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Farragut, Admiral David Glasgow, Gravesite
Bronx, New York
"Damn the torpedoes!" -- Admiral David G. Farragut, 1864
A figure of transcendent historical importance, Admiral David Glasgow Farragut devoted his life to service in the United States Navy. The son of a Spanish-American immigrant and Revolutionary War veteran, Farragut himself was a Civil War hero remembered for his bravery at the Battle of Mobile Bay. Farragut was the first person to hold the ranks of Vice Admiral, Rear Admiral, and full Admiral in the United States Navy. Farragut’s gravesite in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx is a National Historic Landmark and the only known surviving property directly associated with Farragut that overall retains high integrity. Woodlawn Cemetery, which is a National Historic Landmark, is the final resting place for many well-known Americans and Farragut’s public burial there in 1870 was one of the cemetery’s earliest interments.
David Farragut was born James Glasgow Farragut to George (Jorge) Farragut and Elizabeth Shine Farragut on July 5, 1801. His father, merchant seaman Jorge Antonio Farragut-Mesquida, was born on the Spanish island Minorca in 1755. Jorge and David Farragut are descendants of conquistador Don Pedro Farragut who served the King of Aragon, a realm that included eastern Spain, during the 13th century. For Pedro Farragut’s efforts in the wars to retake land settled by Moors in the western Mediterranean, the king of Spain gave the prominent Farragut family a title and estates on Minorca.
In New Orleans, seven-year-old James Farragut left his birth family to join the Porter family. His mother died in 1808 during a yellow fever epidemic, but before she passed away, she and her husband cared for naval officer David Porter. Grateful to the Farraguts for caring for his father, David Porter’s son, also David Porter, offered to adopt James, and Jorge Farragut said yes. The younger David Porter was a naval commander and James, who later wrote that he was inspired by the commander’s uniform, quickly agreed to go with the Porters. Later in life, Farragut wrote, “to the day of his death Comdre Porter was a father to me and I never saw my own father again.” After the adoption, the Porters left New Orleans and moved to Washington, D.C., and then West Chester, Pennsylvania. By the time he was nine years old, Farragut was a midshipman in the U.S. Navy and remained on active duty until his death at age 69.
Farragut first saw action during the War of 1812, while he served on Porter’s ship, the USS Essex. At the start of the war, the Essex patrolled the South American coast to hunt British whaling ships, but soon joined the fighting. During the War of 1812, Farragut had his first command, a captured British ship named the HMS Barclay. He also participated in his first naval battle during the war when British warships cornered the Essex. The bloody skirmish lasted over two hours and killed 58 of Porter’s crew. This first battle hardened Farragut and Porter was impressed by his ward’s ability to perform under pressure. During the war, James changed his first name to David in honor of his adoptive father.
After the war, Farragut served in U.S. fleets in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean. He married his first wife, Susan Merchant of Norfolk, Virginia, in 1823 and two years later received a promotion to lieutenant. In 1838, Farragut served in the Gulf of Mexico, where he witnessed the French attack on Veracruz. Nine years later, he referred to his knowledge of Veracruz’s defenses and his ability to speak Spanish when he requested a naval command during the Mexican-American War. In the meantime, his first wife died of illness in 1840 and he remarried three years later. His second wife, Virginia Loyall Farragut, was also from Norfolk. She was the mother of his only surviving son, Loyall Farragut.
As a captain in the United State Navy living in Norfolk, Virginia, Farragut had to choose a side quickly at the start of the Civil War. Though he spent his early years in the South and maintained a home in Virginia, Farragut was loyal to the Union and to the U.S. Navy. In 1861, the Farraguts fled Virginia and settled in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, as refugees. Farragut waited there for orders from the Navy Department. Farragut’s move to New York caught the attention of the Union Secretary of the Navy, who was searching for an officer to command an assault on New Orleans.
Glowing references from Farragut’s peers and records of Farragut’s foresight in the Gulf of Mexico in 1838 secured his command. His flagship during the Civil War was the USS Hartford, a newly commissioned sloop-of-war. Under Farragut’s leadership, the United States Navy took New Orleans and surrounding Confederate forts in the spring of 1862. This victory boosted moral in the North and propelled Farragut into the public spotlight. Soon after the battle, Congress created the new rank of rear admiral in order to promote Farragut, who became the first man to hold that rank in the United States Navy.
Farragut returned to the Portsmouth Navy Yard in Kittery, Maine, on the Tallapoosa. He carried out his official duties from a sickbed at the Commandant’s Residence, before he died August 14, 1870. The mayor of New York City asked the navy to return Farragut’s remains to the northern city that embraced the Virginian officer just nine years earlier. On October 1, soldiers, sailors, and politicians -- including President Ulysses S. Grant -- formed a funeral procession two miles long to escort the admiral’s coffin to his final resting place at Woodlawn Cemetery.
Farragut’s grand funeral promoted the new Woodlawn Cemetery, founded in 1863, and his monument set the early standard for the cemetery’s memorial architecture. In the decades that followed the admiral’s death, the rural cemetery received a reputation as a graveyard of America’s northeastern elite and as a gallery for skilled stone carvers and architects. Today, Farragut’s gravesite on Aurora Hill is the best-preserved property directly associated with the first rear admiral, vice admiral, and four-star admiral in United States history. Woodlawn Cemetery is a National Historic Landmark because of its significance in landscape architecture, built architecture, and art.