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Harry Phelps Papers, 1877-1913: Finding Aid

Published in August 2008

Summary Information

  • Publisher: United States Naval Academy. Special Collections & Archives.
  • Publisher Address:
    589 McNair Road
    Annapolis, Maryland 21402-5029, USA
    Phone: 410-293-6917
  • Call number: MS 289
  • Location: Special Collections & Archives Department - Manuscripts
  • Title: Harry Phelps Papers
  • Dates: 1877-1913
  • Size: 0.42 linear feet
  • Container Summary: 1 manuscript box
  • Creator: Phelps, Harry, 1861-1919
  • Language(s) of material: English
  • Abstract: Harry Phelps was an officer in the United States Navy and a member of the United States Naval Academy Class of 1880. The Harry Phelps Papers span Phelps' thirty-six year naval career, covering from 1877 to 1913, and consist primarily of letters written by Phelps to his mother, encompassing Phelps' time as a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy, his work with various survey teams, and his time at the Judge Advocate General office in Washington D.C.

Biographical Chronology of Harry Phelps

  • Born February 2 in Jersey City, New Jersey to Henry E. and Julia A. (Truesdale) Phelps.
  • On September 15, is appointed to the United States Naval Academy from the State of New Jersey.
  • In June, graduates fourth in his class from the United States Naval Academy.
  • Is attached to the screw steamer U.S.S. Quinnebaug, which served in the European Station, primarily in the Mediterranean.
  • On June 22, receives commission in the United States Navy as midshipman.
  • In late summer, is attached to the schooner Palinurus of the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey.
  • On March 3, is promoted to Ensign (junior grade).
  • On April 1, marries Mary E. Thompson.
  • On June 26, is promoted to the rank of Ensign.
  • Attached to U.S.S. Ranger, which was engaged in hydrographic work off Baja California, Central America, and in the north Pacific Ocean.
  • Assigned to the Mathematics Department at the United States Naval Academy as an instructor beginning in the 1888-1889 academic year.
  • Authors Practical Marine Surveying, published by J. Wiley and Sons.
  • In early summer, is attached to the screw gunboat U.S.S. Yantic, which was serving in the South Atlantic Station.
  • On June 19, receives promotion to the rank of Lieutenant (junior grade).
  • Is attached to U.S.S. Bennington (PG-4), which served in the European Station celebrating the quatercentenary of Columbus’ discovery of America, including the delivery of a replica of Pinta to Cuba.
  • On August 8, U.S.S. Bennington is redeployed to the Mediterranean until April 1894.
  • Assigned to the Department of Mechanics and Applied Mathematics at the United States Naval Academy as an instructor beginning in the 1894-1895 academic year.
  • On May 10, is promoted to the rank of Lieutenant.
  • In February, is attached to the second class battleship U.S.S. Texas, which was then serving in the North Atlantic Squadron.
  • On May 21, U.S.S. Texas arrives off Cuba as part of the Flying Squadron.
  • On June 16, U.S.S. Texas, accompanied by U.S.S. Marblehead, bombards the fort on Cayo del Tore in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
  • On July 18, is transferred to the Office of Naval Intelligence.
  • On December 2, is attached to U.S.S. Cincinnati (C-7), which was protecting Americans in Haiti, Santa Domingo and Panama, as well as offering relief to Martinique following the eruption of Mount Pelee.
  • On June 8, receives promotion to the rank of Lieutenant Commander.
  • In summer, is transferred to U.S.S. Helena (PG-9), which operated off the coast of China until its decommissioning in April 1905.
  • On March 27, is transferred to the office of the Judge Advocate General in Washington, D.C.
  • On July 1, is promoted to the rank of Commander.
  • In March, is attached to U.S.S. Wisconsin (BB-9) to aid in the ship's fitting out at Puget Sound Navy Yard.
  • In July, is detached from U.S.S. Wisconsin for medical treatment.
  • On March 20, is granted command of U.S.S. Culgoa, which served as a supply ship off the east coast of the United States and in European waters.
  • On March 4, receives promotion to the rank of Captain.
  • On June 30, retires to Southport, North Carolina with the rank of Commodore.
  • On April 18, is recalled to active duty, serving at the Norfolk Navy Yard, aboard U.S.S. Louisiana (BB-19), and as a member of a general court-martial.
  • On December 23, dies from injuries sustained in an automobile accident, and is subsequently buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
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Description of Contents

The Harry Phelps Papers, comprising 0.42 linear feet of documentation, spans Phelps' thirty-six year naval career, covering from 1877 to 1913. The papers, consisting primarily of letters written by Phelps to his mother, encompass Phelps' time as a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy, his work with various hydrographic survey teams, and his time at the Judge Advocate General office in Washington, D.C.

The collection consists almost exclusively of hand-written letters, as well as several news clippings, demerit records, a portrait, and a receipt.

The Harry Phelps Papers are arranged alphabetically by document type into a single series with no subdivisions. The bulk of the collection consists of letters written by Phelps to his mother, although several letters are addressed to either Phelps' father or a woman (possibly Phelps' sister) referred to as Hattie. The letters touch upon nearly every phase of Phelps' naval career, with heavy concentrations from his days as a student at the United States Naval Academy, time spent doing survey work for the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey and aboard U.S.S. Ranger off the west coast of North and Central America, and from his duties at the office of the Judge Advocate General in Washington, D.C. Smaller concentrations of letters are the product of Phelps' service in the waters of the Caribbean, Europe, and Asia aboard several U.S. ships, including Quinnebaug, Cincinnati, Bennington, Helena, Culgoa, Yantic, Texas, and Wisconsin. Noticeably absent from the collection are any letters from Phelps' service during the Spanish American War of 1898, or from his recall to active duty in 1918. In addition to discussing Phelps' daily routines and specific incidents, the letters also make frequent mention of life on the home front and of the persistent sluggishness of mail service. The remainder of the collection consists of several demerit records from Phelps' time as a student, news clippings (primarily focusing on the survey work of U.S.S. Ranger), and several miscellaneous communications.

Research interests served by the Harry Phelps Papers include midshipman life at the United States Naval Academy, naval survey work, the history and duties of the U.S.S. Ranger, and the nature of diplomatic work carried out on the European Station.

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The Harry Phelps Papers are arranged alphabetically by document type into a single series with no subdivisions.

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Access and Use


Access is unrestricted.

Copyright and Permission

The Harry Phelps Papers are the physical property of Nimitz Library. Copyright belongs to the authors or creators of the works, or their legal representatives. For further information, consult the Head, Special Collections & Archives.

It is the responsibility of the researcher to secure written permission to publish, reprint, or reproduce material from Special Collections & Archives. The researcher assumes responsibility for infringement of copyright or literary or publication rights. Please contact the Head, Special Collections & Archives for permission to publish and for further information.

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Acquisition and Appraisal

Provenance and Acquisition

Purchased from N. David Scotti of Associated Appraisers, Inc. in December 1993. Accession No. 93-69.

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Related Materials

Related Archival Material

Additional material pertaining to Phelps' career, in the form of orders, examinations, reports, ships logs, photographs, and additional correspondence, constitutes the Harry Phelps Papers (Call Number PC.1479) at the North Carolina State Archives.

Ships and Shipyard Scenes, California, 1887 [microfilm: selected photographs from Harry Phelps papers] at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, excerpted from the Harry Phelps Papers at the North Carolina State Archives, consists of samples of photographs taken by Phelps while serving aboard U.S.S. Ranger.

The bound volume containing Phelp's descriptive geometry drawing, and others of his class (referenced in the January 28, 1878 letter), may be found in the Records of the Division of Mathematics and Science, RG 405.4 Entry 201f, Subseries 1c: COPIES OF DESCRIPTIVE GEOMETRY PROBLEMS AND DRAWINGS, 1877-1878.

Materials Cataloged Separately

No materials have been removed from this collection.

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Processing and Other Information

Preferred Citation

Harry Phelps Papers, MS 289

Special Collections & Archives Department

Nimitz Library

United States Naval Academy

Selected Bibliography

The following sources were consulted during preparation of the biographical note:

Hamersly, Lewis R. The Records of Living Officers of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. Philadelphia: L. R. Hamersly & Co., 1890.

Navy Department. Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Naval History Division. Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1959-1981.

Army and Navy Journal. Washington, D.C.: Army and Navy Journal, Inc., January 3, 1920.

Who Was Who in America. Chicago: A.N. Marquis Company, 1962.

Processing Information

This collection was originally processed by Mary R. Catalfamo in 1994 and reprocessed by David D'Onofrio in August 2008. Finding aid written by David D'Onofrio in August 2008.

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Subject Headings

Name and Subject Terms

  • Bennington (Patrol gunboat : PG-4)
  • Hydrographic Surveying
  • Phelps, Harry, 1861-1919
  • Quinnebaug (Screw steamer)
  • Ranger (Screw steamer)
  • U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey
  • United States Naval Academy -- Students -- Correspondence
  • United States. Navy. European Station

Genre Terms

  • Clippings (information artifacts)
  • Correspondence
  • Manuscripts
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Contents List

Box 1 Folder 1

Correspondence, 1877

From US Naval Academy. Descriptions of Academy life and activities, such as drills, plebe/upper class relations, and hazing. Specific incidents include a fire aboard U.S.S. Dale (April 1), damage to academy buildings and grounds from a major storm (October 4), infantry and artillery exercises (October 22), and contention over a newly issued uniform cap (October 28, November 3).

Box 1 Folder 2

Correspondence, 1878 January-March

From US Naval Academy. Descriptions of Academy life, including studies, dances, the selection of Phelp's drawing for a bound volume of descriptive geometry drawings published by the Department of Mathematics (January 28), lab classes (February 5), writing exercises and football (February 25 and March 10), as well as a mutiny aboard a British bark (March 10), and a practice fire drill and the burial of victims from the iron sloop-rigged steamer U.S.S. Huron (March 31).

Box 1 Folder 3

Correspondence, 1878 April-December

From US Naval Academy. Accounts of Phelps’ academic performance, inter class relations, training aboard U.S.S. Dale, a collision between U.S. ships Dale and Phlox during training (October 13), and attendance at a Christmas costume ball (December 26).

Box 1 Folder 4

Correspondence, 1879 January-June

From US Naval Academy and U.S.S. Constellation. Descriptions of Academy life, including classes and examinations, gunnery practice (March 30), signal drills (May 21), and summer cruises aboard the U.S.S. Constellation (June 13-27), as well as extracurricular activities such as the semi-annual ball (January 14), and a singing society (May 11).

Box 1 Folder 5

Correspondence, 1879 July-December

From U.S.S. Constellation and US Naval Academy. Descriptions of the summer cruise aboard U.S.S. Constellation (July-August), first-class liberties and general recreation, Superintendent Rear Admiral George Balch (October 7), and another mutiny aboard a bark (October 19).

Box 1 Folder 6

Correspondence, 1880 January-March

From US Naval Academy. Descriptions of Academy life, including examinations, class standing, the effects of dating on academics (January 20), and attempts to secure orders to the European Station (March 16).

Box 1 Folder 7

Correspondence, 1880 May-December

From US Naval Academy, U.S. ships Illinois and Quinnebaug. Includes descriptions of shipboard life and events, and trips to London and Paris (September 28), Turkey (November 11), and Egypt (December 29).

Box 1 Folder 8

Correspondence, 1881 January-March

From U.S.S. Quinnebaug. Descriptions of shipboard entertainment, receptions and recreations on shore, and a trip into the Alps (February 15).

Box 1 Folder 9

Correspondence, 1881 April-December

From U.S.S. Quinnebaug. Descriptions of daily activities, studying for exams, rowdy Spanish Easter celebrations (April 16), reactions to the assassination of President James A. Garfield (September 21), battles with rheumatism (October 21 and 26), and duties as assistant navigator (November 3).

Box 1 Folder 10

Correspondence, 1882

From U.S.S. Quinnebaug, US Naval Academy, and Coast Survey Schooner Palinurus. Descriptions of opinions on Tripoli, midshipmen being ordered to the Smithsonian Institution for instruction (January 28), preparations for Academy examinations and graduation (June 8), and coast survey duties (July-October), including signal work and observations.

Box 1 Folder 11

Correspondence, 1884

From U.S. ships Bache and Ranger. Descriptions of survey work off the Florida Keys (February-March) and Nicaragua (November-December), including soundings and onshore observations.

Box 1 Folder 12

Correspondence, 1881 January-June

From U.S.S. Ranger. Descriptions of survey duty in/around Costa Rica, Guatemala and El Salvador, including six week shore duty (January 11-February 22), as well as local resistance to Justo Rufino Barrios' attempts to unite Central America (March 21).

Box 1 Folder 13

Correspondence, 1885 July-December

From U.S.S. Ranger. Description of duties and enjoyment of post as Assistant Navigator, Ranger aground off San Diego (December 6).

Box 1 Folder 14

Correspondence, 1886 January-June

From U.S.S. Ranger. Descriptions of survey work, including soundings, topographical observations, and astronomical and magnetic observations, as well as of Christmas celebrations with his wife and daughter, and a capsized launch resulting in the loss of a crew member (January 10).

Box 1 Folder 15

Correspondence, 1886 July-December

From U.S.S. Ranger. Descriptions of survey work, repairs, and entertainment, including receptions and balls while anchored in Vallejo, California and the formation of a dramatic club at the Navy Yard (August 29). Included is a playbill dated October 9.

Box 1 Folder 16

Correspondence, 1887 January-June

From U.S.S. Ranger. Continued descriptions of survey of lower California and construction of signals, as well as personal issues, such as having wisdom teeth pulled (January 31), and declining an invitation to teach at the US Naval Academy (June 13).

Box 1 Folder 17

Correspondence, 1887 July-December

From Vallejo, California and U.S.S. Ranger. Description of the San Diego real estate market (July 17), new camera equipment (October 7), and a fire near Phelps' Vallejo residence (October 30).

Box 1 Folder 18

Correspondence, 1888

From U.S.S. Ranger. Descriptions of coal shortages (January 26), Phelps’ daughter’s battle with typhoid (February 2, April 19), and recreation on Cerros Island (May 17).

Box 1 Folder 19

Correspondence, 1890-1891

From US Naval Academy and U.S.S. Yantic. Descriptions of teaching as "too confining" (January 12, 1891), and heavy seas encountered aboard Yantic en route to Cape Verde (November 19, 1891).

Box 1 Folder 20

Correspondence, 1892

From U.S. ships Yantic and Bennington. Descriptions of Monte Video and Buenos Aires, the decrepit state and sale of U.S.S. Tallapoosa (February 19), drill and target practice, and visits to Spanish and Italian ports in celebration of the quatercentenary of the discovery of America.

Box 1 Folder 21

Correspondence, 1893

From U.S.S. Bennington. Descriptions of duties, including towing two caravels from Spain to Cuba (February 6 and April 13), preparations for Naval Review (April 13), torpedo instruction in Connecticut (July 26), and visits to Genoa, Italy and Alhambra Palace, Granada (December 5).

Box 1 Folder 22

Correspondence, 1899

From U.S.S. Texas. Descriptions of various duties aboard Texas, including preparations to retrieve bodies from the wreck of U.S.S. Maine (December 10).

Box 1 Folder 23

Correspondence, 1902

From U.S.S. Cincinnati. Descriptions of volcanic destruction at St. Pierre, St. Vincent and Martinique (June 9), revolutions in Barcelona, Venezuela (September 27), and the nuisance of being attached to a squadron (November 30).

Box 1 Folder 24

Correspondence, 1903

From U.S.S. Cincinnati. Descriptions of visits to Sicily, Naples and Genoa, and preparations to receive the President of France.

Box 1 Folder 25

Correspondence, 1904

From U.S.S. Helena. Descriptions of the Chinese winter (January 31) and harshness of summer, as well as a riot, in Canton (August 22).

Box 1 Folder 26

Correspondence, 1905

From Washington, DC. Description of work load at Judge Advocate General's office.

Box 1 Folder 27

Correspondence, 1906

From Washington, D.C. Descriptions of the Judge Advocate General's work load, as well as the Army and Navy Reception at the White House (February 18).

Box 1 Folder 28

Correspondence, 1907

From Washington, D.C. Description of work load, and Phelps' relief at not being appointed Judge Advocate General (November 20).

Box 1 Folder 29

Correspondence, 1908

From Washington, D.C. and U.S.S. Wisconsin. Description of transfer to and duties aboard U.S.S. Wisconsin (March 2), including organization of the crew (March 23), cleaning and coaling, disruptions due to receptions (June 21), and Phelps' detachment for medical treatment (July 21).

Box 1 Folder 30

Correspondence, 1910

From U.S.S. Culgoa. Description of difficulty with targets and maneuverability off Cuba (March 19), and being sent to Boston Navy Yard to create work for the yard (May 25).

Box 1 Folder 31

Correspondence, 1911

From U.S.S. Culgoa and Southport, North Carolina. Description of retirement to North Carolina.

Box 1 Folder 32

Correspondence, 1913

From Montgomery, Alabama and Southport, North Carolina. Descriptions of wintering in Alabama (January 15), house repairs, and daily routine.

Box 1 Folder 33

Demerit Records, 1877-1878

Box 1 Folder 34

Miscellaneous, 1885, 1903, undated

Includes a receipt, a request for steamship passage, and a portrait of an unidentified woman.

Box 1 Folder 35

News Clippings, 1900 (approximate), undated

Newspaper clippings chronicling the survey work of U.S.S. Ranger and an obituary for Captain Frank M. Faircloth.

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