Message Box





We connect phonograph and gramophone enthusiasts!

Click here to go Back to Edison

Sometimes when you try to learn 'the rest of the story', research can take you to a dead end, but there you often find unlinked but interesting information.  Trying to understand why Edison's grandfather would have given up life in colonial America led me to the remote, small town of Digby Nova Scotia.  I picked up tidbits of information about Admiral Digby when I served in the US Navy, another of my keen interests. If I kept digging, would I learn something about Edison's interest in the United States Navy?

Digging in Digby   A few years ago, I took the much advertised Boston to Nova Scotia Ferry to spend a few days touring this beautiful Canadian province.  Only a fellow Edison enthusiast would understand that when our ferry landed in Yarmouth, NS rather than following the crowd up the eastern seaboard, I convinced my friends that we should take the remote road west toward the Bay of Fundy and Digby.  Why Digby?   Welcome to New Scotland. 

I didn't know what we'd find in Digby so I tried to convince my friends, who then worked for AT&T, the descendent of American Bell Telephone that we just might find Alexander Graham Bell's museum. (Click here to see a short video).   Needless to say, as my friends 'had been had', I had no right to complain when exploring Digby, we found a quaint little New England-like town that looked a lot like home.  We learned many of the early settlers of Digby were in fact, from New England.

Nova Scotian history describes these settlers as a "a hearty band of United Empire (English) Loyalists led by Rear Admiral Sir Robert Digby" who in 1783 commanded the Honorable warship HMS Atalanta.  But the then conservative Boston Herald has a very different story about Admiral Robert Digby and the Bostonians banned to Nova Scotia.  Digby's close friend Benedict Arnold who in the early days of the Revolutionary War passionately pleaded with Americans to "wake up" after the Boston Massacre as they "were giving up their Liberties", distinguished himself as a military leader.  He organized a local militia and marched from Connecticut to help force the British out of Boston.  Imagine how the locals felt when it was later reported how Benedict Arnold had betrayed West Point and the American war effort against England's King George III.   The press reported that the only person worse than a Red Coat was a turncoat loyalists who high tailed it for Digby, Nova Scotia.

Bostonians delighted when Reverend Roger Viets, a Yale educated, loyalist who had moved from Connecticut to Digby in 1783, reported back that the town of 1300 inhabitants, almost all loyalists had to deal with "Drunkenness, idleness, tavern haunting, slandering, profane swearing, lying, defrauding, and stealing".  During and after the Revolutionary War, more than 25,000 people, many of whom were relatives of citizens and soldiers loyal to the King, had relocated to Nova Scotia.

Just as there was a pro-British Crown sentiment in this easternmost Canadian province, colonial America then supported the French Canadian territories.

As for the 'Honorable ship, HMS Atalanta' that brought loyalists to Digby, Bostonians well remember a 'disgraced HMS Atalanta' which had been captured by Captain John Barry of the Continental Navy frigate Alliance.   Alliance, a 36 gun frigate was built in Salisbury MA and commissioned in 1778.  

The Boston newspapers described a 'disgraced Atalanta'  that carried loyalists to Digby.  I can't confirm how she earned the disgraced adjective.  One source indicates Atalanta acted in a disgraceful way when she engaged Alliance in battle under command of Capt. John Barry.  However, it might have been Barry's Executive Officer (second in command) who acted disgracefully when he was willing to surrender when he learned Captain Barry had been seriously wounded.  Although we may never know for sure, perhaps a gunners mate from Atalanta had fired directly at Captain Barry. 

The following is an account from the Town Crier found on Early America.com  picking up where Alliance was returning from France where she had carried Thomas Paine who in 1779 had been seeking support in Europe for the American cause:  

"On the homebound trip Captain Barry of the Alliance took several prizes, but encountered bad weather when lightning severely damaged her masts and rigging. Soon thereafter, she fell in with the British sloops-of-war Atalanta and Trepassey. Sailing (or not) in calm weather, the RN sloops followed about three miles off her beam. Eventually she drifted within hailing distance of Atalanta and after identifying himself, Barry "invited" the Britisher to surrender.

After a few minutes, Barry fired a broadside and the sloops pulled away and apparently raked her stern where Atalanta was unable to effectively reply, nor in the light winds, could she maneuver. Barry was wounded but continued to direct the fight until he nearly fainted from loss of blood. Captain Hoystead Hacker, the second in command, took command and fought her a while longer. After a time, still unable to maneuver, he asked Barry for permission to surrender, wherein Barry refused and he asked to be brought back on deck to resume command. Hacker then returned 'inspired' but more likely shamed into action and fought until the wind picked up. At which point, Alliance let go two broadsides into Trepassey which knocked her out, then three more into Atalanta forcing her to strike. After the battle, Trepassey was sent to the British with the prisoners as a cartel ship. Alliance and her prize Atalanta then sailed to Boston". 

HMS Atalanta, had been tied up at the Boston Naval shipyard during the summer of 1781 as a public reminder that the British had destroyed all of Massachusetts' Navy. In July 1782, The Boston Gazette reported: "Out of respect for the traditions of The Navy rather than any respect for those on the losing side of the war, HMS Atalanta under command of British Admiral Robert Digby was allowed to depart Boston with orders that she may sail only north to England or Nova Scotia.  She left Boston for the last time with bow full of loyalists and a stern warning that she was fair game for American and French privateers if she sailed in any direction other than north. 

As for Captain John Barry, his distinguished career serving the American naval service, his achievements in battle and tactical maneuvers some of which are still taught in the United States Naval War College earned him the position of Commodore and the title "father of the American Navy" under George Washington.  At that time in US Naval history, Commodore was the highest rank achievable as Congress refused to authorize the rank of Admiral as it was thought the aristocratic title of Admiral had no place in the Navy of a Republic. 

The Alliance was the only frigate to escape destruction during the Revolutionary War.  In March, 1783, returning from Havana with John Barry at the helm, the Alliance fought her last victorious battle against the British frigate Sybil

After the war, the money-poor Congress sold off the Alliance, last ship of the Continental Navy, for scrap. For the ten years following the Revolutionary War, the United States was without any naval forces.   In addition, the American Colonies then no longer had the protection of the Royal Navy.

Previously, the United States had been paying money to the Barbary states of North Africa for immunity from attacks of Muslim pirates.  In an effort to keep peace with Europeans who were fighting Algerian and Tunisian pirates and in response to demands for increased sums of money, the policy of payments for appeasement 'tribute' was becoming less viable.  So, Congress voted to cease making payments to the Barbary coast sultans. Before long, Muslim pirates again began harassing US merchant ships.  The Muslim corsairs built for speed, easily captured any unarmed merchant ships.  After seizing the cargo and scuttling ships, these pirates would demand payment for the kidnapped sailors, many of whom were executed or killed in captivity.  

In March of 1794, reluctant to engage in any conflict in the wake of the war with England, as a peacekeeping measure only, Congress approved building six war ships, re-establishing a Navy. One of those ships is the USS Constitution (old Ironsides) the oldest commissioned ship on active duty in the US fleet, is home ported in Boston.  The USS Constitution under orders from President Thomas Jefferson helped immediately end what could have been a long, painful war with the Barbary States.

Today in the U.S. there is a very unfortunate move to rewrite or eliminate history that "might offend others".  Some of the so-called educated-elite sometimes protest the presence of Old Ironsides at the Charleston Navy Year (Boston harbor).  Others protest the Tripoli Monument at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis MD because the story offends the British, the French and the Muslims.  Some phonograph record collectors have records that might be considered offensive to others, should they be eliminated?  

For a surprising 'rest of the story'  that has nothing to do with the purpose of PhonoJack, but has much to do with history repeating, read on:

Echoes from the Barbary Coast The National Interest, Winter 2001/02, No. 66:

"On the day that United Airlines flight 175 and American Airlines flight 11 lifted off from Boston’s Logan airport, bound for a fiery collision with the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center, a lone observer watched from below. That observer was the U.S.S. Constitution, the oldest commissioned ship in the U.S. Navy and an early witness to the ravages of Middle Eastern terrorism.

Launched in 1797, the U.S.S Constitution "Old Ironsides" and her sister ship, the U.S.S. Constellation, were built to wage war on the Muslim pirates operating along North Africa’s Barbary Coast. It was a wild, untamed region of petty states and warlords whose reach extended deep into the Mediterranean Sea, from Gibraltar to the borders of Egypt. Each owed nominal allegiance to the Ottoman Sultan, who demanded that payment of an annual tribute be made to his treasury in exchange for the protection afforded by his army. This tidy arrangement worked well for those local rulers who knew their place in the imperial social order, and for the Sultan as well. The only thing lacking was an ample source of revenue. The solution was piracy."
Click here for the Full Article

Returning to Edison    Why the diversion?  What does this story have to do with Thomas Edison? One of Edison's best friends was Henry Ford with whom he spent winter vacations as neighbors in Ft. Myers FL.  Whether it was his close personal friendship with Ford a well-known pacifist or popular quotes attributed to Edison that cause many to believe Edison was also a pacifist, I don't know, but I've found no evidence that Edison was a pacifist or 'against the war', as is sometimes written.   

Perhaps because Edison was famous and well-liked, affinity groups will often claim Edison as one of their own.  For example, some vegetarians use Edison's quote: "Until we stop harming all other living beings, we are still savages" as evidence that we shouldn't eat animals.  Edison was not a vegetarian. 

Some pacifists also quote:   "There will one day spring from the brain of science a machine or force so fearful in its potentialities, so absolutely terrifying, that even man, the fighter, who will dare torture and death in order to inflict torture and death, will be appalled, and so abandon war forever" as evidence that Edison was a pacifist. He was not.


To return to the PhonoJack Start Here Page, click here otherwise click links below:

Edison, Unorthodox Submarine Hunter               

USS Thomas A Edison

Edison, President of Naval Consulting Board

    USS Constitution     

                       Edison on submarine          USS Thomas A Edison

Boston, MA  USA