Before we jump into the updates from my jaunt down to Yale University, we have some exciting news for our Boston based readers. The fund will be hosting a fundraiser at a local establishment on Thursday Feb 26^th. If you are in the area and didn’t receive an invitation let me know and we will be sure to loop you in. Now on to my trip down to New Haven!
Being that this was my first time on Yale’s campus, I took some extra time to walk around the impressive grounds. However, as you might guess most of my time was spent in the basement of Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript library.
I have long wondered how Yale University came to acquire the letters of Daniel Putnam Upton especially since I never found any connection between his family and the University itself. The library staff informed me that they were donated to the library in 1971 by Edith McCullough Irons, Ethel McCullough Scott and John G. McCullough. I haven't a clue about how they acquired them, but that is one of many questions best left for another day and another newsletter.
Back to the primary goal of this excursion which was to analyze this bundle of 131 autographed letters from Daniel Upton to his Father, Mother and Brother. I hoped to uncover any valuable insights that relate to the time period during which Daniel served as the Captain of the Arizona as well anything that might shed light on the events that led to his court martial. After checking in with the friendly staff, I was forced to abandon all my belongings in a locker except for a few pencils, a notepad and a camera. Only after a series of questions and acknowledgements was I given a single cardboard box that contained all his letters and notes.
Upon opening the box I was struck by the thought that not only was I going to be handling letters written nearly 160 years ago, but that the author himself had walked the decks of the Arizona, slept in its cabins and led its crew into battle. It was a surreal moment for me as it was one step closer to touching something that physically came from the lost ship. However like most things in life the box held more questions than answers. Here are few of the major highlights from the day I spent with the letters:
* I had assumed that this collection included Daniel’s wartime letters and that the library might have just mislabeled the time period covered in the manuscripts. This assumption proved quite wrong as all the wartime letters were missing. I know for a fact that at one point these letters existed, thanks to Mr. Christopher’s records, but the question is where are they held and why were they separated from this collection? This turned out to be entire story in its own right and one that will save for a future update.
* While it is clear from the letters that the Upton’s commercial shipping business was quite successful, Daniel seemed to constantly struggle to find his own role in the business and more importantly in his own family. A few of the letters illuminated the manic nature of his emotions and his every changing sense of self-worth. He lived in the shadow of his older brother and had a deep dislike of societal demands placed upon the Upton's and other wealthy families of Boston. In fact, It many instances it appears that he suffered from mood swings that can probably best defined as chronic depression. These moods were not directly connected to the period following his court martial as similar occurrences can be highlighted before the War.
* I am beginning to believe that Daniel received his commission on the Arizona not because of his experience as a commercial captain, but rather because of his father’s influences and the family’s connection to the Coffins; the prominent Nantucket whaling family. Could this entitlement have led to his court martial? Did his social status create a division between himself and his crew? Perhaps they saw him as nothing more than the spoiled son of a wealthy Boston merchant?
* Comparing the letters from before and after the War (and the court martial) there is a clear change in the tone of the relationship between Daniel and his Father. While I was unable to see George’s responses to his son’s letters, it is clear that there is a lot of personal and public shame associated with the end of Daniel’s service on the Arizona. In fact, Daniel seemed to grasp at any opportunity to reshape the perception, and more importantly his Father’s perception(ie. family's), of why he was dismissed from the U.S. Navy. Never was this more evident then in one letter where he included a small article from a San Francisco paper that lauded the wartime record of Daniel Upton (see included picture). It is not hard to guess the identity of this paper’s “source” especially when you consider the last line, “ The jealousies of the regular navy officers is said to have driven him from the service and deprived the country of one its braevst(sp?) and most able officers.”
This was a fascinating discover as I had never known Lt. Upton’s interpretation of his own court martial and his belief that his time on Arizona was ended unjustly.
That is all for now. I will have another update in the coming weeks that will illuminate the events surrounding Daniel P. Upton’s suicide in Framingham, MA on March 27, 1867.
In the meantime, please see below for ways you can support our efforts.
Help Us Discover the USS Arizona!
- Donate to our cause and directly contribute to locating, surveying and securing the wreck of the USS Arizona - ussarizonacivilwar.org/donate
- Explore ussarizonacivilwar.org to learn more about the ship, the fund, and our upcoming projects.
- Volunteer in any way you can as we are always looking for additional support – fundraising, outreach, research, etc. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for opportunities.