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Belknap family papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MSC-103

Content Description

Correspondence, boyhood and early family letters sent and received during his naval career, 1899–1937; Correspondence of his wife, Julia Averill Belknap, 1897–1907, and reminiscences of a year in China, Japan and the Philippines, 1900–1901; Bound volume of RADM Belknap’s published articles; Lecture on Blue Orange Situation, 1915; War Plans, Their Form and Substance, 1913; NWC Long Course papers, 1913–1914; Principle and Practice of Tactics…;, Strategy, Principles and Practice...; Logistics, its influence on strategy ... suggestions for improving the War College Course; German newspaper with WWI news, 1914–1915; Pamphlets on WWI and participants and causes, 1914–1915, in English, German and French. Miscellany, including photographs, programs and imprints; Correspondence, family letters sent and received, 1866–1903, of RADM George E. Belknap; Correspondence of his wife, Frances G. Prescott Belknap, 1864–1912; Miscellany, including photographs, glass slides and clippings; Correspondence, court and military papers, speeches, poems and essays of George Washington Prescott, 1775–1816; Correspondence of George Washington Prescott II, 1830–1882, father of Frances G. Belknap; Correspondence of Prescott Belknap to his mother, Frances G. Belknap, and his aunt, Frances Lear Prescott, 1868–1912; Miscellaneous correspondence of other family members.

Scope and Contents

The collection consists of thirteen boxes of personal papers of both rear admirals as well as their wives, and it also includes the papers of George Washington Prescott, II, father of Frances G. Prescott Belknap, and naval agent at Pensacola, Florida, 1877-1880. The first segment, the George E. Belknap papers, consists of correspondence, writings, photographs, imprints, scrapbooks, and other miscellaneous materials.

Rear Admiral Belknap' s correspondence contains mostly personal letters sent to his wife which date from 1866, the year they married, until his death in 1903. They refer to family matters; their three sons, Prescott, Reginald and Grafton; and the Admiral's naval assignments. Letters received cover a thirty year period, 1873-1903, and were written by his wife, friends, and fellow naval officers, including Daniel Ammen, Alfred T. Mahan, and SecNav William Chandler.

Frances G. Prescott Belknap's correspondence is divided evenly between letters sent and received. She corresponded regularly with her parents, her children, her Aunt Fanny Prescott, and her Uncle Holmes Prescott. Most of her letters date from 1890 when she lived in Kobe and Yokohama, Japan, while her husband was Commander-in-Chief of the Asiatic Station; they give an interesting account of navy life, customs, and society in the Far East one hundred years ago. She received letters from her children, grandchildren, relatives, friends and from George P. Huntington and Rear Admiral Daniel Ammen.

Miscellaneous materials consist of glass slides of the interior of the Belknap's Victorian style home, obituaries of George E. Belknap, menus, imprints and reminiscences of their son Grafton, who died at age eighteen.

Reginald R. Belknap's correspondence contains both letters sent and received. His letters were of a personal nature, covering the years 1879-1953, and the majority were written to his mother. Many of these date from his four years at the Naval Academy and they give an excellent description of academy life and his reaction to it. Others were sent to his father, grandparents, and brothers, Grafton and Prescott. Letters received cover the years 1882-195 7 and again were mainly from family members, his father, brothers, grandmother and George P. Huntington, a friend. There are two rather interesting letters in the collection, one from Admiral William S. Sims, in which he announced his engagement to Anne Hitchcock, and a 1957 thank-you letter from World War II German Admiral Karl Doenitz. There is no official navy related correspondence in this collection.

Julia Averill Belknap' s letters are also of a personal nature and cover the period, 1897 -1907. They were written to her mother, Mary S. Field Averill, a descendant of the inventor Cyrus Field, and her grandmother; letters received came from her aunt, Emilia Ash burner, with whom she lived as a child, her mother, mother-in-law, cousins and friends.

The collection contains some of the schoolboy compositions written by Reginald Belknap while at the Columbian Preparatory School. Miscellany consists of programs, bills, imprints, photographs of friends and family, and genealogy of Field Elders, Madison, Connecticut, the Admiral's home in retirement, and an album of photographs of naval officers and drawings of the American rescue efforts at Messina, Italy, in 1908.

George Washington Prescott II was the son of the New Hampshire jurist of the same name and the father of Frances G. Prescott Belknap. His papers contain both "letters sent and received, encompassing the years 1830-1880. Over the years, he wrote regularly to his sister Frances L. Prescott, with whom he was especially close, to his sister Lydia, and his brother Holmes. All of these letters treat with family and personal matters. The letters covering his years in Ceylon in the 1860's and as a naval agent at Pensacola, 1877-1880, are especially interesting. All of the letters received are from his sister Mary and treat with family affairs.


  • 1864 - 1937


Conditions Governing Access

Access is open to all researchers, unless otherwise specified.

Biographical Note

George E. Belknap was born on January 22, 1832, in Newport, New Hampshire. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1854, having spent three years on the west coast of Africa on anti-slavery patrols in the PORPOISE and two years in the RARITAN off the west coast of South America. In 1856-1857, he served with the East India Squadron and while aboard the PORTSMOUTH commanded an attack on the Canton, China barrier forts during which he distinguished himself.

Admiral Belknap played an important role in the Civil War. He reinforced Fort Pickens, Florida, in 1861 and took part in expeditions against other Florida forts the following year. In 1862, he assumed command of the NEW IRONSIDES, which engaged the Confederates at Charleston, South Carolina; in 1864-1865, he participated in the attacks on Fort Fisher, which resulted in its surrender. As commander of the CANONICUS, he took part in the final operations against Charleston, South Carolina.

In 1867, Belknap joined the Asiatic Squadron where he commanded the flagship HARTFORD and led an expedition against Formosa. Admiral Belknap made significant contributions to diplomacy and naval science in the 1870' s when he commanded the TUSCARORA which surveyed the Isthmian canal route across Panama and then took soundings for a trans-Pacific submarine telegraph cable all the way from Hawaii to Japan. He invented a cylinder for ocean research and using piano wire made several discoveries regarding the ocean floor.

From 1876-1881, Belknap served as commandant of the Pensacola Navy Yard, then took command of the ALASKA which was engaged in ocean research off South America's west coast. He assumed command of the Norfolk Navy Yard in 1883 where he remained for two years. He served as superintendent of the Naval Observatory in 1885-1886, as commandant of the Mare Island Navy Yard from 1886-1889, and as commander-in-chief of the Asiatic Station in the MARION and the OMAHA, 1889-1892. Prior to his retirement in 1894, he was president of the Navy's Board of Inspection and Survey, where he conducted speed trials for five new cruisers.

Admiral Belknap continued to serve the navy during his retirement years. He settled in Brookline, Massachusetts, and was Chairman of the Board of Commissioners of the Massachuetts Nautical Training School and a trustee of the National Sailors' Home in Quincy, Massachuetts. During the Spanish-American War, he was Chairman of the Board on Naval Coaling Stations and at his death he was on a site visit to Key West, Florida, to examine its suitability as a Navy Base.

Admiral Belknap received an honorary degree from Dartmouth College in 1894. He was made a Knight Commander of the Order of Kamehameha of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1882. He was a member of the Loyal Legion, the Grand Army of the Republic, the Order of Colonial and Foreign Wars, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Geographical Society, the New England Historical Genealogical Society, and the New Hampshire Historical Society.

Two United States naval vessels were named in his honor: the first USS BELKNAP (DD-251) served in the navy from 1919 until 1945; the second USS BELKNAP (DLG-26) was launched in 1963 and co-named for his son, Reginald.

Reginald R. Belknap, son of George E. and F ranees Georgiana Prescott Belknap, was born on June 26, 1871, in Malden, Massachusetts. Following in his father's footsteps, he enrolled in the Naval Academy, graduated in 1891 and made the navy his career. He served for two years aboard the USS CHICAGO, then transferred to the Asiatic Station, and attended the Naval War College in 1897.

His early career included several interesting assignments: Flag Secretary to the Commander of the Key West Naval Base, member of the Panama and Nicaraguan Canal Commissions, Flag Secretary to the Commander-in-Chief of the Asiatic Squadron, 1900-1902, and naval attache to Berlin, Vienna, and Rome. It was in the latter capacity that he directed the Red Cross Relief Ship expedition following the 1908 earthquake at Messina, Italy. He was also responsible for the house building effort at nine different locations in the stricken region. He received the American Red Cross gold medal and other medals for his relief work. In 1910, he was naval aide to President Theodore Roosevelt at the funeral of King Edward VII.

During 1910-1911, Belknap was executive officer of the NORTH DAKOTA and then attended the long course at the Naval War College, graduating in 1914. With the outbreak of World War I in Europe, he took command of the Mine Division of the Atlantic Fleet and in 1918 commanded the Yankee Mining Squadron which laid the North Sea Mine Barrage from the Orkneys to Norway. His experiences were recounted in his book entitled The Yankee Mining Squadron.

The post-war period saw Admiral Belknap on the staff of the Naval War College, from 1918-1920 and again from 1921-1923 as Chairman of the Strategy Department. Sea duty as commanding officer of the battleship COLORADO followed in 1923 and again in 1925-1926 as commanding officer of the receiving ship SAN FRANCISCO. He retired from the navy in 1927 as Commander of the Naval Training Station, Norfolk, Virginia.

Fallowing his retirement, he was promoted to rear admiral on the retired list and in 1929 was appointed treasurer and bursar of the General Theological Seminary in New York City. Active in Episcopal church affairs, he was a vestryman of New York's Trinity Church and a member of the board of the Seamen's Church Institute.

Admiral Belknap received a number of medals and decorations, including the Distinguished Service Medal, the Spanish Campaign Medal, the World War I Victory Medal and the Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal, during his naval career.

He was a member of the Naval Order of the United States, the Military Order of the World War. the Loyal Legion, the Colonial Order of the Acom, the New York Society of Military and Naval Officers of the World War, the Army and Navy Club of Washington, DC, and the New York Yacht Club.


30 boxes

Language of Materials


Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Belknap papers were presented to the Naval War College Foundation for deposit in the Naval Historical Collection in November of 1988 by Mrs. John H. Howard of Newport, RI, daughter of Rear Admiral Reginald R. Belknap and granddaughter of Rear Admiral George E. Belknap.

Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Naval Historical Collection Repository

US Naval War College
686 Cushing Rd
Newport RI 02841 US