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Collection of United States Naval Papers

Collection of United States Naval Papers

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Collection of United States Naval Papers, 1790-1898

Collection Summary

Repository:The Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum 132 Essex Street Salem, MA 01970 Phone: 978-745-9500 Fax: 978-531-1516
Title:Collection of United States Naval Papers
Quantity:6.75 linear feet (6 boxes, 1 volume)
Abstract:The Collection of United States Naval Papers is an artificial collection that was created by combining a number of materials relating to the United States Navy.
Collection Number:MSS 391

Series List

SERIES I. Correspondence
SERIES II. Manuscripts
SERIES III. Legislative Papers
SERIES IV. Administrative Papers
SERIES V. Ship Papers

Scope and Content Note

The Collection of United States Naval Papers is an artificial collection that was created by combining a number of materials relating to the United States Navy. This collection has been divided into six series.

Series I. Correspondence contains personal and official letters from a number of individuals. Included in this series is an 1800 letter from Joseph Hunt, armourer on board the frigate Congress at Portsmouth, Virginia; an 1809 letter from a 22-year-old man on board the English ship Narcissus seeking protection and back wages from Captain George Dutch, master of the ship Betsy of Salem; an 1813 letter from Captain Nathaniel Spooner of Plymouth to his son Nathaniel Spooner, Jr. concerning the capture of the frigate Chesapeake; original and transcript copies of correspondence relating to an attack, massacre, and arrest on board the US frigate Macedonian in 1820; an 1842 letter announcing the death of Captain Vanderford on the U.S.S. Vincennes; an 1851 circular letter seeking views of the effects produced on the Naval Service by the abolishment of flogging in the Navy; a memorial order for past President John Quincy Adams signed by President James K. Polk in 1848; and a memorial order for Secretary of State Daniel Webster signed by Secretary of the Navy John P. Kennedy in 1852, among others.

Series II. Manuscripts include an undated paper on the history of the universe by an unknown soldier, and an undated essay with comprehensive instructions for visiting Egypt.

Series III. Legislative Papers contain court documents related to Naval activities, including correspondence related to a French spoliation claim by master Jonathan Glover for the schooner Success; paperwork related to faulty accounting of expenses on the Columbus in 1844; definitions of cruising grounds permitted for squadrons in 1847; the court opinion in the case of the United States vs. Joseph White in 1851; an extract of recommendations and settlement of the differences between Nicaragua and Costa Rica in 1852; a sentence for John Hartley Strickland in 1851; documentation to support putting a prisoner on bread and water; a plea for Navy reform in 1853 and proposals to achieve it; regulations for apprentice boys in 1855; manner of proceeding during a court martial; and various acts related to Naval activities.

Series IV. Administrative Papers contain financial and other documentation related to Naval activities, including instructions for officers working in Mexican customs in 1847; a list of the ships active in the United States Navy in 1849; furniture allowances in government houses in 1848; an 1849 list of Naval surgeons incapacitated from going to sea due to advanced age or infirmity; advertising guidelines for the Naval Department in 1843; receipts from Captain Robert Knox of Charlestown; and general orders and reports issued by the Secretary of the Navy.

Series V. Ship Papers contain documents related to specific ships. Included in this series are war claims for the Confederate steamer Alabama; the muster rolls by Captain Wharton for the US Frigate Philadelphia between 1802 and 1804; copies of the specifications and dimensions of the Sloop of War Wasp in 1807; a map of the Caribbean dated 1831-32; a list of active vessels in 1851; a Naval handbook that includes specifications and costs for vessels on active duty in 1853; and a list of the crew sizes on active vessels in 1853.

Series VI. Books contain two naval tonnage logs; a list of deceased seamen; a lesson book and Naval Commonplace book; and several accounting logbooks.

Historical Sketch

In 1775, the Continental Congress passed a resolution urging the individual colonies to build and equip fleets of armed sailing vessels, followed by a resolution on August 26, 1775, from Rhode Island to establish a single Continental fleet. At the end of the Revolutionary War, the Continental Navy was totally disbanded due to many factors, including lack of money, change of goals from war to peace, and more domestic interest. The country later realized the need for a strong defensive force to protect its merchant fleet from attacks by pirates and the British. In 1794, the Congress authorized the construction of six frigates, soon called to action in an undeclared war waged entirely at sea between the United States and France between 1798 and 1800, and the War of 1812, with the British.

After the War of 1812, the United States Navy received larger funding, and it constructed many new ships using steam power and iron plating. The Civil War demonstrated that iron-sided ships survived battles no wooden ships could survive, and the Navy took great interest in their battles and the implications for the future. After the Civil War, the Navy went into a period of decline because the large fleets were no longer needed for battle. The ships of the Civil War were broken up or sold, and the Navy force shrank in size.

Index Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in Philcat. Researchers desiring materials about related topics, persons, or places should search the catalog using these headings.

Devens, Edward
Glover, Jonathan
Horton, William J.
Knox, Robert
Alabama (Steamer)
Macedonian (Frigate)
Philadelphia (Frigate)
Success (Schooner)
U.S. Hartford (Screw Sloop)
U.S. Surveyor (Bark)
U.S.S. Prairie
United States. Navy
Wabash (United States Steamship)
Wasp (Sloop)
Account books
French spoliation claims
Ships' papers


Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research use.

Administrative Information


Requests for permission to publish material from the collection must be submitted in writing to the Manuscript Librarian in the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum.

Preferred Citation

Collection of United States Naval Papers, MSS 391, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


This material was integrated from several sources. A collection of letters and clipping relating to the frigate Constitution were purchased on September 22, 1945 (accession #11,438); a copy of a letter from Captain Nathaniel Spooner concerning the capture of the frigate Chesapeake was donated by Baker Library at Harvard University on May 22, 1951(accession #12,463); E. A. Pratt donated a copy of an article, “British-Built Blockade Runners of the Civil War” from Journal of Commerce and Shipping on December 2, 1954 (accession #13,345); and documents and letters relating to French spoliation claims of Jonathan Glover of Salem were donated by Mrs. Osborn Palmer on April 13, 1956 (accession #13,789). Maritime letter books and manuscripts were purchased on September 12, 1958 (accession #14,566); ships’ papers were donated by Dr. Karl Vogel on April 25, 1962 (accession #15,815), shipping documents were donated by Paul Stevens on June 7, 1961 (accession #15,489), manuscripts were donated on February 28, 1963 by the New England Historic Genealogical Society (accession #16,143), and books on maritime subjects were donated by Malcolm B. Stone on January 8, 1964 (accession #16,452). Mary E. James and Veronica M. James donated Ellen Gleason’s correspondence about ship money due to Peter Campbele of the American Navy on September 30, 1965 (accession #17,030). Augustus P. Loring donated a small group of manuscript material relating to maritime subjects on February 7, 1966 (accession #17,160). Mrs. Robert Morse donated a recommendation and appointment of David Daniels, Lieutenant on May 20, 1974 (accession #20,346). Additional material was found in the collection.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Donna Albino, April 2009; updated by Hilary Streifer, June 2018

Related Material

"History of the United States Navy." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 5 Apr 2009, 16:49 UTC. 21 Apr 2009

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