Back in Time: Richard Somers | Alyssa J Freitas: Back in Time: Richard Somers

June 19, 2019

Back in Time: Richard Somers

This past weekend I went with Joe to his home town to see his sister Emma perform in a dance recital. On the way there, I noticed a sign for the historic Somers Mansion. While we didn't have time to stop, I was curios to learn more about the Somers family, and boy do I have a story for you.
Click to read now or pin to save for later! Learn all about the many adventures of Richard Somers in his short life
Somers Point, New Jersey is named after John Somers and his son, Richard, built the aforementioned mansion. While I'm sure both of these men have interesting stories, today we're going to learn about the brief life of the son of Richard, grandson of John, Richard Somers.

Born in 1779, the youngest child, Richard came into the world at an exciting time. Apparently, his father was friends with Washington and as a boy he was looked fondly upon by the great man. In fact, one of his prized possessions was a ring with a lock of Washington's hair. I would have thought that was a bit strange if I hadn't seen lockets and other keepsakes with hair from Washington and Jefferson in Fraunces Tavern in Manhattan.

Richard went to school in Philadelphia and met Stephen Decatur, and they became best buddies. While Richard was reserved, Stephen was energetic and the two personalities ended up being a perfect match. On the same day in 1798 the two were appointed midshipmen in the navy.

While the friends were talking to one another on the ship, Stephen called Richard a "fool." Richard didn't think twice about it, but later five or six officers refused to drink wine with him. What the heck, he thought. He asked them why and was told that they looked down on him for not responding to Stephen's insult. He went to his buddy Stephen who proposed a peaceful plan for clearing up the misunderstanding, but at this point Richard was intent on proving his bravery and never being questioned on this matter again. He challenged the other officers to a duel, all on the same day and all challenges were accepted.

With Stephen as his second, Richard set out to prove his courage. In the first two duels he sustained injuries on the right arm and thigh. He lost so much blood, that for the third duel he needed to sit down and be supported by Stephen. Richard wounded his opponent and since all the officers were now assured of his bravery, the two or three other duels were done away with.

Richard's next adventure was aboard the Boston, commanded by Captain Daniel McNeill. I haven't been able to find nearly as much as I would have liked about McNeill, but there are a few stories I did uncover that give a taste of what sailing under him must have been like.

They were headed to Europe to meet up with Commodore Richard Dale in 1801 (Somers is 22 at this point). Dale was much younger than McNeill, and McNeill always seemed to show up too early or too late to rendezvous with Dale. For about two years he sailed around the Mediterranean, getting up to all manner of activities. At one point he was at a French port and wanted to test how quickly he could get under way. At the time three of his officers were ashore and three French officers were on board. He decided that was an even split and it was months before the French officers got back home where they had been labeled as deserters. In a more extreme circumstance, he sailed off with Italian musicians on his ship and it took years for them to make their way home.

But back to Richard. He was sent to Tripoli, along with Stephen and somewhere along the way an idea was born to fill a ship up with powder and blow it up among the Tripolitan fleet. And our boy Richard was to lead the way. At the age of 24. This was the plan.

12 men in total were to be part of this adventure (one deck hand stowed away, making 13 in total), with two getaway boats at the ready. His best friend, Stephen, would be in another boat that would support him for as close as they could get. In the darkness of night, Richard set off, but was soon spotted by the Tripolitan fleet and the fuse was set off prematurely, exploding his ship and killing all 13 men, without wounding or damaging the enemy.

In Somers' honor, a number of navy ships were named after him. One in particular was the site of a mutiny...let me know if you would be interested in hearing more about that! Somers, New York was named after Richard and there is a Richard Somers Day in Somers Point each year.

Check out more Back in Time posts here!

-AJF
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Great information from this post came from Naval Institute Proceedings, Volume 35, Part 2 and Heritage History.

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