Our sailor today was instrumental in forming young America's history, operating on both sides of the law as he did. We spoke about "marline-spikers" yesterday and Daniel Tod (or Todd) Patterson, who died a Captain in the U.S. Navy, was certainly one of them. He was also a member of the notorious "associates" in New Orleans who funded and supplied Spanish insurgencies from Texas to Venezuela illegally and for profit. And then there's the taking down of not one but two Laffite smuggling operations. You'd think a guy who did so much in a 53 year life would have at least been able to get a shave before he had his picture painted. Maybe his wife was out of town.
Patterson was born March 6, 1786 in Long Island, New York. His father, John Patterson, was the younger brother of a Canadian Governor who, for reasons unknown, took off for what would become the U.S. around 1750. John came along and married a wealthy New York socialite named Catherine Livingston. Her family had gotten rich in the merchant trade and her grandfather, Robert Livingston, had been a partner of William Kidd. This Livingston connection figured prominently in Daniel's career in New Orleans.
Patterson, like so many others, went to sea at an early age. He may have joined the U.S. Navy around the year 1799. He was made acting Midshipman that year aboard USS Delaware during the Quasi-War with France. By 1803 he was aboard USS Philadelphia with the official title of mid. Philadelphia, one of the first six frigates of the U.S. Navy, was captured off Tripoli in October of 1803 and her people imprisoned. Along with Patterson, Lieutenant David Porter - who took the mids under his wing and continued their classes in captivity - was among those taken by the Barbary pirates. It appears that Porter and Patterson formed a friendship, and this connection served Patterson's career well.
Released from Tripoli in 1805, even the Naval Historical Center doesn't seem quite sure what Midshipman Patterson got up to at this point. It notes that he was transferred to the New Orleans Naval Station, but the station was not official until 1809 when Porter arrived as Commodore. One can imagine Patterson in New Orleans as early as 1806, however. It is the place he met George Ann Pollock, daughter of the director of the local branch of the Bank of the U.S. They were married in 1807.
By 1809 the Naval Station at NOLA was up and running and Patterson had been promoted to Lieutenant. Much like his commanding officer, Porter, Patterson was a motivated individual. As William C. Davis points out so astutely in his book The Pirates Laffite, Patterson had:
...two driving motivations - a hunger for prize money and an antipathy toward freebooters no doubt encouraged when he spent time as the prisoner of Tripolitan pirates.
Unlike Porter, Patterson appears to have been an average seaman. He would spend over two decades by land at the New Orleans station with only a brief foray into sailing and gunnery at the Battle of New Orleans. Though he would later do more time at sea, administration seemed to suit his temperament far better than quarterdeck command.
1809 was also the year the Jean and Pierre Laffite solidified their hold on the Baratarian smuggling operation south of New Orleans. We've talked about this before so I won't go into detail but it is easy to imagine the beginning of a dance between a prize hungry, pirate hating officer and a pair of racketeering geniuses. This one would last for more than 10 years.
As early as 1811, Patterson was in charge of gunboats cruising the bayous for smuggling pirogues and the goods they carried. By November of that year he had his mother's nephew, Edward Livingston, representing him in lucrative libels of piratical ships. Livingston, it should be noted, was also the Laffites' go to attorney. He represented other privateers as well, including Renato Beluche, Dominique Youx and Vicente Gambi against the Navy and the customs' office. Ah, New Orleans. Where everyone has a finger in the pie.
With the onset of the War of 1812, David Porter left the Commodore's post to once again return to sea. For two years the hapless John Shaw took his place and the Laffite's operation in Barataria grew by leaps and bounds. Shaw finally gave up and left his post lamenting the uncontrollable smuggling situation in New Orleans. Patterson was promoted to Commodore on December 13, 1813, and he brought Porter's perspective and focus back to the Naval Station.
From the time of his promotion Patterson pestered Louisiana Governor William C.C. Claiborne to raid the "rat's den" in Barataria and close down the Laffites' operation. The burgeoning threat of attack by the British during the War of 1812 seemed to make the move imperative since the Spanish were threatening to side with England against the U.S. if something wasn't done about the pirates. When the British approached Jean Laffite at Barataria about helping their invasion efforts, he refused and informed Claiborne. The Governor believed his story.
Unfortunately, Laffite was the boy who cried wolf. He had lied so many times that this truth he was now telling seemed implausible. Claiborne was outnumbered. Even Andrew Jackson was telling him to end the Laffites' piracy. In September of 1814, Patterson and an Army contingent lead by Colonel George Ross were sent to Barataria to sink, burn or take as prize. The Laffites were tipped off and left Grande Terre before Patterson arrived, but many familiar Baratarians - Dominique Youx in particular - were captured and imprisoned.
The story of the Battle of New Orleans is a topic for another time, but Patterson played a pivotal roll. Once he had enough sailors and arms (provided by the "hellish banditti" from Barataria who were released from censure in order to serve their country), he wreaked havoc on the British from his flagship Louisiana. At anchor in the Mississippi just north of Chalmette plain, she bombarded the enemy along with the guns on Rodriguez Canal. Patterson was awarded the title of Captain for his service in battle.
The post war prosperity in New Orleans saw the rise of the filibustering group known as "the associates". Through connections, not the least of which were the Laffite brothers and Renato Beluche, a group of wealthy merchants and businessmen began to buy arms and supplies for Central and South American insurgencies against Spain. Some of the insurgents had cash, and the whole thing was really a get rich quick scheme painted with the broad brush of supporting just revolutions. Attorneys John Grymes and Edward Livingston figured prominently in the group. So did Daniel Tod Patterson.
Patterson used his influence and even U.S. Navy ships to transport the much needed arms (some of which were probably pilfered on the down low from naval stockpiles in the city) to places like Texas and Mexico. It was a dangerous game, and the Commodore almost got caught more than once. Thankfully general anti-Spanish sentiment in New Orleans particularly and in the U.S. as a whole saved Patterson from court martial and disgrace.
The filibustering never quite panned out as hoped, and the associates eventually gave up. The Laffites, running a lucrative operation in Galveston and playing the other side of the street by spying for Spain at the same time, were again a thorn in the U.S.'s side. By 1820, Patterson had orders to shut them down once more. This time the Laffites left willingly, sailing off toward the last of their exploits. But not before Pierre Laffite approached Patterson through George Pollock in an attempt to sell Spanish intelligence to the U.S. Navy. History is unclear on whether or not the navy was buying.
Patterson continued as Commodore in NOLA until 1824. He did a brief stint as Captain of USS Constitution from 1824 to 1827 and took a seat on the U.S. Naval Commission in 1828. He and his family settled down comfortably in Washington D.C. By then Patterson was the father of three children: two boys, Carlile Pollock and Thomas Harmon, would join the Navy and daughter George Ann would marry future Civil War naval hero David Dixon Porter, son of Patterson's friend David Porter.
Patterson returned to sea for four years as Commodore of the Mediterranean Squadron and then was back in D.C. as Commandant of the Washington Navy Yard by 1837. It was here that Patterson died on August 25, 1839, survived by his wife and children. He is buried in Congressional Cemetery. The U.S. has named three ships to date USS Patterson in his honor.
Though it is easy to judge Patterson's actions so many years after the fact, he is not at all unusual when one looks at the big, historical picture. Navy men who relied only on their government pay were destined to be poor indeed, and almost all Captains from Drake to the illustrious Porters of the Civil War relied on prize money to feed their families. Whatever Daniel Tod Patterson was, he is remembered as an American hero. And that's pretty impressive all around.