« ZurückWeiter »
crown, that might be worth about one penny. The natural result of all this was, that none of the Roman heroes, of whom we read so much, ever performed an action that can be put in competition with the burning of the capitol at Washington, for which the renowned perpetrator was ennobled, together with all his posterity. .
Unhappily for this country, and still more unhappily for the writers of biography, few of us can trace our ancestry higher than Adam. And we can do this only by the aid of the authority of scripture, which wont do in the college of hefalds. Family trees are exceedingly scarce; and those, in truth, are rather barren, containing at most not more than three or four generations. Our ancestors unluckily forgot their pedigrees, having other matters to attend to, or perhaps being in too great a hurry to think of such trifles. We cannot trace back to those glorious times when a man was ennobled for killing a fleet deer, or immortalized, like young Lochinvar, for owning a swift horse, and running away with a lady, as if that was any great matter. Not one of our ancestors, that we know of, came over with William the bastard to conquer England; nor can any of us claim an unquestionable affinity to a single name in the roll of Battle Abbey, about which the English antiquarians wrote so many huge dissertations. We are consequently obliged to build up a name for curselves, as the first settlers of this country were obliged to build houses, because they found none ready built for them when they arrived; and instead of boasting lustily of our ancestors, are reduced to the unpleasant necessity of leaving it for posterity to boast of us, if they should be so inclined. It is believed, that with the exception of a few of the indubitable Dutch patriarchs of New York, whose ancestors must have flourished before the invention of history, since nobody can tell any thing about them—a few families claiming a descent from the aborigines of this country—and a few that have ennobled themselves, by purchasing a pedigree and coat of arms at the herald's office in England, that this undignified repub
lic cannot boast of a single man the merits of whose ancestors can make amends for his own want of merit.
Happily for us, however, the subject of our present notice, although most respectably descended, does not require the assistance of any documents from the herald's office, nor to intrench himself under magni nominis umbra. We will therefore proceed to a detail of the prominent incidents of his life, which have gained him the notice of the world and the gratitude of his countrymen.
Thomas Macdonough, the father of captain Thomas Macdonough, was an eminent physician, who resided at a farm called The Trapp, in the county of New Castle, Delaware. In the year 1775 he entered the army, and was appointed a major in a regiment raised by the state of Delaware,' of which Mr. John Haslett was colonel, and the late Gunning Bedford lieutenant-colonel. Major Macdonough, from what cause is not known, retired early from the army, . and returned to the Trapp. After the establishment of our independence, he was appointed a judge, and held that office till his death, which took place in 1796. He left several children, of whom three were sons. The eldest, James, was a midshipman under commodore Truxtun when he took the Insurgent, in which engagement he received a wound from a musket ball, that rendered the amputation of his leg necessary. “James," says the gentleman who furnished us with these particulars, “ was very brave. He was placed in the tops when he was wounded, and he told me that when the men in the tops were lowering him down, he could distinctly see the enemy aiming and firing at him.” The amputation of his leg rendered it necessary for him to retire from the service.
After the death of his father, young Macdonough, the subject of this memoir, obtained a midshipman's warrant, and commenced his career, with many other gallant young men, who only want opportunity to distinguish themselves like him. Of the vessels in which he served; the time of his promotion to a lieutenancy, and other ordinary circumstances of the life
of every naval officer, we know nothing, and in truth, these things are of no extraordinary interest in themselves. He followed the fortunes of our little fleet in the wars of Tripoli, and, like other young officers who, on that occasion, first met “grim visaged War” face to face, was frequently engaged in those conflicts where the Christian and Mahometan prowess was so severely tried. Though at this time, grave, reserved, and circumspect in a remarkable degree, we are told he was then remarkable for a daring impetuosity, an invincible chivalrous sort of perseverance in every kind of adventure. In 1806 he was first lieutenant of the Siren, then lying in Gibraltar harbour, under the late captain John Smith. A circumstance took place here, which as it strongly displays that firmness which is the strong feature of his character, we will detail particularly. It is derived from the most undoubted authority; and when we consider what a vast difference is observable in our feelings now and at that time, we cannot help greatly admiring the conduct of the
lieutenant. During the forenoon of a day, in which captain Smith was on shore, a merchant brig, under the colours of the United States, came into port, and anchored a-head, and close to the Siren. Soon after, a boat was sent from a British frigate then lying in the harbour, on board this brig. After remaining alongside a little while, the boat returned with one man more than she went with. This circumstance attracted the notice of Macdonough, who sent lieutenant Page on board the brig to know the particulars of the affair. Mr. Page returned with information that the man had been pressed by the boat from the British frigate, although he had a protection as an American citizen. Immediately on the receipt of this information, Macdonough ordered the Siren's gig to be manned and armed, and putting himself in her, went in pursuit of the boat, determined to rescue his countryman. He overtook her alongside the British frigate, just as the man at the bow was raising his boathook to reach the ship, and took out the American by force, although the other boat had eight oars, and his only four, and carried him on board of the Siren.
When the report of this affair was made to the captain of the British frigate, he came on board the Siren in a great rage, and desired to know how Macdonough dared to take a man from one of his majesty's boats. The lieutenant, with great politeness, asked him down into the cabin; this he refused, at the same time repeating the same demand with abundance of threats. Macdonough then told him with firmness, that he was not accountable to him, but to captain Smith, for his conduct. The Englishman threw out some threats that he would take the man by force, and said he would haul the frigate alongside the Siren for that purpose. To this Macdonough replied, “ he supposed his ship could sink the Siren, but as long as she could swim he should keep the man.” The English captain said to Macdonough,“ you are a very young, and a very indiscreet young man: suppose I had been in the boat, what would you have done?” “ I would have taken the man,
life." “ What-sir, would you attempt to stop me if I were now to attempt to impress men from that brig?” “ I would, and to convince yourself I would, you have only to make the attempt.” On this the Englishman went on board his ship, and shortly afterwards was seen, bearing her in a direction for the American merchant brig. Macdonough ordered his boat manned and armed, got into her himself, and was in readiness for pursuit. The Englishman took a circuit round the American brig, and returned again to the frigate. When captain Smith came on board, he justified the conduct of Macdonough, and declared his intention to protect the American seaman.
During the continuance of the Tripolitan war, our ships occasionally visited the city of Syracuse, once so famous, but now mouldering away, under that wretched system of government which has blasted and withered one of the fairest portions of this earth. Of Sicily, once the resort of the gods
the cradle of fertility*-the seat of arts and luxury—the country of Archimedes and Theocritus—the granary of Rome, and the most famous island of the most famous sea of the worldwho is ignorant? It is associated with the earliest recollections of the scholar; its very name conjures up a thousand ideas of beauty, grandeur, and fertility; but the admirer of antiquity, in visiting the countries most famous in days of yore, and the cities most celebrated for their grandeur and exploits, is doomed to have his enthusiasm checked or destroyed by the miserable contrast of their present state, with the descriptions of the ancient poets and historians. The history of the world is but the history of man; and as in the one case the young suc. ceed to the old, so in the other, new cities, and new empires, spring into existence, to take the lead upon the theatre of life, while those that preceded them, sink into insignificance, and are only preserved from oblivion by the writers, whose fame has long survived every vestige of the splendours they celebrated.
The climate of Sicily has been the theme of praise in every age, and the hardy northern man, who is exposed to the inclemencies of winter, three-fourths of the year, and whose toils are repaid by a scanty subsistence, might perhaps complain of the unequal distributions of Providence, while reading of the genial airs, the flowery meads, the ruddy skies, and delicious vales of Sicily, where the earth yields an hundred fold. But when he finds in the history of all nations, that such a climate and such a soil is ever the concomitant, or rather the parent of idleness, luxury, and its inevitable product, slavery;—when he reads how nations thus happily situated, sooner or later are ever the prey of tyranny-he becomes reconciled to frosts and snows, and wintry blasts, and barren hills, and is grateful for being born beyond the reach of a luxurious indulgence, to be followed by such degradations as have prostrated the manly genius, not only of Sicily, but of all
* Diodorus Siculus, says, the hounds lost the scent of their gaine in hunting, owing to a profusion of odoriferous plants that perfumed the air in Sicily.