U. S. Steamer State of Georgia off the Carolina Coast. Unbound. Letter from the first African-American graduate of Yale who became the U.S. Navy's only African-American Ship’s Surgeon during the Civil War. R.H.G. [Richard H. Green]. U. S. Steamer State of Georgia: 1864.
This six-page letter is datelined, “U.S.St’r State of Georgia / Feb. 20th 1864”. It was sent by Richard H. Green, an African-American Ship’s Surgeon, to his fiancé, Lottie [Charlotte A. Caldwell] of Bennington, Vermont. There is no mailing envelope. A transcript will be provided. Although Richard Green had long been known as a Yale alumnus, it wasn’t until the school purchased and processed a collection of papers in 2014 that it discovered not only was he an African-American, but that in 1857 he became Yale’s first African-American graduate. Green was the son of a well-regarded free black shoemaker who had settled in New Haven in 1833. In the 1850 census, Green was identified as a 17-year-old “mulatto” clerk, and ten years later in 1860 as a 26-year-old “black” teacher. He later attended medical school at Dartmouth and joined the Navy during the Civil War as an Assistant Surgeon. Green sent this letter to his white fiancé, Lottie, while participating in the Union blockade off the Carolina coast. Following the war, the couple married and settled in Hoosick, New York where Green opened a medical practice. There, he changed the spelling of his surname to Greene, and in the 1870 census was listed as a white man. No post-war documents identify him as an African-American.
Green devotes half of this letter to discussing marriage plans with Lotte. In the other half, he describes life aboard ship and the concerns about Confederate ironclads. Some excerpts include:
“It is one of the chief duties . . . in the Navy to keep clean. The Cap. Is on deck . . . making the men jump to it. . .. They are “holy stoning”, that is scrubbing the deck with large, heavy stones that have a smooth flat surface. Water and sand are put on plentifully and then the sailors drag these stones up and down by ropes until the decks are all white and clean, all the brass work polished untill it fairly glitters, and then you have some idea of the look of a ‘Man of War. . .. “Newbern has been attacked by the enemy and . . . the railroad . . . may be in their hands. . .. They have been repulsed once but they are massing their forces near it in great numbers and what happen is impossible to tell. Some rebel soldiers have . . . ran away and say that all the others would do the same if they could. . .. They say that the iron clads in the river are about to make an attack on us and I should not be surprised if they should be upon us some still dark night. . .. I expect we shall share pretty hard for there is no possibility of piercing any of their iron sides by shot. . .. We don’t mean to run and give up the blockade. . .. The fort here fires with astonishing accuracy - they fired a shot over six miles which fell about one hundred yards a stern of the Quaker City. . .. When we get to Beaufort we are going to give a big dinner and invite some ladies from shore including some of the backers of the contraband schools that have been established here.”. Very good. Item #009748
Exceptionally scarce. At the time of listing no other Richard Green letters are for sale in the trade. The Rare Book Hub identifies no other sales of Green letters except for those in Yale’s 2014 purchase, and OCLC shows that to be the only institutional holding.