This large, outstanding work is instantly recognizable as that of California artist Duncan Gleason. Gleason's lively brushwork marries his sailor's knowledge of ships with an artist's skill at rendering all the elements in a way that's both cohesive and interesting to the eye. The artist's trademark palette of brilliant blues and oranges draws us in to a bright sunny morning, a perfect time to set forth on a voyage.
OHIO is outward bound from San Pedro Harbor just passing Dead Man's Island to starboard. The island was a familiar landmark in Los Angeles harbor until 1928, when it was blown up and dredged away as part of the expansion of The Port of Los Angeles.
The exact origin of the island's name is unknown but it entered popular culture when Richard Henry Dana, Jr. wrote about it in 1835's "Two Years Before the Mast." Dana retells existing local lore that on this desolate, lonely island was buried a single soul- the commander of a small English merchant brig rumored to have been poisoned by his crew. It was also known as Isla del Muerto, so it's possible the name and story came from early Spanish settlers.
Gleason shows OHIO flying the American ensign at her mizzen-gaff peak and a blue swallowtail pennant bearing a central white star is worn at the cap of the main truck. This accurately depicts the personal command pennant of Commodore Thomas A.P. Catesby Jones, commander of the U.S. Pacific Squadron between 1842 and 1844 and again from 1848 to 1850.
In November 1847 OHIO was assigned to the Pacific Squadron as flagship of Commodore Jones, protecting commerce and policing the newly acquired California Territory during the chaotic early months of the Gold Rush. When news of the Gold Rush first broke in 1848, Jones immediately sailed OHIO from Monterey to San Francisco seeking to maintain order and stability in the region amidst rising 'gold mania'.
OHIO, although besieged by her own rash of desertions, provided protection for gold shipments and represented authority in a city that had been all but stripped of its civil government (and most of its inhabitants) by gold fever. To discourage potential desertions to the gold fields, when in San Francisco Bay Jones kept OHIO anchored well out to keep his sailors from swimming ashore.
Discontent among his confined crew led to disciplinary problems as well as an outbreak of scurvy from a lack of fresh vegetables, forcing Jones to take OHIO to Hawaii in early 1849 to implement shore leave and take on fresh supplies. It's likely this view is showing OHIO after a stop in Los Angeles Harbor, returning from Hawaii and patrolling up the coast while returning to San Francisco where she would stay until late 1850 when she was sailed to Boston and refitted as a receiving ship.
U.S.S. OHIO was considered the first successful American ship-of-the-line and holds the distinction of being the first vessel ever built at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. She was designed by Henry Eckford, who had built Commodore John Rodgers' fleet at Sackett's Harbor during the War of 1812. OHIO was always rated as a '74', but was often known to carry up to 120 guns.
Eckford was one of the most prolific and highly accomplished of the Navy's early designers. Ship builder Isaac Webb, father of clipper designers William and Eckford Webb, apprenticed under Henry Eckford and was in charge of OHIO's construction. U.S.S. OHIO was the last naval commission Eckford completed before he opened his own yard in New York in 1820.
Before her time patrolling California's coast, OHIO joined the Mediterranean Squadron as the flagship of Commodore Issac Hull in October of 1858. Under Hull's command the ship protected American commerce and suppressed the slave trade off the African coast. During this time she proved to be an excellent ship, repeatedly making runs at upwards of 12 knots. In 1847, during the Mexican War, OHIO served with the Gulf Squadron and was at the battles of Vera Cruz and Tuxpan.
As for Dead Man's Island, OHIO, like many ships before her is clearly not stopping to take in the scenery. The island retained a mysterious reputation over the years as a burial ground and potentially haunted place which the careful sailor should give a wide berth. Apparently the rumors were based in truth since when the island was removed over two dozen sets of human remains were found.
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