Embark on a gripping journey through the turbulent waters of history in “SAILING THE GRAVEYARD SEA.” In this captivating account, author Snow unravels the perplexing tale of the U.S.S. Somers, a ship that sailed into New York Harbor in 1842 with three missing crew members, hanged for attempted mutiny. Centered around the rebellious Acting Midshipman Philip Spencer and the ship’s disciplinarian commander, Alexander Slidell Mackenzie, this narrative delves deep into the dramatic events that ensued both on board and in the courtroom. Snow expertly weaves together trial transcripts and gripping historical sources to paint a vivid picture of this scandalous affair. Join the author as he uncovers the truth behind this mysterious incident, revealing a story as compelling as it is forbidden in the annals of naval history.


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The U.S.S. Somers was a naval ship that sailed into New York Harbor on December 14, 1842, with three of its crew missing, who were later discovered to have been hanged for attempted mutiny. This incident captured the attention of the nation and drew extensive media coverage. The mastermind behind the mutiny plot was Acting Midshipman Philip Spencer, an 18-year-old with a penchant for piracy. Despite his distinguished father’s attempts to provide him with an education, Spencer’s rebellious tendencies led him to a naval career. The ship was under the command of Commander Alexander Slidell Mackenzie, known for his harsh discipline methods and fondness for violence.

The U.S.S. Somers

Introduction to the U.S.S. Somers

The U.S.S. Somers was a naval vessel that played a central role in the infamous mutiny incident of 1842. It was a ship with a troubled history, plagued by disciplinary issues and a lack of order among its crew members.

The Mutiny Plot

The mutiny plot on board the U.S.S. Somers was orchestrated by Acting Midshipman Philip Spencer. This plan involved a group of disgruntled crew members seeking to seize control of the ship and carry out acts of piracy. However, their plot was discovered, and Spencer and his accomplices were apprehended and later executed.


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Acting Midshipman Philip Spencer

Characteristics of Philip Spencer

Philip Spencer was an 18-year-old acting midshipman on the U.S.S. Somers. He had a fascination with pirates and their way of life, which ultimately influenced his rebellious nature. Spencer displayed a lack of interest in education and struggled with a failed college career. This led his father, who held a prominent position as the secretary of war, to send him on a naval career path.

Education and Navy Career

Despite his father’s hopes of providing him with a proper education, Spencer’s behavior and lack of discipline led him to be transferred between multiple ships within a short span of time. It was only on the U.S.S. Somers, as a last chance for redemption, that Spencer became involved in the mutiny plot that would ultimately lead to his downfall.

Commander Alexander Slidell Mackenzie

Description of Mackenzie

Commander Alexander Slidell Mackenzie was the commanding officer of the U.S.S. Somers during the mutiny incident. He was known for his harsh discipline methods and a particular fondness for employing lashings as a form of punishment. Mackenzie’s writing and demeanor exhibited a morbid interest in violence that bordered on the prurient.

His Discipline Methods

Mackenzie’s discipline methods were characterized by strict adherence to rules and a severe punishment system. He believed in the power of fear and brutality to maintain order among the crew. This approach to discipline ultimately played a role in the events leading to the mutiny and the subsequent legal proceedings.


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Media Attention and Legal Proceedings

National Media Attention

The mutiny incident on the U.S.S. Somers and the subsequent legal proceedings garnered significant media attention nationwide. The public was captivated by the sensational nature of the story, involving a naval officer’s son leading a mutiny and subsequent executions. The media coverage contributed to the scrutiny and examination of the events surrounding the U.S.S. Somers mutiny.

Inquiry and Court-Martial

Following the return of the U.S.S. Somers to port, an inquiry was conducted to investigate the mutiny incident. This inquiry led to a court-martial, where the individuals involved in the mutiny were put on trial. The court-martial proceedings were highly irregular and controversial, raising questions about the fairness of the judicial process.

Snow’s Research and Sources

Use of Trial Transcripts

Author Snow utilized trial transcripts as one of the primary sources for his research. These transcripts provided a detailed account of the court-martial proceedings and the testimonies given by the individuals involved. By examining the transcripts, Snow pieced together the sequence of events and the arguments presented during the trial.

Incorporating Contemporary Accounts

In addition to trial transcripts, Snow incorporated contemporary accounts from witnesses and individuals who were present during the mutiny and its aftermath. These accounts offered firsthand perspectives and added depth to the narrative of the story. Snow relied on these contemporary accounts to provide a comprehensive understanding of the events.

Retrospective Recollections

Snow also consulted retrospective recollections from those involved or familiar with the U.S.S. Somers incident. These recollections provided insights and reflections from individuals who had witnessed the events unfold. By incorporating these recollections into his research, Snow presented a well-rounded account of the mutiny and its impact.

Snow’s Commentary on Sources

The Nineteenth-Century Treacle

Throughout his analysis of the sources, Snow provided commentary on the unique characteristics of the nineteenth-century accounts he encountered. He noted an absence of humor in the accounts, highlighting the serious and somber nature of the events. Snow also observed a lack of self-deprecating humor, indicating the solemnity with which those involved viewed the mutiny incident.

Lack of Humor and Self-Deprecation

The lack of humor and self-deprecating tendencies in the sources examined by Snow emphasized the gravity of the events and the impact they had on those involved. The absence of levity in the accounts reflected the seriousness and tragic consequences of the U.S.S. Somers mutiny. Snow’s commentary provided insight into the tone and atmosphere surrounding the incident.

The Court-Martial Outcome and Aftermath

Acquittal and Forbidden Topic

Despite the controversy surrounding the court-martial proceedings, the outcome resulted in the acquittal of the individuals involved in the mutiny on the U.S.S. Somers. However, the incident became a forbidden topic within naval circles, with the details of the mutiny rarely discussed or acknowledged. The mutiny and subsequent acquittal left a lasting impact on the reputation of the U.S.S. Somers and its crew.

Periodic Re-Examination

Over time, the U.S.S. Somers mutiny resurfaced periodically for re-examination and analysis. The controversial nature of the court-martial proceedings and the implications of the mutiny continued to intrigue historians and naval scholars. The incident provided valuable lessons and insights into naval discipline and the dynamics between officers and crew members.

In conclusion, the mutiny on the U.S.S. Somers in 1842 remains a captivating event in naval history. The actions of Acting Midshipman Philip Spencer, the disciplinary methods of Commander Alexander Slidell Mackenzie, and the subsequent legal proceedings drew extensive media attention and continue to be a subject of study. Through careful research of trial transcripts, contemporary accounts, and retrospective recollections, author Snow provides a comprehensive and engaging analysis of the incident. Despite the challenges posed by the nineteenth-century sources, Snow’s commentary adds depth to the narrative and sheds light on the serious nature of the mutiny. The court-martial outcome and its aftermath highlight the lasting impact of the incident on naval circles, prompting periodic re-examination and examination of its significance.