Rescue of the USS Somers

Commissioned in May 1842, the USS Somers was used as an experimental school ship for naval apprentices. The brig is most famously known for the "Somers Affair," the only known mutiny resulting the execution of the perpetrators. During November 1842, a plot to murder the officers of the vessel by some members of the crew was uncovered. Three men were charged with inciting a mutiny and were hanged from the yardarm.

In 1846, the Somers found itself in the Gulf of Mexico off of the port of Veracruz at the opening of the Mexican American War. In addition to occasional runs to Pensacola for supplies, Somers served as part of a naval blockade. While on blockade, the Mexican schooner Criolla slipped through into port. Somers launched a boat party that boarded and captured the schooner. A calm wind prevented the Americans from getting their prize out to sea. Frustrated, they set fire to the vessel and returned through gunfire from shore to the Somers, bringing back seven prisoners. Upon reaching the Somers, it was learned that the Criolla was actually an American spy ship.

USS Somers Capsized

On December 8, 1846, while in pursuit of a blockade runner, Somers capsized in a sudden squall. Thirty-six of her 80-man crew were lost. Eight men managed to swim to shore. One died and seven were captured by the Mexicans. English ships (HMS Edndymion and Alarm), French ships (Pylade and Mercure) and a Spanish corvette rescued the remaining men. On March 3, 1847 Congress authorized (9 Stat. 208) ten 2.25-inch (57.7mm) gold and 100 silver medals to the officers and crew of the foreign ships, which aided in the rescue. It took until 1851 to actually produce the medals. Bronze-copper versions were made for civilian purchase in 1861.

Silver USS Somers Medal

The obverse of the round, silver Somers Medal depicts a raised image of the floundering USS Somers. The text around the upper edge of the obverse reads SOMERS NAVIS AMERICANA and below the two-line inscription ANTE VERA CRUZ DEC 10TH 1846. The reverse depicts British boats and sailors going to the aid of the sinking ship. The inscription PRO VITIS AMERICANORUM CONSERVATIS appears above the raised image on the correct production pieces and ENG BY CC WRIGHT (the engraver, Charles Cushing Wright, is named below).

The engravings were based on a print that appeared in The Illustrated London News on January 23, 1847 titled, Loss of USS Somers. Congress approved the issue of ten gold medals ad 100 silver medals on March 3, 1847. The dies, however, were not completed until 1851. A miscommunication between the US Navy and the US Mint resulted in a production error. The Navy ordered the reverse inscription to read PRO VITTIS AMERICANORUM CONSERVATIS (For Saving American Lives), but the Mint's first issues read PRO VITTAE AMERICANA PRESERVANDA (For Preserving [An] American Life).

Images courtesy of the US Naval and History Command

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