Within the past fifty years, and particularly within the last two decades, the United States has become conscious of its place name heritage. Historians and geographers are attempting, perhaps belatedly, to determine for whom or for what various American counties and towns were named.
We recognize foreign influence in many of our place names; for example, those of Classical, British, French, Spanish, and Dutch sources. We realize the vast number derived from the original American inhabitants, the Indians, as well as many commemorating famous American pioneers, warriors, and statesmen. But do many of us know much about the American place names which honor our Navy?
No greater proof exists of the public affection with which our Navy has been and is held than the many living memorials in the form of numerous counties and towns which bear Navy nomenclature.
In our country we find 131 place names— a total of 99 towns and cities and 32 counties—which perpetuate the United States Navy. Of this total over forty per cent have been named for three great heroes of the War of 1812, Commodore Oliver H. Perry and Captains Stephen Decatur and James Lawrence.
Commodore Perry, victor in the Battle of Lake Erie, is first in the hearts of his naval place-naming countrymen. He has been honored by no less than 28 place names—19 towns and 9 counties. Alabama (2), Arkansas (2), Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Missouri (2), New York (2), Ohio (4), Pennsylvania (2), and Tennessee have named towns for him, while Perry Counties have been established in Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee.
Second only to Perry in number of place names is Captain Stephen Decatur, with 22. Three particular incidents in his life probably focused place name attention on him: his participation in the burning of the captured Philadelphia in the Tripolitan War, his victory over and subsequent capture of H.M.S. Macedonian in the War of 1812, and his death in 1820 in a duel with Captain James Barron. Decatur’s name is perpetuated by towns in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri (3), Ohio, Tennessee (2), Texas, and Washington. Decatur Counties are found in Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, and Tennessee.
Third is gallant Captain James Lawrence, mortally wounded aboard the U.S.S. Chesapeake in the famous War of 1812 naval engagement with H.M.S. Shannon. Sixteen place names commemorate Lawrence—towns in Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee, and counties in Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee.
Thirty-three of our 48 states have named towns or counties for the American Navy, and the three states which are most prolific in naval nomenclature are Missouri with 11, Pennsylvania with 10, and Ohio with 9.
Missouri has honored the Navy by ten towns and one county. Decatur is remembered by three towns, Perry by two, Lawrence by a county and a town, while Truxton, Stockton, Ringgold, and Dewey have been perpetuated by town names.
Pennsylvania’s ten includes two towns and a county named for Perry, a town and a county for Lawrence, and towns for Bain- bridge, Blakely, Herndon, and Stockton, and one for the United States Navy—New Tripoli, so named in 1816 for the Navy’s success against the pirates of Tripoli.
Four towns and a county for Perry head Ohio’s nine, while counties for Preble and Lawrence and towns for Bainbridge and Decatur complete Ohio’s Navy place names.
Considerable variety is apparent in these Navy place names. For example the United States Navy, Secretaries of the Navy, ships, and heroes of war and peace are represented.
Navy, Vermont, was so named in 1780 by Captain Abraham Whipple, who served in the Continental Navy, in honor of our Navy, and the town subsequently was organized March 31, 1806, although on November 6, 1825, the name was changed to Charleston. The local grange—Navy Grange, Patrons of Husbandry, No. 495—still retains the Navy name.
Five Secretaries of the Navy are commemorated by a total of eight town and two county names. John Branch, who served in this capacity from 1829 to 1831, George Bancroft, 1845-1846, William A. Graham, 1850-1852, Benjamin F. Tracy, 1889-1893, and Edwin Denby, 1921-1924, are included. Five different towns bear Bancroft’s name.
Four ships are remembered. Jonesborough, Maine, was so named for John C. Jones, who received a land grant of 48,160 acres in payment for a sloop which he lost to the British in the Revolutionary War. Advance, North Carolina, honors the Confederate blockade runner A.D. Vance. Cannon Beach, Oregon, perpetuates the U.S.S. Shark, which was wrecked in the Columbia River on September 10, 1846. Cannon Beach is derived from the incident of a cannon from the Shark being washed ashore on the beach. Today the cannon still is imbedded in the sand. Charleston, Washington, was named on June 5, 1891, for the U.S.S. Charleston, a participant in the famous Itata chase earlier in that same year. .
Of the 27 American naval officers represented in American place names, 22 have been war veterans. Several officers, such as Perry, Bainbridge, Decatur, Porter, and Blakely participated in three wars.
The War of 1812 has the most place names, followed by the War with Tripoli, the Naval War with France, the Civil War, The Revolutionary War, the Spanish-American War, and the Mexican War.
Famous naval names of 1812 perpetuated in American place names include Perry, Decatur, Macdonough, Bainbridge, Porter, Blakely, Gamble, Warrington, Stockton, Sloat, Farragut, and two shipmates, Lawrence and Ludlow, who were mortally wounded in the Shannon engagement.
Among American towns and counties we find the familiar names of Stephen Decatur, Preble, Macdonough, Somers, Perry, Lawrence, Porter, Bainbridge, and Blakely representing the Tripolitan War; Truxton, Bainbridge, Somers, Perry, Decatur, Porter, and Blakely the Naval War with France; Farragut, Dahlgren, and Dewey from the North, and Raphael Semmes from the South representing the American Civil War; John Paul Jones (a county in Mississippi), Preble, and Truxton, commemorating the Revolutionary War; Dewey, Schley, and Hobson representing the Spanish-American War, and Stockton and Sloat the Mexican War.
In addition, Maury represents oceanography, Peary and Ringgold exploration; Herndon commemorates heroic death in a peace-time sea tragedy, and Moore commemorates the name of the commanding officer of the Texas Navy!
Actual or approximate dates of naming have been determined for three-quarters of these place names. Over half of these were named in the decades 1810-1820, 1820-1830, and 1840-1850. The combination of the expansion and migration of American population in these years, and the proximity of the War of 1812 and the War with Tripoli in which our Navy achieved such notable success, explains why so many native naval heroes were honored by place names during these specific years.
New York dominates the field in the early naming of Navy towns. Three of the earliest five are in New York—Preble, Somers, and Truxton, all named in 1818. However, Vermont’s town of Navy gains the laurel for being the earliest American naval nomenclature on record. Ohio’s Preble County vies with New York’s town"of the same name, both honoring Edward Preble in 1818. In contrast, the most recent town with a Navy name appears to be South Dakota’s Denby, so named for the 1921-1924 Secretary of the Navy.
Changes of name, always significant, and indicating altered trends of thought within the minds of the naming fathers, are numerous. Eighteen of these occur. Only 2 have shed their naval nomenclature, while 13 have chosen Navy names and the remaining three have changed their hero but kept their selection within the Navy.
From this list, a few are representative. The Trap, Delaware, birthplace of Thomas Macdonough, was changed upon the latter’s naval success to Macdonough. In 1817 the picturesque name of Hard Scrabble, Ohio, gave way to Decatur, while eight decades later, in Texas, ’Possum Bluff shed its coon- skin name and took that of the contemporary hero George Dewey. In New York, Stephen- town changed name in 1806 to Somers, while eight years later Jericho was renamed Bainbridge. Booneville, Illinois, originally named for Daniel Boone, was renamed Perry after 1836 in honor of Oliver H. Perry. In 1847 Fremont, Missouri, swapped its Army cognomen for the Navy blue of Stockton. And out in Iowa in 1872 they replaced an older naval hero with a newer one when Lawrence was changed to Farragut.
And so it is that the United States Navy paradoxically has sea roots deep in the soil of the homeland. A railroad station sign flashing by the train window, or a highway sign looming up ahead, call attention to this fact. The best memorial of all is a living one. And since this is so, the living towns and counties which bear our Navy’s names constantly keep alive the glorious traditions and deeds of our seamen and ships who have fought the good fight upon the seven seas in defense of the United States of America and the American way of life.
WE CAUGHT A BIG ONE!
Contributed by MAJOR RALPH Z. KIRKPATRICK, A.U.S., Retired
The Navy had finished its part in a pre-war joint Army-Navy war game at the Panama Canal’s Atlantic entrance, but the Army was still very much on the military alert. Their defense troops and air scouts were desperately trying to locate and block other units in the jungle, presumably night- landed lately from Navy transports at an unknown place.
The civilian Canal force placidly continued business as usual, bored with the war around them. The 11th Engineers, hidden and scattered about Gatun’s Dam, Spillway, Locks, and other important appurtenances, was the Defense’s Reserve. Several Reserve Officers, trying their best to be military, were on active duty. All hands had been especially warned against sabotage; in a previous case saboteurs, disguised as natives, had infiltrated into civilian labor gangs. The Umpires had later allowed “constructive demolitions” to various vital points because note-claims were found among them.
Two civilian-dressed men with enemy-designated hat-bands on their natty straw hats landed from a launch near Gatun Lock. Promptly the Reserve MP Captain had them under arrest and before the Engineer Reserve Regimental Intelligence Officer for interrogation. The elder suspect claimed he was the Admiral in command of the Navy’s recent attack Task-force; that he and his Aide hoped to sightsee the Locks and Dams pending the arrival of his flagship, then transiting. He urged that the Army’s arrest routine be shortened so he could finish his inspection.
It developed that both men’s identification papers had been left on their ship; the Admiral explained his enemy-designated hatband as being the kind he always wore when in civilian dress.
The prisoner’s lack of bluster and bluff virtually convinced the Reserve RIO he’d heard the truth; but his duty was to be militarily astute, so he sent the two suspects, still under MP guard, to the mile-away Brigade Headquarters. Shortly therefrom came new orders in no uncertain terms: “Do not arrest any more Admirals!”
It was noticeable that thereafter the Admiral never seemed to care for that particular color of hatband.
Associate Professor Clark entered the Naval Reserve in 1929, graduated from Harvard and its N.R.O.T.C. in 1933, and at the outbreak of World War II was on active duty as an instructor in the Department of English, History, and Government at the Naval Academy. Requesting sea duty, he took the course in damage control, and served the final full year of the war as damage control officer of the carrier Randolph in the Pacific fighting. At present he is an Associate Professor at the Naval Academy