Bassett Family Association Database

Henry Willis Bassett

Male - 1830

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  • Name Henry Willis Bassett 
    Gender Male 
    _UID 521B3E6339D10D448EAF6603C5AF5F8F71C7 
    Died 30 Aug 1830 
    • Henry Willis Bassett died on board the U.S. Sloop of War Vandalia off Rio Janiero in a duel with Lieut. Sands. He was a Lieut. Surgeon, United States Navy.

      The American and Commercial Daily Advertiser for July 30, 1818 had "Henry Willis Bassett has taken the stand formerly occupied by Mr. Nathan G. Gryson, corner of Green and North streets, old town, where he intends to continue the Grocery and Country Produce business."

      The American Beacon of October 30, 1820 listed him as a dental surgeon of Baltimore in Norfolk, Virginia for a short time.

      1830 Federal Census of Norfolk, Norfolk County, Virginia
      Mrs. Basset 2000000-20001
      2MU5, 2FU5, 1F20-30

      Living in Norfolk in the 1850 census is a Richard Bassett, aged 26 years, born Maryland. This is possibly one of his children.

      Surgeon Duelist, U.S.N.
      Among the most unusual stories in the annals of Navy medicine is the case of Henry Willis Bassett, the dueling surgeon. In 1830, Dr. Bassett was assigned to USS Vandalia which made port in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Other officers aboard this cruise included future Rear Admirals Lieutenant Joshua Sands, Midshipmen Benjamin Franklin Sands (no relation to Joshua), and David Glasgow Farragut. By all accounts, Surgeon Bassett proved to be an officious character who was anything but a friend to his fellow wardroom officer. While in Brazil, Surgeon Bassett provoked an altercation with Joshua Sands that proved to be fatal.. The following is an account of this incident that appeared in the 1899 posthumous memoir of Benjamin F. Sands entitled "From Reefer to Rear-Admiral: Reminiscences and Journal Jottings of Nearly Half a Century of Naval Life".
      On the 26th of July the American brig "Virginia" arrived with a number of officers for the squadron, and again there a changing about between the vessels. On the 17th, Surgeon Henry Willis Bassett left the ship to return to the United States, and on the 22d, Lieutenant Joshua R. Sands and Surgeon William Johnston left the ship to return to the United States, in the American brig "Thule".
      All these latter changes were in consequence of an unfortunate affair, originating in a misunderstanding amongst the wardroom officers. For some time there had been hot blood shown between Dr. Bassett and Lieutenant Sands. It appeared that Mr. Francis Markoe, a young lawyer from Philadelphia, at that time staying in Montevideo, had made agreeable acquaintances amongst the wardroom officers. They, thinking to make him more comfortable than he was on shore, and at the same time themselves enjoy his pleasant society, invited him, with the consent of the captain, to live aboard the "Vandalia" as their guest, Dr. Bassett alone objecting to the invitation, of which objection Mr. Markoe was ignorant when he accepted the invitation.
      Bassett never lost an opportunity for the utterance of spiteful and annoying remarks, disturbing the comfort of the mess-table, and at different times giving rise to disagreeable scenes and embarrassing situations in the wardroom. So marked and so often repeated were they, that we of the steerage plainly saw that there was serious trouble brewing.
      It grew, at last, so apparent, that Dr. Bassett was bent upon creating a difficulty, that to preserve the discipline of the ship, he was ordered to his room by the first lieutenant, Sands; and thus things went on until matters approached their climax, and the surgeon sent Mr. Sands an invitation to a hostile meeting, which he could not accept, because of his position, without great breach of duty and discipline. "Charges" were then mutually preferred, upon which courts-martial were convened, and both of them being put on trial, Sands was acquitted, whilst Dr. Bassett was found guilty, and sentenced to suspension from duty for six months, and to be dismissed from the squadron.
      The sentence was approved, and apparently with the intention of obeying his orders home, the surgeon took up his quarters on shore, whence he at once addressed a challenge to Lieutenant Sands, declaring that now he was detached from the ship, there could be no question of discipline, and no reasonable excuse to present as an obstcle to a meeting as before proposed, and Sands felt that he was compelled to accept it.
      The meeting took place at sunrise the next morning upon the beach at Praya Grande, abreast our anchorage. When on the ground Lieutenant Sands asked if the matter could not be settled amicably, saying, "You, Dr. Bassett, have a wife and children at home; I have no one to care for me. I will do any thing in my power, consistent with my honor, to prevent this going any further." But the surgeon protested, and insisted on the duel proceeding, and thereupon the seconds placed them in position, and at the word they exchanged shots. The lieutenant stood unhurt, the doctor missing him and receiving the ball of his adversary just above the heart. He fell and soon expired.
      Both were expert marksmen, and both had been engaged in other such affairs, and had often for amusement practised [sic] at a mark on board ship, the surgeon always excelling the lieutenant until this last sad occasion. We subsequently heard that upon his arrival home Sands had reported to the Secretary of the Navy and to the President (General [Andrew] Jackson), and that the latter told him he was determined to stop dueling between officers and citizens, having just dismissed Lieutenants Hunter, Westcoat and Burns for affairs with a young Philadelphia doctor; but he remarked that he would not interfere between officers whose profession was fighting, and who were trained to arms! So Sands and Dr. Johnston, his second, were restored to duty, the former afterwards becoming a rear-admiral, and the latter reaching the grade of medical director.
      Orginally published in The Grog Ration, A Journal of Navy Medical History and Culture, September-October 2007
    Person ID I46  8B John Bassett of Hunterdon County, New Jersey
    Last Modified 21 May 2012 

    Father Doctor Isaac Bassett, Sr.,   b. 8 Mar 1763, Wilmington, Delaware Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 6 Jul 1809, Baltimore, Maryland Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 46 years) 
    Mother Daniela aka (Ann) (Nancy) Davidson,   b. Feb 1769, Philadelphia, PA or Baltimore, MD Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. Sep 1832, Huntsville, Alabama Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age ~ 63 years) 
    Married Abt 1790 
    Family ID F3  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

     1. Bassett
     2. Bassett
     3. Bassett
     4. Bassett
    Family ID F89  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

    Family ID F90  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

    Family ID F91  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart