Detroit Mariner Captain Francis Martin Sailed Through Nineteenth Century American History
by Kathy Warnes
Figuratively and often literally speaking, Captain Francis Martin sailed through eighty years of American maritime history. Descended from mariners, Francis Martin was born on June 1, 1800, in New York within the sound of the sea. By the time he reached 14 years of age, he surveyed the world from the deck of his uncle’s brig, the Vigilant. Before he was 20 he had visited the modest village of St. Petersburg, Russia, and while still a young man he earned a record on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean as a capable mariner of a sailing craft.
Second Mate Martin Witnesses the Death of Napoleon
One of Francis Martin’s most recounted sea stories involved the death of Napoleon. In May 1821, within a month of his 21st birthday, he served on the Purington as second mate under his Uncle Captain Williams. Bound from Java to Holland and running short of fresh vegetables, Captain Williams decided to put into St. Helena. As the Purington neared the mouth of the harbor, the British ship Rosalie, commanded by Captain Frederick Marryat challenged him. Captain Williams explained why he wanted to anchor in St. Helena Harbor, and the British man-of-war Vigo escorted them into the harbor.
Captain Williams and Second Mate Francis Martin went ashore, intending to return to the Purington within a few hours. While they were ashore, a fierce storm blew in, smashing the Vigo against the Purington. The Purington’s crew that had remained on board feared that the constant pounding of the Vigo against their ship would destroy her, so they slipped the cables and the Purington drifted far out to sea. The Purington didn’t return to St. Helena until the storm had subsided.
In the meantime Captain Williams and his nephew Second Mate Francis Martin were ashore to witness the funeral of Napoleon Bonaparte. Second Lieutenant Martin described what he had seen many times to eager listeners, including family and friends. An English military band playing a funeral march, stepped in front of the hearse. Francis Martin watched the common hearse of St. Helena carry Napoleon’s coffin to his burial place. Members of Napoleon’s personal staff, wearing the national uniform and side arms, were his pallbearers. Several companies of English soldiers followed. A salute was fired over Napoleon’s grave under his favorite willow tree where he had requested to be buried.
According to Captain Martin – he had earned the rank of captain by the time he told the story of his children and grandchildren – several wives of British officers were present at the funeral. One of them who had sympathized with Napoleon during his last lonely hours wept copiously. Years later, in November 1840, Captain Martin’s son, Frank B. Martin witnessed Napoleon’s remains returned to Paris.
Lieutenant Martin Serves Aboard Revenue Cutters and Confronts the Nullification Crisis
Between 1823 and 1831, Second Mate Martin married and started a family and sailed the seas, battling pirates and serving on various United States revenue cutters. In 1829, he married Rachel Brown of New York City and they eventually had two children, Frank B. and Louise. The Early History of the United States Revenue Cutter Service listed Francis Martin as being stationed as a third lieutenant on the revenue cutter Rush in 1830, receiving his commission from United States President Andrew Jackson.
Lieutenant Martin’s remarks recorded in The United States Service Volume 2 shed some historical light on the uniforms of the period when he said that he had been attached to the revenue cutter service for 58 years. According to Lt. Martin, “prior to 1830 the officers paid little attention to dress so far as uniformity was concerned, and adopted such patterns as the caprice of the commanding officer selected; and such was the state of the service from 1812. Prior to the uniform trimmed with yellow, a round jacket with brass buttons was worn or none as the officers thought proper. The navy officers I found in the service in 1831 wore no uniforms. The present vice admiral Stephen Rowan, was second lieutenant of the Cutter Rush to which I was originally attached. The rest were all dead.”
From 1833 to 1846, Lieutenant Martin served on several revenue cutters including the Rush, the Andrew Jackson, the Madison and the McLane. The United States Revenue Cutter Service had the cutter Andrew Jackson built at the Washington Navy Yard in 1832, and late that year Captain W.A. Howard, United States Revenue Cutter Service, sailed the Andrew Jackson to Charleston, South Carolina to support the Federal Government during the nullification crisis over new tariff laws. The Andrew Jackson and four other cutters including the Madison and McLane, forced ships arriving from overseas to anchor under Fort Moultrie’s guns and store their cargoes in the fort until the owners paid the duties on them at the new customs house at Castle Pinckney.
In 1833, Second Lieutenant Martin served on the Cutter Madison which had been sent to South Carolina to deal with the nullification crisis. President Andrew Jackson and Vice President John C. Calhoun openly split on national tariff policy, especially the Tariff of 1828. The South and parts of New England opposed the tariff. Finally, South Carolina issued an Ordinance of Nullification and Vice President John C. Calhoun became a strong advocate for South Carolina’s right to secede from the union. President Andrew Jackson ordered five cutters to Charleston Harbor to “take possession of any vessels arriving from a foreign port, and defend her against any attempts to dispossess the Customs Officers of her custody.”
Activities and John James Audubon
After the Nullification crisis had ended, Lieutenant Martin continued to serve his country aboard the Cutters McLane and Madison, scouring the Atlantic Ocean waters for pirate ships and sailing to Florida to aid the United States Armed forces in the First and Second Seminole Wars. Lieutenant Martin participated in the dangerous hunts through the swamps. The 1835 Fleet Organization Record revealed that he made $30.00 a month as second lieutenant aboard the McLane.
On November 27, 1846, Francis Martin became the captain of the lightship at Sand Key, Florida, located about seven miles southwesterly from Key West. He became the first captain of the lightship and remained there until he received orders to serve in a blockading fleet along the coast of Mexico under General Zachary Taylor in the Mexican War.
Clarence Monroe Burton mentions Lieutenant Martin’s friendship with John James Audubon in his history of Detroit.
Clarence Burton says that Lieutenant Martin and John James Audubon became friends with him while they were both in Florida. In 1831, John James Audubon arrived in Florida with the goal of collecting water birds for the third volume of his Birds of America illustrated book. He landed at St. Augustine on November 20, 1831, and traveled by pony and on foot over log roads and narrow trails. For the next six months, he explored Florida’s east coast and the Florida Keys, traveling the waterways by canoe, skiff, cutter, and schooner. In his journeys he encountered hoards of mosquitoes and Lieutenant Francis Martin. They two became lifelong friends.
Lieutenant Martin Rescues a Distinguished John C. Calhoun Sculpture
After the Nullification Crisis, Lieutenant Martin encountered another assignment involving John C. Calhoun, Lieutenant Martin played a pivot part in rescuing a famous statue of Andrew Jackson’s former vice president. On August 20, 1850, a story appeared in the Brooklyn Eagle about the recovery of the statue of John C. Calhoun.
The statue sank with the bark Elizabeth which went down in a summer storm at Point O’ Woods of Fire Island on July 19, 1850.
The Elizabeth, a 530 ton bark, had sailed from Leghorn, Italy, on May 17, 1850, carrying five passengers, a crew of 14, and cargo. The passengers included Captain Seth Hasty’s wife Catherine, Count Giovanni Ossoli, his wife Margaret Fuller, a famous writer and feminist, and their two year old son Angelino, a young Italian girl Celeste Paolini, Angeliono’s nursemaid and a Mr. Horace Sumner. Captain Seth Hasty’s wife Catherine had also made the trip with him. The cargo included rough cut marble and a large marble statue of John C. Calhoun. When the Elizabeth sank, the statue of John C. Calhoun followed the ship to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.
According to the Brooklyn Eagle, the statue of John C. Calhoun had been found by the officers of the U.S. Revenue Cutter Morris and that Lieutenant Francis Martin would immediately return to the spot with a suit of submarine armor to properly sling the box previous to bring it to the surface. Lieutenant Martin said that the statue was in perfect order, and that it could be got up with but little trouble.
Three months later, a story in the November 8, 1850 Brooklyn Eagle provided details of the rescue. The U.S. Revenue Cutter Morris, with Lieutenant Martin representing her, and Mr. Johnson’s yacht Twilight were anchored off Hamilton Avenue ferry, Brooklyn, where they had just arrived from Fire Island. Flags hung at half masts on both ships and on the deck of the Twilight lay the Hiram Power’s sculpture of John C. Calhoun wrapped in the United States flag. Lieutenant Martin’s extraordinary exertions had brought her up from the wreck of the Elizabeth, and it remained in the box that had originally covered it. The box was constructed of a double thickness of plank, strongly bound with iron, and also very heavy.
The Calhoun sculpture, weighing 2,200 pounds, had sustained more damage than originally reported. A life sized figure, clothed in a Roman toga and sandals, the right arm pointed towards a scroll held in its left hand with the word “Constitution” written on the scroll. Hiram Powers represented Calhoun’s left arm as resting on a palmetto tree, but the arm as far as the elbow and the hand with the portion of the scroll it grasped had been broken off and lost. Searchers discovered the first joint of the thumb in the box, but the thumb bore the mark of a heavy blow.
The box was buried in three feet of sand, and Lieutenant Martin and his men built a coffer dam around it and removed the sand surrounding it using a diving bell. After much exertion, Lieutenant Martin and his crew finally worked a chain beneath the box and hauled it aboard the Morris. The sculpture was sent to Charleston, South Carolina by the ship Southerner, and later moved to Columbia where General Sherman’s invading army destroyed it on February 17, 1865.
On October 1, 1851, the Revenue Service promoted Lieutenant Francis Martin to Captain and in the following years he commanded the Revenue Cutters Andrew Jackson, John Sherman, and the Fessenden. Lieutenant Martin and his family lived in Detroit from 1856 until 1860. The 1860 census shows that Captain Francis Martin lived in Detroit with his daughter Louise 22, and his son Frank, 13, along with their maid. Apparently his wife, Rachel had died by this time because the next year on February 11, 1861, he married Jane G. Clawson of New York City. They had two children, Dr. William C. Martin, a distinguished physician of Detroit, and Jessie Pollion wife of Dr. Charles E. Bleakley of Detroit.
Captain Francis Martin Fights in the Civil War
A New York Times story dated September 14, 1893, shed much light on Captain Martin’s activities during the Civil War. The New York Times reporter described Captain Francis Martin’s visit to an old friend, Captain Charles Shoemaker, commander of the revenue steamer Hudson. The New York Times reporter described Captain Martin as “a little old man with a snow white beard and a form bent with years, but showing much dignity.”
Despite the fact that he was the oldest commissioned officer in the United States Revenue Marine, Captain Martin, currently 94 years old, still appeared on the active list. He hadn’t performed active duty in more than 25 years, but he had been carried along on the rolls as “waiting orders.”
In the beginning years of his Revenue Marine Service, Captain Francis Martin had made wise land investments in the West which earned him a large fortune. He lived in Detroit, Michigan, in one of the most luxurious homes in the city. Every summer he “weighed anchor,” as he called it, and “stood down” toward New York City to adjust his compasses and see old friends.
Like old friends, Captain Martin and Captain Shoemaker reminisced about old times. When the Civil War broke out, Captain Shoemaker was a third lieutenant in the Revenue Marine serving aboard the United States Revenue Cutter Robert L. McLelland. Captain John G. Breshwood, commander, sympathized with the South and he refused to sail the McClelland north.
United States Secretary of the Treasury John Adams Dix sent an order to Second Lieutenant Samuel B. Caldwell to arrest Captain Breshwood, and assume command of the McLelland, The Secretary of the Treasury said that if Captain Breshwood attempted to interfere with the order, Lieutenant Caldwell should consider him a mutineer and treat him accordingly. The message concluded with these words: “If anyone attempts to haul down the American flag shoot him on the spot.” Confederates intercepted the message and the McLelland joined the Confederacy. Confederates also confiscated the USRC Cutter Lewis Cass stationed in New Orleans.
Captain Shoemaker was one of the officers who received the Secretary of Treasury’s order and one of the ten Revenue Marine officers serving in the Gulf of Mexico remaining loyal to the Union. When Captain Shoemaker reached the North, he joined the Revenue Steamer Bibb, which along with the Revenue Steamer Corwin was stationed in New York Harbor as port guard ships, each of them carrying 8 officers and 125 men. Captain Douglass Ottinger, current age 89, commanded the Corwin, and Captain Francis Martin, current age 94, commanded the Bibb. Sitting snugly in the cabin of the Hudson, the two captains discussed many old Civil War scenes. Captain Martin asked Captain Shoemaker if he remembered the time they stopped Captain Ambrose Burnside’s fleet in New York Harbor.
Captain Shoemaker recalled, “I had charge of the deck that evening and your instructions were to permit no raft to pass in or out of the Narrows. We were lying off the present quarantine station with batteries constantly cast loose and on that night I espied a steamer crawling along hugging all the time the Long Island shore. I hastily sent word to you by an orderly and then saw the battery named. You were on dock in a twinkle.”
Captain Martin ordered Lieutenant Shoemaker and other Bibb crew members to order the steamer to stop and when it didn’t, he ordered them to fire. They sent a nine inch shell toward the steamer but it still didn’t stop. Another nine inch shell through her walking beam finally brought the steamer to a halt. Captain Martin rubbed his hands and nodded his head, his face glowing at the memory. “Aye, and it was well done, Shoemaker. It was well done,” he said.
The steamer crawling along the Long Island shore turned out to be one of Colonel Ambrose Burnside’s transports attempting to push out to sea after sunset. When the soldiers at Fort Lafayette heard the shots from the Bibb, they opened fire. According to Captain Shoemaker, the blundering work of a volunteer officer commanding the transport nearly caused the death of many of the soldiers on board. Captain Martin returned to Detroit after his visit with his old shipmate.
Captain Francis Martin Commands the Fessenden
In 1866, Captain Martin commanded the Revenue Steamer Andrew Johnson, which patrolled Lakes Michigan and Lake Superior. When Captain Martin commanded the Johnson, he successfully completed the mission of transporting General William T. Sherman’s staff to Lake Michigan.
In the late 1860s, Captain Martin commanded the Revenue Cutter General Sherman, stationed at Cleveland, Ohio, to collect revenue and customs duties. The 1870 Federal Census shows that Captain Martin lived in Painesville, Ohio, within commuting distance of Cleveland and the Johnson, with his wife Jane, his two daughters Louise and Jessie and his son William. By 1872, Captain Martin in his family had settled permanently in Detroit, living at 159 First Street and by 1873, he commanded the William P. Fessenden. The William P. Fessenden had been launched in mid 1865, but the official record showed her not entering actual service until April 19, 1869 when she followed her orders to begin patrolling from her home port of Cleveland. During the active shipping season the Fessenden patrolled the Great Lakes and usually from December to April she laid up for the winter. In 1875, the Revenue Service ordered her to be laid up in Detroit instead of Cleveland.
Captain Francis Martin Awaits Orders and Celebrates Birthdays
In 1876, while he commanded the Fessenden, the Revenue Marine Service placed Captain Martin on waiting orders and in 1895 he went to permanent waiting orders and half pay. In May 1877, the Great Lakes newspapers reported that after 47 years Captain Francis Martin had been retired from the Revenue Marine Service and had been replaced on the Fessenden by Captain Spicer.
The San Francisco Call of June 26, 1894, noted that Captain Francis Martin, who retired from the United States Revenue Marine in 1877 after forty-six years of service, celebrated at Detroit recently his ninety-fourth birthday. “He uses glasses when he writes, but reads without them,” the story said. The Boston Evening Transcript mentioned Captain Martin’s 94th birthday celebration in a story dated June 9, 1894. In 1900, 99 year old Captain Martin lived in Detroit with his wife, 64 year old Jane and his daughters Louise and Jessie. Newspapers reporting Captain Martin’s 100th birthday party included the Detroit Free Press and the Advent Review and Sabbath Herald published in Battle Creek, Michigan. The story said that Captain Francis Martin had recently celebrated his 100th birthday in Detroit, receiving many guests, who cordially congratulated him on his heath.
The Captain’s good health continued until Saturday, January 26, 1901, when he caught cold and took to his bed. His son Dr. William C. Martin, and his son-in-law Dr. C.E. Bleakley attended him at his home on 159 First Street in Detroit but his condition worsened. Captain Francis Martin died on Thursday, January 31, 1901, and he is buried in Elmwood Cemetery. Clarence Burton noted in his biography of Captain Martin that “Detroit was most proud of its centenarian for his accomplishments and his “splendid service to his country.”
Donald Canney. U.S. Coast Guard and Revenue Cutters, 1790-1935. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1995. Douglas Peterson. United States Lighthouse Service Tenders, 1840-1939. Annapolis: Eastwind Publishing, 2000. U.S. Coast Guard. Record of Movements: Vessels of the United States Coast Guard: 1790 – December 31, 1933. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1934; 1989 (reprint).
Coast Guard Cutters Index Brig Vigilant Rush Madison McLane Morris
Andrew Jackson General Sherman Fessenden U.S. Revenue Cutter Service – 1789-1849
The City of Detroit Michigan – 1701-1922 Clarence Monroe Burton,William Stocking, Gordon K. Miller
Brave men unrewarded. New York Times. January 7, 1891.