Captain Joseph Fry
Kinsman of Mike Reid
Joseph Fry was born at Tampa Bay, Florida on the 14th of June 1826 to Samuel and Agnes Krebs Fry. When he was six years of age he was sent to visit his maternal grandmother in Mobile. Later, his parents moved to Mobile. At eight years of age his father sent him to Albany, New York to be educated and to live with his Fry relatives. When he was a teenager, he went to Washington DC with a few dollars in his pocket to petition President John Tyler to request a midshipman warrant into the US Navy. He was introduced to President Tyler, and the President was intrigued by him and invited Joseph to dinner at the White House. Joseph was an impressive tall handsome young man, and after some conversation, President Tyler granted Joseph the midshipman warrant. He entered the US Naval Academy on the 15th of September 1841 (at 15 years of age). He graduated from the US Naval Academy in Annapolis in 1846. He served as a midshipman aboard the USS Vixen during the Mexican War, where he took part in the Siege of Veracruz March 9-29, 1847. He married Agnes Evalina Sands on August 10, 1849 in New Orleans. Ms. Sands was the daughter of US Major Richard M. Sands of Maryland. Major Sands was also the father of CSA Col. Robert M. Sands, the commander of the Mobile Cadets, who fought with Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and the Army of Northern Virginia.
Captain Fry’s first experience as an officer was on board the USS Frigate Missouri. He later took command of the USS Graham and then requested to be transferred to the USS Plymouth. He attained the rank of Captain in the US Navy. He resigned from the US Navy the day his adopted state, Louisiana, seceded from the Union and offered his service to the Confederacy in January of 1861. He was given command of the CSS Ivy and fought in the Battle of the Head of Passes on October 12, 1861. After the battle, he was transferred to New Madrid, Missouri. He was placed in command of the CSS Maurepas. He fought in the Battle of Island Number Ten on February 28 to April 8, 1862. In June he was assigned the task of protecting the White River in Arkansas. He learned that a Federal fleet that included two ironclads was heading his way. He knew that his wooden gunboat was no match, so he scuttled the vessel and placed its cannons on a bluff. During the Battle of Saint Charles on June 17, 1862, he was attacked by the Union fleet, where his men disabled the ironclad USS Mound City with their accurate fire. The Union army landed just downriver and attacked his position. He was wounded in the shoulder and was taken prisoner of war. He was later exchanged. After recuperating, he was given command of the CSS blockade runner Eugenie. In the Spring of 1864, he was given command of the newly built blockade runner Agnes E. Fry. This vessel was later lost while attempting the run at Wilmington, NC. In early 1865, he was stationed at Mobile, where he commanded the CSS Morgan. He participated in the Battle of Spanish Fort and Blakeley on March 27 to April 9, 1865. He surrendered his vessel On May 10, 1865. The Union officer that took over the Morgan praised Fry, saying that it was the only vessel with all her property intact. Fry stated "If I had not been obliged to obey the order of my superiors, I would have fought my vessel until she sunk."
Eight years after the Civil War ended, in 1873 during the first Cuban insurrection, known as the Ten Year War, he was killed by the Spanish after his blockade runner Virginius was captured. Captain Fry died in November 1873 (at the age of 47) in Santiago, Cuba. He was executed in front of a Spanish Naval Firing Squad. He is buried in a graveyard in Santiago, and has a confederate flag flying over his tombstone to this day. Some of his crew members were pardoned, and some were executed. He is known as a hero in Cuban history. He left a wife and seven young children behind. His wife requested a widow’s pension from the US government, and was granted a pension as she had no other income. His wife and children lived in Mobile, as she had family from there. One of his daughters, Evalina Fry, married Franklin Demouy in Mobile, and continued the lineage down to Michael Reid, current member of the St. John Richardson chapter. A book on Captain Fry’s life was published in 1875 to support the widow and her children. The book is available through the Florida historical archives and the University of Central Florida under the title, “Life of Captain Joseph Fry, the Cuban Martyr"
The ship “Virginius” was originally constructed for the Confederate navy in 1864 for use as a blockade runner during the American Civil War. It was captured by Union forces on April 12, 1865, and had spent years going back and forth between private and military ownership.
When the Cubans first set eyes on it, the Virginius had been sitting at the Washington Navy Yard. A “sidewheel steamer,” describes Richard Bradford, “over 200 feet long, ten feet from waterline to deck, with a displacement of four hundred ninety-one tons, and remarkable speed.” (Bradford, 25) The ship was ideal for running supplies to the rebels, and well worth the nearly $10,000 price.
Since its first rebel mission in October 1870, and over the following two years, the renamed Virginius was used by the rebels to land men and supplies at various stops on the island, prompting the Spanish empire to consider the ship an “outlaw.” In 1872, Bradford writes, “the Cubans engaged in complicated maneuvers which only served to prove to anyone who had doubts that the Virginius was owned and operated by the Insurgents.”
Soon a game of cat and mouse emerged between the Rebel ship and the Spanish Empire, eventually drawing in American authorities originally convinced the ship was under American ownership and entitled to U.S. legal protection.
After being hired by Céspedes to become the ship’s new Captain, Joseph Fry arrived in Kingston on October 4, 1873, on the mail steamer Atlas, to assume command of the Virginius. He soon became the most important man on the ship. (Bradford)
“The ten days of their stay in port were, from all accounts, an uninterrupted succession of dinners and balls given to the members of the expedition by prominent Jamaican residents, sympathizers in the cause of Cuba Libre; Mr. De Cordova, the Peruvian consul, Dr. Manuel Govin, president of the Jamaica committee of the ‘Friends of Cuba,’ and many others; the last ball being given on board the Virginius on the eve of her departure.” (Bradford)