black history month 2021
The Farragut Museum has a long history of celebrating Black History Month. This year, for safety reasons, the event will be celebrated with this online exhibit that focuses on two Black Medal of Honor winners who served aboard the USS Hartford with Admiral David Farragut, for whom the town is named. We hope you enjoy learning about these heroic men, along with a look back at some of our previous events.
Admiral David Farragut, born in Lowe’s Ferry, was the first commissioned admiral of the United States Navy. He is best known for commanding the Union fleet in the Battle of Mobile Bay on Aug. 5, 1864. The battle was marked by Farragut’s seemingly rash but successful run through a minefield that had just claimed one of his ironclad monitors, enabling his fleet to get beyond the range of the shore-based guns. This was followed by a reduction of the Confederate fleet to a single vessel, the ironclad CSS Tennessee.
Farragut’s order of “Damn the torpedoes! Four bells. Captain Drayton, go ahead! Jouett, full speed!” became famous in paraphrase, as “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”
Two Black sailors were recognized for their heroism while serving on the USS Hartford that day.
Wilson Brown was born in 1841 on Botany Bay Plantation in Natchez, Miss. At the outbreak of the Civil War, he was a slave at Carthage Plantation. Brown enlisted with the Union Navy along the banks of the Mississippi River in March 1863 as contraband. (Fugitive slaves were declared to be “contraband of war” if their labor had been used to aid the Confederacy in any way.) His first shipboard station was as a 3rd Class Boy aboard USS Hartford.
One of Brown’s shipmates and was John Lawson, a free Black man from Philadelphia who enlisted in New York in his mid-twenties.
During the Hartford’s engagement at the Battle of Mobile Bay, Brown and Lawson were serving on a shell whip crew. The shell whip is a device that transports ammunition powder from the magazine to the firing deck via manpower. A Confederate shell exploded near Brown’s crew during the battle, killing four of the six men. Brown and another man were knocked below deck, and Brown was knocked unconscious and broke several ribs along his left side when the other man fell on him.
Lawson was hit with shrapnel in his leg but was the first to return to the shell whip. After regaining consciousness, Brown returned to his station and resumed his duties with Lawson.
John Lawson, courtesy of The Smithsonian
For their actions, Brown and Lawson were awarded the Medal of Honor. They are two of eight known Black Navy Medal of Honor recipients during the Civil War.
Following his service on the USS Hartford, Brown would go on to serve aboard USS North Carolina with the Potomac Flotilla. He was stationed at the Washington Navy Yard before being discharged on May 19, 1865. At the time of his discharge, Brown had moved up the ranks to 1st Class Boy. Boys and landsmen were the lowest ranks for a Navy sailor and were often relegated to manual labor. His headstone at the Natchez National Cemetery in Mississippi and his Medal of Honor citation identify him as a landsman.
John Lawson died on May 3, 1919, in Philadelphia and is buried at Mount Peace Cemetery, Camden, New Jersey.
Wilson Brown's engraved Medal of Honor
A video featuring the oral histories of two long-time West Knox residents, Helen Trent and Hughie Moulden, is now available on the Town of Farragut YouTube page. It will also play in the Farragut Museum during the month of February in recognition of Black History Month.
The video, produced by Town of Farragut staff for last year’s Black History Month celebration, features memories of growing up in the Concord area, including happy days at Concord Elementary School followed by long bus trips to Austin High School. Trent says she should’ve gone to school in Farragut, but at the time, Black students “stayed in their lane because we knew how people were.”
We wouldn’t tolerate what was going on now,” she said. “These parents, in this day and time, they wouldn’t send their children to Austin [High School] or some other school when they should be going to Farragut.”
(Right) The nursing class of Helen Trent, third from right,
The Farragut Museum is currently open 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday.
The Farragut Museum has observed Black History Month from the Town’s early days. Please enjoy this collection of photos from past events. The Town of Farragut appreciates those who have organized, participated in and attended through the years.