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¡Soy Capitán!

8 October 2009

“Opposition research” —  reading some of the right wing websites from the U.S. — is normally an exercise in  wasting my time with fools, but every once in a while it pays off.    With October being “Hispanic Heritage Month” in most U.S. school districts (which seems to account for the sudden jump in hits on this site lately… kids doing their homework, something that is definitely NOT a waste of time), the righties have picked up on an idea first floated by Texas “educational consultant” Reverend Peter Marshall.  Marshall is the yin-yang who wants to cut Cesar Chavéz from Texas school books in favor of some guy who built the first yo-yo in America.

This particular right-wing waste of time website was pushing schools to teach about some minor figure of the Confederacy, whose “Hispanic” credentials are, at the very least, dubious.  The proposal — which appeared in a Canadian right wing website — figures that since the guy’s grandfather was a Sephardic Jew (and by family tradition had left Spain in the 1490s for Holland), he was “Hispanic.”  This is the same line of misreasoning was recently used by Karl Rove when he attempted to downplay the historical importance of Justice Sonya Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court, referring to Benjamin Cardozo (with a Portuguese surname and distant Iberian-Sephardic ancestry) as “Hispanic”… to the bemusement of Hispanics, and the annoyance of Portuguese-surnamed Americans.

I couldn’t find this particular Confederate on a handy-dandy list of “Hispanics in Gray and Blue” produced by the Education Committee of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.  The site, lists a couple of Union officers as well, including Admiral David G. Farragut, on the strength of his having been a Southerner.

A little more linking and cross-linking and I found an amazing Mexican connection.  Farragut, who is an important figure in U.S. Naval history, was not only Hispanic, so was his dad… a Spanish sea captain who joined the revolutionary Navy (i.e., he was a privateer… a pirate with a cause) and fathered the future U.S. Admiral (in Tennessee, making him a southerner, though David went to sea at the age of 12).  And — AHA!– the Mexican connection.  When Jorge Farragut died in 1817, David was adopted by another American Naval officer, David Porter.

Porter would become the first Commander-in-Chief of the Mexican Navy, though a path only slightly less convoluted than my discovering the connection with David Farragut.

navaljackBorn in Illinois according to Wikipedia (or in Boston, according to a short biography published by Centro de Estudios Superiores Navales de la Armada de México), Porter had a checkered career before coming to Mexico. After action against the French (during a not so cold naval war in 1799), Porter managed to crash into the shores of Tripoli — running aground in 1803 and held prisoner by the Barbary Pirates for the next two years — on his way to the Halls of Montezuma.

During the War of 1812, he managed to capture several British ships off New Orleans, and again get taken prisoner, once more far from home. Off Valparaiso Chile (those sea captains got around, he was captured by the British (along with future step-son David Farragut). Porter had been wounded, and it was a rough sea battle, so no shame was involved in being taken prisoner, but he was put on desk duty for the next few years, got bored with that, and finanged sea duty in the Caribbean, hunting for pirates.

Somewhat over-enthusiastic about his task, Porter invaded Fajado, Puerto Rico (where the U.S. “liberators” would land in 1898), annoying not just the Spanish colonial officials (to say nothing of the Puerto Ricans), but the United States Department of State and the Navy. In 1826 he was court-martialed and… rather than wait to be drummed out or keel-hauled, resigned his commission, and prevailed upon his friend Joel Roberts Poinsett, to help him find a job.  Which Poinsett did:  as Commander of the new Mexican Navy.

At the time, Spain still had hopes of regaining Mexico, and without a decent navy, was continually under attack.  Porter may have screwed up a few times, but as a Mexican Admiral, he is highly praised for pulling together an ad hoc collection of ships, foreign captains, Mexican fishermen and assorted quasi-pirates into an effective defensive force.

Source: Secretaría de Marina

Source: Secretaría de Marina

In 1828, when the Spanish again tried to invade Mexico, Porter went on the offensive, attacking Spanish ships in Cuban waters… and again came to grief.  Taking refuge in Florida put Mexico into the middle of a U.S.-Spanish diplomatic problem…  just as anti-foreigner violence had broken out in the Capital and there were demands for removing foreigners from their perceived control of the economic and political affairs of the nation.  Porter claimed there were two assassination attempts, and returned to the United States in 1829.

Not quite sure what to do with Porter… and certainly not about to put him back in the Navy, the United States government finally found a job for him in the Diplomatic Corps, packing him off to Constantinople, where he remained as Minister to the Ottoman Empire until his death in 1843.

When he first left for Mexico, he was accompanied by his then 13-year old son, David Dixon Porter, who would learn his trade as a Mexican cadet.  David Dixon Porter would be the U.S. Navy’s first Rear-Admiral.  Another son would also become a naval officer.  Besides spawning a second generation of U.S. naval commanders (and being the step father to another), Porter’s short time in Mexico did instill discipline and traditions still part of the Mexican Navy today.

ARM Cuautémoc

ARM Manuel Azueta

ARM Manuel Azueta

One Comment leave one →
  1. 9 October 2009 11:43 am

    Enjoyable post!

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