Florida Keys News - Solares Hill
Sunday, August 4, 2013
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Stephen Mallory of Key West Grows Up to Become a U.S. Senator and Secretary of the Confederate Navy

In pre-Civil War days, Stephen R. Mallory was a highly regarded citizen of Key West. A clipper ship built in Key West in 1856 was named for him. Following his boyhood and young manhood, he was elected a U.S. Senator. When the Civil War began, despite his conviction that secession was a mistake, he sided with the South and was asked to serve as Secretary of the Confederate Navy. He did so for the duration of the war, and was then captured and imprisoned for his service as a rebel. The diary and reminiscences he wrote while in prison are the basis for this story of his younger days.

Stephen was born on the island of Trinidad in the West Indies, but spent his boyhood, and young manhood in Key West. His father, Charles Mallory, was a construction engineer who had come to Trinidad from Connecticut to oversee rebuilding of the Port of Spain structures destroyed in a tragic fire. His mother, Ellen Russell, was born in Ireland and sent to Trinidad as a young girl to live with two uncles who owned a sugar plantation there. When Ellen was about 16, she married Charles. The couple had two boys, John, born in 1811, and Stephen, born in 1813.

Around 1814, the family sailed north, probably to Charles' hometown, Redding, Conn., (Bridgeport area). Six years later, they sailed south to Mobile, Ala. No sooner had they arrived, than a yellow fever epidemic broke out.

Anxious to leave Mobile, they listened to descriptions of Key West by John Simonton and John Fleeming, Mobile, residents and purchasers of the island. Their glowing descriptions of the island induced the Mallorys to pack up and move to Key West. After arriving in the early 1820s, Charles purchased a lot on the north side of Fitzpatrick Street, built their house on it and then went to work to help build up the town.

As there were no schools in Key West at that time, Stephen's parents decided to send him to live with friends near Mobile and attend a rural school there. While Stephen, age 9, was there, his brother John and his father both died. Stephen attended the school for two years. He learned to read, write, ride a horse, and swim. He also learned to do his lessons well, as the old Scottish instructor was very handy with a hickory stick. One day he was hunting in the woods with schoolmates and shot a wild cat up in a tree. The cat fell to the ground, got up and attacked their dog. All the other boys fled, but Stephen stood his ground and killed the cat with a club. Not only was he a hero to his classmates, but gained self-confidence, which stood him well in later life.

After her husband died, Ellen turned their home into a boarding house. The boarders were well-regarded citizens, among them Judge Marvin, who had this to say of Mrs. Mallory: "She was intelligent, possessed of a ready Irish wit, was kind, gentle, charitable, sympathetic, and considerate of the wants of the sick and the poor."

Ellen persuaded a revenue cutter captain to bring Stephen back from school to help her. But when Stephen was 13, she took him to an Academy for "young gentlemen" in Nazereth, Pa., and left him there. The school was founded by Moravians (German Protestants). Ellen and Stephen were Catholics, but Ellen chose the school because it had the reputation of being one of the best in the country. Stephen was there for three years. He became proficient in writing, mathematics, bookkeeping, history, geography, grammar, Latin, and German. He learned to play the piano and was happy there. All his life, he praised the education he received at that school.

In 1829, when he was 16, his mother could no longer afford the tuition and he had to return to Key West. He made his way by stagecoach from Nazereth to New Jersey and the home of a cousin, William Wilson, a lawyer. During his two-month stay there, he became friendly with the Wilsons' four daughters. One of the daughters, Lydia, was destined to play an important role in Stephen's future. On the return voyage to Key West by schooner he met William Whitehead, who later became Key West's collector of customs. The two men were about the same age, and became good friends.

After he returned from school, Stephen helped his mother with running the boarding house. Of his mother he wrote, "My mother was one of the most affectionate, humane, kind, charitable nature I have ever known. She was also a stern disciplinarian and punished me severely and unreasonably at times."

His mother's discipline and guidance paid off in Stephen's conduct and character. He did not smoke or drink, had a great respect for women, and was extremely polite to them. He would take off his hat when talking to a lady until told to put it back on. When it was raining, he would hold an umbrella over the head of the black laundress.

He was ambitious and when he was not helping his mother, began a rigorous program of self study. He read many books on a wide variety of subjects, taking notes on any important ideas as he read. He taught himself to read French and Spanish. He was religious and faithful to his mother's Catholic upbringing, but there was no Catholic church in Key West at that time. Feeling he should attend some church, he joined the Episcopal church and when the preacher was absent, took turns with Judge Marvin and William Wall conducting the service from the Common Prayer Book.

But his routine was not all work and study. He had learned to play the flute and on moonlight nights, with one or two friends and a Negro fiddler, would go about town serenading ladies both single and married. He also loved to sail, built his own sailboat, and cruised among the Keys.

In 1830, when Stephen was 17, he first saw his future wife, Angela Moreno, age 15, sitting on a dock at Key West. She was the daughter of the Spanish Vice Consul at Pensacola. Many years later, Stephen wrote in his diary, "[She was] dressed, I remember, all in white with a white jacket, . . . then just from Pensacola, with two other young ladies on her way to Bridgeport to school [to study English]. She spent a day at Key West; and my attention was strongly attracted to her, so strongly that I never forgot her, but on the contrary, thought of her much and often."

He became determined to have her as his wife. It was an eight-year quest. Angela later recalled, "I remember that he was the only well-dressed young gentleman I saw, and he was very handsome. But no thought of him and the future entered my mind then."

The image of Angela and the thought of marrying her inspired Stephen to study harder. He usually studied at night and if he got sleepy would wrap a wet towel around his head. He decided he wanted to be a lawyer and then go to Congress. He began studying the law with help from Judge Marvin.

In that same year, an opportunity arose for Stephen to pursue an entirely different occupation and find adventure. Richard Fitzpatrick, a delegate to the territorial council, offered Stephen the chance to come to New River (Fort Lauderdale's location today) with him and help him establish a plantation. There were a few frontier people living in the area, renting from Fitzpatrick. When he was not working, Stephen made friends with the local Indians, learned how to communicate with them, accompanied them on hunting and fishing expeditions, and learned how to survive in the woods. After spending weeks in the open, he was tempted to remain there and become a hunter.

When Stephen returned to Key West for a visit in 1831, his friend William Whitehead, now collector of customs, offered him the position of inspector of customs at a salary of $3 per day. Stephen promptly forgot about being a hunter, accepted the job, and resumed his study of the law. The next year, he was elected city marshal. Among his duties was that of enforcing evening curfew at 9:30. Negroes were not to be on the streets, play a fiddle, beat a drum or make any other noise after the bell rang to signify curfew had begun.

Now 21, Stephen could not get Angela Moreno off his mind, and he decided to do something about it. He went to Pensacola, ostensibly to visit his cousin, Lydia McIntosh and her family, but really to see Angela. Since he last saw Lydia in New Jersey, she had married a naval officer named McIntosh. Her husband, now Commodore McIntosh, was commander of the Navy yard at Pensacola. Lydia and Angela were close friends. He learned that Angela, who was a Catholic, spoke French, Spanish, and English and was musical. All these accomplishments met his ideals for a wife.

One evening, when Stephen was staying at the McIntosh home, Angela came to visit. In the evening, Mrs. McIntosh and her children left the parlor to retire for the night. Stephen asked Angela to stay, saying he would read to her. She agreed and sat down across the parlor from him. After a few minutes, Stephen put the book down and nervously began to tell her the story of his life and his ideal of a woman he would marry. Angela stopped him, and, obviously not pleased, stood up and picked up her candlestick as if to retire. She told Stephen that he had misled her, that if she had known what he was going to say, she would not have remained. She headed for the door, but Stephen jumped ahead of her, locked the door, and put the key in his pocket. Angela looked as if she were ready to hurl the candlestick at him.

Stephen was indignant. He wrote in his diary, "I had dreamed of her and thought of her and no one else since I first saw her as a young girl and now that I had discovered in her my veritable 'ideal,' my soul was engrossed by her and to be thus waved off in what I mistook for a most heartless and contemptuous air of superiority was more than I could digest." Stephen explained that he was telling her what he would tell no one else, that he was paying her a greater compliment than he could ever pay anyone, and that she must listen to him. Angela said "Well sir, I will hear you." but would not sit down, until Stephen did.

He apologized for his rudeness, and told her how deeply he felt for her, and of his long devotion. He said he did not expect an answer then, but would ask again in two years, and would never marry anyone but her. He unlocked the door and she said, "You never need renew your offer, for I will never listen to it again." She did not respond to his "Good night," refused to shake hands with him, hurried up the stairs, and went back to her home in town in the morning.

Stephen returned to Key West and his studies. He also began writing for the local newspaper, the Enquirer, and even wrote an article for the New York Herald on the 1835 hurricane which did so much damage to Keys sailing craft.

In December 1835, the Second Seminole War began with the ambush of a column of 108 soldiers on their way from Tampa to Fort King in central Florida. Only three soldiers survived. A Seminole war party attacked a family at New River while the husband was away. They killed his wife, children, and their tutor. When news of these attacks reached settlers on the southern mainland and in the Upper and Middle Keys, they fled, most to Key West. Only the community on Indian Key remained, with lookouts and cannon in place around the island, ready to repulse an attack.

Key West also prepared for a possible attack. A defense committee instituted patrols by land and sea. Stephen took part in the boat patrols around the island. He also joined the group of citizens and sailors from the U.S. Frigate Constellation who cleared away trees and underbrush at the edge of town to prevent a Seminole war party from concealing themselves preparing for a surprise attack.

Two years were up and, as he promised, Stephen sent a letter to Angela renewing his proposal and saying that if Angela continued to reject his proposal, he would join the Army fighting the Seminoles. Angela politely turned down his proposal and added that she thought his joining the Army was an excellent idea.

Stephen thought the letter might have been written by her father and tore it up. Then he noticed the seal was an impression of a dark lantern held up by an arm with the inscription "Brighter hours will come." Taking this as a sign of hope, he kept it and wore it close to his heart.

Stephen did not join the Army. Instead, he obtained a leave of absence from his customs and other duties and volunteered to serve as a guide with a Navy expedition under Lt. Powell, formed to attack Seminoles who might be gathering coontie at Cape Florida or New River. The expedition got underway from Key West in October 1836. Mallory accompanied them in his own long, centerboard, schooner-rigged whaleboat with a crew of Navy seamen. After a failed attempt to trap a band of Indians on Key Largo, the expedition continued on to Cape Florida. While Lt. Smith explored the Miami River, Powell sent Mallory to scout Little River and Arch Creek. Neither boat crew sighted any Indians, so the expedition continued scouting along the east coast as far as Indian River and the west coast as far as Charlotte Harbor. The expedition ended in December and Stephen returned to Key West.

In the fall of 1837, Stephen received an invitation from Lt. Powell to join another larger expedition that included a contingent of soldiers. Stephen sailed up the coast and met Lt. Powell in the Indian River area. In his diary many years later, Mallory recalled his participation with the two expeditions as a cheerful, carefree lark, part hunting and part sailing with a fine body of seamen. He wrote that he never had the chance to fire at an Indian or be under their fire, but when they found Indian village sites, he helped destroy them. He added, "I enjoyed capital health, good spirits, and reaped much useful experience, self reliance, and benefit generally from my service."

Before he left Key West on the second expedition, Stephen wrote a letter to Lydia McIntosh. It was a long, poetical epistle which rhymed from beginning to end. Much of it was about Angela and told that he had named his race boat after her. Stephen assumed that Lydia would probably tell Angela what it said or even show it to her.

In April 1838, with operations at an end, Powell's forces sailed to the naval base at Pensacola. Stephen, seeing this as an opportunity to renew his suit of Angela Moreno, went with them. On arriving in town, Stephen and Lt. Powell engaged rooms in a hotel which just happened to be across the street from the Moreno home. After bathing and donning clean clothes, they hired two horses. Stephen saw Angela on her front porch talking to a man who, it later appears, told her that Powell's forces had arrived. With this news Angela now recognized the man across the street as Stephen. He pretended not to see her. Angela, thinking to attract his attention, got her sister to play a piece on her guitar which was one of Stephen's favorites. Stephen continued to ignore her, mounted his horse, and rode off for the McIntosh house. On arrival, he asked Lydia if she thought his chances with Angela had improved. She hesitated briefly and then told him he should go to her and judge for himself.

Stephen took this as a favorable indication of his chances, hurried out the door, leaped on his horse, and took off for Angela's house at a gallop. Commodore McIntosh followed him and called to Stephen that he could not keep up and to please slow down. Stephen slowed to a canter and began mentally rehearsing what he would say to Angela It began along the lines, " you see I am here again, but this is the last time; you better take me now and etc. . . ."

After arriving at the Moreno home, Stephen was admitted by a servant. He walked into the parlor and was looking at a painting when he heard her voice say, "So sir, you have come at last have you? After not even looking at me this morning?" Stephen completely forgot the speech he had been rehearsing and asked her to walk outside for a few minutes. Angela put on her bonnet and they went out in the street. In her off-hand manner Angela asked, "What in the world has brought you here?" Stephen replied, "You have. I came to see you alone. Refuse me and I go back at once; but not to give up, for I am determined to marry you in spite of your [illegible]." Angela replied, "I had determined to accept your offer if you ever renewed it." Stephen was speechless with joy. Angela then said, "Why don't you kiss me Stephen?'

The couple married the following June (1838) and soon thereafter sailed to Key West, where they rented a house. Stephen began practicing law but his income as a lawyer, combined with what he received acting as a notary public, was limited. To illustrate their strained resources, he noted that they had only two servants. The following year, Angela's father, Don Francisco, paid them a visit. He was favorably impressed with Stephen's sound judgement and business sense, and offered to loan him enough money to buy a house. Of course he accepted. In that same year, Stephen was admitted to the bar. Among his contemporaries, he was considered to be the best lawyer of his age in Florida.

The Mallorys lived in Key West from 1838 to 1858. Stephen went to Washington to take his place in the Senate in 1851. Angela delivered nine children, but infant mortality was high in those times and five of them never reached adulthood. In a speech in memory of her husband, Angela Mallory said, "We were married two months later [after she accepted his proposal] and went to Key West where I would remain 20 years in the most happy, loving union. Never was there a truer or nobler man or one more determined to win where failure seemed assured."

As the years went by, Stephen's law practice increased and he prospered. He became a probate judge for Monroe County, joined the Democratic Party, and gradually became a well-known political figure in Key West. President Polk appointed him collector of customs in 1845. In 1850, the Democrats gained control of the Florida Legislature. Despite Mallory's appeal to support the outgoing senator, David Yulee, the members nominated Mallory to represent Florida in the U.S. Senate. After three years, he was appointed chairman of the Senate Naval Committee and did much to improve the Navy, including legislation to establish a Retirement Board to retire aged officers. When the Civil War began, although he was not in favor of secession, fellow U.S. senator and future president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, persuaded him to serve as secretary of, at that time, a non-existent Confederate Navy.

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