Guide to the Richard P. Leary Papers, 1860-1905
A collection in the
Special Collections & Archives Department,
United States Naval Academy
589 McNair Road
Annapolis, MD 21402-5029
Prepared by: Liz Coelho
Special Collections & Archives Department
United States Naval Academy
Richard Phillips Leary was born November 3, 1842 in Baltimore, Maryland. A member of the Naval Academy Class of 1864, he was attached to the blockading squadron off Charleston from 1863 to 1865, was aboard the sloop-of-war Canandaigua on the European Station from 1865 to 1868, on the monitor Dictator from 1870 to 1873 and on other special assignments up to 1882 when he was made a commander. He successively commanded the steamer Wyandotte, the sloop-of-war Iroquois, and the frigate Adams.
In 1888, while in command of the Adams, Leary confronted the German corvette Adler several times in Samoan waters, protesting the bombardment of a village on the island of Mauna "in the name of the United States of America, and the civilized world in general." He later placed the Adams between the Adler and a village its captain proposed to bombard, thereby heading off the attack.
Promoted to captain in 1897, Leary commanded the protected cruiser San Francisco off Havana, Cuba during the Spanish-American War. From 1899 through 1900, he served as U.S. naval governor of Guam. During his tenure Leary was noted for the frequency and scope of his proclamations and general orders, including requiring all Chamorros to be married by either church or state, prescribing the number of livestock each household must possess and forbidding public celebrations of feast days of the patron saints of the villages.
In April of 1900 Leary was recalled from Guam at his own request and was assigned command of the receiving ship Richmond at the League Island Navy Yard outside of Philadelphia. While there he created a stir by requiring that all enlisted men be able to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" before being granted liberty. In 1901 Leary was granted six months leave on account of illness and died December 27, 1901 at the naval hospital in Chelsea, Massachusetts. Leary was survived by his wife Nevill and sons Herbert Fairfax Leary and Neville Leary.
Scope and Content Note
The Richard P. Leary Papers, comprising 5 linear inches of documents, primarily spans Leary’s career from 1888 through his death in 1901. A series on his son Herbert Fairfax Leary focuses on his education from 1898 to 1905, culminating in his graduation from the U.S. Naval Academy.
The Richard P. Leary Papers had originally been organized in scrapbook form and consists of various documents, including newspaper clippings, telegrams, photographs, ephemera, official correspondence, and documents, proclamations and general orders issued by Leary as naval governor of Guam.
Although material related to Leary’s entire career is present, the primary focus of the collection is on Leary’s confrontation with the German corvette Adler in Samoa in 1888, his governorship of Guam from 1899 to 1900, the "Star-Spangled Banner" incident at League Island Naval Base in 1901, his illness and subsequent death in 1901, and newspaper articles on naval vessels in the Spanish-American War. There is a small collection of photographs from the Philippine Insurrection and several of the American Colony in Topocobampo, Mexico. Newspaper clippings and photographs related to family members are also present, including that of his wife, whose family, though American citizens, still held the Scottish title of Fairfax of Cameron.
Research interests served by the Richard P. Leary Papers include information on the ships of the Spanish-American War, with photographs and articles on ships, shipboard training and U.S. colonialism in the Pacific.
The Leary Papers are organized into six series by document type and subject scope. CORRESPONDENCE includes official orders and correspondence, DUTY STATIONS consists of documents pertaining to Leary's duties as an officer in the United States Navy. Organized into five sub-series by primary duty location, the files contain newspaper clippings, official documents, correspondence and ephemera. DEATH OF RICHARD LEARY includes newspaper clippings and letters and telegrams pertaining to Leary’s final illness and death, with many providing a summary of his accomplishments as a naval officer. FAMILY consists of official documents, correspondence, newspaper clippings and ephemera. PHOTOGRAPHS consists of official and unofficial shots of ships and shipboard activities, portraits of Pacific islanders and island scenes, and family members. HERBERT FAIRFAX LEARY consists of correspondence, official documents and ephemera related to the education of Leary’s oldest son Herbert. It is organized into three sub-series: Education, Correspondence and Photographs.