To My Dearest Wife, Lide
Letters from George B. Gideon Jr. during Commodore Perry’s Expedition to Japan, 1853–1855
George B. Gideon Jr. served as second assistant engineer aboard the USS Powhatan from 1852 to 1856. From his position on the steam frigate, Gideon traveled to Singapore, Labuan, Borneo, Hong Kong, and many other Asian lands. During his time at sea, Gideon penned dozens of letters to his wife, Lide, back home in Philadelphia. Recently discovered in the attic of his great-great-grandniece, were fifty-one letters penned by Gideon providing thorough and insightful commentary throughout the voyage.
Through these correspondences, Gideon laboriously documents the details of his daily life on board, from the food they ate to the technical aspects of his work, as well as observations concerning the historical events unfolding around him, such as Chinese piracy, the Taiping Rebellion, the Crimean War, and the devastation of Shimoda. To My Dearest Wife, Lide: Letters from George B. Gideon Jr. during Commodore Perry’s Expedition to Japan, 1853–1855 is a rare first-person account of the landmark American naval expedition to Japan to establish commercial relations between the two countries. Gideon’s letters have been meticulously transcribed and annotated by the editors and are an invaluable primary historical source.
Gideon’s letters are candid and revealing, delving into the rampant dysfunction in the navy of the 1850s—sickness and disease, alcohol abuse, and poor leadership, among other challenges. Gideon also unabashedly shares his own cynical views of the navy’s role in supporting American economic interests in Japan. This firsthand account of the political mission of the Perry expedition is a unique contribution to naval and military history and gives readers a better view of life aboard a navy ship.
List of Illustrations
Chapter One. February 13–April 19, 1853
Chapter Two. August 30–December 29, 1853
Chapter Three. January 1–June 23, 1854
Chapter Four. July 3–December 28, 1854
Chapter Five. January 1–June 27, 1855
Chapter Six. July 2–December 23, 1855
“No major event, or series of events, may be truly understood solely via the official record; it is the daily correspondent who relates feelings of the moment. To My Dearest Wife, Lide offers us unique perspective of a mid-grade officer. Given the magnitude of the events these letters describe, such a narrator arguably provides the most reliable common pen with the most common touch. No grace or blemish is left behind, and to scholars of this era or to those seeking a sailor’s story ‘in his own words,’ I highly recommend this book.”
“To My Dearest Wife, Lide is a recently discovered primary source that will be useful to an audience of scholars and naval history buffs.”
—John H. Schroeder, author of Matthew Calbraith Perry: Antebellum Sailor and Diplomat
“This volume offers a unique contribution to our understanding of life in the antebellum navy and of Perry’s expedition to Japan in particular.”
—Jason Smith, Southern Connecticut State University