Friday, August 26, 2011

When We Were Pirates -


“…Richard Somers and the seamen were buried on the beach outside the town near the walls; while the three officers were interred in the same grave, on the plain beyond, or cable’s length to the southward and eastward of the castle.” – James Finemore Cooper

It may seem ironic to some but American navy pirate fighter Richard Somers was the son of a pirate – an American revolutionary privateer whose schooner attacked British merchant ships off the coast of New Jersey. The contents of the prizes were auctioned to the public at Chestnut Neck, once a thriving fishing village. When they had the audacity to advertise their actions in newspapers in Philadelphia and New York, the British admiral called Chestnut Neck “A Nest of Rebel Pirates,” and there is no town of Chestnut Neck today because the British attacked and destroyed it.

Franklin W. Kemp of Linwood, NJ, authored a number of books including A Nest of Rebel Pirates (1966, 181 pages), Firefighting by-the-seashore: A History of the Atlantic City Fire Department (1972 – 658 pages), St. Andrew’s by-the-sea: the History of St. Andrews Evangelical (1970 148 pages) and an unpublished manuscript biography of Richard Somers.

Shortly after Richard Somers was born in 1778, his father, Col. Richard Somers of the Revolutionary militia, commanded the garrison at Chestnut Neck that came under attack by the British fleet on October 1778.

In order to remind later generations of the sacrifice these men made to the cause of the Revolution, a monument was placed in a park on Route 9 in Port Republic, not far from the Garden State Parkway. The Richard Somers Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution is named after the father of the pirate fighter Lt. Richard Somers, who died at Tripoli.

While Franklin Kemp’s books all give valued insight into the regional history of the Jersey Shore, his unpublished manuscript, a lost biography of Richard Somers, is of historical importance. When Kemp was completing his manuscript, the Atlantic Country Historical Society considered publishing it, but instead elected to publish Barbara E. Koedel’s Glory, at Last! A Narrative of the Naval Career of Master Commandant Richard Somers: 1778-1804. (1998)

Unfortunately Kemp’s manuscript went unpublished, though having talked with someone (Richard Henkle) who read it, Kemp had some original and important information that is not included in Koedel’s account or anywhere else.

Kemp had apparently located and corresponded with a former Italian soldier who was part of the 1930 road work crew that discovered the remains of five of the Intrepid sailors, and relocated them to Old Protestant Cemetery. He reportedly described the location of the original grave site in some detail and the procedures used to remove and rebury them at the cemetery. Kemp’s manuscript is probably among his private papers but their whereabouts are unknown.

In any case, these letters from the Italian soldier are now historically significant in regards to identifying the exact location of the original grave site, where eight of the men of the Intrepid remain buried, “one cable’s length” outside the walls of the old castle fort at Martyr’s Square, Tripoli.

A cable length or cable's length is a nautical unit of measure equal to one tenth of a nautical mile or 100 fathoms, or sometimes 120 fathoms. The unit is named after the length of a ship's anchor cable in the age of sail.

:U.S. customary (US Navy): 120 fathoms (720 feet, 219.456 m)

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