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Aaron Vanderbilt Papers

Call Number

MS 654


1835-1979 (bulk 1863-1913), inclusive



0.75 Linear feet (1 box and 1 volume)

Language of Materials

The documents in the collection are in English.


Correspondence, military orders, drawings, maps, battle accounts, reports, certificates, clippings, illustrations, receipts and ephemera of Aaron Vanderbilt, businessman and naval veteran of the Civil War. Much of the material is contained in a large scrapbook. A transcript of the scrapbook's contents is available.

Biographical Note

Missing Title

1844 Aaron Vanderbilt born at Tompkinsville, Staten Island, New York (January 29). (Earliest American ancestor was Jan Aertsen Van der Bilt, Dutch immigrant, 1650, who settled in Flatbush, Long Island, N.Y. Distant relative of Cornelius Vanderbilt; great grandfather was John Vanderbilt, one of the first members of New York Legislature.)
1859 Vanderbilt left school and began business career as a clerk in a shipping concern. Subsequently served in Merchant Marines.
1863 Joined U.S. Navy in response to Lincoln's call for volunteers.
1863-1865 Civil War Action (U.S. Navy - Master's Mate, Ensign, Fleet Signal Officer) (Serving on the ship Malvern, Battles of Fort Fisher and other engagements including the siege of Petersburg and Richmond; assigned as part of Lincoln's escort on his visit to the fallen Richmond.)
1865 Discharged and re-entered business.
1869 Married Lillie L. Wheeler Two daughters - Lillian (Speir) and Edith (Diamond)
1877 Appointed General Superintendent of the Ward line of steamships (New York & Cuba Mail Steamship Co.)
1885 Served as a guard of honor while the remains of Ulysses S. Grant were lying in state.
1886 One of the founders of the American Shipping and Industrial League; served as its treasurer and represented American shipping interests during the Fiftieth and Fifty-first Congresses.
1889 Instrumental in securing passage of act establishing New York State Naval Militia.
1898 Served, during the Spanish-American War, as senior officer in command of New York's naval force and later as chief of ordnance of the New York Naval Reserve (subsequently retired with rank of Lieutenant-Commander.)
1905 Retired from active business.
1913 Died. Buried in Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Due to his efforts, Aaron Vanderbilt is credited with the establishment of the U.S. Naval Reserve as an auxiliary to the navy. He was a member of the Merchant Marine League of the United States, the Naval Order of the United States, the Society of the Army of the Potomac, the U.S. Navy League, the U.S. Naval Institute, Annapolis, MD, the New York Board of Trade, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the Grand Army of the Republic and the Military Order of the Loyal League.

Further information may be found in The National Cyclopedia of American Biography. New York: James T. White & Company, 1896. Volume 6, Pages 213-214.


Folders arranged by material type.

Scope and Content Note

Materials contained in the scrapbook include correspondence, both personal and official; military orders and reports; descriptions of battles; accounts and tables; drawings; maps; certificates and commissions; receipts; illustrations; a wide variety of newspaper clippings (more than fifty); and miscellaneous items such as invitations, menus and programs. The scrapbook contents are not consistently arranged chronologically or topically. A typewritten transcript describes the material on each page although there is a discrepancy in the page numbering. The transcript also describes most of the loose material within the scrapbook. There are a few items near the back (receipts, portions of a hand drawn map, several illustrations) that are not included in the transcript. Many of the letters and clippings are in poor condition.

Items similar to those in the scrapbook are contained in the folders of Box 1 (e.g., letters, military orders, and sections of newspapers). Quite a few photocopies of letters and orders are also included. The correspondence and orders are arranged chronologically.

Some of the collection's highlights include:

Missing Title

  1. Civil War battle descriptions and materials that provide details from a Union navy perspective.
  2. A significant amount of Confederate material such as official correspondence regarding potential strategies, food for prisoners, and a copy of a letter from Robert E. Lee to the General Command of the U.S. Army concerning a prisoner transfer; a "rewritten" journal describing one day's activity (April 27,1863) in the House of Representatives; a number or orders and printed messages from the president (Jefferson Davis); a tax assessment table by state; signed petitions from the Tunker and Mennonite Churches requesting exemption from military service; and 1864 Proceedings of the Congress of the Confederacy.
  3. A number of political cartoons in the form of tour cards.
  4. A copy of an 1854 Treaty between the United States and the Ottoe and Missouria Indians.
  5. Wide variety of newspaper clippings related to such topics as the Civil War, revolution in France (1870), the 1867 Fenian uprising, loss of the ship Mary A. Boardman in 1866, leading rich men in New York City, plans for making docks and wet basins in the East River (1868), physiology of the earth (1867) and Vanderbilt's obituaries.
  6. A description of Vanderbilt in a handwritten leaflet - "Know Thyself PHRENOLOGICAL CHARACTER of Aaron Vanderbilt given at Fowler and Wells' Phrenological Cabinet, No. 389 Broadway, New York by Nelson Sizer, Practical Phrenologist. May 22, 1866." Printed on the back of the document are the Principles of Phrenology.

Access Restrictions

Materials in this collection may be stored offsite. For more information on making arrangements to consult them, please visit

Use Restrictions

Taking images of documents from the library collections for reference purposes by using hand-held cameras and in accordance with the library's photography guidelines is encouraged. As an alternative, patrons may request up to 20 images per day from staff.

Application to use images from this collection for publication should be made in writing to: Department of Rights and Reproductions, The New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024-5194, Phone: (212) 873-3400 ext. 282.

Copyrights and other proprietary rights may subsist in individuals and entities other than the New-York Historical Society, in which case the patron is responsible for securing permission from those parties. For fuller information about rights and reproductions from N-YHS visit:

Preferred Citation

This collection should be cited as the Aaron Vanderbilt Papers, The New-York Historical Society.

Location of Materials

Materials in this collection may be stored offsite. For more information on making arrangements to consult them, please visit


Donation, 2002.

Collection processed by

Jan Hilley

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-08-21 15:49:59 -0400.
Language: Description is in English.

Edition of this Guide

This version was derived from vanderbilt.xml


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