Day 5. When we last left Tom Truxtun was a privateer having successfully captured ships with the Independence in the Caribbean. In 1777 at the age of 22, Captain Truxtun of the Mars, sailed towards the English Channel to take on British ships. The Mars, other privateers and the Continental Navy were also cruising those waters to pick of British merchant ships. When they overtook a ship, they would then go to the friendly ports of France, and have the items liquidated there.
In January 1778, he returned to America, specifically Boston, then later that year with his wife and child returned to Philadelphia after the British had vacated. In 1779 he captained the Andrew Caldwell, which sadly was captured by the British as it was just in sight of the neutral Dutch island of St. Eustatius. After his capture he was able to get to St. Eustatius and there he made an effort to get back to America. While there he managed to buy another vessel and cargo to take back to Philadelphia. On the way back Truxtun hit what probably was a hurricane, off the coast of the Carolinas. In the storm he lost all of his masts but was able to limp home (while initiating an attack on the way) by creating a jury-mast(?) and a jury-rig. The ship he was on was the Lydia and he renamed it the Independence II after she was fixed. The new name brought better luck in the privateering effort in 1780. Truxtun almost made a million dollars off what he was able to capture, however inflation was ever so increasing as the Continental Congress kept printing money.
In 1781, Truxtun managed to get himself into a fight with a British ship where both parties were hit pretty hard. However, later it was discovered that the ship was an American British loyalist ship out of New York. In 1782, General George Washington praised Truxtun’s service at a dinner, remarking that he had, “been as a regiment to the United States.”
Day 4 of looking at the man for whom the neighborhood gets its name.
In my last post about Tom Truxtun I mistakenly said he was captain of the Chance, I was wrong. After losing his first ship he captained to the British, he was just a prize lieutenant on the privateering ship the Chance. Not because he lost a ship in the Caribbean but because he got to the investors too late and they had already chosen captains.
So in Spring 1776 he sailed out from Philadelphia on the Chance heading for the Caribbean to stick up British merchant ships. Which by the way was a very profitable enterprise during the Revolutionary War. Investors would get half the spoils, and the rest were divided amongst officers and crew…. once it got through the court system. The Chance did well taking unarmed and out gunned British ships.
In the Summer of 1776 Tom Truxtun teamed up with a New York investor by the name of Issac Sears. Sears made Tom the captain of a 70 ton sloop called the Independence at the age of 21. Apparently the British were holding New York’s bay at the time so he had to sneak his ship out by going down the East River.
Somewhere in southern waters he managed to capture a ship that got separated from its convoy. In capturing that ship he got a hold of the signals the convoy was using. So he joined the convoy, showing all the right signals, blending in. At night he came close to a ship he thought was holding the greatest bounty, took it over and separated it from the convoy. His adventure with the Independence led in the capture of 2 brigs and two ships, though one did get recaptured by the British.
I’ll continue with Tom Truxtun in 1777 as captain of the Mars.
Okay day 3.
Who was Thomas Truxtun?
He’s a boy from Long Island, 20 miles from the “town” of New York. Born in February 17, 1755 son of a barrister who was working on his second family. His father had left the first set in Jamaica, West Indies. Tom Truxtun had about two years of formal schooling before he was sent off to sea at the age of 12. Though this reminds me of a Dicken’s plot, his mother had died and his father was working on family #3 and poor Tom gets apprenticed to the Pitt. The Pitt was a Bristol ship and Tom was to be cabin boy. At the age of 16 he was pressed into His Majesty’s Royal Navy (remember America was still a colony) during some international flap between England and Spain. After England and Spain settled peacefully Tom Truxton, went back to merchant seamanship on the London.
When he was 20 years old he became captain of the Charming Polly and married a 15 year old girl named Mary in 1775. He was captured in that same year, due to hostilities between the British and the American Colonies, lost his ship (of which he’d owned ½) when overtaken by the Brits in the Caribbean. When he got back to America he became a privateer as captain of the Chance exacting his revenge on British ships in the Caribbean.
Next- Ten Days of Truxton- What I did During the American Revolution
I’ve heard of an objection to Truxton’s name because he was a slaveholder. The whole city is named for a big old slaveholder. Worse yet, we’ve got a big phallic symbol on the Mall in honor of Washington, not far from that other memorial from another slaveholder, Jefferson, who also owned a number of humans.
The big biography by Eugene S. Furguson has very little to say about Commodore Thomas Truxton and slavery. Just one paragraph speaking of a period of then Captain Truxtun’s life when he was a on financially shaky ground and his family was growing with 6 girls and two boys. And the family seemed to split their time between Cranbury, New Jersey and Philadelphia:
Their Negro servant, Hannah, was still with the family; but Captain Truxtun, influenced by his late friend Franklin’s stand on slavery, had set her free on condition that he never be called upon to support her, should she leave his employ. Apparently she had chosen to stay on.
The Franklin mentioned is Benjamin Franklin.
Then the question is why did Hannah choose to stay. A couple factors might explain, she’s a woman, possibly alone with no family, possibly no supportive Afro-American community in Cranbury, her age may’ve played a factor, and it’s 1794-95.
So Truxtun’s sin was owning at least one woman who didn’t leave when the opportunity to do so was presented. For some that’s unforgivable and puts him in the same league as worse transgressors such as Washington and Jefferson. Others may not count it against him in light of what he has given to fledgling US Navy.
Next Ten Days of Truxton- Commodore’s Background
I got excited when I discovered this map from 1938. It is a hand drawn map of Southwest DC, much of which really doesn’t exist anymore. What it shows are negro and white commerical and residential areas as well as black occupied alley dwellings.
Demographic info is so cool.
I find it facinating because it further chips away at the ideas I had about Southern segregation. I always imagined it as very distinct, blacks on one side of town, whites on another and you won’t find one in the other’s neighborhood. My own (on again/ off again) study of Truxton Circle and this map shows a little mixture. The brown represents Afro-American street facing residences, black for black alley dwellings, and the yellow for white street facing residents. There are a few all yellow blocks, but there are plenty of yellow and black blocks, and yellow/ black/ brown blocks. The blue os commerical space.
Everyso often I see on other blogs commentary about the ANC system here in the District. Suggestions on how to improve them varies, but I wanted to share something, which may or may not add to the discussion. The ANC system came about after Home Rule in the 70s and are in line with the Ward system. Before Home Rule there were the civic (black) and the citizen (white) neighborhood associations that would advocate for city services.
I noticed, when poking around in early 20th century DC history, some associations’ borders kept changing or had proposed changes due to population changes or other reasons. In 1925 the North Washington merged with the North Capitol and Eckington Citizens Asssociations to become the North Capitol Society. The reason was the two groups tended to overlap and replicate each others work.
Even after the ANC system, there were changes in size and number. The system that was put in place in 1974-1976 does not look the same as the one we have today. So changes can be made, because they have been made.
Yesterday I wandered over to 3rd Street NW to admire the history. Please note this house, the chain link fence, the history! Some folks know the significance of this house, which currently is a private home from all indications. So please do not harass the occupants. Up until a few days ago I had passed the house on a few occasions without noting its importance. Then one day I was cleaning off my desk at work and there was this brochure for the National Archives’ Regional Archives- Southeast Region in Morrow, GA. As objects of interest they had on the brochure national registration cards for notables who at the time probably weren’t that notable when they filled out the card. Of the five cards there are the names and then current addresses for Huey Long, Jr., George Herman Ruth, James E. Carter, and Harry Houdini. And also some guy named Ed who lived on 3rd Street.
The house was one of several homes occupied by Edward Kennedy Ellington, also known as Duke Ellington. He was 19 when living at the house pictured.
Once again no body entered my contest. When you realize how easy it was you’ll kick yourself. It was:
Here’s the question, what is the address of a Ridge Street NW house that is still standing today but in 1940 was listed as “old and in poor condition” or “poor condition”?
473 Ridge Street NW is up for sale for $379K. In 1940 it’s assessed value was $1,557, and described as “1 2 story frame, 4 rooms; no improvements; very old and in poor condition.”
The house pictured is 425 Ridge Street. In 1940 for 425-425 1/2 Ridge Street the assessed value was $3,732. The description read as follows, “2 2 story bricks, divided into 2 3-room apartments or flats each; no improvements except inside water; old and in poor condition.” The monthly rental for it was $70 and it held 4 families, a total of 19 persons.
So seriously the only Ridge Street houses NOT described as being old and in poor or terrible condition were, 413, 457, 475, 458, 438, 440, 442, and 444. 458 was a blacksmith’s shop and garage, so it wouldn’t have mattered.
Ref- RG 302 P-1, Folder Sq. 512 & 513.
May 1st is the deadline for the DC Community Heritage Project grant. Taking a look at past recipients of the $2000 or less, grants, there is a wide range, from community arts groups, garden clubs, civic associations, and main streets. The kind of humanities projects the Humanities Council is looking to provide grants for are:
Historic Preservation guides
Christmas with the family or as I sometimes call it, the meeting of the angry black people (Stay Black! Stay Angry!), brought up another crime the white man committed against our family. This year it was farmland Great Grandpa Kelly had, that the white man took away, sold for a pittance and cut Great Grandpa a small check for. Two relatives, whipped themselves up into a frenzy about how they were going to get the land back. Which will be hard considering it is currently part of a municipal airport. Dibs on the middle of runway 2.
History is filled with tons of stories of injustices, conflicts, and lots of things left unresolved. This just not the great man on the horse history, it is also relatively unknown individuals, their descendants, or their associates (connected by membership, ethnicity, nationality, local ties, etc). Descendants may file/make claims of restitution or restoration, digging in courthouses, libraries and archives to find evidence to support them. Or associates hold past wrongs done to them as justification to fight, to resist, or to distrust.
Playing out on the neighborhood level or in local politics, old (shall I call them ‘historic’?) arguments get dusted off, and are given new life in current fights against or for initiatives, as with the proposed tax on grocery bags. Historically, the municipal government has not always been fair, equitable or just with the Black and struggling populations, and that history has been well ‘preserved’ for the present day pastime of bringing class and race into the discussion.
Present day DC bureaucrats and politicians will be/are judged by the misdeeds of their associates (who have yet to be let go or voted out of office) as well as their predecessors dating back to the establishment of the federal city. I wonder how many DC citizens are still smarting from unanswered phone calls, poor city services, and other negativies occurring years ago, possibly several administrations ago, forgetting the positive efforts, mad at the present office holder?
It is history. It is not the great man on the horse history, but is part of the narrative of how we live today. Things might have been different for me if Great Grandpa Kelly never lost his land. Maybe my grandfather, his son, would have been something other than a North Carolina sharecropper, working his own land as opposed to the land of a white landlord. It’s not great history, but a chapter in my family’s history. Who knows maybe my aunt and cousin will find the documents and make a case against the county, or the bank (or the bank that bought that bank) or whomever ‘stole’ the land. I doubt it, but on the off chance they win, dibs on the runway.