Damn the torpedoes! Four Bells! Captain Drayton, go ahead! Jouett, full speed! – David Farragut at the battle of Mobile Bay, August 5, 1864
Often paraphrased as “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”, this famous quote came from Admiral David Farragut, famous war hero of the civil war, America’s first admiral, and first generation Hispanic immigrant!
David Farragut Family Background
David Farragut, originally named James Farragut, was born in 1801, near Knoxville, Tennessee. James Farragut was the son of Jordi Farragut, an immigrant from the island of Minorca, Spain, and Elizabeth Shine from North Carolina. Jordi Farragut was a Spanish merchant captain, who immigrated to America in 1766 and joined the American revolution, as a naval lieutenant during the Revolutioary War, serving first with the South Carolina Navy, then the Continental Naval forces. Jordi Farragut anglicized his name to George Farragut.
George Farragut soon moved the family to New Orleans, and became an aide to David Porter, Sr., who had been captain of the Privateer Delight during the revolutionary war. George Farragut took the elder Porter into his home following a sunstroke, but he died. David Farragut’s mother, Elizabeth Shine, died the same day, leaving the Farragut children motherless, and the children were all adopted by family and friends. Porter’s son, David Porter, Jr. offered to adopt eight year old David Farragut, and James Farragut readily accepted.
Early Naval Career of David Farragut
David Porter, Jr. moved the family to Washington, DC, where young James Farragut met Secretary of the Navy Paul Hamilton, and asked for a midshipman’s appointment. Hamilton agreed to appoint the ambitious James Farragut a midshipman, but not until he turned ten! As it turned out, James received his commission at age 9-1/2, and went to sea with his father, also changing his name to David Farragut, which is how he is known in history.
David Farragut in the War of 1812
David Porter, Jr. became commander of the Essex. Cruising in the Pacific, the Essex captured several British whalers. Though just 12 years old, Midshipman David Farragut was given command of one of the captured ships, and sailed it to port before rejoining Essex. On March 28, 1814, Essex lost its main topmast and was captured by HMS Phoebe and Cherub. Farragut fought bravely and was wounded in the battle.
David Farragut between the War of 1812 and Civil War
Following the War of 1812, David Farragut experienced a full career as a Naval officer. Promoted to Lieutenant in 1822, David Farragut was part of the “mosquito fleet”a fleet of ships fitted out to fight pirates in the Caribbean Sea. David Farragut was promoted to commander in 1841, and commanded the USS Saratoga during the Mexican-American war.
In 1853, Secretary of the Navy James C. Dobbin selected Commander David G. Farragut to create Mare Island Navy Yard near San Francisco California. Commissioned in 1854, David Farragut remained at Mare Island Naval Shipyard until leaving in 1858.
David Farragut and the Civil War
Despite his Southern connections to Tennessee, New Orleans, and Norfolk, and his Southern wife, when the civil war was about to break out, David Farragut made clear he sided with the North and moved to Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.
David Dixon Porter, a foster brother, recommended David Farragut, and he was assigned to command the West Gulf Blockading Squadron. In April 1862, Flag Officer David Farragut led the fleet to victory and the capture of New Orleans, one of the most decisive events of the Civil War.
Though the United States had never appointed anyone to the rank of admiral, preferring “flag officer”, an appreciative Congress created the rank of Rear Admiral, and made David Farragut our very first rear admiral in recognition of his service and leadership.
David Farragut continued his distinguished service throughout the Civil War. At the Battle of Mobile Bay, Union ships began to pull back after the USS Tecumseh struck a mine and sank. When David Farragut was told Union ships were pulling back because of the heavy mine field, his now famous response was
“Damn the torpedoes!” Four bells. Captain Drayton, go ahead! Jouett, full speed!”, now paraphrased as “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”
Following the victory at Mobile Bay, the South lost its last major port, and Lincoln promoted David Farragut to become America’s first Vice-Admiral.
In a 1866, David Farragut was again promoted, to become America’s first full admiral, capping off a long distinguished career of service and patriotism. David Farragut would have one more command, of the European Squadron from 1867-1868, but in recognition of his service was on active duty until his death in 1870.
Many readers were no doubt surprised to learn that one of our most famous war leaders was a first generation Hispanic immigrant. Many assume America was predominately of Northern and Western European ancestry until quite recently. The success David Farragut experienced in life no doubt came from his father’s immigrant values of hard work and patriotism. No one made his father fight in the Revolutionary war and he could have remained in Minorca, but instead he joined our revolution and fought with honor.
Fifty years after the death of David Farragut, the immigration of people like his father might well not have been allowed. Early modern progressives believed that non-Europeans and Southern and Eastern Europeans were genetically inferior and would pollute the gene pool in the U.S. In 1921 and 1924, Congress passed nation quotas, designed to keep out non-Europeans altogether, and limit immigration from Southern and Western Europe to very low levels. For example, from 1900 – 1910 an average of 200,000 Italians had entered the United States each year. With the 1924 Act, the annual quota for Italians was set at 3,845!
Spain’s quota after 1924 was a mere 131, while England’s was 34,007, and Germany’s 51,227! Sadly, these quotas remained in effect with modest changes until the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act, which abolished per nation quotas. Who knows how many immigrants and sons of the character of George and David Farragut we missed due to immigration restrictionists motivated by their beliefs in eugenics?
Modern day immigration restrictions constantly whine about the 1965 INA which removed nation quotas and allowed non-European immigrants to immigrate, but in truth our immigration system before 1965 was blatantly racist and long overdue for history’s dustbin along with the pseudoscience of eugenics that led to such bad policy.
Bob Quasius is the president and founder of Cafe Con Leche Republicans