James Hall, a “soldier adrift”
Posted On: 11/17/2017 - 12:03pm, Posted By: Christine Engels, Archives Manager, Manuscripts Department
James Hall was an officer on the schooner Enterprise as it left Boston on August 6, 1815 and set sail for Algiers to take part in what became known as the Second Barbary War. James Hall (1793-1868) was born in Philadelphia and was studying law when the War of 1812 interrupted his studies. He was a lieutenant in the 2nd Regiment of the 1st Brigade, serving under General Winfield Scott mostly on the Canadian border near Niagara. After the war he remained in the military and was sent to Algiers, serving under Commodore William Bainbridge. The wife of Hall’s son donated the journal he kept during that expedition in 1931. In it he carefully describes his journey and the people he encountered.
Hall’s journal (Mss qH177 RMV) not only documents his journey in August-September 1815, but also shows the mind of a well-educated young man in the early eighteenth century. Quotations from Shakespeare, Byron and countless other poets are intermingled with his own words. If you flip his journal over you will find the many poems and prose he wrote. He wrote satirical takes on military life and on a variety of topics, all written around 1805-1820.
The journal is full of details only an officer had the time to note. He writes about how the sailors awaited his sea-sickness when they first set sail since he wasn’t experienced with high sea travel, calling himself a “soldier adrift.” Hall kept his composure and documented his observations of the sea, the playful dolphins, jumping fish, and ominous sharks. He described terrifying storms they encountered in the Gulf Stream and the wrecks of other ships that fared fates worse than theirs. As they passed other ships they would exchange news. In one instance they were told that Napoleon was either dead or exiled to Saint Helena, but Hall thought that highly unlikely.
As he describes their approach to the Rock of Gibraltar he paused to think on the vastness of the region’s history. He mentioned a sailor onboard the Enterprise who had been impressed into British service for nine years and served at the Battle of Trafalgar under Admiral Lord Nelson. Hall contemplated the impressive success and eventual demise of the Islamic rulers of Spain. He seemed ready to place himself into the region’s history but it was not to be. He was profoundly disappointed to find that peace had been achieved months before their arrival. After a moment of self-pity, Hall and the other officers explored the rock and then later Gibraltar itself. Looking to rejoin the other squadron, Bainbridge ordered them to Málaga, Spain, which Hall also describes in great detail.
Here the journal abruptly ends but Hall’s story can then be picked up from his busy public life after he returned to the US. In 1817 Hall was court martialed and found guilty of “un-officer-like conduct, of disobedience to orders, and of conduct unbecoming a gentleman and was sentenced to be cashiered” but President Madison restored his rank and released him to duty because of his prior service and character. He resigned in 1818 and returned to studying law. In 1820 he moved to Shawneetown, Illinois where he was a lawyer and editor of the Illinois Gazette. In 1835 he was elected judge of the Illinois Circuit Court and also served for a time as the Treasurer of Illinois. In 1832 he moved to Cincinnati. Hall was a prolific writer and speaker throughout his life. He wrote a great deal about the west in America, which we would now consider the Midwest, and US history in general.