Object of the Month

"Perished in the service of his country": Lieutenant Frederic Baury, United States Navy

Vest belonging to Frederic Baury Linen, bone buttons

Vest belonging to Frederic Baury


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  • [ This description is from the project: Object of the Month ]

    This linen waistcoat, with its understated yet elegant white-on-white embroidery and bone buttons, belonged to Frederic Baury (1794-1814?), a naval officer who served aboard the USS Constitution and USS Wasp during the War of 1812. The maker is unidentified. The waistcoat was given to the Society in 1921 by Baury's grand-niece Mary Baury Jackson Rathbone.

    Who was Frederic Baury?

    Frederic Baury came from a military family. His grandfather John Baury de Bellerive was a French captain of cavalry who later owned large plantations in the French colony of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) and was married to Marie-Jane Guillotin de la Vigerie, a relative of the inventor of the guillotine. In 1753, Baury's father Louis Baury de Bellerive was born in Fort Dauphin, Saint-Domingue, and was sent to France at a young age for a military education. During the American Revolution, Louis was among the French forces sent to help the upstart Americans, taking part in the Siege of Savannah under Comte d'Estaing in 1779 and serving until the end of the war, earning a place in the prestigious Society of the Cincinnati. He later served as an aide-de-camp to General Benjamin Lincoln during Shays' Rebellion in Massachusetts, earning accolades for his "zeal and fortitude, spirit and bravery."

    In 1784, Louis married sixteen-year-old Mary Clark, the daughter of Elisha and Sarah Clark of Middletown, Connecticut. The couple split their time between Middletown and their plantation in Saint-Domingue and had a daughter Mary and four sons, Francis, Edward (died young), Frederic, and Alfred Louis. Mary (Clark) Baury's death notice, printed in the New England Historical and Genealogical Register, gives us a glimpse of the turbulence of the family's life in Saint-Domingue during the time of the Haitian Revolution, which lasted from 1791-1804:

    "… eye witness of the horrors of the insurrection, saved by her own devoted slaves, the whole island suffering from fire and the sword, this heroic woman was equal to the emergency … saving her children by artifice … the escape of herself and family on board of an American ship; its capture by pirates, and subsequent recovery by force of arms … forms altogether a varied and strange experience for a woman."

    Francis, the Baury's eldest son, was serving under General Rochambeau during the Haitian Revolution when he was killed during the Battle of Crête-à-Pierrot in March of 1802.

    Frederic Baury's early naval career

    Born in 1792, Frederic Baury was appointed a midshipman in the Navy in 1809, assigned first to the USS Essex and later the USS Constitution. He was aboard that ship in 1812 when she escaped a British squadron off the coast of New Jersey, as well as at the capture of the Guerrière and the Java. It was during the epic battle with the Guerrière that the Constitution earned its moniker "Old Ironsides."

    The fateful voyage of the Wasp

    In 1814, freshly-commissioned Lieutenant Frederic Baury joined the USS Wasp. Commanded by Johnston Blakeley, the Wasp had a crew of 173 men, average age 23, most "so green" that they were seasick for a week. Nonetheless, the Wasp and her crew proved highly successful, destroying twelve merchant vessels and sending another (the Atalanta) back to the United States as a prize, "a very beautiful brig of 253 tons … and has a very valuable cargo on board, consisting of brandy, wines, cambrics &c." A letter from an unidentified naval officer reprinted in Abel Bowen's Naval Memorial describes the Wasp as "the favorite of fortune … the finest sea boat, I believe in the world; our officers and crew, young and ambitious—they fight with more cheerfulness than they do any other duty." 

    On the 28th of June 1814, the Wasp encountered the British sloop of war Reindeer culminating in a brief but deadly sea battle that ended with the Reindeer set ablaze and sunk. In a letter to the Secretary of the Navy, Commander Blakely noted the following, "It is, however, only rendering them their merited due when it is declared of Lieuts. Reilly and Bury [Baury], 1st and 3rd of this vessel, and whose names will be among those of the conquerors of the Guerrière and Java … that their conduct and courage on this occasion fulfilled the highest expectation and gratified every wish."

    After a "protracted and tedious" stop at port in Lorient, France, to tend to their wounded and repair their damaged ship, the crew of the Wasp returned to sea at the end of August 1814 and encountered the HMS Avon on the evening of 1 September. During the hour-long engagement, the crew of the Wasp proved both accurate and deadly. The Avon was so badly damaged that she soon sank and her casualties numbered ten dead and more than thirty injured. Her crew was rescued by the HMS Castilian and the Wasp escaped to fight another day. Again, Frederic Baury was commended for his service in a letter to the Navy from his commander.

    Luck soon ran out for Baury and the crew of the Wasp, however. After capturing three more merchant ships in September, and being last spoken by a Swedish merchant ship on 21 September 1814, the Wasp and her crew were never seen again. It is presumed that they were lost in a storm with all hands. For Frederic Baury's service in the engagement against the Reindeer, Congress voted to present him with a sword, which in his absence was presented to Mary Baury. The sword was engraved with the Latin motto Altius ibunt qui ad summa nituntur, or "They who strive for the heights will go higher," a fitting tribute for this naval hero.

    For further reading

    log kept by Frederic Baury on board the USS Constitution forms part of the Baury Family Papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society.

    The Hall-Baury-Jensen papers contain letters written by Frederic Baury as a child to his father and other material pertaining to the Baury family.

    Baury, Mary. To the honorable, the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States, in Congress assembled : the memorial of Mary Baury, of Boston ... [Boston, 1854].

    Bowen, Abel. The Naval Monument: Containing Official and Other Accounts of All the Battles Fought Between the Navies of the United States and Great Britain During the Late War. Boston: George Clark, 1838.

    Drake, Samuel F. Memorials of the Society of the Cincinnati. Boston: The Society, 1873.

    "Marriages and Deaths … Mrs. Mary Baury," New England Historical and Genealogical Register, April 1857, p. 183-184.

    Frederic Baury's Book of Common Prayer is part of the USS Constitution Museum's collection.