Boston honors Bill Brown, now that it knows who he was
He passed through town, then founded Argentine navy
By DAVID ARNOLD Boston Globe
BOSTON -- Admiral William Brown was an Irish emigrant and one-time Boston resident who founded the Argentine navy in 1814.
In Buenos Aires, he has streets, buildings, squares and parks named after him.
And he's a source of pride in his hometown of Foxford, Ireland, where his fans hope to build a naval museum (albeit 17 miles inland) to their native son.
But in Boston, Bill Brown doesn't even register on the scale of famous people who slept here. A few days ago, City Hall officials said they were not familiar with Brown. But now, after brushing up on his history, Mayor Thomas M. Menino has decided to accept a bronze bust of the long-departed admiral with a hearty thanks --and a nagging uncertainty about what to do with it.
The mayor was scheduled to take stewardship of the bust aboard the Argentine tall ship ARA Libertad, slated to join in a salute to the USS Constitution later this week.
The presentation was a victory for Marian Trench, 27, of Ireland, a manager of the Foxford Admiral Brown Society that is trying to spread the word about the Irish-American-Argentinian naval hero.
She hopes to educate public and private minds here about a Bostonian, albeit only briefly a Bostonian, who went on to a brilliant naval career south of the equator.
The Libertad is one of nine tall ships and nine modern warships from seven countries that will pay tribute Thursday to the USS Constitution, which later this week will be celebrating the 200th anniversary of its first sail.
Tonight, Libertad will sponsor an ``Irish Night'' of song and dance to raise money for the Foxford Admiral Brown Society and the museum that the small town in County Mayo, Ireland, hopes to build someday.
Captain Javier Armando Valladares, second-in-command of the Libertad, holds a high regard for Brown, whose portrait hangs prominently between two portholes in the vessel's stern.
``He is very big in Argentina, very famous. I think much more so than here in Boston,'' Valladares said. No doubt this is partly because Brown was only 9 years old when he lived here, making no historical impression -- or any impression at all.
Born in 1777, Brown emigrated with his father to Boston in 1786. This is pretty much all that's known about the Boston angle, according to the Foxford Admiral Brown Society.
The lad next popped up on the record as a cabin boy in the American merchant marine in 1797 when he was kidnapped by the British to fight the French at sea. A few captures and escapes later, Brown ventured to what is now Buenos Aires to set up a trading business in the Spanish colony.
When rebellion against Spain broke out in 1810, Brown deftly boarded a Spanish warship and commandeered it to win the first skirmish of a revolution that eventually won independence for Argentina.
His expertise as a naval commander was knowing when to fight and when to withdraw and wait for a better opportunity. In a later conflict, Brown, with 11 vessels, vanquished a Brazilian fleet of 31 ships.
He is the stuff of legend in Argentina, as is his daughter Elisa, who committed suicide by walking into the sea when her husband, a naval captain, died in a battle.
The mayor said he is not sure as yet what to do with the bust, which easily would fit into an orange crate. Boston already has one public tribute to an Argentine, a statue of Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, a 19th century politician, bequeathed to the Commonwealth Avenue Mall as a thank-you from Argentina for creating the American school system 150 years ago.
Bill Brown was not a quick sell to the mayor or other City Hall officials, in part because he has no name recognition. Another reason is that the bust is heavy -- about one-third Trench's weight; she got tired of carrying it on the subway. Raising world awareness for the admiral is no easy job, she pointed out.
``He's hefty. But he is going to look very nice in some pocket of the city someday,'' Trench explained, gently brushing wisps of styrofoam packing material from the admiral's visage.