Symonds recounts an incident early in Farragut's career that seems impossibly improbable to our modern mind and mores. Farragut joined the US Navy as a midshipman at age nine and was serving as such three years later at the commencement of the War of 1812 between the US and Great Britain. Farragut served under the command of David Porter, captain of the USS Essex tasked with harrassing British merchant shipping. Symonds takes up the story in his article:
The Essex, with young Faragutt on board, next headed for the Galapagos Islands. There, Porter savaged the British whaling fleet, taking a dozen prizes. They were then manned with prize crews, put under the command of a junior officer or midshipman, and sent into port to be condemned as prizes of war. One of the prizes was an American ship, the Barclay, which had been taken by a British privateer and then recaptured by the Essex. Having taken so many prizes, Porter was running out of junior officers to appoint as prize masters, and as a result this one went to Midshipman Farragut. The American skipper of the Barclay was almost as annoyed to find himself under the "command" of a 12 year old as he had been when his ship had first been captured by a British privateer. He declared that he would take no orders from such a stripling, and Farragut had to muster all the dignity and courage he could to face him down and assert his authority. Farragut later recalled that "This was an important event in my life, and . . . I felt no little pride at finding myself in command at 12 years of age.