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 Correspondence with Robert W. Daly 

Dept. of English, History & Government,
U.S. Naval Academy,
Annapolis, Md.,
9 November 1962.

Mrs. Charles H. Moore, Jr.,
206 E. Fair Oaks Place,
San Antonio 9 Texas.

Dear Mrs. Moore:


I hope that this letter finds you well and enjoying the Colonel’s retirement. I have been looking for you—not knowing your name until today—since the summer of 1956.

We have in the Naval Academy Museum the letters of your grandfather, William F. Keeler, of the Monitor, sold to the Rosenbach collection, and then to the Academy. While researching and writing a monograph entitled How the Merrimac Won (published by Thomas Y. Crowell Co. in 1957), I began a campaign with the editors of the Naval Institute here in the Academy Yard, to publish these superbly vivid letters as a contribution to the Civil War Centennial.

I have been a professional naval historian since an appointment to the Coast Guard Academy faculty in the summer of 1941 (with the last two years out for convoy duty at sea) and an appointment here in 1946. From such a background, I can assure you that your grandfather’s letters will constitute a modest landmark in the literature of naval history, because, to date, there is nothing like them for presenting an intimate, almost complete picture of life aboard an ironclad. I have hopes of persuading the Institute to continue and publish a second volume of his letters from the USS Florida depicting life aboard a blockader.

Editing the letters has proved simple. Learning enough about William Frederick Keeler to write a decent introductory biographical essay, however, has been a hopeless task until I had a clue about Hawaii, and this morning received information about your marriage.

I am hoping against hope that you have family papers and records that can flesh out the bare bones of what I have learned about your grandfather before and after the Civil War. This is only a short letter to acquaint you with the situation, and it is possible that the little I have learned in some six years may contain information new to you, such as the sad news that there is now no trace of his burial at Mayport, Florida.

In any case, I simply wish to establish correspondence with you, and hope you will be agreeable to reading and elaborating, if possible, upon the data which I will compile for your inspection, shortly after hearing from you. . . .


Please forgive any seeming impertinences in this letter, but I have been shipmates with your fine grandfather for so long that I feel like a friend of the family.

Robert W. Daly,
Professor, USNA

San Antonio, Tex.
Nov. 14, 1962

Professor Robert W. Daly
Annapolis, Md.

Dear Professor Daly –

Thank you for your letter of 9 November and for your interest in my grandfather’s record. I doubt if I can furnish much of the information you seek. Last year a thorough search of all old correspondence in my possession was made at the request of Lick Observatory authorities. At that time we sought my father’s unpublished manuscripts and other papers but, unfortunately, found but little of importance.

You may know that a fire that swept down from the Berkeley Hills destroyed my mother’s home in Berkeley, and practically all of the family records and other possessions stored there were consumed in the flames.

Since receipt of your letter I have again examined my old correspondence files in search of some reference to my grandfather William F. Keeler. I have found only a few small items, and am transmitting them to you in the hope that they will be of some value to you. . . . 

Following is my list of items that might be of interest.

1. A copy of a chart prepared by my father showing the Keeler genealogy. All entries following Cora Floyd Keeler were made by me. . . . 

2. A letter from my father to my mother’s father, Mr. W. W. Matthews, dated January 27, 1891 at Mount Hamilton, Calif. This letter sets forth to his prospective father-in-law a brief summary of my father’s circumstances, his prospects, and his antecedents. In reference to his father and mother he wrote, and this is a direct quotation from the letter:

"My father was the son of a New York merchant, and was a merchant himself part of his life, but he was of a roving disposition, and, partly on this account, and partly through heavy losses by fire, he left but a small property at his death. He served as Paymaster in the U.S. Navy during the civil war, and afterwards moved to Florida, where he lived until his death, some six years ago. He was an active and highly cultivated man and I acquired from him my liking for scientific matters. My mother is a daughter of Henry Dutton, once governor of Connecticut and Judge of the Supreme Court of that State, an eminent man of his time. She is now living in Washington with my only sister and her husband, who is a Chief of Division in the Geological Survey."

3. Three business cards which possibly may be linked to other information you may have.  I can find no other reference to his business activities in or around La Salle. Please return the cards to me when you have finished with them.

4. Information from a diary kept intermittently by my father in Mayport when he was 18 years old (1875) and extending into 1876.

. . .  As evidence of the influence of my grandfather on my father’s early life, there are many entries. There are many entries referring to “going to the lookout and observing the stars.” At 18 my father owned a quadrant and, with it, took sightings on the stars and recorded the results in his diary. He was furnished parts of a small telescope, assembled it, and, with it, observed for his first time, the planets, their satellites and other celestial bodies. He acted as surveyor for certain local landowners, constructed a wind mill, and otherwise occupied his time to good advantage.

My point in bringing up these points in my father’s early life is this: How could a young man of 18 in that time and locality have developed so many technical and scientific skills if his interests had not been carefully directed. And there is evidence to show that the direction was given by none other than your old “shipmate,” my grandfather.

An entry on the inside of the back cover of the diary probably shows the year in which the family moved to Mayport. . . . 

I am truly sorry that I have so little to aid you in your task. I would be happy to read and, if possible, elaborate on any data you care to send me.

Cora K. Moore

E. H. & G.,
Annapolis, Md.,
19 November 1962

Mrs. Charles H. Moore,
206 East Fair Oaks Place,
San Antonio 9 Texas.

Dear Mrs. Moore:

Thank you very, very much for your gracious reply to my letter, and the precious fragments of information you have already given me. I will return Paymaster Keeler’s business cards as soon as I can have them reproduced: they open up a whole new line of inquiry for me at La Salle, because heretofore I knew only that he was in a mysterious “K & B Co.” and had other indications that the “B” stood for “Burton.”

Fire absolutely haunts the Paymaster. All the back copies of the La Salle newspaper for his era (he contributed letters at the height of his Monitor fame) vanished in a fire in the 1880’s. A single file was somehow preserved in the State Library at Albany, and that building, too, wisped away in smoke. Fire struck at Bridgeport and Utica, wiping out leads, and time has eroded away all traces of his presence at Mayport, Florida. And now I hear from you about the 1923 fire at Berkeley. He was a very modest man, and I have an uneasy feeling that he may be covering his tracks. . . .

I have clues from the letters that he made a pre-war voyage to California and another to China, but why, I do not know. On the second voyage, he was shipmates with Henry Ward Beecher and brother James. During the war, he encountered James Beecher several times in 1862.

You can see why I am grateful for those business cards. They clear up at least one minor puzzle. You probably know from your grade school history that the Monitor almost foundered on her maiden voyage from New York to Hampton Roads. Water leaked in and wet the blower fanbelts so that the gasses accumulated in the engine room and nearly killed the engineers. The Paymaster led in the rescue and THEN OPERATED THE ENGINES until the engineers had recovered and could resume their duties. Mr. W. F. Keeler, “Watchmaker & Jeweller” couldn’t have done that, but the Keeler of “Keeler, Bennigin & Co.” “Manufacturers of Steam Engines . . .” certainly could. I’ve been led, you see, into investigating the rich lode of steam navigation history and may come up with something.

As for his going to Illinois, I am still working on this. Sometime in the 1840’s, a group of Connecticut citizens founded a town named Rockwell above the site of La Salle on the Illinois River. Smallpox or cholera wiped out the community at a presently undetermined date. It is discouraging to report that neither the Springfield, Ill., or Chicago archives contain more than the meager details I’ve given, so that I’ve been working at the Connecticut end.

Bless that fire in the Berkeley hills in 1923! I hope that the Days saved a few scraps.

Thank you again for your kind and long reply. You will hear from me again. Meanwhile I’m sending a copy of my monograph so that you can savor a few samples of your grandfather’s graphic prose.

R. W. Daly,
Professor, USNA

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