Sunday, February 28, 2021

The USS Princeton

I have this knack for reading a book about something and having a pivotal event taking place on the same date as I am reading. Take today as an example. I'm reading about President Tyler's administration when February 28th pops up. It is really one single event, but when you scratch the surface you uncover some history, the Annexation of Texas, and a love story.

On February 28, 1844 the USS Princeton was on the Potomac River for a pleasure cruise and demonstration of a new type of gun, capable of hurling a twelve inch 225 pound shell 5 miles with a charge of 50 pounds. What follows is a recap of the events.

The ship was the USS Princeton, Capt. Stockton commanding. The ship was designed with 12 small cannon and a new weapon, made in England, named the "Oregon". Captain Stockton wanted another gun just like it and commissioned the construction of a replica, named the "Peacemaker" in NYC using older techniques of forging. This led to the guns explosion after about 3 rounds.

The explosion took place just abeam of Mount Vernon and was meant as a salute to George Washington. That blast killed Secretary of State Abel P. Upshur, Secretary of the Navy Thomas Walker Gilmer, and four other high-ranking federal officials. The disaster on board the Princeton killed more top U.S. government officials in a single day than any other tragedy in American history.

President John Tyler, who was aboard but below decks, was not injured. Had he not gone below deck to hear a  musical entertainment, he too would have been killed. Since he had no VP at the time, this would have resulted in the Senate choosing a President under the existing Article in place at the time.

To succeed Gilmer as Secretary of the Navy, Tyler appointed John Y. Mason, another Virginian. Secretary of State Upshur was about to win Senate approval of a treaty annexing Texas when he died. Under his replacement, John C. Calhoun, annexation was deliberately delayed, so as became an issue in the presidential election of 1844. So much for the history. On to the love story....

Julia Gardiner, who was below deck on the Princeton when her father David died in the Peacemaker explosion, became First Lady of the United States four months later. She had turned President Tyler's marriage proposal down over a year earlier in 1842, though sometime in 1843 they agreed that they would marry, but set no date.

The President had lost his first wife in September 1842, and at the time of the explosion he was almost 54. Julia was barely 24. She later wrote that her father's death changed her feelings for the President. "After I lost my father I felt differently toward the President. He seemed to fill the place and to be more agreeable in every way than any younger man ever was or could be."

Because he had been widowed less than two years and her father had died so recently, they married in the presence of just a few family members in New York City on June 26, 1844. A public announcement followed. They had seven children together before President Tyler died in 1862, and Julia, despite her relative youth and beauty, never remarried. It was not for want of hopeful suitors.

In 1888,  Nellie Bly quoted Julia Gardner Tyler as saying that at the moment of the Peacemaker explosion, "I fainted and did not revive until someone was carrying me off the boat, and I struggled so that I almost knocked us both off the gangplank". She said she only later learned that President Tyler was that man.

PS Julia Gardner Tyler was the 2nd youngest First Lady. The youngest was Frances Clevland who was just 21 when she married Grover Clevland in the Blue Room of the White House in 1886.

There is another unusual l love story there, as Frances was his friends daughter, and when her father died Clevland became her unofficial guardian. She was about 8 years old. In effect, 13 years later, he was marrying his de facto daughter.......

Saturday, February 13, 2021

It's Not How, It's Who

The friends who used to play with me
Sometimes write and ask of me,
"Robert, my old friend, how are you?"

I always have the same reply,
And with a twinkle in my eye,
I smile and say, "Not how, my friend, but who."

For I lie abed in many forms,
Some well known, but all well worn.
Characters from books; both old and new.

And, like the lad in "Counterpane",
armies lain before me, in a game;
I always win when there are less than two.

I draw upon books I may have read;
and then tell stories in my head.
I make myself the hero; wouldn't you?

When the game is up I'm out of bed.
But the stories remain inside my head,
and next day I'll live them all again, re-newed.