Warship under Sail

The USS Decatur in the Pacific West

Lorraine McConaghy

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  • $37.00s hardcover (9780295989556) Add to Cart
  • Published: 2009
  • Subject Listing: History / American History; Paciifc Northwest / History
  • Bibliographic information: 344 pp., 53 illus., 8.5 x 10 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Published with: Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest
  • Series: Emil and Kathleen Sick Book Series in Western History and Biography
  • Contents

Ordered to join the Pacific Squadron in 1854, the sloop of war Decatur sailed from Norfolk, Virginia, through the Strait of Magellan to Valparaiso, Honolulu, and Puget Sound, then on to San Francisco, Panama, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, while serving in the Pacific until 1859, the eve of the Civil War. Historian Lorraine McConaghy presents the ship, its officers, and its crew in a vigorous, keenly rendered case study that illuminates the forces shaping America's antebellum navy and foreign policy in the Pacific, from Vancouver Island to Tierra del Fuego.

One of only five ships in the squadron, the Decatur participated in numerous imperial adventures in the Far West, enforcing treaties, fighting Indians, suppressing vigilantes, and protecting commerce. With its graceful lines and towering white canvas sails, the ship patrolled the sandy border between ocean and land.

Warship under Sail focuses on four episodes in the Decatur's Pacific Squadron mission: the harrowing journey from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean through the Strait of Magellan; a Seattle war story that contested American treaties and settlements; participation with other squadron ships on a U.S. State Department mission to Nicaragua; and more than a year spent anchored off Panama as a hospital ship. In a period of five years, more than 300 men lived aboard ship, leaving a rich record of logbooks, medical and punishment records, correspondence, personal journals, and drawings. Lorraine McConaghy has mined these records to offer a compelling social history of a warship under sail. Her research adds immeasurably to our understanding of the lives of ordinary men at sea and American expansionism in the antebellum Pacific West.
Lorraine McConaghy is the historian at the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle.

"An exciting and danger-filled true history of maritime adventure.",

"The world that Dr. McConaghy has captured, both aboard the Decatur and in the ports it visited, will be unfamiliar to almost everyone who reads this book; indeed, that strangeness or lost-ness is one of her major points. The maps and historic images help to make that world more concrete."
-Coll Thrush, author of Native Seattle: Histories from the Crossing-Over Place

"The story the author tells is fresh and original and relates to a number of significant subjects, including the history of the Old Navy, the Pacific Northwest, antebellum national politics, the Manifest Destiny movement, and the lore of the sea."
-James Valle, Delaware State University

"In Warship under Sail, McConaghy has found a lens through which to examine anew the founding of Seattle. The vessel participated in the iconic 'Battle of Seattle,' that day-long skirmish during January 1856 between 'Natives' and 'non-Natives' that looms so large in historical accounts of the city."
-John M. Findlay, University of Washington

1. Young America on the Pacific: "The Sailor of Manifest Destiny Views"
2. The Decatur in the Old Navy: "To Command Our Own Seas and Coasts"
3. Boston: Getting Under Way
4. Episode 1. Through the Strait of Magellan: "Off to Californio!"
5. Episode 2. Seattle: "Down Came the Indians, Like so Many Demons"
6. San Francisco: "This Reckless Life"
7. Episode 3. Nicaragua: "Seeing the Elephant"
8. Episode 4. Panama: "All the Subtle Demonisms of Life and Thought"
9. The Civil War and Beyond

"The U.S. Navy of the 1850s is a fascinating subject in itself, but it has never been so well integrated into the broader political, social, and cultural history of the antebellum United States. . . . Warship Under Sail illuminates the contradictions and interactions that characterize this period of American expansion. It should, therefore, be read not only by military and maritime historians, but also by scholars interested in the American West, antebellum culture, politics, and imperialism."
-The Northern Mariner

"... this bargain-priced book is simultaneously worthy of coffee tables, research desks, and library collections.... While not a pretty picture, it reveals life aboard a warship at the end of the era of sail."
-Sea History

"This is an excellent book for those who are interested in naval history and the Pacific Northwest in the 1850's."
-The Lone Star Review

"She situates her study at the intersection of two growing fields of historical interest, 19th century maritime culture and the United States in the world, and makes a notable contribution to both, as well as to our understanding of the navy in the making of the Pacific Northwest."
-Pacific Northwest Quarterly

"The richness of detail regarding the everyday life of a mid-nineteenth century sailor is undoubtedly the book's greatest strength but, McConaghy's skillful ability to bring this sailing adventure to life is equally fascinating, fun, and well, just highly entertaining."
-The Grog Ration

"This is a marvelous book, deserving of high praise."
-The Journal of Military History

"Warship Under Sail is an impressive piece of scholarship that provides an unsparing account of the brutality of naval life.... It was a difficult time, and McConaghy has captured the debilitating tedium and the compounded ghastliness of it all without ever succumbing to the seductive scent of salt breezes or the romance of billowed sail."
-International Journal of Maritime History

"No matter what your background, Lorraine McConaghy's extensive research casts a new light on local and national history in the era before the Civil War while providing an intimate look at life aboard a sailing warship. It is an engrossing read that is well worth your time."

"McConaghy emphatically sees all the Decatur's theaters of action through the prism of its daily routines and disruptions of routine . . . By concentrating on the foreground with such gusto, she gives you an extraordinarily vivid idea of how men under pressures of danger, drink and disease (syphilis was rampant) strived to create order out of chaos."
-Seattle Times

"Warship Under Sail recounts the Decatur's exploits during several years of voyages in the Pacific, but is bound to join the most important works to examine Seattle's earliest history . . . . a fascinating-and factually correct-tale that transcends the more simplistic versions of the city's past."

"This is a rich resource, both for 19th-century American politics and the human side of ship life."
-Reference and Book News