Description[War of 1812]. William Boerum Naval Archive comprised of approximately sixty-six letters, appointments, genealogical records, diaries, maps, and receipts spanning the years 1811 through 1894.
William Boerum (1796-1842) was born in New York and joined the United States Navy in 1811 at the age of fifteen, beginning a career that would span thirty-one years. Appointed a midshipman, he served throughout the War of 1812 aboard the brig USS Hornet. In 1813, the Hornet engaged and destroyed the brig sloop HMS Peacock off the coast of modern-day Guyana in less than twelve minutes. Two years later, the month after the signing of the Treaty of Ghent which ended the war, he was involved in an important naval engagement against the Royal Navy's HMS Penguin near the island of Tristan da Cunha off the southern tip of Africa. During the single ship action, the Penguin sustained heavy damage and surrendered after 22 minutes. In 1817, he was commissioned a lieutenant and served at various times on the USS Constitution, Shark, and Macedonian, later acting as commanding officer of both the Shark and the Constitution. He received the rank of captain in November 1836 and commander four months later. He was given command of the sloop-of-war USS Concord in September 1840, tasked with the protection of whaling vessels. It was in command of the Concord that Boerum tragically died on November 2, 1842, on a bar at the mouth of the Lorango (Ligonha) River off the coast of modern-day Mozambique. The Concord had run aground and Boerum, along with two sailors, were swept out to sea while trying to cross the sandbar in an attempt to reach the shore.
The majority of the letters are written by Boerum to various members of his family and contain detailed information of his service during the War of 1812 and his subsequent career. Of note is one such letter, three integral pages, 8" x 10.25", "U. S. Ship Hornet off the Island of Tristran De. Acuna [sic]," April 8, 1815, to his parents regarding the engagement with the HMS Penguin. He writes, in part: "We have had another action, and the Hornet is again triumphant...On the evening of the 22nd of March, we made the Island of Tristran De' Acuna [sic]...The next morning whilst preparing to bring the ship to anchor we discovered a strange sail...We however, stood off a short distance from the shore...and clear'd ship for action. About ½ past 1, the strange sail being within pistol shot to windward, hoisted a British ensign and fired a gun. But no sooner did our brave tars [slang term for a sailor] see their enemy's flag, than they gave three hearty cheers, the Yankee stripes were unfurled aloft, we gave them a bloody broadside and the action commenced....But in the short space of 22 minutes, their pride was humbled, and their flag came down. She proved to be His majesty's Sloop of War Penguine [sic], of 20 guns, James Dickinson Esqr. Commander, who was killed the latter part of the action." After giving a detailed description of the damage to the ships and casualties, he continues: "The next morn we took our Prize in tow and stood off from the land till we get every thing that was of service to us out of her, and then sunk her." Of the prisoners, Boerum states: "We have made a cartel of the Tom Bowline [who had arrived with the USS Peacock], she will take the Prisoners to South America, from thence she proceeds to the U States."
A second letter, also war-dated and from aboard the Hornet, finds Boerum writing to his father, two pages, 8" x 9.5", New London [Connecticut], August 2, 1813, regarding the acceptance of prize money six months after the battle with the HMS Peacock: "This morning Mr. Montandevert arrived with the money for the Peacock. My share amounted to two hundred and fifty seven dollars, including the agent's charges." He then relates the expedition of four U.S. ships who "...returned without being as successful as we expected."
Another letter, two and a half pages, 9" x 11.25", n. p., n. d. [circa November 1842],appearing on the verso of a letter to Emily Boerum, wife of Commander Boerum, George Lones [?] relates the events surrounding the death of her husband. After writing a primary letter to Mrs. Boerum, he reopens it to quickly write a second, in part: "I have opened my letter to say that I have just been conversing with one of the Concord's crew...& have learned from him many of the circumstances of the loss of...Cap. Boerum." He describes the situation with the ship after she ran aground and the valorous efforts by the crew to free her. Sadly, "...Cap. B. was washed off, the [illegible] caught him again but the sea swept him away & he was not seen again."
Also included in this wonderful archive are two naval appointments: James Madison Naval Appointment Signed as president. One partially printed page, 11.5" x 8.25", Washington, September 1, 1811, appointing "...William Boerum...a Midshipman in the Navy of the United States." Countersigned by Secretary of the Navy Paul Hamilton. Blind embossed Seal of the Department of the Navy at upper left. Smoothed folds with light toning around the edges and the folds. Edges of the main horizontal fold are chipped with some minor loss of paper, but not affecting the text. [and:] Andrew Jackson Naval Appointment Signed as president. One partially printed page, on vellum, 14" x 17.5", Washington, March 3, 1837, appointing "...William Boerum...a Master Commandant with the Navy...in the Service of the United States." With beautiful engraved military and patriotic vignettes and countersigned by Mahlon Dickerson as secretary of the navy. Blind embossed paper seal of the Department of the Navy at center. Unevenly toned; water damage at lower corners. Damp staining along the horizontal fold has resulted in some loss of paper and text at the intersection of the left vertical fold. Light to moderate toning of the folds. Some staining at the upper left corner with a secondary ink stain below and to the right. None of the damage has affected the consistently bold and bright signature of Jackson.
Loaded with details related to Boerum's military career and packed with genealogical information on the Boerum and Whetmore families, this is a must have archive for anyone interested in the War of 1812 or nineteenth century naval history.
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