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Dr. Nathaniel M. Sims collection of Sims and Hitchcock family papers

Identifier: MSC-354

Scope and Contents

This collection consists of correspondence, ephemeral materials, logbooks, photographs, publications, and other papers relating to the Sims and Hitchcock families, particularly Admiral William S. Sims, his wife Anne Hitchcock Sims, and her father Ethan Allen Hitchcock. These papers detail the families’ personal lives and relationships as well as the careers of Admiral Sims and Ethan Allen Hitchcock. This collection serves as a great example of the dedication of the entire Sims family to preserve and honor the legacies of Admiral Sims and the Hitchcock family for future generations.

Correspondence includes letters sent and received by Ethan A. Hitchcock, Anne H. Sims, William S. Sims, William S. Sims, Jr. and other members of the Sims and Hitchcock families. The majority of the original correspondence is of a personal nature detailing various aspects of family matters, daily activities, travel, and social interactions. Ephemeral materials include invitations to attend event at the White House, programs from dinners and ceremonies, and address and guest books maintained by both Admiral and Mrs. Sims. Logbooks and navigation volumes from the 1890s were written by Sims with the intention of using them as instruction for future junior officers. Photographs consist of loose photographs of members of Sims and Hitchcock family, with the majority being of Admiral Sims and his acquaintances throughout his entire naval career.

The bulk of this collection is comprised of four sets of typewritten transcriptions of Admiral Sims’s letters. These transcriptions were used by Anne H. Sims, William S. Sims, Jr, and Elting E. Morison in order to compile a complete set of all of Adm. Sim’s correspondence and to use in developing a comprehensive biography on Sims. The original letters for these transcriptions are most likely found within the William Sowden Sims papers in the Naval Historical Foundation Collection at the Library of Congress.

The first set of transcriptions are of Sims’s letters sent and received from 1876 to 1925. Five sets of this transcription were made and given to even child of Adm. Sims. The second set of transcriptions were arranged in alphabetical order (most likely by Mrs. Sims) by either name or subject. An index to the subjects is included. The third set of transcriptions were those that were kept and maintained by Mrs. Sims. Many of these letters include her notations about what to include in a biography and items she considered to be important. The last set of transcriptions includes handwritten annotations, most likely from Elting E. Morison while he was composing his biography, Admiral Sims and the Modern American Navy, published in 1942. The dates listed in the inventory for these transcriptions and others refer to the actual date of the letter, not the date that the transcription was completed.


  • Creation: 1797-1993
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1906-1945


Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

Access is open to all researchers, unless otherwise specified.

Conditions Governing Use

Material in this collection is in the public domain, unless otherwise noted.

Biographical note

William Sowden Sims (1858-1936) was born on October 15, 1858, in Port Hope, Ontario Province, Canada to Alfred William (1826-1895) and Adelaide Sowden Sims (1835-1914). He was the eldest of six children: Louisa Peacock (b. 1861), James Peacock (1862-1863), Alfred Varley (1864-1944), Mary S. (b. 1868), and Adelaide Clarke (1874-1967). The Sims family lived in Canada until 1872 and then moved to Orsbisonia, Pennsylvania.

Sims was appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy from Pennsylvania in 1876. After graduation in 1880, he served on the USS Tennessee and later the USS Swatara, where he was promoted to ensign. Between 1882 and 1897, he served on USS Yantic, Saratoga, USS Philadelphia, USS Charleston, and the receiving ships Colorado and Richmond. In 1887, he received permission from the Navy Department to live in Paris for a year, where he perfected his French and absorbed French culture. This experience qualified him for an appointment as naval attaché to Paris, France; St. Petersburg, Russia; and Madrid, Spain in 1897, a position he held until 1900. During this time, he collected intelligence on Spain’s preparation for war and studied the gunfire systems of foreign navies.

In 1900, Sims was assigned to the China Station with the USS Kentucky, the Navy’s newest battleship. For the next two years, he continued to observe and report on the superiority of a new system of British naval gunnery that used the continuous aim method of firing developed by Royal Navy Captain Percy Scott (1853-1924). Sims felt that the U.S. Navy’s gunfire systems had deficiencies that imperiled the service’s effectiveness as a fighting force. After his pleas to the Bureau Chiefs and the Secretary of the Navy were ignored, Sims wrote directly to President Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) about this in November 1901. President Roosevelt recalled Sims from China in 1902 and appointed him Inspector of Target Practice after the Atlantic Fleet had scored poorly in target practice. Sims held this position for six and a half years and also served as a naval aide to the president during the last two years of this assignment.

As a reward for his loyalty and service, Sims was named commanding officer of the Navy’s premier battleship, USS Minnesota. He held this post for two years until he was detached for instruction at the Naval War College as a member of the 1911 Summer Conference. He continued as a student in the 1911-1912 Long Course and remained on staff through June 1913. Following his tenure at the Naval War College, he assumed command of the Destroyer Flotilla, Atlantic Fleet and worked to devise new tactical maneuver doctrines for destroyers.

After a year as commanding officer of USS Nevada, Sims was selected as president of the Naval War College in February 1917 and promoted to rear admiral. The college closed two months later when the United States entered World War I and Sims was sent to London to act as a liaison with the Royal Navy. Soon after he was appointed Commanding Officers, U.S. Naval Forces in European waters as a vice admiral. In order to combat the heavy losses of merchant shipping from U-boat attacks, he devised a plan to use destroyers as escorts. The convoy system worked remarkably well and cut shipping losses in half. He directed the operations of nine admirals under his command and worked harmoniously with the other allied powers while sanctioning the laying of the North Sea Mine Barrage.

When the war was over, Sims returned to Newport and the presidency of the Naval War College, where he remained until he retired in 1922 at the age of sixty-four. During his tenure at the college, he increased the number of faculty and students and defended the college as a citadel of naval thought and intellectual training in warfare. He spent the last fourteen years of his life in Boston, where he wrote, lectured, and testified before Congress regarding what he considered deficiencies in the Navy. In 1921, Sims won the Pulitzer Prize for Victory at Sea, a factual and reasoned account of World War I. William S. Sims died on September 28, 1936, in Boston and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Throughout his distinguished career, Admiral Sims received the following medals: Spanish Campaign Medal, Philippine Campaign Medal, Mexican Service Medal, Victory Medal, Grand Cross of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (Great Britain), Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor (France), Grand Cordon, Order of the Rising Sun (Japan), Grand Cordon, Order of Leopold (Belgium), and Grand Officer of the Crown of Italy. He refused to accept the Distinguished Service Medal because he objected to the Navy’s policy of awarding medals to undeserving officers.

He also received honorary degrees from the following universities: Yale, Harvard, Tufts, Columbia, Pennsylvania, Cambridge (England), McGill (Montreal, Canada), Queens (Kingston, Canada), and from Williams, Union, and Juniata Colleges, and the Stephens Institute.

Three U.S. ships bore his name. The destroyer USS Sims (DD-409) was launched in 1939 and sunk during the Battle of the Coral Sea in 1942. The destroyer escort USS Sims(DE-154, then APD-50) was commissioned in 1943 and served during World War II. The third USS Sims (DE-1059) was commissioned in 1970 and served with the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean.

William S. Sims married Anne Erwin Hitchcock (1875-1960), the eldest daughter of Ethan Allen (1835-1909) and Margaret Dwight Collier Hitchcock (1840-1912), on November 21, 1905, in Washington, DC. The couple enjoyed a close, supportive relationship and had the following children: Margaret H. Hopkins (b. 1907), Adelaide Fiske (b. 1910), William Sowden (b. 1912), Anne H. Morison (b. 1914), and Ethan A. H. Sims (1916-2010).

Ethan Allen Hitchcock (1835-1909) was the youngest son of Henry Hitchcock (1792-1839), a successful lawyer and Supreme Court judge, and Anna Erwin (1803-1854). Hitchcock married Margaret Dwight Collier Hitchcock in 1869 and besides Anne Hitchcock Sims, they had two other daughters: Sarah Collier Shepley (1870-1957) and Margaret Dwight Hitchcock (1878-1926). Ethan Allen Hitchcock was involved in mercantile pursuits in St. Louis, Missouri, before moving to China to work for Olyphant & Company in China from 1855 to 1872. President William McKinley appointed Hitchcock an envoy and then later as the first ambassador to Russia, a position he held until 1898 when he was recalled to serve as the Secretary of the Interior in the presidential cabinet. He remained in this position until 1907 serving under both President McKinley and President Theodore Roosevelt. Hitchcock died on April 9, 1909 in Washington, D.C.

Chronology of Naval Service note

Born October 15, in Port Hope, Ontario, Canada
Graduated, U.S. Naval Academy
USS Tennessee (Screw frigate)
Promoted to Midshipman
Promoted to Ensign
Saratoga (Schoolship)
USS Philadelphia (C-4)
USS Charleston (C-2)
Naval attaché, Paris and St. Petersburg
Naval attaché, Madrid
USS Kentucky (BB-6)
Promoted to lieutenant commander
Inspector of Target Practice
Married November 21, to Anne Hitchcock
Promoted to Commander
Naval Aide to the President of the United States
CO, USS Minnesota (BB-22)
Student and later a staff member, Naval War College
CO, Destroyer Flotilla, Atlantic Fleet
CO, USS Nevada (BM-8)
Promoted to Rear Admiral
President, Naval War College and Commandant, Second Naval District
CO, U.S. Naval Forces, European Waters
Returned to the rank of Rear Admiral
President, Naval War College
Victory at Sea published
Retired from the U.S. Navy
Temporary duty with Bureau of Navigation and Aircraft Board
Commissioned Admiral on the retired list
Died, September 28


10.5 Linear Feet (21 archival boxes, 1 half archival box, 1 oversize box)


This collection consists of correspondence, logbooks, photographs, publications, and other papers relating to the Sims and Hitchcock families, particularly Admiral William S. Sims, his wife Anne Hitchcock Sims, and her father Ethan Allen Hitchcock. These papers detail the families’ personal lives and relationships as well as the careers of Adm. Sims and Ethan Allen Hitchcock.


This collection is arranged in alphabetical order by genre, then by folder title. In cases where the folder title is a person’s name then it is arranged in alphabetical order by last name.

Custodial History

Prior to being in the possession of Dr. Sims, parts of this collection were maintained by other Admiral and Mrs. Sims’s children: William S. Sims, Jr. and Anne Sims Morison.

Throughout April 2016, this collection was appraised by Peter C. Sorlien to determine valuation. As a result of this monetary appraisal, two inventories were produced by Sorlien. For access to these inventories please contact NHC staff at

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Dr. Nathaniel M. Sims, grandson of Admiral William S. Sims, 2017 Mar 27 (Ms.Ac.2017.1).

Existence and Location of Originals

Original William S. Sims letters may be found in the Naval Historical Foundation Collection at the Library of Congress and the original letters for Ethan A. Hitchcock are located at the National Archives at College Park.

Separated Materials

For a list of rare books that were separated from this collection to be included in the Rare Books Collection at the Naval Historical Collection please contact NHC staff at

Processing Information

This collection was processed and arranged according to current archival standards in 2018 by Elizabeth Delmage.

Guide to the Dr. Nathaniel M. Sims collection of Sims and Hitchcock family papers1797-1993 (bulk 1906-1945)
Dacs Finding Aid
Finding aid prepared by Elizabeth Delmage.
2018 Sep 13
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Naval War College Archives Repository

US Naval War College
686 Cushing Rd
Newport RI 02841 US