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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.
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
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:
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
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
(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
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."
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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.
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
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:
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,
otherwise click links below:
Edison, Unorthodox Submarine
USS Thomas A Edison
Edison, President of
Naval Consulting Board
Edison on submarine USS Thomas A Edison