Thursday, April 28, 2011

Naval Namesakes: Whipple Street

---Christina Anderson, Curatorial Volunteer

Many streets, buildings, and institutions in Rhode Island are named to honor the Narragansett Bay area’s rich naval heritage. This regular feature to the museum’s blog provides a brief look at the people, places, and events behind the names.

Commodore Abraham Whipple (1733-1819) Commodore of the Rhode Island State Navy

Portrait of A. Whipple by
Edward Savage, 1786

Whipple Street on NAVSTA Newport is named for Abraham Whipple, an American sea captain born near Providence on September 26, 1733. He began his career at sea in the West Indies trade and commanded the privateer Game Cock from 1759 to 1760. Locally, Whipple is famous for leading the group of Rhode Islanders who burned and sunk the British revenue cutter Gaspee on June 18, 1772.  In 1775, he was appointed Commodore of the Rhode Island State Navy (the first colony/state-authorized naval force consisted of two sloops, Katy and Washington).  Later that same year he was commissioned a Captain in the Continental Navy and took command of the frigate Columbus during the first American naval amphibious expedition.  While cruising Narragansett Bay and the New England coast, Whipple ran the British blockade and captured five British prizes.  In 1778 and 1779, he cruised Atlantic waters in various commands and captured many more prizes including eight ships off New Foundland with cargoes totaling over one million dollars. Whipple continued his sea service until forced to surrender on May 12, 1780 following a four-month siege of Charleston. After the war he became a farmer  in Rhode Island but later moved his family to Ohio. He died in Marietta, Ohio, May 27, 1819.

 USS Whipple (Destroyer No. 15) was also named for the Rhode Island sea captain.

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Street Sign Image by Christina Anderson, Courtesy of the Naval War College Museum

Whipple Portrait, Courtesy of the U.S. Naval Academy Museum

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Artifact Spotlight: U.S. Navy Good Conduct Medal, 1893

---Joshua Howard, Curatorial Volunteer

 Good Conduct Medal, 1893
On April 26, 1869 the Navy Good Conduct Medal was authorized by the United States.  The medal is the United States’ third-oldest continuously presented award and the second-oldest medal distributed by the Navy.

The Navy Good Conduct Medal has seen several transformations over the years. The first medal issued between 1870 and 1880, was a Maltese cross inscribed with the motto, “Fidelity, Zeal, and Obedience.”  The cross was suspended from a red, white, and blue ribbon and was awarded to a sailor each time he was discharged with good conduct. An accumulation of medals could earn a bonus, eligibility for the rank of petty officer, and a pension.

The second variation of the medal was issued from 1880 to 1884. The new medal, also attached to a red, white and blue ribbon, was a round medallion featuring an image of the USS Constitution over an anchor. The reverse received the motto “Fidelity, Zeal, and Obedience” as well as the seaman’s name.

The third incarnation of the Navy Good Conduct medal, shown on the left, is very similar to the type two medal but has an all red ribbon. Issued since 1884, the new medal contained the continuous service number of the sailor to prevent theft. Additionally, the medal was now only issued once. The Navy added bars with the name of the recipient's ship or duty station at the time of the award.  These bars were eventually replaced with the bronze and silver stars still used today. The type four medal issued since the mid-1950s changed the rectangular suspension bar to a more modern ring and no longer included detailed information on the reverse.

The Navy Good Conduct Medal pictured was issued to Chief Boatswain’s Mate Thomas Larsen in 1893 after serving on board USS Essex. The bars for subsequent awards show Larsen's tours on USS Constellation (permanently moored at Newport since 1894) and assignment to the Newport Naval Training Station.

Medal is a gift of John and Gloria Little                                   Ac. No. 2010.08.26

Images courtesy of the Naval War College Museum

Friday, April 15, 2011

Education Update: Intern Produces Curriculum on Sailor's Diet

Check out this article posted on the blog of the Harvard Extension School about a recent internship at the Naval War College Museum. Jonathan Lane at the Harvard Extension School has produced a valuable curriculum resource, The Sailor's Diet of 1798 for use by our education department. For more information on this resource and how it will be used at the museum, call Director of Museum Education John Kennedy at 401-841-7276.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Artifact Spotlight: USS BAINBRIDGE Patch, c. 1962

---Joshua Howard, Curatorial Volunteer

1. USS Bainbridge jacket patch, c. 1962
On 15 April 1961, the USS Bainbridge (DLGN-25), the world's first nuclear-powered frigate was launched by the Bethlehem Steel Company in Quincy, Massachusetts. The guided-missile frigate was the fourth U.S. Navy vessel named for Commodore William Bainbridge (1774-1833). Bainbridge was most famous for commanding USS Constitution during her victory over the HMS Java in the War of 1812. This week’s artifact spotlight is a cloth jacket patch with the ship's insignia.

According to the Naval History and Heritage Command, the emblem was primarily designed by EMC Douglas A. Hale, USN. It combines symbolism of the new Bainbridge's nuclear power plant with the figure of a sailing frigate and the motto: Mobility, Endurance, and Versatility.

See more images of the ship at the Naval History and Heritage Command's Online Library of Selected Images.

The patch was donated to the museum by Rear Admiral Joseph H. Wellings who served as the Commandant of the First Naval District (Boston) during the Bainbridge's launching. The artifact is part of a large collection relating to Wellings' career that includes the wrist watch he wore during World War II.
Gift of Rear Admiral Joseph H. Wellings, USN                                        Ac. No. 1980.23.11
Image courtesy of the Naval War College Museum

Monday, April 11, 2011

Volunteer Profile: Christina Anderson

---John Pentangelo, Curator/Registrar

This week the museum bids farewell to another curatorial volunteer. Christina Anderson joined the team in October of 2010 and has since been of tremendous assistance in developing the museum's nascent social media program.  Christina arrived in Newport last fall when her husband began coursework at the Surface Warfare Officers School. The Missouri native earned her masters degree in parks and recreation from the University of Missouri and answered the museum's call for volunteers on the New England Museum Association website to apply some of her training and skills in curatorial projects. 

Christina photographing the "Settlers' Stone"
Christina spent several months developing a chronology of dates related to general naval history and the history of local naval commands such as the Naval War College and Naval Torpedo Station. This list of dates will help the museum produce timely blog and facebook posts that recognize important anniversaries such as the Battle of Lake Erie and the founding of the Naval Training Station in Newport. Christina is also an avid photographer and she set to work photographing buildings, landmarks, and street signs on the base for the new monthly blog feature Naval Namesakes. Christina edited the photos, researched the name origins, and wrote many of the blog entries. The first blog on Hopkins Avenue appeared in March and readers can expect many more to follow.

Christina is leaving this month for Virginia, where her husband will begin service on a destroyer based at Naval Station Norfolk. Her efforts have substantially increased our ability to engage the public using social media. Though the museum is open to the public, our location on a naval base restricts access. Social media helps us reach a wider audience with our mission to educate the public about the naval heritage of the region. The museum wishes her well at the new duty station and extends deep appreciation for her hard work and talent. Those interested in volunteering with the curatorial department can call 401-841-1296 for more information.

Image courtesy of the Naval War College Museum

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Artifact Spotlight: Thirteen-Star American Flag, c.19th Century

--John Pentangelo, Curator/Registrar

 Last month the museum mounted a 13-star American flag in the west stairwell of Founders Hall. Flags with thirteen stars were authorized from June 14, 1777 to May 1, 1795.  Ida Fuller, of Portsmouth, Rhode Island, donated this flag to American Legion Auxiliary Unit 18 in 1938. Many believed it was an original colonial era standard associated with the type carried by the 3rd Maryland Regiment during the American Revolutionary War. However, when  examined at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History over a decade ago, textile historians concluded that the materials, sewing methods, and arrangement of stars confirmed it was made sometime between 1820 and 1850. To ensure its preservation and public exhibition, the American Legion Unit donated the flag to the Naval War College Museum in 2008.

 Typical loss and thinning of weave found
in fifty-six places throughout the flag

The following year, the museum requested examination and treatment proposals from local conservators. The 102 x 54” flag is made entirely of wool except for muslin stars stitched to the canton by reverse applique. Its use over the years led to a moderate amount of loss, numerous small tears, and several large stains.  Last fall, ArtCare Resources of Newport cleaned the flag and stabilized fifty-six areas of loss with replacement polyester yarns and silk thread. The entire flag was stitched to a crepeline backing to provide more support.

The flag hoisted into position
When ArtCare returned the flag, a team of museum staff and contractors finalized plans for its display.  Richard "Schooner" McPherson built the wooden frame with plexiglass cover. The registrar, assisted by Foundation employee Kathleen Havey, prepared a mounting backboard with polyester batting and covered it with an inert linen fabric. Textile specialist Deb Siravo carefully sewed the flag to the fabric using polyester thread. Once secure, the curator and carpenter encased the flag and mounted it to the interior wall of the stairwell.

This important artifact tells the story of the early commemorations of American Independence and imparts the history of Rhode Island’s many veterans organizations. It is the first part of the museum's planned display of  memorabilia related to local veterans groups. Please make sure to check out the flag on your next visit.

Gift of American Legion Auxiliary Unit 18, Portsmouth, RI                 Ac. No. 2009.31.01

Images courtesy of the Naval War College Museum