Samuel W. Thomas Papers

1862-1864, undated
Manuscript Collection #737
Thomas, Samuel W
Physical description
0.0525 Cubic Feet, 2 folders, 12 items , personal log, correspondence, handwritten manuscript and daguerreotype
Preferred Citation
Samuel W. Thomas Papers (#737), East Carolina Manuscript Collection, J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina, USA.
ECU Manuscript Collection
No restrictions

Papers of U.S. Navy enlisted man (1863-1864) aboard the US sloop of War Powhatan, including a private log book (Nov. 1863 - Aug. 1864), correspondence, a manuscript entitled " The Attack on Charleston," and a daguerreotype of a Civil War sailor (presumably Thomas).

Biographical/historical information

Samuel W. Thomas was a Union Naval seaman who served on the USS POWHATAN from November 1863 through August 1864. He corresponded while on the POWHATAN between his mother, Mrs. Martha Thomas, and sister, both of Manayunk, Pennsylvania.

The first USS POWHATAN was a sidewheel steam frigate in the United States Navy during the American Civil War. She was named for Powhatan, a Native American chief of eastern Virginia. She was one of the last, and largest, of the United States Navy's paddle frigates. The ship's keel was laid on 6 August 1847 at Norfolk, Virginia. Her engines were constructed by Mehaffy & Company of Gosport, Virginia. The ship cost $785,000, was launched on 14 February 1850 at the Norfolk Navy Yard and commissioned on 2 September 1852 with Captain William Mervine in command.

After shakedown out of Norfolk, POWHATAN joined the Home Squadron as flagship of Commodore John T. Newton and sailed for New York where she was visited by the Secretary of the Navy, John P. Kennedy. She departed New York on 16 October 1852 for Vera Cruz with the new Minister to Mexico, Judge Alfred Conkling, on board and returned to Norfolk on 27 November via Havana and Pensacola.

Powhatan, under Comdr. William J. McCluney, was next assigned to the East India Squadron and arrived on station via Cape of Good Hope on 15 June 1853. Her arrival in Chinese waters coincided with an important phase of Commodore Matthew C. Perry's negotiations for commercial relations with the Japanese and the opening of two ports. She was Perry's flagship during his November visit to Whampoa. On 14 February 1854 she entered Yedo (Tokyo) Bay with the rest of the squadron and the Convention of Kanagawa was signed on 31 March 1854 (3 March in the old Japanese calendar). During August 1855 Powhatan accompanied HMS Rattler in a successful battle against Chinese pirates off Kowloon, and reached the U.S. on 14 February 1856 with the new treaty. The US-Japan Treaty of Amity and Commerce was signed on her deck on 29 July 1858 (19 June in the old Japanese calendar). On 13 February 1860, the POWHATAN, accompanied by a Japanese capital ship, KANRIN MARU that departed on 9 Feburuary (18 January in the old Japanese calendar), left Yokohama, Japan, en route to San Francisco as part of the first official embassy of the Empire of Japan to the United States of America. The Japanese embassy was formally composed of three men: Ambassador Shinmi Masaoki, Vice-Ambassador Muragaki Norimasa and Observer Oguri Tadamasa.

POWHATAN remained active throughout the Civil War. She served as Flag Officer Garrett J. Pendergrast's flagship at Vera Cruz during October 1860. In April 1861, while under the command of Lt. David Dixon Porter, she assisted in the relief of Fort Pickens, Florida, and in the establishment of the blockade of Mobile, Alabama on 26 May, capturing schooner Mary Clinton on 29 May. During July and August POWHATAN joined the blockade of the Southwest Pass of the Mississippi River, retaking schooner ABBY BRADFORD on 15 August. From late August to October she pursued CSS SUMTER throughout much of the West Indies.

POWHATAN operated off Charleston, South Carolina from October 1862 to August 1863, captureing schooner MAJOR E. WILLIS on 19 April and sloop C. ROUTEREAU on 16 May, and deployed for a second time to the West Indies from November 1863 to September 1864 as flagship of Rear Admiral James L. Lardner. She participated in the successful reduction of Fort Fisher, 24–25 December 1864 and in its capture on 13–15 January 1865. After the war, in October 1865, she sailed from Boston with Tuscarora and VANDERBILT, escorting monitor MONADNOCK to California via Cape Horn. She arrived at San Francisco, California on 22 June 1866.

POWHATAN was the flagship of the South Pacific Squadron 1866–1869, commanded by Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren from 12 December 1866 to 14 July 1868. In March 1866 she was sent to Valparaíso to protect U.S. interests during the Chincha Islands War. From 1869 to 1886 she was attached to the Home Squadron and was flagship from 15 September 1869 until 30 December 1870 and again from 4 July 1877 until 10 December 1879. During this period, three POWHATAN crewman earned the Medal of Honor for rescuing fellow sailors from drowning: Landsman George W. Cutter at Norfolk, Virginia, on 27 May 1872; Seaman Joseph B. Noil at Norfolk on 26 December 1872; and Coxswain William Anderson on 28 June 1878. The ship ended her long and conspicuous career by making numerous cruises in Cuban waters to protect American commerce during the following dates. July–August 1880, February–May 1882, January–May 1883, January–May 1885, and January–February 1886. POWHATAN was decommissioned on 2 June 1886 and was sold on 30 July 1886 to Burdette Pond of Meriden, Connecticut, and scrapped 5 August 1887.


Scope and arrangement

Included in the papers is a 180 page, inscribed "Private Logbook of S.W.T. for use of himself and friends during cruise of U.S. Sloop of War Powhatan which left Phila. on November 13, 1863 for West Indies Station." Entries begin on November 14, 1863 and end on August 25, 1864. During this time Thomas spent 14 months on Charleston blockade duty but his ship did not participate in any engagement. The ship returned to Philadelphia after this duty. On page 36 there is an index to the geographical locations of the ship which continues for six pages.

The collection's personal logbook of Samuel W. Thomas, Carpenter's Mate, deals with the Powhatan's eighteen month tour through the West Indies from November 1863 to August 1864. Thomas describes life and duties of various men on the frigate. Daily dress and temperature are also recorded. Personal opinion constitutes a degree of the log. Court martials, desertion, punishments and behavior are included in the log. Names of ships, men and their rank are also part of the record.

The correspondence between Samuel W. Thomas and his family include names of ships, men, economy on and off board ship, duties, the attack on Charleston, and personal opinions about life on board the ship and the war. Personal views about blacks and slavery are part of the correspondence.

A manuscript entitled "The Attack on Charleston" is not signed by Samuel W. Thomas. Remarks made in the manuscript information, correspondence and log book are similar enough to lead to the presumption that the manuscript may have been written by Thomas as an eyewitness account of the attack. Black soldiers used at Fort Wagner as advance men are noted, as well as personal views about the government and slavery.

Also included is a daguerreotype image of a Union Naval seaman, presumed to be Thomas.

Administrative information
Custodial History

January 15, 1997, 10 items, 1 volume; Papers of U.S. Navy enlisted man (1863-1864) aboard the US Sloop of War POWHATAN, including a private log book (Nov. 1863-Aug. 1864), correspondence, a manuscript entitled "The Attack on Charleston," and a daguerreotype of a Civil War sailor (presumably Thomas). Donor: Courtesy of Friends of the ECU Library.

Source of acquisition

Gift of Friends of Joyner Library

Processing information

Encoded by Apex Data Services

Processed by Lucy Brown April 2006

Copyright notice

Literary rights to specific documents are retained by the authors or their descendants in accordance with U.S. copyright law.

Container list
Box 1 Folder a Private log book of Samuel W. Thomas while serving on USS Powhatan during a tour of the West Indies, 13 November 1862–2, August 1864
Box 1 Folder b Item 1 Correspondence, Samuel Thomas to Mother, 24 August 1862. Discussion of high expense of personal items such as underclothing and tobacco
Box 1 Folder b Item 2 Correspondence, Mother Samuel Thomas, 8 December 1862 (?)
Box 1 Folder b Item 3 Correspondence, Samuel Thomas to Brother, 29 April 1863. Discussion of attack on Charleston, cowardice of Admiral Dupont, Iron sides
Box 1 Folder b Item 4 Correspondence, Samuel Thomas to Sister, 4 May 1863 (?). Discussion of attack on Charleston, Admiral Dupont, Captain Turner, "Ironsides", Rebel steamer "The Leopard."
Box 1 Folder b Item 5 Correspondence, Samuel Thomas to Mother and sisters, 4 July 1863. Discussion of injury to hand, description of burial at sea and personal feelings about the occasion
Box 1 Folder b Item 7 Correspondence, Samuel to sister, 15 September 1863, Samuel promoted to Carpenter's Mate
Box 1 Folder b Item 8 Correspondence, Samuel to sister, 23 December 1863. Discussion of architecture and culture on Haiti, Port-au-Prince
Box 1 Folder b Item 9 Correspondence, Samuel to mother, 20 August 1864. Speaks of oil wells and price of barrels. Also clipping regarding St. David's Literary Association
Box 1 Folder b Item 10 Handwritten manuscript entitled "The Attack on Charleston," 7(?) April 1863–3 October 1863. Eye witness account of the attack on Charleston, Fort Sumter, Black soldiers, personal views on Blacks, 176th (?) Regiment of Pennsylvania drafted men, Fort Cregg, Fort Wagner, Commodore Dupont, General Foster, _______Jone's Rifed Gun, General Gillmore, Commodore Dahlgren, "The Catskill," the steamer "Memphis," Captain Steadman, "Ironsides", "Monitor Matapsco (?)," baptism of men on board ship, "Steamer Gonawanda (?)," "US Steamer Mercidita (?)," Granville W. Fogg (?) Master's Mate burial, "Steamer Adelaide (?)," Fortress Monroe, "Steamer Cimiron (?)," "Steamer Arago," "Montauk", Pricket, monitors, "Wabash", Lieutenant Williams, "Monitor Wehawken (?)," "Steamer Brooklyn," "Wissakickion (?)," Captain Badger, Edmund Buck, Hon. Secretery Hughes, Staunton (?), Captain E. P. Williams, John Sargent Gunner's Mate buried at Bay Point, Corporal Peter Hennis (?), Marine Havalan, Dr. Mayo, Lack of surgeon's skills, "The Vermont," "The Atlanta," Flag ship "Philadelphia," Monitor "Passare (?)," "The Wabash", "The Massachusetts," _____ Foley a cooper, ______ Glascoe, The Rebel Ram "Fingal," Master E. L. Hearnes (?), Captain Rodgers, "The Moultrie (?)," Marine Josiah E
Box 1 Folder b Item 11 Daguerreotype of a Civil War sailor (presumably Samuel W. Thomas)