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Special Collections & Archives

The rare or unique holdings of Nimitz Library.

Newly acquired papers of Adm. Richard Jackson cover a century of naval history

by Adam Minakowski on 2022-06-10T14:06:00-04:00 in History, Naval & Military Studies, Special Collections & Archives | 0 Comments

Nimitz Library's Special Collections & Archives has acquired a large collection of manuscripts and other documents related to Admiral Richard Harrsion Jackson (USNA 1887), one of the academy's longest lived graduates who participated in the Spanish-American War, the Boxer Rebellion, and World War I and also witnessed the attack on Pearl Harbor. The collection also includes the diaries and correspondence of Catherine Sampson Jackson, his wife, that offer insight into her life, her husband's life and career, and the life and career of her father, Admiral William T. Sampson (USNA 1861), Civil War veteran and a naval hero of the Battle of Santiago de Cuba during the Spanish-American War.

Richard and Catherine Jackson probably around the time of their marriage.

Born in 1866, Jackson entered the US Naval Academy in 1883. During the two years of sea service required after completing his academic studies, his ship, USS Trenton, was caught in 1889 Apia cyclone near Samoa. Unable to generate steam power, he led a group of sailors into the rigging with a makeshift sail to propel the ship out of danger while rescuing the crew of another wrecked ship. Despite these heroics, the combination of his low grades and a dearth of Ensign billets in the Navy led to his honorable discharge. He then began to study medicine at the University of Virginia while word of his exploits during the cyclone reached Congress. In 1890, he received his medical degree and rejoined the Navy thanks to special Congressional legislation that created a billet for him.

Postcard depicting the wrecked ships after the Apia cyclone with Jackson's identification of the ships.

He went on to serve aboard torpedo boats during the Spanish-American War and commanded a gunboat in the Yangtze River Patrol during the 1911 Chinese Revolution. During World War I, he was the Navy’s special representative to the French Ministry of Marine before becoming a naval attaché in Paris. He commanded the Navy's battle fleet from 1926-1927 as it developed naval air tactics with its first carrier. He retired to Hawaii in 1930, and later, witnessed the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. His account of the attack was incorporated into the Navy’s official after-action report. He died in 1971 at the age of 105 as the oldest military officer in the US and the oldest Naval Academy alumnus up to that time.

Richard Jackson around the time of his 1887 graduation from the Naval Academy and at age 102 in 1968.

A little more than 1,500 letters that Jackson wrote to his wife are part of this collection, and Catherine's diaries, totaling 800 pages, are another component. Considering the time her father was Superintendent of the Naval Academy (1886-1890) and the time her husband was a midshipman (1883-1887) and instructor (1903-1905, 1912-1913) there, Catherine spent significant time on the Yard, and there are many items in the collection documenting life at the academy. 

When combined with the portion of Jackson's papers that were donated to the Special Collections & Archives in 2001, it will constitute a unique look at a century of US naval history, the Naval Academy, and many of the major events of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Undoubtedly, there will be more blog posts written based on material from this collection.


Richard H. Jackson Papers. Special Collections & Archives Deptartment, Nimitz Library, United States Naval Academy.


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