USS Duncan (DDR - 874)

" Galloping Ghost of the Korean Coast ".

Silas Duncan and the Falklands' Incident.

Falkland Islands, 1832

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U.S.S. Lexington,
Commander Silas Duncan, CO.

Frequently records in obscure places at the National Archives can shed light on events of recent times. Such was the case in April, 1982, when I came across some 167 year old records of a U.S. Navy action in the Falkland Islands, whose ownership was being contested at that time between Argentina and Great Britain.

At the center of the dispute was Argentina's claim that they settled the Falklands first, while the British claim the Islands were uninhabited when they arrived there in 1833. The records, which consist of letters from officers of the Navy's Brazil Squadron, to the Secretary of the Navy, provide an interesting historical perspective on their competing claims.

The letters show that the USS Lexington, under the command of Silas Duncan, visited the Falklands in December, 1831, to investigate complaints by American fishermen that a "band of pirates" was operating from the Islands. After finding what he considered proof that at least four American fishing ships had been captured, plundered, and even outfitted for war, Duncan took seven prisoners onboard Lexington and charged them with piracy. The leaders of the prisoners was Louis Vernet, a German, and Matthew Brisbane, an Englishman both of Buenos Aries.

Also taken on board, Duncan reported, "were the whole of the (Falklands') population consisting of about forty persons, with the exception of some gouchos, or cowboys who were encamped in the interior." The group, principally Germans from Buenos Aries, "appeared greatly rejoiced at the opportunity thus presented of removing with their families from a desolate region where the climate is always cold and cheerless and the soil extremely unproductive," Duncan wrote.

Vernet's and Brisbane's capture caused quite a stir among government officials in Buenos Aries, and a long dispute between U.S. and Argentine diplomats followed. Argentina claimed that Vernet was the Governor of the Falklands, and that, as such, he had the right to confiscate ships in the area. The U.S. Navy, however, claimed the right to hand the prisoners s

Duncan's superior, Commodore George Rodgers, flag officer of the Brazil Squadron, arrived in Buenos Aries in May, 1832 to take charge of the risky situation. Rodgers returned the seven prisoners to the government in Buenos Aries, but protested the violation of American fishing rights.

He reported to Navy Secretary, Levi Woodbury, "The people here, whilst desirous of friendly intercourse with us, still hold out the idea of re-colonizing the Falkland Islands. No attempt has yet been made at the project. The Captain of the American sailing ship spotted by us at the mouth of the river, direct from those islands, reported them uninhabited and deserted." __Rebecca Livingston

Rebecca Livingston is an archivist with the Navy and Old Army Branch of the Military Archives Division of the National Archives.

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Puerto Soledad

Under instruction from President Andrew Jackson
Secretary of the Navy Levi Woodbury orders Duncan to South Atlantic

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Duncan takes Lexington into
Puerto Soledad, East Falkland Islands

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Letter from Commander Duncan to Argentine Minister of Foreign Affairs
Don Tomas de Anchorena, demanding that
Louis Vernet be tried and punished under the laws of Buenos Aries.

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Duncan's After- Action Report
sent to Navy Secretary Woodbury

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For another slant on the story
Read the Argentinian version.

Material below is exerpted from "The Struggle for the Falkland Islands",
by Julius Goebel Jr., published in 1927 by Yale University Press.

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Commander Silas Duncan
and the Falkland Island Affair

Researched, and written by Alexander G. Monroe, Capt. USNR(Ret.)

Forward by Author:

I became interested in the business in reading the biography of the first CO of the 2nd DUNCAN, LCDR (later RADM) Edmund B. Taylor, USN, who commissioned members of my NROTC class at the University of Virginia in June 1964. That ship was lost in the battle off Savo Island, an engagement in which my first CO participated as a JO in USS SAN FRANCISCO. He went on to become an aviator and later was Naval Aide to President Kennedy.

At any rate, I dug into the material in the National Archives and the Naval Historical Center and produced an article which was submitted to the Naval Institute PROCEEDINGS. What I said at the time was pretty controversial, and that is why the article was done by the journal at Mystic Seaport.

One thing that was pretty bizarre is that I could never find a likeness of Duncan. As you know, ships named after a person, such as USS CORRY, the first ship in which I served, have some sort of likeness in the Wardroom. We turned the Navy upside down, including sending a message to the ship to try to find one. The Richmond papers had none and I even went over to Aylett, Virginia east of the city, hoping to find a portrait hidden away somewhere and learn something of the Duncan (Aylett) family.

There is one other recollection and that is that at the time of the Falklands Island controversy of 1982, I was in the hospital recovering from a ruptured appendix. Not 12 hours after the surgery, my dad who is a physician, came to visit, turned on the room TV to the news and exclaimed, "General Galtieri read your article!" I am amazed that someone has found something that I had nearly forgotten.

I shall be going over to King William on April 30th to speak to the historical society whose members I am told hadn't previously known of Commander Duncan's career. I hope I'll be able to smoke out a portrait from someone's attic or basement. Thanks for your interest. AGM

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Created: Sunday, July 27, 1997
Last update: Tuesday, July 18

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