Samuel Francis du Pont papers
Manuscripts and Archives Department, Hagley Museum and Library
PO Box 3630
Wilmington, Delaware, 19807
Finding aid prepared by John Beverly Riggs, 1961,
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Cite items for this collection in the following format:
Gift of Henry Francis du Pont
The Samuel Francis du Pont Papers that are now at the Hagley Museum and Library were collected and for many years preserved by his wife Sophie at her home at Louviers. The controversy that followed the admiral's 1863 dismissal from the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron led Mrs. du Pont to guard these papers very closely while she continued to add to the collection and compile edited transcripts of her husband's letters, notes, and diaries.
During the 1870s and 1880s she also began to collect the papers of other members of her family, including those of du Pont de Nemours. When she died in 1888, her nephew, Colonel Henry A. du Pont, inherited this collection and moved it to his home at Winterthur, near Wilmington. The colonel had a keen interest in family history and continued to augment the archive. When he died in 1926, it passed on to his son, Henry Francis du Pont, whose main interest lay in the decorative arts and horticulture.
During these years, Pierre Samuel du Pont (1870-1954), the former president of the DuPont Company and General Motors, was organizing a library on his Longwood, Pennsylvania, estate in order to preserve his family's personal papers and rare books. Henry Francis, therefore, donated his Winterthur Manuscripts collection to the Longwood Library. In 1961 the Longwood Library merged with the Hagley Museum as the Eleutherian Mills Historical Library and moved to its present site in Greenville, Delaware.
At that time, the Winterthur Manuscripts were organized into ten groups, Group IX being the papers of Samuel Francis du Pont. Within each group, the papers have been arranged by series and given inventory numbers that are a combination of group and file numbers. These Winterthur numbers have been stamped on the individual documents and are usually referred to in published citations and footnotes.Use Restrictions
Copyright restrictions may apply.
Samuel Francis du Pont was born at Bergen Point (now Bayonne), New Jersey, on September 27, 1803. He was the fourth child and second surviving son of Victor Marie du Pont and his wife, Gabrielle Joséphine de la Fite de Pelleport. Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours, the famous French economist and diplomat, was his paternal grandfather. Du Pont de Nemours had been an adviser to Louis XVI during the last years of the monarchy, but during the revolution he had sided with the moderate Girondists. When Robespierre ascended to power, he was imprisoned and in 1799 made the decision to emigrate with his family to the United States. He planned to found a company for land and commercial development that would be managed by his two sons, Victor and Eluethere Irénée.
Du Pont de Nemours's friend and correspondent, Thomas Jefferson, recognizing that the new U.S. Army did not have a reliable source of quality gun powder, encouraged him to establish a black powder manufactory, which Jefferson believed in the long run would prove to be a wiser investment than a company devoted to land speculation. In 1802, Irénée purchased a tract of land along the Brandywine River just north of Wilmington, Delaware, to set up the family powder works. Victor, for his part, established a New York based importing firm and land company, Victor du Pont de Nemours & Co. By 1804 this business had gone bankrupt, and Victor moved to Delaware and entered into partnership with his brother to start a woolen-manufacturing business.
Samuel Francis du Pont spent his early years living at Louviers, across the river from his uncle's Eleutherian Mills estate. At the age of nine he was enrolled in the Mt. Airy Academy in Germantown, Pennsylvania. However, Victor's woolen mill was facing serious financial difficulties, and he was not in a position to underwrite his son's education. He, therefore, encouraged him to pursue a career in the Navy. Du Pont de Nemours sought Jefferson's help in securing a position for his grandson. With this influence, it was not surprising that on December 19, 1815, the twelve year old Samuel Francis received an appointment as midshipman. He continued studying at Mt. Airy until October 1817, when he set sail on the U.S.S. Franklin for his first cruise of the Mediterranean under the command of Commodore Charles Stewart. During three years at sea, he visited the Isle of Wight, Italy, and Algeria. Since the United States did not yet have a naval academy, du Pont, like most other novice midshipmen, received elementary training in mathematics and navigation on board ship. By the time of his second voyage aboard the U.S.S. Constitution (1821-22), he was an accomplished navigator.
du Pont's most important early cruise was aboard the U.S.S. North Carolina, which sailed from Hampton Roads in March 1825 with more than 1,000 officers and men. Although not yet a commissioned officer, he was appointed sailing master. The North Carolina's mission was to assert American power and prestige in the Mediterranean. On this voyage, du Pont served under Captain John Rodgers, who at the time was the Navy's senior officer. On this trip he befriended a fellow midshipman, Alexander Slidell MacKenzie, the younger brother of John Slidell, who in the 1840s was to serve as both a congressman and emissary to Mexico. During his service on the North Carolina, du Pont passed his examinations and was promoted to lieutenant. In the spring of 1827, after hearing of his father's death, he returned home to Wilmington, where he spent most of the next two years. In August 1829 he was assigned to the U.S.S. Ontario and set sail for Constantinople and the Eastern Mediterranean. Although only recently promoted to the officer ranks, du Pont believed that many of the senior officers under whom he served were incompetent and had achieved their positions only as a result of political influence. He began to criticize his superiors from this perspective, and this made him somewhat of an outsider in the officer corps.
When du Pont returned home in June 1833 from his voyage on the Ontario, he married his first cousin, Sophie Madeleine du Pont, the daughter of Irénée. In the years before the Mexican War, du Pont was given several assignments in the Gulf of Mexico and in Europe. These were the years in which the U.S. Navy was making the transition from sail to steam and becoming increasingly professionalized. du Pont, a vocal advocate of professionalization and discipline, achieved increased recognition during this period. On January 10, 1843, he was promoted to the rank of commander. Later that year he set sail for China aboard the Perry, but early in 1844 he took seriously ill and had to return to Delaware, where remained for more than a year. Fully recovered by October 1845, du Pont was assigned to Commodore Robert F. Stockton's Pacific squadron and assumed commander of the frigate Congress. When the Mexican War began, the squadron was ordered to California, and du Pont was given command of the Cyane, a two-gun sloop of war. He transported General John C. Frémont's battalion to San Diego and then proceeded on to La Paz and Monterey. En route, he captured nearly thirty Mexican ships. During the last eighteen months of war, du Pont was put in charge of the California blockade.
After the Mexican War, du Pont began a decade-long tour of shore duty. During these years he played an important role in the modernization of the Navy. In 1849, Secretary of the navy George Bancroft asked him to help draw up a curriculum for the naval academy at Annapolis, Maryland. In early August 1850, du Pont was appointed superintendent of the Naval Academy; however, within four weeks, he asked to be relieved of this assignment, which he thought was more appropriate for an officer who was closer to retirement age. He did maintain a close association with the Naval Academy for the rest of his life and frequently served on the school's board of examiners. Since the Navy was moving into the age of steam, he believed that it was particularly important that midshipmen be given training in both engineering and mathematics and that this be balanced with experience at sea. In 1851, du Pont was asked to analyze the impact that steam power was likely to have on America's defense and its existing system of coastal fortifications. In six months he produced a twenty-eight page Report on the National Defenses, in which e articulated a strategy for modern naval warfare. In this document, du Pont pointed out that the Navy was better suited to play an offensive, rather than a defensive, role and that the existing system of coastal fortifications could be relied on to defend the nation's harbors and should not be dismantled. Following this line of reasoning, he argued that the navy would be a much more efficient fighting force if it were relieved from harbor defense. With California now part of the United States, du Pont emphasized the importance of the Sandwich Islands to the defense of the Pacific coast. He concluded his analysis by making a strong case for a bigger and more powerful service. After this report was submitted to Secretary Bancroft, du Pont discovered that he had been appointed to the Light-House Board. Once in this post, he began to argue that the national lighthouse system was extremely antiquated and needed to be upgraded, if it were to play a role in America's defense. He was gratified when Congress finally passed a lighthouse bill that incorporated many of his recommendations.
In February 1853, du Pont became general superintendent of the Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations, known as the Crystal Palace, in New York. This exhibition, the country's first World's Fair, was motivated by national pride and the belief that industrial America had come of age; it was time for the world to be introduced to the nation's technology and manufactures. However, even though the exhibition drew international praise, visitation was disappointing. Floundering in a sea of red ink, du Pont resigned his superintendency on November 1.
At this time du Pont was given the opportunity to address the question of naval reform. During the middle decades of the nineteenth century, the U.S. Navy was facing some very serious problems that stemmed from entrenched nepotism and a system of officer promotion based more on political favoritism than on merit. Problems of alcoholism, officer education, and career uncertainty were making it extremely difficult to develop an officer corps with a sense of professionalism. The situation became increasingly critical as the age of steam was beginning to put a premium on the kind of competence and technological expertise that was sorely lacking in the old” Navy.
In February 1855, Congress passed an act to Promote the Efficiency of the Navy.” Its object was to professionalize the service by forcing incompetent officers into retirement and promoting young, talented midshipmen. Secretary James Dobbin asked du Pont to draft a report supporting the legislation, which he did with considerable enthusiasm. Throughout most of his career, du Pont had been very critical of many of his superior officers, and he saw that the Navy now had an opportunity to reform itself by installing a merit system of promotion. In June he was appointed to the Naval Efficiency Board, where he became a leading advocate for reform. In five months of deliberations, the board reviewed the careers of 712 officers and recommended that 201 be dismissed. This led to an acrimonious debate as the officers in question called on key congressmen to come to their defense. du Pont, one of the leading supporters of the board's actions, found himself the object of ferocious criticism. In the summer of 1856, Congress amended the original Naval Efficiency Bill in order to give affected officers the opportunity to defend themselves before a court of inquiry. This led to the review of 108 dismissals. A majority of them was reversed.
In September 1855, du Pont was promoted to the rank of captain, and in early 1857 he was given command of the new steam frigate Minnesota. His first assignment was to take William Reed, U.S. Minister to China, to his new post in Peiping. Reed had been instructed to negotiate for additional treaty ports and for a broadened interpretation of the principle of extraterritoriality. This was a powerful tool for opening up China commercially, since it made foreign merchants and missionaries immune to Chinese law. On April 26, 1858, the Minnesota jointed a contingent of seventeen Western warships in a show of force at the mouth of the Peiho River. When the Chinese refused to make any concessions, a fleet of British and French gunboats opened fire on their coastal fortifications, forcing them to sign a treaty that was satisfactory to the Western powers. On August 15 the Minnesota departed for Nagasaki and then proceeded on the Bengal, Ceylon, and Bombay. It docked in Boston on May 29, 1859.
du Pont returned to Wilmington where he remained until March 22, 1860. When the Japanese sent their first ambassador to the United States, he was asked to serve as an official escort. Together with two fellow officers, Commander Sidney Smith Lee and Lieutenant David Dixon Porter, he accompanied the ambassador's party on a three-month visit to Washington, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. This trip proved to be a major watershed in Japanese-American relations and helped open up Japan to U.S. trade and investment. After this assignment was completed, du Pont was appointed commandant of the Philadelphia Navy Yard, and he assumed that he would end his career in this position. However, with the outbreak of the Civil War, he was recalled to active duty and promoted to flag officer.
The war began with the April 12, 1861, bombardment of Fort Sumter, off Charleston, South Carolina. After Sumter fell to the Confederate army, Secretary Gideon Welles appointed a board to discuss strategy for a Southern blockade. Since du Pont had had experience in blockading the California coast during the Mexican War, he was appointed senior member of the board that devised a plan for joint landsea operations to attack the South Atlantic coast. On August 5, Welles gave the order to proceed. du Pont was put in charge of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron and broke his flag on the U.S.S. Wabash. The first engagement took place at Port Royal, South Carolina, where a Union armada of steam-powered warships coordinated an attach with General Thomas W. Sherman's army capturing Forts Walker and Beauregard. Once these fortifications fell, the rich Sea Islands were occupied by Northern forces. Because of the success of this operation, du Pont was promoted to rear admiral in July 1862. However, before the Union could fully exploit this victory, General Robert E. Lee assumed command of the Southern coastline and constructed a system of elaborate fortifications that would stop all inland advances for the remainder of the war.
The Union remained in control of Port Royal. This forced many landowners to emigrate from the area, leaving behind their plantations and slaves. The region soon teemed with Northern missionaries and teachers who came to work with the black population. Under the protection of the Union armed forces, they attempted to carry out an ambitious program of economic and social reforms. Since Port Royal was the headquarters of du Pont's blockading squadron, the admiral became increasingly involved in what historian Willie Lee Rose has called a rehearsal for Reconstruction.”
As the war dragged on, British blockade-runners became increasingly bold and began to penetrate the Southern coastline with disturbing frequency. As John D. Hayes has pointed out, du Pont was concerned about provoking intervention by the Royal Navy and kept the blockade loose and legal. However, every time a blockaderunner was successful, the union command was embarrassed and Admiral du Pont was subjected to severe criticism. By late 1862 there was considerable tension building between Port Royal and Washington as pressure mounted for an attach on Charleston. The plan was to have the new ironclad monitors lead the assault. du Pont had serious reservations about this strategy, but for political reasons he was reluctant to discuss candidly his doubts about the monitors' mobility and reliability with Welles. Instead, he attempted to delay the attack as long as possible. This only irritated his superiors, who began to question his fitness for command. The assault on Charleston began on April 7, 1863. Within a week it had become clear that the monitors had been repulsed. This defeat, in one of the most highly publicized naval battles of the Civil War, was a tremendous blow to the Union. Wells blamed it on du Pont, who was immediately relieved of his command.
Upon his return to Washington, du Pont was ostracized. During the summer of 1863 he exchanged a series of barbed letters with Welles and enlisted Henry Winter Davis, the acknowledged leader of the congressional opposition, to serve as his spokesman on Capitol Hill. When the Navy refused to publish du Pont's report on the Charleston attack, Davis thought that it would be politically advantageous to criticize the administration over this issue. He secured a joint congressional resolution calling upon the Navy Department to produce all of du Pont's reports and correspondence. When Welles did so, the tables were turned. Charged with misusing the monitors at Charleston and misleading his superiors, du Pont was virtually put on trial before Congress. After the congressional hearing, du Pont appealed to Abraham Lincoln for vindication. When the president refused to met with him, he retired to his home at Louviers. In March 1865 he returned to Washington to serve on a board that was set up to recommend distinguished naval officers for promotion. On June 23, 1865, while on a visit to Philadelphia with his wife, he died.
Admiral Samuel Francis du Pont's papers provide important documentation on the history of the nineteenth-century Navy as it experienced the transition from sail to steam and from wood to iron. The collection, which is divided into three series, documents du Pont's professional and personal lives against the background of the pre-Civil War service.
Adams, Charles Francis, 1807-1886.
Adams, John Quincy, 1767-1848.
Astor, John Jacob, 1822-1890.
Bache, A. D. (Alexander Dallas), 1806-1867.
Bancroft, George, 1800-1891.
Barron, Samuel, 1809-1888.
Belmont, August, 1816-1890.
Biddle, James Stokes, b. 1818.
Blair, Montgomery, 1813-1883.
Blake, George S., 1803-1871.
Breck, Samuel, 1771-1862.
Buchanan, James, 1791-1868.
Butler, Benjamin F. (Benjamin Franklin), 1818-1893.
Cass, Lewis, 1782-1866.
China--History--Foreign intervention, 1857-1861.
Christ Church Christiana Hundred (Greenville, Del.).
Clayton, John M. (John Middleton), 1796-1856.
Dahlgren, John Adolphus Bernard, 1809-1870.
Dallas, Alexander J. (Alexander James), 1791-1844.
Davis, Charles Henry, 1807-1877.
Davis, Henry Winter, 1817-1865.
Davis, Jefferson, 1808-1889.
Decorative Arts--United States--Chinese influences.
Dobbin, James C. (James Cochran), 1814-1857.
Drayton, Percival, 1812-1865.
E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company.
Farragut, David Glasgow, 1801-1870.
Fessenden, William Pitt, 1806-1869.
Fillmore, Millard, 1800-1874.
Foote, Andrew H. (Andrew Hull), 1806-1863.
Forbes, R. B. (Robert Bennet), 1804-1889.
Fox, Gustavus Vasa, 1821-1883.
Frémont, John Charles, 1813-1890.
Gansevort, Guert, 1812-1867.
Godon, Sylvanus W. (Sylvanus William), 1809-1879.
Grimes, James W. (James Wilson), 1816-1872.
Halleck, H. W. (Henry Wager), 1815-1872.
Hunter, David, 1802-1886.
Isherwood, B. F. (Benjamin Franklin), 1822-1915.
Istanbul (Turkey)--Description--19th century.
Italy--Description and travel.
Jenkins, Thornton A. (Thornton Alexander), 1811-1893.
Jones, Thomas Ap Catesby, 1790-1858.
Kane, Elias Kent, 1794-1835.
Kane, Elisha Kent, 1820-1857.
Kane, John K. (John Kintzing), 1795-1858.
Kearny, Stephen Watts, 1794-1848.
Lenthall, John, 1807-1882.
Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865.
Mackenzie, Alexander Slidell, 1803-1848.
Magruder, George A.
Maury, Matthew Fontaine, 1806-1873.
Maury, Matthew, 1800-1877.
Melville, Herman, 1819-1891.
Mexican War, 1846-1848.
Monterey, Battle of 1846.
Naval art and science.
Navy-yards and naval stations--United States.
New York Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations (1853-1854).
North Carolina (Ship-of-the-line).
Parrott, Enoch G. (Enoch Greenleafe), 1815-1879.
Pendergrast, Garrett J. (Garrett Jesse), 1802-1862.
Perry, Matthew Calbraith, 1794-1858.
Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social life and customs.
Pierce, Franklin, 1804-1869.
Port Royal (S.C.) Expedition, 1861.
Porter, David D. (David Dixon), 1813-1891.
Price, Rodman M. (Rodman McCamley), 1816-1894.
Reed, William B. (William Bradford), 1806-1876.
Reynolds, William, 1815-1879.
Rodgers, C. R. P. (Christopher Raymond Perry), 1819-1892.
Rodgers, John, 1812-1882.
Rowan, Stephen C. (Stephen Clegg), 1808-1890.
Semmes, Raphael, 1809-1877.
Sherman, John, 1823-1900.
Sherman, Thomas W. (Thomas West), 1813-1879.
Sherman, William T. (William Tecumseh), 1820-1891.
Shubrick, William Branford, 1790-1874.
Somers Mutiny, 1842.
Steedman, Charles, 1811-1890.
Stockton, Robert Field, 1795-1866.
Totten, Joseph Gilbert, 1788-1864.
Turner, Thomas, 1808-1883.
United States Naval Academy.
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Naval operations.
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.
United States. Navy--History--War with Mexico, 1845-1848.
United States. Navy--Officers.
Upshur, A. P. (Abel Parker), 1790-1844.
Upshur, John H. (John Henry), 1823-1917.
Van Buren, John, 1810-1866.
Welles, Gideon, 1802-1878.
Williams, S. Wells (Samuel Wells), 1812-1884.
Wood, Fernando, 1812-1881.
Worden, John Lorimer, 1818-1897.
du Pont, Eleuthère Irénée, 1771-1834.
du Pont, Samuel Francis, 1803-1865.
du Pont, Sophie Madeleine, 1810-1888.
du Pont, Victor, 1767-1827.
du Pont, Victor, 1828-1888.