Remembering the unfortunate death of Midshipman Dale
By Dr Edward Harris
‘This trip to Bermuda has brought forth many thoughts and feelings of history and family, of service and of sacrifice, and of the poignant tragedy of a father having to bury his son. — Edward Morgan Dale, February 2014
In these days of instant communication, we are aware to the minute, for example, of Russia's incursion into Ukraine, or of the latest words of lawyers and witnesses in a celebrity trial in South Africa, but it was not always thus.
On 24 December 1814 in Europe, the United States and Britain signed the Treat of Ghent, a document that ended the War of 1812 thereabouts, but the news took several months to reach the military arenas in North America.
Hence, for one example, the costly Battle of New Orleans, in terms of lives lost, took place the following month, when both sides in Louisiana thought they should still be at each others' throats.
At sea on 15 January 1815, off the city of New York, a squadron of British vessels headed up by HMS Endymion intercepted and captured one of the US Navy six great frigates, the USS President, with the resulting loss of the life at Bermuda a month later of Midshipman Richard Dale Jr, following the amputation of a leg.
The young seaman was buried at St Peter's Church in St George's, so he is, by way of his unusual residence, a part of that now World Heritage town (established in 1612).
Fast-forward 117 years to 1932 and a young Bermudian in the US Navy, one Scarritt Adams (of “Springfield” on what was once Springfield Avenue, now the perhaps impolite ‘Point Finger Road') came upon the inscribed gravestone of that American midshipman and decided that his passing should be a point of commemoration for Bermuda and the United States of America.
Thus began the “Midshipman Dale Ceremony”, a sometimes annual event, now resurrected by the Friends of St Peter's, led by the Reverend Erskine Simmons, its chairman, and the Rector of St Peter's (since 2012, “Their Majesties Chappell”), Reverend David Raths, himself a military man in former years, and Captain Scarritt Adams' daughter, the vibrant Louise Hall Reider.
They are all, with other supporters, to be congratulated for keeping the Ceremony alive and for continuing the intent of Captain Adams that it would be an occasion to meet with the present generation of the enemy of old, not only to mark the loss of one of the last casualties of an unfortunate and unnecessary war, but to share, in communion, some of the many features that now bind Bermuda, Great Britain and the United States as friends, and in the times of stress, military allies.
For the recent 2014 ceremony, Edward Morgan Dale, a descendant of Commodore Richard Dale (1756-1826, and a native and resident of the southerly island of St Croix, kindly travelled to Bermuda to be take part in the occasion and to give a short talk at the dinner following, hosted at the St George's Club by the Friends of St Peter's.
Here are some of the highlights of his speech, the event also being attended by Louise, the daughter of Captain Adams, her daughter Abigail and his great-grandsons, Nicholas and Paget Kellogg.
“Capt Adams' subsequent research revealed the touching tale of the kindness shown by the people of St George's to Midshipman Dale, who was a wounded prisoner of the War of 1812. He had been taken prisoner when his ship, the USS President, was captured by the British and brought to Bermuda.
“Eventually he died here on February 22, 1815, despite the dignified care provided by the St Georgians to the seaman in distress, albeit an enemy one.
“He was one of the last persons to die in a British-American conflict, the irony being that the war was actually over, but news travelled slowly in those days and had not yet reached the fleet in the Western Atlantic.
“Midshipman Dale's father, Commodore Richard Dale, who had once served as First Lieutenant to John Paul Jones, came in thanks rather than revenge, to show his gratitude to the people of St George's, for the respect shown his son in life and in death.
“Commodore Dale arranged for a horizontal tombstone, which reads: ‘To Commemorate the Gallant Deeds of the People of St George's whose Generosity and tender sympathy prompted the kindest attention to him while living and honoured him when dead'.
“Starting in 1932, Captain Adams sent funds for the wreaths for the ceremony, but it was not until he retired from the navy and returned home to Bermuda, in 1963, that he was actually able to be present to see his wreath laid. My uncle, Richard Dale, and family were able to attend that year and my aunt Dee Dee Dale, was honoured to place the wreath of passion flowers on the gravestone.
“1n 1967, the ceremony reached a peak, when, after several attempts by Capt Adams to have the USS Dale (DLG-19) commissioned to come to Bermuda for the service, the US Navy agreed to send a frigate for the occasion.
“Sailors from the US Bases at Bermuda, which had been established in the Second World War, were also able to participate.
“That year my parents and I were able to attend and were met in St George's King's Square by the Mayor of the town, along with the Commanding Officer of the destroyer USS Luce, brought into the island for this occasion. “My mother, Betty Morgan Dale was honoured to take part in the wreath-laying that year.'
“After Capt Adams untimely death in 1973, the service waned and eventually ceased when the US forces withdrew from Bermuda in 1995. However, a chance meeting of Beau Evans and Louise Hall Reider at St George's sparked the reintroduction of the ceremony in 2006.”
Edward Dale closed with the following salute: “It gives me great pleasure to once again, 199 years after the death of my great great-great-grand uncle, Midshipman Richard Dale, express the heartfelt gratitude of the Dale Family to the good people of St. George's, whose generous and tender sympathy prompted the kindest attentions to Richard while living and are yet honouring him when dead.”
Edward Cecil Harris, MBE, JP, PHD, FSA is Director of the National Museum. Comments may be made to firstname.lastname@example.org or 704-5480.