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Thomas Tingey Craven Papers

An inventory of his papers at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: ---
Date: circa 1980

Biographical History

Thomas Tingey Craven (1808-1887) was an American Civil War admiral and instructor at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis.

Craven was born December 20, 1808 in the District of Columbia. His father, Tunis Craven, who was a native of New Jersey and who early in life was a merchant in Alexandria, Virginia, was a purser in the navy, 1812-1813, and for many years a naval storekeeper, first at Portsmouth, N. H., and later at Brooklyn, N. Y. His mother, Hannah(Tingey) Craven, was a daughter of Commodore Thomas Tingey.

Entering the navy as a midshipman from New Hampshire on May 1, 1822, Craven was made a passed midshipman in 1828, and a lieutenant in 1830. In the last-named grade, he served off the Brazilian coast and in East Indian waters, and later, in 1838-1839, as first lieutenant of the Vincennes, the flagship of the Wilkes exploring expedition. In 1843-1844 he assisted Commodore M. C. Perry in suppressing the slave-trade off the coast of Africa, part of the time as commander of the schooner Porpoise. For almost eight years (1850-1855 and 1858-1860) he was commandant of midshipmen at the Naval Academy. He initiated and elaborated the practise cruise, still regarded as one of the most beneficial features of the course at Annapolis. In 1852 he was promoted commander and in the first year of the Civil War while in command of the Potomac flotilla, he was made a captain. In the following year he commanded the Brooklyn of Farragut's squadron on the Mississippi and had an active share in the stirring events that resulted in the opening of that river.

In 1863 he was made a commodore and was ordered with the steam frigate Niagara to European waters there to perform certain special duties, which included the protection of American commerce. In August 1864 he captured the Confederate steamer Georgia off the coast of Portugal. Eight months later off the coast of Spain near Corunna, the commander of the Confederate ironclad ram Stonewall challenged Craven to a trial of strength in the open sea. In addition to the Niagara the Commodore at this time had under his control the sloop-of-war Sacramento These two wooden ships carried an armament superior in the number of guns, but otherwise much inferior to that of the Stonewall. Craven therefore declined the challenge and allowed the Stonewall to proceed on her way unmolested. His action was much criticized and on his return to the United States he was brought before a court martial composed of nine of the most distinguished officers of the navy, with Vice-Admiral Farragut as president. The court found him guilty of failing to do his utmost to destroy the Stonewall and sentenced him to be suspended from duty for two years on leave-pay. On the ground that the finding was inconsistent, Secretary Gideon Welles set aside the proceedings of the court and discharged Craven from arrest. The Secretary, nevertheless, was of the opinion that the Commodore was too cautious an officer (Diary of Gideon Welles, vol. II, 1911, p. 267).

In 1866 Craven was promoted rear admiral, and, after serving as commandant of the Mare Island navy-yard and commander of the Pacific Squadron, he retired in 1869. The following year he served as port admiral at San Francisco. He died at the Boston navy-yard.

Craven's first wife was his cousin, Virginia Wingate; his second, Emily Truxton Henderson, by whom he had eight children. Three of his sons graduated from the Naval Academy.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Thomas Tingey Craven Papers contains correspondence, a journal, and some miscellanea.

The correspondence consists of letterbooks which have been disbound. Letterbook "A" covers 1841 to 1854 and includes letters and orders, many of which are copies of originals, and copies of sworn testimony. This material relates to the period in which Craven commanded the Porpoise in the African Squadron and contains many letters and orders signed by Matthew C. Perry, the commander of the squadron. It also includes material relating to Craven's service as commandant of midshipmen at the Naval Academy, particularly the practice cruises made by the midshipmen. Much of the material is of a routine nature, but there are some items of special interest: for example, letters, orders, and sworn testimony relating to the murder of the first mate on the brig Uncas, an alleged slave ship captured by the Porpoise in African waters; letters dealing with an incident in which some prisoners were allowed to escape from an officer because of the intervention of a crowd; letters involving payment for musical instruments purchased by Craven while serving at Buffalo, New York; and letters relating to the outfitting, sailing, and administration of the ship used for the practice cruises of the midshipmen.

Letterbook "B" covers 1861 to 1865. Included are letters and orders, many of which are copies of originals and some of which are written in Spanish and French, and copies of diplomatic dispatches. Much of the material is of a routine nature. The correspondence from 1861 was entered at the back of the letterbook and deals with activity on the Potomac at the beginning of the Civil War, when Craven commanded the Potomac Squadron. The bulk of the letterbook deals with the years 1864 and 1865 when Craven commanded the steamer Niagara in European waters, with the majority being letters by diplomatic personnel in Europe relating to such matters as release of British subjects or Portuguese subjects from service in the American navy, the movement of privateers, and relations with the French government and the Spanish government, particularly in regard to the use of the ports of those nations for the equipping of Confederate ships. Most notable among the latter are a series of letters, orders, telegrams, and diplomatic reports which relate to the outfitting of the Confederate ironclad ram Stonewall in a Spanish port.

Craven was responsible for containing her activities and attempting her destruction, for which task he had the assistance of the Sacramento. A telegram from Vice-Admiral Farragut ordering him back to the United States to stand trial for his failure to carry out his responsibility can be found here. The letterbook includes correspondence of Charles Francis Adams (1807-1886), American ambassador to Britain; Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy; David G. Farragut, ; Henry Walke, commander of the Sacramento; and W. C. Dayton, an American diplomat in Paris, as well as several other diplomats (Horatio J. Perry in Madrid, James F. Harvey in Lisbon, Benjamin Mason in London, and James S. Pike in Amsterdam)

Arrangement of the Collection

Correspondence is arranged roughly chronologically, in the order which Craven had it in his letterbooks. An index to correspondence, and an index to General Orders and other military communications, appear at the end of this inventory.


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Subject Headings


Farragut, David Glasgow, 1801-1870.
Adams, Charles Francis, 1807-1886.
Craven, Thomas, 1808-1887.
Perry, Matthew Calbraith, 1794-1858.
Walke, Henry, 1808-1896.
Welles, Gideon, 1802-1878.

Corporate Bodies

Niagara (Steam frigate)
Porpoise (Schooner)
United States Naval Academy
United States. -- Navy. -- Officers.


United States History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Naval operations.

Genres and Forms

Orders (military records)



Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Thomas Tingey Craven Papers,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Purchase, various.

Table of Contents




Index to correspondence

Index to General Orders, notes, etc


Index to correspondence

Index to General Orders, notes, etc