Tags: Commodore Arthur Sinclair, Lloyd Mustin, War of 1812
By The Bunny
Navy Lieutenant Junior Grade (LTJG) Lloyd “Link” Mustin grew up hearing many tales of his family’s long history of service in the U.S. Navy. As the seventh successive generation to serve, Lieutenant Mustin can trace his lineage directly back to the first in his family to serve – his fifth great-grandfather Commo. Arthur Sinclair. Family lore abounded about Commodore Sinclair, but no one in the family knew where he was buried.
Stationed in Norfolk, Virginia, aboard USS Stout (DDG-55) as the Fire Control Officer, Lieutenant Mustin’s naval career has been inspired by his family’s long dedication to service in the U.S. Navy and, as his grandfather, Vice Adm. Henry “Hank” Mustin, says, he “has taken on the mantle of family history.” So, over the Christmas holidays 2011, with a bit of vacation time on his hands, Lieutenant Mustin began his quest to find the Sinclair burial plot.
Commodore Sinclair’s legendary feats in the Great Lakes campaign of the War of 1812 are well documented, but his career spanned many early American conflicts. He began his apprenticeship at the age of 12 under the tutelage of Commo. Thomas Truxtun aboard the USS Constellation during the quasi-war with France. It was during that time that he was involved in an engagement with the French frigate Insurgent. He also served under Capt. William Bainbridge and participated in the war with Tripoli. While in command of his second ship, USS Argus, in October 1812, he captured several British “prize” ships and crews, earning him a legendary reputation for his battle acumen against the British.
But he solidified his place in history through his actions against the British in the Great Lakes. As Lieutenant Mustin’s great grandfather, Vice Adm. Lloyd Mustin, recounted in a 1972 Naval Institute oral history, “He succeeded rather dramatically in his assignment up there, which was to rid the Great Lakes north and west of Detroit of the British naval presence. He destroyed their navy completely in some fairly stirring actions and left them with nothing but canoes and rowboats and the like.” After the war, Congress presented Commodore Sinclair a silver plate with an inscription that cited his victories. Lieutenant Mustin’s great uncle Tom Mustin, who also served as a naval officer, has the tray in his home.
The family knew that Commodore Sinclair finished his career as the commander of the Norfolk Naval Yard – which was called Gosport during that time, and that he established a nautical school there that was the predecessor to the Naval Academy. The family also knew that Sinclair had established a family home in the city and died there in 1831. Lieutenant Mustin surmised that Sinclair must be buried somewhere in Norfolk. So he followed his hunch.
“It’s amazing what you can find on Google,” Mustin said. “I started searching for ‘Arthur Sinclair’ and ‘Norfolk’ and found many interesting results. As I combed through them for awhile, I came across the Cedar Grove Cemetery web site and contacted them. I was pleased to find that they did in fact have a Commodore Arthur Sinclair buried there.” And it was five minutes from his apartment!
Lieutenant Mustin grabbed his fiancé and jumped in his car. Following the map emailed to him by the cemetery, he quickly found the family plot and headstone. The Commodore is surrounded by his contemporaries, including Commos. William Jamesson, Samuel Barron, and William Skinner, and Capts. Benjamin Bissell and Lewis Warrington. “It was obvious the Sinclair plot was very old and many of the graves had settled.” Indeed, Sinclair’s headstone was cracked in the middle, but the etched names of the Sinclair family members buried with Commodore Sinclair were still legible.
Lieutenant Mustin was astonished at his find. “I was overwhelmed to be standing over the grave of Commodore Arthur Sinclair,” he said.
Later, he went back to the cemetery by himself just to view once more the grave site of this “near-mythical man about whom I had heard stories my entire life.” He revealed that learning more about his ancestors and their accomplishments has given him a context for how to understand the world and his place in it. “It filled me with a tremendous sense of purpose!”
There are several resources to research your family’s 1812 ancestors, including the Naval History & Heritage Command; the Society of the War of 1812; and Fold3, a company that is digitizing all War of 1812 pension files stored in the National Archives.
For more information on the events planned to commemorate the Bicentennial of the War of 1812, go to www.ourflagwasstillthere.org.