Edward L. Williams Diary, 1874-1875

Manuscript Collection #1139

  • Descriptive Summary
    Title: Edward L. Williams Diary
    Creator: Williams, Edward L.
    Repository: ECU Manuscript Collection
    Language: English
    Abstract: Diary written by Edward L. Williams, while serving in the United States Marine Corps, describing his voyage, aboard the USS Alaska, to the European Station under the command of Captain Samuel "Powhatan" and under the direct supervision of Captain W. R. Brown, including their cruise along the Italian coast , frequent port calls, shipboard life, behavior of sailors, and his friendships and acquaintances among the ship's crew.
    Extent: 0.04 Cubic feet, 1 item, consisting of one single bound diary.
  • Description

    Diary, written by Edward L. Williams, recounting his time on the USS Alaska under the command of Captain Samuel “Powhatan” Carter, and under the direct supervision of Captain W.R. Brown. The Diary contains daily entries spanning the time from 5 December 1874 to 17 May 1875. During the majority of the timeframe, the USS Alaska was at port in La Spezia, Italy, having repairs done on its boilers and did not depart port until 11 May 1875 (according to the diary entries), just before the end of his 220 page diary. The entries of the diary consist mainly of daily updates consisting of the weather, his daily duties, and most interestingly, highlights of the misbehavior and offenses of his fellow shipmates while aboard or in port.

    Included in his descriptions are daily weather updates such as cold and rainy winters off the coast of La Spezia, Italy, including February snow, or bright and pleasant days as he often mentions during the summer months. Each entry starts with a report of the weather, although most days seem to be dreary according to Williams.

    Also included in the majority of his entries are descriptions of shipmates being put in the ship’s brig as punishment for disobedience, and even the occasional court martial. Some offenses mentioned are smuggling liquor on board, drunken behavior, and fights. In addition to punishment, he discusses, at great length, the desertion of sailors during their “liberty” on port, and the punishment of those sailors after being found. He is particularly fond of mentioning a few individuals, “Springer” and “Mulligans,” among others, whom he calls specifically by name for this and many other offenses such as stealing. Along the same lines, he also discusses the prisoners’ punishment when brought on board.

    Another major aspect he pays special attention to is onboard ship life and daily duties for himself and some of his onboard companions. Duties include tasks such as scrubbing hammocks, shining decks, and keeping the galley clear from sailors “loafing around,” waiting for supplies such as tobacco or the mail service to arrive. Additionally, he mentions his experiences with civilian workers such as the cleaning and laundry woman, a shoemaker at port, and a blacksmith, or the church sermons from the onboard pastor. While not working, Williams mentions onboard entertainment including a performance that was put on by several shipmates while in port, and being allowed liberty at port or leave for travel. At times, he also mentions the progress on the repairs of the boilers, and the damage to the rudders, though these updates are few and far between.

    On a few instances, he casually mentions sailors that were sick, injured, or have even died during service such as one man, “Ryan,” that fell ill onboard and later died in a hospital at port while docked in La Spezia, Italy, or even his own illnesses, such as a seemingly reoccurring winter cold he had.

    Additionally, Williams occasionally writes about sending or receiving a letter from his girlfriend, “M.E.B.,” or his family back home.

    For more information on the daily life aboard the USS Alaska, see related collection:

    Allen W. Bronson Collection (COLL/3068), Archives and Special Collections, Gray Research Center, Library of the Marine Corps, Quantico, VA.

    Collection digitized at: Flickr. “Allen W. Bronson Collection.” Accessed October 25, 2013. http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=Allen%20W.%20Bronson%20Collection

  • Biographical / Historical Note

    Edward L. Williams enlisted in the United States Marine Corps on 27 May 1873 at “Marine R. Rendezvous” in New York City. He served aboard many ships including the USS Alaska during its time on the European Squadron, the USS Wyoming, the USS Saratoga, and the USS Colorado, among other stations. Williams reenlisted several times before he was discharged from service.

    The USS Alaska, built at the Boston Navy Yard as a wooden-hulled screw sloop-of-war, was launched on 31 October 1868. During its service it was used as part of the Asiatic Squadron in 1871 alongside the Palos, Monocacy, and Colorado. It later joined the European Squadron under the command of Captain Samuel “Powhatan” Carter and was used to continue operations in the Mediterranean until it was decommissioned on 5 October 1876 for extensive repairs. The USS Alaska was recomissioned on 23 April 1878 to patrol the Pacific until she was decommissioned 13 February 1883 and sold at Mare Island on 20 November 1883.


    Ancestry.com. U.S. Marine Corps Muster Rolls, 1798-1958 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2007.

    Department of the Navy: Naval History and Heritage Command. “USS Alaska.” In Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Accessed October 15, 2013. http://www.history.navy.mil/danfs/a5/alaska-i.htm U.S. Marine Corps Muster Rolls, 1893-1958. Microfilm Publication T977, 460 rolls. ARC ID: 922159. Records of the U.S. Marine Corps, Record Group 127; National Archives in Washington, D.C

  • Administrative Information
    Accessions Information

    March 20, 2009, 1 item, 0.04 cubic feet; Diary (5 December 1874 - 17 May 1875) written by a Edward L. Williams, USMC, describing his voyage aboard the USS ALASKA to the European Station under the command of Captain Samuel Powhatan Carter, including their cruise along the Italian coast, frequent port calls, shipboard life, behavior of sailors, desertions and punishments of sailors, his correspondence with his distant girlfriend "M.E.B.," his friendships and acquaintances among the ship's crew; hand-illustrated title page and several drawings. 7.25 x 4.25 cm. 1 box. 1 vol. 110 p. Recd. 12/4/2008. Spine partially detached. Purchase (Special Manuscript Fund), Carmen D. Valentino, Rare Books & Manuscripts

    Acquisition Information

    Purchase (Special Manuscript Fund), Carmen D. Valentino, Rare Books & Manuscripts

    Access Restrictions

    No restrictions

    Copyright Notice

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

    Preferred Citation

    Edward L. Williams Diary (#1139), East Carolina Manuscript Collection, J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina, USA.

    Processing Information

    Encoded by Jonathan Dembo, March 20, 2009 Processed by Samantha Canada, November 2013.

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