Adventures

The Secret Aboard the USS Somers
Sunk in 1846 near Veracruz
A Strange Meeting in San Francisco

Photos and Text by John Todd, Jr.

A Map of Veracruz from 1847
Inconsistencies on Old Maps
This started as an interesting story from an old history professor I met while working in San Francisco.

It was the little known story about the USS Somers, an American ship which sank near Veracruz in a winter storm in December of 1846, just before the beginning of the Mexican American War in 1847.

His story inspired me to trace the life of the ship before it sank in the deep waters near a reef not far from Veracruz.

As my study of the era progressed, several interesting differences began to appear, and I wondered if they might be connected.
Who was V. Admiral Baudin?
Interesting New Clues Kept Appearing
Retracing the path of the USS Somers, new details appeared which made the search more mysterious.

What might have been aboard the USS Somers? Perhaps there might be a special secret cargo aboard the ship.

During this research, there were new details on a map dated 1847, ordered by a French Admiral Charles Baudin. Why would France be interested in the USS Somers?

Then there was a letter from one of the midshipman on a previous cruise on the USS Somers with MacKenzie. During the cruise, MacKenzie had hung several cadets for what he considered "treason".
A Different Map of Veracruz from 1847
With the Wreck of the Somers
Off to the Right
One of the men hanged was the son of the US Secretary of War.

For some reason, MacKenzie thought some of the cadets were plotting against him. But, what could he have been protecting?

Timeout for a Job
For several years after the job in San Francisco, I had been living a somewhat lazy life in Veracruz.

At that time, my goal was to finish following up on verifying the information from the professor I'd met in San Francisco by the end of March.

However, one day my old boss from my days in San Francisco called me again about a new construction job in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Chihuahua.
Focusing in on the Wreck of the Somers
So I went. By then, I had needed money again.

Shortly after working in Chihuahua came a project in Tampico which was expected to finish later that year, but it actually lasted for two more years.

Work is harmful to your Health
Sometimes work gets in the way of doing things you really want to do.

When I was living in Veracruz, people used to say jokingly, "Work is harmful to your health", and this time, I felt like it might be true.

Once free from the burdens of a full time job, my plan was to continue adding pieces to the puzzle. Here's how it started with meeting the old professor in San Francisco:

How it Started:

Crosses of the Knights Templar on
The Niña, Pinta, and the Santa María
Clues that Maybe Don't Exist
In the old streets of Veracruz, there could still be many clues which are overlooked by most people.

And, a lot of times these clues won't be found in the archives.

It's because like the Templar Cross on the sails of ships of Columbus, many of these things weren´t written down, and yet they are in plain sight for anyone to see.

You have to get out and talk to the people and look at the old buildings and try to imagine what it was like back in those days.

Yet, from time to time when clues are searched for in the old history books, and it is found that the key information is missing and the real truth is only partial.

However, in spite of this, it just makes a good story to tell others who also like to dream about old pirate treasures that perhaps never existed in the first place.

1. In a Foreign Land

Beale Street in San Francisco
In a Foreign Country
It all started when I got an urgent call from my old boss on a previous construction project.

He asked me to come back to work on the 7th floor of an office building on Beale Street, in the financial district in downtown San Francisco. And I accepted.

After living for several years in Veracruz, and now back in the US, sometimes it felt like being in a foreign land.

My "office" was really a cubicle with just enough room for a laptop, and a small file drawer.
A Cable Car Like the ones in Veracruz

The project was a good one, but sometimes there are days when I missed the warmth of the tropics and the Gulf of Mexico, and remember the stories told by the people on the Zócalo in Veracruz.

A Chance Email
One morning my spirits perked up with an email from a friend who talked to Don Alfredo the other day.

She said the Man who Feeds the Pigeons hasn´t been seen in several weeks.

Maybe he got a job, too, or maybe he had passed on.

Emails like that would make me restless to go back to my old life in Veracruz.
Sailboats on San Francisco Bay
On the clear days in San Francisco looking out the window of my small office, I would remember when I had the free time to enjoy life and listen to the stories of the Knights Templar and how they came to Mexico a long time ago.

Since he is probably gone now, it´s probably safe to tell this story without offending the man who used to feed the pigeons in Veracruz.

At the same time, maybe it might be a good idea to go out and find a copy of the DaVinci Code.

Maybe there will be some new clues about the Knights Templar and how they came to Mexico. But, it was just another dull day, stuck in a cubicle with a laptop.
Like in a Foreign Country
No Time to Enjoy Life
As I looked out the window in my office at the fog in San Francisco Bay, I thought to myself now I wish I had the time to enjoy life again.

But, it wouldn´t be long before our phase of the project would be finished, and I could go back to the Zócalo in Veracruz to have a real cup of mid morning coffee with friends and watch at the pigeons again.

A Strange Phone Call
The next day, after a meeting with the project manager, when I checked my phone for messages there was a voice in Spanish:

2. An Unexpected Phone Call

Market Street in San Francisco
"I am a sailor and I am in San Francisco for a day or two. We have never met, but a man who feeds the pigeons on the Zócalo in Veracruz gave me a message for you to keep, and asks a favor."

It is something you can do for him while you are in San Francisco.

"I will meet you at the Asian restaurant next to the Hotel Griffon at 9PM."

I wondered how he'd gotten my phone number? It wasn't a secret, but still I wondered...

So, at 9PM I entered the dark Chinese restaurant near the Embarcadero.

3. The Sailor from Mexico and a History Professor

"Hi! I'm Martín Pérez Jácome", the young man said, and held out his hand. "Thanks for coming."

I'd heard the name Jácome in Veracruz before. It was the name of a pirate who had raided Veracruz in 1683. I was curious and asked Martín to tell me more about it.

"In fact, we are somehow distantly related. My own name Jácome comes from the name of one of the pirates who came to Veracruz on the raid of Lorenz de Graaf in 1683. In Veracruz, there must be many people who share this same last name.", Martin said.

It was good to see someone from home again.

The Sweet and Sour Pork is Good Here
"Chinese food is good in America, and I especially like the way they prepare the sweet and sour pork here" Martín said.

It looked like Martín had been to many places in the world.

We talked for awhile about Veracruz and seafood, the malecón and the Zócalo for awhile and I began to relax again. I hadn´t realized how much I´d gotten caught up with my new way of life in San Francisco and had forgotten what it was like to feel alive again.

"I have been friends with the man who feeds the pigeons on the Zócalo in Veracruz for a long time. "

"In fact, we are distantly related. My own name Jácome comes from the name of one of the pirates who came to Veracruz on the raid of Lorenz de Graaf in 1683. In Veracruz, there must be many people who share this same last name."

The Man Who Feeds the Pigeons in Veracruz
"Over the years the man who feeds the pigeons on the plaza has told me many stories about the Knights Templar and how they came to Veracruz. Not many people believe him, yet it´s hard to prove that he is wrong. In fact, from what I´ve seen, he has been right most of the time."

"Anyway, he tells the story about another religious order that is not as well known as the Knights Templar, and another order originally called the Knights Hospitaller, later it was known simply as the Knights of Malta. Both were formed during the Crusades and the occupation of Jerusalem. They also had their secrets ."

"Then there are the stories of sunken ships in Veracruz. One of them in an American ship, the USS Somers which was lost in 1846. It is said that the ship contained some of the secrets from the Knights Hospitaller. This story has been kept very quiet by the authorities. "

It was a fascinating story I´d never heard.

The Brigantine USS Somers
The USS Somers
"The Pigeon Man told me that these secrets later went to North Africa through a close friendship with one of the American negotiators for the US Navy after the Barbary Coast Wars of 1803.

Some of these secrets passed onto the man who eventually became the Captain of the USS Somers which sank near Veracruz in 1846 with the loss of 32 lives. Later the Captain was relieved from duty"

"The ship sank in about 100 feet of water and it was impossible to salvage anything in those days, and over time the shipwreck was forgotten."
The End of the USS Somers
In a "norte" near Veracruz in 1846
The Shipwreck of the USS Somers
"That is, until the 1950's when Jim Lewis, a young American exchange student, came to Veracruz to work on his Master's Degree."

"He was from right here in San Francisco at Stanford University."

Old Manuscripts Stored at the University
"Over the years, Stanford has become a repository of old diaries and historical notes, and Jim was working on a double major in History and Spanish. So, Veracruz was a good place to do his research. "

"He had with him copies of some old manuscripts from the writings of Thorogood Beede, a 19th century politician who was close to the powers in Washington. He was personal friends with different cabinet members and naval officers which included the Captain of the USS Somers who had been relieved from duty following the hanging of 3 of his crew members on charges of mutiny."

"This event became part of the plot of a novel called Billy Budd, written by the famous author Herman Melville. He knew many of the details because his cousin, Guert Gansevoort was aboard the ship during the alleged mutiny and knew many of the details leading up to the hangings. What made the circumstances more interesting is that the alleged leader of the mutiny was the son of the Secretary of War in Washington."

"After Beede's death, in 1886 his sister, Harriet, organized his writings and letters, and later willed them to the University. Among these papers was an old map dated 1847 that showed the location of the USS Somers ."

"Would you like to meet Dr. Jim Lewis? He is now retired", Martin asked.

"Of course I would!", I said enthusiastically. I could feel the blood flowing back into my veins again.

"OK, my ship will be here for repairs and some maintenance, and I will be here for several weeks. Let me talk to Dr. Jim and I'll try to arrange to meet this weekend."

It seemed like I had a new spring in my short walk to the office each morning, and the days went quickly. Now I would look out across San Francisco Bay, and was looking forward to meeting the old history professor.

4. The Restless Professor

Meeting the old History Professor
The professor lived in one of the many Victorian style homes in the older neighborhoods of San Francisco. But, the neighborhood didn't feel old because there were children playing on the sidewalks, and the area had been restored, now inhabited by what looked like computer experts associate with the internet boom.

"Good to see you guys," said Dr. Lewis, as he extended his hand in the traditional greeting of Veracruz. Even though he had his PhD, he wasn't stuffy.

Although he was now retired, the professor didn't look all that old. His hair was almost gray, but there was a special sparkle in his eyes that old people don't have. It was as if he were almost ageless.

Café con Leche
Nescafé with a touch of cinnamon
Dr. Lewis led us through the foyer to his comfortable study with a lot of books in the bookcase along the walls. Some of the books looked old, too.

"Let me serve you some coffee. Although it's Nescafé Clásico, it still reminds of my travels in Mexico which began a long time ago."

The chairs around the coffee table were confortable, and soon he brought 3 cups of hot water and the Nescafé Clásico and some yellowish sugar.

"A friend brings me a pound of Mexican sugar each times he goes to Mexico, and I mix in a pinch of canela."

"Do you like it that way?", graciously asked Dr. Lewis.

Of course we did! It was just like it was prepared back home in Veracruz.

At First not an Avid Scholar
We knew for many years that Dr. Lewis had been an avid scholar of different events in Veracruz.

"How did you originally get to Veracruz?", I asked Dr. Lewis. "It's a rather out of the way place for most historians who concentrate mostly on European history."

He took a sip of coffee and settled back into his chair.

"Well, I guess it started back in the late 1940's, and then later when I was once again a college student here at Stanford University."

"Back then, my junior year was coming up, and I didn't know what to do. I could have followed my father's footsteps and studied engineering. Or try something else. Colleges were beginning Junior Semester Abroad programs, but none of these formal programs were appealing. I must say that after my sophomore year, I was simply tired of the routine of studying for exams. That's all college seemed to be. It was perhaps because of my "beatnik" friends."

San Francisco was Strange in Those Days
"I have to admit that San Francisco was a strange place back in those days, and I would hang out with a group of college friends that my father didn't like. I first met Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady at a new book store that Lawrence Ferlinghetti had started. He called it the "City Lights Bookstore" and it specialized in paperback books. These guys were considered unconventional at best and were fun to be with and just listen to."

"Since I was younger than they were, I would just hang around the fringes and listen to their stories about hitchhiking from Boston to San Francisco, meeting a lot of strange people, and seeing the world. They really enjoyed life and it was something I wanted to do, too. It was a lot more interesting than being in classes all day."

In the Port of Veracruz in Later Years
To See the World
"So I decided to take my own year and see the world and do it my way. Because of my father's contacts I was able to get a job as a common sailor on one of the ships owned by a friend of the family. I would decide later what my major would be."

"During those years, most of the world was still recovering from the effects of World War II, and I was able to find a ship that sailed to Central and South America and I got to know all the main ports on both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of the American Continent."

"I also found that the years I had studied Spanish had helped, and I improved my knowledge of the language in the bars and markets close to the ports."

Tamal wrapped in Banana Leaves
The Culprit
An Unexpected Illness
"In those years, I guess I thought I was bullet proof, and enjoyed sampling the local cuisines in the different ports of call, especially carnitas sold my the street vendors."

"It must have been in Tampico, when I had some really good tamales on a Saturday night."

"A couple of days out of Tampico, I began to feel an unusual tiredness.

A few days later I noticed in the mirror that my skin was beginning to turn yellow."

"Our next stop would be the port of Veracruz."

5. How I Got to Veracruz

La Cruz Roja Mexicana
Arrival in the Port of Veracruz
"The captain, knew it was hepatitis and immediately put me in isolation on the ship and told me to take it easy. He would find a doctor for me in Veracruz."

"As soon as we arrived, the captain took me to the Red Cross Hospital to be checked out. As he suspected one of the doctors confirmed it was hepatitis."

"Back in those days, they didn't pay much attention to whether it was Hepatitis A or B. It was all the same."

"Three months bed rest in quarantine and a special diet is what he recommended."
In a Safe Place
"It seemed like such a long time, but I was so tired that I just wanted to lie down."

"The ship captain talked to the people at the Red Cross Hospital in Veracruz, and told them all bills would be paid by Sr. Gómez, our local ship chandler and there would be no problem."

"See you in 3 months or so, Jim," the captain told me. "If you need anything send us a cable."

"And with that, I was left in the hands of the Virgen of Guadalupe on the wall in front of my bed which must have been left over from World War I and I went to sleep wondering what would happen next."

A Special Diet of Chicken Livers
Later that afternoon, the doctor came in to talk to me.

"Jim, you have a possibly fatal illness. Do you want to get well?", he said. "Will you follow what I am about to recommend?"
A Room of Distintion for Me
At this point, I was ready to try anything, and told him I would do as he said.

"Well, we have the medicines and vitamins that will help your liver get stronger and fight the illness. You will also need to eat a lot of sweets. Like one bag of candy each day."

"Another thing is you will need a special nutritious diet rich in vitamins."

Now on the Forbidden List
The doctor told me that when he was growing up, his mother worked as a maid in the home of wealthy "patrones" who lived down the street on Díaz Mirón Boulevard.

He told me the children of the servant get the most nutritious part of the meal because the maid takes home what the family of the "patrón" won´t eat.

"Chicken necks, feet, gizzards, and livers have the most vitamins and when prepared in a soup are nourishing for a growing child."

"This is why you see the children of the poor in Mexico in the streets running and jumping, full of energy."
My New Diet
3 Times a Day
Strict Discipline Pays Off
Actually, a hamburger sounded better I thought to myself.

"This will be your diet, 3 times a day, said the doctor as he left."

"Can you skip the feet and the chicken necks?, I asked."

"Yes, however you will find our chicken soup will help you get well faster. It will taste better with a bit of the juice of a lime."

"I will tell the cooks how to prepare your special meal."
The Lime Juice Helped
"The days went by as I took my medicine, and ate one full bag of hard candies each day along with the medicine and vitamins they gave me."

"I wanted to be cured and did exactly what the doctors and nurses told me to do."

The Results of Chicken Soup
"After 3 or 4 days, I began to slowly respond to the treatment of medicine, candy, and the broth of chicken gizzards, liver, and lots of spinach."

"A couple of drops of lime juice really helped because for me these were the worst parts of the chicken."

Not Delicious but Effective
"I would have preferred a breast or thigh. But, I was determined to get well and followed the doctor´s orders."

"At the same time, it wasn't easy. At 6:30AM, I was served my chicken broth. The first couple of bites were hard to get down, but after that it wasn't bad. Then at 1PM came the chicken broth again, and at 6:30PM when dinner was served, I got the same thing."

"I became friends with some of the other patients and with some of their visitors. One of them asked me if I wasn't getting tired of eating the same thing every day? I told him yes, but that I was on a special diet. I was determined to get well as fast as I could."

Out of Danger and a Transfer to the Hospital San Sebastian
"The yellow coloring of my skin gradually became less and although the tiredness was still there, I knew I was getting better."

6. A Transfer to the Hospital San Sebastian

El Hospital San Sebastian
"One day about 3 weeks later, the doctor on his morning rounds, told me that I was out of danger and probably wasn't contagious any longer.

Now I was out of the emergency phase of the illness and could be transferred to a convalescent hospital."

"I have talked to the people at the Hospital Aquiles Serdan and they have room for you."

"It is a very old hospital which we still call El Hospital San Sebastian. But it's a quiet place where you can rest, he said."

The Quiet Corridors of
El Hospital San Sebastian
The Quiet Corridors
"The next day, Sr. Gomez, our ship chandler arranged for a taxi to the Hospital San Sebastian It is managed by the Bethlemite sisters."

""It looks a little old, but I think you'll like it here," said Sr. Gomez, and he left me in my room to go back to the office several blocks away."

"Although it smelled a little musty, it would be OK for another two and a half months until the ship came back to pick me up."
The Courtyard in the Center
El Hospital San Sebastian
"The effort of the move left me exhausted and the wicker rocking chairs looked especially good."

The Daily Routine at San Sebastian
"The doctor had told me that sometimes I would feel "normal" and that I could come and go as I pleased. But, if you find you are tired, you must rest immediately."

"You want to avoid any emotional efforts such as loud music, being around too many people or getting angry. Any emotional upset can really set you back. "

"Once again, it was chicken soup three times a day, and it wasn't bad especially when you considered it was saving my life."
The Hospital Cafeteria
"Some of the people around me had told me about fatal relapses from hepatitis, and I didn't want to take any chances."

"Each morning, Sr. Gomez, the owner of the company ship chandler representing the shipping line I worked for, would quickly check in on me on his way to the office to see if I needed anything.

Sometimes in the evenings, he and his wife would come by for a visit.

Since technically I was on sick leave and later on Leave of Absence. Mr. Gomez would also bring paycheck stubs, and an advance for small expenses. I didn't need much.

"It felt like I would be in good hands until I got well."

My father's letters would come once a week with news from home and best wishes for a speedy recovery.

Sometimes my sister would call, but that was about it from folks back home.

Getting Late and Time to Go
By this time, we could see that the gracious professor was getting tired, and Martín Pérez I had to be at work the next day at 7AM. Yet, we were anxious to hear more of his story.

We begged the professor's forgiveness and told him it was getting late. Most of all we wanted to find out what happened, but we had run out of time.

The old professor told us that we were welcome at any time, and we agreed to meet the following day at his home.

The next day at work felt different. My cubicle didn't seem so oppressive and I actually enjoyed looking out the window at the boats in San Francisco Bay. I had found a kindred soul who had felt the same restlessness. I could hardly wait to hear the rest of the professor's story.

When I finished work, I dashed back to my hotel for a quick shower, and off to the professor's house in my rented car.

The professor was in fine spirits, and offered us some tea, and continued with his story:

7. Far Away from Home: A Time of Reflection

Nothing from former "Soul Brothers"
"None of my college or hippie friends wrote. Not what I had expected. I guessed they were getting high on LSD and smoking marijuana, and didn't have time to write."

"When we were partying we would declare that we were "soul brothers", and now I realized that we weren't. When I got back to the States, I never looked for them again."

Far from Home
"Yet there were times when I felt so far away from home and forgotten, and guessed it was due to the emotional ups and downs from the hepatitis."

"Often I was reminded of the old saying in Mexico, "You'll find out who your friends are when you are in jail or in the hospital." At that time, I thought the Mexicans were probably right."

"But my Spanish was improving. I was the only American in the hospital and nobody spoke English. I was picking up a new vocabulary of mostly hospital Spanish."

"The people were nice and patient while I learned, and I wrote my new words down in a little booklet Sr. Gomez had brought me."

"You will learn a lot of Spanish this way, He´d told me."

"Sr. Gomez was right."

"Soon I felt comfortable when talking to people. They knew that learning their language wasn´t easy."

Chairs in the Corridor Outside My Room

Hospital Volunteers
"When I wasn't in bed, I spent a lot of time relaxing in the rocking chairs outside my room talking to different people in the hospital. I learned also more Spanish this way."

"Besides the patient nuns dressed in their long white robes, in time, I found that there were also hospital volunteers who were part of the Third Order of the Bethlemites."

"Their vows were of service to the sick, and they brought a different touch from the "outside world."
A Life of Personal Service
Doña Guadalupe's Personal "Servicio"
"Each afternoon after the siesta hour, Doña Guadalupe would bring me magazines and books to read and we would sit in the rocking chairs outside my room and talk."

"She was always happy and sincerely cheerful, and always had time to listen. I especially looked forward to her visits each day."

"Later as I got to know her, she told me that she lived a few blocks away, and she had this free time from running her busy household. She told me about her husband and that she had 5 children, some of whom were grown and married."

"This is my own personal service of thanks for my own good health she used to say. I must always have time for this because it nourishes my soul because it makes me feel thankful for everything I have."

"The Hospital San Sebastian wasn´t pushy about religion and merely offered the opportunity to those who wished to be of service to others."

The Mysteries of an Old Wall
In the Courtyard of the Hospital
Exploring the Hospital Grounds
"During the mornings after the chicken soup, I felt strong and began to wander around the grounds of the Hospital San Sebastian which must have covered a full city block in the downtown area of old Veracruz."

"Outside the front door, you could hear the noise of the traffic, but inside the hospital it was peaceful and quiet, just as it had been centuries before."

"Maybe it was the slight noise of the water falling in the fountain in the center patio that made it feel so peaceful."

"In another grassy area, I found the ruins of an old wall. The people told me that it was the remains of the old wall that once protected Veracruz from the raids of pirates."
The Courtyard and Fountain
Origins with the Knights Hospitaller
"The next afternoon, when Doña Guadalupe came by for a visit, I asked her about the remains of the wall in the grassy area of the large patio."

"No, it isn't part of the old wall that was built after a pirate raid on Veracruz in 1783. Most people don't know it, but the song La Bamba was like a social protest song about the uselessness of the efforts of the Spanish to protect the citizens. So the wall was built to avoid such raids in the future."

But, El Hospital San Sebastian is very old and has many traditions." "For example, I belong to the Third Order of San Sebastian which dates back to the days of the Crusades to Jerusalem."

"Back then our Order was called the Knights Hospitaller which was founded to serve the hospital for the Knights Templar during the Crusades in the Holy Land in the 11th century."

"Later when Jerusalem was lost to the Moslems, the Order fled to the island of Malta, and continued the same work and changed its name to the Knights of Malta."
Another Patio with Palm Trees
Bedlam in London
"Shortly afterwards, in the early 1200´s, the Order of our Lady of Bethlehem was founded in London as an asylum to serve people with emotional problems, and later it was called Bethlem or Bedlam."

"We were part of the Third Order and didn´t live within the cloisters. Many believe that the seeds of this order were brought to England by the early Knights Templar."

"In the year 1653, Friar Pedro de Betancourt founded the Order of Bethlemites in New Spain in the province of Guatemala."
The Quiet Hallways
Bethlemites in Veracruz
"Later there were some 11 of his hospitals formed different parts of New Spain, including the one where we are here in Veracruz that was built in the 1700´s."

"By this time I was exhausted again, and Doña Guadalupe said, "I can see these details have made you tired."

"Let me allow you to rest, and I will come back again tomorrow and we can talk some more.""

"The next day when I went back to the grassy area and looked at the remains of the wall it seemed to have an important new meaning."

"That afternoon I was in for another surprise."

"I want to Practice my English"
"At the hour that Doña Guadalupe normally arrived, a new face appeared at my door."

"It was a beautiful, happy girl whose smile came from the heart."

Getting Late and Time to Go
We looked at the old clock on the wall of the Dr. Lewis´s library and we realize it was after 11 o'clock. It was very late and Martín and I both had to show up at work at 7AM the next day!

Once again we had run out of time, and it was time to go. We asked the old professor if we could meet again the following day and continue with his story. He gladly agreed.

The next day at work went by in a blur. I was really looking forward to hearing more about what happened next.

Martín was excited, too, when I picked him up late that afternoon after work. After our talks with Dr. Lewis the previous night, he admitted that he was less homesick.

Again, the professor was in fine spirits, and after greeting us profusely, he offered us another round of Nescafé Clásico, and continued with his story:

8. A New Friend: María Elena

"My name is María Elena, and I want to practice my English. Do you have time?"

"My mother is a volunteer here, she couldn´t come today and she suggested I talk to you. I hope you have time because I need to practice my English."

"I welcomed the company and invited her to pull up a chair next to the bed where I was waking up from my afternoon siesta."

A Mysterious Gate in the Courtyard
The Entrance to An old Tunnel
"My mother gave me something that might interest you," she said. "Put your shoes on, and I'll meet you in the cafeteria."

"Later in the cafeteria over an orange juice, she told me that her mother had to go to Puebla for a few days, and that she thought this would be a good opportunity to practice her English."

"As you can see in this old map, Veracruz is a very old city, she said."

"Yes, can you tell me about the wall in the courtyard?"
A Closer Look
"Her English was good, and her choice of words was precise."

A Wall that Protected Old Veracruz
"As you see in the old maps of the city. the wall you see was not part of the protective wall around the town of Veracruz, but perhaps an internal wall.

The premises here at the hospital were once very large and covered a whole city block, but when the protective wall was demolished in 1880, Zaragoza Street was lengthened for the new railroad, and the land was taken from the hospital."
A Closer Look
The Mysterious Tunnels of Veracruz
"One of the first city projects was an early potable water system that connected the fountains in the patios of each of the convents."

"Sometimes these small tunnels were empty and could be used as hiding places during times of danger or the occupation by foreign armies."

"Apparently they didn´t think the wall around the city would be enough to deter pirates, because perhaps you never knew when there might be enemies from within the walled city."
A Closer Look
"As you can see, the extensive tunnel system in Veracruz also included the Hospital San Sebastian."

"Although the system is closed you can still find entrances in some of the old buildings. For example, one of the entrances is right over there."

A Mysterious Gate
"From our table in the cafeteria, she motioned over to a low stairway going up to a second story. If you look under the stairway next to the wall you will see what looks like an entrance going down. As you can see it has been cemented and is closed now."

"When we were finished with the orange juice, I felt a little stronger and we walked out into the grassy patio next to the old wall.

Perhaps to many people it looked like a pile of rocks, but to me it was something special that was several centuries old."

"Soon it was time for María Elena to leave.

"See you later, Alligator!", she said, with her new English expression.

I was tired again, but looking forward to her next visit."

Welcome News: A Stroll into the Outside World
The next morning María Elena came early and brought some welcome news.

"The doctor told me you are well enough to go outside now. Let´s take a short walk out into the street. There´s a place I´d like to show you."

"It´s the archives of Veracruz and it may have the answers to some of the questions you asked my mother the other day. I think there are some things there that will interest you."

"We might start with what we call "El Camino Real". Most people don't know it but Veracruz was the beginning and end of this rough road that extended as far as California and New Mexico, and even the Philippines. This should give you an idea of how important Veracruz was in the past."

She took out a simple map and said, "As you can see, Veracruz was a very important part of the Spanish Empire. It was the center of traffic and logistics for one of the richest empires in the history of humanity."

I was impressed and wanted to find out more.

By now, my strength was slowly returning, and María Elena and I would spend each morning for the next two weeks at the Archivo del Estado among a lot of musty old history books, and looking at old maps. Following doctor's orders my daily bag of hard candy was always with me.

The route along the Camino Real was interesting, but around noon, my strength would give out, and it was time for chicken liver and gizzard soup, and a welcome siesta in the afternoon.

9. New Sensations in the Outside World

Smells of Delicious Fresh Seafood
Smells of Seafood
"María Elena told me the Archivo was about a block away from the hospital."

"We will take the long way around the block, down Zaragoza Street."

"I hadn't been into the outside world for about 6 weeks, and almost immediately after walking out of the peacefulness of the hospital, I felt assaulted by the sounds of the busy traffic."

"The weather was warm and the humidity was high."
El Archivo del Estado de Veracruz
Music in the Streets
"While we were walking, yout could hear the sounds of tropical music coming from the window of a carpenter´s shop."

"And the wonderful smells of seafood cooking from the restaurant on the corner."

"After the quiet of the hospital, Veracruz felt alive!"

"You could see that downtown Veracruz still has what remains of many elegant homes."

"Some had been restored and are used for businesses or residences."

"We walked by a couple of neglected buidlings with trees growing out of the walls."

"María Elena explained that two centuries ago the Archivo was the elegant home of the Countess of Malibran."

The State Archives of Veracruz
La Casa de la Condesa de Malibran
The first moments of the morning sunlight reflect upon interior patio of this spare but elegant 17th century Spanish home.

It is across from the Navy park, and just down the street from the Veracruz fish market on Zaragoza street. Today it houses the Archivo Histórico y Biblioteca del Estado de Veracruz.

María Elena introduced me to one of the people who worked there and told me he could show me a lot more interesting information. In time, his guidance helped me immensely in follow up on finding some missing clues.
Up the Old Stairway
The First Roads for Horses in New Spain
He explained that when the Spaniards arrived in Mexico they found a system of roads that were no more than walking trails.

In spite of great cultural developments such as pyramids, the Indians had no horses, burros, oxen or beasts of burden, and hadn´t invented a wheel larger than a child´s pull toy.

In Early New Spain
Freight in those days was carried on foot by bearers, or "talmanas", supporting heavy loads with a tump line across their foreheads. You still see people carrying things this way in the Indian areas of Mexico and Guatemala.

No Bridges for the Oxcarts
When the Spaniards later brought in horses, donkeys, mules, and oxen, they found they would also have to build bridges over the rivers that would bear the weight of carriages and the oxcarts full of merchandise coming from Spain through the port of Veracruz.


Traffic Flow During the Spanish Colonial Era 1521-1810

San Juan de Ulua
The Early Beginnings of Veracruz
He went on to say that as early as 1550, the first Camino Real, or King´s Highway began construction in the states of Veracruz, Puebla, Hidalgo, and Tlaxcala, Mexico, and was the first toll road in continental America.

An Important Place
I'd heard of the fort of San Juan de Ulúa, but didn't know the real importance of this old fort until much later when I was strong enough to actually make a visit.

It was impressive to see the beginning and end of the vast Camino Real.

For about 300 years, the fort was the center of traffic and logistics for the richest colony of the Spanish Empire and was the repository for the treasures of the orient, South America, and Mexico.

Many times this enormous wealth came from far away on its trip to the mother country of Spain.


The Roads to Antigua, Veracruz
Spain´s Only Official Port
For some 300 years, Veracruz was Spain´s only official port on the Gulf of Mexico.

The port of Veracruz was the origin, as well as the destination of the Camino Real highway system in New Spain, bringing merchandise from Spain, and transporting gold and silver from Mexico as well as the treasures of the Orient back to Spain.

It was the route taken for the largest transfer of riches known in the history of mankind.

Km. 0 on the Camino Real
I had the time and decided to dig a little deeper.

There was also the gold and silver going to the port of Veracruz, then on to Spain.

Although in most cases, the Camino Real followed the original routes, this new system of toll roads eventually replaced and improved the walking Indian trails with wider roads and bridges over the raging rivers and deep gorges, especially in the rainy season.

The Camino Real Highway System
The first official Toll Road in Mexico was the Camino Real from Veracruz to Mexico City.
An Ancient Doorway in Antigua, Veracruz
The Purpose of the Camino Real
It´s purpose initially was to transport the Aztec gold to Spain.

Later when large deposits of silver and gold were found in Zacatecas, Guanajuato, Taxco, and Chihuahua the Camino Real was expanded to carry these new riches back to Spain.

Along the Camino Real to Veracruz passed all the merchandise and people who came from Europe through Veracruz, the only official port on the Gulf Coast.

Silver Prices Plunge
At the time of the Conquest of Mexico, the price of silver was the same as the price of gold.

The quantities of silver found were so vast that the market was flooded with Mexican silver forcing the price downward to the proportions seen today.
La Casa de Hernan Cortés
Profitable Business
The profitable sales of goods from Spain at a handsome mark-up was allowed.

Back then it was said that even the cheapest bottle of wine in Barcelona increased in value some 1200% when delivered to the mining towns of Zacatecas.

Maintenance
A system was devised to pay for maintenance, as well as pay local municipal taxes, making it possible for towns to grow along the new road.

At convenient locations along the road such as bridges or state lines. The toll or tax was charged according to the value of the merchandise.
La Casa de Hernan Cortés
Royal Mounties
People didn´t stray far from the Camino Real since occasional bands of runaway slaves and highway bandits presented a real danger.

Royal Spanish soldiers had detachments that regularly patrolled the Camino Real.

The original Camino Real from Veracruz to Mexico City went from Antigua, Rinconada, El Lencero, Xalapa, Perote, Puebla, Tlaxcala, and then to Mexico City.

Camino Real Map
Caminos Real in America Before the Year 1600

A 21 Day Trip
In those days it took 21 days to make the trip during the dry season, and during the rainy season it took about 31 days. Later the same trip would take 12 hours by train, and now the a bus trip to Mexico City takes about 5 hours.

A System of "Ventas"
Along the Veracruz-Mexico City Camino Real there were some 21 way stations, or "ventas" along the way, each about a day's ride apart. A "venta" was a concession authorized by the "Casa de Contratación" or the colonial business arm set up by the king of Spain. At the "venta" fresh horses, local food, or small hotels were available along the way.

courtyard
El Museo de la Ciudad
Later Caminos Reales
In later years another Camino Real to Mexico City was established through Córdoba and Orizaba, and the first train to Mexico City followed this route.

The main street through Orizaba and many towns and villages in Mexico is still called "El Camino Real".

To the south a Camino Real was established from Mexico City to Acapulco to bring the riches from the annual Nao fleets from the Philippines, China, and India.

From Mexico City, these treasures were transferred to Veracruz for shipment to Spain.

El Camino Real de la Tierra Adentro.
When rich deposits of gold and silver were discovered in Zacatecas in 1546, and in 1550, another Camino Real highway system called "El Camino Real de la Tierra Adentro", or the Inland Camino Real, was built to transport these riches to Mexico City, then on to Veracruz and Spain.

Expansion into New Mexico
By 1598, the Viceroy authorized the expansion of the road as far north as Santa Fe, New Mexico in hopes of finding an extension of the rich mines, such as the Santa Eulalia and Temosachic mines in Chihuahua, as well as extending the lines of the profitable trade of items from Spain to the new colonists in the mining boom towns.

Eventually the Camino Real extended to California connecting the 19 missions along the coast to Mexico City and eventually to the fort of San Juan de Ulúa in Veracruz.

Camino Real Map
Camino Real de los Jesuitas
Another Camino Real in Veracruz
In the year 1600, the King of Spain authorized another third short Camino Real in the state of Veracruz for the Jesuits and their sheep herding business. It went from San Bartolomé to Paso de Ovejas.

When Independence movement which began in 1810, and rebel troops began to drive the Spaniards back to towards Veracruz, the Camino Real highway system continued to operate with taxes continuing to be collected, now providing operating funds for local municipalities.

The End of the Camino Real System
Technically it operated in New Spain until November 23, 1825, when the Spaniards finally gave up their last outpost at the fort of San Juan de Ulua in Veracruz.

The Camino Real colonial highway system in New Spain is fascinating because it parallels the development of the New World during the first 300 years of the history of Mexico and parts of the United States. It was the route taken for the largest transfer of riches known in the history of mankind.

The vast amounts of treasure that passed through the port of Veracruz from as far away as China and India are beyond anyone´s imagination.

Camino Real Map
"Méjico" was changed to "Mexico" and "Jalapa" to "Xalapa" by President Benito Juarez

An Old Map and a New Project.
The original Camino Real that wound its way through the tropical villages from Antigua, Veracruz is now mostly lost, and local people don´t seem to care. It has always been there.

María Elena told me the people in the little villages still tell of legends of bandit treasure and lost gold which are part of the Camino Real.

A lot of the treasure is still there.

Later walks with María Elena
By this time, mentally I was saturated with history, and wanted to get out and see some of the places we´d been reading about.

As I got to know María Elena better, she told me that her father was also interested in history and had some new stories that weren´t in the archives. The archives were for the basic background information.

Veracruz still had many mysteries, and the answers would have to be explored elsewhere.

It was then that she invited me into her home which was only a couple of blocks away from the Hospital San Sebastian. And one morning she said,

"Let me invite you to meet my father. He also has some interesting projects."

"Con mucho gusto!" I replied.

Miscellaneous Research to Follow up...

Short walks around the block and getting well.

Manuel, a cousin from Mexico City, is a Pemex engineer assigned to a new seismic vessel in the 1950´s mapping the waters around Veracruz. Became good friends.

An unknown blip on a Pemex map.

La Guaca and the fishermen. The value of fishhooks.

Delays in returning to San Francisco and my application for my Junior Year Abroad.

For my these, I chose Veracruz, and knew Don Manuel could help me with the details.

San Miguel Archangel
A Traditional Home
The first time I visited the house of María Elena, it seemed a little strange to be surrounded by saints.

I guess I wasn´t used to a traditional Catholic household in Mexico where saints are everywhere.

"It´s not that we are really all that Catholic," she told me.

"It´s just that my father likes it that way. It means that we are protected by St. Michael, The Archangel who is the saint of soldiers."
The Chifonía
Meeting Don Manuel
"Now let me introduce you to my father, don Manuel. He´s been wanting to meet you."

María Elena led me to one of the rooms in back of the house. She said it was Don Manuel´s study.

She opened the door, and at an old desk was Don Manuel.

He looked a little old, and behind his old fashioned glasses had the look of a man who had stayed up late reading in his quiet study.

His furniture was very old, too, and his study was almost like an old museum with different objects on several tables.

He also had many old books, mostly about history.
The Twin Angels
The Chest of the Angels
Don Manuel especially cherished an old crystal cabinet that was hand painted with angels.

He seemed especially devoted to St. Michael Archangel, patron saint of soldiers.

I asked Don Manuel about the significance of his research and soldiers.

He replied that it was related to many of the events that had happened in Veracruz during the last four and a half centuries. There are still many unsolved mysteries in Mexico.

That is all he would say.
One of the Angels
The Pointing Angel
The Old Spanish Bell
The Mysterious Legends of Don Manuel
Don Manuel was rather old, at least by the standards in Veracruz. He was probably in his 70´s when he passed away. And Don Manuel was never wrong.

I will always remember our conversations late into the night at the Casona in which he patiently told me the legends of Veracruz. He didn´t call it history.

From his stories, I realized the history I was studying in college was different from the legends he was telling me.

When I was back in Veracruz on my Junior Year Abroad, I stopped by to see don Manuel again because I knew he could help me with my project about the USS Somers that sank near Veracruz in 1846.

I was somehow fascinated that I was so close to something that had really happened so far away from the university library.

"What you see here on my desk cost many lives," Don Manuel would tell me.
Some old Bottles
The Legacy and a Passion
On a later trip to Veracruz, María Elena told me, "Just before my father passed away, he asked me to give these things to you and to continue the search."

"The bell and the little wooden box had been preserved for many years, and it is said they were found on the beach the day after the "norte" sank the USS Somers."

"We think that it is what Commander MacKenzie was looking for when he later returned with the Americans during the War of 1847."

Perhaps this is why V. Admiral Baudin had the wreck of the USS Somers included in the Disturnell map from 1847.

Perhaps this is another legend from old Veracruz, but somehow it has given me life and I continue to search for the truth. Or could there have been something else?
An Old Bell and the Legacy
The Old Bell and the Search
Perhaps the Bell is the Key
Perhaps the Bell is the Key
Clay Pottery
Strange Clay Pottery

An Interesting Little Cross
A Little Cross and an Old Horseshoe
Several days later, María Elena was cleaning out an old closet and found a little cross and an old horseshoe.

"My grandfather used to look at this little cross for hours."

"He said it was found nailed to a piece of wood in the wreckage of the USS Somers a long time ago."

"I think he would have wanted you to have it."
A Closer Look
In the Library
Jim took a closer look and thought that he´d seen it somewhere in an old book in the University library.

Months later, back in California, he was in the library and remembered Don Manuel's cross.

He remembered where the book was and found it was the same cross.

Found in an old library book in San Francisco
Lost Treasures of the Mediterranean
The book was about lost treasures of the Mediterranean.

In the early 16th century it is said that that cross belonged to a caliph in Libya who was a secret Christian of one of the early sects.

The article said that this sect secretly helped the Knights Templar during the Crusades.

One of the Knights was close to Moslem and the Christians of the Middle East was given the cross and a bell when the Templarios were exiled.

One of the stopover points was Malta which, in those days, had close contacts with the sultan of Tripoli.

Could this cross and bell been what MacKenzie and Charles Baudin had been looking for aboard the Somers?

Researching Historical Writings Searching for Clues

The Brigantine USS Somers
Another Story from Don Manuel
One evening, Don Manuel told me, "I´ll bet you didn´t know there is an American ship that sank near Veracruz. It was called the USS Somers."

I´d never heard of it, so when I was back at the University in San Francisco, I did some digging and found it was true.

A Gallant Ship: The USS Somers
The Somers was in the Gulf of Mexico off Vera Cruz at the opening of the Mexican-American War in the spring of 1846; and, but for runs to Pensacola, Florida, for logistics, she remained in that area on blockade duty until winter.
The End of the USS Somers
In a "norte" near Veracruz in 1846
The Shipwreck of the USS Somers
The USS Somers sank off the coast of Veracruz on December 8, 1846 while chasing a blockade runner off Vera Cruz, the Somers capsized and foundered in a sudden squall.

Thirty-two members of her crew drowned and seven were rescued.

The irony is that December 8 is the day of Our Lady of the Ascencion, the patron saint of the Cathedral of Veracruz.

Research at the University Library
From old diaries
The Secret Aboard the USS Somers
Sunk in 1846 near Veracruz
Another Strange Meeting in San Francisco

The Secret Moslem Manuscripts
A secret Moslem manuscript preserved by the Knights Hospitaller, also known as the Knights of St. John later passed on to the family of Muhamed Al-Sharif via Lebanon.

Passed on to the Americans through a personal friendship between Samuel Adams, a young Harvard trained US translator fascinated by North African culture, and his counterpart, a Lybian translator, Muhamed Al-Sharif, during the lengthy negotiations of the ransom after the Barbary Wars at Tripoli.

"The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day cannot unveil the mystery of light. If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life. For life and death are one."

The Barbary Wars and the Knights of Malta
The Knights Hospitaller, also known as the Knights of St. John, had begun their occupation of Rhodes in 1309. They created a new identity as the "Knights of Rhodes" and began to engage the Barbary Pirates in naval warfare, as part of their greater war against the Ottoman Empire.

To protect Rome from Islamic invasion, in 1530 Charles V deeded the islands of Malta to the knights. The newly christened "Knights of Malta" widened their war against the pirates and their Ottoman masters to include the entire Mediterranean. From the 16th century until 1798, Malta served as a bastion defending Europe against the corsairs and pirates of Algeria and Barbary, and Christian nations respected her and kept friendly relations with the Order. Thus, Malta flourished in this golden age of the Order's history, and the pirate's booty was brought to the island, sold, and the money filled the Treasury of the Order.

In 1798, Napoleon seized Malta en route to his campaign in Egypt. Requesting safe harbor to resupply his ships, he waited until his ships were safely in port, and then turned his guns on his hosts. The Knights of Malta were unable to defend themselves from this internal attack. After holding the Barbary Pirates in check for centuries, they were forced to leave their island stronghold. Napoleon's actions created a power vacuum in the Mediterranean which the pirates exploited.

Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli, although nominally governed by the Islamic Ottoman Empire, had been largely independent Muslim states since the 17th century. The monarchy of Morocco, which had been under its current government since 1666, was well known by the time of the Barbary Wars for supporting piracy.

Britain and France had come to uneasy ententes with the pirates; a combination of military might, diplomacy, and extorted payments had kept ships flying the Union Jack Flag or French flag more or less safe from attack. As British colonists before 1776, American merchant vessels had enjoyed the protection of the Royal Navy. During the American Revolution, American ships came under the aegis of France due to a 1778 Treaty of Alliance between the two countries.

A Gross Error
However, by 1783 America became solely responsible for the safety of its own commerce and citizens with the end of the Revolution. Without the means or the authority to field a naval force necessary to protect their ships in the Mediterranean, the new struggling U.S. government took a pragmatic, but ultimately self-destructive route. In 1784, the United States Congress allocated money for payment of tribute to the Barbary pirates.

Capt. Bainbridge Paying Tribute to the Dey
Paying the Ransom
Use for the money came in 1785, when the Dey of Algiers took two American ships hostage and demanded US$60,000 in ransom for their crews.

Then-ambassador to France Thomas Jefferson argued that conceding the ransom would only encourage more attacks ("Millions For Defense, Not One Cent For Tribute").

His objections fell on the deaf ears of an inexperienced American government too riven with domestic discord to make a strong show of force overseas.

The U.S. paid Algiers the ransom, and continued to pay up to $1 million per year over the next 15 years for the safe passage of American ships or the return of American hostages.

Payments in ransom and tribute to the privateering states amounted to 20 percent of United States government annual revenues in 1800.

Setting Precedents
Jefferson continued to argue for cessation of the tribute, with rising support from George Washington and others. With the recommissioning of the American navy in 1794 and the resulting increased firepower on the seas, it became more and more possible for America to say "no", although by now the long-standing habit of tribute was hard to overturn.

In 1786 Jefferson and John Adams went to negotiate with Tripoli's envoy to London, Ambassador Sidi Haji Abdrahaman or (Sidi Haji Abdul Rahman Adja).

The Oldest Monument
The Tripoli Monument, the oldest military monument in the U.S., honors the heroes of the First Barbary War: Captain Richard Somers, Lieutenant James Caldwell, James Decatur, Henry Wadsworth, Joseph Israel, and John Dorsey.

Originally known as the Naval Monument, it was carved of Carrara marble in Italy in 1806 and brought to the United States as ballast on board the USS Constitution (Old Ironsides). From its original location in the Washington Navy Yard it was moved to the west terrace of the national Capitol and finally, in 1860, to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

Founding of the US Naval Academy
The institution was founded as the Naval School in 1845 by Secretary of the Navy George Bancroft. The campus was established at Annapolis on the grounds of the former U.S. Army post Fort Severn. The school opened on October 10 with 50 Midshipmen students and seven professors. The decision to establish an academy on land may have been in part a result of the Somers Affair while that vessel was being used for officer training.

Questions about the "USS Somers Affair"
Who were the 32 crew members who drowned and did any of the bodies of these men wash ashore? Where were they buried? In Veracruz?

Seven were captured. By whom? Who were they?

Were any of these men related to earlier events?

The Story of the "USS Somers Affair"
The second USS Somers was a brig in the United States Navy during the Mexican-American War, infamous for being the only U.S. Navy ship to undergo a mutiny which led to executions.

Somers was launched by the New York Navy Yard on 16 April 1842 and commissioned on 12 May 1842, Commander Alexander Slidell Mackenzie in command.

After a shakedown cruise in June and July to Puerto Rico and back, the new brig sailed out of New York harbor on 13 September 1842 bound for the Atlantic coast of Africa with dispatches for frigate Vandalia. On this voyage, Somers was acting as an experimental schoolship for naval apprentices.

After calls at Madeira, Tenerife, and Praia, looking for Vandalia, Somers arrived at Monrovia, Liberia, on 10 November and learned that the frigate had already sailed for home. The next day, Commander Mackenzie headed for the Virgin Islands hoping to meet Vandalia at St. Thomas before returning to New York.

On the passage to the West Indies, the officers noticed a steady worsening of morale. On 26 November 1842, Mackenzie arrested Midshipman Philip Spencer, the son of Secretary of War John C. Spencer, and accused him of inciting mutiny. The next day, Boatswain's Mate Samuel Cromwell and Seaman Elisha Small were also put in irons.

An investigation by the officers of the ship, including Lieutenant Guert Gansevoort, over the next few days indicated that these men were plotting to take over the ship, throw the officers and loyal members of the crew to the sharks, and then to use Somers for piracy. On 1 December, the officers reported that they had "come to a cool, decided, and unanimous opinion" that the prisoners were "guilty of a full and determined intention to commit a mutiny;" and they recommended that the three be put to death. The plotters were promptly hanged. Some have noted that the captain could have waited since there were only thirteen days to home port. In response, the captain noted the fatigue of his officers, the smallness of the vessel and the inadequacies of the confinement.

Somers reached St. Thomas on 5 December and returned to New York on 14 December. She remained there during a naval court of inquiry which investigated the mutiny and the execution and the subsequent court-martial. Both proceedings exonerated Mackenzie, but the populace would never let him forget the situation. Spencer's defense was that they "had been pretending piracy".

About Alexander Slidell Mackenzie
Alexander Slidell Mackenzie (1803-1848) was a U.S. Navy officer who served during the first half of the 19th century. He was the brother of U.S. Senator John Slidell, who was involved in the Civil War's "Trent Affair."

Mackenzie entered the United States Navy as a midshipman in 1815. In honor of a maternal uncle, he assumed the name Mackenzie in 1837. A contemporary of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and a personal friend of Washington Irving, he published a number of books, including Life of John Paul Jones, Life of Commodore O.H. Perry, and Life of Commodore Stephen Decatur.

Another Source
While in command of the USS Somers in 1842, en route to the United States from the West African coast, Commander Mackenzie oversaw the arrest, trial, and execution of three American sailors who had supposedly plotted to take control of the ship. The ring leader, Philip Spencer, was the son of the Secretary of War, John Canfield Spencer. Although he was completely exonerated at a trial and at a subsequent court martial, the controversial incident (known as the "Somers Affair") colored the remainder of Mackenzie's life.

He was ordnance-officer at the siege of Vera Cruz, and commanded a detached division of artillery at the storming of Tabasco in 1847. Mackenzie also attained note as an author. His first book was "A Year in Spain, by a Young American" (2 vols., Boston, 1829; London, 1831; enlarged ed., 3 vols., New York, 1836), which gained immediate popularity both in this country and in England.

More About the Trial
In 1842, the small U.S. brig, Somers, a training ship for naval officers under the command of Alexander Slidell Mackenzie, knifed through the choppy waters off the African coast. This was the era of wooden sailing ships, large crews, and few officers; and together with poor food, cramped quarters, and lengthy sea duty, this caused the fear of mutiny to hang like a pall over most ships.

Mackenzie, a literary man who had written several books, disliked his job, the men who served under him, and in particular, he disliked Philip Spencer, the 18-year-old son of John C. Spencer, Secretary of War. By nature, Commander Mackenzie was a frustrated Captain Bligh, but running scared.

James W. Wales, a purser's steward, reported to Mackenzie that young Spencer had approached him with plans for a full-scale mutiny wherein Mackenzie and his officers were to be killed. On Wales's statements rested the bulk of evidence. Mackenzie and his officers were frightened. Day by day, their uncertainty fed this cancer until, in a burst of determination to prevent that which they feared, they acted. On Mackenzie's orders, Spencer, Cromwell, and Small were hanged.

The Court-Martial. When the Somers put into New York Harbor on December 14, 1842, a court of inquiry was called for December 28. Before completion of the inquiry and at the request of Mackenzie, a court-martial date was set for January 28, 1843, at Brooklyn. Mackenzie was charged with 3 counts of murder, 2 counts of oppression, illegal punishment, and conduct unbecoming a naval officer.

In answer to the charges, Mackenzie stated: "I admit that acting Midshipman Philip Spencer, Boatswain's Mate Samuel Cromwell, and Seaman Elisha Small, were put to death by my order, but, as under existing circumstances, this act was demanded by duty and justified by necessity, I plead not guilty to all charges."

* * * * *

A Joke?
...Mackenzie, a naval officer who was also a successful author, a protege of Washington Irving, a friend of Longfellow, a man respected by influential friends in and out of the Navy - and one of the most enigmatic, intriguing and, finally, appalling personalities to emerge from the annals of pre-Civil War America.

Soon, however, contrary information surfaced. The conspiracy, it now seemed, was at worst a bad joke; there was never sufficient threat to justify the executions, lesser remedies would have been feasible and the officers had apparently acted in panic. A naval inquiry was convened, followed by a court-martial of Mackenzie. The results of both cleared him and his officers of all charges. The Navy had closed ranks, forestalling Secretary Spencer's maneuvers to bring the commander before a civilian court.

From The Affair of the Somers. By Philip McFarland

* * * * *
...Santa Cruz de Tenerife is a beautiful island in the Canary Island chain. It is also where Spanish treasure convoys from America arrived regularly at that island...

...Most of the lads were more interested in bars and party life close to the port. Perhaps it was here that young Spencer and his buddies began their talk about mutiny. It had been a long trip across the Atlantic, and most of us were bored and thirsty...

Commander MacKenzie had been rough on us during the trip, and perhaps treated us as if we were secondary school students in the classes he used to teach. But, as commander of a ship, keeping the crew in line was a different matter...

...as a matter of fact, we were all restless and irritated with Commander MacKenzie´s secretiveness...

...I was told that in the officer´s mess, when he´d had a little too much wine, he talked occasionally of his friendship with Washington Irving, who was then the US Ambassador to Spain...

...On shore in Tenerife, Mr. MacKenzie he had visited a small church because he said he was interested in history. When he returned to the ship, he seemed nervous, as if he were hiding something...

...This fed the fires of intrigue among young Spencer and his friends, but most of us didn´t think it amounted to much...

A letter to a friend from one of the midshipmen written many years later...

* * * * *

Tracking Washington Irving
Washington Irving (April 3, 1783 – November 28, 1859) was an American author of the early 19th century. Best known for his short stories "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle" He was also a prolific essayist, biographer and historian. His historical works include biographies of George Washington, Oliver Goldsmith and Muhammad, and several histories of 15th century Spain dealing with subjects such as Columbus, the Moors, and the Alhambra.

Irving and James Fennimore Cooper were the first American writers to earn acclaim in Europe, and Irving is said to have encouraged authors such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Edgar Allan Poe. Irving was also the U.S. minister to Spain from 1842 to 1845.

Irving is Fascinated by the Spanish Archives in Madrid
While in Paris in 1825, Irving met Alexander Hill Everett, who was on his way to Madrid as American Minister to Spain. Everett invited Irving to join him in Madrid, noting that a number of manuscripts dealing with the Spanish conquest of the Americas had recently been made public.

Irving left for Madrid in early 1826 and enthusiastically began scouring the Spanish archives for colorful material. He published The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus in 1828, the Conquest of Granada a year later, and the Voyages of the Companions of Columbus in 1831. These works are a mixture of history and fiction, a genre now called romantic history.

Irving based them on extensive research in the Spanish archives, but also added imaginative elements aimed at sharpening the story.

Irving left Spain in 1829 to accept a position in the US Embassy in London. While serving there he wrote Tales of the Alhambra, which was published concurrently in England and the United States.

Irving returned to the United States in 1832.

Another Clue: a Mysterious Frenchman: V. Admiral Charles Baudin

A Map of Veracruz from 1847
The USS Somers was named in honor of Master Commandant Richard Somers who was killed at Tripoli in action against the Barbary pirates.

The Secret Aboard the USS Somers--Run aground in a norte near Veracruz on December 8, 1846.

The deranged sea captain and his cargo.

The USS Somers, Billy Budd, and Herman Melville's cousin, Guert Gansevoort.

About the grandfather of the man who feeds the pigeons.

A Map of Veracruz from 1847
The USS Somers Located in the 1950's
Magnetic indications of the exact location the Somers wreck found by a Pemex seismic survey vessel in 1953.

Friends with young Pemex engineer but no diving tecnology available to dive in 100 foot depth until 1958

The dive job done during Carnaval. People were too busy celebrating in the streets to notice a Pemex boat leaving the harbor.

What they found on the Somers and where it went.

A Different Map of Veracruz from 1847
With the Wreck of the Somers
Off to the Right
A Different Map of Veracruz from 1847
With the Wreck of the Somers
Off to the Right
A Closer Look
At the Wreck of the Somers
Ordered by V. Admiral Baudin
Who was this Baudin?

Why had he ordered that his version of the map of Veracruz be included in this map dated 1847?

These questions had haunted me for a long time.

After the Restoration, Baudin was forced into retirement, and in 1816 joined the merchant marine. Under the July Monarchy, however, he returned to military service.

In 1838, he became a Rear Admiral and became Commander-in-Chief of the squadron sent to Mexico during the so-called "Pastry War."
Who was V. Admiral Baudin?
In this conflict he opened fire on November 27, 1838, against the fort of Vera Cruz, San Juan de Ulúa. The fort gave itself up a day later.

In January 1839, Baudin was named a Vice Admiral and in the following year he was entrusted with a military and diplomatic mission to Buenos Aires. He also received command over the fleet in South American waters.

In 1841, he took over the Ministry of Marine, but quickly resigned and became maritime prefect in Toulon.
Focusing in on the Wreck of the Somers
In 1848, after the February Revolution, he became commander-in-chief of France’s Mediterranean Fleet.

In this position, he took part in the Battle of Lazzaroni and of troops against Naples, and then moved toward Sicily, where he was defeated by the forces of Carlo Filangieri.

In 1849, Baudin returned with his family to Ischia, where he died on June 7, 1854. Not long beforehand, he had been named a full Admiral.

Admiral Baudin's Trip to Galveston in 1839
From:

"The Writings of Fannie Amelia Dickson Darden"

compiled by Bill Stein and Jayne Easterling

originally published in Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, volume 9, number 3, September 1999

"...The succeeding summer of thirty-nine my father moved again to Galveston. This place was improving steadily. Being the principal seaport of Texas, and with a constantly arriving immigration, it was always alive with strangers, while its society insensibly assumed that cosmopolitan character which belongs so essentially to a marine city. During this summer the visit of Admiral Baudin, of the French navy, occurred. The French fleet, which had been engaged in the bombardment of Vera Cruz, had succeeded in capturing that place (during the Pastry War of 1838), and after a treaty made with the Mexican commandant, returned by the coast to Texas, and touched at Galveston. "

"Though his ostensible motive was simply to pay a visit to this country there was no doubt that Admiral Baudin came with secret instructions from the French government looking towards the acknowledgment of Texan independence. The French officers were gladly welcomed by the authorities of Galveston and Houston. The entertainment of the admiral and his officers, all of whom were the flower of the French nobility, devolved upon my father, who entertained them with a banquet and ball at his residence on Tremont street. Colonel A. C. Allen gave them entertainment in Houston.

In return many of the citizens were invited to a collation and dance on the admiral’s ship, which, with the fleet, was anchored some distance outside the bar. The government steamship, Savannah, was chartered to convey the citizens. It was a delightful day in spring. The water was smooth, the air balmy, and as the passengers promenaded the deck of the Savannah, they were enlivened by the gay strains of the band, which played the Texas national air, “Will You Come to the Bower?.” Every Texan knew that tune, for it had once invited the Texan army to the onslaught of the enemy at San Jacinto.

As our ship approached the fleet, the French band up the “Marseillaise,” salutes were fired, while at the same moment the French sailors, in their white suits and tarpaulin hats, sprung to the rigging, and, with graceful evolutions, formed themselves into festoons, stars, and flowers, in the most fanciful and beautiful manner. That was a delightful and -to-be-remembered day of festivity. With that refinement of courtesy in which the French so greatly excel, the most delicate attentions were shown to every guest. Oh! how many years ago since the participants of this happy occasion danced beneath the awning, or wandered in joyous groups along the hurricane deck of this mighty ship—the blue sea around them! the blue sky overhead! On the ocean of time, they revelled for a moment. On the ocean of eternity, where are they? Most of them have long ago drifted away from the shores of time, while a few are left upon the deserted Strand, to await the phantom sail which comes to bear them hence..."

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