The Naval History Society Collection at the New-York Historical Society

The Naval History Society was chartered in 1909 “for the purpose 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.” Its founding meeting was held at the New York Yacht Club, where Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected as the Club’s secretary.

In 1915, the collections of its founding president, John Sanford Barnes, were donated to the Society, along with his extensive library and collection of naval artifacts. Until its dissolution in 1936, the Society continued to acquire original records of individuals and vessels, many of which document the major naval engagements of the 18th and 19th centuries: the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Quasi War with France, the Mexican American War, the Civil War, and the Spanish American War. They also include original records of routine life aboard commercial and naval vessels, ship design and building, navigation, and officer training in the form of 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.

The majority of the collections provide primary sources for American naval engagements and commercial maritime pursuits, personalities, and vessels: familiar names include Admiral John Barry, Commodore William Bainbridge, Captain John Paul Jones, Captain Gustavus Conyngham, designer and engineer John Ericsson, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Gustavus Vasa Fox, and James Fenimore Cooper, who was the author of The History of The United States Navy.

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 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’s Finding Aid is available online at Processing of the Naval History Society Collection in 2008 was made possible by a generous grant from the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation.

Creative: Tronvig Group