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Guide to the Naval History Society Collection
1721-1995 (bulk 1781-1936)
  MS 439

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400


New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Processed by Celia Hartmann.

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on May 29, 2018
Description is in English.

Scope and Content Note

The Collection consists of 53 individual collections, many named for renowned naval officers or vessels. These include correspondence, letter books, journals and diaries, lectures, essays, account books, biographical writings, genealogical information, scrapbooks, orders, notes, articles and clippings, photographs, manuscripts, and ships' logs, as well as the organizational records and correspondence of the Naval History Society itself.

The majority of the collections document American naval engagements and commercial maritime pursuits, personalities, and vessels; a few collections of British and French documents are included (Series 18, 22, 39, 50). The Collection as a whole provides primary sources on American naval involvement in hostilities from the Revolution (1775-1783) to the Spanish American War (1898), as well as routine commercial and naval shipboard life, naval design, navigation, education and officer training. The Society's records (Series 53) document the founding, management, and activities of a collecting and publishing organization in the first third of the 20th century.

As well as documenting individual events and personalities, the Collection is a richly detailed example of late 19th and early 20th century subject-specific collecting activity and interests. Many of the collections are so-called artificial collections, with items specifically accumulated and grouped together to document a particular subject or person, and showing the personality and interests of the collector through the materials' organization and editing.

The Collection reflects most strongly the personal interest of John Sanford Barnes (see Series 3), founding President of the Naval History Society in 1909 and a collector of books, manuscripts, and memorabilia connected to naval history and personalities. His son, Col. James Barnes (see Series 4), donated Barnes's collections to the Naval History Society in 1915. The library was cataloged under the XN call number and the artifacts included in the museum collections of New-York Historical Society after it absorbed the Naval History Society's collections in 1925 (see Series 53 for a complete chronology).

Other materials were subsequently donated to or purchased by the Naval History Society in fulfillment of its mission of "publishing and preserving manuscripts, documents, and writings relating to our naval history, naval art and science, and the surroundings and experiences of seamen in general and of American seamen in particular." Some of the manuscript collections were edited and published by the Naval History Society for distribution to its members (see Series 53, subseries VI, for a complete list). The John Barry (Series 5), James Fenimore Cooper (Series 11), John Paul Jones (Series 28), Officers' autograph letters signed (Series 44), and Miscellaneous Manuscripts (Series 52) collections document the emphasis on autograph and highpoint collecting typical of his time, which were particular interests of John Sanford Barnes.

The collections vary in size and complexity, from one volume to an individual's lifetime of personal and family papers. Although amassed separately, because of their shared focus the constituent collections are interrelated in illuminating ways: Assistant Secretary of the Navy Gustavus Vasa Fox (Series 17) is strongly represented in Monitor designer John Ericsson's (Series 16) correspondence received (and vice versa), while the USS  Dictator (Series 13) collection provides a photograph of an ironclad of the Monitor class; Charles Biddle's (Series 6) early documentation of Panama prefigures the extensive and routine ocean traffic of the Gold Rush period (Series 43); Theodore P. Greene (Series 24) commanded a vessel on which Richard Worsam Meade 3rd (Series 31) served; the collections containing material on Isaac Hull and William Bainbridge (Series 1, Series 27, Series 52) provide complementary documentation of the naval engagements of the War of 1812; while the commercial logbooks in both Series 43 and 51 document some of the same routes.

Although focused on naval history, the Collection is by no means exhaustive or complete. Barnes's personal interest; collections put on the market by individuals, dealers, and auction houses; and changing levels of interest in collections of both notable individuals and those lesser known all contributed to the availability of materials and their eventual inclusion in (or absence from) the Collection.

Portions of this collection relating to the Civil War have been digitized and are available to on-site researchers and to users affiliated with subscribing institutions via EBSCOhost.

Arrangement

The collection is arranged into 53 series in the alphabetical order of the Naval History Society's individual named collections, followed by three series of logbooks, a Miscellaneous Manuscripts collection, and the Society's records series.

In some cases the inclusion of materials in a series seems fairly arbitrary. For example, John Sanford Barnes's materials on John Barry and John Paul Jones appear both in those named series (Series 5, Series 28) and in the appropriate folders of the Miscellaneous Manuscripts collection (Series 52). The final series is the records of the Society itself, documenting all of its routine activities including the editing and publishing of some of the manuscript collections; it is organized into seven subseries.

The Barnes family materials have been organized into three individual series: General James Barnes, John Sanford Barnes, Colonel James Barnes (Series 2-4). The logbooks have also been organized into three separate series: US Navy, British Navy, and commercial vessels (Series 49-51). Larger collections of mixed papers and published materials, including those of Gustavus Vasa Fox (Series 17) and Caspar Goodrich (Series 21), have been organized into subseries. Original order within folders has been retained; some materials are now housed in separate oversized (OS) boxes, noted in the container lists.

The series are:

  1. Series 1. William Bainbridge
  2. Series 2. General James Barnes
  3. Series 3. John Sanford Barnes
  4. Series 4. Col James Barnes
  5. Series 5. John Barry
  6. Series 6. Charles Biddle
  7. Series 7. USS Boston
  8. Series 8. French E. Chadwick
  9. Series 9. Henry Clinton
  10. Series 10. Gustavus Conyngham
  11. Series 11. James Fenimore Cooper
  12. Series 12. Francis G. Dallas
  13. Series 13. USS Dictator
  14. Series 14. William C. Duer
  15. Series 15. George R. Durand
  16. Series 16. John Ericsson
  17. Series 17. Gustavus Vasa Fox
  18. Series 18. France, Navy
  19. Series 19. Alexander Gallop
  20. Series 20. USS General Grant
  21. Series 21. Caspar F. Goodrich
  22. Series 22. Great Britain, Navy
  23. Series 23. Samuel Dana Greene
  24. Series 24. Theodore P. Greene
  25. Series 25. Lewis Randolph Hamersly
  26. Series 26. Lt. William Henderson
  27. Series 27. Isaac Hull
  28. Series 28. John Paul Jones
  29. Series 29. Edward Yorke McCauley
  30. Series 30. Richard Worsam Meade 2nd
  31. Series 31. Richard Worsam Meade 3rd
  32. Series 32. Ensign D.W. Mullan
  33. Series 33. Navigation notebook
  34. Series 34. Thomas Pattison
  35. Series 35. USS Pensacola
  36. Series 36. Oliver Hazard Perry
  37. Series 37. Pt. Lookout Sketchbook
  38. Series 38. Rhode Island
  39. Series 39. G.B. Rodney
  40. Series 40. Edward Hallam Saltonstall
  41. Series 41. USF Savannah
  42. Series 42. Sarah Smith Stafford
  43. Series 43. US Mail Steam Ship Company
  44. Series 44. US Navy: Officers' autograph letters signed
  45. Series 45. US Navy: Civil War ships
  46. Series 46. William K. Wheeler
  47. Series 47. John Ancrum Winslow
  48. Series 48. Henry A. Wise
  49. Series 49. Logbooks: US Navy
  50. Series 50. Logbooks: British Navy
  51. Series 51. Logbooks: Commercial vessels
  52. Series 52. Miscellaneous manuscripts
  53. Series 53. Naval History Society records