage on a ship bound for New York where he hoped to continue his research.
HMS Grafton and the Battle of Cape Passaro
With the Monmouth undergoing a long overdue refit to bring her in line with the dimensions of the Establishment of 1706, Harry was ordered to report to the 70 gun HMS Grafton as second in command to her Captain Nicholas Haddock. In February 1718, the Grafton set sail for Gibraltar for duty in the Mediterranean.
In late July, the Grafton was attached to the fleet of Admiral George Byng, which had orders to enforce the ultimatum of the Quadruple Alliance which demanded Spain to withdraw her forces from Sicily and Sardinia.
The British fleet landed an Austrian force near Messina to siege that city and set out to engage the Spanish forces at sea. The Spanish fleet consisted of twenty-six men-of-war, two fireships, four bomb vessels, seven galleys and several other ships with stores and provisions. It was sailing scattered, and the sight of the British ships was not perceived initially as any danger, as they were unaware of the Quadruple Alliance's ultimatum.
The Spanish fleet split into two; the smaller ships made for the coast, while the larger ships engaged the British as they came up. HMS Canterbury, under Harry’s uncle George Walton was detached along with HMS Argyll, HMS Burford and four other ships to chase the first group and captured most of them. The Grafton, much to Harry’s consternation, was never able to bring her guns to bear.
Disillusionment and Resignation
The Grafton continued service in the Mediterranean, and while opportunities for engagements with enemies of the crown presented themselves, the ship never managed to engage which continually caused Harry to have doubts in not only his captain’s ability to command but also in the willingness of His Majesty’s captains to engage the enemies of the crown. In addition, as his captain was only four years his senior, he began to realize that his opportunity for advancement beyond his current rank was limited by that as well as the fact the ship never gained any honors or prizes. As a result, he found himself often thinking about how life outside the navy might be and what opportunities he may be missing.
The Grafton returned to Portsmouth March 1722 where Harry received the sad news that his parents had succumbed to smallpox three months prior. As his family home was owned by the church, there was no longer anything tying him to his homeland; Dixon and Prudence had left for the colonies years ago and he had no one left in England with the exception of his uncle who was usually at sea.
On April 1, 1722 Harry resigned his commission in the Royal Navy and looked to find a merchant ship heading for the colonies or the Caribbean that he might sign on as an officer. After a month of speaking with captains and being disgusted with the ships and the condition both of the ships and their crews, he met Captain Dunsel of the coastal barque Sea Turtle finding him to be a kind but disciplined man who ran a tight and clean ship and signed aboard as her first.
Last Voyage of the Sea Turtle
The Sea Turtle shuttled goods from port to port for several months and in mid-November 1722 had made her way as far south as Dakar. Captain Dunsel believed that a great profit would be made if the ship were to take a load of fine incense to the Caribbean. He believed they could make the journey, as they would be crossing the Atlantic at its narrowest point. Harry was not going to argue, as the profit would be great.
The ship set sail and arrived off the coast of Brazil mid-December. The crew put ashore for water and provisions before setting sail up the coast. The ship had made its way up the coast to Guyana without incident but coastal pirates set upon her 200 miles east of Jenny Bay in a sloop of war. Harry’s naval training managed to save the day but unfortunately was unable to save Captain Dunsel from the bullet that pierced his skull. With the ship taking on water and its cargo of incense ruined, there was little option but to make for Jenny Bay. Near the mouth of the harbor, her keel cracked and Harry gave the order to abandon ship. Out of the 35 crew, all survived the incident save for Captain Dunsel.
Once ashore, Harry met a Henry Cornelius who offered him a small ship and letter of Marque to hunt down, destroy pirates and other enemies of the crown for profit and glory, which Harry gladly accepted.
Record of Achievement
- December 31, 1722 - Enlisted in the squadron
- January 15, 1723 - Promoted to Esquire
- June 27, 1723 - Appointed Inspector General
- July 30, 1723 - Awarded St. George Citation for Conspicuous Bravery
- September 6, 1723 - Awarded Naval Gold Medal
- October 2, 1723 - Awarded Admiral's Commendation
- November 6, 1723 - Promoted to Knight Companion of the Most Honourable Military Order of the Bath