Monday, November 9, 2009

USS Somers Mutineers Hanging

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While the first class of US Navy Midshipmen - Charles Stewart, Stephen Decatur and Richard Somers attended the Philadelphia Academy, there was no formal institution to educate and prepare officers until the Navy Academy at Annapolis was established, so Midshipmen and promising officers were trained at sea.

The second of six US Navy ships named after Richard Somers was the USS Somers, a training vessel that became famous as the ship on which three young sailors were charged, convicted and hanged for an allegedly plotting a mutiny.

This Courier & Ives depicts the USS Somers with the mutineers hanging from the yardarm.

The story of the alleged mutiny and hangings inspired Melville, of Moby Dick fame, to write Billy Budd, the story of a young man falsely accused and hung aboard a ship.

The USS Somers was considered a cursed ship by its crews, and it sank off Mexico in a storm with all hands.

The wreck was located and artifacts were recovered by a team that included Jim Delgado, who is anxious to resume a planned search for the wrecks of the USS Philadelphia and USS Intrepid in Tripoli harbor.

According to his web site:

"Jim participated in the dives to identify the wreck of the famous US Naval brigSomers, scene of the US Navy's only mutiny on the high seas and the inspiration for Herman Melville's story, Billy Budd. The ship sank in 1846 during the conflict between the US and Mexico, the Mexican War. The wreck was discovered off Vera Cruz, Mexico by Jim's friend George Belcher in 1986, and the two worked to preserve the wreck and encourage the governments of the US and Mexico to protect it. In 1990, Jim led the official US Government team to Mexico to help negotiate a treaty between the two governments and to work with Mexico's Instituto Nacional de Antropologia y Historia, represented by Mexico's chief underwater archaeologist, Dra. Pilar Luna, to map the wreck aboard the Mexican Navy gunboat Margarita Maza de Juarez. Here, at mission's end in 1990, Jim poses at the Mexican War Memorial at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Ironically, the "Somers affair" was one of the reasons the Naval Academy was founded. Somers was working as a training ship for young officers when the mutiny occurred, and the resultant scandal forced the Navy to move its training ashore."

Also see: Chapter on the wreck of the USS Somers in "300 Years at the Point."

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