HE WAS THE CRÈME DE LA CRÈME, really,” says Mary Ames Booker, museum curator at the Battleship
North Carolina. “She was a big ship for her day, very deep draft.”
Sailing in the Mediterranean fleet from 1824 until 1827 as Commodore John Rodgers’ flagship, the deep
draft (21.6 feet), three-masted square-rigger helped establish the nascent country as a naval power.
In 1836, the refitted North Carolina was scheduled to go off the coast of South America under her second cap-tain,
Booker knew from naval records that Gallagher officially was the ship’s second captain, but he’s been something of a
man of mystery.
The historic record shows the ship did patrol off the Pacific coast to protect U.S. commerce while Chile and Peru were at
war. Gallagher, though, was not onboard. He resigned after only serving for three months.
“He didn’t go as captain on that South American cruise,” Booker says. “I found some newspaper reports — a lot of stuff ’s
been digitized — that said his wardroom officers were very sorry that he backed out. It doesn’t really explain why. I think he was
not well, or maybe he just didn’t want the cruise. We didn’t know anything.”
The North Carolina became a training ship when she returned to New York in 1839, and Gallagher was placed back in command.
“He really warmed to the idea about the training of recruits, and how you train these young people to be in the Navy. So
apparently, it was a good fit,” Booker says.
Gallagher served until his death in 1842. The cause of his death is another mystery. A newspaper obituary said he “suffered
a disease both mental and physical,” but the type of disease was not revealed.
With so many unknowns swirling around the second captain, Booker was skeptical when a man named Lawrence
Pleasants called and said he was a direct descendant of John Gallagher and had some artifacts he was interested in donating.
— Gallagher’s great-great-great grandson — came into possession
“When I got a phone call that said, ‘I have items related to Captain Gallagher of the ship,’ I’m like,
‘You don’t know what you’re talking about.’ Very polite, of course,” Booker says.
After doing some more digging, Booker realized the artifacts were legitimate. She called Pleasants
and made arrangements to acquire the historic treasures: a large portrait of Gallagher, a painting
of the North Carolina, Gallagher’s naval sword, a ceremonial sword from his home state of
Maryland, and a silver commemorative medal awarded by President Andrew Jackson.
The artifacts had been in Pleasants’ family for 150 years. With each
generation, they always went to the oldest son, which is how Pleasants
of them a little over 20 years ago.
After keeping them tucked away, Pleasants felt it
was time to make them available.