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James Armstrong Papers

James Armstrong Papers

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JAMES ARMSTRONG (1794-1868) PAPERS, 1814-1868, undated


Processing of this collection was funded by a grant from the NHPRC (National Historical Publications and Records Commission).

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
Creator:Armstrong, James, 1794-1868
Title:James Armstrong Papers
Dates:1814/1868, undated
Quantity:3.75 linear feet (5 boxes)
Abstract:The James Armstrong Papers include correspondence, order books, court-martial papers, personal papers, and financial records created by James Armstrong throughout his career in the United States Navy. This collection is arranged into four series.
Identification:MH 31

Series List

SERIES I. Early Naval Career Papers
SERIES II. China and the Second Opium War Papers
SERIES III. Pensacola Navy Yard and Court-Martial Papers
SERIES IV. Personal Papers

Scope and Content Note

The James Armstrong Papers include correspondence, order books, court-martial papers, personal papers, and financial records created by James Armstrong throughout his career in the United States Navy. This collection is arranged into four series.

Series I. Early Naval Career Papers include a personal liberty pass and prisoner of war certificate issued to Armstrong while a British prisoner during the War of 1812, papers related to changes of command and Armstrong's appointment as commander of the East Indies and China Sea Squadron, correspondence, and the book, Vedute Antiche, accompanied by handwritten notes.

Series II. China and the Second Opium War Papers include correspondence, letter books, and order and survey books from the U. S. Flag Ship San Jacinto. The bulk of this series is correspondence and letter books, arranged chronologically. Two letter books were separated because of preservation issues and these letters have been arranged chronologically with the rest of the loose correspondence. Early correspondence is related to the activities of vessels and officers under Armstrong's command, hostilities between Britain and the Chinese in the vicinity of Canton, the protection of American business interests in the area, and the capture of the Barrier Forts at Canton in 1856. Armstrong corresponded with various American and foreign consular representatives, including United States Consuls Oliver H. Perry, Henry P. Blanchard, and Caleb Jones, and United States Commissioner Peter Parker. These letters relate primarily to pending United States and China treaty revisions and potential Chinese attacks against foreign vessels moored in the waters near Canton. Later correspondence relates to Armstrong's decision to relieve himself of duty due to illness, and the order of Fleet Surgeon Maxwell Wood to accompany him back to the United States. The Navy Department disallowed Armstrong's claim and reprimanded him for ordering Wood back to the United States. There is also one folder containing copies of correspondence of Commander Andrew H. Foote, master of the U. S. Steam Frigate Portsmouth, and a colleague of Armstrong's.

Series III. Pensacola Navy Yard and Court-Martial Papers include correspondence and court papers related to Armstrong's appointment as commander of the Pensacola, Florida navy base, his surrender of the facility to the Florida militia in January 1861, and his subsequent court-martial. Correspondence includes communications with Secretary of the Navy, Isaac Toucey, general orders regarding the operation of the Pensacola Navy Yard, and a description of the surrender of the Pensacola Navy Yard to the Florida State militia in January, 1861. Court-martial documents include the official charges against Armstrong, depositions of witnesses, a transcript of the evidence presented at the court-martial, and correspondence with Armstrong's defense counsel, P. Phillips.

Series IV. Personal Papers include correspondence, photographs, and financial records. This series is divided into two subseries. Subseries A. Correspondence and Notes include letters to Hannah Armstrong while Armstrong was on assignment in Gibraltar, letters from Armstrong's brother William discussing the court-martial, and a letter from Armstrong's mother, Elizabeth Armstrong. Additional papers include Armstrong's Charlestown Lyceum pass from 1831, photographs, and an autobiographical appreciation of his life printed posthumously. One folder of oversize materials includes a Mason certificate, a tintype of a proposed canal across Cape Cod, a page from the newspaper The Polynesian issued in 1841, and a certificate recognizing a donation to the East India Marine Society. There is also a claim and receipt for William G. Niphon, a young African American sailor who enlisted in the United States Navy in 1863, for participating in the capture of the Ella & Annie. Subseries B. Financial Records includes deeds, bills, and receipts related to the Phoenix Bank of Charlestown, Massachusetts, a land purchase in Charlestown, and plots at Harmony Grove and Broad Street Cemeteries in Salem, Massachusetts.

Biographical Sketch

James Armstrong (1794-1868) was born on January 17, 1794, in Shelbyville, Kentucky, to James Armstrong (1760-1802) and Elizabeth Morris (b. 1765). In 1809, he joined the navy as a midshipman and was assigned to the sloop-of-war Frolic during the War of 1812. The Frolic was captured by the British on April 20, 1814, and Armstrong became a British prisoner of war in England. He attained the rank of captain in 1841. On September 29, 1855, he was appointed commander of the United States Naval Squadron for the East Indies and China Sea, a position he held until 1858. During this period he was involved with the Second Opium War and assisted in the capture of the barrier forts near Canton in 1856. In September 1860, Captain Armstrong was appointed commander of the navy yard at Pensacola (Warrington), Florida. On January 13, 1861, he surrendered the facility without resistance to a force of militia from Florida and Alabama. For this action he was court-martialed and relieved of duty for a period of five years. In 1866, he was promoted to commodore.

Armstrong married Hannah Crowninshield (1789-1834) on March 29, 1819, in the Crowninshield house in Salem, Massachusetts where the Reverend William Bentley resided. Hannah was a talented portrait painter; she died at age 45 on May 4, 1834. Armstrong married Elizabeth Crowninshield (1804-1870), Hannah's sister, in 1836. Armstrong did not have any children. He died on August 27, 1868. He was buried at Harmony Grove Cemetery, in Salem.

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.

Armstrong, James, 1794-1868
Armstrong, William
Blanchard, Henry P.
Crowninshield, Hannah, 1789-1834
Crowninshield, William Wallach, 1823-1874
Fitzgerald, Thomas
Foote, Andrew H. (Andrew Hull), 1806-1863
Jones, Caleb
Knapp, William
Niphon, William
Parker, Peter, 1804-1888
Perry, Oliver H.
Toucey, Isaac, 1796-1869
Phoenix Bank (Charlestown, Mass.)
United States--Navy--Foreign service
United States--Navy--Officers
United States--Navy--Surgeons
African American sailors
Barrier Forts, Battle of the, China, 1856
Broad Street Cemetery (Salem, Mass.)
China--Foreign relations--United States
China--History--Foreign intervention, 1857-1861
China--History--Second Opium War
Courts-martial and courts of inquiry--United States
Navy-yards and naval stations--Florida--Pensacola
Pensacola (Fla.)--History--Civil War, 1861-1865
Prisoners of war
Prizes (Property captured at sea)
San Jacinto (U.S. Flagship)
United States--Foreign relations--China
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865
United States--History--War of 1812
China--Foreign relations--Great Britain
Guangzhou (China)
Consular documents


Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research use.

Administrative Information


Request 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

James Armstrong Papers, MH 31, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


Logbooks, letter books and personal papers including correspondence and photographs, were donated by Dr. Reinier Beeuwkes on September 20, 2011 (acc. 2011.041) and October 20, 2011 (acc. 2011.052). The logbooks were removed and have been added to the logbook collection. Two San Jacinto ship papers, originally arranged as MH 0.612, were donated by L. W. Jenkins. The majority of the material was found in the collection.

Processing Information

Collection processed and cataloged by Robert F. Craig, March 2000. Updated by Halley Grogan, December 2012.

Related Material

Joslyn, Roger D., comp. & ed. Vital Records of Charlestown, Mass. 2 vols. Boston, Mass: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1984, 1995.

Mills, Frances Preston. The History of the descendants of the Jersey settlers of Adams County, Mississippi. Jackson, Miss: Society of the Descendants of the Jersey Settlers of Adams County, Mississippi, 1891.

Vital Records of Salem, Mass. 6 vols. Salem, Mass: Essex Institute, 1916-1925.

Wilson, James Grant, and John Fiske, eds. Appleton's Cyclopoedia of American Biography. 7 vols. New York: Appleton and Company, 1888-1898.

Benjamin Crowninshield Family Papers, 1757-1934, MH 16

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Savannah (U. S. Frigate), log book, Log 2121

United States (U. S. Frigate), log book, Log 2120

United States (U. S. Frigate), log book abstract, Log 2123

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