John V. Quarstein
Director emeritus of the USS Monitor Center
About the Lecture
The brig USS Somers was built in 1842 at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and almost immediately became known as a ‘hard luck ship.’ During its second voyage, captained by Commander Alexander Slidell Mackenzie, there was an attempted mutiny. The ringleader, Midshipman Philip Spencer, and two others were found guilty. Even though the midshipman’s father was Secretary of War John Spencer, young Spencer and his cohorts were hanged from the yardarm of Somers. This incident created quite a sensation – Herman Melville based part of his novel Billy Budd on this mutiny. When USS Somers was serving off Vera Cruz in 1848 during the Mexican War, the ship capsized during a fierce storm. Raphael Semmes and his cabin mate, John Winslow, both survived. Fourteen years later, they would meet again as antagonists off Cherbourg, France.
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“US Brig of War Somers,” ca. 1842-1850. Lithograph published by N. Currier. The Mariners’ Museum and Park 1935.0696.000001